Thursday, July 02, 2009
Songs For Presidents
Christian Kiefer and his friends J. Matthew Gerken and Jefferson Pitcher – songwriters and history buffs all – gave themselves a little homework assignment in 2006. They were part of the community of musicians who gathered at the February Album Writing Month Web site (www.fawm.org), which challenges songwriters to write 14 songs in 28 days. So Kiefer, Gerken and Pitcher decided to write songs – 14 each in 28 days -- about every American president.
What started out as something of a lark turned into an exhaustive undertaking and an extraordinary triple-CD, “Of Great and Mortal Men: 43 Songs for 43 U.S. Presidents” (Stanford Recording Co.), released last year (Kiefer has since recorded a song about the 44th president, Barack Obama, available on the project’s Web site, www.43presidencies.com). The arrangements are fleshed out by cameos from artists such as Chicago’s Steve Dawson and Califone, Tom Brosseau, Bill Callahan, Alan Sparhawk (of Low) and Mark Kozelek. And the packaging is lavish: a soft-cover book with presidential portraits, liner notes and lyrics.
What’s more, the presidential minstrels are taking their show on the road, with performances Friday at the Hideout and Saturday at Taste of Chicago, where the trio will be backed by a host of Chicago bands and artists, including the Singleman Affair, Jon Langford, Steve Dawson, the Gunshy, Jeff Harms, Sin Ropas, Tim Hurley, the Bitter Tears and Joan of Arc’s Tim Kinsella. From Chicago Tribune
If it all sounds a bit stuffy and academic, guess again. Kiefer, Gerken and Pitcher are accomplished home-recording buffs (Kiefer and Gerken live in Sacramento, Calif., and Pitcher in Ontario, Canada), and they have a knack for turning a phrase and bending a melody. They also know their U.S. history, but aren’t particularly reverent about it. Instead, they offer a decidedly unconventional, often provocative and sometimes unexpectedly poignant take on the men who guided America to its “Manifest Destiny” and beyond.