Austin, Texas singer-songwriter Chris Beall believes that life is a song; and that songs are life. On his new LP Abilene, Beall channels his gift for eloquent, painterly lyricism into a compelling blend of melodic Americana and Heartland rock. Buoyed by Beall’s assured, in-the-pocket guitar playing and his knack for timeless arrangement, Abilene is a testament to a life built around music; both as part of the vaunted South Austin Moonlighters and as a solo artist. Immediately engaging and eminently poignant, this is a record that will stand proudly amongst the classics of the genre.
The son of a motorcycle racer from a small town in west Texas, Beall considers himself an equal-opportunity song “catcher”. “I’ll take them any way they come” he laughs. “Some songs are fun to write, some are hard and take years to complete. Some songs are agreeable, and some want to fight me all the way. I’ll take them all.”
Pinning down a location where the songs for this album were written is a bit difficult; Beall is writing all the time, everywhere. With the pandemic side-lining the bulk of the Moonlighters shows, Beall set out on his own as a solo act; playing any half-capacity venue that would have him. The shift in focus brought with it a shift in creative energy, and soon enough Beall found himself with the musical equivalent of a slideshow from an epic vacation.
With most folks unable to travel, Beall has graced us with a fine selection of melodic vistas. “I felt like the “landscape” was important because I really wanted listeners to be able to “see” these stories come to life” says Beall. “To feel the wind in West Texas as the character in “Nothing Good Ever Came Around” grapples with isolation. It’s the picture hanging on the wall in the little, leftover diner in some small town in “Big Blue World” where memories of family and heritage live on in the lives of the people there. I wanted to paint the “picture”, let the listener draw his/her own conclusions. I’m just here to help him/her get to the spot to make some.”
To support the timeless storytelling, Beall chose to lean on the warm grit of analog recording and classic instrumentation. “The big drum sounds on vintage Ludwig’s and Slingerland’s; tried and true P-Bass through Neve-style preamps. A lot of gear from the appropriately named Warm Audio. You know the drill – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” says Beall.
The discerning listener might be able to pick out the dulcet tones of Beall’s 90-year-old “Tonk-American” parlour guitar, or his ’71 Martin D-35. Or perhaps an old ’40’s Silvertone archtop, one of the first “production” electric Silvertone guitars ever made. Electric guitars consisted mainly of a ’71 Gretsch Country Club, a Gibson P-90-equipped Les Paul Special, and a ’74 Gibson Les Paul with PAF pickups; played through a mid-50’s style hand wired tweed Fender Deluxe, a mid-60’s style hand wired Fender Princeton Reverb, or a Motion Sound Leslie-style amp. “For this album,” says Beall, “it was generally simple tried-and-true combinations that really hit the spot.”
Recorded at Jumping Dog Studio (Ron Flynt’s from the band ‘2020’ place), Jayme Ivison’s Rockpile Recording, and his own studio Beallstreet Studio, it’s safe to say the production fits the performances like well-worn denim. In addition to Beall, Abilene features drummers Fred Mandujano (The BoDeans, Hayes Carll), Pat Manske (Alejandro Escovedo, Ray Wylie Hubbard) and Jim Echels (Bellesounds, Emily Shirly). Harmoni Kelley (James McMurtry, Kenny Chesney) is the electric bassist on the album. Geoff Queen (Bruce Robison, Reckless Kelly) played steel guitar. Piano and organ duties were handled by Lewis Stevens (Freddie King, Delbert McClinton) and Ron Flynt (2020). Walt Wilkins (Pat Green, Ricky Skaggs) and Tina Wilkins sang background vocals. Creative guru Jayme Ivison engineered half of the tracking sessions for the album, and co-produced. “He is a force of nature” declares Beall. “He’s a multi-instrumentalist that doesn’t play anything on the album; and a good, good friend.”
What this mesquite-smoked cavalcade cooked up is nothing less than an album that truly speaks to the human story that is in all of us. “I hope these songs help us to hold on when the time is right for holding on, and to move on when the time is right for moving on” says Beall. “I hope they help each of us come-to-grips with where we came from, and maybe where we’re going. I hope they help instill a renewed sense of appreciation and gratitude; that the songs tell the lonely ones “you’re not alone” anymore. I hope these songs do what songs are supposed to do: heal us.”