The folksinger, a third-generation musician from California who put down roots in Texas long ago, has just released Your Town Tonight (RedHouse), a live album recorded over two nights at Austin’s Cactus Cafe.
Why release a live album now?
Well, I’d never done it. At shows, there isn’t a night that goes by that I’m not asked, “Which of these CDs is more like your show?” The band has been playing for the past five years solid and really knows the songs. And I sing them differently live. In the studio, I’m often just pulling them out for the first time; I really don’t know how to sing them.
I’m surprised to hear you say you feel like live performances are more about the song. It seems to me a lot of live albums I hear (and I don’t really hear this on yours) it’s more about keeping the audience’s attention.
I think what I mean is, it’s about bringing the lyrics to the audience.
Do you sometimes feel, when you go back and listen to these records, that you wish you had waited to record them to begin with?
I feel that way about several of these songs.
It’s interesting to me [that] you recorded a couple of your dad’s songs. Is this something you’ve always done in your live acts or are you kind of rediscovering his music these days?
I think the last three years, I’ve really gotten into my dad’s stuff. It’s so fun to put one of his songs on one of my records (and I have been doing that for a few years), but I think his songs are just so amazing.
Did you feel pressure to play music because you came from such a musical family?
No, I didn’t feel pressured. Quite honestly, there was nothing else I could come close to being able to do. The other wrong reason I wanted to get into it, was that I felt that it was a way to be a social being. So, in that sense, maybe the pressure was about just coming out of my shell. But, no, nobody in my family ever pressured me. My dad was critical, but what I realized later was that he was applying the same standards to himself as he applied to all of us kids.
You seem to have stepped away from the political nature of recent works like your song “Man of God” or your album Land of Milk and Honey.
I’m very political, but I’m starting to see our disease as being deeper than our two-party system. It’s more societal and personal. A song like [Bob Dylan’s] “Jokerman” [on the new album] is a political song to me; it is challenging the listener to look at the folly of man.
What’s your favorite thing on the live record? What are you most proud of?
I really love how “Green Fields” came out. It’s stark and empty, and it’s such a mournful song. I love that. And I love “Jokerman.” I like how it builds.