Initially when I heard Jeff Tweedy (of Wilco) was producing White Denim's next album I was worried. His previous production credits for Mavis Staples and Low had involved simply recording their dry, live sound with very little studio trickery. White Denim's previous albums and EP's had been self produced. Left to themselves they'd become progressively more ambitious in terms of using overdubs, additional musicians and instrumentation in order to create a broader sonic scope. They'd created some very ambitious and engaging records without needing a producer. Regularly their approach in the studio contrasted greatly with their live work which for the most part does away with gimmickry and concentrates almost exclusively on their amazing, peerless musicianship. James Petralli, singer and songwriter in the band had stated in various places online that he wanted a producer involved this time out so that all four members of White Denim could concentrate exclusively on their playing and not have to worry about checking monitor levels or peak meters.
As it turns out their time with Tweedy turned out to be quite limited and he only ended up working on a couple of the new tunes. The band instead chose to finish the record with producer Jim Volentine. The resulting LP, "Corsicana Lemonade", might be one of the most fun records I've ever heard.
What's immediately apparent, even from the first few bars of "At Night in Dreams", is that the record is funky. The tight, interlocking guitar hooks are what make everything gel so magically. The classic rock twin guitar template of Southern 70's bands like The Allman Bros and Lynrd Skynrd has been cranked up 200% or so for the 21st Century. Where the influence of Zappa that had been so apparent on previous releases still remains everything's been made far more palatable as elements of Steely Dan, Thin Lizzy, Boz Scaggs, Steve Miller, Blue Oyster Cult, ZZ Top and Rush are added to the mix. That's not to say this is a nostalgia record. It sounds utterly contemporary in the same way that fellow Texan Stevie Ray Vaughn sounded fresh in the late 80's/early 90's by re-interpreting old blues standards in his very unique and entertaining way. "Corsicana Lemonade's" songs, together, form a seamless, cohesive collection. Only the last tune, "A Place to Start", takes its foot off the gas. It's a slower, more tender ( and thoughtful) song than the others. At first I thought it sounded out of place but after several weeks (the record's been available to stream online for quite a while) it's become, for me, along with "Come Back", one of the album's highlights.
In the past White Denim have used methods such as sudden time signature changes and abrupt quiet/loud dynamics to make the listener aware of what capable musicians they were, but now the remit seems to be that everyone, listener and band alike, should simply be having a good time. The song structures are as sophisticated as anything they've done before, but the riffs dominate, making these compositions sound effortless and probably less clever than they actually are. The lyrics too, belted out with great gusto by Petralli, don't go in for the "deep and meaningful". They're functional without being banal and allow Petralli to explore the full range of his soulful voice.
Compared to "D", their last "official" studio album, "Corsicana Lemonade" sounds Lo-Fi. There's plenty of fuzz bass which lends the album a "Nuggets"- era garage rock feel. Beyond some overlaid acoustic guitars (in the quiet places) "Corsicana Lemonade" appears to have very few overdubs. It's essentially a wonderful live document of the marvelous place where White Denim are currently at as a touring band (I saw them at the Latitude festival earlier this year and grinned broadly for the entire 45 minutes duration of their set).
To conclude, the production on this record is everything I feared it would be had Tweedy been more involved - but that's exactly what was needed. White Denim are smart guys, they knew what they wanted, which also goes to show how much I know. I've got some more tickets for White Denim in November. They're playing small 200-300 seat venues. The tickets didn't sell out for several days after they went on release. This goes to show that White Denim are still very much a well kept secret on these shores. I don't see how they will be in future after more people get to hear and fall in love with this utterly uplifting album.