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When I first met Sawyer Gebauer – the weighty, valley-low voice behind Catch Prichard – he was called another name. He was in another country, manning a different musical project (the melancholy Europe-based Brittsommar), and far removed from his American roots. He was physically away from home, but also emotionally and culturally. Gebauer has often discussed “home” as a symbol in interviews, namely that you can never return to it in a pure sense. It is a theme so prevalent in his work that it informed a song title on his latest EP Eskota. But in spite of his itinerant past, it seems that he’s getting mighty close to a hearth of his own making.
In the past twelve months, the songwriter has re-tethered himself to American soil after five years gone. Gebauer settled in the Bay Area last fall after a cross-country road trip that centered on the recording of this very album, in a Texas ghost town no less.
That town, was called Eskota.
The story of Eskota’s making is just as mesmerizing as the record itself, to the extent that it’s difficult to examine them separately…much like it’s a chore at times to distinguish Sawyer Gebauer from Catch Prichard, the artist from the person. There is a vague picture, but one cloaked in so much romanticism that it is blurred.
What is clear is the intent. What Gebauer set out to achieve as he drove from Wisconsin to Texas was a simpler sound, one detached from the dense arrangements of his former band. It had to be stripped down and restrained – so in order to facilitate such a mood, he and engineer Brad K. Dollar set up shop for a week in an abandoned mercantile. In the heat they lazed by day and recorded by night, drinking beer to pass the time between.
The record itself bears an authenticity that perhaps wouldn’t have surfaced had the tracks been laid in a fancy studio. Despite its simplicity (the pared down instrumentation features only guitar, pedal steel, drums and the occasional bass and Moog lines), there is a lot to chew on – a soup of intricate production details born of the location. Take for instance “Howl,” ushered in by a creaking chair and built upon the chirping Texas night. “You Can Never Go Home Again” signs off with lilting pedal steel and a faraway cough, presumably that of someone in the makeshift studio. These elements tastefully season the album like a well-prepared meal.
There is a warmth in Eskota I’ve yet to encounter in Gebauer’s music, an openness and vulnerability that doesn’t always show in his previous work. These songs seem both universally narrative and deeply personal, covering heartbreak (“So Close To It), friends remembered (“Eskota”), and becoming a native stranger (“Hometown”). Sonically it sits in a saddle between country, folk and Americana of the early ‘90s. Gebauer’s ten-gallon voice resonates over the brightness of electric guitar and pedal steel, anchoring any sweet feelings we might have with a dose of blues.
Though it’s taken a lot of mileage for him to get here, it seems Catch Prichard has arrived. Maybe you can go home after all.
Catch Prichard will play Rockwood Music Hall on October 26th. Tickets here.