Chuck Mead’s fourth solo album comes out Friday, June 21. And while the title track “Close To Home” is about the power of music to tell uncomfortable truths, it could also apply to Mead's all Nashville album release tour this week, starting Tuesday night, as Mead explained to WMOT last week.
"It's nice to have a gig every day for five days and sleep in your own bed,” he said.
And that's not counting the bonus in-store at Grimey's in East Nashville on Sunday. First up on Tuesday night, The American Legion Hall on Gallatin Road, followed nightly by the 5 Spot, Dee's in Madison, the Nashville Palace and a special double header Saturday night.
“And after I do the Grand Ole Opry I go down and do Robert’s,” Mead said. “The rest of these are easy gigs. Roberts - you got to do four hours or it's not Robert's, right?"
Countless 10 pm to 2 am sets at Robert’s Western World is where Mead built his name and established his style, fronting BR549 during the late 90s, a pivotal period when Lower Broadway came back to life as a live music destination.
Since that celebrated roots revival band parted ways ten years ago, Mead has juggled music supervision jobs for Broadway and television with making albums, and in this case, one led directly to the other. In 2006, Mead was approached by country music historian Colin Escott about working on a nascent musical based on the famous encounter of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis at Sun Records in 1956.
The show became a Tony-nominated hit that spawned productions around the world. A spinoff television episodic drama called Sun Records also pulled Mead in as music supervisor, culminating in a four-month stay in Memphis during the shoot.
"I lived at the Chisca Hotel, an old fleabag hotel downtown they turned into condos. It's famous because that's where the radio station that Dewey Phillips worked that played the first Elvis record. We were all put up in there. It was pretty great. And I got to know a lot of Memphis musicians. I was in charge of hiring guys to play musicians so it looked like they were playing.”
Mead got to know Matt Ross-Spang, a Memphis phenom who rose from intern to chief engineer of the old Sun Records studio before going out on his own as a producer/engineer. His credits include Jason Isbell’s Grammy-wining Something More Than Free and Margo Price’s first Third Man Records debut. They also now include Chuck Mead’s new disc.
"It was the best decision I made to go there and record,” Mead says about Ross-Spang, and the venue, Sam Phillips Recording, which was built in 1960 as the rock and roll architect’s second location. “I came in and I said (to Ross-Spang) if you think of something different from the way we're doing it, tell me, and let's chase it. And he did!"
The result is an 11-song set on Plowboy Records that ranges from the over-driven rockabilly grunge of “Big Bear In The Sky” to the smooth devotion of “My Baby’s Holding It Down” to the honky tonk purity of “Tap Into Your Misery.” The Phillips family upright piano can be heard. Mead’s longtime stage companions Martin Lynds (drums), Mark Andrew Miller (bass) and Carco Clave (steel, mando and guitar) join in.
"it was supernatural the vibe in there,” Mead says in an upcoming interview for WMOT’s The String. “I felt like we were tapping into the spirit of Sam Phillips."
The full tour for Chuck Mead's Close To Home release week:
6/18 9pm Honky Tonk Tues. @ American Legion Hall
6/19 6pm 5 Spot
6/20 7pm Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge
6/21 6pm The Nashville Palace
6/22 7pm Grand Ole Opry
10pm Roberts Western World!
6/23 1pm Grimey's Pre-Loved Music