Karl Blau

(Photo: courtesy of the artist)

Singer-songwriter Karl Blau just released an album called “Introducing Karl Blau.” But it’s far from a debut. The Anacortes, Wash., musician has released more than 40 albums under his own name.

It’s not an introduction to his own music either. It’s a collection of country-western covers from artists like Waylon Jennings and Townes Van Zandt. 

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But Blau says it is a kind of introduction.  

"Introducing Karl Blau into a broader range of listenership and accessibility. Introducing this voice into the country music realm."

A lot of Blau’s past material, which stretches back to 1997, has a lo-fi, experimental sound. 

For this record, Blau teamed up with Grammy-nominated producer Tucker Martine, who has worked on more polished albums with My Morning Jacket, Neko Case and Modest Mouse.  

Blau and Martine recorded the album’s opening track in 2004. It’s a cover of the Tom T. Hall song “That's How I Got To Memphis.” When they first heard the result, Martine says they knew they had something special.

"That was the lynchpin for this whole thing when we accidentally discovered that Karl's voice was such a great vehicle for delivering these songs."

Ten years later, they decided to make a full album together.  

Both Blau and Martine heard plenty of country music growing up. They came up with 30 of their favorite songs in the Memphis and Nashville traditions. Then, they whittled down the list to the 11 songs on the album, with Blau recording demos on his phone and emailing them to Martine. 

"We always used that as the barometer for which songs ultimately to choose because it became really obvious when a song would just really come to life and when new light would be shed on an old song by hearing Karl sing it," Martine says.

An immediate standout was the Link Wray song “Fallin' Rain.” It came together in one take in Martine’s Portland, Ore., studio. While warming up, the band was in such a groove that Martine simply recorded the first run-through. Listening back, he abandoned his plans to shorten the track.

"It really became obvious that part of it was the way it slowly unfolded and just simmered over time," Martine says. "I also just kept picturing that song being played at a party late at night and everyone just starts dancing. What a bummer it would be if you just got into that zone and it was over in four minutes."

In the end, Blau is pleased with how the album turned out, even if it might be a bit of an outlier in his catalog.

"I really enjoy putting myself in awkward contexts," Blau says. "There’s my voice bigger than Buck Jones set out there for all to see."