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First Backyard Tire Fire Album In A Decade Is A Rootsy Gem

 Backyard Tire Fire's new album drops Friday.  They play the Black Dirt Music Festival in Bloomington Saturday.
Jay Miller
Backyard Tire Fire's new album drops Friday. They play the Black Dirt Music Festival in Bloomington Saturday.

When Backyard Tire Fire bandleader Edward David Anderson reunited the once Bloomington-based group a couple years ago, he didn't have a new album in mind. At least yet.

The band returns to his Black Dirt Music Festival in Bloomington (that includes headliner Wilco) this weekend and will unveil "Black Dirt, Blue Sky," the first Backyard Tire Fire album (EP) in over a decade.

Anderson told WGLT that once he had a fist-full of new songs he thought worked for Backyard Tire Fire, it was time to record.

“But I didn't know it was going to take quite as long as it was gonna take and be as complicated as it was gonna be,” said Anderson. “But again, I didn't know that we were going to be in the midst of a world pandemic to try do it so …”

The six-song EP musically fits snug into Anderson’s “Black Dirt” music ethos, but still offers rootsy flavors for everyone. It opens with the Americana-ish “Carefree Kids,” a nostalgic and at times regretful look back on “things that were never said."

“Alejandro Escovedo” also hits that Americana sound.

Alejandro Escovedo came to me in a dream

We were standing in the desert

Well west of Abeline

Leather jacket and sunglasses

Scarf blowing in the wind

He was floating like an angel

Who’d done time for his sins

- Alejandro Escovedo by Edward David Anderson

Anderson said it was the first song he wrote after the birth of his child and believes one of his music heroes was telling him things — and fatherhood — were going to be OK.

“And the emotions that sort of go along with that, and the nerves and uneasiness and excitement and I think that maybe he was just sort of trying to call me in that dream. And as himself, he looked like he looks; he had his sunglasses and his leather jacket and a scarf and we were out in the desert and it was like the sort of surreal interaction that I didn't remember a ton of when I woke up, but that's mainly what I remembered,” said Anderson.

The straight-up country “Truckstop Shower” is something you might have heard on 1970s radio. Anderson said it’s an ode to his time traveling as a solo artist over the last decade. He pointed out it was written pre-fatherhood, as “time” is now measured in “before” and “after” fatherhood.

“I wrote this when my wife (Kim) was pregnant, and I was out on the road doing some solo work. And yeah, that was not an uncommon thing for me to sleep in the van in a parking lot and then wake up groggy and finding my way to the nearest truck stop shower. I think it all started with jotting down the words 'truck stop shower' on a piece of paper out in the van out there somewhere and then running with it. I said, ‘You know, the sounds like a country song waiting to be written.’ Having the truck stop shower sort of wash away the sins of the night before,” said Anderson.

And I stand there for hours

In the middle of the day

At that truck stop shower

Wash it all away

- “Truck Stop Shower” by Edward David Anderson

Much has transpired since Backyard Tire Fire’s last album in 2010. The band dissolved, a worldwide pandemic, a small child, a move to Havana, Illinois, from Bloomington-Normal. You can already hear fatherhood in these new songs. And the pandemic squashed plans to record together in a studio.

“This was assembled from home studios not only around Illinois, but out in Los Angeles, California, which is where Garrison Starr recorded her vocal. The pedal steel on “Carefree Kids" is by a guy named Pat Lyons who's in Nashville, Phil Roache’s fiddle was recorded in Chicago. My brother's (Matt) bass was recorded in Aurora (IL). I never did get everybody in the same room, but we were able to achieve a band sound through everybody recording their parts and it being mixed very well by a guy named Adam Gardner. I think it feels like a Tire Fire recording. To me there's some rockin’ and some blues influence with this awesome country and some pop. ‘Little Wren’ is very hooky,” said Anderson.

Indeed. If there’s a hit on the album, it’s the rootsy pop song “Little Wren.” Anderson is harmonizing with a bird and uses the song as a metaphor for the harmony he feels with his wife and new child.

“I don't know that that was done consciously. But I think probably subconsciously. I mean, you can certainly hear the happiness in that song. It's a very happy time. I would basically wake up before my wife (who was pregnant) and our dog and they would hang out upstairs and sleep in while I was downstairs having coffee on the back porch and playing guitar and working on songs. And this little bird sort of just appeared one day, and then it kept appearing. And it got to a point where I would go downstairs expecting to see and hear this little guy or girl, and it would just sing this sort of beautiful song and just hang out with me,” said Anderson.

Little wren, little wren, little wren’s calling out again

She’s calling out again

And singing a song

- “Little Wren” by Edward David Anderson

“I was also in an incredible place,” continued Anderson. “Because it was that time where you could hear your child's heartbeat. And we were listening … you know … we were going into doctor's appointments and I was able to hear Ella's heartbeat and that makes it into the song about them being upstairs."

Upstairs I know my loves are sleeping

Their hearts are beating

And we are one

“I just felt a lot of love at that point in time. And a lot of anticipation and excitement for what was to come. And that little bird continuously appearing and singing with me. It was a pretty cool moment to be able to capture in time with the song,” said Anderson.

Backyard Tire Fire plays Anderson’s Black Dirt Music Festival Saturday night in Bloomington. Also appearing is Chicago Farmer & the Fieldnotes, and Althea Grace. Wilco headlines.

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Jon Norton is the program director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.