Unbelievably, Jay Farrar Working on His Very Own Mermaid Avenue

09/17/2009 1:16 PM |


Because giving people even more reason to continue comparing him to his former bandmate Jeff Tweedy is exactly the right career move, Jay Farrar has answered the call of Nora Guthrie, and, along with Anders Parker, Will Johnson and Jim James, has completed an album of songs comprised of Woody Guthrie’s unpublished poetry. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Wilco did the same thing back in the late-90s, collaborating with Billy Bragg on the ridiculously good Mermaid Avenue albums.

Word of the new project surfaced as part of an interview with Centro-Matic’s Will Johnson in this week’s Austin Chronicle. Here’s the relevant passage:

Alongside Jim James and Anders Parker, Johnson is also taking part in Jay Farrar’s version of Mermaid Avenue, recording original music based on unpublished Woody Guthrie lyrics at the behest of his daughter, Nora Guthrie. While no details have been confirmed as far as a release date or label, the album, which was recorded in New York in March, is currently in the mixing stage. “Jay sent me a priority mail package full of the lyrics, and I opened it at 4:30 in the afternoon,” Johnson recalls. “Within 17 minutes, I had already documented this one called ‘Chorine My Sheba Queen’ to the recording machine. That speaks far more about the song than anything I did. The lyrics struck me in a way that the music sounded automatic. It made such sense to my soul and my spirit. It’s got an empty and regretful tone but in a very beautiful way. I just latched onto it.”

I imagine there’s no shortage of Woody Guthrie lyrics to go around, but it would be pretty amazing if Farrar and the gang used some of the same material Wilco and Bragg used all those years ago. Like, if they recorded a new version of “California Stars” or something? Seems unlikely, of course, but I’m certainly not going to rule anything out—if you’d told me yesterday that Farrar would take part in this project at all, I never would have believed it. [Austin Chronicle via Daily Swarm]