Luke Winslow-King’s last record focused on some tough topics, including his still-fresh divorce, but fans concerned about his wellbeing can be assured he’s moving in a more optimistic direction on his latest. “My last album, [2016’s] I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always, was written very much out of necessity and survival,” he says. “There was a sense of immediacy behind it. I had to create and release that album for my own personal closure but hoped that others could see themselves in it and find encouragement.”
His new album, Blue Mesa—released in May on Bloodshot Records—while not exactly an everything-is-rainbows-and-unicorns affair, shows rays of optimism throughout. “Blue Mesa has a more diverse approach covering a myriad of different topics—mostly about moving on, finding love, and trying to make new relationships work,” Winslow-King says. “It also touches on themes of death, unconditional friendship, and the regrets that come along with a drifter’s lifestyle. It paints pictures of the peaks and valleys of a life on the road.”
Some of those regrets are captured in the song “Break Down the Walls,” off the new record. “I wrote ‘Break Down the Walls’ while serving a 12-day sentence for possession of marijuana in Kalkaska County Jail in 2014,” he explains. “The song is about confronting boundaries and overcoming what is holding [us] back both personally and as a society. The song came really naturally and wrote itself all in one sitting. It’s one of those songs that serves as a reminder, as a bar, the kind of song you have to try to live up to every day. It has a very simple refrain and has been a great singalong at shows lately.”
Despite Winslow-King having relocated to his adoptive hometown of New Orleans—the influence of which can be heard throughout all of the singer-songwriter’s albums—Blue Mesa was recorded in Italy. “I’ve been working over in Europe, and particularly Italy, for 10 years,” he says. “My musical comrade and guitarist on the album, Roberto Luti, is from Tuscany. He recommended a studio that he liked working in near his home. It’s in a fortress village on top of a mountain called Lari.”
The studio is owned and run by an engineer who is completely blind but has a great sensibility and approach in the studio. “His senses are so tuned that he can ride a bicycle around the village with no sight at all,” Winslow-King adds.
Blue Mesa comes less than two years after his last release, a pretty impressive clip considering how much time Winslow-King spends on the road. “Over the last year, writing has become more and more a part of my life. It’s natural in my everyday,” he says. “I’m going to try to keep the albums coming every 18 months or so, but [I] don’t feel any pressure to write. I just try to listen to what’s around me, to bring down the songs that are already in the air.”
Along with Luti, Winslow-King brought in some other longtime friends to help record this one. “Chris Davis of King James & The Special Men plays drums on this record. He’s been touring with me over the last year or so and is really a big part of our new sound. He still has a great handle on the New Orleans feel, but his style is very understated, supportive, and confident. He adds a lot to the music,” he says. “Christian Carpenter is new to the band as well, on electric bass. Both of them together, as a rhythm section, leave a lot of room for the solos and melody. They support the lyrics and are song-oriented players. This is really refreshing for me. I think the songs and album as a whole play a little bit more clear and penetrating without as much inflection or improvisation in the background.”
Photo by Horiz Victor Alonso