Photo by Joshua Black Wilkins
Acclaimed singer-songwriter Joe Fletcher returns with his third full-length album titled You’ve Got the Wrong Man (available everywhere on September 23), the long-awaited follow-up to his 2010 breakout platter White Lighter. Fletcher left the studio behind this time around in search of a “raw and personal and imperfect sound” for this “solo” album, setting out with only his guitars and a portable recorder and recording in three locations. The results are simply stunning, as Fletcher’s raspy drawl and finger-picking skills drive his captivating brand of Americana, roots, and honky-tonk. Fletcher relocated last year from the East Bay to East Nashville, but is back in RI for an album release jamboree this Friday at the Columbus Theatre’s cozy upstairs nook. And oh yes, expect an all-star array of special guest musician friends to join in on the fun with Joe and tourmates Matt Murphy and MorganEve Swain.
On Monday, it was another humid-as-hell afternoon and Fletcher was savoring a well-earned day off in true RI style — enjoying a Del’s Lemonade in his Warwick hotel following a lunch date with his mom at a nearby Gregg’s Restaurant, “eating the bowl of pickles like I’m 10 years old again.” He no longer rents a small one-bedroom apartment in Warren (he was born in St. Louis and raised here) and had plenty of offers to crash with friends and family while in town on this Northeast swing, but pet allergies and the desire to decompress following a few recent grueling road trips has landed him at “the Holiday Inn near the airport.” Fletcher was in good spirits during our 30-minute phone chat (he still has the 401 number intact) to plug the new album and upcoming hometown throwdown.
Fletcher’s musical career (following a stint as an English teacher) has been on a steady ascension since the release of White Lighter, including appearances at the Newport Folk Festival and sharing bills with Jason Isbell, John Doe, Lucero, and many more. And his song “Drunk & Single (For George Jones)” was recently featured on HBO’s True Blood.
Fletcher moved to Tennessee last October, and fate struck when he met his current girlfriend, who had also planned on moving from Georgia to the crown jewel of country music. “Some things shifted in my personal life, and I was sort of free to go,” Fletcher said. “Some of my friends had already moved there so I knew it would eventually happen. It just took longer than I had anticipated.”
His new digs in East Nashville provided one of three makeshift recording studios, along with his former pad in Warren and a house in Arnoldsville, GA (about 10 miles east of Athens) owned by his girlfriend’s family. He was armed only with a couple of microphones and guitars, a Tascam four-track recorder he bought more than 15 years ago, and plenty of his preferred Maxell XLII blank cassettes, which are “getting harder and harder to find nowadays,” he noted. By way of “extensive trial and error,” Fletcher would find the “mood and personality” he was looking for in each batch of songs, constantly repositioning microphones and trying different rooms in the house, from the storage closet to the grand foyer. (The album was later mixed and mastered at Machines with Magnets in Pawtucket). The portastudio approach recalls Springsteen’s Nebraska and (ex-Archers of Loaf frontman) Eric Bachmann’s solo acoustic album To the Races, and derived inspiration from early recordings by Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie. There’s also plenty of influence from his idols Townes Van Zandt and Bob Dylan across You’ve Got the Wrong Man.
Fletcher found a heft of inspiration during a tour swing through Alabama (“some amazing and strange things happened during that trip”); a visit to the Civil War monuments helped develop Wrong Man opener “Florence, AL,” concerning a small-town soldier who deserts the Confederacy and falls in love, only to be deserted himself. “Haint Blue Cadillac” follows and finds Fletcher living a feverish dream following a visit to the Hank Williams Museum in Montgomery. The singer’s nicotine-laced rasp accompanies the hazy guitar twang.