Bruce Springsteen should be proud.
Robbie Robertson and Bob Dylan should be quite happy.
Tom Petty, John Mellencamp and Tom Waits should all offer broad smiles of approval.
There is a exceptional new album coming to stores Tuesday that builds upon the work of those pioneers without ever becoming derivative. It's a fresh, modern-sounding, storytelling album that — like the recordings of the aforementioned artists — puts songwriting before trends and music before marketing.
"Up There Down Here" — the latest album from The Badlees — is just that.
It is a true album.
"We just wanted to make a real cohesive record — a record that could stand as a complete record," says Badlees' vocalist Pete Palladino in a phone interview. "Anymore, popular music is about singles, and we just didn't want to play that game. There's no longevity in that, and it's just not something we've ever been interested in ..."
"Some of the best records are records. They're works of art as a whole. We wanted to make a album like that."
Recorded mainly at the renowned Bearsville Recording Studios near Woodstock and at Sound City in Los Angeles, "Up There Down Here" was co-produced by the band along with studio veteran Joe Alexander. It is the national follow-up to the group's critically lauded "River Songs" LP. That album contained the hits "Angeline Is Coming Home" and "Fear of Falling" and helped the band earn opening act spots with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, Bob Seger and Gregg Allman.
With the release of "Up There Down Here," it appears the group has delivered an even stronger recording than its predecessor.
"We obviously didn't want to make 'River Songs II,' "says guitarist and songwriter Bret Alexander in a separate conversation. "When we finished that tour, there were a lot of things that happened ... We found ourselves being put in the company of some bands that we really didn't think we belonged in. The goal was to kind of set the record straight once and for all.
"We just wanted to do a really outstanding songwriter record and a record with a 'sense of place' to it. We wanted to make a record that would push the envelope with a lot of narrative, storytelling-type songs. That was the challenge — to stretch the envelope a little bit."
The "Up There Down Here" sessions — which ran through late 1997 and early '98 — occurred mainly in Bearsville. Some tracks — particularly those recorded in the autumn while surrounded by the woodsy Catskills — seem to have allowed the picturesque environment to breathe right into the recording. "Thinking In Ways," "Running Up That Hill" and "Luther's Windows" are all highly textured tracks with undeniable cinematic quality.
"I think a lot of things just came together," says Palladino of the six-month recording process. "Bret's songwriting and everybody's songwriting really started to hit its peak and hit its stride. I give Bret and Joe a lot of credit for really pushing us. Everybody's performances were brought up a level."
Based out of Pennsylvania, the band — which also includes bassist Paul Smith, guitarist Jeff Feltenberger and drummer Ron Simasek — has always been a highly prolific and eclectic outfit. In addition to standard rock sounds, "Up There Down Here" features an array of dynamic instrumentation including mandolins, dulcimers, lap steels, zithers and cellos.
Alexander says that although the group embraces the folksy and rootsy sounds that have influenced the band, the band members weren't afraid to add more modern elements such as drum loops and synthesizers to the recording.
"It's traditional instrumentation used in different ways," he says. "With the technology and the tools that we now can use, you can bring the whole thing up to date and kind of create something all-together new."
Interestingly, "Up There Down Here" nearly missed seeing the light of day. The band and the album's masters spent more than a year in corporate limbo during the highly publicized Polygram/Seagram's sale. Finally — at their own request — The Badlees were released from their contract with Polygram earlier this year. Within weeks, however, a new national deal with Ark 21 Records was on the table, and the album was saved.
Although Alexander and Palladino admit the entire Polygram experience has left the group a bit jaded, both say the band is more excited than ever about its music and where its members stand as musicians and songwriters.
"By coming through this terrible thing, we found out we were on the right track to begin with," says Alexander. "We'd been independent for a long time, but when we first got signed, we kind took the attitude of 'let's sit back and learn from those who know what they're doing.'"
"We've realized we knew what we were doing all along."