The Desert Noir Thing

Tucson's John Coinman celebrates a new CD release

As is suggested by the title of his latest CD, Songs From the Modern West, Tucson-based singer-songwriter John Coinman is a troubadour who forges ahead to create new musical traditions while remaining aware of that which has come before.

"The modern West to me is being able to drive down the freeway amidst the noise and ruckus of the modern elements out there, all the cars and fumes and rap music, and at the same time, you can get a little bit outside of there, and you can still hear the old voices and sounds of the ages as if they are still here," muses Coinman during a recent interview.

"You've got a really contemporary thing going on here, beside which is this beautiful traditional thing of the West happening."

Coinman and his band will celebrate Songs From the Modern West with a CD-release gig Saturday night, July 9, at downtown's Old Town Artisans, even though the disc's release is still about a month away.

At first, Coinman's Netherlands-based label, CoraZong Records, had planned the release for this week, but it was bumped back a month or so, Coinman says, confirming that he will have an ample supply of discs to peddle at the concert.

The CD has been out in Europe since March. The popularity of that release--as well as the 2003 compilation This Place Ain't What It Used to Be, culled from Coinman's first three albums--also led to Coinman's recent tour of the Netherlands with Dutch singer-songwriter and fellow CoraZong artist JP den Tex.

"It made for a pretty interesting contrast," Coinman says. "Me with the desert noir thing, and his French beatnik gypsy take on Americana music. It was suggested by our label head that we tour together."

"At first, we both thought it was crazy, but then we learned to love the concept. We toured for five weeks, playing three sets a night, all acoustic--a set of his music, a set of mine and one where we played together."

Another European tour by the pair is in the offing for 2006, as well as a possible American tour.

For now, Coinman's pushing his solo career. A fall tour of the United States is in the planning stages, and he's eager to see how audiences receive his music.

With Songs From the Modern West, Coinman, always the careful wordsmith, has attempted to redefine his sound as well. He imbues his friendly, grizzled approach to alt-country and dustbowl rock with a darker, grittier edge. He sees a tattered, post-Springsteen version of the American Dream, but trusts that the natural rhythms of the Earth, as well as the poetic spirit of humanity, will help revive that which once was a promised land.

To communicate this vision, he found the ideal sound. "When Teddy and I decided to work together, we discovered he was the perfect match for me because of that stark, lonely sound he gets."

"Teddy" would be Teddy Morgan, an ace Americana-rock guitarist, singer, songwriter and solo artist who has worked with Troy Olsen, Cathy Rivers, Cracker's Johnny Hickman and Calexico's Joey Burns. Morgan, a former Tucson resident who now lives in Nashville, produced and recorded Songs From the Modern West, as well as contributing a bit of vocals and electric six-string wrangling.

Coinman says he was impressed by the haunting alt-country-meets-cabaret style of Rivers' most recent CD, Ascensión. "I think Cathy Rivers is wonderful. Of all the artists here in Tucson, I think she has been able to capture the essence of this kind of desert-based music."

Songs From the Modern West is Coinman's second release on CoraZong and his fourth solo album. He also has seen the release of albums he made with his previous groups, Man Alive and Roving Boy.

For this concert, Coinman will play with his core band of drummer Larry Cobb, bassist Blair Forward and pedal steel guitarist Neil Harry, along with Morgan playing lead guitar.

Even though he's lining up tour dates as a solo artist, Coinman keeps several career irons in the fire.

Coinman plays regularly with local bluegrass ringers Peter McLaughlin and Chris Brashears. He is planning a benefit concert in Albuquerque next year with old friend John Densmore, the former drummer for The Doors. And he has been writing songs with formerTucson folk-rocker Alana Sweetwater.

Two of the Coinman-Sweetwater compositions will appear in the upcoming independent film Whirlygirl, and a third collaboration is likely to work its way onto Coinman's next solo album. He and Morgan will begin planning that record this weekend while Morgan's in town to play the gig.

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