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"It's much easier getting around Austin than Los Angeles," says singer-songwriter Randy Weeks about his recent move to the Hill Country. "It's just a different way of thinking and living."
Weeks is originally from a small town in Minnesota, but he's spent most of his life in California, where he co-founded the pioneering roots rock group the Lonesome Strangers. Sharing stages in the '80s with Dwight Yoakam, Rosie Flores and Buddy Miller, Weeks' commitment to rural music continues unabated 25 years later with his dramatic new solo effort Sugarfinger.
"I think I grew a little away from roots music with my first couple of CDs," says Weeks. "And I'm sort of coming back around on my new one."
Weeks' concept of alt-country differs from that of so many hard-core retro sorts who look the part but are too happy mimicking their inspirations instead of trying to transcend them. On Sugarfinger, influences as diverse as J.J. Cale and Al Green mix well as an organic and nearly ambient production creates a weird and inviting backdrop for Weeks' dark, emotional musings. Several cuts from Weeks' previous two CDs have been used on the soundtracks of various films, including Shallow Hal, Sunshine State and Say It Isn't So.
Produced by Jamie Candiloro (R.E.M., Ryan Adams), the new effort offers a surprising array of styles and moods. Much like Dylan's Time Out of Mind, songs such as "Looking for a Good Time" and "Transistor Radio" go well beyond their common titles and succeed because of their atmosphere and attention to detail.
Judging by whom Weeks has been listening to since he moved to Austin, it's no wonder that he's moving into such odd and interesting territory.
"I could go see the Gourds everyday," says Weeks. "In Austin, there is so much competition and so many bands, but also so much great music."
Sugarfinger is Weeks' attempt to blend rock, roots, soul, blues and pop, and like the Gourds, such ambition depends upon the quality of the material and the players who perform it.
"I lived in L.A. for 20 years," says Weeks. "And luckily, I called in a lot of favors and got some good people to record and tour with."
Featuring Tony Gilkyson and Mike Stinson, Weeks' touring band is capable of nights of intensity that can be shocking in venues more accustomed to a traditional singer-songwriter.
"Some Dallas paper listed us as acoustic," says Weeks laughing. "I think we will surprise a lot of people."
Weeks has been surprising folks for a number of years. At 52, he is still looking for that proper balance between artistic integrity and making ends meet.
"Who doesn't want to make a living doing what he loves to do?"