It's never really mattered who's dropped by to lend a hand in the studio; as long as Anders Parker is in the house, so is Varnaline. The band, both a legitimate group and a de facto one-man operation, rose from the ashes of Space Needle six years ago, with drummer Jud Ehrbar following Parker into his newfound interest in atmospheric Americana. Parker and Varnaline were on a tear from the start, releasing an album or EP every year, and likely would have continued apace, if not for the demise of their label, Zero Hour.

With no label and no support, Parker was forced into musical exile, which took a serious toll on his creative and emotional psyche. Moving to northern Vermont and isolating himself in a remote cabin resulted in the germs of many of the songs found on the new Varnaline album, Songs in a Northern Key, released on Steve Earle's E-Squared Records.

For the latest Varnaline tour, Parker is hitting the road with Centro-matic, who opens with a set of its own material, then backs up Parker as an ad hoc version of Varnaline. "With these new guys on this tour, I'm collecting all the lyrics and music and listening to all the records, which I never do," Parker says, with a wry laugh. "There's stuff that I go back to and cringe, and there's stuff that I'm pretty psyched about." As are we.

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Brian Baker

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