BIO: “I’ve always thought of the BoDeans as a truly American band,” says Kurt Neumann, the founder, primary writer and frontman of the veteran Milwaukee-based group. “We were blue-collar kids straight out of the heartland—how could we be anything else? ‘Roots rock’ was a label I fought when I was younger, but I came to realize that if by ‘roots’ you meant blues, rock, country and soul all slammed together into one sound, then I’d say yes—that is the sound of American-made music.”
Neumann fully embraces that notion on American Made, the BoDeans’ eleventh album. Its dozen songs are laced through with strands of indigenous roots elements—Heartland hoedown folk (“American,” with guest Jake Owen spinning out the guitar solo), Celtic-rooted mountain music (“Walk Through This World,” “Flyaway”), zydeco (“Everything You Wanted”), Southern roadhouse soul (“Don’t Bring Me Down”), Chicago blues (“Shake the Fever”) and 100-proof roots rock (“All the World”). These tracks are played with heartfelt emotion as well as jaw-dropping skillfulness by the band—Neumann on vocals and guitars, original member Michael Ramos (Patty Griffin, John Mellencamp) on keyboards and accordion, longtime BoDeans bassist Ryan Bowman and new member Warren Hood, a fiddle/violin virtuoso from Austin.
As it turns out, the album title bears a thematic resonance as well as a stylistic one. With American Made, the BoDeans have created a soul-stirring song cycle that directly reflects the American experience at this critical moment in our history. The album—which also includes a powerful rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire”—was inspired by Neumann’s blue-collar upbringing and his desire to express what a great country America remains, despite its troubles and the challenges facing it today.
“As we’ve moved into the new millennium, we’ve begun to question our identity as Americans—who we are, or who we want to be,” says Neumann. “With the onset of the Tea party and the Occupy movement, it feels like we’re pulling in two very different directions. The song ‘American’ talks about this land of ‘endless possibility,’ and ‘Where else in the world you ever gonna find this kind of ideology?’ We’re lucky to have the rights and opportunities that we have, but I believe those rights come with a responsibility to help each other along. It’s wrong to stockpile millions or billions of dollars while all your neighbors struggle to survive. It feels like we’re losing the common sense that has always guided us, and that worries me. We’re so out of touch with each other—and just trying to find an American-made product has become almost comical. I wanted to bring that all of that to the surface—hence the album title.”
If American Made is about resilience in the face of daunting obstacles, the same can be said of the unforeseen circumstances that led to the album’s creation. Sam Llanas, one of the original members, left the band last year in order to launch a solo career, the news coming just one day after the release of the band’s previous LP, Indigo Dreams. When Llanas quit, Neumann could have thrown in the towel, but he chose to stick with what he’d begun nearly three decades earlier as the band’s driving force and the architect of its sound. So he and his fellow band members cinched up their belts and carried on. Since then, Neumann has discovered that while unexpected change can be difficult, it can also be revitalizing.
The first order of business was to come up with a cohesive batch of material—Neumann didn’t realize going into the process that it would yield what amounted to the most intensely personal songs he’d ever written.
On “Jay Leno,” Neumann metaphorically invokes the name of the pop-culture figure in recounting a traumatizing childhood experience. “When I was eight years old, growing up in Milwaukee, my family and I came home on a frigid February evening to find our back alley lined with police cars,” he recalls. “Someone had found a young girl’s dead body in the garage next door to my house. Even at a young age, I’d seen a lot of violence in our lower-income neighborhood, but this really shook me up, and my family as well. Soon afterward, my parents moved me and my brother out to Waukesha, a small town just 20 miles west of Milwaukee, but it seemed like a world away from my old neighborhood. I’m not sure why I decided to write a song about it, but as I worked on it, I realized that in a sense this girl may have saved my life. People take drastic measures to get out of poverty, and I’m sure my life would have turned out very differently had we not moved.”
“Chemical” was inspired by growing up with an alcoholic father, and by the many other chemically dependent people in Neumann’s life. “With my dad, even as a kid I could see the writing on the wall,” he says. “I used to feel like there was something he was looking for at the bottom of that brandy bottle. At one point, I called AA trying to find some place I could take him to get help, but the guy on the other end of the line told me I was a fool for trying. He told me I couldn’t help him, that he needed to make that call himself. Sure enough, a few years later, he dropped dead; the booze had killed him.”
As for “I’m on Fire,” Neumann says, “Springsteen’s lyrics have always spoken to me. I know exactly what he’s talking about—I’ve grown up with the same feelings in my gut. This is one of a handful of his songs that I felt I could even approach. I’ve sung it for years. While we were in the studio, we blew it down for fun and it just turned out really nice.
“On another level,” he points out, “the record was inspired by the pop music I listened to on the radio as a kid, feeling the mesmerizing energy busting out of that tiny speaker. As always, I’ve tried to tap into that energy in my songwriting.”
When he’d completed the new material, Neumann called on John Alagia (Dave Matthews, John Mayer, Jason Mraz, Ben Folds) to produce and mix the record, with the exception of “Jay Leno,” which was mixed by Jim Scott (Wilco, Tom Petty), who’d worked with the band in the mid-’90s. Determined to make the best possible album no matter the cost, Neumann sold his truck, one of his most treasured possessions, in order to cover the cost of recording at L.A.’s state-of-the-art Village Recorder, where the band had worked in years past with T Bone Burnett. Alagia brought in Victor Indrizzo (Beck, Sheryl Crow) to play drums. They tracked the entire album in just three days.
Thanks to Neumann’s renewed passion and determination, the BoDeans are still going strong a quarter century after their Burnett-produced debut Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams led them to win a Rolling Stone readers’ poll as “Best New American Band,” and nearly 20 years after their “Closer to Free” became a massive hit and the theme song of the sitcom Party of Five. The BoDeans continue to tour the U.S. year-round, exposing the kids of their longtime steadfast fans to heartfelt, trend-free, American-made music.
But things could’ve turned out very differently. Neumann acknowledges that Llanas’ abrupt departure had triggered an intensive and extended bout of soul searching, causing him to question the basic assumptions he’d carried with him through the life of his band.
“In my frustration, I asked myself, What is BoDeans?” he says. “Is it me, or someone else, or the music. I thought about all the letters people have written me over the years explaining how our music had played an intimate role in some part of their lives—a wedding, a death, a celebration, growing up, growing old. And I came to the realization that the key to the BoDeans’ identity is the fans’ connection to our music. So the inspiration for this record is just that—to carry on with what I started many, many years ago, and to do it for as long as people continue to feel that connection. That’s why I’m so excited about this record. I’ve been humbled by the notion that the fans have given me the chance to go on.”
VIDEO: Kevin Pollack Premieres 'Holiday' Music Video
by BWW News Desk - October 30, 2020
Kevin Pollack has debuted the music video for his new single; an original song, 'Holiday' for which he also provides lead vocals....
VIDEO: Kevin Pollack Premieres 'Man About Town' Music Video
by Stage Tube - August 13, 2019
Kevin Pollack has released the music video for his song 'Man About Town.' The music video, directed by Deric Gochenauer, follows a man anxious to meet a girl for a date, and once they are together it seems as if the whole town is following their love around, acting as the dancers to their musical nu...
City Winery Chicago Announces Los Lonely Boys, Hudson Taylor and More
by TV News Desk - November 13, 2018
City Winery Chicago, 1200 W. Randolph Street, announces the return of Tex-Mex trio Los Lonely Boys, folk-rock duo Hudson Taylor, and more. The following shows go on sale to the public on Thursday, November 15 at noon. All tickets will be available at citywinery.com/chicago....
City Winery Chicago Announces Dave Davies, Herb Alpert and More
by TV News Desk - November 06, 2018
City Winery Chicago, 1200 W. Randolph Street, announces Dave Davies of renowned British rock band The Kinks, Grammy Award-winning jazz duo Herb Alpert & Lani Hall, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons tribute band The Four C Notes, folk-rock singer-songwriter Dan Tedesco, and more. The following shows...
City Winery Chicago Announces Christopher Cross, Lisa Fischer and More
by TV News Desk - October 30, 2018
City Winery Chicago, 1200 W. Randolph Street, announces the return of multi-Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter Christopher Cross, Twenty Feet from Stardom's Ms. Lisa Fischer & Grand Baton, award-winning Celtic quarter We Banjo 3, and more. The following shows go on sale to the public on Thursday...
City Winery Chicago Announces Art Garfunkel, Macy Gray and More
by BWW News Desk - October 16, 2018
City Winery Chicago, 1200 W. Randolph Street, announces the return of the legendary Art Garfunkel, multi-platinum singer/songwriter Macy Gray, Grammy-nominated artist Anita Wilson, and more. The following shows go on sale to the public on Thursday, October 18 at noon.All tickets will be available at...
City Winery Chicago Announces Musiq Soulchild, Bobby McFerrin and More
by TV News Desk - October 02, 2018
City Winery Chicago, 1200 W. Randolph Street, announces neo-soul/R&B innovator Musiq Soulchild, jazz vocalist Bobby McFerrin (“Don't Worry, Be Happy”) and more. The following shows go on sale to the public on Thursday, October 4 at noon.All tickets will be available at citywinery.com/chicago....
City Winery Chicago Announces Special Holiday Show with AMERICAN IDOL Winner Kris Allen
by TV News Desk - September 18, 2018
City Winery Chicago, 1200 W. Randolph Street, announces a special holiday show with “American Idol” winner Kris Allen and more. The following shows go on sale to the public on Thursday, September 20 at noon. All tickets will be available at citywinery.com/chicago....
City Winery Chicago Announces Randy Bachman, Shemekia Copeland and More
by TV News Desk - September 11, 2018
City Winery Chicago, 1200 W. Randolph Street, announces Canadian rocker Randy Bachman ('You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet”), a live recording of the hilarious Girls Gotta Eat podcast and more. The following shows go on sale to the public on Thursday, September 13 at noon. All tickets will be available at c...
Johnny Goudie To Play HAAM Benefit Day Show Tomorrow, EP Release This Thursday
by BWW News Desk - September 10, 2018
Austin-based indie singer-songwriter Johnny Goudie is gearing up for the release of his solo EP 'Leper Hands' this Thursday, Sept. 13 and his official EP release show at One-2-One Bar also on Sept. 13. Doors for this show are at 7 p.m., with the soulful Aaron Stephens opening at 7:30 p.m. and Johnny...
Celebrated Austin Musician and Podcaster Johnny Goudie Announces Solo EP LEPER HANDS Out September 13
by TV News Desk - July 03, 2018
Cuban-American singer-songwriter Johnny Goudie announces the upcoming release of his new solo EP 'Leper Hands' on Thursday, Sept. 13. This four-track record heavily features Goudie's piano playing, mixing in vintage guitars and upbeat drum beats with his smooth indie-rock vocals. Goudie will celebra...
Taj Mahal, Charlie Hunter, & More to Play City Winery Chicago this July
by TV News Desk - July 03, 2018
City Winery Chicago, 1200 W. Randolph Street, announces composer and multi-instrumentalist Taj Mahal, guitar virtuosoCharlie Hunter and more. The following shows go on sale to the public on Thursday, July 5 at noon. All tickets will be available at citywinery.com/chicago....
Pedro Capó, Darrell Scott and More On-Sale at City Winery Chicago
by TV News Desk - June 26, 2018
City Winery Chicago, 1200 W. Randolph Street, announces Puerto Rican singer/songwriter Pedro Capó, Grammy nominee Darrell Scott and more. The following shows go on sale to the public on Thursday, June 28 at noon. All tickets will be available at citywinery.com/chicago....
Sam Llanas to Release New Album Return Of The Goya – Part 1
by BWW News Desk - June 14, 2018
Sam Llanas (pronounced yanas), formerly of the BoDeans, will release album Return of the Goya - Part 1, arriving June 15th...
Chick Corea, John Pizzarelli and More Scheduled to Play City Winery Chicago this Summer
by TV News Desk - May 29, 2018
City Winery Chicago, 1200 W. Randolph Street, announces versatile jazz master Chick Corea and more. The following shows go on sale to the public on Thursday, May 31 at noon. All tickets will be available at citywinery.com/chicago....
Peggy James' New Album 'Nothing in Between' to Be Released This Summer
by BWW News Desk - May 15, 2018
Milwaukee singer/songwriter Peggy James will release her fourth solo studio album entitled 'Nothing In Between' on June 29th, 2018. Championed by veteran producer / guitarist Jim Eannelli whose meticulous attention to detail ensured that justice was served to the projects' recording. To that end, 'N...
Ian Moss Announces First Studio Album In 8 Years & 2018 National Theatre Tour!
by BWW News Desk - November 30, 2017
Australian guitar icon Ian Mosshas announced the release of his first studio album in eight years. The self-titled album to be released on 2 March 2018 is Mossy's first solo album in nine years and his first of all original material in 22 years....