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September 7, 2012

A ‘Mighty’ long time

It’s been two years since Josh Roberts & The Hinges released an album, but “Mighty Old Distance and Murky Old Time” is worth the wait.

“Mighty Old Distance and Murky Old Time,” the new record by Josh Roberts & The Hinges, took a mighty long time to complete. The calculatingly turbulent rock band that can just as easily slow the music down with by-the-fire warmth didn’t rush the writing and recording.

It’s been two years since the release of the superbly robust “My War Cry is Amor.” The new record is being released about a month after the band announced that it had signed with CIA Records and Chromatone Music. Roberts said the work with the label starts in force at the first of next year.

Roberts also said the deal with the nascent label was better than any other he had been previously approached with.

“I’ve almost signed a few things,” Roberts, the band’s primary songwriter, said. “I’ve been close to that kind of thing over the past two or three years. It just didn’t quite get there from one end or the other.

“It was just the right thing at the right time. The right people.”

Roberts, a former member of Captain Easy, thinks he has the right people to push beyond Southeastern bars and clubs. He is joined by his wife, Leslie Branham (acoustic guitar, banjo and vocals); Ed Lemon, Jr. (guitar and vocals); Corey Stephens (bass and vocals); and Dennis Ware (drums). The band has alternated players since its inception.

Guitarist Robert Walker, who played most of the rhythm guitar parts and spot lead on the record, left the band this year. He was replaced by Lemon, who has been playing acoustic gigs with Roberts so they can become better acquainted as bandmates.

The band retreated to a cabin in the woods for several days this summer, practicing 18 hours a day, Roberts said.

“Everybody’s fired up right now,” he said.

Recording sessions with producer Alan Moon began in February 2010. Instead of packing the sessions into a few hurried days, the band gave itself time to absorb the work.

“It gave them the opportunity to take the CD home and give feedback,” Moon said. “You get too close to some things sometimes to get a really good perspective on it.”

“War Cry” was recorded by Moon at a country farmhouse in Ballentine, but “Mighty” was done at Front End Audio, the studio and audio dealer off Rosewood Drive.

“I think there’s a certain power that comes out of this record that maybe wasn’t there,” Moon said when describing the difference in sound between the two albums. “It’s different players, too, so it’s really a different band and different dynamics. It wasn’t like we were rushing for a release. Deadlines only started to appear at the end of last year.

“Of course we shattered all of those.”

“The biggest advantage for me, as a guitar player, has been the time to layer the guitar parts — and then change them,” Roberts added. “It wouldn’t have happened if we had just bashed out the songs.”

For example, on “Rabbit” Roberts made nine guitar tracks of individual notes and then stacked the notes. It sounds like a keyboard stabbing through the melody.

“You don’t know if it’s a world instrument or what,” Moon said. “That was all Josh’s idea. He came up and said, ‘I want to try something’.”

Of the 14 songs recorded for “Mighty,” only eight made it on the album. It’s a breezy 37 minutes, a drastic change from “War Cry.”

“That was like a double album,” Moon said. “Seriously, we were on the phone with manufacturers making sure we could actually fit it. A CD is only supposed to have 74 minutes. I think we had like 30 seconds left.”

The new record’s opener, “Cobwebs,” begins with a jogging groove before slipping to a slower pace where Stephens’ bass runs stick out as does the Roberts and Branham’s syrupy harmony. It’s something Roberts and the Hinges do remarkably well.

“I just always like those dynamics,” Roberts said.

The music is basically implacable. It’s fair to label it as vintage, but it’s not vintage in the sense that the band is re-creating something that’s already been done. But the elements of rock, country and blues in the music owes a debt to performers — Neil Young, of course, immediately comes to mind — that are considered legends.

“That’s like the best and worst thing,” Roberts said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way, but I think that’s part of what’s made it hard for someone to figure out how to market us, what to do about that.”

“Steady as We Can,” a song that appeared on a Scene SC sampler, has been remixed. Ryan Monroe of Band of Horses sings background and plays the organ on the song. “The Last Wilderness,” the album closer, is the opus on the record, Roberts said. JRATH, as people online have taken to abbreviating the band’s name, are known for bending and knotting songs into dizzying jams. “The Last Wilderness” won’t disappoint, particularly Roberts’ one-take guitar solo that growls during acceleration.

Two years of recording allowed the band to make discerning decisions.

“We rearranged a bunch of stuff musically, lyrically and technically too,” Roberts said. “We continually, over the last two years, had the longest editing process ever. It was like this huge demo process.

“It’s the constant learning. It’s the process of examining what we do. The only thing I had to fight was my urge to get a record out.”

Do the songs still mean the same since they were written?

“More,” he said. “All of them always end up more. To me, if you write with some broadness, then you can grow into them. Because you can discover new layers. I like to write in images anyway, in little bits and pieces.

“To me, the whole writing thing is not a declaration. It’s more a process of discovery.”

While listening to album at Front End Audio, Moon frowned after the opening chords of “Do You Think.”

“I figured out something,” he said to Roberts, “that’s not actually how the vocals are supposed to be miked.”

“Yeah, but it’s great though,” Roberts responded. “Don’t change it man, seriously.”

“I’ll adapt,” Moon said. They both laughed.

Roberts is ready to move ahead.

“As soon as this record is out, we’re going to start working on the next one, so it’s not going to be two years, three years,” he said.

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