Engaging, eloquent musician Rod Picott showcases “Hang Your Hopes On A Crooked Nail” on upcoming West Coast tour
Since releasing the first of eight studio albums 13 years ago, East Nashville-based musician Rod Picott has earned a reputation as a songwriter with a talent for gritty honesty and wry eloquence, and for being a performer with a knack for forging connections with audiences. He will showcase his latest album, “Hang Your Hopes On A Crooked Nail,” on a West Coast CD release tour in late July and early August.
Picott’s music braids together the lyricism of folk, the propulsion of rock and the lope and burr of classic country. Meticulously crafted and seemingly effortless lyrics form the foundation of his music.
“For me, it’s really about the lyric,” said Picott via email. “That’s where I live.”
The lyrics are where he lives in more ways than one. The veracity and vivacity in Picott’s music are due to the deftness with which he spins parts of his life into songs. Although Picott draws on his own experiences, his songs are neither self-indulgent nor overly self-referential. He includes just enough well-chosen detail to breathe life into the vignettes and characters, but not so much that listeners feel shut out.
The characters in Picott’s songs don’t have easy rows to hoe. Welding burns, strained families, lost love and automotive breakdowns could be unrelentingly grim and pessimistic, but these people are a determined and resilient bunch. Though Picott gave his music and tours the tongue-in-cheek sobriquet “Rod Picott’s Circus of Misery and Heartbreak,” veins of hope — occasionally dimmed but not gone — and perseverance run through his songs.
“To me, there’s nothing more beautiful in this world than someone who won’t be denied what they love, someone who won’t stop trying,” said Picott.
Picott knows a thing or two about not giving up. The son of a welder, Picott (along with childhood friend and “longtime/sometimes co-writer” Slaid Cleaves) grew up feeling like an outsider in his small Maine town. After high school, Picott moved to Colorado, then Nashville to pursue songwriting, working as a sheetrocker to pay the rent. Success was neither quick nor easy. Picott didn’t release his first CD, “Tiger Tom Dixon’s Blues,” until he was confident in the songs, some of which he’d honed while opening for Alison Krauss.
“I look back on that first CD with a lot of pride,” he says. “I worked very hard to get to a place where I had 10 songs worth singing. I was 35 years old already. I had … sacrificed a lot already to get to that place. I had done my painful growing as a writer in private leading up to ‘Tiger Tom Dixon’s Blues.’
“Since then I’ve grown mostly by becoming less self-conscious and trusting my antennae.”
Picott’s latest album demonstrates that understated confidence. He worked with an outside producer — a first for him — and chose RS Field (Billy Joe Shaver, Hayes Carll, Justin Townes Earle), who in turn suggested a new studio and session musicians. Picott called the experience “nerve-wracking” and “exciting.”
“Everything was outside of my little world,” he said, and is pleased the recording “really sounds like a Rod Picott CD. So that is sort of comforting and exciting, you know? ‘You can put carrots in its ears and teach him to hula hoop, but it’s still just a rabbit.’”
Populated with a scattering of underdogs with no interest in quitting, “Hang Your Hopes” is carried by Picott’s writing, vocals and evocative instrumentation. From the humid funkiness of “65 Falcon” to the poignancy of “You’re Not Missing Anything,” Picott delivers. His warm, husky voice occasionally makes way for different styles, including the Roy Orbison-esque choruses of “Bluebonnet” and a George Harrison-infused delivery on “65 Falcon.”
But even with all the growth, Picott said he still feels some limits. “I think the biggest constraint really is the same for any artist. How do you step aside from how you want the world to see you and get down to the dirt of what it is you have to say and offer? If we could do that, we would make amazing art. As it is, we struggle to set aside ego and vanity, and it trips up our art and doesn’t allow us to fully distill the ideas to their most potent. You get there sometimes, but it’s a struggle for most of us.”
Picott’s West Coast CD release tour includes concerts in California, Oregon and Washington and runs from Friday July 25 through Sunday August 3.
For more information, visit the venues’ websites and rodpicott.com.
Rod Picott’s West Coast tour dates:
July 25: The Palms Playhouse, Winters, CA
July 26: House Concert, Santa Cruz, CA
July 27: Hotel Café, Los Angeles, CA
August 1: The Green Frog, Bellingham, WA
August 2: House Concert, Seattle/Puyallup, WA
August 3: House Concert, Sisters, OR