British singer-songwriter Bobby Long will play Headliner's Music Hall Saturday, March 26 with opener Andrea Davidson at 9:00 p.m. Influenced primarily by American folk music (and part of a burgeoning folk revival in England), Long's style is stripped down and acoustic, relying on staples of the Americana spectrum -- blues-rock, folk, and country.
A native of Wiltshire, England, Long is touring behind his debut album, A Winter Tale, but he is no stranger to the music scene. He toured extensively in the States in 2009 on the strength of his bedroom-recorded effort, Dirty Pond Songs, and the weird fame that goes along with being a friend of an international heartthrob. No doubt, it helps to build a little buzz about your music when you pen a song that appears in a blockbuster movie, sung by sparkly vampire Edward Cullen. "Let Me Sign," which Long co-wrote with friend Marcus Foster, was performed in the movie by Robert Pattinson. The two fellow Brits met while sharing stage time on open mic nights in London before Pattinson went on to be-fanged glory in the Twilight franchise.
Like several of the serious folk music practitioners that I've come across lately, Long isn't just toying with a musicial whim; while studying for his degree in Music in Film at London's Metropolitan University, he wrote his thesis on "The Social Impact of American Folk Music." [Sidebar: Is it just me, or is this guy preternaturally fortunate? Degree in Music in Film? Next stop, featured song in hit movie. Career in music? Signed to ATO Records. Debut album? Recorded at Toe Rag Studios with the guy who also produced The White Stripes. No sweat!]
I had a chance to speak to Long about his new record, just released in February, and his current tour of the States with a band that includes a pedal steel player, a bassist, and drummer -- all Americans. "My band is great...well, one of them is kind of average," he allows with a laugh because they are apparently within earshot. Steeped in the tradition of American folk music, he cites some of his favorites as Bob Dylan, George Jones, John Prine, and Elliott Smith, who his uncle turned him on to. Long says he comes from a musical family -- singers and guitar players with broad musical tastes, who influenced his love of music and eventually, a serious turn to making it a career and not just a hobby.
While he loves his homeland, he admits to a certain drive to escape from the familiar and obviously admires the very American idea of the open road. "My thing with touring is I just like to play a lot. I like being on the road, I like constantly traveling and living out of a suitcase. It's just a simpler way of life....Because America is so vast, I'm kind of constantly...entertained by it. Part of the reason I love being on tour over here is because everything is so different from one place to the next."
At first, he really went after the "Americana" experience of sitting in bars, eating the regional food, and "riding around in pickups," but he has settled down into a more relaxed and, perhaps, contemplative frame of mind from which to write songs. Long says his inspirations are hard to pin down -- things just come to him and he tries to capture those moments. "I try to write a lot and only ten percent of that, or even less is used, if that much. I do think I try to force the issue sometimes, but most of the time it's just this thing that I have no control over."
Listening to the album, I'm struck by the rush of images, rather than straightforward storytelling. There's lots of wind, rain, ghost-like figures, loneliness, and love disappointments, but the music itself is not particularly melancholy. It retains a counterpoint of energetic, bluesy rock rhythms that relieve the melancholia -- if you will -- of a traditional "Winter Tale."
As much as he loves the road, Long acknowledges the challenges of trying to make it in an ever-changing music industry, where none of the old models really work, or are getting re-made, but he's earnest about putting out the kind of serious effort he believes in and doing it in a no-frills, no gimmicks kind of way. "If you do stick to your guns and do things how you want to do them, people can completely see that and it shows in the music."
Tickets for this Saturday's show are $13 in advance/ $15 at the door.
For a good idea of what you can expect, see the video below of Long performing an acoustic version of "Dead & Done" from A Winter Tale. He has also appeared recently on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.