Arts & Entertainment

Press Pass: Joe Purdy

 

Joe Purdy stands on stage during the middle of his set at Soho’s City Winery, repeatedly strumming the chords to the chorus of “San Jose.” But the next line he utters is absent from the song’s proper lyrics. PressPass3

Joe Purdy stands on stage during the middle of his set at Soho’s City Winery, repeatedly strumming the chords to the chorus of “San Jose.” But the next line he utters is absent from the song’s proper lyrics.

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Joe Purdy (Photo: Courtesy Brian Klein)

“I’m not going to lie,” Purdy begins. “I forgot the words. Can someone help me out?”

The admission draws a laugh from the sold-out crowd, but no clear answers.

“See,” Purdy continues. “You guys don’t know them either.”

There was a time, he says the next day in the lobby of his hotel, when he didn’t need to write down any of his work. He could recall ever word and every tune to every song he’d authored from memory, more or less a fan favorite that landed on “Grey’s Anatomy.” But that time was before his songbook blossomed to 10 albums and over 100 tracks in an eight-year span.

With a few more cries from the crowd and some mental gymnastics, Purdy plays out the remainder of “San Jose” and takes calls for the next song. The crowd obliges by showering the stage with titles: “The City,” “Waiting on Something Good,” “You Can Tell Georgia.” Purdy summarizes the majority of them when he jokes into the mic, “Play the sad one! About the girl!”

Indeed, the balance of Purdy’s work deals with romances tested by time and distance, and usually to pulled apart by a slow departing train. However, much of his newer work has shifted focus. After relocating from Los Angeles to his home state of Arkansas more than a year ago, he’s strayed from his tales of travel and tangles with women, broadening his subject matter and, at the same time, making it more personal.

“I didn’t want to write about the streets of L.A. anymore. And as much as I love New York, I’ve written plenty about that too. I wanted something that was giving more intensive light to where I came from, something a little closer to home that felt more real to me,” Purdy says through a well-groomed, but definitively bushy beard the day after the show. “Of course now I have to remember how to chop wood, burn brush and keep warm. But all those things I complain about, that’s exactly what I wanted to do.”

So now, as he builds fences and screens in porches and cuts down dead trees around his home and adjacent studio on Blue Herron Farms, he hears of stories both past and present from the area. Some of which end up in song.

“Man, there is some crazy shit that has gone on there,” he says.

One example: Near his property resides a local couple whose son killed himself in a car on their property. Since his death some 40 years ago, they have not moved the car and now raise wolves in a pen that encloses the decrepit automobile.

“It’s wild,” Purdy says. “But it’s all just fuel for writing.”

In that vein, some of his newest work, like the recently released Last Clock on the Wall, has had a more folk-tale tinge to it. On that album, Purdy sings of past depressions and wars, and the people who play their part in them. Some of his new unrecorded songs, set for release on a potential double-album dubbed The Mudtown Crier, share that sentiment. One tune called “Ballplayer” follows the life of a washed-out minor leaguer. Another, “Angelina” taps into dark territory to detail the love and, ultimately, murder of a woman by a man who adored her.

“I don’t even know how that song took the turn it did,” says Purdy, who wrote the lyrics in a near stream of consciousness. “I got to the end and I was like, ‘Aw, man. He killed her.’”

While Purdy may not play the protagonist in these tunes, he still manages to place the listener squarely inside the song through the use of poignant vignettes and a knack for connecting with is characters. Each composition is like a five-minute short story that will ring in your head for days to come.

His new work, just like his old, is highly memorable. Now, whether or not he remembers all the words is another story.

• For more on Joe Purdy, visit www.joepurdy.com.

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