James Tutson and the Rollback Album Release Show
Big Grove Brewery and Taproom — Friday, Nov. 15 at 9 p.m.
James Tutson and the Rollback’s new record, Make You Free, is a tight and appealing, R&B-inflected collection of songs. Tutson’s vocals — sometimes smooth as can be and sometimes rough around the emotional edges — are front and center, but this album is also clearly the effort of a unified band. That marks an evolution in the unit’s work, because the other four members of band — Heath Hospodarsky on guitar (along with Tutson), Tyler Carrington on drums and vocals, Erik Lehmann on keys and vocals and Haven Wojciak on bass — are no longer a pickup backing ensemble for Tutson. Rather, Make You Free demonstrates the possibilities of true collaboration, made all the more impressive by the fact that the record was live-tracked, meaning the band’s sound comes together naturally when they are in the room together rather than piecemeal via individual tracking and subsequent layering.
“Much of the new record and indeed this whole band approach involved not thinking simply in terms of individual instruments and parts, each person playing the best he could (and roughly ‘all-out’ musically), as we had, but rather simplifying, paring down, allowing individual parts to shine at moments and then disappear. We became more dynamic,” Carrington wrote in an email interview. “This had an interesting side-effect, too: where the first record (On Hope, 2017) had been a rock-ed up ‘full band-ification,’ of James’s folk rock stuff, these new songs became much more traditional R&B, even though none of us had really played R&B before. I’m not sure we could have anticipated that, but it now feels totally natural.”
Carrington’s decision to reach out to a musical hero also enhanced the recording of Make You Free.
“There was a Hammond B3 in the studio in Nashville, but none of us was a B3player, so we didn’t put down any B3 parts initially in the week-long session down there. But our producer suggested that he could get a studio player from down the street to play some parts, and we said we’d think about it. In the meantime, I reached out to my all-time favorite band — Dawes, out of LA — and their keyboard player, Lee Pardini, who is just hands down one of the very best in the business, and asked him if we could get him to play B3 on the record, since Dawes was also in Nashville at the time recording,” Carrington wrote. “It was a shot in the dark, like asking the great Robert Duvall to come read some lines in a local theater production. Amazingly, Lee got back to me a few days later and was game. By that time, we were back in Iowa, and Dawes was leaving Nashville, but Lee offered to put down the parts out in LA, and Heath and I flew out there to ‘supervise,’ which was amazing. Lee is also about the nicest guy you’ll ever meet, and we have since had the chance to hang with him a bit and like to think of him as an honorary member of the band.”
The members of the band each have busy careers and young children at home. Carrington says his profession (he’s teaches German studies and history at Cornell College in Mount Vernon) provides a good analogy for how the band works:
“I, the professor, sometimes compare our band to undergraduate students with bad study habits, as we will often fail to schedule practices when people are traveling and there isn’t the pressure of an upcoming show or recording session or something and then will have to scramble (‘cram’) in the days ahead of a show or whatever to bring everything and everyone up to date. So it’s tricky, to be sure. But it’s a credit to the band and the members’ musicianship that we’re able to play tight shows on often little rehearsal time.”
James Tutson and the Rollback will perform Friday, Nov. 15, at 9 p.m. at Big Grove Brewery in Iowa City. There is no cover.