The Upward Slide
By Mark Jordan
AUGUST 18, 1997: Journalism lesson number one: Never believe the press release.
For instance, the press release trumpeting the release of The Slide Project, the catchy-as-hell debut release from Mississippi pop craftsman Neilson Hubbard, quotes him explaining the difference between his solo album and the work of his band, This Living Hand:
"No. I don't think I said that," says Hubbard from his home in Jackson, Mississippi. "I think maybe my manager said part of that."
Oh. Well, do you know what it means?
"I think what they're trying to say is that This Living Hand had a song called 2 a.m. that's listed on our first album but had to be cut because of length. But that song really defined that band. It was just a late night sounding band. It was so moody and atmospheric and, some would say, depressing, I guess. Still melodic but just not very driving."
But the solo record, I think, is an album that you listen to for all of a summer, driving around with windows down. And afterwards, whenever you listen to that album, it reminds you of that summer."
It's doubtful, however, that in years to come Hubbard will have much trouble remembering this summer. The 20-something singer/songwriter is coming to a boil over the critical acclaim of his solo debut, just recently released on the E Plurbis Unum label. An infectious work that puts a distinct, personal twist on such power-pop influences as Matthew Sweet, Big Star, and the Beatles, The Slide Project recently debuted at number 143 on the College Music Journal's Gavin Report and the record is finding its way onto the play lists of some of the country's most influential alternative radio stations.
In addition, Hubbard has just found out that he and his nascent band will be hitting the road in a few weeks as the third act on a bill with the Wallflowers and the Counting Crows, whose lead singer Adam Duritz is a co-owner of E Plurbis Unum. Hubbard's stint on the Wallflowers. Counting Crows tour will "take us everywhere from West Palm Beach Florida all the way up to Vancouver, Canada" before winding up with a series of small-club dates on the West Coast.
"It's kind of frightening," Hubbard says. "they say they've been averaging around 20,000 a show. We played with the Crows once before and that was probably the biggest crowd I've ever played before, about 3,000."
Before the crowds rush the stage, however, Hubbard, guitarist Chuck Hatcher, bassist Jason Wilkins, and newly-acquired drummer Scott Street will get to work out the kinks with a couple of live shows in Nashville and Memphis, opening for Hubbard's old friend Garrison Starr, who herself is getting ready to jump into the limelight with a new record on Geffen Records.
Starr and Hubbard first met as students at Ole Miss, where the two joined forces in the bands Spoon and later This Living Hand. Though Starr, originally from Hernando, Mississippi, left This Living Hand to move to Memphis and work on her solo career, the two songwriter remain close. Starr sings backup vocals on three songs on The Slide Project and Hubbard co-wrote two tunes and sings harmony on Starr's upcoming album.
"We still write together and see each other all the time," Hubbard says. "We've even talked about doing a record, just me and her, which hopefully will happen. But with what she's fixing to go through and me working this record, it'll be awhile before we can get to that."
Friendship obviously figures strongly in Hubbard's musical career as evidenced by his longstanding collaboration with Clay Jones. Friends since kindergarten, Jones and Hubbard have been musical partners since the days when they "played in a bunch of bad cover bands in high school." and started Spoon and This Living Hand together. This Living Hand, in fact, seemed it might be headed for success in its own right when its second record, also on E Plurbis Unum, got shelved because of distribution problems. Hubbard used the time off to get married, while Jones moved on to produce and play guitar for Starr. When Hubbard finally decided it was time to tackle a solo project, it was out of habit that he called on Jones to produce. This time though their working relationship was a bit different.
"In This Living Hand, I pretty much wrote all the songs, and Clay handled the arranging and production," Hubbard says. "Although we've always worked together well in the studio, usually I would just come in and sing and do my guitar part and that's be that. And Clay would come in after that and I'd stick around to see what he was doing. But with this I was a lot more active. I even got to handle a lot of the arranging which was cool."
Like his collaboration with Starr, the Jones-Hubbard partnership seems like its just beginning, with one This Living Hand album already in the can as the precursor to a whole new album. In the meantime, Hubbard is focusing on his solo career. His label is debating which song to release as a single -- with the jaunty "Everybody's Doin' It;" "Paper Star," a feverish lament to a dissolute love; and "Captain of the Teenagers," a surefire, nouveau-new-wave anthem vying for the honors. And Hubbard has already written a new record's worth of material he can't wait to put down on tape.
"I enjoy playing live," Hubbard says. "That's fun, but [making records] is the real reason I'm doing this. That's what you have to remember. If you have a record, that's what lasts, what people can go back and listen to over, over, and over again."
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