“Listen to this bridge,” an ecstatic Peter Searcy says as a snare drum break rattles the Mackie speakers inside his home studio.
There is no containing the man’s excitement as he mimes the beat. Searcy’s fourth album, Spark — his first for Label X — is a wonderful batch that emphasizes arrangement and not just the solid pop structure of his previous records.
The voice is still there, like always, but unlike Trust Falls, which put singer and guitar in the front row, Spark walks like a band — even if Searcy’s the only one appearing in the press pics.
“I wanted to make a ’70s rock album,” he says, noting that he sought inspiration from groups like Fleetwood Mac. “I wanted good musicians around me — minus the coke and adultery.”
Result: It’s lush central, peppered with harmonies and accents in the right places (“Summer Behind Us,” “Truth Rises”). Recorded at Tree Sounds in Atlanta, with some tracking done at Searcy’s home studio, the album shines thanks to Label X president Todd Smith’s production, which surrounds you without losing the special moments.
And there are many. “Don’t Let a Day,” recorded shortly after Searcy’s father died, is heartbreak wrapped in tiny messages of hope. The hypnotic “Overcome and Underwhelmed” feels more Middle Eastern than Midwestern, and signifies that Searcy is more courageous than ever, turning conventional singer-songwriter strategy upside down.
This time around, the man who once fronted Big Wheel and Squirrel Bait says he knows more about the nuts and bolts of record-making. “I used to defer a lot on instrumentation. This time, I had an understanding of what was going down.”
Searcy prefers to play with a band but occasionally performs solo, and he will do just that Tuesday night at Air Devil’s Inn with Brigid Kaelin and Jim Bianco. Bianco, who lives in Los Angeles and has been compared with the likes of Elvis Costello and Tom Waits, is touring behind his solo effort, Handsome Devil.
In April, Searcy and Kaelin, who plays piano in his backing band, head to L.A., where they will play part of the Hotel Café Tour and record four or five songs at Sony Music Studios to be available for exclusive download.
Spark is scheduled to drop in late May.
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