Sometimes, a record develops a life of it’s own. You start it with a different intention than the actual result sounds like. Nonetheless, there are some ways to enforce this kind of constructive entropy; f.e. making a cover-album and distribute some of the work to others. Such a concept is the backbone of Fellow Travelers. JONATHAN MEIBURG, head of the Austin-based SHEARWATER is that kind of restless and daring character who sometimes lets the art take over in favor of something that maybe wasn’t even intended in the first place. Big concepts and big gestures are the thread that runs through the work of his band, but with this record, MEIBURG aimed to honour some of the other artists he met and toured with over the years – which ended up in an impressively wide ranging catalogue. From WYE OAK, to CLINIC; from XIU XIU to THE BAPTIST GENERALS; from COLDPLAY to ST.VINCENT – but here’s the clou: not only did Meiburg interpret songs from these different bands, but he also invited them to contribute as well, with the exception, that it mustn’t be their own song they helped working on. Confusing you say? Pretty clever, I assume.
With a little help from this little trick, Fellow Travelers has become an exciting project in which you always recognize the trademarks of SHEARWATER that are complemented by some surprising details. We hear CLINIC’s drum-computers on THE BAPTIST GENERAL’s Fucked Up Life and vice versa, THE GENERAL’s Chris Flemmons on CLINIC’s Tomorrow. Furthermore, there is XIU XIU’s claustrophobic nightmare I Luv The Valley OH! which turns into an uplifiting rock-anthem. All in all, this is how simple covers are translated into something really new. Needless to say, that JONATHAN MEIBURG’s voice is able to interpret any song on this world in a very unique way – from introverted falsetto to harsh expressiveness in seconds? No problem for this man.
There seems to be no mediocrity in this band’s output. Once again, Fellow Travelers comes with a beautifully odd, metaphorical artwork as well as an essay by Meiburg himself about touring-life and how hard CHRIS MARTIN is sweating. Insights from someone, who is as much a part of the business as he’s on the outside, looking in. Because, and this is maybe the bottom line of this experiment: as a musician who’s not doing it primarily for the money but for the sake of playing music, it is very important to be backed and supported by other artists. We, as the audience, might not always be able to reflect the amount of work and stress that comes with touring-life. But now, Fellow Travelers is an album that reminds us of exactly that, as well as it celebrates music as the mutual experience that we all love.
You can stream the entire album over at NPR