NEW YORK — Bobby Long is sweating.
He’s adjusting the wool cap on his head, questioning the wisdom of wearing it under the hot lights for his show at the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in SoHo.
“You can always take it off,” offers a member of the audience.
“I can’t,” Long replies, not missing a beat. He’s already explained his performer’s superstition about keeping everything he wears at the start of the show on until the end — including jackets and wool caps.
Finally, the 24-year-old jokes, “I’m balding. It’s embarrassing.”
Though he’s only been singing for five years and performing for crowds for even less time than that, Long handles most situations the way he’s handled this one — with a natural ease and a sense of humor.
It’s the same approach he used for recording his debut album, “A Winter Tale” (ATO), which hit stores Tuesday. He recorded the country-tinged folk album last year in several sessions with Grammy-winning producer Liam Watson, best known for his work with the White Stripes, in quite an unusual way these days. He did everything live.
“It’s just honest,” Long says days after his Housing Works show, over lunch. “I really like raw recordings. I really despise the mechanical, digital sound in things. Not to say you can’t record digitally and have a great, raw recording, because you can. It’s just the way I like to do things.
“You know how when you paint, when you finish a painting, you want to put it in a frame and hang it on a wall?” he continues. “I would do that as quickly as possible. Just be done and say, ‘Here it is’ and not have anyone fiddle with it, not have anyone comment on it. I recorded on tape and said, ‘This is the reel. Here it is.’”
Long remembers previous recording sessions where a producer used the more modern process of recording an instrument and then fixing issues of tempo or incorrect notes with the computer. “Instantly I felt that there was a dirty handprint on the music,” Long says. “I couldn’t listen to it again.”
Luckily, he feels more comfortable listening to “A Winter Tale” and hopes others will feel comfortable with it, too. “I want people to understand what I’m doing,” he says. “Whether they like it or not is fine, but I want them to at least get it.”
One listen to the rollicking folk of “In the Frost” or the passionate acoustic guitar of “Penance Fire Blues” and it’s almost impossible to miss Long’s intentions. He mixes the intensity of a young, poetic Bob Dylan with the storytelling of the late Elliott Smith.
Long’s interest in those singer-songwriters led him to leave his native England and settle on the Lower East Side last year, in part to soak in the same surroundings his musical heroes did.
“I’m actually incredibly happy trying to make it here first,” he says. “The English are hard, hard to impress. We’re an old country, and we’ve got our traditions. America is always excited about the new — a new artist, a new building, something knocked down to make way for something new.”
Long has some reservations about how much will be knocked down for him. When he was a struggling open-mic singer in London, he became friends with a young actor-singer named Robert Pattinson, and he’s had the chance to see Pattinson rocket to superstardom in the “Twilight” movies up close.
“It would frighten me if (that kind of stardom) happened to me,” he says, laughing. “But I’m not too worried about it. I’ve made a half-country record, and a lot of the songs are five minutes long with a lot of lyrics ... I’m not going to have my face up in Toys ‘R’ Us with a doll being made.
“I’m quite a reserved person, so even seeing it or being around it sends flutters to my heart,” he continues. “I’m already kind of amazed by how things are at the moment. I find it a bit overwhelming that I can find 100 people who’ll come see me in Paris or Germany or across America.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean Long is willing to stop there. The rollout of “A Winter Tale” is ambitious — with high-profile stops last week at the Sundance Festival and TV appearances, including “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” this week. Long is already in the midst of a headlining tour and is set to open for Rodrigo y Gabriela in Australia after that.
“I feel more confident every day,” he says. “I feel like with these musicians, we can take on the world, so to speak. I feel like we’re just going to get better and better.”
FRIENDS FROM THE ‘TWILIGHT’ ZONE
The celebrity quotient at Bobby Long’s shows tends to be pretty high, thanks to his famous pals. Here’s a look at who might turn up:
FAMOUS FOR: Playing a certain vampire in the “Twilight” movies.
CONNECTION: They were struggling musicians together playing open-mic nights in London. Pattinson sang “Let Me Sign,” a song co-written by Long and Marcus Foster, in the first “Twilight” movie.
FAMOUS FOR: Playing a certain conflicted teen in the “Twilight” movies, as well as Joan Jett in “The Runaways”
CONNECTION: Friends through her co-star and rumored boyfriend Pattinson, the low-key Stewart’s rare public appearances are often at Long’s concerts.
FAMOUS FOR: Co-writing “Never Think” for the “Twilight” soundtrack and releasing his own EPs.
CONNECTION: Friends from the open mics in London.
// Notes from the Road
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