Following a successful Kickstarter campaign, Oklahoma singer/songwriter Beau Jennings took on a quest for inspiration from one of the greats: fellow Oklahoman Will Rogers. The film that resulted from his project, The Verdigris: In Search of Will Rogers, will be making its way around the festival circuit in the winter of 2015. In a few weeks, the album Jennings wrote in tandem with the filming of the documentary, The Verdigris, will be released. The LP features brand new material by Jennings inspired by his understanding of Rogers’ music. Below you can stream one of those tunes, “Scattered Lights”, which finds Sufjan Stevens (background vocals) joining Jennings for a reflective piano ballad.
The journey Jennings took to realize his vision of Rogers’ music was no small one. The press release for The Verdigris details:
Inspired by the field recordings Alan Lomax made for the Library of Congress in the 1930’s, Jennings decided to travel to places Will Rogers had been during his life. There he would record on site the songs as they pertained to each location. There was Rogers’ birthplace in Oklahoma (now covered by Oologah Lake); there was Times Square in New York City where Rogers first became famous; there was the North Slope of Alaska, where Rogers died in a plane crash. From abandoned radio stations in Los Angeles to demolished homes in Arkansas, Jennings chased Rogers’s ghost across the country. Jennings and his guitar rode planes, trains, cars, and ATV’s to the locations. He also brought along a film crew to document the journey. Director and friend Bradley Beesley had already made several critically acclaimed Oklahoma-centric documentary films (Okie Noodling and the Flaming Lips - the Fearless Freaks) and was the natural choice to help capture Jennings’ quest for Will Rogers on film.
He eloquently sums up his journey thusly: “The Verdigris River flows from his hometown to mine, and I couldn’t help but see that as a kind of opportunity to grab whatever he sent floating downstream.”
Jennings tells PopMatters about the track, “I was trying to write about what I thought Will Rogers experienced while living in New York City. I know he was balancing his new success with his new family and a desire to at some point return home to Oklahoma. I too lived in NYC for a number of years, started a family, and many times struggled with the same thing. I eventually did move home, but made a point to return to NYC to do some tracking on this song. While I was in town I managed to drop in to Sufjan’s Brooklyn studio and record his background vocals on the track.”
The Verdigris is out on 27 January. You can pre-order it through Bandcamp at this link.