The Rock & Roll Globe is proud to premiere the new single from the duo’s forthcoming third LP Any Such Thing
A significant slice of the audience that currently recognizes Van Duren as one of the finest American pop/rock auteurs to emerge in the ‘70s only came to know him over the last few years.
First there was Waiting: The Van Duren Story, Greg Carey and Wade Jackson’s compelling 2018 documentary centering on Duren’s 1978 debut, the “lost” power-pop classic Are You Serious. Then there was the decades-overdue 2020 reissue of his first two albums. The cumulative effect of it all was a new wave of Duren love.
VIDEO: Van Duren and Good Question “A Catcher In The Rain”
But it’s not as if the Memphis maestro had been hiding under his bed for the last 40 years. He continued developing his craft with his ‘80s band Good Question, latter-day solo releases, and duos with two fellow Memphians: power-pop cult hero Tommy Hoehn and blues/soul powerhouse Vicki Loveland. Any Such Thing, the third Loveland Duren album, is Duren’s first release since his renaissance kicked in, so it’s likely to have the most ears turned toward it of anything he’s done in a while.
Lucky all around, then, that Any Such Thing is such a kicker. A melting pot of rock, pop, soul, country, and folk influences (in other words, the musical flavors of the duo’s hometown), it shows off the strength Loveland and Duren — who share songwriting and lead vocal duties — gain from each other.
In fact, the aforementioned documentary played a part in the album’s creation, when Loveland and Duren were performing after international showings of the film. “In March and April of ’19,” explains Duren, “Vicki and I traveled with the Australian filmmakers to screenings in L.A., London, Australia, and Tasmania, culminating in live performances in Melbourne, Sydney, and two music festivals with three Aussies rounding out the band. Amidst all of that traveling, Vicki was writing lyrics on most of those flights. We began pulling together our ideas back home that summer, and cut the first tracks at Ardent in September, 2019.”
“We were basically living together on the road in foreign lands and spending a lot of time in the air and in transport to the next gig,” says Loveland. “In that beautiful, unparalleled, and somewhat grueling environment, I found a lot of cathartic relief in writing while on a flight or waiting for one. And as Van was usually sitting right next to me, I quite naturally would bounce stuff off of him almost immediately because he was in my immediate orbit. We had a ton of lyrics and musical voice memos on our phones when we returned to the United States. Sorting through them all to make Any Such Thing was a real labor of love, with a ton of elbow grease.”
There were a lot of historical touchstones involved in the making of the album. It was recorded at two legendary Memphis music hubs: Ardent Studios, where Duren’s old buddies Big Star made rock history in the ‘70s, and Royal Studios, where the late, great Willie Mitchell oversaw game-changing R&B recordings by Al Green, Ann Peebles, and plenty more. Mitchell’s son Boo, who has unsurprisingly become an in-demand producer in his own right, worked on the sessions as well. So did organist Charles Hodges, who was part of Willie’s historic Hi Records house band.
“I first walked into Ardent in August 1974,” remembers Duren, “and over the years recorded some albums there — both Hoehn Duren albums and the second Loveland Duren album.” Any Such Thing started coming together there in 2019. “When the pandemic put a hold on everything we paused, then resurfaced in spring 2020 at Royal, with Boo at the console for the first session. Vicki had worked with the Hi Rhythm Section many times, and that’s how we got Reverend Charles to come in and bless a track with his one-of-a-kind Hammond organ sound.”
Throughout the album, whether it’s Hodges coaxing heavenly tones from his Hammond, Liam Grundy leaning soulfully into his piano, or Duren tucking into a vintage Wurlitzer electric piano, there’s an organic, old-school vibe to the production that lets you feel the air in the room. “Organic is the word,” agrees Duren. “We also have never autotuned any vocals: it’s real singing. And when you have truly gifted keyboard players like Liam and Reverend Charles, it’s the Steinway and the Hammond, no other options even considered. It truly is all about the sound of those instruments and having great engineers who know how to capture them. We were very fortunate to record at those two studios that have those instruments available.”
It also probably didn’t hurt to have the kind of natural communication with the drummer that only comes from a flesh-and-blood connection like the one between Duren and the album’s beat-keeper, his son Ian.
“Natural communication? Absolutely,” says dad Duren. “All through the project he came in with ideas of what he was going to play and that’s what you hear. I think we offered two or three slight suggestions. Otherwise, the drum tracks are Ian’s vision. He’s far more talented than his old man. But I’m better looking.”
But at the core of it all is the musical paradigm created by putting Duren and Loveland together. “The collaboration is quite electric,” agrees Duren, “a turn on. It’s a completely natural magnetic force that can’t be denied. Next year we’ll be 10 years into it, and that’s by far my longest continuous musical partnership.” The pair actually first met back in the ‘80s on the Memphis club circuit, but it took a while for them to catch up with their destiny. “I finally got to know Van when I went to meet my best girlfriend for her birthday at a venue where Van was doing a solo gig,” remembers Loveland. “When he asked if I’d be interested in working with him, of course I said, “Yes.” The rest is history. I’ve not been able to get rid of him since.”
VIDEO: Loveland Duren “Within Crying Distance”
The territory they traverse together on Any Such Thing keeps shifting as they move along. “Tumbledown Hearts” has a classic-rock vibe with just a soupcon of country in the chorus, and in an alternate universe it would have already become a Top 40 earworm. Loveland’s soul cred comes to the fore on the slow-burner “Within Crying Distance.” With its expertly arranged strings, “Funny Way of Showing It” is a baroque-pop gem that evokes some of T-Bone Burnett’s ‘90s productions for Sam Phillips. The blend of bright vocal harmonies and melancholy moods on “Bridges I Had to Burn” wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Richard & Linda Thompson record. And “Everyone Is Out of Tune” should satisfy those who still look to Duren to bring the power pop glory.
Analyzing the warm, woody vibe of “Where Are We Going,” Duren says, “Musically, ‘Where Are We Going’ lies at the intersection of George Harrison and The Traveling Wilburys, I think, with Procol Harum/Crowded House organ tracks contributed by old friend, Tim Horrigan. Vicki Loveland arranged the beautiful, sweeping backing vocals. Drummer Ian Duren and bassist Adam Holton nailed the groove, and my guitars/harmonicas/lead vocal completed the soundscape. Engineer Adam Hill brought it all together with a killer mix.”
After three albums together, Loveland and Duren have learned how to bring out the best in each other. “We’re on a mission,” says Loveland, “and each other’s biggest cheerleader. We also make each other laugh a lot. That’s a real bonus in this business.”
Will Duren remain in duo mode for the foreseeable future, or is there still some solo work still to be done? “For me, the most important rule is that each new album is a progression from the last,” he says, “and not repeating yourself. And Any Such Thing is truly a great record. Beyond that, who knows what the future holds? But I learned a long time ago to never say ‘never.’”
Any Such Thing is out October 1 on Edgewood Recordings.