On stage at Apogee Studios, playing songs from his new album, “Waiting On A Song” (Nonesuch/Easy Eye) for a future broadcast on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic, Dan Auerbach certainly looks relaxed. Hair a trifle shaggy, his eyes a little sleepy-looking, he appears to be a man without a trouble in the world.
It’s an attitude matched by the music; the album is breezy collection of pop-country tunes, like a summer afternoon playlist from an imagined AM-radio station. As he told KCRW’s Jason Bentley, the songs were the result of a period of enforced leisure, the first time in eight years he had nothing on his calendar. It allowed him, he said, to explore his adopted hometown of Nashville, and hang out with local musicians and songwriters; the album is the result of those collaborations. They’d spend the first part of the week working on songs, the second half recording them. It’s also something of a calling card for his studio, Easy Eye Sound, and the musicians he’s gathered around him: Nashville legends Dave Roe and David Ferguson (who co-produced); Bobby Wood and Gene Christman, part of the house band of Memphis’ American Studios; and guitarists Mark Knopfler and Duane Eddy.
But at Apogee, it was just Auerbach and Pat McLaughlin on acoustic guitar and mandolin. Seated on stage, they could have jut as easily been playing at the Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe as in Santa Monica. Loose and intimate, it’s an approach that showed off the songs’ craftsmanship, but also exposed their limitations. They’re catchy, but insubstantial; the less attention you pay to the them, the better they sound. The lyrics show off a puckish, Roger Miller styled humor, but like most jokes, you only need to hear them once. “You only got a couple of miles to go/if you’re trying to drive me insane,” he warns on the kicky “Shine On Me” (which misses Knopfler’s springy guitar), the chorus of the sprightly psychedelic stomp “Stand By My Girl,” admits “because she’ll kill me if I don’t.” But they’re performed with a sidelong charm and affection that makes it hard to dislike. It’s best to see Waiting on A Song as Auerbach’s busman’s holiday.