Of Great & Mortal Men: 43 U.S. Presidencies / Various
On September 9, 2008, Standard Recording Company released the release of a triple CD Of Great and Mortal Men: 43 Songs for 43 U.S. Presidencies, a collection penned by songwriters J. Matthew Gerken (of Nice Monster), Christian Kiefer, and Jefferson Pitcher (formerly of Above the Orange Trees). The set features a slew of special studio guests including Califone, Rosie Thomas, Bill Callahan (Smog), Alan Sparhawk (Low), Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters, Sun Kil Moon), Marla Hansen (Sufjan Stevens), Steve Dawson (Dolly Varden), Vince DiFiore (Cake), Monahans, James Jackson Toth (Wooden Wand), and Tom Carter (Charalambides). This project initially came about as part of "February Album Writing Month," a website (www.fawm.org) that challenges songwriters to write 14 songs in 28 days. The three songwriters wrote and recorded rough demos of the first 42 songs in February 2006 (leaving only George W. Bush for later). "It was an amazing challenge to get that many songs written, even split three ways," notes Kiefer. "Blasting the first four or five is easy and then you've used up all the ideas that have been floating around and have to come up with new ones. And you have to come up with those new ideas right now." It was decided soon after that the project was too interesting to leave in the demo stage and so the recording process began anew with guests coming into the fray as time and schedules allowed. The project is now in it's final phases. "It's a walk through American history and an inquiry into what makes us Americans as filtered through the lens of our highest public office. There's heartbreak and beauty and criticism and revelation. We're trying to make it work like a big beautiful historical novel." The released project includes a 100+ page book featuring individual images of the Presidents by 43 different artists, all hand-selected by art curator Pitcher to be included in the project. To quote from Kiefer's song about President Tyler: "Oh! Hell yes!" Kiefer's album Dogs & Donkeys (Undertow) appeared to favorable reviews last year and featured guests Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker (Low), Nels Cline (Wilco, The Geraldine Fibbers, etc.), and Garth Hudson (The Band). Kiefer and Jefferson Pitcher also saw the release of their collaboration To All Dead Sailors via Australia's Camera Obscura earlier this year, a project recorded in the midst of the Presidential madness. Pitcher's recent concept album I am not in Spain was also released this year on Mudita Records. Gerken's acoustic indie-math rock quartet Nice Monster is also in the studio recording a follow-up EP to their full-length Good Times + Sharp Knives (Grayscale).