Rod Picott – Photo by Allan McKay

Rod Picott’s a songwriting craftsman, even to the point of using the imagery of woodworking tools to illustrate his songwriting process. We reviewed his latest album ‘Starlight Tour’ in October of this year and it reinforces his reputation as a chronicler of rust-belt America who tells his stories of everyday blue-collar people with economy and precision. He’s also a nice guy, so we were more than happy when he decided to contribute to this year’s High Fives. He’s also a discerning reader, so his selection is five books that made an impact on him this year.

‘August’ by Callan Wink

The book is a small marvel about the coming of age of a young man in Montana. The region’s politics and culture are deftly woven into this narrative. Mostly written in short declarative sentences – the comparisons to Hemingway are not overstated – particularly in the long sections of brilliantly executed dialogue.

‘Every Man for Himself And God Against All’ by Werner Herzog

The fingerprints and voice of Herzog come roaring off the page. It’s nearly impossible to read this memoir without the laconic dark-edged sound of Werner Herzog’s baritone rasping in your head. Like Herzog the director, this book is a ramble of memory and fever dream. The man’s memory is astonishing. A true polymath, Herzog can speak on nearly anything you can imagine – from forgotten pharaohs to his own directorial blunders.

‘Mayflies’ by Andrew O’Hagan

This touching and poignant read is quite simply a beauty. The first half of the book follows a group of post-punk fans-friends on a trek from small-town Scotland to a music festival in Manchester England. The charismatic Tully and the less confident James share a friendship that goes beyond film and music tastes and runs deeper than the adolescent chest thumping of youth. The writing is so sharp and filled with detail you almost feel like you are on the journey yourself. Halfway through the book, the reader is catapulted years ahead and the adult Tully and James come into focus. It’s an unexpected masterstroke. 

‘Lean On Pete’ by Willy Vlautin

Like most of Vlautin’s work ‘Lean On Pete’ is a slender novel. The story of a teenage boy’s search for a sense of home is poignant and quietly powerful. Charley’s relationship to a faltering racehorse as he attempts to make a dangerous trek across state lines to his only known relative will leave you gutted. Vlautin somehow manages the not so simple task of making you root for the underdog as his life continues to grow darker and darker. He does this without manipulating the reader and it makes the heartbreak even more eloquent.

‘Such Kindness’ by Andre Dubus III

‘Such Kindness’ spoke directly to this reader. Tom Lowe has had a tragic accident and is severed from his identity as a construction worker. He is in unyielding suffering, addicted to painkillers and is slowly descending into a version of himself he doesn’t recognize. The question that runs through this compassionate novel: Who are you, if everything you’ve built your life and selfhood on is taken from you? Such Kindness is a beautiful and slowly unwinding book. It is a series of small moments that add up to something philosophical and grand. Dubus is a masterful writer.

Dean OwensWe asked one of our favourite singer-songwriters, Dean Owens, what he was looking forward to hearing (or reading or seeing) in 2014, and he came up with some very interesting recommendations for us.  Dean’s comments are in bold type.

First on the list was the new Joel and Ethan Coen film, “Inside Llewyn Davies”.  It’s the story of a folk singer trying to get a break in the Greenwich Village folk scene in 1961 and features contributions from the Coens’ long-term collaborator, T-Bone Burnett and also Marcus Mumford.  As Dean says: I love the period in New York history it’s set in and I like pretty much like everything the Coen Brothers have done.

Next up was the new novel, “The Free”, by author (and singer and songwriter with alt-country band, Richmond Fontaine), Willy Vlautin.  This, his fourth novel, is the story of the intersecting lives of three people looking for meaning in difficult social circumstances.  Over to you, Dean: The new Willy Vlautin book should be good. He’s a great writer. I’m guessing there may be a new Richmond Fontaine album on the horizon too.

Very curious to hear the lost Johnny Cash album, “Out among the Stars”. Should be some gems on that.”  The twelve tracks on the album were recorded in 1981 and 1984 and have been in the Columbia vaults ever since; they aren’t demos out-takes or alternative versions, they’re the real deal and they include duets with June Carter Cash.  They were uncovered by Legacy Recordings and John Carter Cash.

I’m very much looking forward to seeing the first album I’ve produced for another artist being released; it’s by Ags Connolly, it’s called “How About Now” and it’s out in February on Drumfire Records.  In November, we reviewed a great gig by Dean and Ags and we’ll be reviewing the album as soon as I can get my hands on a copy.

Deer Lake (who I sing with) should be releasing our debut album this year. I’m excited about that. We’ll also be doing a lot more live work this year.  Dean’s been singing with Deer Lake for some time now, alongside former Annie Christian frontman, Larry Lean and the album will be out some this year.  We’ll keep you posted.

I’ve got a few solo projects up my sleeve this year. Be great to get a new record out and do some touring.  So, it looks like Dean’s got a pretty busy year ahead of him in 2014, both solo and with Deer Lake.  We’ll be trying to keep up with him.