Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Doug Burr - the best songwriter you (may) have never heard of

(Image credit Carmen Holt, via Burr's facebook.)

I feel like I've completely fallen off the map keeping up with one of my favorite songwriters, although given that he keeps a bit of a low profile, it's not terribly surprising. I have been a fan of Doug Burr's music for what I think has been close to 9 years now.

I don't recall the exact year when I first came to know of Doug, but I saw him playing with his band The Lonelies at a festival on the Brazos River around 2001, and I only wish I had recognized at the time how impressive a career he would have had since then. From what I remember, The Lonelies were a bit out of place among the typical Texas/outlaw/honky tonk music at the festival, almost to the point that seeing them has taking on mythical status in my mind, like I personally imagine it must have been like when my dad saw Johnny Cash open for George Jones in San Angelo, TX back in the early 1960s.

You may not have heard of Doug Burr, especially if you don't live in the DFW metroplex, near his home base of Denton, TX, or close to Austin, as the majority of his shows are played in those areas. What you have missed is one of the top songwriters around (period), who has been quietly building a fanbase with some of the best recordings released in the last decade. In fact, quite appropriately, the Dallas Observer named Burr's On Promenade one of the top area releases of the '00s. Some years ago, he largely moved away from performing with the Lonelies and has put out three records under his own name, with the most recent a collection of Psalms that Burr put to music, entitled The Shawl, and which was recorded at the abandoned Texas Hall in Tehuacana, TX. (See photos here.)

What I just found out is that Burr was recently involved in writing music for a small indie film named Topeka (here's the movie's facebook). Given that I typically foam at the mouth over Doug Burr releases, I was completely blown away that I was at least 8 months late in coming across this news. A video was posted with one of Burr's songs for the movie back in July, so like I said, this isn't new news, but it was news to me. He was interviewed back in August and mentioned both the film and his former band, noting how he wished they would have recorded more of their material back then (us too Doug!). Aside from this old news, I can't find much more about the film, so it seems it must be making the film festival rounds and/or waiting for distribution or funding to bring it to a larger audience. Knowing the fate of many small independent films, I just hope that we have some opportunity to see it online or on DVD at some point.

Beyond this bit of old news, Burr reports in this recent interview that he has been recording a new record, although knowing that he has always been careful to take his time and release the absolute best product possible, I expect a release date may be a few more months coming, but hopefully not too far in the distance. While I am unsure about whether the song will be on Burr's next release, this music player at the Dallas Observer's Web site contains an old Lonelies song called "Mirror Ball," although I can't tell if it's been completely re-recorded or just reworked. I have always hoped the unrecorded Lonelies material would make it to release eventually, and so if this song is in fact slated for Burr's new album, then we'll all benefit from it. If not, then his early material will remain quite obscure, as I noted some time back, unless of course he becomes a superstar and someone re-releases the material. However, for this humble family man, I don't think he has ever sought or desired fame or fortune through his music (maybe a comfortable living, but I doubt much more), and would probably reject it all to some extent if it ever came knocking. Doug Burr is a rare musician that stands well above the sea of mediocrity that is the music business, and more importantly, he is a grounded and real person who puts up with the often frustrating music business to do what he loves for all the right reasons.

(UPDATE: new Doug Burr release slated for April 2010)

"Should've Known" music video, producer - James Hurd, director - Jon Collins


lush said...

On Promenade was my favorite record of 2007, bar none. If I had to pick a favorite song from the album, it would be dman near impossible. But the use of Greg Vanderpool's (Milton Mapes/Monahans) harmony vocals - most prominent at about the 1:10 mark on this clip - on Should've Known give it a very slight edge.

Windfarm said...

Yeah, I go back and forth on what my favorites are as well. It seems to change over time for me. Come to My Senses is a long term favorite though.