Dave Stewart excels as professional ‘Ringmaster’

By Pat Prince

As with 2011’s “The Blackbird Diaries,” Dave Stewart’s new solo album “The Ringmaster General” uses the same Nashville recording studio with the same core musicians — guitarist Tom Bukovac, drummer Chad Cromwell, bassist Michael Rhodes and piano player Mike Rojas. Ringmaster’s music succeeds in blissfully marrying the charm of American roots with the commercial, slick appeal of rock ‘n’ roll.

Photo by Collin Stark

And Stewart is an exceptional musical ringmaster. Not only has the aforementioned band become in-sync with his creative vision, but Stewart perfectly directs the talent of extraordinary guest artists, like vocalists Alison Krauss, Diane Birch, Joss Stone and phenom guitarist Orianthi, towards the rightful place in his songwriting. Stewart’s duet with Krauss “Drowning in the Blues” is a perfect example of this; a standout track both beautiful and haunting that amplifies his songwriting and collaboration skills.

Best known for his work with the ’80s sensation The Eurythmics, Stewart sees no immediate plans for a reunion with former collaborator Annie Lennox. But he is kept quite busy with this current solo run, among other responsibilities such as producer, songwriter and musician for other artists and projects.

Dave Stewart recently took time out from his busy schedule to answer a few of Goldmine’s questions.

How would you compare this album, “The Ringmaster General,” to your other solo albums?
Dave Stewart: “The Ringmaster General” is like a continuation of “The Blackbird Diaries” (2011). These two albums are like children — they’re like brothers in a way — and I’m going to make another one with the same players.

I think The Spiritual Cowboys album (1990) can go hand in hand [with these]. That’s got a similar feeling. “Greetings from the Gutter” (1994) has a very New York street feel, that’s a completely different thing.

The duet “Drowning in the Blues” is a very captivating song. It just seemed like a natural fit of you and Alison Krauss.
Dave Stewart: Well, that’s what happened really when I went to Nashville. It’s almost as if I went back to when I was much younger where the only places to play were like folk clubs. So “Drowning in the Blues” is really going forward and backwards at the same time. Personally, it was great for Alison to come in and not only sing but play viola and create all those nice harmonies. I think [the sound is] similar to the Northeast of England. There’s a lot of Scottish and Irish sort of folk music. Fiddles and violins and squeezeboxes.

It’s one of those songs that can unnerve you and soothe you at the same time.
Dave Stewart: That’s actually what I’m always looking for. What Annie and I in the Eurythmics would always look for is that something that’s a little bit edgy but at the same time there’s some kind of hope there. You’re not going to sink to the bottom, you know what I mean. It’s a thoughtful kind of music. When something’s just always ‘everything’s great’ it’s something like Disney. And if it’s the other way around, it’s completely nihilistic.

And then there’s the song “Girl in a Catsuit,” which is so electric.
Dave Stewart: Yeah, it swings into a psychedelic mayhem.

With guitar from Orianthi, who is a remarkable talent.
Dave Stewart: Fantastic, amazing player.

The song is a whrlwind. I just love the fact that she just adds in all her mini guitar solos. It’s wonderful.
Dave Stewart: Oh yeah, it’s all in one take. Most of the vocals, most the album … everything’s like one take. When I have a guest come in, like with Alison Krauss, usually we add in things like harmonies and various things [though].

“Ringmaster General” is an apt title. You are kind of a ‘ringmaster’ with all these different guests. Do you have a favorite contribution on the album?
Dave Stewart: I think, Alison. And Jesse Baylin has such a haunting voice … and Diane Birch …

Women play a large part in the success of the album.
Dave Stewart: Well, women play a large part in my overall everyday life right now. I’m crazy about women and I’m crazy about all the emotionality, the sensibility … all the facets of womanhood, and how it marries together with music and talent. And when we’re doing [an album] it’s kind of like a marriage would feel sometimes as well.

Kind of like something that was captured when Johnny Cash did his duets [with June]?
Dave Stewart: (laughs) You can say so much. I’m a great believer in songs, you know.

Well, you grew up in a time when the song was more popular than the album, correct?
Dave Stewart: Oh yeah, well, it could, in turn if the song was done really more popular. And all the musical songwriters, all over through the country … years ago it was the song that was passed on. What’s happened, I think now, is that there is so much music, and there’s so much of a bombardment of it coming from everywhere … from music in restaurants, music coming out of your cell phone, music on computers.

It’s interesting, years ago I remember, you used to actually put on a record to listen to a side of an album. But now you’re jumping around from track to track all over the place. And some people say that usually you bought an album and there were a couple of good tracks and the rest were crap. But that’s just a matter of opinion.

Like you said, you had to get up and change the side of an album. You were more involved.
Dave Stewart: Absolutely. Well, that’s generally everything, isn’t it? Not just music. Like if you wanted to buy a loaf of bread, you were more involved. You had to go to the local bakery. Now everything is lumped together in supermarkets.

And you are involved in so much. Wearing so many different hats at times — musician, songwriter, producer — do you have a favorite?
Dave Stewart: I think in all my different worlds that I’ve created in a way, in the center of it is always music.

Is Superheavy [the 2011 supergroup formed with Mick Jagger] still in existence, will it revive again, or was that pretty much a one-off project?
Dave Stewart: Well, as you know, Mick is quite busy at the moment (laughs).

Right (laughs). You think you may jump onstage for one of the Stones 50th anniversary gigs?
Dave Stewart: No, I’ll leave it to the Stones comrades: Bill Wyman, the Mick Taylors, the Eric Claptons …

What’s up next for you? You mentioned that you were going to record another solo album soon.
Dave Stewart: We start recording in January. I’m kind of putting an album out a year now, you know, because it’s something I enjoy doing. When The Eurythmics put out an album a year it used to drive the record company mad (laughs).

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