Whirled Music Series featuring Alex Dunn
Friday, October 4, 2019
Seattle, Washington might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of country-tinged acoustic music. Remember, though, the city was born as a timber town and gateway to the gold rush. Since the days of the old (north) west, the loggers, miners, and mariners that built this town would fill time between work putting their tales to music.
On his debut LP Scattered Poems, Alex Dunn stakes his claim as the latest in a long line of hard-worn men and women making American music in this northernmost port. Written primarily in the quiet moments on a commercial fishing vessel in Alaskan waters, the record is filled with reflections on the many iterations of that primary preoccupation of the truly remote. “As cliché as it may sound, the overarching theme of this record is love” says Dunn. “Each song might be its own story, but it always comes down to love; love for my mother, for my grandmother, love for my family. Love for lovers, unrequited love, and love purely for this simple chance at existence. As my mother always said, ‘to love and be loved is all there really is’ (which is now engraved on my guitar strap.)”
Dunn came to music via cello and flute while in primary school, and while in college he played bass in a band with drummer Alex Westcoat (Pickwick, David Bazan), Sam Esecson (producer and engineer on Scattered Poems) and Colby Sander (dobro, electric guitar on Scattered Poems). Done with school, Dunn embarked on a ten-year adventure in Alaska as a commercial salmon fisherman. He taught himself to play guitar as a way to keep music in his life while at sea. “I started writing songs to cope with the long days traveling on the boat and sitting on anchor in remote areas of Southeast Alaska” tells Dunn. “Most of the songs from Scattered Poems were written aboard the fishing vessel over the past five or six years.”
As fishing vessels tend to lack recording gear, Dunn pulled into port to track Scattered Poems at Sam Esecson’s basement studio in the Ballard neighborhood (appropriately, Fishermen’s Terminal in Ballard’s Interbay is home for hundreds of working fishing boats, including the ones that Dunn himself has crewed on). In addition to Dunn on vocals and guitar and Esecson on drums and percussion, the record features a host of prominent Northwest musicians: Eli West (electric guitar, pedal steel, banjo, vocals), Anna Tivel (fiddle, vocals), Birch Pereira (double bass), Colby Sander (dobro, electric guitar), Bennet Pullen (bass), Dan Rainard (electric guitar), Dean Schmidt (bass), and Kevin Suggs (pedal steel).
An elegant, bittersweet record, Scattered Poems is as tender as it is timeless. Its particular charms resonate across generations, and if you told me that this was a contemporary interpretation of a nineteenth-century songbook I’d believe you. Melodic sawdust and salt air, Scattered Poems breathes with a sense of place, yet is imminently accessible and speaks to the universal. Spend some time with it, and you’ll find yourself enchanted.