Respected singer-songwriter Riley Etheridge Jr. has reached many people with his poetic and vulnerable songwriting. His carefully crafted four-album catalog is rife with haunting and healing stories of the human condition, each emotionally resonate and each thoughtfully placed within well-developed thematic albums. But after an artistic epiphany, and a spontaneous jolt of creativity, he made the brave decision to break the mold and write the invigorating party record, The Straight and Narrow Way.
“I remember a gig in North Carolina. During the third or fourth song people came down from their seats and danced,” the NYC-based artist recalls. “It just lifted all of us up, it was fun, and I realized a new way I could connect with people.”
The seeds of this album were sown over a weekend of spontaneous creativity with longtime producer Wendell Tilley and gutbucket guitarist extraordinaire Shane Theriot (Neville Brothers and Dr. John) who has played in Etheridge’s live band but hasn’t factored in the creative orbit of Tilley and Etheridge until now. The trio reimagined the Riley Etheridge Jr. dynamic, suspending preconceptions and creative patterns, to see where writing some guitar-based rock n’ roll could lead. Guest musician, and roots rock icon, drummer Jim Keltner summed up the work perfectly when he described it as sounding like “Steely Dan got lost over a long weekend in New Orleans."
The eleven-song The Straight And Narrow Way is a sharp and festive collection album of funky Americana. The brawny bluesy “Roll Away The Stone” is the album’s creative epicenter. “That was the first song we wrote. It was just the three of us in the studio on the floor writing about a weekend of partying gone bad,” Etheridge says with a chuckle.” The sweetly nostalgic relationship track “Song For Amy” blends Etheridge’s literate sensitivity with his newfound swagger. The stunning duet with Sara Watkins, “The Maze,” is a back porch ballad that evokes Etheridge’s most tender work and provides a nice dynamic contrast to the album’s party groove.
The Straight And Narrow Way was born from freewheeling recording sessions in Los Angeles, Nashville, and New Orleans. Its loose and vibey feel is a testament to the folks Etheridge had the good taste to invite to the party. The album features Sara Watkins from Nickel Creek, Joe Sample vocalist Erica Falls, former Allman Brother Johnny Neel, Dan Dugmore (Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor), and drummer Jim Keltner (Traveling Wilburys, Bob Dylan, Elvis, John Lennon).
Finding a fresh way to connect with people has been a revelation for Etheridge. “I really cherish my relationship with the fans. Last album, during the record release party, people were crying in the aisles, it was meaningful to have that interaction. I feel like this time maybe they’ll be dancing on tables,” he says with a good-natured laugh.