Thom Chacon may not be a Nashvillian, but his respect for the story and the song, and his almost reverential approach to its delivery in performance and on record, would make him right at home among Music City’s musical artisans and craftsmen. Born and raised in Sacramento, California, and now residing in Durango, Colorado, Chacon most identifiably calls to mind the singing and writing approaches of John Prine and Steve Earle—two artists indelibly linked to Nashville—mixed with grittier Devils and Dust and Ghost of Tom Joad era Springsteen. On his latest release, self-titled, produced by Perry Margouleff and due out in early 2013 on Pie Records, Chacon is joined by bass player Tony Garnier (Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Lucinda Williams, et al.) and drummer George Receli (Dylan, Levon Helm, Merle Haggard) for a dozen spare songs exploring debt, wrongful imprisonment, alcoholism, and, ultimately, redemption.
But such is the dichotomy of Chacon, whose pedigree includes a grandfather that rode after Billy the Kid and a cousin, two-time boxing champion Bobby Chacon, who’s in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. And that the guy who grew up half Lebanese and half Mexican listening to Glen Campbell and Jim Croce on his parents’ phonograph would eventually cut a record at Folsom Prison—2009’s Live at Folsom Prison (Pie)—just twenty miles from where he grew up. It’s no surprise that the opening track on Thom Chacon, the album, is “Innocent Man,” a song that arrived with providence for Chacon while listening to public radio.
“It’s the story of a man named Anthony Graves, who was wrongly convicted of butchering a family in Texas,” says Chacon. “He did eighteen years in the penitentiary there and was on death row before he was released. I’m proud of that one and think it’s an important story.”
Following “Innocent Man” come a number of songs inspired by both what Chacon sees and what he absorbs from the news around him. “Juarez, Mexico” may have been sparked by a car trip on Interstate 10 from Los Angeles to Austin ten years earlier when he spied a young couple across the border, but it was also informed by the contemporary immigration debate raging across the Southwest when Chacon wrote it. “American Dream” may owe its maturity to the songwriter’s experience as a Generation Xer and child of a rollercoaster quad of decades when things were bad and then they were good only to get bad again, but when the narrator declares that he’s “worth more dead than maybe I owe,” it’s clear that while Chacon may sound like a troubadour of old, he’s singing very contemporary songs.
“Before I play ‘American Dream’ I usually ask the crowd not ‘who in here is in debt’ but ‘who in here is NOT in debt,” jokes Chacon. “You usually get one guy in the back clapping.”
Chacon will hit the road in 2013 to promote his latest album and play songs from his previous releases, among them 2010’s Featherweight Fighter. Though the itinerary is not set, tentative plans include a Nashville date.
For more information, visit www.thomchacon.com.
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