Singer-songwriter Levi Burkle named his new album “Maze” for the challenge it created.
Writing a good song, he said, is often like a labyrinth of obstacles set squarely in the songwriter’s path to make a song better.
“You can’t judge a song before it’s finished,” Burkle said.
“Sometimes you have to find your way around so many walls, you can’t be afraid of trying a lot of different things to find what makes a song work.”
Audiences will be able to hear what makes “Maze” work when Burkle performs in concert at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts at
7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 14.
The songs from the new album were inspired by the songwriting workshops that Clinton resident Burkle conducted at various King County and Sno-Isle Libraries, and by the lessons of some of his guitar students.
The 15 tunes on “Maze” are unique in style, instrumentation and production and feature accompaniment from a talented bunch of local musicians.
The CD also features colorful and eye-catching cover art by local graphic artist Denis Zimmermann.
Burkle said the album was experimental and forced him to step out of his “box” and see what all these different people could bring to the disc.
“I’ve been working on it for about two years, from writing the songs to producing everything in my bedroom studio,” he said.
Burkle plays almost all the instruments on the album including vocals, drums, bass, guitar, harmonica, keyboard and various sound effects.
But it’s the inspiration from the wider world that makes Burkle shine here as a lyricist and arranger.
“Sometimes people would share thoughts or feelings, sometimes words, sometimes phrases. By the end of the workshop, I would take the jumble of madness and sculpt it into a song. Then it was on to my recording studio to lay down the tracks,” he said.
Indeed, the “Chicken Song,” is a good example of Burkle turning that “jumble” into something unique.
The song was inspired by a library workshop in Carnation that was attended by a fourth-grade class and a group of seniors with Alzheimer’s disease.
The song tells the quirky story of an old lady who loved her colorful chickens. The birds became rock stars and died, but then came back to life. The lyrics reveal the funny, free-association style of imaginative and unhindered children.
Burkle recorded the students singing “I love chicken, baby,” for part of the song’s refrain and then added one of the Alzheimer’s patients ending the song with a tenderly sung verse from “Home on the Range.”
All the songs have that down-home feeling of a connectedness to everyday people and daily life. But there are a few that stand out for a particular quirkiness.
The 31-year-old Burkle wrote “Shout It Out” with two young brothers, Aden and Luca Fallows, who are his students.
Burkle records a mock interview with the Fallows brothers from the premise that they are famous rock stars. The boys do an excellent job of improvising as if they were indeed rock stars with millions of fans. What follows is a Nirvanaesque recording of Burkle singing “Shout It Out,” inspired by the endearing sentiments of Aden and Luca, who dream of a world where people have what they need and boys will rock forever.
Other songs on the disc are not at all quirky but rather catchy, such as the first track entitled “Mirrors,” a pleasantly pop-ish love song in which Burkle pleads for something from his lover beyond the superficial.
Burkle and his student, bass-player Tommy Morgen-Burke, collaborated on the song “Bones,” a soulful riff inspired by the half-true, half-fictitious story of a man traveling a deserted highway to an undetermined destination. Burkle adds a nice touch with the harmonica on the tune, evoking the mournful wail of a man looking for the home that eludes him.
Burkle is happy with the outcome of the CD, and said he was glad to be able to learn what he did from the process. He said he’d like to help other young musicians delve into recording and production and looks forward to the next project.
For now, he just wants to rock the house at the “Maze” release concert and get the album out into the world.
“The tunes are just damn good; something you can feel comfortable connecting to, but different enough to stay interesting,” he said.
“Maze” is available at Joe’s Island Music in Langley and at www.leviburkle.com.
Burkle will be accompanied at the concert by James Hinkley (cello and fiddle), Rachman Ross (drums), Stephan Ross (bass), David Licastro (guitar), Jasper Hayes (guitar and mandolin), Tommy Morgen-Burke (bass), Roger Bennett (percussion) and other special guests.
Tickets cost $15 and are available by calling WICA at 221-8268 or at www.WICAonline.com.