“Aside from playing Advance Base shows, the form of musical expression I’ve most desperately missed during our current era of social isolation is singing karaoke. I have a great affection for the tiny communities that come together in any dive bar or pizzeria willing to invest in a modest PA & karaoke license, united by a common compulsion to earnestly sing their favorite pop songs in front of friends & strangers, accompanied by the artifice of prerecorded electronic instrumental arrangement. Wall of Tears & Other Songs I Didn’t Write is my ode to karaoke bars & karaoke singers. Consider it an album-length karaoke performance by me, Owen Ashworth.
The ten songs on this album were written by some of my very favorite songwriters, including a few I’m lucky enough to call friends. The original recordings of these songs have been constant companions in recent years, accompanying me on late night walks & aimless drives around Chicago & its suburbs. They have all made me cry at various points as I imagined how good it would feel to sing them at karaoke.
The instrumental arrangements were performed & recorded in my Oak Park, IL basement using electronic keyboards, samplers & drum machines with the single exception of the pedal steel solo on “Love at the Five & Dime,” which was performed & recorded by Xandy Chelmis from the Asheville, NC band Wednesday. Nicholas Krgovich sang & recorded the backing vocals for that same song, & the backing vocals on “Wall of Tears” were provided by Rebecca Clay Cole, two dear friends who share my love for these songs’ original recordings.
The guitar-like tones on “Wall of Tears,” “How Can You Live…,” “Solid Heart” & “Love at the Five & Dime” (other than Xandy’s pedal steel solo) were performed on a little Korg sampling keyboard loaded with single-note recordings I made by plucking the strings of an Oscar Schmidt autoharp, run through a chain of guitar effect pedals. I call this instrument an “Oscartron.” As much as I love guitar music, I have never been a guitar player, but I have come to love the sound of the Oscartron’s eerie approximation.
My sincere thanks to the recording artists who taught these songs to me: K.T. Oslin, Lucinda Williams, Nanci Griffith, Wednesday, Iris DeMent, John Prine (times three), Dan Wriggins & Gia Margaret. Even more thanks to Matt Bachmann for lovingly mastering these recordings, & to Margaret Hitch for creating the fabulous cover art.”