Mixing The Old And New, The Alternate Rocker Ventures Into The Americana Landscape

February 25th, 2019— Bambi Lee Savage has been a citizen of the world--a native of Florida who has moved from Denver to London to Berlin and now divides her time between Los Angeles and Nashville. In all of that time, she has accomplished quite a bit, as both a musical artist and working as an audio engineer in the 90’s, most notably assisting on U2’s Achtung Baby and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ The Good Son. Her song “Darlin’” was featured on the Sling Blade film soundtrack and was produced by Daniel Lanois. She has turned out three studio albums before arriving at Berlin-Nashville Express; Matter of Time (2003), GJ and the PimpKillers (2009), and Darkness Overshadowed (2012).

After several months of working alongside Flood (Mark Ellis) and Bono on Achtung Baby, Savage realized that she had far more in common with the songwriter than the engineer. Feeling that it was futile to go against fate, “They all went off on their busy successful ways,” she told Philthy Mag in 2012, “while I began the long, lonely life of a struggling artist!” Her connections through engineering came in handy with her first demos being sponsored by Bono, and Lanois lending his studio a few years later for another session (which included the song, “Darlin”). All of those demos eventually became her first album. She also forged a longtime working relationship with Mick Harvey (ex-Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds) who produced Darkness Overshadowed and plays several instruments on Berlin-Nashville Express, as well as being one of the several recording engineers on the project.

Savage was a post-punk feminist living in West Berlin when she started writing the songs for Berlin-Nashville Express—so named because it’s when she first discovered and started delving into her country roots. She had gone to Europe to forge an independent, punk-rock driven path and found herself being drawn back to the soul of Texas, where her parents are from, and the South, where her mother was raised and where she lived as a child. “I was a bit taken aback by the country roots surfacing in my songwriting, but once I saw the possibilities – especially of combining humor and pain lyrically – I really began to embrace it,” she states. “Many years have passed since then and country music has been through its iterations, and thankfully the Americana genre has come along and is happy to welcome all this stuff on the fringes.” This is her first Americana record, even though some of the songs pre-date her previous releases.

Along with Harvey playing on half of the tracks of Berlin-Nashville Express, Steve Nistor and Jim Wilson (Daniel Lanois) play on several tracks. Also making an appearance are several known Nashville players such as Will Kimbrough (guitar), Spencer Cullum (pedal steel), Tim Marks (bass), and Pete Abott (drums). She went to Denver to record Glenn Taylor on pedal steel on “This Blue Heart”, an autobiographical song about being sensitive in a brutal world. The 10-song album was written in Berlin and Nashville, recorded in Nashville, Los Angeles, Berlin, Denver and Melbourne, and will be released on her own Hoof & Antler label. The record is steeped in the traditions of original country and inspired by artists such as Loretta Lynn and Hank Williams, with a dose of gospel and a signature post- punk touch. It also includes a remix of the 1994 song “Darlin’” that put Savage on the map.

The upbeat song “Honey” kicks off the record and is one of the newer songs. “Jim Wilson’s guitar solo was the first take,” she shared. “After he played it, he asked, very humbly, ‘Was that alright?’ Steve and I said ‘YEEEESSS! AMAZING!’ And the bass and drum parts also just work so perfectly. I thought it would be a great positive note to open the record on, because heartache’s on the way!”

“Baby Come Back” started out as a slow burner, but Savage found that by speeding it up, the song realized itself. “Mick Harvey’s guitar solo on that song blows my mind. I remember after he played it, we were listing to the playback and he said, ‘Nope, not going anywhere, just staying on that note.’ He goes through several genres on virtually one note. Hilarious and soooo cool.” Harvey also contributed piano, guitar and bass to “I Can’t Count on My Man”, a song that had been on her “problem” list until his input set it right. “Mick just has incredible skills and instincts. Knowing just what to do, and being able to do it, seems to be in his DNA,” she says. “I Can’t Count on My Man” and “Demon Alcohol” are two of her Americana songs that were featured in the 1995 documentary “Lost in Music: Out of Country”. Neither song appears on any of her releases until now, but Harvey covered “Demon Alcohol” on his 2005 solo album, One Man’s Treasure.

The two gospel songs on the album, “Drinker of Gin” and “Walk in Love” both jibe with Savage’s personal experience and view of Christianity. “Drinker of Gin” was her first gospel song, and would have been the only one on the record. But when Trump came along, Savage felt she had to speak out. “I felt like Christianity was being misrepresented, and I realIy needed to take a bold stand for the fact that Jesus taught radical love.”

Savage started playing electric guitar at the age of 13. “It was a major part of my identity right from the start,” she disclosed. “In fact, I recently got an email from an old schoolmate, recalling how I was the loner in the lunchroom with my electric guitar.” But when she began writing country she picked up an acoustic. In the open and experimental setting of the clubs of Berlin, she began to craft and present her “newfound old-fashioned” musical style, to which audiences were extremely responsive. “When performing in Berlin, I generally used an acoustic, but it’s never felt as natural to me as electric.”

In her early days, Savage played in punk bands in Denver and in the UK, which PopMatters claimed to have informed the grittiness of her last album, Darkness Overshadowed. “Themes of loneliness and despair are draped over every surface without resolution, the kind of nihilism that makes her singing in German on ‘Nicht Mehr’ seem perfectly reasonable.” In an interview a few years back, Savage asserts that she is constantly thinking in different genres based on the song she is working on and that past experience has shown her that she can never be sure of what she’s doing next. “I still have a strong affection for alt-rock, but Berlin-Nashville Express is generally more upbeat and sassy,” she claims. “I have a lot of various musical influences that seem to lead me to write in varied styles, so for better or worse, no two records are likely to be all that similar. This album is an homage to original country and to all the fans of original country—especially to the many people who played a part in turning me on to it!”

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