Photo Edward McGrath / Imogene Theater
Two years ago, the Azalea City got its first glimpse of Paw Paw’s Medicine Cabinet as the band rapidly established a dedicated fan base. Paw Paw’s Medicine Cabinet’s style is a grab-bag of goodness. From slow modern rock anthems to catchy rhythm and blues-influenced grooves, the band’s fans cannot seem to get enough of their music.
By the end of the month, the local band will reveal its first batch of studio material in the form of two new albums. For guitarist/vocalist Mike Jernigan, this twofold professionally recorded and manufactured debut provides a great deal of satisfaction for a musician who in the past has taken a DIY approach to album production and distribution.
“For me, it feels really good to have those albums out,” Jernigan said. “I’ve put out records before, but it’s been a situation where you just burn copies off the computer and put a sticker on it.”
Keep in mind the group is not talking about a traditional double album. Paw Paw’s Medicine Cabinet’s studio debut will consist of two albums, “The Great Room” and “Somebody Else’s Dream.” As far as the local (and national) music scene is concerned, this type of move is quite unorthodox, but the band felt it was necessary. As the group pulled tracks together, along with producer/engineer Rick Hirsch, the members tried to narrow the vast amount of material to just 10 songs. However, the band kept finding itself falling into new songs during time spent at Hirsch’s Studio H2O.
“We would start jamming in between takes, and Rick would say, ‘Hey! What’s that?’” guitarist Jeremy Ault said. “We ended up with so much stuff that we didn’t know how to choose. We just separated them the best that we could and decided to do two albums. When we were deciding on which songs to cut, Rick said he liked them all. So, we decided to just do them all.”
According to the band, Hirsch has been instrumental in the creation of both albums. Jernigan and bassist Gabriel Willis first encountered Hirsch when the two sat in with Deluxe Trio at one of its formerly weekly gigs at Callaghan’s. After hearing a couple of songs from Paw Paw’s Medicine Cabinet, Hirsch invited the band to visit Studio H2O.
While he’d heard of Hirsch, Jernigan admits he was not well-versed in the legendary Azalea City musician’s background, which includes runs with Wet Willie, Gregg Allman, Joan Armatrading and Billy Vera & the Beaters.
Willis says Hirsch’s studio emitted a positivity from which the band knew it could benefit.
“He invited us over to check out the house and listen to stuff he had recorded there,” Willis said. “It just felt right from the get-go. We walked in there, and it felt like the right place to record the album.”
“When he was talking to us about our songs, he seemed to be the most genuine,” added Jernigan. “He genuinely liked the tunes. He’d listen to the song. He didn’t talk to us just about recording them. He talked to us about the music itself. I was impressed with that.”
The band has endless praise for Hirsch’s knowledge of music and recording, which come from what Jernigan says is his “decades of experience and a good ear.” Jernigan also says Hirsch was vocal with his opinions on song arrangements, not hesitating to offer input on whether vocals or instrumentation were needed.
Hirsch even brought in his longtime friend Red Young (Eric Burdon & the Animals, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy) to lay down tracks with his Hammond B3. For Paw Paw’s Medicine Cabinet, Hirsch proved to be the perfect engineer/producer for this debut studio venture.
“Everything that you would expect a good producer to do, he did,” Jernigan said. “He was always trying to find a way to improve the song. If something didn’t need to be there, he took it away, which is a big deal too sometimes. He guided it along with experience and a good ear.”
Hirsch also helped the band through the track selection process for both albums. One aspect of a good album is a consistent flow, and with 21 recorded tracks to divide into two albums, Paw Paw’s Medicine Cabinet found this was the most challenging part. According to Ault, this task consisted of “a lot of meetings and Skype sessions.”
Jernigan said the band’s versatile sound forced it to really analyze the tracks and make sure each song flowed well into the next, in spite of what genre each track reflected.
“There was a lot of restructuring and burning the albums in different orders with different songs until we found something that sort of felt like it flowed for each album,” Willis said. “There was a lot of back and forth on that.”
“We felt like we had it a couple of times” Jernigan added. “We were like, ‘This is it.’ Then, we would end up being like, ‘Well, maybe this one would do better here.’ I don’t know if the order that we ended up with is better than the others. After listening to it, I think it sounds good the way it is.”
This two-album debut will not be available for public consumption until the release party at Callaghan’s Irish Social Club on Sunday, May 28. However, Paw Paw’s Medicine Cabinet graciously gave Lagniappe full copies of both albums.
Initially, both albums maintain a consistent warmth. They also lack the musical redundancy one might expect from a band attempting such a feat for a debut effort. However, Paw Paw’s Medicine Cabinet did an excellent job of establishing individual personalities for both albums.
The production aspect of “The Great Room” provides a pristine, straightforward delivery of its 10 tracks. There are beautifully gentle rock and soul anthems, such as “Pittsburgh” and “Get Me Right.” The group establishes a foundation of acoustic guitar and honest lyrics for the tracks “Old House” and “Niceville.” Overall, “The Great Room” should be a perfect companion for this summer’s outdoor activities, whether in the woods or at the beach.
While “Somebody Else’s Dream” exists within the same world as its companion release, this album tends to slide into a different dimension at points. “Somebody Else’s Dream” lives up to its name, with its ethereal ambient overtones. The opening title track slides the listener into a psychedelic world beyond sleep before dropping into the bouncing acoustic of “I Feel Afraid.” While the album includes its share of heartfelt anthems, Paw Paw’s Medicine Cabinet leans more into the rock world with this one. Live interpretations of tracks such as “Angels & Lies,” “Be My Monday” and “You Like It” could result in free-wheeling jams for their audiences.
Keyboardist Jacob Hall marks “Somebody Else’s Dream” as his favorite. “The intro from start to finish, it’s a powerhouse of good, strong writing, good hooks and good sounds,” Hall said.
As far as the rest of the band is concerned, naming a favorite is not that easy. Jernigan poetically likens these releases to one’s own children, both equally loved. Willis says his favorite depends on the listening environment; he likes “The Great Room” when traveling in his car and “Somebody Else’s Dream” when he is on his couch. Ault embraces “The Great Room” because, he says, the tracks are “fun to listen to.” However, drummer Ethan Snedigar reflects the band’s overall opinion of its two-album debut, with which those experiencing these releases for the first time might agree.
“In all honesty, I think of them as one body of work,” Snedigar said. “If you listen to one, then you have to listen to the other. They were all made around the same time and complement each other very well.”