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Spotlight: Paul Burch

The Mercury@Jazz, Midnight

By Jim Caligiuri, Fri., March 16, 2001

Spotlight: Paul Burch
Photo By John Carrico

Those familiar with Paul Burch have long been charmed by his melding of old-time country music with the more cosmopolitan sounds of today. For his upcoming release on North Carolina-based indie label Merge, Lambchop's part-time vibraphonist fashioned a song cycle based on the characters in Tony Earley's New York Times bestseller Jim the Boy. The outcome, Last of My Kind, is perhaps Burch's best work to date.

According to the songwriter, the project came about because he and Earley are neighbors in Nashville who appreciate each other's work. Just before the book was published last year, Earley approached him about providing some music to a reading the author was about to do.

"Tony had talked to me about music before," recalls Burch over the phone from Nashville. "We'd talk about folks like Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs, so I ended up providing some old country music for the reading. Then I read his book and really liked it. I asked him if I could write some songs based it, mostly because I thought it would be a good thing for me to do as a writer.

"It was really challenging at first, because his characters are so plainly sketched. In some ways, the characters provide a door for Jim the Boy to walk through. On one hand, you could say they're somewhat clichéd, but those kinds of characters appear in your life, so they were easy to deal with."

Burch maintains that initially the project was for himself and not intended for release, but it seems to have a life of its own.

"I played it for my wife, and for Tony, then I played it for the people in my band and they all related to it as a finished piece of music," he says with an air of surprise.

Earley proceeded to send the music to his publishers, Little Brown & Company, in the hopes that they would get behind it. Since the book is now being made into a movie for Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions with noted author Larry McMurtry writing the screenplay, Burch is hopeful some of his music will end up in the film, but admits it's too early to know for sure.

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