Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton don't know who will release their debut album, but Stevie Ray Vaughan's famous rhythm section knows exactly what they have to offer: a 10-song, 16-months-in-the-making collection of well-known local and national names in interesting and unlikely combinations. Appearing on the album are Dr. John, Susan Tedeschi, Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Eric Johnson, Jimmie Vaughan, producers Charlie Sexton and Stephen Bruton, Doyle Bramhall II, Derek O'Brien, Reese Wynans, Riley Osborne, Van Wilks, and Malford Milligan.
"Almost everybody we asked said, 'Yeah, that would be cool. When we do we start?'" recounts Layton. "We were pretty surprised, so we made most of it up as we went along."
Even though many of the album's guests wound up being high-profile guitar players, Layton says making a guitar-oriented record was never their goal. Layton says he and his bass-playing partner have used the freedom of making their own record to push some boundaries, co-writing four of the six new songs with Shannon playing some guitar and the drummer playing piano on one tune.
"At some point after Storyville," says Layton, "Tommy and I both figured that since we've been a considerable part of the songwriting process in our other bands -- more than just playing bass and drums -- we might try writing songs ourselves. Obviously there's a lot of new freedoms and challenges that stem from that, because if I decided to play piano in the Arc Angels, they'd say, 'Get out of here.'"
Actually, it's a tune with the original Arc Angels lineup that may cause the biggest stir locally, but Layton says he was careful to secure single rights for several of the bigger-name artists so there was incentive for a major label to step in and promote the project. Among the contenders: a version of Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" featuring Tedeschi, Shepherd, and a mandolin-playing Sexton; a Stephen Doster composition sung by Dr. John; and Jimmie Vaughan's take on Johnny "Guitar" Watson's "In the Middle of the Night."
"There's so many people playing so many things there's going to be some complicated credits," admits Layton. "Maybe we'll just say who's on the record and leave it a mystery."
With only one session left for later in the month, Layton says he expects to spend the next few months shopping a finished product, while also further exploring the complexities of self-releasing it.
"From budgeting and travel to songwriting and mike selection, it's funny how much you realize you need to learn when you take something like this on yourself," says Layton. "It's been one big learning experience, but we've enjoyed it tremendously. We're thrilled with the album we have, and you can't ask for more than that."
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