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Singer-wongwriter Michael Winningham on the story behind his genre-fusion debut, Ryou Cannon
"At night, we were drinking whiskey and just listening to Texas in the evenings," remembers multi-instrumentalist Michael Winningham, formerly with alt-folk-rockers Gold Beach, of his latest outfit's origins. "It felt right that the name be surrounded by some Texas-based element, and 'Palo Duro' is a really special place to me."
Named for a canyon system of the Caprock Escarpment, located in the Texas Panhandle near Amarillo, Winningham's new iteration arrives vividly dense and interminably winding. His profoundly heart-churning debut for Danger Mouse's 30th Century label, Ryou Cannon, bends drum machine kicks, lush acoustics, and unique genre fusion over trenchant pangs of romance. It's a collection informed by "'Sound and Vision' David Bowie and also William Onyeabor."
This beautifully produced album almost didn't happen, and wouldn't have had the making of the second Gold Beach album been on schedule. Set to work with Grammy Award-winning Midas touch John Congleton, the production became fraught with "false starts," especially once the producer's work with St. Vincent and David Byrne picked up significant steam. Work shifted to another studio expert, but "obstacle after obstacle kept on appearing," and so the motions of impending breakup fell into place.
Winningham, a 38-year-old Houston area native and Texas graduate, uses death-knell phrasing ("I was evolving as a songwriter") in the coffin-closing of Gold Beach.
"By the time I hooked up with [producer] Sam Cohen, it was a different project. It had morphed into something else," he admits.
Beyond SXSW commitments, Palo Duro will continue with Winningham shooting videos and building upon Ryou Cannon.
"One bit of feedback I always get – and I read this a lot in some of the reviews – was [the album] is very chameleon-like and there's a wide range of songs. I get that," he notes. "For the next record, I would like to pinpoint some of the things that were really exciting, and just dig in from within those strengths."