It’s not that Chucho frontman Kenny Uptain doesn’t care about music anymore. It’s just that he thinks there’s more to life than being in bands. When I sat down with Chucho’s rhythm section to talk about their new album, Uptain was conspicuously absent.
“I think he’s at church,” said bassist James Hughes. “He plays in the church band.”
The 11-track album, called Becky and Me, was recorded more than a year ago in Denton with producer Ace Crayton at Panhandle House Studio. Drummer Brady Hamilton concedes that a year is a long time for an album to sit. To all the folks in Chucho, Becky already seems kind of old. But it’s also old in the sense that Uptain is a different person than he used to be.
“He went through a rough time about two years ago,” Hamilton said. “His personal life got kind of crazy. There was a lot of drinking a little too much … but it seemed like overnight, he just got his shit together.”
The turmoil Uptain experienced culminated in Becky’s songs. But Hamilton said that in the time between finishing the record and now, Uptain began to focus more on his family. He also quit drinking, and between both of those changes, he booked fewer shows. Hamilton guessed that other than a private party in December, Chucho hasn’t played in Fort Worth in about a year. But even when they did play, they paid themselves rather than putting their earnings in the band fund, which ultimately kept Becky and Me on the shelf.
Chucho eventually banked enough money to master and print their CDs. Becky makes for an entertaining listen of country-dusted Southern rock tunes filigreed in earnest storytelling and comic detail. Uptain’s wild, soulful tenor and lightning-in-a-bottle guitar leads are buoyed by keyboardist Katie Robertson’s honey-toned backing vocals and Burton Lee’s pedal steel, while Hughes and Hamilton power the ship with tasteful subsonic textures and rhythms. Becky and Me is pocket as fuck, but for all the tight musicianship, the record is also a final statement to an era Uptain has left in the past. Hughes hints at this while discussing the origin of “Granddady,” Becky’s second track.
“ ‘Granddaddy’ was written after a really drunk night when we played a show in Dallas,” he said. “A lot of stuff happened, but at the end of the story, Kenny punches out one of the van windows. So he writes this song about not being able to drink like his granddad could.”
Many of Uptain’s songs are fictional – the character he portrays in “Circles” is pretty much a lunatic ≠ so you wouldn’t necessarily always take his lyrics at face value. But that doesn’t mean Uptain’s tunes aren’t shot through with real feelings. “Granddaddy” is followed by “Broken Bow,” which is about a trip Uptain took to Oklahoma with his wife, Cathy.
“There’s a great line in there, ‘My Cathy’s dressed up in her divorce clothes.’ It’s a very personal song for him,” Hamilton said.
Then there’s “South Dakota.” Beautiful in its imagery and heartbreaking in its subtext, it tells of a man who’s leaving his family because he knows he’s no good for them. The song may not be literal, but you get the sense that Uptain has felt its every word. He may spin a lot of yarns over the bluesy, happy-go-lucky galumph of his guitar and Robertson’s piano – the record sounds as if My Morning Jacket went through a honky-tonk phase after binging on Leon Russell records – but there’s truth in his fiction. And per that truth, Becky and Me doesn’t sound stifled by overproduction.
Everything on the album was recorded live. Three of the tracks (“Flowers,” “Gotta Love Yourself,” and “South Dakota”), in fact, were written in the studio.
“It’s kinda got a raw feeling to it,” Hughes said.
Uptain himself is even more insouciant about his music – I asked Hamilton if he could get his hands on some lyrics for me, so he texted Uptain, who in turn responded thusly (edited for length):
“The lyrics on the album don’t really reflect where I am now,” he wrote. “But I can say that as brief as my time has been on this earth, I’ve never sought out or even cared for acclaim and recognition. … Chucho organically brings out the best in us all through its lack of focus on achievements, allowing us each to relax musically in a way that is a great achievement on its own.”
Chucho album release show
9pm Sat w/Jacob Furr and Ryan Tharp at Lola’s Saloon, 2736 W 6th St, FW. $10. 817-877-0666.