"Did I forget to mention, to mention Memphis, home of Elvis and the ancient Greeks?" -- David Byrne, Cities
Stories from 3 A.M. have always intrigued me. I first became acquainted with the concept as a child, when I discovered Simon & Garfunkel's hauntingly beautiful "Wednesday Morning 3 A.M. " That song created a mindset in my head through a story with themes of desperation, longing, and regret. Those themes, among others, can be heard throughout John Paul Keith's new release, Memphis Circa 3 A.M.
A segment of Christians see three in the morning as evil, and it is viewed by some as "the witching hour." Throughout time, numerous writers, poets, and lyricists fixated on and created content around the idea of these dark hours.
I have never before seen the word circa associated with an hour rather than, as it is typically used, with years. Within the context of this album, this usage of circa works. These songs are not necessarily about what is happening at exactly 3 A.M. Rather, the music reflects what is happening during those pre-dawn hours. The bars are closed, and most of us have gone home -- alone, or not. The title perfectly ties together this album of songs all about stories from that murky time.
The city of Memphis provides a backdrop for these stories. The city that is home to Sun Studio, Stax, Graceland, and Beale Street suits these stories perfectly.
A couple of lines from "Ninety Proof Kiss" offers a sense of the stories John Paul Keith shares on this album: “No one ever looked finer still wearing last-night’s eyeliner / I’m sure gonna miss that ninety-proof kiss."
Tones, rhythms, and melodies, associated with the Memphis sound (rockabilly, country, and just plain musical fun) are heard throughout this album. Its classic rock-and-roll sound is meticulously produced by Roland James, who served as Sun Record's house guitarist in the 1950s. Since then he has been a long-time engineer and producer at Sun. This album evokes those early Sun recordings. Performed live during the recording, direct to 2 track tape, this authentically passionate music never loses its warmth.
In the 1990s John Paul Keith was a member of the tragically under appreciated Knoxville based alt country band, The V-Roys. When that band disbanded in 1999, John Paul Keith vanished from the music scene for a decade. We can be grateful that this gifted singer-songwriter and guitarist came out of exile in 2009 to start creating music again. This, his third album since his return, is the first I've heard and I'm extremely impressed.