There’s an intriguing duality to Minnie Driver’s sophomore release, SEASTORIES that can be traced directly to its geography: some tracks were recorded in New York with Ryan Adams and his group the Cardinals, while others were laid down in Los Angeles with the award-winning actress-musician’s backing band. The result is a compelling album that builds on the strengths of Driver’s acclaimed debut, Everything I’ve Got in My Pocket (Zoë/Rounder), while taking the singer-songwriter in refreshing new directions.
Along with dreamy ballads like the bluesy “Cold Dark River” and the confessional “Coming Back to Life,” the new album serves up such stirring numbers as the spirited country-rocker “King without a Queen” and the slow burner “Sorry Baby,” featuring guest vocalist Liz Phair. “There was a whole flavor to the New York sessions that was darker and more insular, while the L.A. vibe was open, sunnier and more hopeful,” recalls Driver. Then there are songs like the Latin-tinged “Mockingbird” that were written on one coast and recorded on the other. Adds the English-born Driver, who lives in Los Angeles: “I really like that the album offers a mix of the two places.”
Lyrically, SEASTORIES navigates the deep waters of a subject central to most songwriting: love. But Driver never approaches matters of the heart in any kind of facile or predictable way. “Love is Love” arose from a failed affair and yet manages to find beauty in the aftermath, while “How to Be Good” concludes that the best recipe for a successful relationship is, ultimately, to love oneself. And “London Skies,” a minor-key epic imbued with a moody soundscape, speaks of the constant, unconditional love of a parent—in this case Driver’s father, Ronnie. “Love doesn’t have to be the cookie-cutter kind, or the Hallmark kind, to have a resonance and impact on who we are as people,” says Driver. “I’ve written songs about people who are no longer in my life, who have hurt me or who I have created a distance from. But that love will always be there. You can still learn a lot from a love that has been lost.”
Produced by Marc “Doc” Dauer, who also helmed her debut, SEASTORIES showcases Driver’s maturity as a vocalist as well as a songwriter. Dauer attributes that growth to the experience Driver gained while performing more than 100 shows in America and Europe, including opening a crucial 30-date tour for Australia’s revered Finn Brothers, of Split Enz and Crowded House fame. “Minnie was singing to a pretty sophisticated music audience every night, to people who had never heard of her before and had come to hear Neil and Tim Finn,” says Dauer. “She had to go out there and win them over. That helped her confidence tremendously.”
Among the people she won over was Adams, who contacted Driver, professed himself a fan and offered to help in any way he could. “Ryan and his band had just finished recording the Willie Nelson album Songbird at New York’s Loho Studios,” recalls Dauer, “so Minnie and I just moved right in and started working with them. It was a bit of a trial by fire for Minnie, because she didn’t know Ryan or his band and had to really step up for those sessions.” Adams and his band wound up on four tracks on SEASTORIES, including the midtempo ballad “Beloved” and the evocative “Lakewater Hair.” Driver calls Adams a highly inspirational collaborator. “Ryan’s a passionate performer who takes his work very seriously,” she says. “I learned a lot from my interaction with him.”
The West Coast sessions for SEASTORIES proved equally fruitful. Working with a band comprised of Dauer on guitar, bassist Al Wolovitch and Wallflowers keyboardist Rami Jafee, all of whom contributed to Everything I’ve Got in My Pocket, the recording took place in a relaxed atmosphere with about 90 per cent of the music captured live off the floor. “Lakewater Hair,” especially, has a raw, visceral quality. “That’s a one-take deal,” says Driver of the track. “I didn’t play guitar in time and the band has to keep up with me. But I wouldn’t change it because it’s very real.” She adds: “On the first record, we created a beautiful sound symphony that I could hide behind. By stripping it back this time, I exposed myself more and made it easier for people to hear what I have to say.”
Bi-coastal in nature and starkly confessional in content, SEASTORIES amounts to a powerful musical statement, serving notice that Driver the singer-songwriter is here to stay. She’s firmly committed to following the musical dream that began when she was a teenager. “I can’t imagine not making records and playing for people,” says Driver emphatically. “It’s so much a part of my life and who I am.”