Album of the Day: Carla Bozulich, “Red-Headed Stranger”

Releasing a debut album that’s a track-for-track cover of one of the best-loved albums of all time—Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger—is a bold move, but it’s unsurprising if you’re familiar with underground icon Carla Bozulich. What no one could have expected, including her, was that Nelson would not only give her his blessing, he’d also want to be involved.

A prolific and unpredictable artist, every project Bozulich has done seems to inspire a cult following, starting with electro-industrial-queer outfit Ethyl Meatplow in the ’90s, then her country-noise band Geraldine Fibbers and, after the Fibbers ceased touring in ‘98, the avant-garde duo Scarnella, a project featuring Fibbers guitarist and longtime collaborator Nels Cline (before he joined Wilco). When Bozulich approached Cline about recording Red Headed Stranger, he enlisted Scott Amendola on drums and Devin Hoff on upright bass, and they followed Bozulich’s vision of reinterpreting the country classic song-for-song like true improvisers—laying down most of the tracks live in one day and creating something as raw and lonesome as the original, but which also stands as its own statement.

That recording made its way into the hands of John Rosenfelder, who played it for Nelson.

“Willie responded that same day,” says Bozulich, and he invited her to his Austin studio to collaborate on three songs, recording “Can I Sleep in Your Arms” and “Hands on the Wheel” as duets, and “Time of the Preacher,” on which Nelson played lead guitar. Released on CD in 2003, Bozulich’s Red Headed Stranger is available for the first time on vinyl, reissued by Folktale Records. This double-album includes the Bozulich original “Lonesome Roads” as a bonus track and is limited to a pressing of 500.

Whitney Phaneuf

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