Ted Stevens had Mark Twain on his mind when he was recording the second Mayday album I Know Your Troubles Been Long, and he quotes those words (and also those of Kafka and Brian Wilson) alongside his lyrics in the album package. Ted's been having his own Huck Finn-esque adventures, too, playing guitar and singing background vocals with Saddlecreek Records' Cursive, and watching his Omaha, Nebraska hometown scene become the focus of national attention, as if it were the Brooklyn of the Midwest. Yeah, that was Ted on the front page of the New York Times Arts & Leisure section, alongside his Cursive buddies. That was him making faces in Rolling Stone, too.
I Know Your Troubles Been Long is a respite from all that, a sit-down in the dark along some metaphorical riverbank, a chance to take stock of life on the road, the changes at home, the roiled state of our nation. While Mayday's first album, Old Blood, was recorded in full Saddlecreek style at Mike Mogis' Presto Studio in Lincoln, Nebraska, I Know Your Troubles Been Long is truly a homegrown effort, recorded on an analog 8-track machine in various living rooms around Omaha with a loose cast of local characters. The process harkens back to an earlier time there, when as-yet unheralded musicians swapped tapes, threw house parties, and found makeshift venues for an ever-changing roster of bands to play in. The sessions culminated in Ted taking off on yet another journey: hauling the tape machine into his car and driving up to Bud Melvin's studio in Chicago to tinker with the final tracks and mix them down old school-style to analog two-track.
The result is a collection of ramshackle Americana: haunted country tunes, broken-hearted barroom blues, and unvarnished rock. Ted prefers a whisper to a scream; he draws you in like a new-found confidant, arm around your shoulder, to his stories of lonesome travelers ("Dyzfunctional Cuzin") wayward kids ("Crawfish River"), lovers in flight ("Virgina"), and family troubles ("Running Away"). In his previous incarnation as singer-songwriter for Bar/None band Lullaby For the Working Class, the harbinger of the Saddlecreek sound, Ted wrote fascinating, often abstract lyrics for the beautiful, precisely arranged productions of Mike Mogis. With Mayday, which features contributions from other Lullaby cohorts too, the mood is off-the-cuff and pontaneous, but the words are even more evocative, with powerful emotions coming much closer to the surface. You can feel the after-effects of all his touring, the roller coaster of excitement and boredom that fills weeks on the road. It's in the terse "Lone Star," where the narrator follows a star in the sky on a trek from Austin to L.A., and the vivid 'From the Trapeze," in which the circus acrobat could just as well be a rock star at the (literal) end of his rope.
For several years, Ted and his pals have put on a May 1 concert in Omaha and Mayday takes its name from that annual event. But Ted appreciates the various meanings of the word - as a passage to spring, as a day when workers around the world assert their rights, as an internationally recognized distress call.
Renewal, revolt, danger ahead - you can find a little of each in the songs and emotions of "I Know Your Troubles Been Long". But most of all you'll hear a still-pioneering artist at his most forthright and heartfelt, playing with his oldest buddies in the place he still calls home.
There ain't no better way to put in time when you are lonesome.
Reviews"Taking time off from his duties with Omaha's Cursive to work out his latest backroom alt-country musings, Ted Stevens hauled his analog eight-track recorder into various living rooms for Mayday's second album. The casual approach makes for loose performances that shift and sway with mixed results. "Virginia" is great fun, the sound of a garage band falling down the stairs. But this unstable sound sometimes collapses in the wake of a great song: "Running Away" has the makings of an epic tale, but Stevens' vocals have trouble holding pitch and the shoddily recorded drums distract throughout. With a bit more time and care, this could've been revelatory." Rob O'Connor, Rolling Stone