The songs on Michael Corry’s newly released third album, “Codger Pole” — a 12-track collection composed mainly of bittersweet ballads set in the Pacific Northwest — have elemental themes and often elegiac tones.
Some, like “Thom’s Song,” are as sad and subdued as the classic break-up songs. Others, like “Steptoe Butte,” hitch themselves to a sunny note and ride on a sharp, unrelenting bluegrass beat.
Corry’s songs mourn loves lost and landscapes despoiled.
They tell of a young man foreseeing his own death and trackers hearing disembodied banshee wails, of a Basque sheepherder looking for a horse and a lonely vagrant looking for a home.
They are about broken hearts and broken towns, plundered resources and stolen beauty.
“You’re putting your real self out there in front of people when you’ve written songs like that,” Corry said.
And, for Corry, who wrote all but one of the songs himself, they are time capsules: He first recorded the album 13 years ago this month with his sons, Josh Corry and Luke Corry, when they were still teenagers.
“It’s, more than anything, about the boys,” said Michael Corry, owner of Michael’s Music in Cannon Beach. “They did such a good job at such a young age.”
But the family friend responsible for the album’s original mix did such a poor job that “everybody was a bit embarrassed about it and didn’t really like it very much,” Michael Corry said.
“It didn’t sound like a representation of what the experience of actually recording it was like,” said Josh Corry, who was 18 at the time. “Things were out of sync that were definitely not out of sync while we were recording it.”
And so it remained for over a decade — until Michael Corry recently exhumed the original analogue tape and digitally remixed it in his studio. “Now it’s done right, the way I heard it in my mind,” he said.
Laying down tracks
It was the summer of 2001.
The Corry clan — including Michael’s wife, Ruth Corry, and their daughters, Megan Corry and Katie Corry — were about to move to Cannon Beach from Orofino, Idaho, where they’d lived for almost a decade.
“That was right on the verge of a big transition,” which made the album all the more meaningful, said Luke Corry, who was then 16.
“We knew this was going to be the swan song for Idaho,” Michael Corry said.
After the Corry men had spent several months rehearsing, the three musicians and the mixer set up a makeshift recording studio in a small, vacant house across the street, with each person occupying a different room.
Josh played drums and Luke the bass; their dad alternated between different guitars and an electric keyboard, as well as supplied all the vocals.
In about half a week, they had laid down their tracks.
“We just hammered it out,” Luke Corry said.
“It was very much like playing a live show, except we had the luxury of taking our time to change arrangements and things like that,” Josh Corry said.
The mixer’s first digital rendering, though, turned out so rickety and amateurish that “it just sort of took the air out of the sails,” Michael Corry said. “It was just disappointing.”
But even with the wretched mixing, the songs were good enough that when the famous Nashville Bluegrass Band heard them, they called Michael Corry and asked him to send them as many copies as he could overnight because the band wanted to play them in their shows.
“Codger Pole” is named after a 65-foot-tall totem pole in Colfax, Wash., that bears the chainsaw-carved names and likenesses of 51 old men. The pole memorializes the 1988 “rematch” between the town’s two rival high school football teams whose players returned 50 years after the original game.
Each of the album’s 11 original songs are based on true stories, Michael Corry said. The only nonoriginal song is the Corrys’ version of “Higher Ground,” a traditional Christian hymn.
For the cover art, Michael Corry chose a 2000 painting by Cannon Beach artist Bill Steidel titled “Crystal Mountain Railroad.” For the album’s release, Steidel overlaid brand new lettering on a copy of the painting.
“I feel really proud to have been able to do this with my family,” said Luke Corry, who is now an assistant principal at a Chicago elementary school but still plays music on occasion.
Michael Corry considers the album a gift to his children and, possibly, to future grandchildren yet to be born. He hopes that many generations of Corrys will be able to listen to “Codger Pole” and say, “Look what we did at one time. This is really good.”
“Oh man, it’s so exciting to me to see this recording that we did as a family,” said Josh Corry, now a professional drummer living in Portland. In October, he will perform with the Jarrod Lawson band in the Stockholm Jazz Festival. “It’s finally coming back to the way it was supposed to sound. I can’t wait for people to hear it, honestly.”
“Codger Pole” is available for purchase at Michael’s Music, 131 Sunset Blvd., and for download at cdbaby.com and at Michael Corry’s new website, mikecorrymusic.com.