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New Music: Rod Melancon's 'Pinkville'


And finally today, some new music from a place you might think you know, but do you - the bayous of Louisiana. The album's called "Pinkville," and it's by Rod Melancon. Here's the title track.


ROD MELANCON: (Singing) His boots were on American soil, but his mind's far off in the burning villages of Pinkville.

GONYEA: The album is a visceral journey into Melancon's deep southern roots. And he serves as a steady guide to the characters and places that make up this world, from a crawfish pond to a dusty carwash. Melancon told me that starting out the album with a somber spoken-word song felt right to him.

MELANCON: So my mom was a theater teacher, right? So I grew up in that sort of realm - the theater realm. And I always liked the thought of sort of an intro. And that sort of felt like a good way for me to start this record off - just to really pull in the listener with this spoken-word story before we really lay it on him.

GONYEA: This album has a real sense of place. One of them is called "Westgate."


MELANCON: (Singing) Tucked away in the bottom drawer of the town I grew up in with low-income housing called Westgate...

GONYEA: So in "Westgate," we've got this couple at its core in this part of town you describe.


MELANCON: (Singing) That was the first time I saw Lisa. She had a Blue Oyster Cult T-shirt on, and she was standing next to a neon green Trans Am. I thought I'd seen it all. Turns out I hadn't.

Well, Lisa is sort of this - almost this spiritual figure for this character named Dmitri (ph), who lives in the Westgate apartments. Apparently, he's pretty good at football and whatnot. But after meeting Lisa, his heart is no longer, you know, on the football field beneath the Friday night lights. His heart is now, you know, hanging out with Lisa in the backseat of the Trans Am. That's a little bit of myself injected in that because I played football, and I just - my heart was never into it. You know, I'd find any way I could to skip. You're always going to inject a little bit of yourself in your characters.


MELANCON: (Singing) Westgate.

GONYEA: Can you talk about how these places that you knew growing up do kind of influence not just your music but even your point of view as you write lyrically?

MELANCON: They definitely do. And when I was 18, I moved out to California. You know, I moved out to Los Angeles. I wanted to be in the film world. And that was totally when I realized how unique and how special the place I grew up was because at the time, for a lot of, you know, teenagers, you don't like where you grew up usually. And I - it took me leaving it to really appreciate the landscape and the swamp and appreciate the people there and the music that came out of there and the stories that came out of there.

GONYEA: Growing up there, what kind of music were you listening to?

MELANCON: It was pretty spread out. I mean, music didn't really hold that much of an importance to me until later on. But I always liked music. I liked when my dad listened to the classic rock station. Until, like I said earlier, when I left - that's when I actually got into Hank Williams. The way that went down was when I was turning 19. It was Christmas, and my papa, Eddie Melancon, Jr. (ph), and my grandpa had gotten this Hank Williams disc. And I just watched him listen to the entire thing, and I saw the way it affected him, especially the songs about mom and whatnot. It was really having an emotional effect on him.

That was a hell of a thing to witness. And then that was the moment where I started thinking about music and songwriting in a different light. I sort of realized the power and the capabilities of songwriting. So after that, when I went back to LA, I decided I was going to see what I could do.

GONYEA: Well, you mentioned Hank Williams - Hank senior. You've got a song on here about another country music artist people may know - the late Freddy Fender. Just by way of background, Freddie Fender was among the first great Mexican American country music stars. He actually broke through onto the pop charts, into the mainstream in the '70s. You weren't born yet back then. How did you discover him?

MELANCON: I remember hearing "Wasted Days And Wasted Nights" when I was a kid, and I always thought it was an interesting song and a cool lyric. I would do these radio tours before I moved to Austin. They'd send me down there when I was living in LA to Texas. And I did this interview down in Corpus Christi. This deejay - has name was Daddy D - he interviewed Freddy Fender back then. And we did our interview, and we got to talking. And then after, in the parking lot, he followed me out, and he started telling me this story about Freddy Fender.


MELANCON: (Singing) The great Freddy Fender - they don't call me that anymore.

When he moved to Corpus in the early 1970s, and he went to this carwash. And he looks, and it's a guy in the work outfit, someone who works at the carwash.


MELANCON: (Singing) Wasting my days and my nights in the Corpus Christi carwash.

- And when guy gets closer, he realizes it's Freddy Fender. Freddy Fender - he was working at this carwash.

GONYEA: So that's this - that's the story you tell in "Corpus Christi Carwash." He managed to escape the carwash shortly after that.

MELANCON: He did, yeah. And that's why in the song, I sort of set it up as almost like a resurrection in the last verse. You know, he carried the cross. He went to the bottom. But he came out - which is sort of kind of a rare ending I find in that realm or in that country music world. A sort of happy ending almost seems like a rarity. So when I heard this story, I stored it in my - the file cabinet in my mind and pulled it out when I thought I was ready to actually sit down and write it.

GONYEA: I do hear many influences on this album. I certainly hear Freddy Fender in that song. I hear swampy Louisiana rock. And in some spots, there's even this kind of Lynyrd Skynyrd thing going on. There's a little bit of the Rolling Stones here and there. And you've got a tribute to an artist it's clear that you've listened to a lot - Tom Petty. The song's called "The Heartbreakers."


MELANCON: (Singing) I was a skinny, little white boy sitting on a condo, way deep down in the swamps of Florida.

So basically, I always related to Tom's story. He grew up in the Deep South. He grew up in the swamp. He moved out to LA at a very young age the same way I did, you know? We both got our record deals out in LA. And there were certain parallels that I really related to him about. And whenever he passed away, it hit me a lot harder than I thought it would.

GONYEA: You know, nothing against acoustic guitars - I'm sure you've spent a lot of time with an acoustic guitar playing in clubs - but these songs feel like a lot of fun to take out on the road.

MELANCON: Oh, yeah. I mean, it's therapeutic, man. You plug it into the amp, you turn the guitar up real loud, you're yelling into the mic. It's a therapeutic experience, really. It really is.

GONYEA: That was musician Rod Melancon. His latest album is "Pinkville." Thanks for joining us.

MELANCON: Don, thanks so much, man. It's an honor to do this, man. I appreciate you taking me on, really.


MELANCON: (Singing) Label man says, son, you've got what it takes. I'll have you signing that line for old time's sake. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.