Ghost Voices

12 July 2012 | 12:13 pm | Nick Argyriou

“We left in some ghost voices, footsteps and banging piano lids and the like because Jay [former Wilco member] liked to have those random things left in a mix.”

The daughter of 1960s country folk singer Noelene Rich, Sherry Rich has lived a charmed existence as an artist in her own right. A young Keith Urban was in her high school band; she played alongside the Ramones, the Buzzcocks, Skid Row and the Divinyls as part of her late-'80s Girl Monstar collective; and musical affiliations with Australian country and pop mainstays Charlie Owen (The Grievous Angels) and Ash Naylor (The Grapes) defined much of her '90s career. Rich's signing to BMG would swivel her career once more when the contract led the songwriter to record her 1997 album, Sherry Rich & Courtesy Move, beside Wilco members Jay Bennett, John Stirratt and Ken Coomer, with Rich finally relocating to Nashville in 1999.

Then came a second recording session with Bennett from 1999 to 2001 at the esteemed Wilco Loft in Chicago. Bennett was fired from Wilco following the completion of their 2001 album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot; he died in his sleep in 2009. Rich had been waiting to mix her album with Bennett while he battled depression following his exit from Wilco; after his death, she enlisted Shane O'Mara to finish the job. Now, more than a decade after it was recorded, Dakota Avenue is finally getting a release.

“[Jay] went into hiding pretty much after being ousted during the recording of Yankee Hotel and was very depressed – that in part was why this record has taken so long to come out,” states Rich. “I didn't want to mix the album without Jay. I was waiting for him to come out of that dark place but he became a bit of a hermit and made a lot of solo records, and in the meantime I moved onto other projects and then he died unexpectedly in 2009,” she laments.

With O'Mara given guidelines to have the songs retain what Rich refers to as a “time and place feel”, a decade-plus on, it was imperative that Dakota Avenue was to encapsulate the mood of the fertile phase in which it was recorded, while paying the ultimate reverence to Bennett. “We left in some ghost voices, footsteps and banging piano lids and the like because Jay liked to have those random things left in a mix,” says Rich. O'Mara also capitalised on the extensive studio notes on which instruments needed to be used, and mixing ideas that Rich had in her possession from the recordings.

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

“Luckily, when we were mixing we were able to have him 'in the room' because we had his handwritten thoughts right there to guide us,” she declares. “We did spend a long time mixing and remixing as we wanted to get it just right, and I do feel like the end result is one that Jay would have approved of.”

With Rich and Bennett recording with Wilco members Glenn Kotche, Pat Sansone and Leroy Bach, what did Wilco commander Jeff Tweedy think about another venture happening on his game-changing Yankee Hotel Foxtrot clock? “He was pretty protective of his band and what they were doing but was always polite and a compelling character to be around,” Rich says. “He told me that Pandora Mink was a great song, which was a thrill as I've always admired him as a writer.”

Rich's 50-odd songs from the two-year recording span include co-writes with Bennett and Nashville legends Tim Carroll, Will Kimbrough, Pat Buchanan, and Bob DiPiero, with US guitar hero Al Perkins adding his touch to Dakota Avenue on pedal steel. But for Rich, it's clearly Bennett's influence over her classic roots-pop record that looms larger than most. “Even at the height of his fame with Wilco he was like a teenager when it came to the organic process of putting together a studio anywhere and taking the time to do it properly, to the point of obsession,” she concludes.