The artist Robert Rauschenberg said, “The artist’s job is to be a witness to his time in history.”
For their fourth studio album, The Pinkerton Raid frontman Jesse James DeConto felt an obligation to engage in the world around him. Inspired by a weekly sing-along his band conducted in a brewery in their hometown of Durham, N.C., DeConto began carving out topical songs for the new album.
“Where the Wildest Spirits Fly” was released earlier this year. “You say these colors don’t run/these colors don’t run/then why are you so afraid,” DeConto sings on the album’s star song “These Colors Don’t Run.” The 11-track LP, recorded with David Wimbish and Jeff Crawford at Arbor Ridge Studios, draws on a myriad of influence, from '60s folk to R&B, all centered around DeConto’s abstract and direct musings of the world around him.
“Our society is so fragmented right now," DeConto said. “I think a lot of people are willfully ignoring what is going on, because it’s too much to take psychologically. It wears people down. They need to be entertained or escape from it. Try to forget about it.
“I am not alone in feeling obligated. This is a world I live in and I have to engage in it. I have to try and do some small thing. I don’t know if any of it will make a difference, but I have to be faithful with what I have. I need to offer what I have that is useful to someone.”
The Pinkerton Raid — Jesse James DeConto (guitar, vocals), Scott McFarlane (trumpet, drums), Jon DePue (bass), Tony Sali (saxophonist), and Steven DeConto (guitar, percussion) — will play their debut Savannah show Aug. 10 at El-Rocko as a three-piece with Jesse James DeConto, DePue and McFarlane.
Inspired by folk and rock music from the 1960s and '70s, Jesse James DeConto wanted to write songs that held a narrative aspect while touching on social and political elements.
“I think a lot about songs that have meaning,” Jesse James DeConto said. “Something that is going to nurture people’s spirits and get them thinking about things that matter. I dived into a lot of classic songwriting from the '60s and '70s. Buffalo Springfield, CSNY, Bill Withers, Ben E. King, and Sam Cook, Carole King. Songs that are catchy and memorable and also really meaningful. They all engaged in what was going on.
"There was a lot going on in our society back in the middle of the 20th century. I think I looked at a lot of that with what I am doing. There’s so much going on with us in our world, how do I contribute something to the songs that tell the story and respond to what we’re dealing with, politically and socially?”
Over the years, The Pinkerton Raid has shifted members slightly, with DeConto brothers Steven and Jesse James remaining at the core. Their sister Katie recently stepped away from the project after being featured prominently on the first three albums. But the current dynamic, according to Jesse James DeConto, is the best it’s been.
“There’s been a lot of fluctuation,” Jesse James DeConto said. “Since Katie stepped away, at least for the most part — she’ll sing with us locally, mostly she’s not involved anymore — Steven is the only one that has been with me a number of years. At the same time, it feels like this lineup is as solid as we’ve ever had as far as a commitment and energy for it.
“We tracked the record live, the three of us: bass, drums, guitar. This tour, we’re touring with just the three of us. It’s really fun. It exposes the bass parts a lot. Jon is a really great bass player. It gives me more freedom to improvise than I’ve ever had. You need really tight arrangements when you have a tight group.”
Charleston’s She Returns From War and Savannah’s Isaac Smith will open the three-band bill.