Mando Saenz/All My Shame/Carnival Music
Four out of Five Stars
Eight years is a long time between albums, especially given the public’s short attention span and the fickle nature of the modern music biz in general. So too, given Mando Saenz’s well deserved reputation for procuring both creativity and craft, it seems an especially lengthy stretch between new and older releases. It’s not that he’s been idle; he’s spent much of his time penning songs for others— Lee Ann Womack, Miranda Lambert, Aubrie Sellers, Jim Lauderdale, among them—but even so, his individual presence seems to have suffered as of late.
“It has been awhile since my last record,” Saenz admits. “I think that happens a lot with songwriters that are embedded in Nashville—writing a lot with other artists, making demos, and creating everyday. The years seem to fly by without noticing it, at least for me. However, now I’m shifting more focus towards my artist side to slow things down and put out music more regularly.”
As a result, the new album, All My Shame, offers considerable cause for celebration. So too, with producer and Wilco drummer Ken Coomer sitting behind the boards, it’s even more of an auspicious occasion. That said, the two could hardly be considered strangers.
“I actually did some recording with Coomer a few years ago prior to this project,” Saenz explains. “I was still living in Houston at the time, but I got hooked up with him through my publisher to cut some sides. As a result, we had a good handle on each other going into this project. He has great creative vision and the ability to take my songs to a much cooler place. I knew that going in, and I was able to trust his instincts. I think it paid off.”
Still, Saenz had a lot to live up to. Indeed, his three earlier albums—Watertown (2005), Bucket (2008) and Studebaker (2013)—established this Texas born, now Nashville native as an influential Americana artist who’s secured his own special stature. That weighed on his mind as the project progressed.
“We first went into the studio just to do an EP,” Saenz says. “My manager at the time, John Troup, felt that we needed to get some content out there to get the ball rolling again. I hadn’t put anything out in awhile. Coomer and I started with only five songs in mind, and then did the session. That maybe led to us to taking some chances. EPs can always be dismissed as experimental if they don’t work out. But after that first session, I felt it was worth going back in and finishing what we started. We booked another session and did five or six more songs to make it a full length record. Now that I think about it, this was a very different approach than I took for any of my earlier projects.”
Still, the songs all seem to find a fit. They range from the loose and limber “The Deep End,” a song that shares a subtle swagger, to the mellower musings of “Rainbow in the Dark,” “As I Watch You Slowly Drift Away” and “Can’t Stay Alone For Long.” Some of the selections—“In All My Shame” and “The More I Need” tow a fine line, given the hint of a more assertive stance. Overall, the mood seems to be one of both contentment and commitment.
“I think this album falls in line with my trajectory,” Saenz reflects. “It’s just as a culmination of my experiences up to this point. My collaborations over the past few years, as well as all my lifelong influences, kind of came together. Basically, it was a flushing out of a batch of songs in a way that hopefully fully represents my artistry. I like to think of records as snapshots you take of people or pets. An honest reflection of who they were at that moment in time. I can honestly say that this record achieves that.”
That begs the question of how his MO differs when he’s writing for others as opposed to himself. Saenz suggests the difference is negligible. “Basically, I’m always writing for myself even if I’m writing with another artist,” he responds. “I’m bringing as much of me as possible to the equation, even if I’m channeling it through what they might be experiencing. And when someone cuts one of my songs that we didn’t write together, that means that they connected with me and the song on some level. And that is truly beautiful.”
That philosophy also informs Saenz’s songwriting style overall.
“I’ve never had any set process for writing songs,” he reckons. “Sure, it’s good to set aside time each day to write, whether you finish something or come up with something to use later. It’s taken me as little as 20 minutes to write a song that I recorded. And as long as two years. So it’s easy to say that it varies from day to day and song to song.”
He also notes that while he has no particular favorite among the eleven tracks that encompass the new collection, there was one in particular that resonates with him. “I like each song for a different reason,” he allows. “However ‘In All My Shame’ keeps coming back to me because it sounds unlike any song I’ve ever recorded. At the same time, it might be as honest as it gets for me.”