Mike Midlo has released a new album, “Two Steps & Waltzes,” thanks to a grant from the Wallowa County Cultural Trust Coalition.
Midlo said the album was a five-year process that started when he moved with his wife, Kristy Athens, to Wallowa County in June 2013.
“These are just some of the songs I’ve made since I moved to Wallowa County,” he said. “I’m always writing songs. When I moved here, I wanted to make a real infectious dancey, prancey record, but these songs are what came out instead.”
According to Midlo, art is a reflection of and reaction to the world around the artist and how it affects them.
“If I lived in Cairo, I’m sure I’d be writing different kinds of songs,” he said. “Wallowa County inspires you to write a certain way.”
Midlo recorded the album on the OK Theatre stage in September with local recording sound engineer and musician Bart Budwig, a personal friend. “We recorded 14 songs in 15 hours,” Midlo said. “They’re not perfect, but we just did it. I like what Bart is doing, and he’s great at capturing things. It’s fun to work with him.”
For the most part, the album is laid-back pure country that wouldn’t sound out of place in a ‘40s living room or a modern Americana album. For example, the song “The Old Apple Tree” is about laying in a hammock tied between two ancient apple trees and looking at the skies and clouds above.
“How Can I Complain” stemmed from early morning walks with the family dogs before thinking about the day’s tasks ahead.
“I don’t just sit and write a song,” Midlo said. “They usually come to me as I’m walking down a gravel road or along a river or in the woods. Later down the line, I’ll sit down with the guitar, and occasionally, it turns into something. Some people are compelled to bake cakes or work on cars. What I do is write songs.”
Nearly all of the album’s 14 numbers are originals, but Midlo couldn’t resist a cover of “My Rifle, My Pony and Me” gleaned from the John Wayne film “Rio Bravo.” Local musician Forrest Van Tuyl lent his impromptu harmonica skills to the track.
Midlo’s favorite song on the album is “Timberbind.”
“It’s the best song on the record by far,” he said. “I don’t know where that one came from. It just appeared one day out of the ether. Chainsaws and rainbows in one song ... how can you beat that? I’m glad I was there to catch it.”
The video of the song is available on YouTube. None of the songs took more than two takes and overdubs are minimal.
“I just thought I’d make a record people could play in the car rumbling down the road or wash dishes to,” Midlo said. “I called it ‘Two Steps and Waltzes’ because that’s what they are, and maybe some folks in their living room could dance to it.”
To promote the album, Midlo plans to play a number of “house shows” in living rooms around the west. Three Portland shows are already sold out.
“Maybe a couple of songs will resonate with people,” he said. “If they do, that’s great ... if not, that’s fine too.”
The album is available on Spotify, CD Baby, the Bookloft, iTunes and other venues.
A MAN AND HIS GUITAR
Not one intent on having the latest instruments to make his music, Midlo’s guitar work on the album includes a Yamaha FG 180, the same guitar he learned to play on when he was nine.
“It’s worth maybe 150 bucks, but I wouldn’t sell it for anything,” he said. “That guitar has the story of my life in it.”
The musician said he’s owned dozens of electric guitars but owns only one now.
“I have these torrid affairs, and at the end, I sell them off,” he said. “I’m telling the guitar, ‘It’s not you, it’s me. I’m changing my mind.’ With that acoustic guitar, we’ve been friends for 39 years.”