Singer-songwriter Jackie Greene's new album Back To Birth has been a work in progress for three years. And you can blame a couple of bands for the delay.
Greene tells Billboard he started Back To Birth -- which includes the track "The King is Dead," "a bit of a socio-political statement, masquerading as a rock song" -- during 2012 in his home studio in California. "I thought I wanted a very sort of home studio vibe on it," Green explains. "Then I started back and it wasn't really going where I wanted it to go, so I put it on hold." He intended to get back to it sooner, but in 2013 Greene joined the The Black Crowes, and then subsequently was part of Trigger Hippy, a group formed by Crowes drummer Steve Gorman that also included Joan Osborne.
Listen to "The King Is Dead," which Billboard is premiering exclusively below.
Fast-forward to 2014, when the Crowes came off the road, and Greene was ready to return to his project -- and had motivation in the form of Los Lobos' Steve Berlin, who agreed to produce the album and record it in Portland, where he resides. "It sounds more like a band record because it is a band playing it," Greene notes. "The problem I ran into with doing it all myself is that I sort of get stuck in the way I play the drums and the way I play bass and stuff like that. It was a little too boring for me. It didn't sound the way I wanted it to sound. The vibe wasn't happening. For a lot of these songs I felt like I just needed to have other people in the room, and it worked out great. Like at the end of 'Hallelujah,' the sort of rave-up gospel bit, that was live in the room, very authentic. You can't do that by yourself. You have to have other people."
After his outside band experiences, Greene -- who's also worked with Phil Lesh & Friends -- considers Back To Birth "a return to my musical roots. It's an album that fully embraces folk, blues, gospel and rock'n'roll -- all the critical elements of my musical upbringing." There's a thematic subtext to the album, too, which Green describes as "the idea of circular existence; things have happened before and they'll happen again. "The King is Dead" is a case in point: "I wrote the song after reading some old folktales about a city whose totalitarian leader passes away but the public has been so brainwashed into thinking they need a leader that instead of rejoicing and rebuilding, they go right on with the program until the next dictator takes his place. To me, the juxtaposition of the two phrases, 'The king is dead' and 'Long live the king,' help illustrate the irony of it all."
With the Black Crowes nested, Greene has also left Trigger Hippy and plans to put his efforts into his own music again -- including shows starting with an acoustic date Aug. 21 at the late Levon Helm's The Barn in Woodstock, N.Y., and band performances beginning Sept. 5 in Livemore, Calif. "I really want to focus on this record right now," Greene says. "I've been in a lot of different bands the last couple of years and put my stuff on the back burner. At this point in my life I don't feel like I want to do that anymore. I want to go for it and reserve some energy and be a little more selective about where I put it, I suppose."