Despite its title and lyrics, "New Mexico," a new song by local singer-songwriter Mike Behrends, isn't just about the American Southwest. Though the words reference an imagined escape to the border state that fascinated Georgia O'Keeffe, the music seems like a journey to the Canadian border as well.
A lonesome harmonica melody layered over a strummed guitar creates the mood of a song by Canada's own Neil Young from square one, so much that you may want to listen to "Heart of Gold" or "Long May You Run" immediately afterwards. There's something about this combination, and the way Behrend's vocals ache with longing, that will make you want to hop on a long country road, whether it's headed northwest or southwest. Though the tune may send you westward, it also seems custom-made for a mix tape of classics by Minnesota's own Bob Dylan and selections from Sufjan Stevens' Illinois.
Behrends has spent plenty of time on these northern borders. He started playing folk music while living in Dylan's hometown of Duluth, Minn. six years ago, but moving to Wisconsin a few years back gave him the push he needed to record his work, including "New Mexico" and New Feet, his debut full-length.
"There's a melting pot of relatively unknown, incredibly talented folk musicians up there," Behrends says of Duluth, which sits on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, and just a stone's throw from Canada. "I just sort of quietly took notes on what they did, the songs they sang and how they carried themselves, [then] began writing my own stuff and playing out,"
However, when writing "New Mexico," Behrends focused on the moods and sounds of classic country to create just the right shade of blue.
"That theme in the song seems very familiar to old-time country music, the "don't leave me alone and blue" thing, so composing the music and fleshing it out during recording was fun -- just seeing how 'country' we wanted to go with it," he says.
Listen to an mp3 of "New Mexico" in the related files at right. More music by Mike Behrends is available on his website and MySpace page. Check out "New Mexico" in person, and decide where you think it falls on the map -- and the country-music continuum -- when he plays a release show for New Feet at the Project Lodge on Saturday, July 10.
MadTracks highlights and provides MP3s of songs performed by local musicians. All tracks here are provided with permission of the artist. If you are a musician based in the Madison metro area and are interested in sharing your work as a MadTrack, please send a message.