Our new CD, Midnight Mission, is out today, available on iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify!

I’d like to give you an admittedly biased overview of the Midnight Mission recording project, and say something about the people who contributed their valuable time and talents to seeing it realized.

First off, my thanks to Brandon Butrick and Tom Donald for inviting me to be a part of this band, and to Brandon for trusting me to serve as co-producer on this project.

In much of Americana and Roots Rock, there is a “less-is-more” tradition with regard to arrangements, which is there for a reason and usually works pretty well. So it may seem a spot of rule-breaking on our part that “we” (the producers) have gone in the opposite direction with our latest release Midnight Mission. After some experimentation, we decided to go beyond the usual duo, trio, or quartet setting. The songs, we felt, demanded it. Brandon and I hope that the resulting recording maintains the “two-fisted integrity” (Joshua Stryde, Indie Music Review) of Django Mack.

Though technically recorded pre-COVID, this is definitely a COVID-style recording in that, with one or two exceptions, no two people were ever in the same room together, or even in the same time-frame during the creation of the tracks. While there were some pre-existing arrangement ideas stemming from live performances, most of the arrangements gradually evolved and changed as successive tracks were laid down, creating a pandemic-style challenge for the players and vocalists involved. Everyone rose to the occasion.

The new album is, as always, focused on the deep-voiced vocal stylings of Brandon Butrick. No one is better suited to play the role of our not-so-easy-to-kill adventurer “Django Mack,” forever making his way down some dark road under a sliver of moon, with evil men and mysterious women dogging his trail, while up ahead the neon glow of a gambling den flickers through the trees.

To help set the mood we are once again lucky to have Laurie Amat (The Residents) delivering her haunting vocal magic on several songs, most notably the single “She’s Leaving Me,” also available as an animated video.

Burning Man attendees or people who are part of the Bay Area club scene will likely know the fabulous Angela LaFlamme (lead singer of the MegaFlame Big Band), who we were most fortunate to have join us for a number of pre-pandemic live performances. Her duet numbers with Brandon give us the point of view of a whole new character, one who possesses a whip-smart worldliness equivalent to Django’s (has he met his match?), and who adds an element of sly irony to the mix, especially on the cover of Smokey Robinson’s “When The Hunter.”

Veteran Django Mack saxophonist Steve Leeds (NewBlue) returns for this recording, providing not only a through-line from the previous recordings, but also a unique sound, born of a rich and long musical life. We are honored to feature him again on Midnight Mission.

Our wonderful, versatile guitarist, Rich Flynn (Finding Stella, Public Eye, the Primates), provides the lion’s share of the guitar work on the recording, delivering an exquisitely evocative and melodic solo on “Every Good Thing.” He also contributed valuable arrangement ideas including the rhumba-rock feel in “Faces,” and the stark guitar phrase that sets the singular tone for the final song “Rogue Nation.”

Marc Levine (Johnny Rivers, Barry Manilow, Bette Midler, Dianne Schuur), is invaluable on bass for all the songs, and the back-and-forth between the bass and piano on the outro of “Rogue Nations” is a delight.

Brian Schindele, a low-profile Bay Area piano luminary, arranger and bandleader, kindly agreed to come aboard for this recording, contributing his considerable expertise on many keyboard tracks, as well as vital arrangements and orchestrations that helped other musicians on the project to shine.

Alisa Rose, (Real Vocal String Quartet, Quartet San Francisco, San Francisco  Conservatory of Music instructor), plays the lyrical and evocative fiddle on “Midnight Mission” and “Game for Gamblers.” She earned our admiration and it was a joy to work with her.

We were also lucky to have Jeff Hobbs (The Left Coast Improv Group) on fiddle for “Game for Gamblers.” He was responsible for the spidery, climbing trill that sets up the trumpet solo.

Jinx Jones (Chuck Berry, Roy Buchanan, and bandleader), dropped in one night, and added some of his unique rockabilly / swing guitar stylings to “Leave My Woman Alone,” as well as the spaghetti-western guitar on the intro of “Game For Gamblers.”

The Joe Cunningham-penned “Faces”makes a strong opener for the album. It’s given a rocking, if slightly rhumba-esque treatment with an El Topo-style village marching band, drifting in and out for color and atmosphere. The South American-tinged horns heard on “Faces” are provided by Matthew Ebisuzaki, trumpets (Santa Cruz Symphony Orchestra, Luminance) who took the lead on the horn arrangement, and Derek James, trombones (Pacific Mambo Orchestra). Percussionist Mio Flores (The Whispers) adds rhythmic fire to all four of the songs on which he appears.

Another local luminary, Paul Robinson (former musical director and lead guitarist for Dan Hicks and The Hot Licks, and current musical director of The Hot Licks), provides well-executed rhythm guitar on “When The Hunter” and adds searing “stun-guitar” on the bridge of “Faces.”

Our other guest songwriter is Scott Deal, whose song “Game For Gamblers” was written for Django Mack. The arrangement is notable for having at least five different, clearly identifiable influences operating in the first 12 bars! Matthew Ebisuzaki is featured on trumpet in this one, along with Angela LaFlamme and Brandon on vocals. The strong songwriting speaks for itself.

Voice-actors Samantha Jackson (ACT, The Shotgun Players, The New Conservatory Theatre Center) and Anthony Rollins-Mullens (ACT, San Francisco Playhouse, The New Conservatory Theatre Center), are absolutely hilarious in their various improvised roles on “Leave My Woman Alone.” They totally cracked us up during the session. (Not all of their contributions were used, as they were, as ever, in danger of stealing the show!)

Then there’s our crack team of backup vocalists led by Nancie Lualhati (Macerator) with Eve Bekker (also of Macerator), who did a superb job.

Last, but not least, we thank our indispensable and ever-patient mixer KC Harvey, the brilliant mastering pro Thomas DiMuzio (of Gench), our amazing animator Vince Remo, and our great cover designer Eddie Carden. We couldn’t have done it without you! And that goes for everyone involved in this project, and everyone who was so supportive of it, not all of whom I’ve mentioned by name. We’d also like to give a special shout-out to all of our former band members and guest players. On behalf of Brandon and myself, thank you all so much.

— Tim Vaughan, co-producer and drummer, Midnight Mission.


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