“I’m not a particularly fast songwriter,” admits Timothy B. Schmit, whose Leap of Faith – an album of unhurried folk-pop and soft-spoken roots-rock – marks the Eagles bassist’s second solo release since 2001.
Written and tracked during breaks in the Eagles’ touring schedule, the new record shines a light not only on Schmit’s voice, which remains remarkably untouched by the decades that have elapsed since he sang his band’s final hit, “I Can’t Tell You Why,” but also the songwriting chops of an Americana pioneer. Long before that genre had a name, Schmit helped glue the nuance of country and bluegrass to the noise of rock. If the music on Leap of Faith sounds somewhat familiar, it’s because Schmit now shares the marketplace with songwriters who grew up studying his work with Poco and the Eagles.
With Leap of Faith’s “Red Dirt Road,” which premieres above at Rolling Stone Country, Schmit proves he’s more than willing to break the rules of a genre he helped launch. He’s not singing about the Red Dirt scene in Oklahoma and Texas. Instead, he’s paying tribute to the soil of the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i, which gives an appropriate setting to a song about slowing down and taking stock of your surroundings.
“There’s some rich, deep soil there,” he says. “You have a good chance of growing a plumeria tree by just sticking a branch of a plumeria into the ground. It’s unbelievable. That was the motivation. It’s a song about trying to enjoy your life. You can go about your daily business and see it from sunup to sundown – and see it in the best light possible, too – and then just enjoy yourself.”
Firing twin barrels of bluegrass and Cajun – the latter influence coming from guest artist and longtime buddy Van Dyke Parks, who played accordion on the track – “Red Dirt Road” was recorded at Schmit’s home studio, with the Santa Monica Mountains in the distance and a large stretch of state-preserved land just outside the studio window.
“I grew up in studios — ‘proper’ recording studios — that never had any windows,” says Schmit, who co-produced the 11-song set with Hank Linderman. “I always wondered about that. I understand the thing about creating perfect sonics, but nobody listening to the album in their living room or car has the perfect space. My wife and I built the studio together, and the vibe there simply feels like going over to somebody’s house and hanging out and doing music. It overlooks a meadow. It’s beautiful.”
Leap of Faith makes its big jump on September 23rd, during the peak of this year’s Americana Music Festival. Schmit is playing two performances in Nashville that week, and he’ll present at the Americana Music Awards on September 21st, as well. He’s never been to the festival, but when asked if he’s honored to appear at an event that owes much of its existence to his own music, Schmit shrugs off the compliment.
“This is just what I do,” he says. “And I’ve definitely been doing it for a long time.”