Bobby Long has never been one to make the same album twice—not even close. To guard against repetition, he’s fortified his muse with a diverse list of producers, including Liam Watson (White Stripes), Ted Hutt (Old Crow Medicine Show, Lucero) and Mark Hallman (Carole King, Ani DiFranco).
“I don’t want this to sound insensitive to the listener, but I’ve never really worried about what people think,” says Long, who’s a new father and settled comfortably in Jersey City, just across the Hudson River from New York City. “My tastes change, and my style of playing is changing and evolving all the time. What I’m listening to today is not what I’m going to be listening to in a year-and-a-half’s time.”
On his latest, Sultans (Compass), the Americanized Brit is in full-on collaboration mode with multi-instrumentalist Jack Dawson, who gets double-billing on the cover. Long had previously worked with Dawson on 2012’s The Backing Singer EP. “He played violin on that record, and we share a lot of the same loves,” says Long. “You get to the stage where you just want to work with friends—and I think we’ll continue together for the time being.”
Making Sultans was a no-pressure, no-fuss affair, with Dawson producing and another pal, Dave Lindsay, serving as engineer and drummer. Sessions took place over a year’s time at Lindsay’s Country Club Studio in Brooklyn. “We recorded as a three piece—about 50 percent of what you’re hearing is live,” says Long. “I’d sit by the console and press play; Dave would go into the drum room and sit down; and Jack played bass. I fucked up a few times, where I didn’t press the right button. So we’d do this great take, and Dave would get up from the drums and come around and be like, ‘Ah shit, you didn’t press record.’”
Sultans takes its name from the LP’s first and last tracks. The original was just drums, ukulele and a sample that Dawson loved, with Sgt. Pepper being the obvious inspiration for the eventual bookend treatment. And while Sultans is only occasionally loose and experimental, it does test the limits of Long’s gritty folk template in some unexpected ways. At times, its tightly wounded psychedelic jams recall Jimi Hendrix’s sophomore masterpiece, Axis: Bold As Love, especially in their push-and-pull between the blues and the Beatles.
That friction works in spades on “Serpentine,” a driving, ominous mini-epic with a slithering guitar lead and lyrics that bemoan the vagaries of co-dependence. “The riff I had for a while—that was one of the more instinctive songs, really,” says Long. “I have a lot of wonderful women in my life who seem to dote on me, from my mom to my wife to my sisters. It’s more of an ode to them.”