Inspiration can come from the weirdest places. Just ask Tacoma singer-songwriter Forest Beutel, best known for singing and picking banjo for popular bluegrass outfits, Barleywine Revue and the Rusty Cleavers.
Beutel felt stuck when writing one of the new songs he plans to perform on Friday, June 16, at Jazzbones. “I had a verse written,” he recalled. “But it just wasn't going anywhere. I hit writer's block. So I took a trip down to Mary Mart and went for a walk.”
Along the way, he encountered an absurd scene that he had to investigate: some of his neighbors dragging fussy felines around on leashes.
“They said they were trying to train their indoor cats to be outdoor cats,” he said. “It's just not natural to have a cat on a leash, and these cats just looked miserable. These people were trying to drag them through their yard, and they were falling over. They were stiff-legged, fighting the pull.”
Beutel knew a good metaphor when he saw one. “It just went right into the song. It's just a song about the day-to-day hustle, trying to make it in today's world. We're all kind of cats on leashes.”
Beutel had his title track; and on Friday he'll unveil material from his new solo disc, “Cat on a Leash.” He recorded the album in December and January at Tacoma's Mountain House Studios with some help from some familiar friends: Barleywine Revue band mates Kevin Shintaku (also of Rusty Cleavers) and Julie Campbell (Dixie Highway) make appearances on bass and fiddle, respectively. Campbell also sings on album closer, “Blues All Night.”
Making her recorded debut is newcomer Jaynee Schmidtke, familiar to many locals from her day job slinging dogs and cold brew at Sixth Avenue hot spot, The Red Hot. Schmidtke sings a duet with Beutel on the ballad “Tie Your Shoes.” “She's not in any bands or anything like that,” he said. “But she's a good singer, and she wanted to sing this song with me. So it worked out.”
There is a fair amount of twang on the new album which opens with the foot-stomping bluegrass of “Cold Ocean Blue” and features banjo prominently throughout; but as on 2014's “If You Label Me, You Negate Me,” Beutel explores a variety of musical styles, from rock to acoustic blues.
“These songs aren't bluegrass songs,” he said. “ A couple of 'em definitely have bluegrass flavor, but there's a decent amount of what I would consider rock n' roll songs, some country sounding songs.”
Among the biggest departures are his remake of Surfaris classic “Wipe Out” and an original surf jam called “Mason in the Green Room.”
“My brother's a surfer, and his name is Mason,” Beutel explained. “So it's about my brother, and when a surfer gets barreled - which is the ultimate goal – they call it 'hangin' out in the green room.'
“I'd never done a surf song, but it's such a rich culture here in town with the surf music. I listened to a ton of surf and started writing songs.”
“Cat on a Leash” will be available locally at Hi-Voltage and Rocket Records. Fans can also download digital copies from Beutel's site, www.forestmarekbeutel.com.
Adding support on Friday night at Jazzbones will be The Stingy Brim Olde-Time Blues Project and Kristen Marlo with an 8 p.m. start time. Tickets are available online at www.ticketfly.com with prices ranging from $7 to $10. Visit www.jazzbones.com for further details.