Singer-songwriter Conor Donohue returns this weekend as part of his frequent pilgrimages to the Holy City, where he continues to record and collaborate with other musicians despite having split for the Big Easy back in 2015. The show coincides with his third recording session with producer/musician Andy Dixon (Ramshackle Studios), who also assisted on Donohue's last album, Cayenne.
"This will be the third session we've done and it will kind of wrap up the record," says Donohue. "I like working with Andy because he's the sweetest dude in the world, but also because I really love how he digs into songs and breaks them apart and builds them back up again."
The new music is definitely in the same vein as the kind of wide-ranging roots-rock Donohue is known for, combining weathered lyricism with bluesy, off-kilter grooves and gritty riffs that harken to both the garage-folk of Shovels & Rope and the junkyard abandon of Tom Waits. The title track off the new record Let Love Contaminate is a rough-edged rave-up soul tune delivered with withering cynicism, while another tune, the jaunty barroom piano-rambling "Getting Better," reads like a garage-y rejoinder to the wry power-pop of Butch Walker, replete with ramshackle doo-wop harmonies.
If anything, Donohue says, the sound of the record as a whole is a "bit more rockin'" on the new LP, something he credits to both the album's rhythm section of bassist George Baerreis and drummer Ron Wiltrout as well as to some of his collaborators in New Orleans who workshopped a few of the songs.
"They [Wiltrout and Baerreis] definitely have rock 'n' roll roots," he says. "It was nice just to bring in the skeleton of a song and just hash it out with them and get as loud as we possibly could in our practice space. Just feeding off that energy was a lot of fun in the whole writing process."
As for the songs themselves, he says, they are definitely inspired by "all of the weird adventures I've gotten myself into in New Orleans. Falling in love, staying out way too late. All of the excess that happens in that city." Yet there's still a distinctive Charleston flare to the proceedings — Donohue's close relationship with the Shrimp Records collective is evident from everything from the musicians he's collaborating with to the songs themselves, many of which have echoes of friends like Michael Trent (Shovels & Rope) and Joel Hamilton (Mechanical River), the latter of whom also guests on much of the record. He talks about making music here as something akin to a homecoming, of "bringing the family together and playing these songs they helped create.
"I try to sneak up there any chance I can to just hang out, go swim in the ocean every day. Go see as many people as I possibly can while I'm there," he admits. "I'll always be back in Charleston. It's always home to me."
He's also excited about performing onstage with local, familiar faces. There "might be some other special guests, if they can make it," Donohue says cryptically. "Any chance I can to get these people together in a room, it's always really special to me."