On the Beat

August 11, 2014

Tom Maxwell channels “Jacob Marley” for his upcoming album

Tom Maxwell, formerly of 1990s-vintage hitmakers Squirrel Nut Zippers, ends a long hiatus with a new album and a memoir -- and we’ve got a preview track from “Tom Maxwell and the Minor Drag.”

Tom Maxwell, formerly of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, has not had a new album of his own out in quite a few years. But that hiatus will end with the Aug. 26 release of “Tom Maxwell and the Minor Drag.” And as an added bonus, also coming out around the same time is “Hell: My Life in the Squirrel Nut Zippers” (Oyster Point Press, 144 pages, $14.99), a memoir titled after the Zippers’ Maxwell-penned hit single.

We’ll have plenty more to say about both book and record later. Meantime, scroll down and take a listen to a preview of one of the album’s songs, “Jacob Marley,” which grew out of a soundtrack assignment from a few years back -- an attempt to do a cover version of the 1962 Malvina Reynolds chestnut “Little Boxes” for the Showtime series “Weeds.” Frustrated at his inability to do “anything but a bad version of the original,” Maxwell wrote new music for it. While it ultimately didn’t make the show, it was just the perfect music for a spooky song about Ebenezer Scrooge’s business partner from Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

“This was 2008, when the bottom was dropping out of everything and things were scary and horrible,” Maxwell says. “Everybody was going, ‘Let’s just bail out the banks, do what we’ve got to do and not talk about it,’ because we were all terrified. So I wrote about this Marley-like cartoon character and others like Brother Rabbit and Sister Bluebird, as a broadly drawn metaphor for doing your best under difficult circumstances. No one is excused from adversity, but how we deal with it is what distinguishes us.”

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David Menconi
News & Observer music critic David Menconi's random (and we do mean random) musings about all things related to music and culture of the popular variety.

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