Have guitar, will travel could serve as a motto for Jeffrey Gaines. The Bryn Mawr singer/songwriter is a regular fixture on the concert trail in the U.S. and Europe.
Nevertheless, Gaines has held off putting out a new album. When he released his last studio album, Toward the Sun, in 2003, a tweet was the sound a young bird made and Facebook and YouTube had yet to debut.
After a decade and a half, the wait for new material is over. He is releasing Alright (Omnivore Recordings), a vibrant, 10-song collection of Gaines originals that mixes rock, pop, and folk and showcases his expressive vocals. He will be celebrating Friday's release of Alright with a show Sunday at the Ardmore Music Hall and admits there is work to do.
"I'm still getting ready to play them live," Gaines said in a phone interview last week.
After more than a decade, he wasn't anticipating a return to the studio since releasing live albums in 2004 and 2012. "I'm not the kind of DIY guy to put out my own records," said Gaines, whose previous label, Artemis Records, went defunct in 2006. "I love to sing and perform live."
Things changed for him at last year's South by Southwest festival, where he attracted interest from record companies, eventually agreeing to a deal with Omnivore, a company known for its reissues of Big Star and the Beach Boys and newer albums by veteran artists Emitt Rhodes and Cindy Lee Berryhill.
For Alright, Gaines worked with producer/multi-instrumentalist Chris Price and brought in guitarist Val McCallum, who worked with him on Toward the Sun. Gaines also recruited drummer Pete Thomas and bassist Davey Faragher, members of the Imposters, Elvis Costello's band.
"I love to record with rhythm sections that play together, which Davey and Pete do, so they've already got the nonverbal communication going," Gaines said.
He's been a longtime admirer of Costello's music, and the influence is evident in some of the lyrical twists on Alright. "I know just where I've been, but who knows where I'm going," he sings on "Thick and Thin." Another song, "Bjorn Toulouse," features wordplay that Costello probably would appreciate and that was inspired, according to Gaines, by a feeling that "things can't go this good for this long."
"We're looking at the world from the same point of view and share a birthday [Aug. 25]," said Gaines of Costello.
Work on Alright went quickly, as the basic tracks were recorded in three days. "We didn't have a lot of time, so there was no fooling around. I picked the songs that I thought would suit this group of musicians."
The songs demonstrate Gaines' versatility, ranging from the melodically upbeat "Feel Alright" to the pop-flavored "Seems to Me" and the edgy rocker "Promise of Passion."
Alright is the latest step in a musical journey for Gaines that began in the Harrisburg suburbs, where he grew up and learned to play guitar. He moved to Philadelphia in 1989, playing local clubs and gaining a reputation for his dynamic live performances.
"I opened for Shawn Colvin and Tish Hinojosa," said Gaines, who signed with Chrysalis Records and released his self-titled debut album in 1992. Songs such as "Hero in Me" and a stripped-down and emotionally charged version of Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" gained radio airplay.
Gaines will be hitting the road to promote Alright in the coming weeks. He enjoys the spontaneity and immediate feedback that comes from facing an audience. "I don't even know what's around the corner, and the crowd doesn't either," he has said.
Gaines doesn't expect there will be another 15-year wait for his next album. "My hope is that it's received with enough enthusiasm to get me to the next one," he said.