[PORTLANDICANA] The title of the new, posthumous release from Portland singer-songwriter Scotland Barr and his band, the Slow Drags, We Will Be Forgotten, seems to revel in its lack of sentimentality. It's surely a contrarian name for a final musical testament. But Barr (a.k.a. Scott Barr Moritz, also the founder of westside eatery Salvador Molly's and creator of Secret Aardvark Hot Sauce) conceived of the so-named song as his next album's title track immediately upon writing it, well before his September 2008 diagnosis of stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
When assembling the new release following Barr's death a year later, the band—with input from Barr's widow, Stacy Moritz—wrestled with the question of whether to adhere to what Barr would have released had he lived, or to deal frankly with the fact that much of the project was incomplete by the time Barr died. While Barr had always planned the album as a double, the band ultimately chose to put all 11 songs with Barr's vocals on one disc and the eight unfinished tracks on the other. It's an effective way of organizing the material, establishing Barr's personality before throwing the band in relief without it. As with the use of negative space in art, the second disc is a work defined by absence.
But whether he's physically present on a track or not, Barr's singular lyrical voice keeps him in the game. At times, his words define a feeling you've had but never expressed; at others, he had the courage not to care if you couldn't quite get what he was saying. The chorus to "Eyes like L.A." pairs the title phrase with "Lips just like Japan," the author steadfastly refusing to say why either facial feature conjures the locale in question, but committing fully to the similes regardless. "Right Where You're Supposed to Be," meanwhile, celebrates finding identity and purpose in music performance, its expansive arrangement climaxing in a majestic, go-for-baroque piano solo from Mont Chris Hubbard.
Hubbard shines, too, when singing the album's title song, which begins the second disc, in a sweet, sincere tenor recalling the Jayhawks' Gary Louris at his most plaintive. "That song was OK with a lighter, softer voice, which mine is—not that gruff, whiskey-stained sound," says Hubbard—though while recording he imagined Barr watching and plugging his ears with a grin. Other vocalists on Barr's unfinished songs include familiar Portlandicana practitioners Morgan Geer, Tyler Stenson and Chris Robley, plus close Barr friend and Seattle musician Tony Fulgham and the band's pedal-steel guitarist, Bryan Daste.
The members of the Slow Drags, says Hubbard, are eager to get past the release show—to move on from the long and arduous process of completing Forgotten. But Stacy Moritz, though she's heard the music and seen the artwork throughout the process, has so far only been able to bring herself to remove the disc's shrink wrap. She has yet to listen to or look over the finished product, worrying that it might not correspond to Barr's original vision, unknowable as that may be. There's a deeper reason, too, why she's hesitated to sit and listen. Eyes welling, she says, "See, for me, it means there's no more music."
SEE IT: The Slow Drags play Dante's on Saturday, July 23, with I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House and Steve Wilkinson. 9 pm. $8. 21+.