On August 18, 2008, Old 97's bass player and co-frontman Murry Hammond will celebrate the national release of his first full-length album outside of the Old 97's.
For two months prior to this street date, the album – I Don't Know Where I'm Going But I'm On My Way – was made available exclusively at Old 97's shows and through special mail-order. Hammond wished to capitalize on fan anticipation of the album's release in order to raise funds for the non-profit organization Project Mercy. Project Mercy builds basic housing in the poorest sections around Tijuana, Mexico (similar in mission to Habitat for Humanity) using volunteer labor provided by area churches. A group of men and women from Hammond's home church in Burbank, Calif. (where he performs roots gospel music weekly when he's not traveling) have adopted the organization as a primary mission. Hammond was in a unique position to raise funds quickly, and in time to fund fall building before the 2008 winter sets in. The strategy has already paid off, for as of July 1st generous fans purchased enough CDs to pay for one house. The album will always be made available at Old 97's shows, with 100% going to charitable groups such as Project Mercy.
Hammond has played many memorable solo shows over the years, but it was certain events in his life, including the death of both parents, leaving Texas to start a family in California, and a renewed spiritual sense, that inspired him to record I Don't Know Where I'm Going But I'm On My Way. Hammond has been given the credit — and to some, the blame — for the persistent roots influence found in the 97's songwriting and sound, and that sound is found here in its distilled form. "Both in my own contributions and in co-writing with Rhett [Miller], I've always tended to push the chug of train songs, the soul of old-time songs and spirituals, the high-lonesome wail of mountain music, and the pure tuneful fun of singing cowboy music." Hammond's contributions have been some of the group's most engaging, including the lament "Valentine" and "Color of a Lonely Heart is Blue," and with Miller he co-wrote some of the group's best-known songs, among them "Timebomb," "Indefinitely" and "The New Kid."
Hammond completed I Don't Know Where I'm Going but I'm on My Way over the course of 2007 in San Diego, California with producer Mark Neill, with whom Hammond worked on the Old 97's 2004 release Drag It Up. The album uses all acoustic instruments (six- and twelve-string guitars, a harmonium pump-organ), cowboy poetry-style spoken word and instrumentals, and lots of "period" reverb to paint a psychological journey through a world of spiritual trouble and triumph, restlessness, hope, loss, longing, regret, and wonder. Train songs and spirituals abound as Hammond displays his love of all things Carter Family, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, but with the twist of incorporating the moody approach of ambient artists such as Brian Eno. Like that of his heroes, the music has a minimalist heart, at once serene and severe.
Inspired by the grass-roots ethic of early punk record labels such as Dischord and Touch & Go, Hammond decided to operate DIY. He funded all facets of the CD from recording to manufacturing, and he distributes by dealing directly with independent music stores and mail-order houses. Although he also sells on Amazon.com, Hammond wants you to know, "I fill all my own orders personally. It gives me a chance to occasionally write something thoughtful or joke-y on the mailing box."
Hammond is also excited to have contributed a new track, "Bound for Canaan," to a compilation of Sacred Harp music (also known as "shaped note singing") that was produced by the filmmakers of Awake My Soul, a documentary film about the 200-year history of Sacred Harp worship singing in the U.S. The film was shown in 2007 and 2008 on 120 PBS stations, and was released this year on DVD. The compilation also features Innocence Mission, John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin, Jim Lauderdale, Carolina Chocolate Drops and Woven Hand (ex-16 Horsepower), among others. The Awake My Soul audio CD is due later this year. More information on Awake My Soul film and audio CD can be found here.
For the rest of 2008 Hammond will be performing solo dates between Old 97's touring, and has also begun work on a follow-up project with producer Mark Neill.