For the past several years, a record deal has been shimmering on Max Gomez’s horizon like some thirsty man’s mirage. But, that is pure history now. Last year, Gomez, 25, signed on with Los Angeles-based independent recording label, New West Records and is now set to release his debut album titled, “Rule the World,” on Tuesday (Jan. 22).
Gomez opens the album with the title tune. Brilliantly crafted with careful flourishes to bring out the substance inherent in the words of his song, this rendition is a show-stopper, returning again and again to its simple heartbeat.
From there, Gomez keeps a steady pace walking towards “where the pavement ends and the trouble begins,” leaning heavily on his country, blues and folk roots.
Track by track, sure-footed and full of wonder, Gomez takes his listeners for a dusty ride through the landscapes he has traveled on his own. They are not unfamiliar places — the dismal desert of heartbreak, the mountain streams where dreams live. But Gomez does not take the usual route to get us there. He drops pretense to favor all the tender places that eventually turn a piece of grit into a pearl.
“It’s a bit surreal to me to have finished the record,” says Gomez. “I’ve dreamt about making a record since I was a kid.”
Gomez grew up between the mountains of Taos and (for a time) the plains of Kansas where his family had a ranch. He learned the trade of fine furniture-making from his father, while he was fiddling with frets on his guitar. And, he credits his father’s woodworking training with providing the tools he uses for his song-crafting.
From a young age, Gomez immersed himself in the traditional folk blues of Lead Belly, Big Bill Broonzy and Robert Johnson, the traditional American folk music of the Harry Smith anthology, and contemporary songwriters like Townes Van Zandt, Kris Kristofferson, Guy Clark and John Hiatt.
It is not coincidence that Gomez cuts his lines with precision. First, he follows the grain, then polishes up — enough to make a shine, but not enough to smooth off the interesting parts. His songs feel comfortable from the first time you hear them. Their character calls you back to listen again.
Gomez started playing in Taos bars at the age of 15 with local musicians like Michael Hearne offering ample encouragement. Gomez recently played a sold-out concert at KTAOS, sharing the stage with Hearne (Texas Singer-Songwriter of the Year) and award-winning Nashville artists Chuck Cannon and Lari White.
Jeff Trott (Stevie Nicks, Sheryl Crow) produced “Rule the World,” and plays on songs like “What It Means” where he joins in with lap steel and backing vocals while Brian Macleod sits in on percussion.
“This song is one example of how we have a broad range of production on the album — everything from electric guitar solos to solo guitar leading a tune,” says Gomez. “This one falls somewhere in the middle.”
“Ball and Chain” was the first song recorded for the album. Gomez said, “I had no idea how fast we were going to be recording. As soon as I walked into the studio and shook hands with the bassist and the drummer (Sean Hurley and Victor Indrizzo) tape was rolling. I was wired up in a booth with a beautiful Gibson guitar from the ’30s and I started to play just as I had for years in the bars and little clubs. But this time was different. This time I was joined by the boys in California who played music like it was all they knew. We got about four bars in and the heavens split.”
Gomez’s “Ball and Chain” was recently aired on the NBC show “Parenthood.” Last fall, Gomez toured with Patty Griffin and played a couple of shows with John Hiatt in New York City. This February he will perform with Shawn Mullins on the West Coast and Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale on the East Coast.