Taos-based musician Max Gomez has childhood memories of romping through Kit Carson Park and playing tag in the plaza at the center of town. As a young adult, he patronized the Old Blinking Light (OBL), a bygone roadhouse-style bar north of town. He honed his songwriting and guitar-playing skills at OBL with other troubadours of Northern New Mexico. Gomez said growing up in Taos was “wild. It’s still the Wild West compared to any city or suburb. You can get away with just about anything ... and we were turned loose as kids.”
Gomez plays a concert in Taos every year around Christmas and visits his extended family and friends scattered around the area. This year, he’s on tour promoting his new album titled, “Me and Joe.” He’s invited his friends, Michael Hearne and Jed Zimmerman, to join him for “A Special Holiday Concert” Friday (Dec. 29) from 8-11 p.m. at the KTAOS Solar Center, 9 State Road 150, north of El Prado. Tickets are $25.
Gomez is the youngest of five brothers, “That’s why I got into ‘old’ music,” he explained. His older brother bought a black Gibson Les Paul custom guitar with gold pickups; Gomez said he started playing it “every time my brother put it down.” When he was 10, his parents bought him an acoustic guitar of his own for Christmas. The singer-songwriter says, “From that point on, I knew playing music was what I wanted to do. I just had a confidence I could do it. Music served as a sort of escape or meditation ... something I always had in darker times.”
In the 1980s, Gomez’s family moved from Santa Fe to Taos, and his father became a furniture craftsman. “There’s a similarity between my dad’s work and mine,” Gomez said. “He really studied what he did; there were always a lot of books on old furniture in his studio.”
Like many before him, Gomez moved to Los Angeles, California, at 18 to follow his dream of becoming a working musician. He started writing music. He said, “My songs are fictional tales about real life. They are about everything. Recently, I even wrote a song about an antique store. I like to find humor in music and in storytelling, but I still have a spot in my heart that tends to make songs for, or about, love.”
Gomez partnered to write songs with American singer-songwriter and Grammy nominee Shawn Mullins, who later recorded them. “That’s when I began taking it all a little more seriously and turned my music into a job,” Gomez said.
He then began recording his own songs with producers in New York, Los Angeles and Nashville, Tennessee. His debut album, titled “Rule the World,” was released in 2013 by New West Records, a label that’s also home to musicians Dwight Yoakam (who, incidentally, performed in Taos last summer), Kris Kristofferson and R.E.M. Soon after, film actor Kiefer Sutherland directed the music video for his single, “Run From You.”
Gomez’s sound is rich. It’s cut from the cloth of Townes Van Zandt, and the arresting arpeggios of his hand-picked guitar strings are contrasted by a production and arrangement that’s purely contemporary. His voice is at once filled with a smoky sense of forlorn ache and optimism. Lyrically, he speaks as someone who’s lived fully and leaned into both the honorable and unhealthy. The titular track, “Joe,” illustrates this well. Jed Zimmerman, who will also perform on Friday, writes: “If cocaine was coffee, if pain turned into cash, then I’d be rich and respectable. I wouldn’t run from the past.”
Sideman and songwriter Keith Sykes said, “I first saw Max perform when he was 17, about 10 years ago, and sensed he had something even then. When I saw him last year, I was pleased to see and hear, something has turned into it. Listen and you’ll see, and hear, what I mean. He’s among the best of his generation.”
Gomez said he feels like he is finally “finding a place at the table in the music industry. I feel closer than ever with a great reception to my album ‘Me and Joe,’ my tours are getting great reviews and I’m starting to feel like I know my path. I’ve created a steady job for myself … it’s art when it can be and a job most of the rest of the time. I do it for the art.”
Gomez said the lineup for his Taos concert promises to be a mix of old and new.
For more information, call (575) 758-5826 or visit ktao.com.