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Alabama Shakes: A Trip to the South Inspired Joe Fletcher's New Album 

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On a recent tour, singer-songwriter Joe Fletcher requested his booking agent route his tour through Alabama. Fletcher wanted to take in the sights, have time to visit a few Civil War monuments and spend a day at the Hank Williams Museum in Montgomery. The trip ended up inspiring some of the songs on his new album, You’ve Got the Wrong Man.

“Someone pointed out to me that there are a ridiculous number of Alabama references on this record,” Fletcher says via phone from his Nashville home. “There are three at least, which is strange for a state I never lived in. That week I was in Alabama had a profound effect on me. Amazing and strange things happened on that trip.”

The sparse “Florence, Al” recounts the story of a Civil War soldier who deserts the army. Fletcher’s nasally vocals make the song sound a bit like something Dylan might have recorded in the ’60s.

“It was a combination of being down there and picturing this small-town solider who realizes he’s fighting on behalf of these wealthy men, and he deserts the confederacy and falls in love and comes back and the girl’s not there anymore,” Fletcher says when asked about the inspiration for the tune.

Another standout track on the album, “Haint Blue Cadillac” concerns a fever dream that takes place at the Hank Williams Museum. It was inspired by the day Fletcher spent at the place.

“I got there at 11 in the morning right when it opened,” he recalls. “I was the only person there aside from the lady at the desk. The first thing, you see the Cadillac that he died in. I was pretty moved by that. Right when I was about to leave, I stopped at the car again and I was sneaking a couple of pictures, which you weren’t supposed to do. One of my favorite Hank Williams songs, ‘Ramblin’ Man,’ came on, and I just sat down and listened to it and looked at the car. It was one of those moments. The song sounds as sad as the words are.”

Fletcher says something about the subject matter related to his own life.

“At the end, he was talking about his loved one standing on his grave,” he says. “It was a magical moment, having no one else be there. I felt like I was vibrating when I left that place. It was one of the things I thought about and thought about and thought about. I had the first line for a year before I wrote that song. It was two years before I finished the song, which is not uncommon for me, I’m afraid.”

On his new album, Fletcher takes a different approach than he did on his two previous albums with his backing band the Wrong Reasons. The album, which also features covers of songs by Brown Bird and Toy Soldiers, was recorded live over a few months on a mobile recording unit in Rhode Island, Georgia, and Tennessee as Fletcher sought to capture the spirit of recordings by Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Jimmie Rodgers and Bruce Springsteen.

“My gateway [to roots music] was becoming an avid Bob Dylan fan when I was in college,” Fletcher explains. “I was a fan up to that point. In high school, I was into Neil Young. In college, I got into Bob Dylan deeply. He’s still my favorite. For the next five years, I just read about him. Once I got everything I thought I could get out of that, I got interested in his influences. That led me to Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family and Leadbelly. I’m interested in American history and the Civil War, and the music ties in. I’ve been a music fan since I was a small child.”

While working as an English teacher, he would use music in the classroom. And he also taught an American roots music class that would conclude with a concert at the end of the year. Fletcher says that would reveal whether the class had been a success.

“I knew I did a good job when kids were fighting over who would do the Robert Johnson song and who was going to do the Johnny Cash song, stuff that kids that age aren’t normally exposed to,” he says.

Fletcher played in a few different garage rock acts before forming his own damn band, Joe Fletcher and the Wrong Men. Transitioning from guitarist to frontman wasn’t easy, and Fletcher says his debut, 2007’s Bury Your Problems, was a tough album to record. But he sounds more assured on its followup, 2011’s White Lighter.

“I don’t enjoy listening to my records, and I haven’t heard [Bury] in a long time,” he says. “In my mind, I’m comfortable. I’m proud of the record. I’ll stand by the songs on both records. As far as overall quality, White Lighter was recorded better than Bury Your Problems.”

When Fletcher started working on You’ve Got the Wrong Man, he initially recorded demos of a few songs. He liked the way they came out so much that he decided he’d just leave them alone. The resulting album is his first solo endeavor.

“These songs are quieter, spooky finger-pickin’ songs that have a Townes Van Zandt vibe to them,” he says of the album. “I was traveling a lot and it was time to make a record. It was beyond time to make a record. I kept touring and touring and I couldn’t say no to different tours. I was moving at the time too. I could set up shop in a hotel room. You can hear cars going by occasionally. I like that. A lot my favorite records are old Woody Guthrie or Leadbelly albums. That’s how they did it. It wasn’t a popular decision among my friends. They all thought I was crazy.”

Expect the live show to be a slightly different take on the songs that appear on his albums.

“I’ll be on upright bass and MorganEve will be on fiddle,” Fletcher explains. “Whether you’ve seen me solo or with a rock band, it’ll be different. I’m excited about it.”

Joe Fletcher and the Wrong Reasons 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 28. Mahall’s 20 Lanes, 13200 Madison Ave., 216-521-3280. Tickets: $6 to $8, mahalls20lanes.com.

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