When John Westmoreland began work on his latest set of songs, he initially thought about recording the songs solo. And then, he decided to go in another direction.
But when he plays his first non-bang show in Asheville, N.C., at 7 p.m. Thursday in the lounge at Isis Restaurant and Music Hall, it will just be him and some guitars.
“I’d say, in a way, not having five or more musicians it’s a less full sound as you’re not having a conversation with other musicians,” the North Carolina-born and Berklee-trained performer said. “This is how I wrote the songs, by and large.”
The songs from his upcoming record, “Cast Fire,” which is due to be released in April, will be at the forefront of his set.
Westmoreland has played for almost eight years in the West African Fusion band Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba. That group is led by Cissokho, who is a renowned kora (a 21-string-lute-bridge-harp) player.
“I’ve played with him for many years and being exposed to that music I feel has really influenced me, my playing,” Westmoreland said. “It’s another dialect of music, another language.”
His music, though, comes to life through the guitar, either a nylon-stringed classical guitar or the electric guitar. That’s how Westmoreland wrote his new songs and how they’ll be performed in Asheville.
“When I went to do the record I wasn’t sure I’d have a full group and I was considering doing it solo. I thought it would be really cool for this solo project to have orchestrated arrangements for these songs,” said Westmoreland, who added drums, bass and keyboards to fill out the sound. “I felt they really added a rich texture to the scenery of these songs.”
Along with tracks from the album, Westmoreland will perform songs based on the poems of his ancestor, T-Bone Slim, whose real name was Matti Valentinpoika Huhta and who was, according to Wikipedia, “a humorist, poet, songwriter, hobo, and labor activist, who played a prominent role in the Industrial Workers of the World.”
Westmoreland had searched for some information about his family when he stumbled upon the Wikipedia entry and began to ask questions about “Uncle Matti.” Huhta, who died in 1942, was Westmoreland’s great grandmother’s brother, Westmoreland said. His mother had a folder of unpublished poems, writings and letters that he has put to music.
“The ones I’ve been working with I found it to be a natural process,” Westmoreland said. “Writing music and writing lyrics, to me, is a mysterious thing. Sometimes you can tap it and sometimes it feels a little dryer. I felt, in general, that working with his material has been a natural process. The lyrics, the way he writes, really resonates with me.”
The hope, he said, is to produce an album of songs based on T-Bone Slim’s poetry in the future.