Edie Brickell & New Bohemians Return With 'Tell Me,' Reflect on 12-Year Break

Edie Brickell & New Bohemians
Todd Crusham

Edie Brickell & New Bohemians

Edie Brickell says it's "magic" that's kept her part of New Bohemians during the past 33 years. And that creative "freedom and flexibility" is demonstrated all over Rocket, the group's first new album in 12 years, and the soulful track "Tell Me," which premieres exclusively blow.

Brickell tells Billboard that the track sprung out of band rehearsals in Austin, in a manner typical of the quintet. "We were just improvising, and Kenny (Withrow) played that guitar riff," recalls Brickell, who put aside a solo album she was working on in order to make Rocket. "I just started singing what I heard and it just flowed through. That song was written almost immediately, all at once." Withrow adds that, "We were writing a lot of songs -- I think we wrote a few songs that day. It was kind of a little gem we found in there -- 'Oh, here's this song...'"

Rocket is the unintended product of a 2017 New Bohemians reunion for a benefit concert for La Rondalla, a non-profit arts school where Withrow teaches in Dallas. Rehearsals -- "We don't really rehearse because we improvise so much," the guitarist notes -- yielded "a little group of songs, and there was something about them that told us to go into the studio and record them. There was just something there. It was very emotional for us, right from the beginning."

The group recorded the 13-song set at Arlyn Studios with Kyle Cushman, who Brickell credits with capturing the group in a way it never has been on record before. "He brought the band to life in a way that really represents the spirit of the band, the sheer joy of the players, which we never felt came through before," she explains. "We knew there was something more in the band than what we'd done before, especially in the studio, and Kyle really brought that out on this album."

Withrow, meanwhile, concurs that, "We're all very much improvisational players. A big part of the old way of recording would be to do a ton of takes, but if you're a spontaneous player your good takes were at the beginning. So we're finally getting to the point where everything is coming out right as we're doing it, and Kyle was really great at getting that. Almost immediately he had a mix up of what we just did."

New Bohemians will celebrate Rocket's Oct. 12 release the night before with a show in Dallas, then hits the road through mid-November with Cushman as part of the band. Both Brickell and Withrow view the album as the start of a new period of activity for their band, meaning there will likely be more touring and no more 12-year gaps between albums.

"I want to show how great this band is," says Brickell, who during the interim released a self-titled solo album, played in Steve Gadd's Gaddabouts and worked with Steve Martin, including on the Broadway musical Bright Star. "I have time now. My kids are out of the house. So we're very excited. Every time I go in to play with this band, I get very excited. I admire and respect the New Bohemians because they've evolved throughout the years. They didn't just get complacent or quit -- none of us did. They kept learning and growing and their passion for the music is greater than ever, and you can hear it and feel it. I'm very excited about what we're doing now and what we'll do in the future."

And Brickell -- who made a brief guest appearance at the final show of her husband Paul Simon's farewell tour on Sept. 22 in Queens, providing the whistle 'solo' during "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" -- says there's nothing but support at home for New Bohemians' return to active duty. "Paul understood that was my intention, and he supported it. He thinks it's great," Brickell says. "Playing music is a great privilege, but if that's my only identity I would not be happy. So I went and did what was in my heart and had our children, and I knew if the music was meant to be, it would be there. And it is, so I couldn't ask for any more."