Harry Shearer’s politically pointed new album, “Can’t Take a Hint,” is considerably different than anything he’s done before, either on his own or with Spinal Tap and the Folksmen from “A Mighty Wind.”
The 13-track set — which comes out Aug. 27 — is the first of Shearer’s solo releases to not follow a particular thematic thread. It’s also the first time he’s deployed a cadre of guest artists, a potent lineup that includes Dr. John, “Glee’s” Jane Lynch, Fountains of Wayne, Jamie Cullum, Shearer’s wife Judith Owen, guitarists Steve Lukather (Toto) and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (Steely Dan, the Doobie Brothers), trumpeter Nicholas Payton, Brian Wilson/Beach Boys aide de camp Jeff Foskett and others.
Shearer tells Billboard.com that after making 2010’s “The Big Uneasy,” a sober documentary investigating the reasons New Orleans flooded during Hurricane Katrina, “I wanted to do something fun again. I had collected this bunch of songs and went through them and thought ‘I’ve got enough to make a record. It doesn’t have the thematic core like the other ones (including 2008’s “Songs of the Bushmen” and 2010’s “Greed and Fear”) did, but that’s OK.’ And then my partner in the record company (Courgette Records) said, ‘Why don’t you get guest stars on this one? You know a lot of people. It might be fun.’ So that was the two prongs of the project. It was a fairly lengthy project to get completed, but I’m really happy with it.”
The best part about having the guests, Shearer adds, is “it meant I didn’t have to sing on a lot of these songs” — though he does take the lead on six of the tracks and plays bass on much of the album. “I love writing songs and I love playing them; the singing part is…I do my best, but I’d rather get somebody who would do a lot better. So it was huge fun to watch Dr. John or listen to (Cullum’s) track when it came in, or to watch (Lynch) in the studio. I like to collaborate, and one would be a fool not to collaborate with people who are better than you are when given the opportunity.”
Shearer says he cast many of the guests to their particular songs. Fountains of Wayne, for instance, was the musical impetus for “Celebrity Booze Endorser,” which was inspired by a Variety reference in a story about Smirnoff vodka’s new Madonna brand. Dr. John, meanwhile, was a natural fit for “Autumn in New Orleans” and, according to Shearer, “was brilliant at honing the lyrics…just brilliantly ruthless in getting rid of every unnecessary word in the song and making it more like his songs.” Shearer also draws on current events and personalities such as Sarah Palin (“Bridge to Nowhere”), “Joe the Plumber” — “Who’s not named Joe and isn’t a plumber,” Shearer notes — the George W. Bush administration wars (“Trillion Dollar Bargain”), the News Corp. scandals (“When the Crocodile Cries”) and airport security (“Touch My Junk”).
Shearer — who continues to host NPR’s “Le Show” and stars in the BBC series “Nixon’s The One” — hopes to do some live performing in support of the album but doesn’t have any firm plans yet. “It’s a matter of trying to figure out everyone’s schedule,” he explains, though he’s already come up with a moniker for the band he’d take on the road — Young White Coconuts, a name that hails from a sign he saw recently in a Whole Foods market. Until then, however, he’s confident the music alone will do the talking just fine.
“The overall statement it might make,” Shearer says, “is after I didn’t get a Grammy nomination for the last one, I’m back. You can’t discourage me that easily.”