‘Slow burn’: Troubadour John Craigie returns to Alaska in support of new album

John Craigie might never write an anthem.

Craigie focuses on the filament, creating latticework songs with precise details that strike the listener like a pinprick.

“I can’t do the John Denver thing,” he said. “As much as I want to, I can’t make a song about waterfalls. I love that kind of thing, but it doesn’t really come naturally to me. Storytelling is my thing and I want to do that in song.”

On his recently released album, “Mermaid Salt,” the Portland, Oregon-based singer-songwriter’s scope is even more confined.

The album, which stemmed from lockdowns in the Pacific Northwest, reflects the isolation of a rambling troubadour with suddenly nowhere to wander.

Craigie returns to Alaska this week, with a Thursday show at the Sheldon Community Arts Hangar in Talkeetna and a two-night weekend stand at the Creekbend Cafe in Hope.

Craigie eschewed his normal recording procedure — in essence getting a group of musicians together for live takes to inject energy into the songs.


“With each new album, I try not to repeat myself and I want to give the listener a new side — a new angle,” Craigie said. “So with this one since we had the time, and a lot of the songs have been written with such solitariness, I wanted to kind of represent that. I didn’t want the record to feel like a bunch of people in a room playing together, and I wanted it to feel, you know, like something someone made themselves.”

Craigie recorded at the OK Theater in Enterprise, Oregon, along with longtime friend and engineer Bart Budwig.

The sound of his new album is spare but at times rich with the infusion of instrumentalists Justin Landis, Cooper Trail and Nevada Sowle.

“It was all about having the time,” he said. “Usually for me, the situation is I’ve got five days with this group of people who will never be in the same room together again. Let’s do it, let’s go. Here I had the people who were living out there, and we weren’t rushed, which is very nice. My hope is that the record feels that way and that it just feels like a slow burn.”

“Helena” is an undeniable highlight of the record, a malevolent ballad that starts out with a jolt in the first line: “I was born dead, mama told me / She said the devils, they didn’t want me.”

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Although it’s been a few years since Craigie played in Alaska, he has been touring the state since his early years performing and wrote a song called “Resurrection Bay” on his debut album in 2007.

Craigie said being back on the road is good for both his soul and his songwriting.

“I write mostly on the road,” he said. “That’s where my inspiration comes from. I’m not that inspired at home. At home, nothing’s going on. So I just try to rest and maybe clean up what’s already been established out there.”

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John Craigie

When: 8 p.m. Thursday, June 2, with Emma Hill

Where: Sheldon Community Arts Hangar in Talkeetna

Tickets: $24 for Denali Arts Council member, $30 in advance, $36 at the door

When: 7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, June 3-4 with Michael Howard

Where: Creekbend Cafe in Hope

Tickets: $25 each night or $45 for a two-day pass

Chris Bieri

Chris Bieri is the sports and entertainment editor at the Anchorage Daily News.