Neal Casal’s tenth solo album, Sweeten the Distance, needs to be in your car for every road trip, both the adventures across wide distances and the ones in traffic that you must abide. At first, the music is pleasing, but does not necessarily grab me, until I realized I had listened to the entire album more than once without ever clicking forward or changing it. As I turned it down to listen to my GPS, I realized that I was singing several of the songs in my head–although they had not appeared to be “catchy” on the surface. It took about a day to realize that Sweeten the Distance was one of my favorite first-to-last albums in a long time.

For those of you familiar with Neal Casal’s work as a side man and band member of Ryan Adams and the Cardinals or Chris Robinson Brotherhood, the mellow, 1970’s California vibe of his solo work may surprise you at first. His lyrics will end up in your head and the meaning will develop as you realize what you are singing inside. Immediately after I posted that we would be talking for Country Fried Rock radio, friends commented that Casal is the best sideman in the business, their favorit guitar player ever, or the person with the most interesting “music family tree.” As a person with a strong visual sense, though, I knew that I had seen his name in another context, but it did not readily dawn on me.

Suddenly, past featured artist, Courtney Jaye, popped into my head: Neal Casal had taken the photos for her last record! That’s where his name was also familiar–album covers, photos of musicians and friends, and his “coffee table” book. Photography evolved for Casal from both opportunity and intense creative drive. Because he travels constantly as a touring musician, Neal realized that he was forgetting places and wanted to document the cities and towns and people he saw on the road. Creatively, this interest in documenting his life extended to photographing his musician-friends and then intentionally being the photographer of others’ music and several album covers. That constant pull to make something new is already forming new work for Casal, as he describes in our conversation.

Songs in Episode 1222 include:

  • Neal Casal, Sweeten the Distance, “Need Shelter,” “Let It All Begin,” “Time and Trouble”
  • Jackson Browne, live acoustic, “Take It Easy”
  • Beachwood Sparks, “Forget the Song”
  • White Denim, “Home Together”
  • Six String Drag, “She’s a Hurricane”
  • Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, “Destroyers”