Yesterday, the National’s Matt Berninger officially released “Walking On A String,” his great duet with Phoebe Bridgers from Between Two Ferns: The Movie. Today, he has announced something just as momentous: He’s recorded a solo album with none other than Booker T. Jones.
As Berninger reveals on Instagram, the album is Serpentine Prison. Jones, the driving force behind legendary Memphis soul combo Booker T. & The M.G.s, produced and arranged the whole thing. Berninger met Jones in 2011, when the National singer and the late Sharon Jones (no relation to Booker T.) guested on Jones’ track “Representing Memphis.” In a New York Times feature about Jones’ new memoir Time Is Tight, Berninger says he chose to work with Jones partially because of the musicians he could round up and partially because Willie Nelson’s Jones-produced “Stardust” was one of the records he loved as a kid:
“When I was growing up, my dad only had about five records,” said the National’s Matt Berninger, who hired Jones to produce his upcoming solo record. “I remember Judy Collins, Roberta Flack, Waylon Jennings, and I remember ‘Stardust.’” Berninger wanted someone who could corral nearly 20 guest musicians, and someone who could provide the late-night, timeless atmosphere that “Stardust” conjures. He immediately thought of Jones, whom he had met during a collaboration with Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings in 2013, even though he didn’t realize that Jones was the co-visionary on Nelson’s album at first. It seemed impossible that the same person who created a new genre of Memphis soul in 1962 could also reinvigorate the standard 15 years later, then stay relevant into the 21st century as an elder statesman.
Here’s the text of Berninger’s announcement:
Kind, patient, visionary genius @bookertjonesmusic produced and arranged my solo record. It’s called Serpentine Prison. More about it soon but basically I’m the luckiest man in the universe with lots of brilliant friends who can play instermints. Not worthy!
Previously the closest thing to a Berninger solo LP was Return To The Moon, his 2015 album with Menomena’s Brent Knopf as EL VY. No music from Serpentine Prison has emerged yet, but you can check out “Representing Memphis” below to get a taste of Berninger and Jones’ previous work together; it sounds quite a bit different from EL VY, and from the National for that matter.
And here’s Berninger’s Instagram post:
View this post on Instagram
Kind, patient, visionary genius @bookertjonesmusic produced and arranged my solo record. It’s called Serpentine Prison. More about it soon but basically I’m the luckiest man in the universe with lots of brilliant friends who can play instermints. Not worthy! Booker’s incredibly inspiring memoir, Time Is Tight, is out 10/29. NYTimes link in bio. = @oldstyleguitarshop