Six years ago, songwriters Norah Jones, Sasha Dobson and Catherine Popper started playing roots-based music together, just casually.
On July 15, as Puss N Boots, the three musicians will finally release a debut album, "No Fools, No Fun," on Blue Note Records.
While that might seem like a really long gestation period, this isn't your average band; before they ever found each other, each musician had an enviable music-biz career. Popper played bass, sang and wrote songs for Ryan Adams and the Cardinals and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. Dobson, who comes from a musical family on the West Coast (she's now based in New York), is a multi-instrumentalist with a jazz background and an advanced harmonic palette (check out "Always Be Mine," from her 2013 album "Aquarius"). As for Jones: try going a day without hearing "Don't Know Why," her 2002 hit, coming from somewhere.
No surprise, then, that Puss N Boots' debut feels like three players blowing off steam, with little at stake.
"There are some people who say, 'Wow, it must have taken you years to get that album together,'" Dobson told CTNow. "It was never like that."
"No Fools, No Fun" is roughly hewn between original songs and covers: Popper contributes "Always," a mid-tempo number with a Lucinda Williams vibe, and "Pines," a waltz-miniature that features muted fingerpicking, some atmospheric fiddle and unusual harmonies. Jones offers "Don't Know What It Means," a country rocker written while on tour with her own band (Dobson suggested that it didn't quite fit with the vibe of Jones's band), while Dobson offers up two songs: "Sex Degrees of Separation," from deep in her catalog, and the ballad "You'll Forget Me."
Those original songs, Dobson said, crept into Puss N Boots' live set more or less organically. The covers, too; Neil Young's "Down By The River," Rodney Crowell's "Bull Rider" (recorded by Johnny Cash in 1979) and George Jones' "Tarnished Angel" (penned by Roger Miller) were captured live at a 2013 outing at Brooklyn's Bell House, when Puss N Boots opened Dobson's own CD release show. "Jesus, Etc." by Wilco, the Band's "Twilight" and Tom Paxton's "Leaving London," recorded in the studio last winter by engineer Joel Hamilton (who also recorded the Bell House set), also appear on "No Fools."
"I knew if [Puss N Boots] opened for me, it would relax me," Dobson said, referring to the Bell House show. "That's the nature of this band." It was only upon hearing the playback of those tapes, Dobson added, that the idea gelled for recording a Puss N Boots album. "That's when we realized, 'Hey, this doesn't suck that bad,'" she said.
Even now — with the release of the album, the start of an official tour and a high-profile appearance at the Newport Folk Festival on the horizon — Dobson said the stakes still seem pretty low. The Puss N Boots tour, which includes two nights at the Ballroom at the Outer Space in Hamden on July 22-23, will be among the first shows they've played outside of Brooklyn, ever. "We pride ourselves on putting together a set and diving in whenever we are all in town," Dobson said. Everything on "No Fools, No Fun" was recorded live in the studio, and although the band re-recorded the Bell House covers, they preferred the sound of the live versions. "What you're hearing [on the album] is what we sound like," Dobson said. "The sound is very true to what we do… There's an energy that we have when we play live."
Compared with their other musical experiences these days, Puss N Boots, Dobson said, is a zone where she and the other players support each other unconditionally.
"It's a sisterhood that transcends all the bullshit," Dobson said. "There's a middle ground between covers and originals that keeps it from being only one kind of music… That's why we like playing together. You could call it country swing or indie country or whatever, but it is kind of open-ended for us. None of it is really planned."
PUSS N BOOTS performs on Tuesday, July 22 and Wednesday, July 23 at the Ballroom at the Outer Space in Hamden. Showtime is 8 p.m. Tickets are $25. Information: manicproductions.org.Copyright © 2015, CT Now