Salim Nourallah has been releasing solo albums since 2003. His seventh, the 21-song double LP Somewhere South of Sane, was released last fall. His notable production credits include the Old 97‘s, Deathray Davies, Rhett Miller and the Damnwells. Nourallah has been recording and producing music from his Pleasantry Lane Studios in Dallas for as many years as he’s been making his own. He’s also in a supergroup trio called NHD – Nourallah, Harvey, Dezen. The H in NHD, Billy Harvey, is another accomplished songwriter, producer, multi instrumentalist cut from the same cloth as Mr. Lowe and Mr. Nourallah. Salim enlisted Billy’s help last year to record the four songs that make up the Jesus of Sad EP.
“Our mutual friend, Bob Schneider, who is an Austin based musician, introduced me to Billy’s music years ago by saying ‘Billy is better than everyone else.’ I agreed then as I still do now,” says Nourallah. “There’s no one I’d rather make music with.” The four songs Nourallah and Harvey culled for the Jesus of Sad EP are a small slice of a much bigger pie. Almost two dozen songs are currently in the works, in various states of completion.
Nourallah’s long-time friend, Rhett Miller, also figures into the equation. Nourallah and Miller wrote a handful of songs several years ago that ended up on a variety of their records. Two of the most well-known songs are “Jesus Loves You” and “She’s Hates Everyone (Misanthrope).” Both compositions found their way to the latest 97’s album, Graveyard Whistling, along with a third tune called “I Don’t Want to Die in This Town.” Nourallah recollects, “We wrote ‘Misanthrope’ in Albuquerque while we were on tour together. We were both worn-out from traveling and I was at a real low point. After we knocked the song out that evening it pretty much turned everything around. For me there’s always been a very therapeutic quality to writing.”
So why did Nourallah decide to take on his own version of Misanthrope? “The lyrics came out of my own personal experiences so I thought perhaps they related to me a bit more than they did to Rhett,” he says. “I also thought it would be interesting to see if I could take the alt-country element out of it. I’ve always enjoyed standing songs on their heads and taking completely different musical approaches with them.”
The EP’s title, Jesus of Sad, also gives a wry nod to Nick Lowe. Lowe’s debut record from 1978 was called Jesus of Cool but in the UK only, since Columbia Records was uncomfortable with the title for a US release.
“I have a songwriter friend here in Texas, Nicholas Altobelli,” Nourallah recalls. “We were joking with each other one day and I called him the ‘Jesus of sad.’ I thought ‘Wait, that could make a nifty song title,’ and I scribbled it down.”
Nourallah adds, ”I think a lot of classic male songwriting goes to the well of egoistic self-pity. So many songs I loved in my youth were directed toward women who somehow offended or betrayed the writer. Lord knows I’ve written many songs from the ‘woe-is-me,’ wounded perspective over the years. So anyway, the Jesus of sad is supposed to be a caricature of the self-absorbed songwriter. The character is an absurd exaggeration, not meant to be taken nearly as earnestly as he takes himself!”
Another song of note is the sprawling, autobiographical “Born with a Broken Heart.” Nourallah wrote it while his mother was suffering from Alzheimer’s. She died within two days of its completion. Nourallah says, “I found myself having an especially hard time dealing with all the anger I was feeling around the time of my mother’s death. I felt like she had been ripped off in so many ways. I know feminism existed in the 1970’s but for women like my mother it might as well have been the tooth fairy. Even though she had a masters degree from the University of Illinois she spent most of her life in servitude. There was nothing close to equality for many women of that time period. So at the heart of this song, that’s what I’m trying to get at.” Though anger may have been the basis of Nourallah’s inspiration this is yet another example of a song that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Playful couplets like “why were all the grownups looking so damn old/hamburgers and donuts for doing as your told” and “all the bad guys had mustaches/flash tracksuits and Santana!” weave and bob before Nourallah sticks the knife in with “put the bright ones on their knees/let them cook, clean and breed/that’s how it was in the seventies.” Once again, this is serious music that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Jesus of Sad comes out on Palo Santo Records, January 31st. Nourallah and Miller are also touring the Northeast US together in early February. These shows will not only be the first they’ve played since 2016, they’re also hoping to add to their growing pile of songwriting collaborations!