Leif Vollebekk Gets a Vinyl Goodbye in “Cairo Blues”

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Leif Vollebekk is lamenting the loss of something dear to his heart in “Cairo Blues,” a moody, understated song from his new album, North Americana.

“I wrote the song based off of Henry Spaulding’s song of the same name, some old ‘20s/’30s recording,” the Montreal musician tells CMT Edge. “Oddly enough, I was listening to it around the same time a friend of mine went to Cairo, Egypt, and got tangled up with a local who wanted to marry her, and somehow she used me as an excuse to get out of the whole thing.”

However, the narrator in Vollebekk’s version of “Cairo Blues” isn’t quite so lucky. After the dust settles, he loses his love — and a well-worn cornerstone of his music collection.

“The song is about this lover that borrows indefinitely said Henry Spaulding record,” Vollebekk says, “and she’s listening to it the whole time she’s doing him wrong.”

Finding inspiration in albums by Gillian Welch and Ryan Adams, Vollebekk says it took a few tries to capture this understated rendition of “Cairo Blues” at the famed Hotel 2 Tango studio in Montreal.

“In the studio that day, we were working on other songs. I think none of those ones made it onto the record. And while the drummer was out having a coffee, I thought I’d give this one a stab once again because I liked the sound of the ribbon mics we were using,” he says.

“It was almost an afterthought. It had the right feel, kind of a Blood on the Tracks sort of thing. This take had none of the urgency the other takes had. It had more of a resigned quality. It was better to sing it without too much emotion and just let the words do their thing. I overdubbed some Hammond organ on it afterwards.”

Despite the despondent vibe of “Cairo Blues,” things are looking up for Vollebekk. After positive notices at the South by Southwest festival and attention from NPR Music, he’s been confirmed to appear at the esteemed Newport Folk Festival in July. In the meantime, he’ll be opening a series of shows for songwriter William Fitzsimmons on a tour starting Tuesday (April 15) in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Check out Leif Vollebekk’s “Cairo Blues.”

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