Early on in this Overdrive Radio edition showcasing trucker-songwriter "Long Haul Paul" Marhoefer's new "Corn Belt Cafe" long-player, the Overdrive Extra contributor describes standing at the counter of a roadside diner somewhere in Illinois on Labor Day in the early 1980s. "Right in front of the counter there was a worn spot in the linoleum," Marhoefer said, and "standing in the blackness of that worn spot ... was one of those moments where you’re surprised by a sense of bliss."
It was as if Marhoefer "had entered the portal of some one-ness," he said, a sense of being part of a living history, of a fashion. "That’s something you don’t talk about if you’re a straight-truck driver from Indiana," as Marhoefer was at the time, though the memory stuck with him through the years.
So many of those old roadside diners are gone, as is so much else, and you get the sense listening to "Corn Belt Cafe" that Marhoefer feels keenly the loss, a pervasive sense that permeates much of the record.
[Related: OTR soundtrack custom-built for 2020: Paul Marhoefer's 'Songs from a truck']
The disc was recorded almost entirely in live takes in-studio with a principal partner in Michael Ronstadt, on the cello. The pair were able to evoke an appropriately earthy feel throughout, and the record features contributions from songwriters other than Marhoefer, as well as a couple songs co-written with trucking fellow travelers Ken “Shoestring” Waugh, who sadly passed away last year, and Alabama-based J.D. Haynes.
All in all, "Corn Belt Cafe" is something of a first for Marhoefer, in that the record and its 12 tracks have a cohesiveness that’s maybe less apparent on some of his prior efforts, a throwback to an era in which the album was the ultimate product for any musical act.
Take a run through several stand-out tracks, many informed by Marhoefer's long trucking past, in today's edition of Overdrive Radio:
And for my money, "Corn Belt Cafe" is the kind of record best experienced straight through, in its entirety, which you can do here: