Jason Libs left Evansville in the early 1990s, but it’s safe to say the city never left him.
“I was raised where the water ain’t pretty, I’m from the River City,” the singer-songwriter declares on the title track of his new album, “River City Rocker.” It’s available on streaming platforms such as Spotify and YouTube.
Libs, the son of retired chocolatier Mike Libs and retired Evansville Convention & Visitors Bureau Director of Marketing and Communications Laura Libs, now lives in Southern California.
His album is a look at his roots — right down to the interludes, which include recordings of a then 9-year-old Libs and a buddy pretending they had their own Evansville radio station. Later voice recordings are of Libs in his late teens and early twenties.
“River City Rocker,” Libs explains, “is telling a story of memories, and it’s woven as if you’re turning the radio dial.”
Evansville nostalgia flows through the track “Green River Road,” describing Friday nights of cruising in Trans Ams and Monte Carlos, listening to John “Cougar” Mellencamp tunes, and trying to get a cute girl’s phone number.
“I found myself going down the rabbit hole of things you do in the studio — building tracks and doing a record,” Libs says. “Green River Road popped up when I realized I was telling a thematic story. I started that song as a joke, and River City Rocker was kind of a joke.”
Along the way, though, “I realized this actually has some depth and weight to it,” Libs says, “inspired by the initial tongue-in-cheek approach.”
The album is Libs’ first since the 2008 recession sank his independent record label. Life in the following years took him from Nashville, Tennessee, to Barbados, across Europe, and ultimately to California.
“I had a lot invested in the record label and had to start over,” recalls Libs, who describes his music as a fusion of rock, folk, country, and soul. “When I moved out to Hollywood, I had hundreds of songs. My intent was to sell them to other singers or write with other artists and produce them. And work with (Evansville native and eight-time Grammy winner) Philip Lawrence. We’re old friends.”
Libs gained a following in recent years while playing covers and originals at The Red Piano in Santa Barbara, California.
Having a new album released after so many years without one “is a great feeling,” Libs says, adding that even listeners who could not locate Evansville on a map can relate to the coming-of-age experiences described in the lyrics.
“They had their own Green River Road,” he says.