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Bob Schneider's latest no day at the beach

Prolific Austin musician sets the musical mood for "A Perfect Day."

Patrick Beach

Bob Schneider's 11th solo album, "A Perfect Day" (Kirtland), began on a river rafting trip down the Grand Canyon.

"One of the guys had an iPod and he put in a Slaid Cleaves record, and I remember just listening to that and thinking, ‘This record sounds so good,' " Schneider said last week. "We were barbecuing on the side of the river and I thought, ‘I wish I could put one of my CDs in and it would be the soundtrack to that day.' "

Last summer, boating around Lake Travis, it happened again. A great day — all that was missing was a soundtrack suitable for family, friends, kids, whoever.

So when he sat down with Matchbox Studios' Dwight A. Baker, it was simply a matter of going through maybe 150 songs (!), pulling the ones that were "too gloomy or depressing or sad," said the solo performer, bandleader, Scabs frontman and longtime fixture on the Austin scene. "Anything with cuss words came out. From those songs, we just chose the best."

The first single, "Let the Light In," sounds like it could be another AAA hit along the lines of "40 Dogs (Like Romeo and Juliet)" from 2009's "Lovely Creatures." It also establishes the vibe for the record: musically varied but loose, with lyrics that sound both casual and carefully crafted.

There are plenty of lighter moments — "Hand Me Back My Life" contains the lines, "Didn't you tell me you're single? You're not single, you're married to a Russian mobster" — but there are dark or at least emotionally knotty ruminations as well. "Penelope Cruz" starts out like a joke about a woman who's beyond the singer's reach, but it winds up being about everything that is unattainable, and the passing of time isn't helping. Schneider sings, "Every day my dreams seem farther and farther away ... My whole life seems like a waste of time ... I've been wrong about most everything."

Elsewhere, on "Everything You Love," the emotional kick in the gut is, "God will destroy everything you love if you live long enough."

Fun sentiments for a day on the lake, right? It should be noted that the melodies are far sunnier, and that's exactly as Schneider intended it. It's not just a punch, it's a sucker punch.

"Even though the subject matter is dark, the music tempers the subject matter, being mid-tempo and kind of poppy," he said. "I always like juxtaposing the music and the content. If I'm writing a super-sad song, I'll make it perky. You know, putting an Eskimo on the beach. That song is called ‘Everything You Love,' and you think it's going to be one thing, and then you get into the chorus and it's like, ‘Whoa, I wasn't really expecting that.' My favorite thing listening to music is those ‘I didn't see that coming' moments."

Here's something else you don't see coming. He lightens the mood on "Penelope Cruz" with this line: "I want to make a baby with Elizabeth Taylor around 19 and 57."

This is all about Schneider's nuances and complexity as both a songwriter and performer. No matter what the setting, he can rip your soul out with one song and make a roomful of jaws plummet to the floor with something ribald and hilariously profane. Being an artist, he says, gives him license to be both confessional and shocking.

"When I'm performing live, I will say some of the craziest stuff in the world," he said. "Because I'm performing, that gives me permission to say or do anything I want to be entertaining or titillating or funny. And afterwards I'm like, ‘I can't believe I actually said that.' And I record all the shows. There's no way I could ever run for office. Ever."

Those last two statements are indisputably true. Schneider has for years recorded all his shows and offered them for sale minutes after the set wraps up — you can listen to clips and buy downloads at www.livetracks.com/bobschneider — and that first line in the Scabs song about what he did to your daughter last night on its own probably makes him unelectable for life.

Which does nothing but endear him further to his fans, and nowhere is that love more evident than at the Saxon Pub on South Lamar Boulevard, where he's held down an off-and-on Monday night residency for a decade or more. For some fans, it's appointment viewing — a perfect night, you might say — and Schneider labors to keep the sets fresh, up to and including playing songs the band has never practiced together.

"I play a lot of songs there that I haven't played in years and songs I haven't played with the band at all," he said. "I'll send demos, we'll get up and play and it's like I'm hearing the song for the first time. It's really exciting. I feel like I've got the best seat in the house. It's such a special show."

pbeach@statesman.com; 445-3603