I am thrilled to announce that my Nashville recordings resulted in ten new tracks for the upcoming album, which will be released later this year. For now, I’m going to drop the first track on Spotify, Soundcloud etc. at the end of this month, January 2020. Very exciting!
Having a month in Nashville over Christmas to fine-tune the songs, choose the tracks, and just woodshed really made a difference. I stayed at an Air BnB in Greenbrier, which is about 30 minutes north of the city on a small ranch where I had a little guesthouse all to myself. That meant I could practice at all hours of the day and night and not bother anyone! It was beautiful and peaceful, and there were even friendly farm animals nearby that I enjoyed visiting to relax!
The studio experience the HenHouse in Nashville (actually in Brentwood, so it was a pleasant was quite different than that of my previous recordings. This time, all the musicians were in the room recording at the same time on analog equipment, and on 8/10 tracks, I was recording my vocals and guitar simultaneously, using only mics, not direct feeds, so the performances needed to be really clean. Knowing this before I went into the studio was what really inspired me work harder on perfecting the playing and vocals and prepare.
The players were amazing: Jeremy Holmes played upright, acoustic bass, and took a really artistic interpretation of the tunes. I’ve really never heard upright played anything like, and it was stunning. The percussionist, Jamie Dyck was well more than just a drummer – he put in soundscapes and rhythm without hitting any of the regular style beats I was expecting, and when he would establish a 4 beat groove, it was well outside the norm of what I’ve had done in the past. His playing elevated the feel of all the tracks in a way that was entirely fresh.
The third player who added to the songs was producer Steve Dawson, who played a wide variety of stringed guitar, dobro, pedal steel and even a Celtic Weissenborn. Steve composed beautiful, moody and elegant lead lines through the songs, giving just the right amount of room and tone. I had him also play the main rhythm track on a couple songs, as I wanted to try a different kind of groove and see where he’d take the songs, and I loved how it gave them a whole new, fresh groove.
But in 8/10 cases, where I was, for the most part picking, not strumming, I was quite surprised that these serious amazingly talented fellas were having me basically set the tempos throughout. No click tracks. This gave me the freedom to move the tempos a little as I saw fit, and they followed ever so artfully. The songs really breathe, move and emote this way!
The process was like this:
- I uploaded about 20 rough tracks; these were my own living room performances, into a private SoundCloud account for the producer to hear.
- The producer, Steve Dawson, chose a list of 10 he thought were the strongest tunes. I decided beforehand not to question him on his selections, or make the decisions emotionally. A couple of the tunes were just vocal-guitar versions of tracks that had been previously produced on my older albums. I wanted to include them in this list because I thought they might benefit by a fresh, creative producer. I wanted the songs to be the best they could, and in some cases I had updated lyrics and changed small things in the songs I wish I’d done better on previous albums.
- In the studio, I had 5 days booked, but the first 3 were the full recording sessions with all the musicians. We’d arrive around 11am – 12pm. First few hours of day 1 were mainly setup.
- When ready, Steve let me choose which songs to record first. I decided to use Day 1 to do relaxed, mid-tempo songs that wouldn’t be difficult for me, to let me settle in.
- It would start by my telling Steve which song we were going to start recording now. Then he’d pass out all the charts to the guys, and I’d play and just sit on the couch, and sing the song to the band, to get them familiar with it.
- Then everybody took their places, and we’d do a rehearsal or two of the song, and discuss the arrangements. We’d play around with different approaches to the rhythm and lead, and adjust and adjust until we really liked the tempo. For a couple songs, I actually lowered the key so the singing felt more relaxed to suit the feel…this will surprise some people who own my past recordings. As I felt that some of my previous recordings were too fast in tempo, this time I really concentrated to ensure I wasn’t speeding like a runaway train!
- Then Steve’s assistant/engineer would start the recording, and we’d all record together! I was in a sound-booth, but Steve could usually see/cue me, and/or cue Gary to cue me…as in a couple places, we started songs with really ad-lib intros!
- Once recording, we needed only about 3 – 4 full performances of each tune end to end.
- Then we’d go up and listen as a group, decide which take we liked best, and the drummer would go down and add more percussion layers. Sometimes Steve would go down and add another lead line.
- Once all the main recordings were done, I came back the next day to do vocal harmonies. This involved listening to the chosen track and singing along on different harmony lines. It was great to have Steve’s input on what harmonies should be kept and eliminated; he was discerning about not sounding too “stacked” – think barbershop quartet – in the BG vocals so it didn’t distract from the main vocal.
In the last few days, Steve has been sending me mixed versions of all the songs, and I’m delighted to say they have a magical, emotional quality; ranging from gentle to groovy. This album is going to be beautiful, creative, and unusual – it doesn’t sound like much else I’ve heard out there, and I’ll hope that’s a good thing. But it sounds like somehow it captured my heart and soul… so I can’t wait to share it!