I am so impressed with the musicians we have on this CD. They are universally lovely people, they play their instruments without faltering, despite the fact that they have never heard these songs before, and have less than half an hour per song to play their parts right. They are very nice people, too.
For me, the process shows in the final product. If I have not enjoyed the people, or we’ve had problems of any kind, it puts a pall over the project in my mind. I’ve been very fortunate, over the years, in being a part of teams that work well together, for the most part. There is a bit of a letdown at the end of these projects, because the making of the CD has been so pleasurable. Yes, we’re working hard, but it’s good work, and there’s something to show for it at the end of the day.
I had one difficult album (and I’m not going to tell you which one – nothing recently), and I found it very hard to get behind it to sell the copies. The songs were good, as were the performances, but something about the process didn’t work as smoothly as I thought it should have. It’s funny – and not very reasonable, since there’s a lot of money invested in these recordings, and I really should believe in them, since I’m the “artist”. The thrill is gone, when there is tension in the studio.
That’s one of the reasons why I’m in Toronto, working with Paul. We have developed a great working relationship over the years, and not only do I trust his judgment, but I also enjoy his company. And his choice of musicians. He said today – if there are two very good players of the same instrument, but one is cranky, I’ll hire the nice one every time. So: now to today’s musicians.
Anne Lindsay (http://www.anne-lindsay.com/) is a violin/fiddle player to the stars. She has played with Blue Rodeo, Jim Cuddy, John McDermott, the Chieftains, Dionne Warwick and Led Zeppelin(!) and is currently the resident fiddle player for the Toronto Maple Leafs (I didn’t know they had one!) This is the third time we’ve worked together, and I love her playing. She is at ease playing classical string trios and quartets, then flipping over to do bluegrass, jazz and jigs. She reads like crazy (today she played the jigs for the first time, at speed – and they’re fast! – and got them right the first take) AND she improvises appropriately. It makes her a perfect studio session player.
The “pitz” in the title of this blog makes reference to “pizzicato”, a technique where the string player plucks the strings to make the sound, rather than “arco”, using the bow. We are using the “pitz” sound on the title track, “Little Crazy Quilt”, and it was lovely. I wish you could all hear these tracks with me, as they are being recorded. Once they are mixed, they will not be as easy to hear. When all the string section plays, it’s like being wrapped up in a snuggly quilt. You just want to stay there, and hear it again. Paul said it sounds like liquid honey. His goal is to make the best version of Duncan’s Cove ever – and I think he’s done it, thanks to the string parts.
I was so blown away by the addition of fiddle on the six songs, that I totally forgot about taking a picture of Anne before she put her violin away. So here she is, as if she was playing. You’ll just have to fill in the fiddle yourself!
After Anne departed, Paul and I had an hour before Bob arrived for the afternoon. He played me a couple of tracks of Anne’s singing. She sounds like a high version of Bessie Smith on the couple of tunes she played. Jazz, some traditional and some original. She’s hugely talented, and I would recommend her own recordings to anyone. She’s currently recording a new CD with her son sharing production duties. I can’t wait!
Bob De Angelis (hear him play La Vie en Rose on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=St1KWXFq4qc) (http://www.bobdeangelis.com/pops/bobdeangelis.html) is a WONDERFUL wind player! He excels at clarinet and saxophones. We had six songs we wanted him to play. He arrived in the middle of a huge rainstorm, and we started with clarinet. Oh my. The texture of this instrument is like velvet. He gets the swing stuff – “You Just Might Be A Quilter” is where we started. Was it only one take? Maybe we took two, just in case we wanted some choice. Then some “noodles” on “Dance Beneath the Moon”. I was in a puddle by this point. To the “pitz” in “Little Crazy Quilt” he added some cool lines, with trills on the end. How charming! Then: The Test: “I Remember You”. A song in the absolutely wrong key for him.
Usually instruments play in what’s called “concert” pitch. So a “C” scale (no black keys on the piano) is a C scale for everybody. But wind instruments are different, and when you write charts for them, you have to change the notes they play to another key so they play the right notes. Most of them are Bb (B- flat) instruments, so they really, really like playing in FLAT keys. “I Remember You” is in E, which means he was playing in something silly like F#. If I’d known we were going to have a clarinet on the piece, I guess I could have written it in a better key for him, but by the time we decided, I had already figured out the guitar part (which nobody else can play) and it was unchangeable. Even Tom had a difficult time with it yesterday – and he can play anything! Bob listened to the song, then said it would have been better to have borrowed an “A” clarinet, but didn’t know. So he tried it on his Bb clarinet. What a pro! It’s gorgeous! I’m so impressed.
We gave him a break after that, and he pulled out the tenor sax for “Two Peas in a Pod”, John’s solo. Oh, man – he’s GOOD. I am so wanting to re-write the lyrics to this song entirely, so I get to sing to this track!!!!! I love tenor sax! I hope John appreciates my sacrifice.
The last song we had him play on today was “Martha”, the song about the freed slave in Liberia who made a quilt for Queen Victoria. When I wrote this, I was thinking of Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album, as I’ve mentioned before, and the last track to be added was Bob on alto sax. It’s a higher sound than the tenor, a smaller instrument, and more in keeping with the happy quality of the song. He nailed it. I love the texture of this. You’ll be able to hear it clearly on the final mix of this song.
He didn’t have to bring as many instruments as Steafan did, but there are more than I have to lug around. Wouldn’t it be great one day to actually do a live show with all these people? It’s going to be difficult now for me to do these songs with just me on guitar, and John on harmony!
That’s it for adding other instruments. We’ve completed all the tracks we need. The songs sound wonderful and I’m very much looking forward to singing to these tracks tomorrow. I realize I don’t have to sing 14 tomorrow: I’ve written one for John, so I only have 13 to sing. We checked our records today, and I have sung 13 finished vocal tracks in one day before. Paul says: have a relaxing evening, and don’t fret about it. There’s no need to do all of them tomorrow. But I take it as a personal challenge!
Of course, once I’ve sung them, I won’t be singing again to these terrific tracks that everyone has done. I’d better enjoy it while it lasts.
Tomorrow I’ll be singing in a basement room into a microphone, and I’ll be imagining the wire going into the mixing board, and out through your CD player (or iPod), and into the speakers or ear buds into your ears. It helps me pretend there’s an audience out there – helps my vocal performance every time. I hope you enjoy it!