It seems we're headed in a bold new direction and I for one am loving it. I have been compiling new material for about two years now and this past March I entered the studio (Forge Recording in Oreland, Pa.) with my recording band to lay the new tracks down. What was interesting to me is that the songs that I had written on guitar now are taking on a new life with the addition of drums, upright bass, Hammond B3, piano and violin.
The results have been astounding. My band hears nuances of rhythm and subtleties of harmony and melody that didn't register with me and each of them have added tremendously to the songs. For me, all music should be treated as dance music, in that I believe that the best way for music to reach an audience is for it to do so on a physical level. If the song makes you want to move to it, you take the music into your physical being and make it your own. You become a part of the song and the experience of making it.
Well, the songs on the new album flat out cook! The rhythms range from straight up old school R&B to Afro-Cuban, Bossa Nova and jazz blues. Hooks abound and the interplay of the instruments is such that everyone has room to shine without stepping on each other. The guitar, which was the principal solo voice has now been joined (and occasionally eclipsed) by the violin. There are many new textures to the songs which add layers of expression I could not have imagined. This is a very exciting time indeed.
The sound is a far cry from the Country Blues of "Pilgrim's Progress," which was more about flashy Piedmont style guitar. This is a "Band Album." We're only at the rough mix stage for the instruments and the vocals have yet to be recorded, but we all believe we are creating something truly special. So much so that we've realized that we have to find a way to reach a wider audience and so will undoubtedly shop this project to major Americana labels. Also, the recording band may well become a touring band if we can generate the interest we think the music deserves.
So get ready to hear much more about the wonderful musicians who are a part of "Kick Off Your Muddy Boots." Paul Deck, who was with me on "Pilgrim's Progress" returns on all things percussion. Nick Terramani moves into the rhythm section with Paul on Upright and electric bass. And Julie Myers adds the harmonic underpinning on B3 and piano, while taking the melodic aspects of the songs to uncharted territory on violin. Each in their own way has made my songs their own and the brilliance and soulfulness of their playing is making them into songs you'll want to make your own.
Thanks to all of you for your support and encouragement. The journey continues. I'm glad we're on it together.
It's hard for me to believe that it has already been two years since "Pilgrim's Progress" was first released. A lifetime's worth of work to develop my own style of playing and writing culminated in that album, released in November of 2009. I'm proud of the album, of the songs and the musical performances, but in truth remained dissatisfied with the vocal performances until this past summer, when I went into the studio again and re-recorded all of the vocals. The entire album was then re-mixed and remastered and was re-released in October. It really feels great to have the album finally sound as I imagined it.
Now I have to deal with the even more difficult task of getting the music out in the world in a way where more people might get to hear and hopefully enjoy it. There is also the challenge of developing my performing (and hopefully touring) career while remaining the father of two young boys. But, if there weren't challenges, I might not be here in the first place.
Next up will be the recording of the second album. Tentatively titled "Kick Off Your Muddy Boots," it is a collection of songs very different from those on "Pilgrim's Progress." Where the first album concentrated thematically on the journey of life, the next album is largely a collection of love songs, some straight up and some a little warped. I'm very excited to get this project off the ground and hear the songs take shape in the studio.
Meanwhile, it remains an honor to just be a part of the ongoing tradition of folk and blues music in America. When "Pilgrim's Progress" was named Album of the Month on Llew Garner's Blues show on RadioWarrington in the northern UK, I got a chance to tune in and hear tracks by John Lee Hooker played side by side with my own work. It hit home that I'm part of a continuum of folk and blues musicians, holding a space in line until the next generation is ready to receive the mantle. There is a certain degree of responsibility to the tradition that comes with admission to this particular fraternity but that also serves as a focusing agent for my work and for that I am grateful.
Well, thanks for checking in. Have a look around the site, have a listen to the tracks and maybe watch a video or two. I hope that the songs put some swing in your step and keep you up at night "thinking about things." Maybe I'll bump into you on the performance circuit; if so, don't be a stranger.
Keep on keepin' on,
A lot of folks believe that music should be played to or played for an audience. I've always thought that the best music is played with an audience. When a great groove sneaks into your soul and drags you feet first into a song, a connection between the performer and the listener is forged and there is a chance that each will grow from the experience of the other. After all, making music is a human endeavor as old as time and has always served as a portal to other worlds, other ways of knowing. In many ways, music is the grease for the engine of community.
In the end, no matter what musical genre I borrow from, I'm a folk musician. Maybe more of a folkbluesrootsrocktroubadour (how's that grab ya?). The way I see it, the music belongs to the people and I'm just lucky enough to be the conduit for it. If asked what I call the kind of music I play, it's Piedmont Blues, a kind of fingerstyle blues guitar which originated in the Carolinas in the early 1900's and was the guitar player's equivalent to ragtime piano. It is known for its syncopated bass lines and flashy treble runs and is a much sweeter sounding blues than its Delta cousin. I don't think of it as a crying in your beer kind of blues. This is a blues for dancing. The key to the Piedmont Blues is the groove. The groove has to draw the listener in and get them moving because once you get someone's body moving to the music, it's a hell of a lot easier to captivate their spirit.
As a student of the Piedmont style, I learned to play a lot of songs written by the masters, guys like Rev. Gary Davis, Blind Blake, Willie McTell, Jesse Fuller and Blind Lemon Jefferson. I grew to love the one guitar, one voice approach to playing with an audience because of the intimacy of the whole arrangement. And the Piedmont Blues allowed for a loose, spacious sound that felt fully developed and arranged at the same time.
Today, my writing is inspired by the best of the modern songwriters (blues and otherwise). When I want to listen to something good, I reach for Richard Thompson, Chris Smither, Alan Hull or Eliza Gilkyson. I still love the music of my own youth, from the Beatles and the Moody Blues to the Zombies, Lindisfarne and Procul Harum. These were songs that tried to dig deeper into the human psyche, to find out what really makes us tick. If there is a limitation to the old blues tunes, it is in the old way of writing lyrics. The "I woke up this morning with a hole in my head" lyricism of the old blues just doesn't quite get to the core of what it is to be a modern human; I want to understand and reveal and live in the shoes and hearts of the people I meet and know and love. I think that is what is worth writing about. I think it is what is worth singing about. And I think it is what might bring all of us a little bit closer to the truth.