Thus far winter 2016 has been about storm dodging, joyful music, the Caribbean, and lots of travel.
January was with The Birds of Chicago playing up and down the Eastern US, followed by seven days in the Caribbean playing an Americana festival on a cruise ship. The cruise is called Cayamo, and the lineup was incredible: John Prine, John Hiatt, Lucinda Williams…plus many more. My favorites were Larry Campbell and Theresa Williams, as well as fellow Canadians Bros. Landreth.
Last weekend BOC was in Kansas for the annual Folk Alliance Conference. Imagine 2000 performers vying for the attention of 250 presenters, all packed into a hotel. Rooms are converted into makeshift performance spaces with beds replaced by a dozen or so chairs. The hallways are completely filled with musicians. There are posters everywhere and music in every room until well past 2AM. It’s pandemonium in a friendly folky kind of way.
Coming up in early March is a CBC first play live performance with Matt and Jill Barber, and Mia Sheard’s annual Joni Mitchell tribute. Right after that I’ll be on the road with Amelia Curran for a short western Canada tour, followed by a few Ontario dates.
Cayamo 2016 Cayamo 2016 Photo: Lisa Constantino
I was listening to the Fretboard Journal Podcast featuring an interview with famed musicians and producers Joe Henry and David Crosby. The hour long talk offers a wealth of information on artistic, philosophical, and practical aspects of making records. I recommend listening to the whole thing, but here is an inspiring snippet:
“There is a moment like a seance when a song stands up and identifies itself. No matter how haggard it may appear, how beautiful, or how smeared the lipstick might be, that’s the moment I want to hear. That’s what brings me back to it – when something sounds viscerally alive.” – Joe Henry
There is such a strong urge to assert control when recording. Joe argues there is a danger to overly rehearsing and fixing every blemish. Sometimes in doing so, we forget about the authenticity of a song, and ultimately loose the quality that makes the listeners want to come back again and again.
This past year I have begun producing in my project studio in Toronto. I will write more about this in a later entry, but for now as I plant my flag as a producer, resources like this offer so much encouragement and inspiration.
The upcoming Birds of Chicago release “Real Midnight“, features Joe Henry’s production. On April 2, we will be playing a show with him at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco.
Recently, I was listening to veteran Toronto guitarist Kurt Swinghammer play on Royal Wood’s song “Acting Crazy: It’s a Breakdown”. Kurt’s guitar playing on this track is so visceral, raw, and expressive. I have been inspired by his work on this particular tune for a long time now. While the notes and rhythms he chooses are important, the impact for me is his masterful use of effects to paint the song with an entirely new brush. You can download this song or the full album from itunes.
As an exercise, I wanted to see if I could come up with something aesthetically similar. Here’s my study in Swinghammer:
I’ve been seriously inspired listening to the great Hugh Marsh’s soundcloud stream. He’s an incredibly creative and forward thinking musician. From ethereal reverbed out drones, to funky ring modulated riffs…I’m a huge fan. Check it out!
Birds of Chicago recently played at Freshgrass, a fantastic festival in the Berkshires set in the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, and run by some of the nicest people around. A reviewer compared me with Jerry Garcia and that’s alright with me!
“…I walked in midway through a song as lead guitarist Joel Schwartz was coaxing sly leads out his hollowbody electric guitar. Nero, who played acoustic guitar, blended his vocals well with Russell, who performed on ukulele and clarinet. After “Sugar Dumplin,’’a bluesy three-chord song Nero described as being about thinking before you speak or act, they played “Barley,” which featured first some fine slide work from Schwartz and then a well-conceived solo that recalled Jerry Garcia.” Glenn Weiser (http://metroland.net/2015/09/24/fresh-grass/)
More kind words and some pics can be found at this reviewer’s site.