Earlier this year I was asked play some pedal steel guitar on a couple of recording sessions. The first session I played on was for Shadow Captain, (aka Stuart Todd). The songs were Goodbye and Clandestine Lover. I played drums on that on too. That’s due for release late 2019/ early 2020. Andy Fernihough, who is well known as a musician and as the studio manager at Crash Rehearsal Rooms, has been working on those recordings. So when the Sums, formerly known as Smaller were looking for some different sound, Andy suggested that I could do some steel on their new album, Better. I played on two tracks, Contraception Is Rife and Salt of the Earth. I first saw, lead singer, Digsy perform with Smaller at the Liverpool Lomax, supportingOasis. Later I played on the same lineup a few times in venues like the Picket, when I was in the Marbles.
I bought the steel from a friend in about 2006, some of it was hand made but it has a Ronnie Bennett pickup on it. It’s hard work to play the mechanisms are very stiff, but I’ve persevered and managed to get some good things out of it. I need to practice more. Some of my favorite steel players are Buddy Emmons, Buddy Cage (New Riders), Jerry Hogan (Heads Hands and Feet), JayDee Maness (Sweetheart of the Rodeo), Red Rhodes (Mike Nesmith), Weldon Myrick (Areacode 615) and of course Jerry Garcia,
I wasn’t aware that I was going to see Molly Tuttle. It had been a busy day. I had attended a couple of networking events; one at Aintree racecourse and another at the Anglican Cathedral. It was late evening and I was on my way to the Grateful Fred’s Session at the Atkinson Theatre in Southport to see an artist. Exactly who I was going to see, was still unknown to me. However, I was assured that I was already a fan. It was a surprise from my girlfriend. I hadn’t seen any promo because I hadn’t spent much time online. My mind began to sift through my cerebral database to identify who could be playing. My first line of enquiry was “Who’s still alive?”, next “Which one of my favourite musicians would be playing of venue of this size?” My mind kept drawing a blank.
Anyway, I had to wait a little longer before I found out. Nevertheless, the wait was made a little easier while I listened to the last couple of tracks by the duo on stage. They are called Limerence and comprise of Calum Gilligan and Jenny Coyle. Their voices blend together exceptionally well, their material is strong. Together, they emanated a warm, gentle stage presence, free of any pretence.
By the time Calum and Jenny left the stage I’d almost forgotten the reason I was there. Then after a short interlude two female figures took to the stage; one clutching a banjo and the other an acoustic guitar. Molly Tuttle! and…? We’ll I’d discovered Molly by accident while looking at flat picking clips on Youtube. One particular clip, which blew me away, was a version of Townes Van Zandt’s White Freight Liner blues. I used to cover that song. I’m a big fan of Doc Watson and Clarence White to name but two, but to see someone so young playing that way was amazing. Up until this point, I wasn’t aware of who Rachel Baiman was but as soon as she sung her first note I was a fan. Her knack for combining catchy melodies with clever turns of phrase was immediately obvious; not to mention her fiddle and banjo playing, which were equally awe-inspiring.
The set began with a song, which Molly co-wrote with American Singer Songwriter Korby Lenker, called Friend and a Friend. This showcased how Molly and Racheal’s voices knitted together beautifully as did the instrumentation. Rachel switched from the fiddle to the banjo for a song called Shame with its lazy, infectious groove, which makes your head bob like a Churchill dog on a Sunday drive. The set was punctuated with a few short anecdotes; one about how Rachel had just bought a shack in Nashville with her Fiancé; a couple of doors down from John Hartford’s old house. Two of John’s tracks were given the Tuttle/Baiman treatment; Maddison Tennessee and Gentle on My Mind. Other highlights from the set were Something to lose, Never Tire of the Road (Andy Irvine) from Rachel’s album, Shame and Save this Heart from Molly’s album Rise.
It was a pleasure to see such pure musicianship. Molly Tuttle’s picking is so clean and precise; she can make the strings pop and ring without so much as a glance at the fretboard. Rachel’s Baiman’s fiddle playing cuts straight to the heart of a song adding an almost ethereal dimension to the music. The musical chemistry between these two artists is really something.
After the show we spoke to Molly and Rachel; bought a couple of CDs, which they kindly signed. They were quiet, humble and were open to small talk. They had been enjoying tea parties on their tour so far. I asked them about the microphone they used for the show. It captured the subtleties of the different instruments as well as their voices, culminating in one of the best live audio mixes I’ve possibly ever heard. As it turns out its called an Ear Trumpet Microphone. They retail at around $600.
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It’s been over a year since the release of my third solo album, Mark III. My next full studio album is already in the process of being written and recorded. In the meantime, I have released a selection of solo acoustic recordings on a new album called Live at Home. The songs were recorded live on Boxing Day 2017. Since the last two albums involved me playing the additional instrumentation, I felt it was time to do something a little lighter on instrumentation. I was also intrigued to learn how Springsteen went about recording his 1982 classic, Nebraska, and the simplicity of that setup. The Boss used a Tascam PortaStudioand a pair of Shure SM57s (not even 58s!!?). So, I wanted my next album to be really stripped down, with the songs performed in their rawest form, just guitar and vocal.
I’ve owned a Tascam 414 mkII for a number of years and haven’t put it to much use, but on this occasion, as well as recording to my usual DAW, I also ran a feed to the tape machine. I’ve shared both versions on this album; digital and the analog mix. Eight of the songs were recorded live using a simple setup of RODE NT3 on the acoustic guitar and an RODE NT1 for the vocal. I used two guitars on the session a Guild and a Larrivee. Two more songs were added to the list; Don’t Let Me Go and a slow version of Simple Story; a song I had recorded and perfumed with the Mojave Collective and which features on the album Rust’n’Dust. This recording included some over dubbing of background vocals and a guitar solo.
The song list is made up of, what I feel are, some of my best songs. Most of these I perform live regularly, others have never been performed live before.
Footprints in the Sand is a gentle folk song; poetry set to finger-picked guitar. A gentle start to the collection. I’d had the melody for a few years before I finally got some words to settle with it. I’m happy about the way it turned out. I can imagine doing a version with Simon & Garfunkel style harmonies on the vocal.
Here’s alternative version recorded in the car.
Won’t let you down is sort of an outlaw ballad. It suggests the build up to a police raid on an ex-con who is innocent and has tried to put that life behind him. I didn’t plan the narrative while I was writing the song, it just evolved. There’s a human element introduced with mention of getting his kids to safety. There’s a lot in there and I was lucky to have stumbled on a melody that would allow for that.
Stonewalled is a story of someone travelling to on an adventure overseas; an encounter, horizons opening; where there once were blocks. The chorus is right at the top of my natural range it’s a good one to get down while I can still hit it in the original key.
She’s got a plan is a comedic tale of a guy who ends up spending time with a female secret agent. Initially he thinks she’s trying to kill him but she ends up saving him..or does she? Again, I don’t start out with these ideas and write them, they evolve with the rhymes and the melody until I settle on something that feels right to me.
Here’s an early version of Going Home…outdoors
Going Home. This song was influenced by James Taylor. I wrote this in a motel in Plano, Texas. Originally, it had a different picking pattern and it wasn’t a song I’ve spent a lot of time playing. Over time the picking developed. The linking guitar part before the second verse was worked out a few moments before I began to record. Lyrically I just pulled imagery from the room together and combined them with things I was feeling at the time. There’s a contradiction due to the perpetual need to be moving on and the desire to go “home”.
Home Coming has little to do with the previous song, except in title. They were written a couple of years apart. It’s a quirky tune with kind of a ragtime feel. I’d like to record this with rolling piano and brass someday, but, at the moment, this is the only way I can get it down.
The Mission, well I guess this was influenced by Elton John’sRocket Man and They Punctured the Yolk by the Flaming Lips. It’s a tale about someone getting sent on a space mission, away from his family. Maybe someone who’s died and has left the earth; a dream perhaps. I’m planning a bigger production version of this in future. I think it still sits well as an acoustic track.
Don’t let me go is influenced by artists such as Otis Redding, Eddie Hinton and Delaney Bramlett. It’s the only soul song on the album. I enjoy singing in a different style. It’s always worked well live. I remember performing this during a support of James Burton. James stood at the side of the stage near the back and, when I finished, he said he really enjoyed it and could imagine getting a recording done with Steve Cropper, Glen D Hardin and a few other guys on it, he was pretty excited about hearing it. I was just pleased that he stayed and listened!
Simple Story was originally a live favourite when I was in the Mojave Collective. As I said earlier, an upbeat version is available on the Rust & Dust album. The original features some great musicianship from the band, particularly Tommy Clarke’s guitar.
Here’s a live version of the song being performed by the Mojave Collective
The new album version is a completely different take on the song; much slower with picked guitar. I used a couple of overdubs on this for vocals and a guitar solo. There’s a lyric about “Blood and Snot” and I have to give a nod to my Grandad here. When he used to talk about the fist-fights they used to have when he was in the Merchant Navy, he used to laughingly describe decorating the walls with blood and snot.
I Know is the last track on the album. A fairly abstract lyric with a south of the border feel in the chords. This is another that I’d like to give a full band treatment to in future.
The new album will be available on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon and all major digital music stores.