Souls: The Inside Story
I’ve often said that every album I make is a ‘peeling off of the layers’ so to speak; in this essay I’ll offer to shed some light on the process.
Souls encompasses every method I have ever used in my 25 CD catalog in the realm of production, engineering and composition. It began with recordings I made with the inspiration of the moment at hand at my kitchen table with my trusty D- 50 Sony handheld recorder, the same recorder that captured “September One” from Vermont Resurrection,one of my most popular songs on Pandora. These ‘stream of consciousness’ sketches held up for over a year, maybe even two, as I found them to be comforting in times of confusion, or when I wanted my brain to just empty. Often, that is what I need from music, beyond the stimulation or thought provoking reflections playing in the background of my life. After these sessions that yielded the “Grounding” series, it seemed that every time I picked up my guitar in the days thereafter I seemed to flow back into the same musical mantra, which is why the songs “Souls” and “Soul Synergy” are cut from the same cloth. As my liner notes to Souls reveal, four of these original sketches made the final cut for the album as I found it harder to try and recreate the exact feeling in the studio.
I then revisited a song I’d started almost 6 years earlier - "The Eagle Has Flown" and listened to the single violin track that seemed to float freely over the power guitar loop made by my Taylor 910ce-L7. Once I added another violin track, the song just opened up into that cacophony of symphonic texture that seems to magically appear when employing the ‘kitchen sink’ method of mixing (individual tracks played to the guitar parts but with no thought to how they fit together until they are mixed). This is how my earliest albums In the Bosom of the Green Mountains and Gardener’s Rain were made. It contains some of my signature violin phrases where certain arpeggios climb and descend in rapid fluidity, ones that are familiar yet still sit freshly within the composition. "Solstice Porch" and "Crows" emanated from the same meditative recording session but in contrast to the kitchen table recorder, this was a traditional session using white-hot pre-amps and great microphones. These are, of course, similar to the solo guitar work on In Stillness and virtually half of my instrumental catalog. They showcase the magnificent nuances of a Brazilian Rosewood custom made Froggy Bottom SJ with it’s depth of tone and bell-tone clarity.
"Looking Back To Another Now" offers many precise harmonies and counter melodies in this nine minute odyssey. This harkens back to the first songs with composed violin overdubs starting with “Quechee Serenade” from A Sense of Place or “Hands of Love” from Close To Home.
“Red Maple Waltz” contains an engaging guitar part with equally inspired violin tracks. I stopped working on it when an arpeggio danced into nowhere. Although it just needed some extra work, it just wasn’t the right time - so it sat through the making of four other albums! Sometimes what is needed is focused time and energy that I once took for granted when making a record. Now, with so many distractions in my life I forget that is often all it takes. This winter I was ready to continue composing and it flowed like a river. I mixed the violins slightly lower to allow the guitar’s story to be heard.
In similar circumstances, the “The Knowing” got left off A New Path, I don’t know why as it was on all the early iterations I made for that album in 2013. I guess there was a flaw in the intro section of the guitar part and I may have been going through my ‘flawless’ stage when recording that album and am I glad that is over.
A few more stories to tell: “November Morning Song” was a solo guitar piece from 2007 that I always loved and as my editing skills weren’t as good then, the sound of an alarm clock somewhere in the background always stopped me from releasing it. Then I decided to learn how to play it (a novel idea) and lo and behold, found out the mechanism that made the song tick. After a few simple edits, it begged for a melody line and turned into one of the most satisfying songs on the album. Why one song is mixed only once or twice and others 34 times, I don’t know. “Unknown” was a song that was recorded so serendipitously that I'd forgot I’d recorded it! I recently began working with fretless electric bass player Eric Graham and asked him to add a bass part; then during a session for some other songs, asked drummer Brett Hoffman to contribute. Eric’s bass part inspired me to re-recorded my violins, I mixed it all accordingly and we have an ensemble folk-rock piece like both Vermont Resurrection and the early instrumental folk-rock pieces that were on The Silence Between the Words. “In Morning” was a solo guitar piece that needed a violin part to extend its meditative slowness. “Stonelight Serenade” just came together with the right blend of violins and lead acoustic guitar with a guest appearance by a bird to be named later.
In the making of Souls, I was a witness to the unraveling of the revelations that often accompany the artistic process. Although there are no credits to the liners notes, I will say that my daughter Sage edited them and also came up with this great ending: “Taken together, Souls is a collection that embodies those moments at the kitchen table and in the studio, as they have occurred though the seasons, and across years of wood stoves and open windows, with life changes and souls passing through. “