August 3, 2017

It Ain’t Final Until It’s Vinyl

There’s a well known adage in the recording industry: “It ain’t final ’til it’s vinyl.” Those eight syllables have a simple ring of truth to them. I’m sure one reason that I wanted to do an album on vinyl was to have the sense of completion that one very seldom gets in the digital era. It’s now so easy to record, edit, revise, amend and enhance music that the simple melody and lyrics providing the original inspiration to a songwriter often is too easily lost. Often times what ultimately arrives pleasant enough to listen to, but, I am after something deeper.

Whether you’re like Bob Dylan, who allegedly took 10 minutes to write “Blowin in the Wind,” or Leonard Cohen, who took two years to write “Hallelujah,” as a songwriter, you hear something that drives you to create. Maybe it comes from within, or maybe a muse from the creative cosmos whispers it to you, but you definitely “hear” it. When you do, you want to capture it as you hear it.

If you’ve have the focus of Dylan, you can block out the other voices, internal and external, until you hear purely that song. If you’re more like Cohen, you have to fight (sometimes for years) to block out those competing voices. If you keep at it, eventually you will prevail. However, there are a lot of potential distractions and sometimes the distractions win.

I’m very grateful that for this album I was able to work with people who understood what I was after from the start. After hearing only two of my songs recorded on a laptop, my producer, Stephen Doster agreed to work with me to make This Cowboy Came From Baltimore a reality. When he said, “Music like this needs to breathe,” I knew we were on the same track.

The additions and subtractions he made brought each of these songs closer to what I was hearing in my head, though I was not quite able to realize on my own. Stephen is a producer of albums, not just songs. The attention he paid to which songs go best together, in what order, on what side, with what feeling, never ceased to amaze me. I may have written the songs, but Stephen composed the album.

James Stevens, the recording engineer, was also an indispensable creative contributor throughout the production process. His command of the recording equipment at EAR Studio, a seamless mix of vintage analog and state-of-the-art digital devices, made the whole experience both professional and personal. From the minute I walked in, I never had any doubt that EAR was the right place to record this album. Like Stephen, James got it from the start, and every suggestion he made improved my songs.

Finally, Rick Busby’s faith in this project made it possible for me to actually complete the album. An old school LP aficionado, Rick stepped in with a wealth of knowledge, contacts, advice and encouragement at exactly the right time. I am very grateful to him and Monte McWilliams for taking Stephen’s suggestion and including me in the growing stable of artists on the Atticus Records label.

Part of what compelled me to make an album in the first place is an inherent suspicion of all things digital. So, if I haven’t thanked some of the many people who helped make this album possible in this brief blog entry, it’s because I plan to do so face-to-face, hand delivering a copy of my album in the process. I very much look forward to doing so, because without each of you this album would never have gone vinyl, nor would it be the final word on these songs.

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