Archive for February, 2012
26 Feb

Comin’ Down In The Rain

Listen: Comin’ Down In The Rain

This is another ‘practice recording.’ I choose a song I like and pretend I am producing a demo for a client.

This song was written by Buddy Mondlock. He has an MP3 player on his homepage. You can scroll down to “PJ-08 Comin’ Down” to hear his version.

I wanted to use a ‘standard’ 2 guitars, bass and drums format. I chose an acoustic and an electric guitar this time (as opposed to two acoustics). I used Band In A Box to generate both a bass and drum track (using Real Drums), but I wasn’t happy with the results.

I wanted more movement in the drum part- so I kept the BIAB part and added a ride cymbal. I simply set up a cymbal next to my computer, mic’ed it played along with the track. It not only added movement, but gave some nice crispness to the finished track.

For bass part, I wanted some specific descending lines, so I trashed the BIAB part and played bass. I ran Stevo’s old “Thumbs Up” bass direct through my ISA One and got a great big tone. I ended up mixing it back, so it took up less space and eq’ing it so it fit better in the mix.

The acoustic guitar is exactly the part I use playing live. It’s my Lowden, close mic’ed in stereo.

The electric guitar is there to add texture. I used chorus and delay to create some spacey descending lines on the verses and some movement on the choruses. And of course the solo.

I was really happy with the way the solo turned out. I had written the first two lines and pre-determined a long descending line at the end. The rest is improvised. It took 3-4 takes to make it all work together Also, I used the same effects on rhythm and solo parts, with a little overdrive to make the solo stand out.

I’m still happy with the way this one came out. If I ever put out a solo album, I’ll have to get the rights for this one.

Categories: Recordings
25 Feb

I Go To This Window

Listen: I Go To This Window

This is an old recording. It came out of Finale. This music composition software has a feature that lets you assign sounds to your staves and play back your work. I took advantage of this.

I set up a (free) recording program called Audicity to record from the microphone plugged into my Mac. Then I ran a 1/8″ male to 1/8″ male cable from the speaker out port of my Mac to the mic in port. Tell Audicity to record, switch to Finale and press play. This may not be considered a ‘professional’ solution, but it works and the sound quality is pretty good.

This piece comes from an e. e. cummings poem. I use the poem to set the rhythm and tone of the piece. I start by reading the piece out loud. I record this reading and transcribe the rhythm, trying to keep the pauses as I read them. I use this rhythm to construct a melody and work out a bass line and harmonies around that melody. This piece is not intended to be sung.

I Go To This Window started life as a piano piece, but changing to an oboe/piano duet really opened up the melody.

You can look at the sheet music here:  sheet music


Categories: Compositions
25 Feb

You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere

Listen:  You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere

Band In A Box has a feature called Real Drums. They hired some live players to play beats and variations, added some fills and set it all up so you could scale it, tempo-wise, at least to a degree. The results can be very good, as long as you follow the limitations of the concept.

Here is one song where it worked well. It’s an old Bob Dylan song, recorded by the Byrds. I used the arrangement from my acoustic trio, Summerfly. it gave me a chance to play some slide and sing some harmonies. Both bass and drums are from BIAB. I play rhythm, slide and sing.

So, again, when the goal is to get it down quick and within budget, there are tricks that work.


Categories: Recordings
23 Feb

Little Tree

Listen:  Little Tree

A few years ago, Susie bought me a book for Christmas. It was a children’s picture book of an e. e. cummings poem, Little Tree. I had always wanted to write a Christmas song, and this was good inspiration.

I wanted to bring some of the modern elements that e. e. included in his poetry to my composition. I spent some time working on modern chord progressions in odd time signatures, but there was a big problem. It didn’t sound like Christmas.

I went back to a more classical approach. I included some big intervals and open voicings, not common in classical music. These uncommon elements still sounded like Christmas.

To me, at least. What do you think?


Categories: Compositions
22 Feb

Romance Without Finance

Here is my version: Romance Without Finance

Here is the original: Romance Without Finance Original

I thought I’d give a chance to listen to my version and the original so you can hear the difference. The original is by Big Bill Broonzy and Washboard Sam.

This song is a 12 bar blues. I like the concept of the original, but it didn’t move the way I wanted it to. I was working on slide guitar and learning open D tuning, so I started the arrangement with slide guitar. I kept the form, the chord progression (note the dominant flat six chord in both versions) and most of the melody.

I worked out the main riff as a way organize the song. Many blues tunes have this repeated musical idea- it’s a common feature of the blues. I was thinking in terms of a three piece group; guitar, slide guitar and mandolin. I had the main riff and a picking pattern worked out on slide, I added some strummed rhythms on guitar.

I didn’t want a straight chop on mandolin, that sounded too country, but I needed that 2-and-4 rhythm. I had to play around a while before I found the bend. It was a good way to get that rhythm and keep the song sounding like the blues.

One of my limitations is my vocals. I’m not a bad singer, I sing mostly in tune and I do a pretty good job in some styles, but I’m never going to be a lead vocalist. I’m not putting myself down, but if I auditioned for American Idol, I would not make it to Hollywood. I did 3 or 4 takes on this song and this is the best one. I ain’t expectin’ to make money on it.

Categories: Arrangements
21 Feb

The Bell- a mash-up

Listen: The Bell

This isn’t really a mash-up, but it’s the kind of ‘mash-up’ I like to do. It’s like assembling a mosaic when you don’t know what the final picture will look like.

From a recording point of view, it was a good chance to play with all the toys; delays, filters, flangers, chorus.

The basic drone is a bass played with an EBow (another toy). I was surprised by the nasty tone it produced. The rhythm was produced by touching the ebow against the vibrating string. I put a slow flanger and some long delay on this track.

The counter drone (it’s hard to call it a melody) was the ebow on a strat. I used a comb filter on this and got the flange sound by manually sweeping the frequencies. This gives it an irregular, psychedelic sound. The delay is called a reverse delay. It gives a little sforzando leading in to the attack. It required me to manually move the track back about 80 ms so it still sounded in time, but again, a nice psychedelic effect.

I found the poem online- It’s called Instead Of Selling Pretzels by Allen Cohen of San Francisco. I read the poem and ran the track through a slow sweeping filter, then to a slow ping-pong delay

The song is an old klezmer tune, Oriental Melody. It probably has a yiddish name as well, but I wouldn’t be able to pronounce it.

I used a bouzouki to lay down the melody and again to set a backing track. The strat part switches to a harmony part.

I got the tabla loop from my friend Richard Wixner. (

I played the harmony part on flute and drenched it in reverb. The sound effects are backwards and forwards cymbals obscured by flange and delay.

I put the whole thing together in GarageBand with an SM57 and an old Tapco mixer.

So let me summarize my kind of ‘mash-up’. I have American Buddhist poem with a psychedelic backing track leading into a Jewish song, claiming Oriental origins, played on a Greek instrument with Indian drums…

Categories: Arrangements