Endings are New Beginnings 

Dont be satisfied with how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth. -Rumi

In earlier posts I talked about beginning a creative project, and maintaining focus to keep it going. If we can do these two things we will eventually COMPLETE the project. This can be a mixed blessing. On the one hand there is the satisfaction of a job, hopefully, well done. But on the other hand, if the project was enjoyable, there is a bit of sadness at moving on to the next project or, more realistically, moving into marketing-mode to make the completed project available for others to discover and enjoy. I have reached this point in my current recording project, and will now look back on the mixing, mastering and final recording sessions.

I was back at Cloud9 Recording in April mixing my CD with Joe Napoli. Each song had many tracks of guitars, drums, vocals and keyboards to mix down. I am VERY pleased with the results. Over a five day period Joe worked very hard creating great mixes of the nine songs for this CD. Despite that aggressive schedule Joe tuned in to the story and message of each song so that he could bring out the best in my musical arrangements while mixing.

Joe Napoli getting ready to mix another song

After mixing, mastering is yet another necessary process where the wrong mastering engineer can ruin all of the hard work done in recording and mixing, but the right mastering engineer can polish up those final mixes and boost them to an even higher level. I was fortunate to meet and work with a talented engineer named Rob Ray who fits the latter category. Like Joe Napoli, Rob took a keen interest in my musical intent for each song individually and the project as a whole. He did an outstanding job mastering the project and I am EXTREMELY pleased with how warm and alive the music sounds, and with how well the individual songs hang together as a whole. I still need to settle on photos and graphics for the actual CD, but I am close to having a final audio artifact to share with you.

Me with Rob Ray
I will now backtrack a bit since I never blogged on the vocal sessions. The lyrical topics of the nine songs range from politics to family, from love songs to matters of the spirit. Inhabiting each of these songs as a vocalist requires concentration on my part, and a great headphone mix from the engineer so that I can hear my voice placed appropriately with the instruments. Joe Napoli provided excellent headphone mixes so it was up to me to vocally communicate these songs. I think I turned in good performances of all the songs, and I even did some of my own backing vocals. One song, "A Girl of Nineteen", is sung by Kathy Fleischmann. I was inspired to write the song after reading transcripts of the trial of Joan of Arc and also inspired by the wonderful painting of Joan by Bastien-Lepage that hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. Kathy gave an outstanding lead vocal performance, she really communicated the emotional range the song required.

Kathy Fleischmann
A book called The Mole People by Jennifer Toth inspired my song "Nobody's Friend". The book is a collection of interviews and personal stories related to time the author spent with a sub-community of New York City that lives underground in abandoned subway tunnels and stations, sometimes rarely coming up to the street. With many years of day jobs and late night music gigs in NYC I thought I had seen and heard everything but this book left a strong impression of a troubled community I hadn't been aware even existed.

The sad state of a democracy that was once 'for the people' but now seems to be 'for whoever has the deepest pockets to buy representation' inspired my song "Follow the Money". These days it seems the only way to make sense of military deployments, budget decisions, and federal policy is to follow the money trail and see which individuals or corporations are benefiting from these decisions.

Lakita P. Jackson and me at a gig with the Geoffrey Armes Band
Not to worry, the entire CD is not me ranting on serious subjects. There are also some love songs like "Sympathetic" and "Sacred Place", and songs about family like "Brooklyn, 1964" and "Rise and Shine". Kathy Fleischmann and another friend, Lakita P. Jackson, sing excellent backing vocals on "Follow the Money", "Rise and Shine', and "Nobody's Friend". Kathy also sings with me on "Brooklyn, 1964".

That sums up the recording and mixing process for this CD. I will soon be creating a facebook 'fan' page where I can post some songs, and communicate gigs once I put together a band to play this music live. I will also alert you to where songs and physical CDs can be purchased and/or pre-ordered. I am in the process of redesigning my website to make all of this easier as well. Many thanks to all of you who have read this blog and kept up with the sessions - I hope you get to hear the completed CD and perhaps The Kevin McLeod Band playing the music live when we come to your town!

Trust the Creative Impulse 

"Anything within a performance is significant, whether intentional or not." - Robert Fripp

Sometimes a performance takes an unexpected turn.  Particularly in live situations, with an improvising band, this can happen frequently.  Even in the recording studio it is important to open oneself to music in this way.  It is the unexpected turns that can lead us to musical vistas we did not know were available and would not be aware of had we not trusted the new path.  I think that trust is the key.  If we always play in our comfort zone we do not leave any opening for inspiration to reach us.  If we DO see an alternate path but shy away from it, eventually those paths will not present themselves and our music will become dry and repetitive.  Trust the moment, and trust the creative impulse.  There may be some areas of life where it is advisable to play it safe, but music is not one of them.

Armes Studio in NYC

If you're going to take risks you're going to need to work with people you trust in a supportive environment.  I was fortunate to have Al Improta and Joe Chirco join me as the rhythm section for this project, and I've been very pleased with the sessions at Cloud9 Recording.  I needed keyboards on a few songs and I've had great results on past projects working with Geoffrey Armes at Armes Studio in New York City.  I brought three songs from the current project to Geoffrey.  Two songs that I thought needed a B3 organ sound, "A Rock and A Nail" and "A Girl of Nineteen", and "Brooklyn, 1964" which I thought would benefit from some piano.  I decided to play the organ parts myself but asked Geoffrey to play the piano.

In addition to having great ears as a producer/engineer Geoffrey is a talented musician who plays a number of instruments well.  He played an excellent piano part on "A Million Years Ago" from the Kathy Fleischmann Band CD that we released in 2009.  My organ parts were very straight forward, so I played through those two songs and we captured solid performances.  Geoffrey then improvised a fitting piano part for "Brooklyn, 1964".  The song now reminds me a bit of mid 70's Grateful Dead with Keith Godchaux on piano.  It was a productive few hours and always enjoyable working with Geoffrey.

Next I will be back at Cloud9 Recording to sing lead vocals and have some friends contribute backing vocals.  I'll write about that in the next blog.  Thanks for reading!

Following Through on Beginnings 

"Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it;  boldness has genius, power and magic in it."  - Goethe

The hardest part of any creative endeavor is beginning it.  Beginnings have their own energy, and if we're lucky we can harness some of that and create some momentum.  Because the second hardest part of any creative endeavor is finishing it.  On that note I was back at Cloud9 Recording recently finishing up the guitar tracks and starting on lead vocals for my upcoming CD.

This Lowden Acoustic sounds great on the new songs

There were five songs that needed guitar overdubs.  The first task was to record acoustic guitar for two songs, "A Girl of Nineteen" and "Rise and Shine".  Joe Napoli selected a great microphone for my Lowden acoustic.  I forget which mic we used but my Lowden, which is a sweet sounding guitar with a unique personality, sounds particularly excellent in these tracks.  Its always a pleasure to work with a recording engineer who knows how to mic instruments.  My parts for both of these songs were straightforward.  I played through them, we had good performances, and we moved on.

For electric guitars the primary amp for the day was the 1960's Fender Vibrolux which I've used on a number of the other guitar tracks for this project.  This amp has the ability to sound warm and clean at lower volumes and then break up into a very pleasing distortion when the volume is turned up.  I added a second rhythm guitar to the chorus of "Another Wasted Day".  I played a Gretsch Silver Jet guitar for this part.  It sounded great, and added another color to the song's chorus.

This black Telecaster sounded great on lead and rhythm parts for a few songs

"Sympathetic" needed a second rhythm guitar and a lead guitar part.  I think I played a Telecaster for the second rhythm part.  I sometimes played the same part the acoustic rhythm guitar played and sometimes played fills off that original part.  I'm pleased with the way the two parts sound together.  The lead guitar part for "Sympathetic" was also played on a Telecaster.  This song has a great groove and it was fun to solo on.  I used with a very clean guitar sound for this track using the Fender amp.  I'm looking forward to playing this one live.

Me with the Gretsch Silver Jet - a very cool guitar! 

A dirty sounding guitar was needed for the chorus of "A Girl of Nineteen".  I played a Telecaster again, but this time with a Klon Distortion pedal adding a bit of drive to the Fender Amp.  For the guitar solo in the middle of the song I played the Gretsch Silver Jet through an old VOX amp with the tremelo on.  The Gretsch guitar with the Vox amp was the perfect combination for this guitar solo.  In addition to these heavier rock guitar sounds, I played a mandolin on the chorus.  All of these textures make for a really nice vibe where the song alternates between these pensive, folky sections with acoustic guitar and mandolin, and harder rocking sections with loud guitars.

John Sadocha playing guitar on "Sacred Place"

I was happy to have my friend John Sadocha, no stranger to the NY music scene, playing guitar on "Sacred Place".  When I attempted to put a band together a few years back John was my second guitarist and he had come up with some very cool guitar parts for "Sacred Place" that I wanted him to play again for the recording.  He brought a Strat with him, but it sounded a little bright in the track.  He tried a few more guitars and we ended up settling on a Telecaster thinline with humbuckers.  John played some great guitar, a sort of cross between Keith Richards and Robbie Robertson.  I then added a solo to the middle of the song to complete the music tracks.  We were back with the Fender Vibrolux amp for these parts.

The other song I wanted to add some lead guitar to was the ending section of "Rise and Shine".  I played my Gibson ES-Artist here through the Fender Vibrolux, and we got some really singing sustain using the Analog Alien FuzzBubble Pedal.  (see prior blogs for more info on this cool pedal)  In fact, in listening back to Joe Napoli's excellent rough mixes I may go back and re-do one guitar solo I'm not thrilled with on a different song with this great lead sound.  I also played a mandolin part on the ending section of this song.  It mixed in very well with the guitars on the track.

Me with my Gibson ES-Artist

With guitar tracks complete it was time to get started on the lead vocals.  The only song I had time for at this session was "Brooklyn, 1964".  This song grew out of a few memories I have from my first years.  I was born in Brooklyn, but by the time I was about three years old my parents had moved the family out to the suburbs of Long Island.  Somehow some very vivid memories survived of those early years as well as a feel for the optimism of that time and this inspired the song.

My next step is to record keyboards on a few songs.  Nothing artificial sounding, I'm looking to play organ on two tracks and will probably have Geoffrey Armes play electric piano on one.  I'll give you the details in the next blog.

Music is About Life, Life is About Rhythm 

"Life is about rhythm. We vibrate, our hearts are pumping blood, we are a rhythm machine, that's what we are."   - Mickey Hart (Grateful Dead)

Al Improta, Joe Chirco, Joe Napoli & I at Cloud9 Recording
The components of music are melody, harmony, and rhythm.  Rhythm is the cornerstone.  Rhythm is the foundation.  If the rhythm section of a band is not rocking, grooving, or swinging, there is no music happening.  Like Duke Ellington said, "It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing".  This is why the rhythm tracks for a song are so important.  If they aren't happening, it really doesn't matter what you play or sing on top of them.  The song will be lifeless.

I was back at Cloud9 Recording on September 6th to finish recording rhythm tracks for my upcoming CD.  Joe Chirco was back playing drums, Al Improta was back playing bass, and I was playing guitar.  The session goal was to complete the remaining four songs, and I had selected a fifth song to try if we had time.  At the end of the day we had completed the rhythm tracks for all five songs.  All nine songs for the next CD are now ready for vocals, additional guitars, and keyboards where needed.  Throughout these early sessions I've been pleased to note that after every take we have always been in agreement regarding the quality of what we just played.  We all knew if it was THE take, and if it was not THE take we all knew what needed attention.  Musicians have egos like everyone else, so it is always a treat to work with players who consistently put the music first.  In this case not only were we putting the music first, but we all seemed to be recognizing where it needed to go, and doing our best to get it there.

The primary guitar for today's rhythm tracks was the 1958 Gibson Les Paul Historic Re-issue that I also played on "Follow the Money" and "Nobody's Friend".  The amp I used was the 1960's Fender Vibrolux that was also used on those songs.  Aside from one exception that I will elaborate on later, I did not use any effects pedals.   In case I haven't mentioned it yet, most of the guitars and all of the amps used for this project are from the Cloud9 collection.

1958 Gibson Les Paul Historic Re-issue
First up was "Another Wasted Day".  This is probably the most straight-forward song on the entire project.  It is a little over 3 minutes long and is the only song on the CD with no guitar solos.  The challenge here was settling on the tempo, where small variations could make the song sound rushed or dragging.  After a few takes we nailed it and were ready to proceed to the next song.

"Sacred Place" is a song I had recorded a few years ago.   I liked that performance, but not the recording quality.  I also think "Sacred Place" will be a strong song to play live; it has a ragged Stones or Crazy Horse feel about it. I also thought it fit in well with the rest of the new material.  I experimented with a new stomp box from Cloud9 Audio for the rhythm guitar track, as I wanted the guitar to sound a bit grittier than the Vibrolux was providing. Rather than switch to a different amp, Jack Napoli suggested trying out this distortion/overdrive pedal he recently designed.  The pedal is actually two pedals in one.  One function allows you to set an overdrive that is similar to Pete Townshend's sound in The Who, and you can vary it from his late 60's sound to his 70's sound.  The other pedal function is more of a fuzz, and this is designed to sound like the Hendrix sound, and can also be varied from a soft break up to singing, gobs of sustain, heavy fuzz.  The Townshend overdrive with a mid setting was perfect for the sound I was after.  Thankfully my guitar retained its sound and expressiveness with this pedal.  Many guitar pedals are personality vacuums - everything sounds the same coming out of them.  I really liked that the guitar and amp retained their characters with this pedal - with the setting I used it was almost as if the amp had an extra pre-amp gain that I turned up.  It sounded that natural.

The FuzzBubble guitar pedal from Cloud9 Audio
"A Girl of Nineteen" was up next.  This has a 6/8 feel and like "Another Wasted Day", tempo is critical.  It doesn't exactly feel like a rock song, or a jazz song, or an R&B song - and that is where musicians like Joe & Al really shine.  Rather than force it into a standard groove, they found the song's unique pulse and amplified it.  Joe did a great job varying dynamics to contrast the verse & chorus, and Al played some very melodic fretless bass.  I started out playing the Les Paul, but after two takes switched to a Gibson ES-225.  The 225 was a better fit for the song.  Once again, after a few takes we had a great performance.  I decided to extend the ending of the song before we did the final take.  There is a dreamy improv that I think will be effective following the last lyric.  Another great thing about working with musicians like Joe and Al is they are both great listeners.   I mean that both as players and as people who are alert in the moment.  Not only were we always listening and responding to each others playing but anytime a musical suggestion was made, "Lets extend that ending a bit" or "Lets bring the volume down for the last verse only" or "How about adding another measure to end and do a ritard on the intro phrase", EVERYONE would nail the suggestion on the next take.   We recorded a fine performance of "A Girl of Nineteen".

I knew "Rise and Shine" would be challenging.  The verses need to be slightly slower then the choruses, and they vary dynamically as well as with tempo.  The verses of the song are mainly acoustic guitar and voice, the full band kicks in on the chorus.  Al again played some very soulful fretless bass, conjuring the ghost of Jaco as he accompanied the acoustic guitar and lead vocal in the second verse.  Joe Napoli worked his magic with Pro Tools, making sure the song's different sections segued nicely.  Once again, the final performance was excellent.

The fifth song I had selected, "Sympathetic",  was what I consider a straight-forward groove song - no breaks, no weird changes, just get into a groove, follow the chords and play.  Joe and Al were ready to give it a try before ending the day so we played it down twice.  Both were good takes, but the second take was better.  This is the kind of song where the groove itself just makes me feel good.  Its going to be fun to play a guitar solo on this.  For the rhythm track I played Jack Napoli's Taylor acoustic plugged into the Vibrolux amp.  It sounded quite good, so it may be a keeper; but I will probably record another acoustic rhythm track with my Lowden as well.

It was a very successful session.  I'll write again as the sessions continue with vocals & additional instrumental overdubs.

The Work of a Musician - Playing or Listening? 

"The world is full of people that have stopped listening to themselves or have listened only to their neighbors to learn what they ought to do, how they ought to behave, and what the values are that they should be living for."  - Joseph Campbell

Doing guitar overdubs with the blue Strat and the Gibson ES-225
The real work of being a musician, or any other creative artist, is deep listening.  Sure, craft is also important.  Craft provides skills and techniques of a mechanical nature.  But regardless of our level of advancement in craft, something else is necessary to produce work of depth.  The only SOUL our work will ever have is what we are able to impart, and without deep listening we have little to share.  

I've noticed something about the musicians and songwriters whose work moves me.  Not all of the musicians have the same level of technical ability on their instrument, not all the songwriters are poets, but the one thing they all share is a depth to their work.  They learned to touch something within that was both personal and universal, and then communicate that through their music.  This is not something that is necessarily respected in the marketplace where style often rules over substance.  A great book or painting or piece of music sometimes requires a degree of attention to appreciate that our current fast-paced lives do not encourage.   That's okay.  The flip side to that coin is that a book, song, poem or performance that has depth can give someone a reason to slow down for a little while and then influence or even change their perspective.

This is some of what I've been thinking about as I continue my current recording project.  I was back at Cloud9 Recording on Monday, Aug 30th to overdub additional guitars on the four songs that were recorded at the last session.  I have a basic philosophy about recording (and performing).  Pay attention to the moment.  Guitar solos are 90% improvised in the studio.  Other parts of arrangements are 100% thought out, but the moment dictates whether or not they will remain, be altered to fit a piece of music that is evolving as it is being recorded, or abandoned altogether.  Allowing the music to negotiate its own path and then following helps create lively, inspired performances.  I like to leave some room for magic.

The Gibson Lucille and a few other guitars ready for playing
This next bit is for guitar players and recording enthusiasts.  I'll talk about the subject matter of the songs when I blog on the vocal recording sessions.

Once again Joe Napoli was at the mixing board and Jack Napoli had selected 2 guitar amps and a few guitars based on a conversation we had a few days earlier.  The amps were set up in the live room while I played my parts in the mixing room.  I prefer this to being in the room with the amp because I can hear the music better via the control room speakers than headphones.  The first song we worked on was "A Rock and a Nail".  I played a Gibson ES-225, and then played a similar part with a Telecaster that had a Strat pickup at the neck.  I like doing this because some sections end up doubled while others will play off each other.  There is a short guitar solo in the middle of the song that I thought I'd end up playing on a Gibson, but while I had the Tele in my hand from the last rhythm take I decided to try a pass at the solo with that guitar.  Whoa - first take had some nice moments and that Tele fit in the track way better than I'd expected.  I did a few passes with a Gibson Lucille, but none had the magic of the Tele solo - so that is one that will end up on the CD.

The second song we worked on was "Brooklyn, 1964".  Again, I wasn't crazy about the tracking rhythm guitar so I did another complete rhythm take on the Tele.  I then played some melody lines that are part of the arrangement on a blue Strat.  The guitar solo was also played on the blue Strat.  I went for a clean guitar sound on this solo - no pedals and we didn't drive the amp too hard.  This is a fun song to solo over.  I did 5 or 6 takes of guitar solo but I think we went with the first or second one - it had the magic.

1950's Fender Deluxe - This amp and a Vibrolux have been sounding great with the Fender & Gibson guitars
Next up was "Nobody's Friend".  This has the most complex musical arrangement of the four.  The verses are rhythmically broken up and syncopated, and then the chorus has a straight rock feel.  To create the sound I wanted I used three separate guitar parts, all played on different guitars through different amps,  that interweave to create the final guitar 'sound'.  The main rhythm guitar is the Les Paul I tracked a few weeks back.  I then played the Telecaster with a very different sound in the spaces of the original guitar part.  The third guitar is a Strat that comes in on the lead-in to the chorus to color that part of the song a different shade.  Once these were complete I played the guitar solo that happens in the middle of the song.  I used the blue Strat again - its sound worked really well with this song.  Played lightly the notes sounded very clean, but if I picked harder they got edgier.

The last song of the day was "Follow the Money".  The Les Paul rhythm track I laid down at the last session was perfect to build on.  I doubled that rhythm track on a Strat just in case we want to thicken the guitar sound for the chorus or create a stereo effect when we mix.  The most straight-forward rock song of the four, it has two lengthy guitar solos.  I wanted to take my time with these try to play something that fit the aggressive tone of the rest of the song.  This was the only song where I used a stomp box for some extra overdrive.  It was fun playing some loud'n'nasty guitar.

The Vibrolux - Used this with a Les Paul for rhythm tracks and with  a Strat for some tracks as well
One last thing I wanted to accomplish was an acoustic guitar on "Brooklyn, 1964".  This required additional set up so we decided to do this last.  I played my Lowden acoustic and was pleased that it fit well with the electric rhythm guitar. I will be back at the studio to record guitar/bass/drums for the next group of songs Monday Sept 6th.  Joe Chirco will be back on the drum stool and Al Improta will be back on bass.  I'll write about that session next week and give you all the updates.  

The songs are written, recording begins 

"A Musician must make music, an Artist must paint, a Poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself." - Abraham Maslow

Al Improta, Joe Chirco and I at Cloud9 Recording

I recently began work on my next full-length CD release.  Although I've released two singles via iTunes in the past few years, my last big project was in 2003.  I've been writing new songs along the way and recent intuition has made clear this is the time to record them.  Thankfully, the project got off to a great start on July 20th at Cloud9 Recording in Central Islip.  Having worked at Cloud9 in the past on my last CD and on last year's Kathy Fleischmann Band CD, I knew it would be great to record there again with owners/engineers Joe and Jack Napoli.  

Playing this latest bunch of songs will be a talented group of musicians who I've worked with on past projects.  I am pleased to have Joe Chirco playing drums and Al Improta playing bass.  Joe has been flying all over the country playing with The Donna Jean Godchaux Band, The Mark Karan Band, The Dave Nelson Band - too many to list.  Al is one of the finest bass players on LI.  I will be singing and playing all of the guitars, I may play some keyboards, and I will be having more friends join in on backing vocals and additional instrumentation. 

Jack Napoli, Al Improta, Joe Chirco & Joe Napoli by the mixing board

The first session yielded final rhythm guitar, bass and drum tracks for four songs: "Follow the Money", "Nobody's Friend", "Brooklyn, 1964" and "A Rock and a Nail".  Although I've been performing most of these songs solo over the past few years with just acoustic guitar and voice, I've always been able to 'hear them' with larger arrangements.  My prior experience creating arrangements for rock and jazz music comes in handy here.  Arranging the music and hearing it all click into place is actually more fun than writing it.  Writing is not always fun - particularly when you have an excellent chorus but the verses you've written just aren't measuring up yet, or you have some lyric you like but appropriate music just isn't registering yet.  Once the song is finished, however, arranging and performing it are totally enjoyable - especially if the harmonic content and groove of the song make it a good vehicle for improvisation.

Here are some recording details for fellow guitarists:  A 1960's Fender Vibrolux amp, restored to 1950's specs, was the amp used for all songs.  I played a '57 Gibson Les Paul re-issue on "Follow the Money" and "Nobody's Friend".  I played a Fender Strat on "Brooklyn, 1964" and a Gibson Lucille on "A Rock and a Nail".  Jack Napoli had a selection of guitars ready for me and I was able to grab the right guitar for each song.  They have a large collection of vintage guitars and amps at Cloud9, and Jack's selection of that Fender amp was also an inspired choice.  Not a one trick pony, it brought the best out of each guitar we plugged into it, sounding different with each one.  

Me, Al Improta, Joe Chirco & Joe Napoli by the mixing board

Joe Napoli was at the mixing board.  As in past sessions, he gave us great headphone mixes that made it easy to play and captured some inspired performances.  It was a very productive day in the recording studio!

I'm currently finalizing some of my arrangement ideas for an overdub session, and by September I hope to get Joe and Al back in the studio to record the rhythm tracks for the next group of songs.  Although I'm not on a deadline, I'd like to have recording completed sometime this fall.  I'll provide updates on the recording process as it continues.

Nine Days - Boulton Center Bayshore 01/20/07 

It takes more than shortsighted music biz executives to keep a great band down. Nine Days took the stage at the Boulton Center for the Performing Arts in Bayshore to huge applause. They deserve it. Having recorded a very successful CD for SONY, the label subsequently squashed their follow-up release. Nine Days believed in their music and have soldiered on without the major label. They played an energetic set at the Boulton to an enthusiastic hometown crowd.

"If I Am", from their hit CD, "The Madding Crowd", was their first song of the night. Guitarist/singer John Hampson connected with the audience immediately and got everyone on their feet by reminding, "You may be in a theater but you're not at a movie, this is a rock concert! You can stand up! You can even dance if you want to." Most of the audience was then standing throughout the set and I did see a few people dancing in the aisles. Despite a case of bronchitis John Hampson’s voice sounded strong and he had great rapport with the audience between songs.

Nine Days played two other songs from that hit CD, "Bob Dylan", and their most famous song, "Absolutely (Story of a Girl)". Faced with a girl who's drowning in problems and self-doubt, Nine Days fashion a life preserver out of humor and persistent optimism. One reason for Nine Days’ success is the strong writing team of John Hampson and Brian Desveaux. The two guitarists write songs that are lyrically and musically well crafted.

The band played a few new songs from their latest independent release, "Slow Motion Life (part one)". Two of these, "A Girl in California" and "New Shoes", are great examples of what makes Nine Days so memorable. Dynamic contrast within the context of the song, intelligent lyrics, musical hooks, and great grooves distinguish these songs. Most importantly, this band doesn't sound like every other band. In addition to their songwriting skills both singers have distinct vocal personalities. Their vocal harmonies are also exceptional. I've heard enough over-emoting gravelly-voiced 'singers' in today's mainstream rock bands to last a lifetime.

As the night progressed, John switched back and forth between acoustic and electric guitar, and Brian played a few different electrics as well. In this band the song dictates the instrument. Drummer Vinnie Tattanelli and bassist Nick Dimichino provided a rock-solid rhythm team and keyboardist Jeremy Dean added additional colors to the songs. These five musicians work well together to create their edgy melodic rock sound.

The song "This Music" from their 1996 CD "Monday Songs" contains the line "It's hard here on Long Island, to be an artist and speak your mind". That may be true, but it’s good to know that Nine Days are still out there carrying on writing and playing their excellent music. Go to ninedaysmusic.com to pick up a copy of their new CD.

The sound in the Bolton was excellent. This is a great LI concert hall. I'd like to see more shows here featuring LI bands. "Grieving for Grace", a young band, started things off. The band was tight, they played well-written songs, and I liked the interplay between the two guitars. "Back to Me" and "North Star" were two standout songs from their set.

Noor - A Song Cycle from Geoffrey Armes 

Noor Inayat Khan, ‘Sufi Princess’, daughter of Hazrat Inayat Khan, children’s book author, musician, Allied Spy, died in Dachau at the age of 29. Geoffrey Armes has written and recorded a song cycle inspired by Noor. I recently had the opportunity to discuss this project with Geoffrey.

How did you become acquainted with Noor’s life?

I was looking through the online edition of “The Independent”, an English Newspaper, and saw a headline about “Sufi Princess, Allied Spy” and it leapt out at me and really grabbed me. It mentioned a biography that had been written about her. I ordered it from the UK because it’s not published over here, and had it sent over. I don’t always do that but I knew that there was something important for me in that story.

What attracted you to Noor’s story?

Noor was the daughter of Hazrat Inayat Khan, who was a Sufi philosopher who wrote specifically about music as a sort of medium for spiritual work. I was intrigued by the idea that anyone who was a Sufi was involved with WWII directly, let alone dying in Dachau, and then when it was his daughter and I already knew his work…I was just fascinated by that.

She grew up in Paris, and went to England when the Nazis occupied France. She had a dilemma as someone who was a pacifist and a Sufi, and at the same time was very aware of overwhelming evil that was threatening to take over the world. These were dark times and I think she felt that it wasn’t enough to sit around - she needed to do something, to take part in the struggle. That was one of the things that attracted me to the story, because I do think we still live in dark times and I think we have the potential of overwhelming evil in the world still. Noor’s story could easily be a story that has to be lived again. And that’s rather frightening.

Sure, but it’s always up to us to confront evil and take an active part in being one of the positive forces rather than one of the negative forces in the world.

I think so. I think she reached a point where to be the good daughter of a Sufi philosopher and correctly living her life wasn’t enough. She needed to get involved firsthand. Although Noor had a very international upbringing, she had lived in Paris for a long time - it was like her home city. So going back to Paris was almost like going home, struggling for the freedom of her home.

How did this go from being a moving book that you connected with to being something that you saw as the basis for some music?

I felt it was a subject that was meaty enough and deep enough that I could play with some of my own ideas of life and death in a way that wasn’t completely preachy or overtly religious. I was deeply moved and I started improvising one day and knew I’d get at least one song. It was kind of empathic, asking the question, “How did you cope?” For a while I thought that song, which became the title track, would be the final thing. But I just kept going back and writing more music. Then I got attracted to the idea of a CD called Noor, a suite of songs about the situation that this woman was in.

Do the songs present a progression of events in her life?

Some of them do refer to particular events in her life. They could have been arranged chronologically, and at one point they were. In the end I arranged the songs in the way that seemed to unfold best musically.

The song “Yasmin” is about a specific moment in her life. There was a whole chapter in the book about her going off on her one and really only mission, and the mood of these young women as they went to take this flight. It’s really a moment of no return. We’ve all had these experiences where you know you’re stepping off the abyss and there’s no going back and I think that was such a moment for her.

I felt very drained after recording the song “Witness”. It was very painful to do. By the time I finished it, I thought that there was some kind of statement of intent that Noor might have made – that she wanted to get involved.

Most people know you as a guitarist, but electric piano is the dominant instrument on Noor. Was there a reason you gravitated towards piano in composing and recording this music?

It’s fair to say that the core instrument here is the Wurlitzer electric piano sound. The most recent CDs I did prior to Noor, Spirit Dwelling & Ambient Black, used sounds I always had floating around, instrumental/textural/fourth-world/spacey even new-agey sounds mixed in with Dub and Electronica. For some people that is really the antithesis of acoustic music but for me it isn’t. Those aspects of music had been a part of the past CDs but I felt that the songwriting and vocalizing and poetry had really been neglected since Elemental Red. Noor was a project where I wanted to combine the instrumental stuff with the vocal music and simple songwriting.

You played all the instruments, you sang, and you were the producer/engineer. What were the challenges and benefits of recording this all alone?

I wrote these songs in a very improvisatory fashion, just laying down tracks. Then, quite spontaneously finding parts where I thought vocals would fit and then putting the vocals down, not in a careless way, but not in a carefully edited manner either. In an expensive studio with an engineer and the clock running, unless you have a huge budget it usually doesn’t afford you that opportunity.

Like a Peter Gabriel or a Kate Bush recording, Noor sets up and sustains an engaging aural landscape that really draws you in. I’ve listened to this a few times now and it is an emotional record – especially your vocal performances. It’s very moving.

I felt close to her and her story, and quite empathic with her suffering. I was quite admiring of the things she had done, and questioning if I would have the strength to do that if I was called upon in that kind of situation.

Well, the CD sounds great. ‘Noor’ is due for a September release so be sure to check out Geoffrey’s website and pick up a copy!
( www.geoffreyarmes.com)

Ladies Center Stage at the Vintage lounge 

I was very pleased with all the great music I heard at the Vintage Lounge in Levittown on Ladies Center Stage night. Vinnie Dimarco continues to cement his reputation for putting together solid shows with well- matched bands and solo performers.

Kathy Fleischmann was the first to perform. She played a fine set of original songs that were rich in melody and lyric detail. She did great renditions of "14th Floor", "Iowa" and "Eyes Like Natalie Wood" from her most recent CD, Unresolved. She also played a few new songs. "Tulsa", inspired by a photo essay, was a vivid song of life on the streets. "Erasing Me Away", about how desperate a person can feel trying to continue a relationship when they know it's over, was another standout. She also treated us to a slow, moody rendition of the REM classic, "The One I Love". Kathy connects with the audience because she's comfortable on stage and she sings from the heart of the song.

Patti Marone was up next. Frank Walker accompanied her on guitar. Patti began her set with a few original songs from her CD, Myopic Melodies. It's easy to see that Patti enjoys singing catchy love songs, from her originals like "I Still Wait" and "Childhood Sweethearts", to well-chosen cover songs "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" and "Be My Baby". Patti was in fine voice. She and Frank harmonized very well together on a number of songs. When she grabbed a guitar for "Heart of Hope" and a Joe Rock song called "The Life I Choose", Frank had the opportunity to play some tasty lead guitar while Patti took over the rhythm duties. She ended her set with a Tom Cavanaugh song, "Looking Back".

The Blaque Rose Project is a five piece band with a heavy, somewhat dark sound. Lead vocalist Jennifer has the perfect voice for this band. Slow brooding guitar arpeggios built into hard-rock choruses. Jennifer handled the soft sections and the loud, heavy-with-crunch-guitar sections with equal ease. "Run" and "Let Go" were especially strong songs that fit this mold. It's always great to hear a band that understands how to use dynamics to build a song's intensity. The guitarist played melodic solos that fit the songs well, no empty shredding here. The last song of their set "Carry Her up to the Dark" was also very strong.

One True Thing ended the night with an electrifying performance. They truly rocked the house. Lead singer Melanie Wills was emotional and engaging. This four piece band has been together in various forms since 1990, and the commitment these musicians have to their music comes across. All of the songs were well- written and tightly played. The band had great stage presence, especially front-woman Melanie. They made great use of dynamics, had inventive arrangements, and played with 100 percent focus. "Greasy Jungle" and "I'll Wait" were especially good. They ended their set with another fine song "Tired". Solid, energetic, professional - this is a very cool band.

for additional info see: myspace.com/vinnypresents

Cloud9 Recording - A Great Place to Make a Record 

Cloud9 Recording is owned and operated by brothers Joe and Jack Napoli. When I recently asked Joe Napoli why a band should choose to record at Cloud9 instead of using home gear or going to a budget priced project studio I expected an answer that addressed the technical advantages. I expected to hear about Cloud9’s new mixing console custom built by Andrew Roberts from Purple Audio, or their impressive instrument collection (37 guitars, 43 amps, many microphones & mic pre amps, numerous snare drums). I thought he’d mention the floating-room non-parallel wall construction of his facility and how that provides optimum conditions for recording music. I thought we’d talk about the flexibility of Pro-Tools editing at Cloud9 or the fact that they provide both digital and analog recording.

Joe’s answer addressed the heart of the matter. “What makes Cloud9 important is the environment here is conducive to making a great record. It’s about making something that’s going to move people emotionally. We bring the A-game. I can’t remember a time when someone was prepared and focused in Cloud9 that we didn’t exceed expectations for the recording.”

Joe and Jack’s A-game is what has attracted bands like Nine Days to record at Cloud9. It’s what recently brought a young band called The Vacancies in from Ohio to record their debut CD for Joan Jett’s Black Heart Records with Kenny Laguna producing. It brought New Jersey duo Aerial Acoustics to Cloud9 to record one of their fine CDs. Word is getting out on Long Island’s best-kept secret – this affordable pro recording studio really supports the artist.

Bands sometimes think that going to a pro studio like Cloud9 is out of reach because it will be too costly. However, being prepared and being able to communicate your ideas to the producer/engineer makes working in a professional facility affordable. Joe Napoli agrees. “If you know what you want, and you’re working with professional people in a professional environment you can get a tremendous amount of work done for a reasonable amount of money.”

Joe speaks the truth. I’ve recorded a full-length CD and a CD single at Cloud9 and both experiences were extremely positive. I went in to each session with an ambitious list of tracks I wanted to accomplish and every day we completed my list and then went further. Over the years I’ve played in many bands and recorded in numerous studios. Cloud9 is the most artist-focused recording studio I’ve been in. As a solo artist who likes full band arrangements on my recordings, they were even able to hook me up with first-rate musicians like Meatloaf’s drummer John Micelli and Nine Days bassist Nick Dimichino for my sessions. They took the time to understand my vision and then provided the tools and talent to help me get there – and they do this for all of their clients.

Local bands and solo artists, bands with recording contracts, and producers looking for great sounding performance and mixing rooms have all benefited from the commitment, experience, and excellent gear at Cloud9 Recording. Joe Napoli sums it up, “I care about my work. I love what I do. This is the best job in the universe for me.” His enthusiasm and dedication to his craft are evident as soon as you walk in the studio – it’s a great place to make a record. To learn more about Cloud9 Recording visit their website: www.cloud9recording.com.