sometimes, a project will reveal itself to you very early on in the process…whether it be a start-up band or an album or a session, you can draw a bead on what direction it’s going to take almost before you get all your cases put away.
it’s definitely been that way with my recently-christened “tuesday night music club”.
(yes, i know the name is taken, but it’s appropriate, so i’m keeping it. i thought that album sucked anyway, and deserved perhaps twenty percent of the hype it got…witness the number of times you hear the flagship song from that thing in public anymore – it’s easy to get sick of.)
dan may convened anthony newett and myself about a month ago to start working through some of the rough song ideas we’d been accumulating of late (to include two snippets of acoustic guitar riffs that mike kurman, our bassist, recorded during soundcheck at sellersville last year). the first night we got together, we shaped two of these ideas into finished songs in one session – roughly three hours. the following week, two more finished songs in the same timespan. in fact, it’s gotten to the point that if we don’t get two songs either completely arranged or very near completion, it feels like an incomplete session.
often, dan will take the track home with him with the instruments anthony and i have recorded and a single guide vocal, and he’ll layer harmonies over his original vocal at home and send the results to us via email later in the week…and, of course, those of you who either know me personally or have followed my writings know how i feel about that. 🙂
(for the uninitiated, dan may is probably one of the three or four best vocalists alive today when it comes to blending his own voice in harmony on record…he’s right up there with david crosby, with fogelberg, with michael mcdonald…any of them. seriously. he’s that friggin’ awesome.)
anyway, this whole thing started because i started noodling on my guitar during an idle moment at a soundcheck at sellersville a few months ago, and dan recorded what i was doing to write a song around it…this had happened a couple of times, and he was starting to form a small backlog, so we decided to lock down some time to sit down together and finish these songs. by the time we’d actually gotten together the first time, dan had already constructed a structure for the songs and had finished lyrics for them…so all that really remained was to refine the chord structure to match the vocal melody dan had constructed and the song was essentially finished. so, since that one was wrapped up so quickly, we just moved on to another one.
these sessions have been going by every bit that quickly…in roughly a months’ time (missing a week due to jury duty here, an in-law visit there), we’ve finished over half an albums’ worth of songs…and that’s just the stuff that we’ve collaborated on since starting this routine.
this past week, though, we shifted our focus a bit.
dan was invited by helen leicht from wxpn to record a cover of a bruce springsteen song for a planned xpn celebration of bruces’ sixtieth birthday later this year. she’d specifically asked him to choose something from born to run (excellent call, if i do say so myself – although dan was a little intimidated at first, i think), so we started examining songs. dan sent me a funny email running down some of the songs…born to run (“which no one in their right mind would try to cover”), jungleland (“9:35….nope.”)…but i think it was pretty much a slam dunk that we take on thunder road.
the only other person i’d ever heard take that song on – that i could remember, anyway – was melissa etheridge. i have a lot of respect for her as a songwriter, but her overwrought, michael boltonesque vocal delivery has always bugged me…so that certainly wasn’t a factor in swaying me towards that song. i just had a notion that there was a way to do that song in a manner that would allow dan to put his stamp on it.
we were talking about it on the phone, and i mentioned to him that he should download you’re only lonely by j.d. souther from the iTunes store next time he stopped in, and try to envision doing thunder road with a similar tempo and feel, and we’d change the instrumentation in a similar fashion and push it in that direction. to me, this had a couple of advantages – for one thing, it would allow dan to bring out some of the nuances in the vocal melody that are lost in bruces’ version…(because, let’s face it – i love bruce as much as the next guy, but he has a tendency to stuff a lot of lyric into a little bit of space. it’s not good or bad, it’s just bruce.) two, it would give us license to really put our own stamp on it and personalize the song…because, let’s face it – to try to duplicate the born to run version would really be pointless.
some people are gonna love it, some are gonna despise it, but you can say that about pretty much any cover version of an iconic song. no sense worrying about that…we’ve got a job to do, here.
tuesday night, we put up the original and all three of us agreed that it was too fast at its original speed to try and cover without referring too directly to the original version…we didn’t set out to completely divorce ourselves from bruces’ version of the song or anything like that, we just wanted to put a signature at the bottom of the page, if you know what i mean. if we wanted to destroy it, we’d have done a ska version of it, or maybe a swingin’ pat booneish version.
anyway, this past tuesday night, we got solid piano, bass and acoustic guitar, plus dans’ scratch vocal…we’re going to add some baritone guitar, perhaps pedal steel, and a couple members of the mandolin family next week and then start working on refining the drums, i think. we’re well ahead of our deadline right now, so it’s all pretty relaxed and condusive to experimentation at the moment.
that is, until anthony suggests that we take a break and get out the twister mat.