session log: craig bickhardt, “ancient lullabies” and “england or me”

so, craig called me to come in specifically for a song that he recorded for a philabundance compilation that our friend kyle is spearheading, called ancient lullabies – but we added another song to the docket that craig wrote about his in-laws, called england or me – it’s the story of eileen’s parents and their courtship during world war two.

the plan was for pedal steel on the first song and dobro on the second – which is what we ended up going with. i had thought that possibly mandolin or baritone guitar might work on the first song, but once the steel was cut, it was pretty clear that it didn’t really need anything else. michael ronstadt had put great cello parts on both of the songs, and there wasn’t really any need for any additional bottom end that the baritone would’ve covered, and the mandolin just seemed unnecessary.

i did maybe five or six passes of pedal steel (would’ve probably been less, had i clarified the change in the bridge before starting…i just couldn’t hear it. it happens, ya know) and we had enough that craig felt comfortable with moving on.

the second song, the one that i thought would be a cakewalk, gave me the most trouble.

it was a natural fit for the dobro – the song was in E, and i’d brought my dobro with the custom gauge strings for the D tuning along for the session, and i cranked ’em up to E – it took it a little longer than i would’ve thought it would for it to settle into the additional tension, and there were some tuning-slash-intonation issues with the first couple of takes, along with my learning curve.

once the instrument acclimated to the tuning, we did another four or five passes and, most likely, have enough to comp a solid dobro track from…but i have to say, i never really got comfortable with the second song.

i think that the biggest part of it was the whole tuning issue coming out of the gate – i’ve been doing this long enough that i should be beyond letting something like that throw me off my game, but i do feel like it reflects on my professionalism to show up for a session with an instrument that isn’t worthy of the session. and, it’s not really that the instrument was unworthy, it just didn’t acclimate as quickly as it probably should have, and it made me a little uptight, because then my playing became a lot more tentative than it should have been, and that cost me a couple of quality passes.

the silver lining is that i know craig well enough to know that if he doesn’t have what he needs, he’ll adjust – we’ll either do it again, or he’ll only use the good parts. he’s got a great ear, and he won’t use anything embarrasing that i’ll have to be ashamed of later. 🙂

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