session log: michael tearson’s “stuff that works”, part three

so by this time, a ton of the legwork has been done on the tearson record, and we’re getting down to the point where a lot of what’s left is essentially…the cameos.

one of those would be today, when we took the hard drive to elm street studios to have charter hooters keyboardist rob hyman cut accordion and melodica on michaels’ version of darrell scotts’ song this beggars’ heart.

the studio crew for the first "cameo day"...
left to right: andy kravitz, tom hampton, michael tearson, rob hyman

i had been a fly on the wall at elm street before, during a hooters rehearsal during my tenure in john lilley‘s band – and it’s an A room, from top to bottom. from gear to amenities, i don’t think there’s a better studio in the philadelphia area…it’s a comfortable hang, the room sounds phenomenal, and the work that’s come out of there speaks for itself. (for instance, fans of dar williams may recall some of her recent work having been created there) i don’t know a lot of the history of the room, but it apparently began life as rob’s brainchild, and has blossomed into a great place to work.

planning a recorder overdub at elm street with rob hyman

the conversation that occured that brought rob into the fray on this record occured – i think – between andy and michael at some point early on, as we were fleshing out the particular song that we wanted to have rob play on. the basic track was michael’s vocal over a weissenborn track, and i added a pass of mandola right after cutting the basic track, and someone mentioned at the point the mandola track had gone down that we should get rob to play accordion on it – so after a couple of emails and phone calls, we were ready to put it down. the initial session was scheduled last week, but the weather forced us to postpone it until today.

when i got there, michael had already arrived, along with andy and rob…and john senior (head engineer at elm street) walked in the door almost right behind me – rob gave us all a walkthrough while we were waiting for the session to be set up, and we all kinda fell back into the lounge area and hung out for a bit while andy and john set about prepping – accordion would be first, through a pair of coles ribbon mics run into the studios’ API console, but folded through indentical tektronix LA-2A compressors before going into protools. once rob was happy with the levels, he laid down two separate pads of accordion – one was more of a “bed”, while the other had a little more movement to it – both sat perfectly within the track, and it’ll pose an interesting dilemma during mixdown when we have to choose between one or the other, or – perhaps – end up blending the two of them.

when it came time to cut the melodica track, we had all agreed that rob should largely disregard the mandola track that was already laid down, as i’d probably recut it after the fact to eliminate any possibility of the mandola track either clouding the melodica or potentially distracting from the note selection of the solo – and rob understood, but when he went in to actually lay down the melodica track, the part that he played ended up complementing the mandola track that was already there in a way that it might very well be an unwinnable argument to insist on recutting the mandola – i may very well be stuck with that part that’s on there at this point…but time will tell.


there’s also a walk-up, from the root chord to the five of the progression, that occurs right after the solo section…and we’d worried that the walk-up might not be stated with enough emphasis as we were cutting the basic track, but after rob’s contribution…well, i don’t think that’s a worry anymore. it’s not overstated, but it lifts the arrangement in a way that makes that lift unmissable, even if you’re just casually listening to the song. the chords pass in such a way that it sounds as if they’re part of the songs’ respiratory process. it’s such a simple thing on paper…to execute something like that…but sometimes it’s the simple stuff that really fouls you up. for a player like rob, it didn’t pose much of a challenge, though – he executed it brilliantly.

the whole thing was done, tracks rendered and bounced onto our hard drive, in the matter of a couple of hours – and that included horseplay time. rob did a phenomenal job, john senior made it absolutely painless, and we were on our way. hopefully, the remaining cameos will fly by with as much ease.

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