Song 37 – All I Ask

Back in high school, the band teacher told a story about a woman singing so beautifully that a microphone caught on fire. “Her singing was that good!!!”, he exclaimed. Well, I always assumed that was a metaphor. It had to be, right? Microphones don’t just catch on fire for good singing.

At least, that’s what I thought up until two weeks ago. Miriam Chicurel-Bayard (of Mary Johnson Rockers and the Spark) came over to record a vocal track for my new song and, from the moment I pressed record, I thought my microphone was going to catch on fire. Her singing was that good!!! The harmonies and contrasting rhythms she had come up with were blowing my mind. The entire part mesmerized me. When it was over, I tried to play it cool. “That sounded nice…”, I said, immediately qualifying myself for the annual “understatement of the year” award.

A few days later I was at Warrior Sound recording Robert Cantrell’s drum parts. Like Miriam, Robert had clearly done his homework. He knew exactly what to play and the drums fit the song like a glove. As always, Al, the chief engineer at Warrior, had dialed in the perfect sound, putting just the right microphones in front of each piece of Robert’s drum kit. The kick drum was pumping and the cymbals were creating a glorious wash. Then, just when I didn’t think it could get any better, Robert played a drum roll on the snare that, for the second time in a week, made me think one of Al’s priceless microphones had surely caught on fire. It sounded that good!!! (you can spot this drum roll at the end of the last chorus).

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From left to right, the normal guitar, the tenor guitar and the ukulele! The tenor has four strings tuned like a cello and, while it’s not the biggest instrument, has a huge sound!

Folks! I hope you enjoyed my first song for 2016. As you might have guessed, I wrote it on a night when I couldn’t sleep; I have voice memos recorded at 4am to prove it. Writing a song in the middle of the night can have a strong impact on how it sounds in the end. Even though I had the door closed, I didn’t want to wake anyone else up, so I sang as low and softly as I could. This vocal style, “low and soft”, was then carried all the way through to the final version. This song also features a tenor guitar that I received as a gift last month. Tenor guitars are tuned like cellos, making them the perfect “guitar” like instrument for me to play. They are a little smaller than normal guitars, and a little bigger than ukuleles, but they can make huge sounds, as you hear in this song.

I hope everyone has a great February! If you’d like to sing or play along with this song, here’s the song sheet.

Also, don’t forget to mark your calendars for Saturday, March 5th! The Starmakers will play an album release show at Mystery Brewing in Hillsborough starting at 8pm. Come on out to help celebrate!

Song 36 – Girl You Know It’s True

That’s right! We just mashed up Milli Vanilli‘s “Girl You Know It’s True” and “Top That!” from Teen Witch – two things that were both the best and worst of 1989.

Recording the chorus. Photo taken by Johnathan Durlam

Recording the chorus. All photos taken by Dudatron.

If you’re new to Milli Vanilli, the short version of the story is this: after spending too much money on clothes and hairstyling they were forced to lip-sync a massive hit that won them a Grammy. Also, they had smooth moves, here are two of them:

  • The side-to-side flail:

  • The side-to-side foot swap:

And if you’re new to Teen Witch, it’s one of those “it’s so bad it’s good” type things, but really, it’s just bad. I mean unbelievably bad:

Folks, we’ve just wrapped up the third year and 36th song of a project that almost didn’t last a single month.

When I started, the goal was clear – 12 songs in 12 months. I thought that if I made it to the end, and that was a big IF, I’d be tired of writing music with a deadline. However, as I got close to the end of the year, I still had tunes I wanted to record. Rather than being at the end of my creativity, I was just starting up. So I pressed on, finishing a second year, and now a third.

Just like the end of the first year, I still have songs floating around in my head to record. Some are new and some have been floating around for years – some are completed and some are half written. It seems like it would be a shame to stop. So I’m going to “keep on keepin’ on” (as they say in the music biz). I’ll stick with the monthly deadline because, after three years, it’s clear that it works for me. It’s enough time to fuss over the little details, but not too much time to get lost in them forever.

Also, as much as this project has been about writing and recording songs, it has been about learning – learning about writing melodies and lyrics. Learning how to play new instruments. Learning how to sing and how to collaborate with other musicians. Learning how to record, edit, mix and master the sounds that make up the songs. I’ve come a long way at every stage, but I also feel like I’ve just begun. The more I learn, the more I realize how much there is to learn…. and this is exciting!

Happy New Year and I hope we all have a great 2016!

A mid-dinner party recording session.

A mid-dinner party recording session.

p.s. You may be wondering who’s making the ruckus at the start and end of this month’s song. It’s a group of friends who came over for a dinner party. Between the main course and dessert, I made everyone help me out with a little bit of silliness. And just so you don’t think I made it up myself, the dialogue at the start is quoted from the original release of “Girl You Know It’s True”.

Song 35 – Christmas In Rio!

Available on iTunes and Amazon and everywhere else great music is sold! Buy it as a gift for your friends and loved ones, or just buy it for yourself. You’ll be supporting my project and sharing a smile at the same time.

Folks, it wasn’t that long ago when this song came to me… I was waiting in a parking lot. I had my trusty ukulele with me and, after checking that there wasn’t anyone nearby, I pulled it out for a strum. The first words that came to me were, “The sun shines down on Rio”. I was strumming slowly, so I sang the words slowly. It was funny, in an ironic way; a sad song about how bright and sunny Rio de Janeiro is. Out of curiosity, I played and sang faster and, much to my surprise, the melody worked even better. “That’s it! That’s my holiday song!” I exclaimed before looking around the parking lot again to make sure I was alone. I wasn’t, and got a funny look from a guy parking a fancy sports car.

When Papai Noel shows up, the party begins!!!!

When Papai Noel shows up, the party begins!!!!

With the chorus in hand, the rest of the song wrote itself in the next few minutes. All that was left was a little research on what Christmas would be like in Rio (having never experienced it myself). Here’s what I found…

On the commercial side of things, Papai Noel and Bom Velhinho are both names for Santa Claus. It’s believed he lives in Greenland (which, incidentally, is where Fezzik is from – for all you fans of The Princess Bride). There is also a secret santa event called Amigo Secreto. More traditionally, the Brazilian version of Silent Night is Noite Feliz. The manger scene is called presépio, and a reenactment of the nativity is called Os Pastores. However, Brazilians add a dramatic twist to this story by having a gypsy try to kidnap the little baby Jesus while he’s learning about colors and shapes. (Note: only the iTunes / Amazon version has the bit about os pastores – we ran out of time making the video!) Lastly, there’s a midnight mass called Missa do Galo (the mass of the rooster). I added the bit about eating a feijoada just because that’s what I’d be doing.

Although I’d like to take credit for playing and recording everything, this song wouldn’t be the same without Brian Risk, who made this crazy awesome video and played all kinds of parts in the song, and Robert Cantrell, who add the amazing Brazilian percussion parts, helping me out every step of the way. I’m lucky to have these guys help bring my parking lot visions to reality!

Have a great December! Here’s the song sheet.

 

November Song Teaser – Garota De Ipanema

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I know a lot of people are expecting a new tune today! I’ve got it ready, and it is awesome! One of my best. However, I’m also working on a video to go with it and it won’t be ready for a few more days. To tide you over, here’s a little something you might enjoy – Garota De Ipanema, aka, The Girl From Ipanema. I recorded my version of this classic song as a birthday present for a good friend from Rio. The percussion consists of “toys” people have brought me from Brazil over the years.

p.s. If you’re dying to hear the new tune, you can get a sneak peak at it on my soundcloud site.

 

Song 34 – October – Far and Wide

Folks, I almost feel guilty about publishing this tune. We’d been having a good go with upbeat tunes, and this one is anything but. I feel like I’ve turned off the stereo during an awesome dance party. I would like to keep the festivities going, but I also want to get this tune out – I guess just a little bit more. It’s been swirling around my head for a few months – inspired by a friend’s recent experience. Once I’d heard their story, this song just wrote itself.

Sometimes we find ourselves all alone.

Sometimes we find ourselves all alone when we don’t want to be.

So yes, this is a sad song, but it’s also a song that makes me very happy for a few reasons. One is that I’ve wanted to record a duet with my niece, Danielle, for a long time. But how do we record a duet if my brother’s family is a 10 hour drive from where I live? Well, it turns out Danielle has a friend with a recording studio! So I sent her an early draft of the song and she recorded herself singing along with it. I feel so lucky to have Danielle sing with me. Her voice is amazing.

I’m also happy that I finally recorded my friend Mara Shea playing fiddle. I’ve been playing waltzes with her for a few years at the Senior Center on Thursday nights and always admired her lush, rich sound. I’m always inspired by the melodies that she improvises and I was lucky to finally capture them for one of my songs.

Lastly, I’m happy that my friends and fellow Star Makers, Brian and Robert, also played parts in this song. All told, this is the most collaborative song I’ve recorded in the three years since I started the project. As a result, “Far and Wide” is both a sad song about a couple separating, and a happy song about friends getting together, collaborating and making something beautiful.

When the going get's rough, it's a good time to get together with friends.

So, when that happens, it’s a good time to get together with friends!

Folks, I hope you had a great month! It’s starting to get cold here in North Carolina and winter is just around the corner. If you’d like to sing or play along with the tune, here’s the song sheet.

Song 33 – September – That’s Alright

Lately I’ve been having a lot of fun experimenting with my songs, and this new one is no exception. The past 32 songs I’ve recorded have all been one layer (or instrument) at a time. I’ll start by recording a single ukulele part. Then I’ll record another instrument. And then another. I just add sounds, one part at a time, until I’ve created a rich sonic space that’s deeply layered.

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This time, however, I wanted to record as much as I could all at the same time. Not only that, I didn’t want the song to feel like each note had been precisely placed with tweezers; I wanted to capture the fun, energy and messiness of learning a new tune. So we (The Star Makers) only ran through this one a few times before recording it. In the end, we were able to capture almost everything live (including the energy and fun). After we had a good take, we added clapping and I doubled the mandolin solo to make it easier to hear in the mix.

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I hope everyone had a great September! I had a wonderful month. Recording this song, a playful spoof on my relationship with the folks that live across the street, was a highlight, but I also traveled to New York City to perform with a dance company. It was a blast getting to spend 5 days rehearsing and performing there. If you’d like to play or sing along with this tune, here’s the song sheet. And last, but certainly not least, all of the pictures and the video were taken by Kacy Jung.

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Recipe – S. P.’s Vinaigrette

This salad dressing is great on salads, but it's also great as a dip for bread.

This salad dressing is great on salads, but it’s also great as a dip for bread.

I know, I know, the salad days are almost gone, so it seems silly to be posting a dressing recipe this late in the season. This, one, however, is too good to hold back any longer. And once you dip some bread into this, you’ll be making it year round, just like me.

In a medium bowl (or jar, if you want to minimize dishes), combine:

1 small shallot, finely diced
1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
2 ½ Tbs. champagne vinegar
Fresh ground pepper to taste
¼ – ½ tsp. honey

Let the mixture marinate for 30 minutes and then whisk in:

½ cup olive oil

Serve over salads or as a dipping sauce for bread. Store in a sealed jar in the refrigerator. It will last a long time.

This picture is just to give you an idea of what a "small" shallot is.

This picture is just to give you an idea of what a “small” shallot is.

small_shallot_diced

Here’s what “finely diced” means.