Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Deeper Blue

"I think we're making a late 1970s Emmylou Harris record here."

Here’s the story: Laurie's husband, Joe, passed away in April of 2015 and not too long after I picked up the phone to call Laurie. There had been a fair amount of news coverage surrounding Joe's death and, in particular, the path he chose to die with dignity, Laurie at his side. One picture in the newspaper featured Joe in bed, near death; for me, still hard to process. But the picture also showed Laurie, too, right next to Joe, singing him a song and playing the ukulele with a smile on her face. The picture represented everything I love – we all love – about Laurie and her songs: heartwarming, heartbreaking, tough as nails despite it all, defiantly joyful, and with you to the bitter end, no matter what. I said: "I can't shake that image, Laurie. What song were you singing to Joe?" She said, "Rocky, I think I need to make an album."



That began our three-year quest, of sorts, to make a record that would serve as a cathartic outlet for Laurie in this incredible time of transition and pain and, quite purposefully, draw in some of the most creative folks we knew. I had recently reconnected with an old pal, Mike Tittel (of New Sincerity Works) – easily one of my favorite musicians – who had started a recording studio at Fruit Hill, outside of Cincinnati. Mike was trying to convince me at the time – he still is, actually – to record a new album but I told him about Laurie and her story and we all agreed: Laurie's record was the priority. We cut the first tracks – me on electric guitar, Mike on drums, and Laurie on uke and electric piano in the Fall of 2015. Right away, we knew we had half-a-dozen really great takes. It was early in the process, but they had soul and felt like the framework for a really special record. I told Laurie: "I think we're making a late 1970s Emmylou Harris record here." We knew, even then, we were going to walk away with a truly classic-sounding LP. Much later, Mike looked at the cover and said: "I can't tell if it's June Carter Cash or Juliana Hatfield," which, of course, is the nicest thing anyone could have said about the type of record Laurie and I had hoped to make.

Those half dozen songs from the first session became the basis to bring in the second half of the band – Chris Allen on acoustic, Al Moss on pedal steel, and the legendary producer Don Dixon on bass. After juggling schedules, we eventually hauled the aforementioned dream team to Fruit Hill to get 'em on tape. To say it was an honor to have them work on this record is certainly an understatement. Chris and Laurie, of course, had years of experience playing as a duo across Ohio and have a sonic mind-meld that allowed Chris' acoustic guitar to drop right into the mix. Al Moss, one of a small group of Cleveland musicians who I consider my cosmic and musical brethren, not only added key melodies throughout, but also a few solos that left us all either applauding or stunned silent in the studio. And, what can I say about having Don play his Silvertone bass on this record? A dream come true. Above all, these guys played and sang on this record with such generosity and sense of purpose for Laurie that I still get a chill listening back now. A year and a half after Laurie had written: "It's gonna be alright," as a reminder to herself in a trying time, they sang it right back to her, in harmony, with such conviction that you just knew it had to be true. After the very last take, at midnight following a full day of recording, the skies opened up, and we dragged all of the gear back up the hill in the pouring rain, confirming the adage: "If you want a perfect storm, stand under the cloud."

We recorded the rest of the album – minus vocals – back at Laurie's house in Oxford so we could cut live baby-grand piano and Hammond A-100 in the music room Joe had built for Laurie years ago. John Kogge – Laurie's long-time partner in crime – stopped by and sang harmony on one of the album's most affecting songs, "Pauline," still a treat for me to hear. Laurie re-recorded her vocals with our new pal, the super-talented Mike Landis – who also mixed the record – at Fruit Hill until she had 'em perfect. A few months later, Landis finished up the mixes and it was off to be mastered. I shot the cover photo at the 3VERB studio here in Chicago.

It's still hard to believe we pulled it off. Along the way, we laughed, we cried, we made a pilgrimage to the now shuttered Hammond Organ factory in Chicago, discovered a jerk-chicken restaurant across the street from John Prine's childhood home, and celebrated each little rock 'n roll victory. I'm exceedingly proud of the final album and the way we did it. It's dedicated to Joe, of course; I know it honors his memory.

— Jon

Click here to buy the record. Click here for full liner notes/credits.

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