Hey! Hope you are all recovering nicely from the Christmas festivities and are looking forward to turning over a new leaf on Thursday. Challenges though there may be, 2009 promises to be an exciting new year. As some of you may know (or may not), I’m in the studio phase of a new CD project titled Welcome Home. The CD will have 11 – 13 of my songs on it, all with Florida themes and including a wide range of rather amazing musicians / singers. This “studio diary” will be my way of letting you know where we are in the process, what’s involved and give you a glimpse of what it takes to put out a significant project like this. I hope you enjoy these entries as much as many of you tell me you enjoy my “notes from the road.” The original concept for this project was to collect my best “Florida” material all onto one CD. The final number of songs is not yet determined simply because we want the flexibility to “reject” cuts if in the end a song doesn’t seem to fit with the others. A few of the songs have appeared on previous albums, but have been rearranged and / or rewritten so that everything is a fresh take on the song even if it has previously been recorded. These songs include Steam Train, Teppintine, A Mother’s Tears, Banks of the Old St. Johns and Marker 26. These are all new recordings of these tunes with new instrumentation and, in some cases, revisions to the lyrics and melodies. The other songs on the CD have never been recorded. They include: Welcome Home (for Steve Blackwell), State of Dreams, Yellow Butter Moon, Hemingway’s Hurricane, Big Bald Cypress, On the Other Side, Withlacoochee Dreamer and Okeechobee. I’ve been performing most of these tunes in my shows and at festivals for varying periods of time, but even these have undergone some scrutiny and revisions to both lyrics and melody. Consequently, everything on the project has a “fresh” feel. I began recording tracks for the project in August. I have worked for a long time with Ron Litchauer at Acoustic Music Productions in West Palm Beach. Ron does a superb job and I saw no reason to change that successful piece of the puzzle. I do my tracks in a “live in the studio” fashion, meaning that I record my guitar and vocal simultaneously. Many artists (probably the majority) record the guitar and vocal separately. This makes it much easier to “fix” mistakes by going back and simply redoing the small part, sometimes just a note or two, that weren’t performed correctly. Doing it the way I do “fixes” are much more limited because the vocal mic is picking up some guitar sound and the guitar mic some vocal (called “bleed”). Consequently, I can’t go back and just fix a guitar part without also singing the vocal and vice versa. As a result, fixes are rare and only when absolutely necessary. In most circumstances when I fix something it involves “puching in” just before the error and then playing the song out from there fresh. Punching back out so that what is happening with both guitar and vocal matches exactly what exists on the original take is very difficult so it usually just requires, in essence, a new take of the song from the part I want to change forward. Though it is more cumbersome, to me it gives the recording more of a “performance” feel with respect to my lead vocals and rhythm guitar. New for this project is a producer – a guy who listens with a critical ear, decides on arrangements, sets the sequencing of the songs (the order they appear on the CD) and, in general, assures the best possible performance from everyone involved. I have an excellent producer here, my friend Jason Thomas who many of you know as the fiddler / mandolinist for the Grammy nominated Clare Lynch Band and, here in Florida, for Gatorbone. Jason’s training and skill as a musician have blessed him with an amazing ear for arrangements and a steadfast insistence on quality in all musical aspects of the project. In every planning or recording session I learn something new from Jason and its exciting watching him direct the progress of the studio work. At this point we have done a lot of work at Ron’s studio in West Palm and at Gatorbone Studio’s in Keystone Heights. I am THRILLED to have Lis & Lon Williamson and Gabe Valla of Gatorbone appearing on many of the songs. They are just some of the most talented musicians of the many Florida has to offer, the real cream of the crop, and I can tell you from the early rough mixes that their contribution here is stellar . Another very special aspect of the project is that the title track, Welcome Home, the song I wrote for Steve Blackwell when he passed a couple of years ago, features the members of Steve’s own band, Steve Blackwell & Friends. Carrie Blackwell-Hussey, Dan Leach, Japhy Blackwell and Andy Leach all contribute to this very special part of the album. Dan, Carrie, Japhy and Tiffiny Coffey (who also contributes wonderful harmonies to the song) continue to perform as Still Friends and if you get the chance you should not miss them! Other Florida artists who will appear on the album include Jason Thomas (of course), Bob Rafkin and Billy Varner. More may be added as we put on the finishing touches, but those are the ones we’ve already got committed at present. Coming up next weekend is a VERY exciting component of the project. Jason and I fly up to Nashville for three days of recording at Rec Room Studios where we’ll be working with (drum roll please) Claire Lynch (twice IBMA vocalist of the year and Grammy nominee), Jim Hurst (multi-time IBMA guitarist of the year), Rob Ickes (many time IBMA dobro / slide player of the year) and Missy Raines, leader of the award winning group The New Hip. This brings the best of Florida together with the best of Nashville and we are looking to produce something truly special with this amazingly talented team. That’s more than enough for now. I’ll post more information about other aspects of the production (photography, graphics, manufacturing, etc.) as I go along. I’ll also let you know how we do in Nashville this weekend. We are shooting for a release date of April 3rd, in time for Will McLean in Dunnellon. Stay tuned!!