It's a strange stage in the making of Resurrection Letters.
I've been focusing on the two new websites that are imminent, Gully's been mainly working on his new record, and Ben has been working diligently on string parts.
Progress is being made on the record, but right now there's not much to share.
Redneck in Europe (I think that's his name) asked about how we approach recording a guest musician like Stuart Duncan.
Stuart, for those of you who aren't familiar with him, is one of the most tasteful, right-on, goose-bump-inducing fiddle players around. He's highly regarded in the bluegrass world, but he's also capable (as you can hear on songs like Pierce Pettis's "Little River Canyon") of improvising beautiful melodies. He also played on Nanci Griffith's Other Voices, Other Rooms, which remains one of my favorite Americana albums. There's a heartbreaking story-song on that album called "Tecumseh Valley", and Stuart's lonesome sound pretty much makes the song for me.
So how do we approach recording someone like Stuart? Basically, you push record and get out of the way. The reason you pay a guy like that to play on your song is because you like the way he hears. We have in mind what we'd like, but the best thing to do is to keep your mouth shut and let his sensibilities inform what he plays. Most of the time what he brings to the table is better than you might've imagined, so before you start telling him what you hear, let him have a shot at it. After two or three takes, if he hasn't gotten exactly what you want in a certain part of the song, you can stop and make suggestions.
For me, the thrill of songwriting and recording comes when, like I said last week, the final product exceeds your expectations and even your capabilities. Letting the musicians (Andy and Ben, for example) breathe and stretch (perhaps) beyond what you had originally envisioned for the song is creativity at its finest. I know my gifts (which is another way of saying I know my limitations), which is why I'm pleased to share the recording of these songs with people whose talents pick up where mine leave off.
That allows me to view the end-product objectively, to take pleasure and pride in it, and helps me to remember that it is God's work. I'm invited to commune with him in his work, but in the end, everything beautiful comes from him.
For example, I just finished listening to Ben's string parts on the three songs we're recording tomorrow. He writes the parts in Finale and records the program playing a cheezy sounding synthesized version of the strings over the track. You can hear the parts and make edits to them before you spend a zillion bucks with the string players.
Not only is Ben great at writing parts, I can hear his care and concern for the songs, and more importantly what he hopes the songs do in people's hearts. Writing a string score is something I could never do. For that matter, Ben can't play a lick on the violin. But tomorrow we'll listen the songs that I wrote with the strings that he composed being played by David Davidson and his friends, and I'm almost guaranteed to cry at the beauty of it.
Heck, I cried today listening to the hokey synth-strings.
The Kingdom is a beautiful thing.