Americana's Cross-County Lines hosted by Alison Krauss & Jerry DouglasBluegrass
You can categorize Alison Krauss in many ways — bluegrass experimentalist, pop-song connoisseur, Americana artist — but the singer, songwriter and fiddle player may be one of those rare cases in which a superb musician really does transcend genre. On her 2011 full-length, Paper Airplane, Krauss covered Richard Thompson’s “Dimming of the Day” in fine fashion, and also performed songs by Jackson Browne, Tim O’Brien and Peter Rowan. With her excellent band, Union Station, providing their own brand of subtle thrills, Paper Airplane was a very savvy singer-songwriter record with bluegrass overtones. She contributed a version of songwriter Ron Davies’ “Good Love After Bad” to this year’s full-length Unsung Hero: A Tribute to Ron Davies. Krauss hosts tonight’s event with fellow bluegrass musician Jerry Douglas, and the proceeds benefit the Americana Music Association.
Nashville TN | Country
Alison Krauss’ most recent triumph, the certified-platinum Raising Sand, her 2007 collaboration with Robert Plant and producer T Bone Burnett, notched up a total of six Grammy® Awards, including Album of the Year and Song of the Year, bringing her unsurpassed total to 26. That mesmerizing modern-day masterpiece sets the stage for another stunner: Paper Airplane, the artist’s first album of all-new recordings in partnership with her remarkably skillful and renowned band Union Station since 2004’s Lonely Runs Both Ways.
The players—Jerry Douglas (Dobro, lap steel, vocals), Dan Tyminski (guitar, mandolin, lead vocal), Ron Block (banjo, guitar) and Barry Bales (bass, vocals), with Krauss on lead vocal and fiddle—are five distinct personalities who come together to form something truly unique as a band. Each bandmate has his own bustling career, but when these singular musicians come together, they’re an airtight unit devoted to the process of making music together. Indeed, their connection is so close and deep that they’ve come to think of each other as family.
Produced by Krauss and Union Station, with studio legend Mike Shipley engineering and mixing, Paper Airplane contains 11 songs of poignancy and austere beauty, chosen with the impeccable taste and unerring intuition that have characterized her entire body of work, delivered by this world-class unit with an immediacy that goes beyond mere virtuosity.
Nashville TN | Country
Internationally recognized as the world's most renowned Dobro player, Jerry Douglas undoubtedly ranks amongst the top contemporary maestros in American music. Douglas has garnered thirteen GRAMMY® Awards and numerous International Bluegrass Music Association awards, and holds the distinction of being named "Musician of the Year" by The Country Music Association (2002, 2005, 2007), The Academy of Country Music (11 times), and The Americana Music Association (2002, 2003). In 2004, the National Endowment for The Arts honored Douglas with a National Heritage Fellowship, acknowledging his artistic excellence and contribution to the nation's traditional arts, their highest such accolade.
Austin TX | Pop
On All Fall Down, Shawn Colvin’s third Nonesuch disc, the singer-songwriter enlisted as producer her longtime friend and occasional band-mate, guitarist Buddy Miller. The sessions, at Miller’s home studio in Nashville, Tennessee, were distinguished, as Colvin describes them, by a kind of back-porch bonhomie. An open-door policy encouraged drop-ins from a number of stellar musicians, including singers Emmylou Harris, Allison Krauss, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Jakob Dylan as well as fiddle-player extraordinaire Stuart Duncan. The easygoing atmosphere, however, did not prevent the incisive Colvin, on these 11 new tracks, from examining some hard cold truths. Artfully pared-down arrangements mirror the compelling emotional directness of Colvin’s songs, in which she addresses the dissolution of a relationship with the sort of dry-eyed candor that has long been a hallmark of her work. The material often took shape with Colvin performing live in the studio, singing and playing acoustic guitar, and the tracks were then subtly embellished by an impressive ad hoc combo Miller had convened, featuring Bill Frisell on electric guitar, Viktor Krauss on bass, and Brian Blade on drums.
“I didn’t have a specific theme in mind when I started writing,” Colvin admits, “but I think the album is imbued with a sense of loss. I had gone through a relationship that didn’t work out. I’m getting older and so are my parents. So it’s a kind of breakup album, if you will. Not quite about reflection as much as it is about working through something painful. It portrays a sense of loss and redemption and “—she hastens to add—“resolution.”
The frankness in Colvin’s work has always been tempered by humor and sensuality and a gift for finding strong, simple melodies. She’s not one to directly take on social or political issues in her lyrics, but she’s bracingly honest about her own travails (and triumphs) and that resonates with her listeners. As she explains, “This is how I write. I don’t know how to make something personal and evocative that is a protest, a complaint or finger-pointing—unless it’s to a bad guy in a personal relationship.” Given Colvin’s approach to her music, it’s no surprise then that she agreed to take on the even more daunting—and revealing—task of writing a memoir. Before embarking on All Fall Down, she’d devoted much of her creative energy over the last few years to Diamond in the Rough (William Morrow/Harper Collins), an account of her life and work to date that is as forthright and fascinating as any of her songs. In her prose, she’s blunt about the emotional demons she’s faced over the years and generous in equal measure with insights into her songwriting and record-making, uncovering the creative roots of such songs as the 1998 Song of the Year and Record of the Year, Grammy Award–winning “Sunny Came Home.” Colvin is an openhearted storyteller who is certain to engage a readership well beyond her fan base. (She provides a vivid description of, among other things, the crumbling East Village tenement she first called home.) The publication of her memoir coincides with the release of All Fall Down.
Collaborating with Miller on All Fall Down seems particularly serendipitous in light of the tale Colvin recounts in Diamond in the Rough. It was Miller, more than 30 years ago, who encouraged the young Colvin to come to New York City and sing in his band. He’d first encountered her when Colvin was trying to make it as a musician in Austin, Texas. She was more of a country-rock singer then, doing other artists’ material, with no repertoire of her own; by the time Buddy got back in touch, the restless Colvin had already decamped for San Francisco, but she wisely heeded Buddy’s call to head east. After a fair amount of gigging around with Miller and his cohorts and providing back-up for performers like the already up-and-coming Suzanne Vega, Colvin discovered her own voice as a songwriter. In the late 1980s, she was offered her first major label deal on the strength of a live cassette she’d been selling at her shows. With years of dues-paying work behind her, she was suddenly in the right place, at the right time. Her 1989 debut album, Steady On, yielded a Best Contemporary Folk Album Grammy.
Colvin and Miller’s paths continued to cross over the years, and she invited him to play guitar with her when she hit the road in support of her 2006 Nonesuch debut, These Four Walls. Subsequently, Colvin and fellow singers Harris and Patty Griffin put together an informal vocal trio and successfully toured with Miller, billing themselves as Three Girls and their Buddy.
Given the Nashville setting of All Fall Down, Colvin and Miller took an intriguingly counter-intuitive approach by bringing in guitarist Frisell and drummer Blade, eclectic players more often associated with jazz dates (though Frisell has recorded his own austere interpretations of country tunes and Blade has done extraordinary work accompanying Joni Mitchell). Bassist Viktor Krauss is equally versatile, with credentials in the jazz, country, and rock worlds. They create a sound that is airy yet expressive; Frisell’s guitar curls around Colvin’s word as if he were embroidering her very thoughts, especially on “Anne of The Thousand Days," a rueful account of facing a lover’s past. Says Colvin of the music Frisell had given her, “I was so moved by it, I thought my lyrics were going to be romantic and profound and beautiful, but instead I wrote this stream-of-consciousness journal. The lyrics came to me right away; they’re not particularly poetic. The song is more like a conversation and has a truthful intimacy.” She takes a more confrontational tone on “I Don’t Know You,” co-written by Krauss, with gentler verses building to a confident full-on rock chorus, bolstered by jangly electric guitars and Allison Krauss’s harmony vocal. “Know What I Know Now,” composed with longtime writing partner John Leventhal, has a similar swagger.
Country elements are at times incorporated into the mix, via pedal steel and fiddle, perhaps most memorably on “Change Is on the Way,” co-written with Griffin. Colvin had been performing it solo live and thought she’d approach it the same way in the studio—until Miller suggested that violinist Duncan add an almost Celtic–sounding fiddle part that echoes Colvin’s vocal. By the second verse, a pedal steel twang comes in, and the track has been transformed into a melancholic country waltz. As Colvin enthuses, “Being in Nashville, it just astounded me. Beyond the core band, we didn’t discuss who else was going to be on the record, but we’d get to a point where we’d decide, ’This sounds like it should have some background vocals on it,’ and Buddy would say, ’Well, let’s call Allison,’ or ’Let’s call Emmylou.’ There was just an embarrassment of riches in that town—Stuart Duncan, the keyboard player John Deaderick. We’d say, ’Come on over!’ and there they were.”
Once again, Colvin astutely selects cover songs, seamlessly working other writers’ material into the disc-through story she’s telling. (No surprise: her acclaimed 1994 album of interpretations, Cover Girl, was also nominated for a Grammy.) “American Jerusalem,” by Rod MacDonald, harkens back to her scuffling years, when the New York City depicted in MacDonald’s lyrics was a far grittier place than it is today. Recalls Colvin, “I used to do that song a lot back at the Cottonwood Café in Greenwich Village, in my early days when I didn’t write. ’American Jerusalem’ is more topical, but because it’s about New York, It seemed to fit. I thought it was time. I’m so glad I finally recorded it.”
All the songs by other writers “lent themselves to that sense of loss, to the breakup feel,” none more so than the final track, B.W. Stevenson’s “On My Own”: “I’ve known that one for years and with Three Girls and Their Buddy I started to do it live. In fact, the timing was such that this breakup happened right before the tour we went on, so I just loved playing ’On My Own.’ It was so cathartic. When we were coming up with songs for the album, Buddy suggested I try that one, and then he got his wife Julie to put the harmony on it, Her voice is … I don’t even know how to describe it except as otherworldly.”
Its title notwithstanding, All Fall Down is really about standing ground. Colvin’s memoir may be written on paper, but her story continues to evolve on disc. This is another beautifully rendered chapter in the soundtrack of her life.
Philadelphia PA | Singer-Songwriter
The 27-year-old former schoolteacher grew up going between Philadelphia, PA, and a suburb, Cherry Hill, NJ. "I've been fortunate to have had the opportunity to see a few sides of life in this country."
Amos entered the University of South Carolina in 1995, where he began to play acoustic guitar and write songs. "I met my kind of people in there: down-to-earth, sincere folks who didn't belong to any club. They were all musicians, and they taught me how to treat my music with sincerity and integrity."
After graduating college with a degree in English, Amos returned to Philadelphia where he taught elementary school. His desire to pursue music as a career forced him to make the difficult decision to leave teaching. To earn a living he waited tables, tended bar, and continued writing songs.
"I started playing open mikes and getting some feedback. I started feeling a little more confidence." A self-released EP with five of his original songs made Amos "one of the area's most-talked-about emerging talents" according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, and was followed by a second, seven-song disc (both sold out on their initial pressings). "The time between when I stopped teaching and when I got signed was a beautiful, fun time."
Having had the honor of opening shows for such legends as Bob Dylan, BB King, and Mose Allison, Grammy winning Norah Jones invited Amos to open her 2004 European tour. Equipped with only his voice and guitar, Amos found himself facing 3,000-5,000 listeners a night -- and up to three times that number when he joined Ms. Norah's 56 date US tour that same year. 2005 finds Amos about to embark on an eight week major city run with "The Bob Dylan Show" featuring Bob Dylan and Merle Haggard. The remainder of the year will be spent performing in Europe, Japan and finishing out 2005 with a fall tour of the US. And yet, night after night, he pulled it off. In their concert review the Los Angeles Times referred to Amos as a "writer and singer with enough personality to charm a crowd impatient for Jones to take the stage." The Albany Times-Union praised Amos's "charming and soulful solo set"; the Seattle Post-Intelligencer heard him blend "a folksy, flannel-and-denim sound with sultry R&B."
"My favorite time in music is probably 1970-75. Still Bill by Bill Withers, Harvest by Neil Young, John Prine's first album, James Taylor's One Man Dog—I hope I can bring the same sort of spirit I hear on those records."
Boston MA | Singer-Songwriter
No musical community has proven more nurturing of emerging talent than has bluegrass and its acoustic tributaries. In part this is because precocious youth has proved a wise investment - from Marty Stuart to Alison Krauss to Nickel Creek - but mostly this is because the players themselves are drawn together by their innate love of the music, pure and simple. And by a common quest for new ways to play it.
Enter Sarah Jarosz, who will turn 18 a few weeks before her debut, Song Up In Her Head is released by Sugar Hill on June 16, 2009. And it's quite an entrance. The shortest distance is simply to list (in alphabetical order) her collaborators: Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, Chris Eldridge, Samson Grisman, Alex Hargreaves, Byron House, Paul Kowert, Tim Lauer, Kenny Malone, Mike Marshall, Tim O'Brien, Aoife O'Donovan, Luke Reynolds, Mark Schatz, Darrell Scott, Sarah Siskind, Ben Sollee, Chris Thile, and Abigail Washburn. These are not trifling musicians. They are the cream of the post-'grass movement (or whatever it is to be called) much afoot today, and their presence in Jarosz's debut is far from simple courtesy; it is a celebration.
There is much to celebrate. Jarosz (juh-ROSE) has a fine, supple singing voice, occasionally reminiscent of such disparate artists as Natalie Maines, Patty Griffin, and Rickie Lee Jones. She has a deft writing voice, unusually assured and observant in her debut, and it is more than telling that the album's two covers (the Decemberists' "Shankill Butchers" and the Tom Waits/Kathleen Brennan co-write, "Come On Up To The House") fit unobtrusively next to her own eleven songs. And of course she can play: mandolin, clawhammer banjo, guitar, and piano.
Born in Austin, Texas, and raised in Wimberley, 45 minutes south and east of Austin's city limits, Jarosz began singing at two, playing piano at six, took up the mandolin at ten. "Then," she says, "I found out about a weekly Friday night bluegrass jam in Wimberley. My parents took me to that once, and I was just hooked. I asked them to take me back every week. Once I showed an even greater interest in this music thing, they made it possible for me to be able to travel around the country and learn and grow as a musician."
It worked like this: For the last seven years Sarah has attended the week-long academy which precedes the RockyGrass festival in Lyons, Colorado. This year she'll be performing at the festival itself. "It's all just really built upon itself," she says of her career. "I feel like I've never had to push or force anything to make it happen. It's been a really beautiful, natural thing." Already she's played Telluride and Wintergrass, Old Settler's Music Festival in Austin, Grey Fox, and, even, the Country Music Association Festival. She joined Earl Scruggs and Ricky Skaggs on national television during the 2005 CMA salute to the father of bluegrass banjo, and was a special guest at the Del McCoury Band's 2008 New Year's Eve party at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.
All of which is to say that she belongs.
The making of Song Up In Her Head with producer Gary Paczosa (John Prine, the Duhks, Chris Thile) was a comparatively simple affair, given that it had to be scheduled around her high school classes and that she was learning how studios worked while making the album. (Learn she must have; Jarosz is credited as co-producer.)
"We started pre-production in March of last year," she says, "and then we really started diving into it around June of last year. I cut the majority of it in Nashville, at Gary Paczosa's studio. We had a session here at Blue Rock Studio in Wimberley, and I traveled up to New York City in December to record with Chris Thile and Paul Kowert. We did one little thing at Blackbird Studio in Nashville. And then we did one more song at [Dixie Chick] Martie McGuire's studio in Austin. Gary was working with her at her studio, and I was able to record one of my songs there." Simple, see?
"Gary and I would build off of things, and then make more layers," she says. "It was all new to me, so it was an incredible learning process. To have all of those musicians who are pros at it just lend their talents to it was such an honor. And it was such a learning experience in itself to watch them doing their thing."
Jarosz will spend the summer of 2009 doing her thing. And then she's off to college, in Boston, at which point the balancing act - and the learning - will continue.
- Grant Alden
Nashville TN | Singer-Songwriter
The highest caliber of artistry is often intertwined with the deepest sincerity. As is the case with rising star Angel Snow, whose music is the truest and most honest reflection of her life. Her story plays out in self-penned songs, where detail by detail she lets the listener in on her innermost thoughts, hopes, and dreams. Sometimes sorrowful, often hopeful, and always looking toward faith, Snow’s music is nothing if not sincere. Combine this honesty with sweeping folk melodies and bluesy guitar riffs, and the result is the captivating landscape of sound found on her new self-titled album.
Fate and faithful perseverance have brought Snow to the present, as she prepares to release her second full-length set. With a major boost from acclaimed star Alison Krauss, Snow’s lifelong dreams are coming to fruition. Krauss and Union Station recorded three songs written by Snow for the deluxe edition of the band’s latest album.
“When I met Alison I knew that something was about to happen in my life,” Snow recalls. “The stars aligned in one afternoon, and I met her at the home of a mutual friend. I gave her a CD and she asked me to come to her house the next day. She made me realize that better things were in store for me. It was more than I could have ever hoped for.
“She felt like her brother Viktor and I would have cool creative chemistry. She was right on, because a week later Vik and I wrote the song ’Lie Awake’ on our first meeting. And that song ended up on the new Alison Krauss and Union Station record.”
Snow was the lyricist that instrumentalist Viktor Krass had long been searching for—he had written the music for “Lie Awake” more than ten years prior. She recalls, “When I heard Vik play that first riff of ’Lie Awake’ on the guitar, I had a vision of an old white house in a field in the middle of nowhere. A family lived there and the mother was trying very hard to find a way to escape her abusive husband. And she is always lying awake at night trying to figure out how to leave. It’s an empathy story. I’m moved by stories like that. I know that very lonely feeling when you lie awake at night and you can hear the clock ticking.”
Much like the music of her greatest influences, Snow’s songs veer between imagined stories like this one and real-life experiences, always showing incredible sympathy for the suffering and downtrodden. Among her favorite songwriters are Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Peter Gabriel, Brian Eno, Bob Dylan, Trent Reznor, and Elliot Smith.
In the two years since meeting Viktor, a renowned musician in his own right, they have written dozens of songs and started work on Snow’s sophomore album. With Viktor Krauss as producer, they recruited stellar session players including drummer Matt Chamberlain. The album has eight new songs as well as a few updated tracks originally found on her well-received debut, Fortune Tellers.
One of the new Snow/Viktor Krauss co-writes is proving to be an early fan favorite. “’These Days’ was probably the fourth or fifth song Vik and I wrote together,” explains Snow. “It’s about making decisions based on what your heart tells you, and being true to yourself. Theodore Roosevelt said, ’comparison is the thief of joy.’”
Around the time of the song’s writing, Snow was deeply affected by the passing of her aunt. Her strong family ties are rooted in her childhood in tiny Chickamauga, Ga., where her two older brothers were major influences. Fans may be surprised to find out that Angel Snow is her given name, chosen by her brothers who were five and three at the time. The lofty moniker proved fitting, and she was living up to it at an early age.
Snow started singing in the church choir at age six and was soon stealing the spotlight with solo performances. She wrote her first song at age nine, but it would be several years later before she realized that music was her life’s calling. After earning a college degree in psychology, followed by a stint in acting school, she headed west, where so many others have found inspiration among the soaring mountains and natural wonders.
“I was 22 when I moved out west,” says Snow. “It was the first time I’d ever done anything completely on my own. I made the decision to venture out on a Greyhound bus. I look back on it now and it was tough, but I wanted to see this country that I’d never seen before. Working in the parks in Yellowstone and Yosemite, camping and taking in the land and mountains, it was a defining time in my life. That’s where a lot of the songwriting started, because I played guitar every day. I was always playing music with different people that I met and ’California’ was written about that.”
“California” and the other songs on her debut Fortune Tellers exemplify Snow’s most heartfelt solo-writing. “Coals and Water” is another much-loved track from that album that has been recorded with new instrumentation for the upcoming release. Snow remembers penning the song while living in Philadelphia. “I was sleeping on a friend’s sofa that was so short that my feet hung off. But I didn’t care—it was freedom to me. I didn’t have anything except my suitcase. I was trying to follow my faith, and it was hard not knowing what the next step was going to be. I was going through the changes that you go through when you realize God is real. A year before, I remember having the feeling that there was nothing else out there.”
Her long voyage of faith has lead her to the present, where opportunity appears limitless. “It’s an amazing feeling,” she says of her success thus far. “It’s indescribable. It’s been a hard road, and a lot of hard work, but it’s all been worth it. It’s been a hell of a journey.”
London England | Rock
On previous discs, singer-songwriter Teddy Thompson always relied on one of the songs he’s written to provide him with an album title and a central concept to build the rest of his work around. This time it’s different: you won’t find a tune named “Bella” on his fourth Verve Forecast effort yet the idea of “bella” — Italian shorthand for “beautiful” — is everywhere. Says Thompson, “I like the word, the meaning of it. It spoke to the lushness and beauty I was going for.”
Recorded in New York City and produced by David Kahne (Regina Spektor, Paul McCartney, the Strokes), Bella combines lean rock and roll with lush string arrangements on material that is both disarmingly catchy and often startlingly frank. Since 2008Ã¢ÂÂ²s A Piece Of What You Need, which London’s The Guardian called “one of the year’s best,” this has become something of a Thompson trademark, teasing the listener with immediately addictive melodies then pulling the rug out from under them with unsparingly confessional or darkly amusing lyrics. Thompson agrees: “I felt, as I’ve developed some kind of style, that what I had to offer, that what came naturally, was my sense of humor, my sensibility. It’s very English, very sarcastic, self-deprecating, In one way, that’s just how my songs come out; in another way, that’s my favorite style: a pretty melody with a twist.”
Throughout Bella, Thompson is a refreshingly candid Romeo: On upbeat lead-off track, “Looking For A Girl,” he lists all the qualities he wants in a woman – “I’m looking for a girl who drinks and smokes/Who takes a lot of work but can take a joke” – along with everything he needs to warn a prospective lover about. He’s never less than honest, revealing bad-boy inclinations alongside his kindlier attributes, with all of it sung in Thompson’s singularly stirring voice, one that musically and emotionally can never render a false note.
Thompson is able to poke fun of himself on a track like “The One I Can’t Have,” but he can also turn more bluntly self-lacerating. On “Over and Over,” the starkest arrangement on Bella, he enumerates the ways he falls short as strings circle ominously around his hauntingly tortured vocal. Admits Thompson, “That’s my specialty. I love to do that. I still feel that songwriting is really an introspective thing. For most people it’s all about themselves, but it depends on how you lay it out. Even people who write songs that aren’t so obviously autobiographical are still working from themselves. I don’t try that hard to disguise it. I take the easy way out: I write exactly what comes to mind. I’m the person I know the best, the one I like the best and hate the best, so I can get right in there.”
Though in conversation Thompson doesn’t elaborate too much, Bella also examines the end of a relationship, the afterimage of a woman he left behind or let slip away. On songs like “Delilah,” a country-inflected slow dance, and “Take Me Back Again,” which boasts a gorgeous Phil Spector-style production, Thompson ruminates about a romance gone wrong and contemplates the position of a guy left to endlessly yearn. This heartbreak theme reaches its apotheosis in “Tell Me What You Want,” a duet with friend and fellow singer Jenni Muldaur;. Thompson cajoles but Muldaur brushes him off, as twanging guitars, strings and percussion swirl around them; the vocals soar to Roy Orbison-like heights by the final chorus.
Thompson is a native Englishman who has adopted New York City as his home; famously the son of singer-songwriters Richard and Linda Thompson, he emigrated to the states more than a decade ago, barely out of his teens, to embark on a career of his own. Thompson began working on the material for Bella after he returned from his last tour; he structured his writing sessions by going to a Manhattan office each day where he developed these songs, honing in as a recording deadline loomed. He’d admired producer Kahne’s work and decided to contact him through a musician friend. Explains Thompson, “I was searching for someone who was quite poppy but who had a really musical sensibility. I mostly have worked with people I knew I was going to get along with, but David I just didn’t know at all. We butted heads a few times, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing; he helped light a fire under me in certain ways. It definitely stretched things musically as well because it took me out of my confidence zone quite a lot. It was very different than any other record making process — an amazing, exhausting experience.”
Using his touring band – Ethan Eubanks (drums), Jeff Hill (bass), Daniel Mintseris (keyboards) – Thompson and Kahne cut basic tracks at Avatar in midtown Manhattan, the former site of the legendary Power Station. Says Thompson: “It was quite old-school recording studio, which there aren’t many of anymore. It felt almost decadent, making an old fashioned record in a big studio. We did the strings there, which were great. In the first few weeks, when we were going into the big room, I felt like I was really going to make a record as opposed to going into some little room with computer screens, which it so often is these days. We definitely did a lot of that later on. At least in the beginning it was very rock and roll.”
Thompson had specific ideas of how he wanted to employ strings: “Initially I was thinking of Buddy Holly’s records, the later ones, where there were maybe an eight -or ten-piece string section. I had also been listening to a Jackie DeShannon greatest hits CD, and there were string arrangements all over the place. The arrangements were very out of the ordinary in the sense that there were pop people writing string arrangements rather than traditional string arrangers coming in and writing for a pop artist. On the DeShannon tracks, aside from everything Jack Nitzsche did, there were arrangements written by pop people like Carole King. You got the idea that they were serving the song and the melody without too many preconceptions about what an arrangement should be. ”
Kahne, it turned out, was able arrange the strings himself, enabling Thompson to realize his vision: “It was really uncharted territory. I didn’t know David as a string arranger and we hadn’t decided that he was going to do that and we hadn’t decided how prominent the strings were going to be. They became prominent because David just nailed it.
“In a way, “Thompson concludes, “the production was quite analytical and studied, yet a lot of the singing was very live and loose. I guess that’s what I’m trying to do, my ultimate goal for every record — to make it really well arranged and sound really good but at the same time to be off the cuff and natural. Which is kind of the hardest thing to do.”
With Bella, Thompson clearly didn’t take the easy way out. — Michael Hill