Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Getting Ready to Record The Snowball Sessions

Soon I will be making lo-fi multi-tracked home recordings of some tune-sets and songs, to be tentatively titled The Snowball Sessions.  This process will require me to play banjo uke for chords/rhythm/backup, tenor banjo for lead melody, and uke-bass for bass parts. I was planning on using the free program Audacity to multi-track the recordings, but after learning about and experiencing Audacity's latency issues* I think I'll stick with the simple FourTrack app for the iPhone, using a Monster iSoniTalk Microphone.  I can still use Audacity to edit the bounced track once exported from FourTrack.

*When I played back the initial recordings I made with Audacity I thought it was my timing that was completely off, so it was reassuring to learn that latency is an issue with Audacity.  I know I already sound bad, but I didn't think it was that bad!

My goal is just to capture a snapshot in time of how I sound at this point - summer 2011 - on my current favorite tunes and songs to play.  Groove and simplicity is more important to me than variations and lots of notes.  I intend to keep it simple and fun by doing fairly basic, repetitive, skeletal renditions. My criteria for deciding whether or not a take is good or bad will not have anything to do with how ‘well’ or how ‘clean’ the it was played, but rather how much of a good time I had playing it. 

I've narrowed it down to 11 tune-sets and 5 songs.  Hopefully all of them will make the cut.

The Tunes

Arkansas Traveler > Soldier's Joy - These two tunes are very common standards but never get old.  They pair well together, both in the key of D, and focusing on them like this should force me to improve upon my arrangements of the tunes.
Kesh Jig > Swallowtail Jig - This is a no-brainer jig-set to include.  I've been enjoying playing both of these tunes recently and I think they will go well together.
Kitchen Girl > Over the Waterfall - Both of these tunes can go very fast, so that should be good.  I've only been playing Kitchen Girl for a couple months but I already can tell that it's one of my favorites.  I was struggling to find a good match for it but I think Over the Waterfall will suffice. 
Whalen's Breakdown > Critter's Gone to Texas - I need something in the key of C, and these two tunes are great.  They are both obscure and have a similar feel with an old timey sound, making nice additions to the mix.  Plus banjo uke will work well with the key of C.
Clouds Thicken > MN 6/8 Two-Step - I didn't know what to pair with Clouds Thicken, the funky jig written by Paul Rosen, but then it dawned on me that the tune I was pairing it with a few months ago - MN 6/8 Two-Step - is still the best choice.  Both of these jigs are quirky and flow well from one to the other.
Star Above the Garter > Road to Lisdoonvarna - I'm wanting to include 4 jig sets and I think these two will be good for that.  I don't know if they are normally paired together but I'm gonna. 
Frosty Battle of Aughrim > Almondo Boswell Polka - This would be an interesting pairing simply because it would be a combo of some mashup tunes and/or unique arrangements.  I might have to modify how I play Almondo - making it an AB tune rather than AABB - to make it work in this case.  I'm looking forward to recording this set.  It'll be good to have a Dminor tune - Frosty Battle - on there.
Johnny Mickey's > Tralee Jail - Tralee Jail is one of my favorites and it seems to go well with Johnny Mickey's if you put Johnny Mickey's first.  Tralee Jail is lots of fun and easy to play.  Johnny Mickey's is more difficult because of one passage in the B-part, but doable.
Jamie Allen > Road to Boston - I like these two tunes together and I'm excited to see how the recording of these two will turn out. 
Rakes of Mallow > Fraksetter's Waltz - I knew I wanted to include Rakes of Mallow but didn't have a good partner for it, then I was playing it and accidentally went into Fraksetter's Waltz and surprisingly that was it!
Camp Pleasant Jig > Sonny Brogan's Jig -  I think this will be a good pairing.  In keeping with my attempt to keep it simple, Sonny Brogan's is a pretty simple tune.  I need to experiment with the arrangement and come up with a few variations on this one to make it more interesting. 

The Songs

Galway Girl - This Steve Earle song has a great little Irish melody built into it.  It's one I like to play and I think I can record a decent version if I don't worry too much about precision.
Griselda - This is a good one.  I like the melody for this song and it's got some cool chord changes n' good lyrics.  What's not to like?
Memphis Flu - Here's another great song.  My version comes from the Two Man Gentlemen's recording of it, I guess.  I don't have the melody transcribed, so I'm challenging myself with writing a solo over the chord changes.  (It's very similar to Jesse James).  If I can do that this tune will definitely be on there.
Sandy Boys - I'm calling it Sandy Boys.  I've gathered together all my favorite interchangeable oldtime verses, up to 12 of them, and will sing them over some easy chord changes with some instrumental breaks in between.  I've found a very easy version of Sandy Boys and I think that might be enough of a bare bones to work with and the lyrics fit over the chord changes and melody.
Ambiguity Song - If I have a 5th song it will probably be this one from Camper Van Beethoven. It shouldn't be that hard to write a solo over the chord changes, I hope.

I imagine this process will take a few months to complete.  I'm not concerned with it being perfect. I do want to do my best though and capture some good versions of these songs and tunes.  One of the challenges will be laying down the bass parts.  I will need to write my own original bass lines in most cases, which could be fun, or could be a chore.  Then it's a matter of pulling them off.  I have done almost zero playing or practice on the uke-bass so far, so I will need to work on that some more to complete this project.

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