Sometimes you hear about a CD and excitement starts to build as you anticipate hearing this new music from musicians you enjoy. When you finally get a chance to hear the CD, you’ve built up an expectation that no recording can live up to. With Let’s Do Something, I had heard rumors of the project, and started to get excited to hear what Bill and Megan had come up with. I began to tell myself not to build any expectations. I couldn’t help myself though. With two such world class musicians anything was possible.
I couldn’t have told you exactly what my expectations were. I just knew I was expecting to hear some innovative music played with consummate skill and artistry on banjo and fiddle. When I finally got the CD in the mail, it did not disappoint.
I should probably dispel a couple preconceived notions you might have about what to expect from a banjo/fiddle recording.
First, most of the tracks are vocal. This is NOT a recording of banjo-fiddle instrumental duets in a purely old-time style. That historic style makes its influence felt throughout the CD, but you’ll not mistake this for an old time record. In fact, you’ll not mistake this for a bluegrass record either. This CD is something more than can be easily defined by convenient labels.
Second, I never once missed the presence of a full band. Not once in the 11 tracks did I think “This would have been better with a full band.” I never even thought about a band, I just enjoyed the music. That’s the way this CD presents itself to the listener. There is nothing missing. This music is exactly as “full” instrumentally, and vocally, as it should be. Nothing is underdone or overdone, they got is just right. I would advise the listener not even to think of this as banjo/fiddle or duet CD, as that might mislead your expectations.
The only guests on the entire recording are the addition of vocals and handclaps by Mike Anglin and Eleanor Cross on one track. Other than that the CD is just Bill and Megan…well almost. The third member of the duet is Stephen Mougin, who served as co-producer and recording/mixing engineer. Stephen is an impressive musician in his own right, having toured extensively with Sam Bush. I had a chance to speak with Stephen about the recording, and he shared some great comments.
I “co-produced” the record with Bill and Megan, which meant that I offered lots of performance/arrangement ideas.
Working with Bill and Megan on this new album was a musical treat. They were on a mission both to take fiddle and banjo in entirely new directions and explore what could be done with just two people on two instruments! The tracks range from sparce (1 banjo and 1 vocal) to dense (3 banjos, 17 fiddles, 12 vocals, etc.), but the album really feels like a unified collection of songs. It was a blast to have a project where we could throw out the rules and try anything! We employed several non-traditional techniques such as pickless banjo, double-delayed fiddle chops, group handclaps, and fiddle choirs, and that allowed us to highlight the SONGS rather than the players. One of my favorite tunes is “The Distance Between Two Points” a stunning example of Banjo tone from a true banjo guru! I was continuously impressed by the musicianship of Bill and Megan… I kept pushing them and they kept raising the bar both vocally and instrumentally! I hope folks have as much fun listening to the album as we had making it!!
If this CD was an experiment, it was successful. With only two musicians and two primary instruments (Bill plays guitar on one track and dobro on another), the varied range of sound textures is quite surprising, and enjoyable. The song selection is varied as well. I especially enjoyed Megan’s renditions of two songs brought in from other genres. The first is the tune Check Yes Juliet from the pop band We The Kings. The song is fun and catchy, pulling you into the rhythm. Bill’s banjo treatment is so masterful that the comparison wasn’t even made in my mind with the original pop version. The second in Mark Knopfler’s tune Song for Sonny Liston. Bill evokes a very bluesy feel on this track and Megan’s rhythmic treatment on the fiddle is infectious.
Another track I found myself playing receptively is a lovely arrangement of Bill’s composition Sleeping Lady One of the few strictly instrumental performances on the CD, this track again defies being tagged with a label. Bill’s banjo is tasteful with beautiful tone and Megan’s fiddles are layered into a nice string arrangement.
The vocals are impressive throughout. Megan proves herself to be much more than an accomplished fiddler. Her voice is pleasant and appropriate for each tune. Bill’s vocals are smooth and relaxed. The blend is just right between the two and nothing ever feels out of place.
A hat tip to Stephen for a delightful mix which conveys all the nuances of the acoustic instruments and vocals, preserving the dynamics and tone, while sounding full at the same time. His use of the stereo spectrum is exactly what a recording like this needed.
UPDATE: Stephen wrote in to share two additional pieces of information.
The album was mixed by myself and Ryan Reynosa (former front of house engineer for the Sam Bush Band).
Not a correction but an omission, the record was recorded at Dark Shadow Recording (my shameless self-promotion!!).
This CD should not be relegated to only to those who enjoy banjo and fiddle. I commend this recording to anyone who enjoys good acoustic music.