When Tim Stafford puts out a new guitar album, people in the bluegrass and flatpicking worlds pay attention. They don’t come around very often, and you have to wait for them to hear the subtleties of his playing in a stripped down setting. In his regular gig with Blue Highway, Tim focuses on supporting the band with his strong guitar rhythm, and solos come at a premium. So flatpickers, here you go another solo album from Stafford.
Called simply Acoustic Guitar, this record is everything he likes to play that he doesn’t get to do with the band. A lot is solo guitar without accompaniment, and some is fingerstyle.
Tim says that he heads off the beaten path a bit, but expects guitar lovers will enjoy it.
“The album’s not all bluegrass by any means, but I think people who like bluegrass will like it. There’s some different sounding stuff on here, based on the tunes I wrote.
I initially wanted to do a record of all solo guitar. Several of the tunes just felt like solo pieces, as opposed to ensemble. So we started thinking of a project of all solo guitar, but it didn’t work out that way. The fiddle tunes needed something else. Most are flatpicked with a few fingerpicked tunes. For some reason it just sounds better with all fingers, though I use a flatpick and fingers on a couple.
Some of the public domain songs were consciously does as a tribute to my mom, and the Presbyterian church I grew up in. There not really all Presbyterian songs, but I think of them that way.”
I wondered whether such a prolific and successful songwriter takes the same approach when writing instrumental pieces. Apparently not.
“It’s a totally different thing. These tunes are the product of just sitting and noodling. A lot of times I’ll be sitting watching TV, not really playing and not really watching. My wife Janet will be sitting with her embroidery, and I’ll just start messing around with ideas. When I get something I like, I’ll immediately record it and send it to myself. Way less discipline involved than writing songs.”
To give people a taste of the record, Tim agreed to let us premiere this track, his small ensemble arrangement of the classic fiddle tune, Temperance Reel.
“I’ve been playing this tune for a while, and I play a little bit different version of the melody. First break is all up the neck; largely the same notes but I like the sound of it up the neck. Gaven and I were messing around with it at the house one day, and it was sounding cool. So I called Bobby Starnes to see if we could come over and cut. Jim Price came in to engineer and we called Adam Steffey in for a chop.
I’ve always loved the Celtic feel of this tune.”
We also asked him about the musicians he chose to work with on this album.
“Adam Steffey lives so close to me and [studio owner] Bobby Starnes, in between us in fact, just about five minutes from where I do. So it was really easy having him in when I felt like I wanted to record. It’s a great luxury having one of the world’s best mandolin players living just a few miles from me, who I’ve known almost my whole life.
I heard Stuart Duncan right away for Hillbilly Neighbor, and any time you can get him it’s the right call.
Cellist Dave Eggar I met producing a record for Beth Snap. He’s from New York City and has played on tons of stuff, a prodigy who graduated from Harvard and Julliard as a teen. He’s done lots of soundtrack work and pop music. We were real lucky to get him, he loves Bobby’s studio – did his recent album there. He loved Janet’s Tune, was into it right away. He overdubbed so many things – he’s like a pocket orchestra. Just exactly what I was looking for.”
Given the length of time between guitar albums, we asked why now?
“I’ve actually wanted to do a guitar album for a while, and the last project didn’t turn out that way. I’ve had this bunch of tunes, some as old as 30 years ago, that I’ve been waiting to record. Figured if I don’t put them out I’m probably not going to. In this climate as a music professional, it seems you have to put out more material rather than less.
I’m looking ahead, and who knows what the future may bring.”