About The Record
I have always wanted to make an album of hymns. I have grown up with these songs. My folks used to sing us to sleep with some of these when we were kids.
I owe a lot to my wife, Monica, and my friends Monte Lee Wen, Neil Jenkins and Russell Schwausch (and so many others) for their support and encouragement in getting this made.
We recorded in Austin, New York and Los Angeles. Most of the basic tracks were recorded at Congress House in Austin, with other basics and most overdubs at Bruce Robison‘s (Bruce wrote Travelin’ Soldier, a big hit for the Dixie Chicks) then-studio Premium Recording (he just sold it). Other overdubs were scattered about at Cedar Creek, The Buddy Project in New York, and friends in Austin and Los Angeles.
The record was mixed by Grammy winner Eric Liljestrand, who was incredibly easy/awesome to work with. He is known for his work with Bill Frisell and Lucinda Williams, amongst others.
Now Let Us Rejoice was written by the guy in that picture just below–pioneer poet and scribe W.W. Phelps.
Singing along with me here is Aaron Lee Tasjan from the Madison Square Gardeners. Aaron used to tour with The New York Dolls. He’s an incredible songwriter, guitar player. Was very gracious to join us in the studio.
The guitar parts were recorded in my NYC kitchen, which earned me a nasty letter (actually, I got two) from the landlord. Who cares? I don’t.
In case you are wondering why my guitar sounds so awesome, it’s a late 1970s gold-top Les Paul, through a 1966 Princeton Reverb, which is a gift from God.
Engineered by Kevin Szymanski at Premium Studios, Austin, Texas. Vocal engineered by Kieran Kelly, The Buddy Project, Astoria, Queens, New York City. Electric guitars engineered by Mark Abernathy, Morningside Heights, New York City.
What else can I tell you about W.W. Phelps? He wrote the next song, too, for which we paid him nothing. Sorry, buddy…public domain.
Well, geez, I could’ve just done a whole record of W.W. Phelps.
My arrangement was conceived as a two guitars, two vocals number. As you can hear, it got bigger. The underlying drum groove is New Orleans, the rest of it is mostly Texas, though W.W. Phelps was from New Jersey, so go figure. It’s American.
Bukka Allen, from the Bodeans on accordion, with Richard Bowden on fiddle. Scott Davis plays banjo and mandolin– amazingly. Scott has played with countless cool people, including Hayes Carll, and Deadman. Featured, also, is superstar Grammy winner Lloyd Maines, here on dobro. Maines, who won the Dixie Chicks Album of the Year for the record Home, as producer, is also Natalie Maines’ dad. Please don’t burn my record. There weren’t any actual Dixie Chicks on the album.
Everyone seemed to get a kick out of the song. Was fun. Aaron Tasjan is back on backup vocals. Thanks, Aaron.
This oft covered classic hymn was written by a blind English minister named William W. Walford (that’s W.W.W.) sometime in the 1840s (no one seems to agree on the year). Pat Boone has recorded it. Mahalia Jackson, Iris Dement, Larry Gatlin, and on an on.
What makes our particular arrangement so special is Sarah Sharp, who sings harmony on this track. She’s an absolute angel, who helped coach me through the vocals on several of the album tracks. If you are ever in Austin, you might catch her singing with The Jitterbug Vipers. She has several solo records as well.
Bukka Allen on Hammond B3. Love it.
Recorded at Cedar Creek in Austin, using the console that tracked Elvis Presley‘s final album. Not one like it. The actual 1973 Neve Console (known to audio historians as the “Ballantine” desk) that Elvis used at Graceland.
This recording of Israel, Israel, God Is Calling was not the one I originally intended to release. We recorded a full band version, and relatively speaking, it sucked. In the end, this simple version is the winner.
I love the apocalyptic imagery. 2012 is the end of the world, so you’d better get ready.
This song, originally titled The Stranger and His Friend, is adapted from a seven stanza poem by James Montgomery, an English writer and abolitionist. It dates 1826. It was originally melodicised by George Coles but our melody here is an arrangment based on the Ebenezer Beesley melody from the 1880s.
This song is most closely identified with Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of Mormonism. He requested his friend and fellow prisoner John Taylor sing it to him twice, shortly before Joseph and his brother Hyrum were martyred by a mob in Carthage, Illinois.
Featured soloists here are fiddle phenom Warren Hood who performs with the Waybacks. Returning here is Lloyd Maines on dobro. Bukka Allen just happened to have a harmonium in his truck, so in addition to the accordion track, we have a sweet harmonium on here. Cellist Brian Standefer, who plays in Alejandro Escevedo‘s band, also makes an appearance. Kim DesChamps is back, this time on mandolin.
One of these days, I’d like to record this again with a small ensemble.
Anyway, a great story, that has nothing to do with Andrew Jackson: In 1901 a story was related in “The Sunday-School Times” (12.7.1901) by Lieutenant-Colonel Curtis Guild, Jr., late inspecter-General of the Seventh Army Corps. This experience took place in Cuba during the Spanish-American War:
“On Christmas eve of 1898 I sat before my tent in the balmy tropical night [near Havana] chatting with a fellow-officer of Christmas and home. Suddenly from the camp of the Forty-ninth Iowa rang a sentinel’s call, “Number ten; twelve o’clock, and all’s well!” It was Christmas morning. Scarcely had the cry of the sentinel died away, when from the bandsmen’s tents of that same regiment there rose the music of an old, familiar hymn, and one clear baritone voice led the chorus that quickly ran along those moonlit fields: ‘How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord!’ Another voice joined in, and another, and another, and in a moment the whole regiment was singing, and then the Sixth Missouri joined in, with the Fourth Virginia, and all the rest, till there , on the long ridges above the great city whence Spanish tyranny once went forth to enslave the New World, a whole American army corps was singing –
“Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed;
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.”
“Protestant and Catholic, North and South were singing together on Christmas day in the morning – now that’s an American army!”
- As retold in Studies of Familiar Hymns by Louis F. Benson, D.D.
Kevin Bachelder singing with me on this one here. Too awesome for words, Kevin.
Written and published in 1874 by Philip Bliss, it was inspired by the story of a shipwreck. On a dark stormy night, a large passenger boat cautiously edged toward the Cleveland harbor. The pilot knew that he could only find the harbor channel by keeping two lower shore lights in line with the main beacon. “Are you sure this is Cleveland?” asked the captain. “Quite sure, Sir,” replied the pilot. “Where are the lower lights?” he asked. “Gone out, Sir!” was the reply. The pilot turned the wheel, but in the darkness, he missed the channel. The boat crashed on the rocks and many lives were lost that night. “Brethren, the Master will take care of the great lighthouse; let us keep the lower lights burning.”
This song is for my dear high school friend Julie Noethlich Carlson, who was killed in a boating tragedy 25 July 2010. Julie had an amazing ability to make those around her feel special. She really did seem to radiate light. She is survived by her husband and two beautiful kids. Will always miss her.
Ironically, Philip Bliss died in an train accident at age 38. Same age as Julie.
Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me is the earliest hymn I remember from growing up, and the first one that I conceived for the record. It was the last one to get finished, too. It gave us a hard time. I recorded another version at Cedar Creek that will probably never see the light of day.
After the basic tracks (guitar, piano, drums and bass) were recorded I asked the engineer if he could find me a pedal steel player. He made the call and in walked Kim DesChamps, who had played for many years with Cowboy Junkies, and with Blue Rodeo. As a senior in high school, I used to listen to Cowboy Junkies on the bus to school, over and over again, marveling at some of the pedal steel solos. I’m still absolutely staggered that Kim is playing on this record. It is literally a dream come true. What a miracle.
Was also special having my college friend Kevin Bachelder sing on this. He did an amazing job, as he did on several other of this album’s tracks.
Yeah man! The big pioneer anthem! While this is an old English tune, the lyrics here were penned by William Clayton in 1846. In fact, some of W. Clayton’s ancestors are friends of mine and one of them even lives down the street from me here in New York City (hey Christian Clayton!).
Teal Collins from Austin’s own MotherTruckers is singing with us here, along with old friend Kevin Bachelder. Both are world-class singers and awesome folks. Matt Russell arranged the horns. He plays regularly with Drew Smith in Austin (Drew is one my favourite Austin singer/songwriters).