Recording in an 1820's underground railroad church: Slide guitar roots with an orchestra of forgotten instruments made new again.
People have said some funny things about me, but here is what my awesome manager/partner in crime Cliff Seltzer has been telling people:
David Jacobs-Strain is a six foot two jewish blues singer from Oregon; a left-coast poet and a Stanford drop-out. He’s a little bit Leo Kottke, a little bit Ken Kesey, and a little bit Robert Johnson. David was the youngest ever faculty member at the Centrum Blues and Heritage Workshop, played the Newport Folk Festival at 19, and has toured with legendary artists such as Boz Scaggs, Robert Earle Keen, Etta James, Todd Snider, Los Lobos, and Lucinda Williams. David has released five independent records, played festivals from Strawberry in California to Merle Fest in North Carolina, and if you’re reading this on Kickstarter, he may well have slept on your couch. Or made sweet potato ravioli for our kids. Or your mom. David is currently represented by Gold Mountain Entertainment and the Crescendo Artists Agency. The magazine Pop Matters has described his albums as “slow burning wonders…”, and Jorma Kaukonen (of Jefferson Airplane) raved, “He is just one of those guys who is in his own class. A great singer and guitar player.”
Last December, I showed up to play with Duncan Sheik in Rochester, only to find out that the venue had double-booked both local musician Mike Brown and myself for the opening slot. Instead of getting into a fist fight, Mike and I clustered around the one heat vent and talked guitars and old songs.
The next afternoon, I found myself in Mike’s hometown of Geneseo, NY, in the 1820’s church that he had recently converted to a studio. In an era when legendary recording studios are being turned into condos, Mike’s “Tempermental Studios” is a one-of-a-kind place. The basement that now houses wandering musicians was once a stop on the Underground Railroad, and the main room was used for open-casket funerals during the Civil War. The beams that hold the place together were cut from the timber that grew on site, and were joined without the use of nails. Mike has filled this space with over a thousand instruments that span the last 170 years of American popular music: Guitars of every description, abandoned horns, orchestra bells, flea-market banjos, a seemingly haunted pump organ that was last tuned in 1869, pianos that time forgot… It’s an ark of lost sounds waiting to be rediscovered and made new again.
Mike handed me an old Gibson guitar, given to him by Jay Bennett of Wilco, and I began to play. The room melted away; I lost track of time, hardly aware that Mike was recording the entire session. By the time I put down the guitar, it was 7:00am and we had recorded nearly 30 songs! Five months later, those guitar/vocal tracks have become the foundation of a new record. I’ve been back to Geneseo twice, and in March, we made a field trip to California to add tracks and collaborate with some amazing artists, including:
-Drummer Scott Siever (Pete Yorn, Flight of the Concords)
-Bassist Johnny Flaughers (Ryan Adams)
-Bill Reynolds (Band of Horses)
-David Immergluck (Counting Crows)
-Todd Snider and Anais Mitchel have already offered to sing harmony Whoohoo!
I’m raising funds to finish the record. Engineer Beau Sorenson (Death Cab for Cutie, Sparkle Horse) has offered to mix the record in Portland, and Ray Kennedy (who has produced Steve Earle’s post-jail records and my last studio release) is excited to do the final mastering. Michael James is documenting the entire project with photos and video. When the music and graphics are complete, Cliff Seltzer and Burt Stein (at Gold Mountain in Nashville) will be promoting the album. It’s a GREAT team, but it’s going to take some significant financial resources to bring the raw tracks to life.
I would be honored to have your support! Handmade music exists because folks like you are willing to take a chance on a sound that is, by definition, below the corporate radar. We have some awesome gifts for anyone who donates. Some of the incentives are serious and some are silly, but whether it’s buying an advance copy of the CD, or donating to have me play a private event for you and your pals, you’ll be helping bring these new songs and stories to a town near you. Will you spread the word to your friends and family, or post a link on your favorite social networking site?
Photos and videos by Michael James: michaeljamesstudios.com
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