Recording 'Square One'

On this record I did quite a bit of something I’ve done very little of in the past, namely extensive multitracking (both vocal and instrumental). The most elaborate song is ‘Cotton-Eyed Joe’, which has three-part vocal harmony, banjo, and both rhythm and lead guitar. ‘A Reek and a Ramblin’ Boy’ and ‘Folksong Ghetto’ are nearly as complex. The only outside musician on the disc is the cellist Josh Aerie, who was in the studio one day working on an unrelated project and kindly agreed to add a track to ‘Outlaw Boots’. I had tried to put a synthesized cello part in from the keyboard, but quickly realized that only the real thing would do. And I doubt anyone could have done better than what Josh contributed — hats off to him!

Several songs were done with only voice and a single instrument: ‘An Inconvenient Song’, ‘Sixties Survivor’, ‘The Storm’ and ‘Clock On the Wall’. In the case of ‘The Storm’, most particularly, I felt that the message would be compromised by any fancying up, though I think in retrospect that a stand-up bass part could have given it more body and forward propulsion. ‘Clock On the Wall’ is similar in that the song is so personal and from the heart that it needs to sound as if you were listening to someone in the same room singing it just for you. Also, there’s so much going on in the guitar part already that there isn’t really any room for anything else instrumentally!

In all but two cases I recorded the lead vocal and an instrumental part simultaneously. The exceptions are ‘Outlaw Boots’ and ‘Sixties Survivor’, and that’s only because the keyboard had to be set up outside the isolation booth. Coordinating the vocal with the instrumental parts was tricky, but I finally nailed them — I still can’t quite believe how together the voice and the piano came out on ‘Outlaw Boots’.

As with all projects of this kind, there are things that in retrospect I’d have done a little differently, cleaning up some ragged or uneven fingerwork here, easing off a bit on a sung note there. But what came out is pretty much what I heard in my head when I first conceived the project. It says what I wanted it to say and in the way I wanted it said.