Here's the song by song description of Paradiso, to be released this coming Tuesday, November 22: Paradiso to me represents an era of resolution, beauty and calm, possibly after a stormy stretch of life. The feelings in me that the music generates call to mind old world art, beauty, drama, and warmth. Some of the music that influenced me before and during the recording of Paradiso include a recent fascination with Tchaikovsky, as well as long-time influences Erik Satie, Beethoven, Bach; and film composers Craig Armstrong and Philip Glass. Like my previous project, “The Crossing”, my goal was to avoid the mine-field of cliches that solo piano music naturally calls to mind, while creating original pieces of art. A SONG BY SONG DESCRIPTION:
GRETCHEN’S THEME: Obviously written for my musical partner and wife, singer-songwriter Gretchen Peters. There are shades of (Scottish film composer) Craig Armstrong and Beethoven in this piece.
NORTH PLATTE: This piece was written, recorded and released previously in two parts on the album “One To The Heart, One To The Head”, by Gretchen Peters with Tom Russell. At the time that album was being written, Tom asked me to write an atmospheric piece to open the album. I had just watched the movie “Something about Schmidt”, starring Jack Nicholson, with a great soundtrack that included Erik Satie’s music . A large part of the film was shot on the Northern High Plains in between Minnesota and Denver. The starkness of the landscape was in my mind as I wrote this piece, and North Platte, both the town and the river, captured in two words exactly what I was seeing and hearing.
KOBLENZ: I wrote this piece shortly before Gretchen Peters and I left for a tour of Germany and Holland in March, 2011. I was fine tuning it during the tour, and debuted it one night at our gig in Koblenz, a lovely city on the Rhine in Northern Germany. It was received warmly, and I promised the audience I would name it after their beautiful city. David Henry’s cello adds much to this piece.
YOUTH AND AGE: My son Brennan came over while I was recording this album, and we wrote and recorded this piece over the course of a few days. His guitar parts added a whole new dimension to both the song and the album. Gretchen came up with the title from a William Butler Yeats poem. We all thought it was a great title for this ‘cross-generational’ musical moment.
PARADISO: Very much influenced by French parlor music of the last century, with a splash of Philip Glass on the intro. Like “Koblenz”, I had written most of this piece in the year before our German/Holland tour of March 2011. I finished it and started playing it during our soundchecks. The live debut came one night at the famous Paradiso venue in Amsterdam, and as happened in Koblenz, I promised the audience that I would name the piece for them. I liked the title so much I decided to use it for the album title.
SEVEN WEEKS: I wanted to record a piece where Gretchen played simple piano lines that I could overdub to. She came up with a nice, atmospheric melody, and I played around with electronic keyboard sounds weaving in and out of her notes. I added the guitar later on as an afterthought. Gretchen came up with this title one day while we were asking ourselves how we were going to get through some rough times. She said we’d just take it “seven weeks at a time”.
SON BINOCLE: As a lifelong Erik Satie fan, I was pleasantly surprised to find this short gem I hadn’t heard before in a collection of his piano works. The harmonic shifts are what attracted me to it. Since I recorded a Satie piece on my first album, I thought it would be cool to continue the tradition. JULY 20: It was July 20, 2011, and this was the last piece written for this project. I was playing the opening theme on the piano and Gretchen called to me from the other room saying, “that’s beautiful, what is it?” At the time it was just a simple idea that was crying out for further exploration. I still needed one more piece for the album, and I wanted a piece with a strong solo. This one piece alone took me three weeks to wrangle, but I think it was worth the sweat equity I put in to capture it.
MARATHON MOTOR WORKS: This piece was influenced partly by Philip Glass and the way his music propels itself forward. After I recorded the piano part, it reminded me of machinery in constant motion, with pistons moving up and down. There is a 100 year old abandoned auto plant near us in Nashville where they used to make the Marathon automobile back in the 1920‘s. Gretchen had taken some photos of me there for the album package, so it was fresh in my mind. I thought it needed at least one other lead instrument. Something that could soar freely over the more mechanical sounding piano part. I had been thinking about doing a piano/dobro duet for a long time. I called dobro virtuoso Rob Ickes up and he came over one morning and overdubbed a brilliant dobro part to the piano track. As a musician and a person Rob could not have been more gracious and accommodating.
MAVERICK RADAR: An Asian influenced melody that came to me a year before recording began. The idea kept haunting me, so in the course of a year I kept following where it led me. Once I had the gist of it done, I overdubbed accordion and guitar to fill it out.
THERE’S BEEN AN INCIDENT: I’ve had this title laying around for a few years. Before I created one note of music, I envisioned an ambient, atmospheric kind of thing. The kind of thing soundtracks are made of. I wanted to have a piece where I could use Gretchen’s great background vocals, and also our good friend guitarist Doug Lancio, who is great with ambient, vibey type tracks, so I wrote this piece with the two of them in mind. Doug added his guitar magic to my piano track, and then Gretchen put some otherworldly vocals on. Magic.
SON BINOCLE (reprise): An electronic imaging of the Erik Satie piece I discovered while writing for the album. A different way of ending this album, but I like the space and the tones. It makes me want to slowly breathe in and slowly breathe out, in and out...