Tag Archives: bodhran

Jam – The Jolly Beggarman

Jam
 
A couple weeks back I went to a party at my buddy John’s house. My practice over the last year or so has been to record as much live music as I can. Consequently, I recorded most of John’s party.

With this post I’ve included a track that I’ve found myself listening to over and over during the last two weeks. I’m just intrigued by it. So much, in fact, that I’ve since tried, unsuccessfully of course, to reproduce the spirit of the track in the more controlled setting of my home studio. I never planned on posting the original track here. But I’m finding myself compelled.

The musicians at the party were all taking a beer break. After returning with my beer, I sat down and started strumming. I think I was trying to remember the words to Sam’s Gone Away (you can hear me humming during the first few chords). But I quickly gave up on that idea and just started experimenting, trying to find something interesting. I guess the first thing I like is that there is no plan and, initially, it feels rather lazy. Just about then my buddy Roger returns with a full beer and sits down, picks up his bodhran and leathers into it. Things start to take shape. Then my buddy Mark returns with his beer. He picks up his tenor banjo.

I immediately recognize a problem. I’ve capo’ed up my guitar and I know that he will not be able to easily play in my position. So, if you listen closely, you will hear me offer a capo. Quickly realizing how absurd of an idea that is on several levels I, instead, slide my capo down between strums to a more favorable key. I’m actually pretty excited about this part…and still perfecting it.
 
Quickdraw Capo
 
Let me stray from my story for a moment to tell you about this wicked awesome capo, which I’ve been meaning to do for some time now. Another friend of mine saw my post about a video where a guy used this sliding capo. I thought, wow, I need one. And this friend happened to find one in Baltimore, bought it for me and drove it all the way up to me. It is the coolest thing.

Anyhow, after capoing down, I tell my buddy Mark that I’m just noodling and ask if he has a song; it is always easier to talk while playing after a few pints. After a moment of thought he goes into a classic Planxty song called The Jolly Beggarman, which for me requires a bit of experimentation before settling on a comfortable way to back him.

Well, you take a listen and decide for yourself if it was worth posting.
 
Jam / The Jolly Beggarman by baconworks

The Blacksmith

I heard The Blacksmith on the Celtic Sojourn the other morning. Man, what a cool song. It is an old classic by a band called Planxty. After hearing it on the radio I realized I did not own the Planxty album this was first heard on. Had to fix that problem right away.
 
Planxty
 
Here is a great video, probably from ’72 or ’73 of Planxty playing The Blacksmith. Though our modern ears have grown accustomed to the sounds that Planxty created, it is worth noting that nobody had really heard bouzouki in Celtic music until Andy and Donal came along. And those strange Eastern European melodies…forget about it.

Planxty:
Dónal Lunny on bouzouki
Andy Irvine on mandolin
Liam O’Flynn the uilleann pipes
Christy Moore on harmonium and bodhrán

In almost forty years no one has done it better. Check out the Balkan inspired weirdness at 3:24. Mighty.
 

The Long Trip Home

The Long Trip Home   You know the old line:

Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.

Well, I’m gonna try anyhow.
 
I am supper happy to announce that my buddy Josh Dukes just released his first album. No, I’m not going to do a track by track album review, I think you should listen for yourself. But I will tell you this, the first time I listened I thought, ‘hmmm, this makes me want to get better at playing the flute…damn him.’ The second time I listened I thought, ‘well now, listen to that sweet guitar playing, why didn’t I think of that slick chord progression…ggrrrrr’. Needless to say, I was afraid to listen to it a third time…but I couldn’t resist. And I’m happy to say that Josh is the man. He, along with a host of other very talented musicians have put together an album of really tasty traditional tunes. Plus he’s got all the instruments I like on this album; his Olwell, guitar, the bunka-bunka (that’s the tenor banjo for those not in-the-know), ye ole goat skins and a variety of other cool instruments.
 
But, I’m sure that you don’t need to hear me ramble on about what a great recording this is and why you should get your own copy. So, instead, take a listen for yourself. Josh was kind enough to let me post one of his tracks here. Then, immediately following, I want you to head over to CD Baby and make one yours so that you can hear the remaining fourteen tracks. Also, if you are local or plan to be mustering in the rain at Sudbury this weekend, I have a dozen or so copies on hand for the reasonable price of $15.

I am certain you will enjoy it.

 

South Wind / Out on the Ocean

Two Old Stones
 
A few weeks back I convinced Unstachio (formerly Mustachio) to swing by and record a few tunes. We had been talking about doing just that for some time but the stars had never quite aligned. We had no real plan other than to just play through some things that we play on Tuesday evenings over at Stone’s.

We did all our recording together, he on bouzouki and myself on guitar. The next day, as I began to play with the tracks, I found that they were super-easy to overdub. It is amazing how playing music with someone else results in a track that is much more musical than anything you can do alone. It is that relationship between musicians that is the real magic dust and it is what transforms notes to music. I feel like we captured some of that here and, at the very least, it was a whole lot of fun.

This track is a combination of two traditional tunes. The first tune is called South Wind and is one we just started playing. The second is a popular jig called Out on the Ocean. I love how the bouzouki (left speaker) just seems to lick around the guitar melody (right speaker). Incidentally, I’ve added this track to the working album title called Two Old Stones (George, did I tell you we’re making an album?)
South Wind Out OnThe Ocean by baconworks

Franklin’s Harem

Franklin in France
 
Benjamin Franklin, aside from being a founding father of our country, the ‘discoverer of electricity’, a diplomat, an inventor and the guy that first formed public libraries and fire departments, was also quite the ladies man. In the recent HBO series, entitled John Adams, Franklin is portrayed in a less-than-iconic and promiscuous light while performing his diplomatic duties in France. I suppose when you’re a guy that can tame lightning and create counties your gonna have the women fawning over you.

In reference to Franklin’s escapades in France I entitled my most recent tune Franklin’s Harem.

In this recording the tune actually comes behind another tune that I recently posted called The Nobel Train. It has three parts. The first two are in 9/8 and the last part is in 12/8. So, I guess it is a slip jig sort of. You can find the sheet music here.
 
The Nobel Train / Franklin’s Harem by baconworks

The Home Ruler

Bodhran
 
My long time cohort Roger Hunnewell, A.K.A the Beave, was visiting this weekend. Roger and I started the band that we eventually would call Amadán, many years ago. I have not had much of an opportunity to hang out with Rogi lately. Needless to say, we reminisced over a few cigars and couple of frosty brews. At about three in the morning, after being sufficiently over-served, we decided to flip on the recording equipment. After trying out a few tunes and discovering that we should have started recording long before all the ales and cigars, we opted for a tune with an easier pace.

I don’t think this recording will win any awards, but it was fun. It is a tune called The Home Ruler written by Frank McCollum from Ballycastle, county Antrim. Roger played bodhran while I played the flute. I then did a quick overdub of some guitar parts. All complete before the sun came up, well, close anyhow.

Moving Cloud / Devany’s Goat / Julia Delaney

Today I received an email from someone I have not heard from in ~20 years … apparently Facebook really does have a way of connecting you to your past. Anyhow, this old friend ultimately stumbled upon baconworks and asked me about more music that her children might be able to step dance along with. So, I began poking around my site, realizing how difficult it actually is to find all the mp3’s I’ve posted (I’ll have to fix that), and discovered that I have yet to post a few of the tracks from my old Amadán album. I guess I’m just getting lazy.
 
Amadán
 
This set of tunes was the first that we recorded as a group. As I recall, we were real excited to get into the studio and lay down some tracks. We were well prepared, had it all planned out…except for the part where Kevin, our guitar player, broke a string while tunning up. In his guitar case he found no spares. I offered my guitar, not the prized Lowden, but instead the infamous Rhapsoby . No, that is not a misspelling. Rhapsoby, not Rhapsody. The guitar is so obscure that even a Google search turns up almost nothing. And when I say ‘obscure’ I don’t mean the good kind, like a 1909-S VDB penny.

Needless to say, Kevin wanted no part of the Rhapsoby. So, there we were, wasting precious time and money in the studio, with no guitar. We had no other choice but for Kevin to leave the studio to try and track down some strings. Scrap all the practices and all the preparing, we had to come up with a new plan, which, of course, we did only after Kevin left on his hunt for new strings. In his absence Roger the percussionist, Damon the fiddler and I on the Rhapsoby, pulled this old set out of the bottom of our repertoire. We recorded it once or twice together and had the track nearly finished, to Kevin’s dismay, by the time he returned an hour later with his new strings.

The set starts with a little Rhapsoby intro, followed with some tempo challenged foot stomping. Incidentally, the foot stomping seems as bad of an idea today as it did then, but neither I nor the engineer could convince Damon to can his cacophonous idea. In addition, my good friend Roger plays some real nice Bodhrán and Bones throughout the set. And, just so Kevin didn’t feel entirely left out, we let him overdub some tenor banjo.

Incidentally, I enjoyed Devany’s Goat so much that years later I did my own recording of the tune, this time setting aside the Rhapsoby and opting for the Lowden.

So, I don’t know if this is step-dancable but, here is Moving Cloud, Devany’s Goat and Julia Delaney.

Moving Cloud / Devany’s Goat / Julia Delaney by baconworks

Loudness Wars

While my contest has been plugging away, I’ve been doing a bit of writing and recording myself. A couple months back I posted a new tune called On the Mend. More recently, I wrote another tune to go with it called Blaze in the Barn. Before Christmas I spent some time recording the set and ultimately learning quite a lot about mixing and how sound works in a mix, or in many cases, doesn’t work.
 
Loudness Wars
 
In my experimentation with this new set of tunes, I discovered an interesting phenomenon. What I found was that anytime I added compression to an instrument, it immediately sounded better. It actually took some time before I started questioning why this might be true. Without going into lots of technical details, the net effect of compression is that it essentially allows you to make quieter sounds of a track louder but without making the louder tones louder. This gives the listener the sense that the track is more solid and it is perceived as becoming louder. And, apparently, louder is better. Also, as I soon found out, I was not really the first person to stumble on this phenomenon.

Back in the days of juke boxes, you see, record executives discovered that the records that were most frequently played were the ones that were recorded the loudest. Humans, for some reason, perceive the louder records as being better and, in turn, are more likely to stick another dime in the juke box, baby. Thus, record companies started to look for ways to make their recordings louder than the competitions recordings. What resulted was a loudness war that is still raging today and is killing the quality of recorded music.

Well, if we perceive louder recordings to be better, then why is it killing the quality of recorded music you ask? The answer has to do with dynamic range. By compressing music, which allows studio engineers to make recordings louder, they are also squashing the dynamic range of the recording. Dynamic range, in sound, is the distance between the softest tones and the loudest tones and it is used in music to impart emotion. So reducing dynamic range essentially reduces the emotion.

One everyday example of dynamic range that we have come to depend on is that of the human voice. When we speak our voices naturally fluctuate in volume as a means of emphasizing our emotions. If we were to take out all the dynamic range in our voice we would sound very monotonous. Now, imagine taking that monotonous voice and making it loud all the time. The effect would be that all our conversations would consist entirely of yelling. While yelling certainly gets peoples attention, it also gets tiring very fast. And this leads me back to my recording discovery.

What I found was that when I added compression and, in turn, loudened my recording I thought, ‘Hot spit! That sounds great!!!’ But the more I listened to it, the more it started grating on my nerves, sort of like yelling. I had inadvertently stumbled into the loudness war, which is being fought between record companies that want their music to catch your attention as you flip by on your new satellite radio and the sound engineers of the world that realize that the greatest recordings are not devoid of dynamic range but instead, embrace it.

Take a look at the following example:
 
Compression
 
What you are looking at is a mastered stereo recording of an ABBA song from 1981 and then remastered in 2005. The first set of sound waves show a track with plenty of dynamic range while the second set of waves show much more sound and, consequently, represent a louder track, but one with much less dynamic range.

With all this in mind, I removed much of the compression I was using on my new set and found that I enjoy the track much more now. Anyhow, here is a mix of what I’ve been working on. I don’t know if it is a final mix because there are other issues I’m trying to address, but those issues are probably the subject of another post.

Skip Healy Concert Review

Skip Healy
 
Over a few pints in the local establishment Skip, Mark and I watched as the Red Sox failed to deliver the go ahead run in a critical playoff game. As frustrating as that was, the evening of Celtic music that preceded it gave me plenty of positive energy to make the late night drive back from Connecticut where the three of us played together for a very appreciative crowd.

This was our second time playing together and it felt like a reasonable improvement over the last time. Instead of amplifying our show we opted to rely on the natural acoustics of the hall for the Company of Fifers and Drummers, which is in Ivoryton. Skip Healy, a true entertainer, played not only a beautiful variety of traditional and original jigs, reels, marches, aires and hornpipes, but also mixed in his own unique form of humorous storytelling, sprinkled with insightful commentary on the music he plays.

As we were reflecting on our performance over that aforementioned pint, Skip shared with me his thoughts on performing by reminding me of a quote by John Ringling: “The public would rather be entertained than enlightened.” Well I certainly felt, as I was playing next to Skip, that he gives you a bunch of both.

Here is one set from our show. This is a brand new set of tunes that Skip authored. The first tune is called the Gotha Swale and the second is The Taxes are Late and the King is Still Dead. You’ll just have to go to his next show to hear the story behind those names. It will be worth your while.