Some of you may have noticed that I'm not lacking in holiday releases. The two bands that I primarily worked with in 2019 both have Christmas recordings ready for your enjoyment. Working on both of these projects was really fun and two, very different processes.
I began work on Lateral Blue's, This Christmas back in March while I was still on the road for Runa's winter tour. We were playing St Patrick shows and I was listening to Christmas music for ideas. This was Lateral Blue's second release with our friends at Burton Avenue Music in Green Hills, TN. We were pretty fresh off our first release, Go Your Own Way, (released back in January) and we expressed interest in recording a Christmas record. We foolishly thought that it would be a project for later in the year but the label came back to tell us that they'd need mixes in hand by the end of June.
Insert slight panic here.
So, we began brainstorming the tunes we wanted. We wanted the album to have more of a 'winter' feel than just Christmas, so we looked for songs that gave that vibe. One song of that nature turned out to be Joni Mitchell's River which most people don't think of as a Christmas song. We added it to our list nonetheless! We also realized the possibilities of instrumentals and added a few of our takes on some classic melodies. While the label loved our idea of bringing some fresh arrangements to these instrumentals, our contract states the requirement of 12 vocal songs. We were asked to add three more vocal tunes and the track count came out to a whopping 15 songs.
We rehearsed for a month and a half before sitting down to record in mid May at Fortyone Fifteen studios in east Nashville. We recruited my longtime friend and collaborator, Eric Uplinger, as well as our new friend, Dewey Boyd to help us achieve the sounds were looking for. They worked together beautifully and made the whole three and a half day tracking schedule really easy. We were also tickled to have instrumentalist great, (and 2018 IBMA dobro player of the year) Justin Moses play dobro on two songs with us. Thanks again, Justin!
A few of my favorite moments from this album would probably be the instrumental, I Saw Three Ships (which is secretly a medley), the vocal arrangements on Winter Wonderland, and the groove on Go Tell It on the Mountain. The space at Fortyone Fifteen is so cozy and intimate. It was perfect for this album. This is what Dewey had to say:
"[Lateral Blue] made this lovely, lovely Christmas record... gathered in a former living room where at least 4 families celebrated Christmas from 1924-2002. There’s some serious love and magic in this project... and I know it’s early... but put this one in the queue for trimming the tree this year." - Dewey Boyd
I'm super proud of this album and it has seemed to already make a lot of people happy. Go check it out!
Almost immediately after finishing the tracking for This Christmas, I flew to Philadelphia for a few days of working with Fionán de Barra and the rest of the Runa crew to arrange some tunes for a holiday EP. I got in a day or two earlier than everyone and Fionán and I made some real progress in fleshing out some ideas before pitching them to the rest of the band. It was a beautiful week in June, and we played frisbee, grilled burgers, drank so much tea, and had a lovely time together. It was really nice to relax with the group of people I had only known for six or seven months but had travelled thousands of miles with already. We sat in a circle most days and worked through arrangements as Fionán recorded most of the ideas. He's really good at shaping beautiful countermelodies in and out of songs that we know so well. I'm really proud of these recordings as well as I can hear my contributions as being very "me".
We toured here and there throughout this fall, and after it all started to slow down, Fionán flew down to Nashville to meet Eric (he's the real MVP of this whole blog post) and I to record my parts.
I have only played mandolin with Runa so it was really fun to bring in some other sounds in the form of the rest of the mandolin family. I featured my Jbovier mandola on the classic, Wassaling, and I think it's paired beautifully with Fionan's stellar guitar playing. I was super blessed to have one of my dear friends, Lincoln Mick (mandolinist, vocalist, and all around hero of his band, The Arcadian Wild) allow me to borrow his gorgeous Northfield arch-top octave mandolin which I featured heavily on God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. What a treat! Each member of the band recorded their part in their own city (Nashville, Philadelphia, New York, and Goderich) and Fionán glued it all together. Isn't technology amazing? Runa will be gradually releasing each track each Friday in December so be on the look out for that.
I'm already ecstatic that people are listening to these recordings as they put up their tree, decorate their house, or drive through slush on their way to work. I've never been a huge listener of Christmas music, but working on these two projects that I'm incredibly proud of has made me happy to play a part in someone's celebration. Be on the look out for some tour dates in January, sip on some hot cider (or eggnog, if that's your thing), and enjoy yourself this holiday season.
This is something I've wanted to do this year, but never found the time. It's nearly Thanksgiving and I finally found the time (or motivation or courage) to sit down and write an update on the happenings in my life. I started this year in New York at the APAP convention (Association of Performing Arts Professionals) waiting on the band members of Runa to meet up and rehearse 10 years worth of songs in an afternoon. I was nervous and I really had no idea how I ended up sitting on the steps of a Manhattan apartment with a bunch of charts for Irish songs in my case. That first real meeting was the start of a scary, challenging year that blossomed into a beautiful period of reflection and self awareness.
I found myself all over the country (and beyond) for the rest of the year. I met a lot of interesting people, collaborated with a bunch of musicians, and discovered a whole new way of looking at the world.
I've never been a big fan of myself, so the process of literally listening to myself night after night was grueling at times. I've played a lot of shows in the last five or six years but almost every single one of them was something I was incredibly comfortable with. I can sing bluegrass tenor in my sleep and going from that to singing a capella Irish Gaelic at one of the more prestigious acoustic music venues was probably the most frightening thing I've ever done. On top of that, I was wearing an arm brace for some pain in my left arm due to overplaying and lack of warming up (do your stretches, kids!). I was mentally really hard on myself and would work myself up to the point of blowing through the tunes that I really knew and even suggested we play . It was embarrassing.
Fast forward to the end of Runa's winter tour and I found myself with mandolin/fiddle great, Andy Leftwich for a long weekend. I was super happy to be playing with him and we found a lot in common. One night, after a performance, I walked into the green room grumbling about something I had messed up after Andy had congratulated me on a job well done. He said,
"Man, you have to cut that out. The show's over, you played beautifully, and now you're pouting in your pride."
He was totally right.
I have been so preoccupied with looking or sounding a certain way that I think, for a moment, I forgot why I was on stage at all. Nashville is a hard town to live in and the couple of bluegrass cliques that exist are even harder to break into if you're not very outgoing. I think I was bitter for not feeling like I had a place in the bluegrass or mandolin community, but I wasn't even allowing a place for myself in my own mind.
I pretty much made up mind to keep my head down, do my best, make every performance genuine, and always be nice. Surely something will come of that, right? It pretty much all came to a point over a week in Goderich, Ontario. I was trying really hard to be comfortable with "being myself" and feeling like that was enough, but I found myself doubting a lot of that. That week turned out to be on the most encouraging, enlightening, and musically rewarding tours I've ever been on. What a blast.
I'm happy to say that after I really made an effort to love myself and present myself as that, the bluegrass and the mandolin community started to really open its doors to me. I had a really great conversation with Daniel Patrick on his podcast, Mandolins and Beer, as well as the honor of debuting a tune of mine on David Benedict's video series, Mandolin Mondays.
It all works out when you let it. Stay tuned for updates on 2020 as it's going to be the coolest year yet. Peace!
- Caleb Edwards