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My friend and talented producer/musician Nate Sabin hosts periodic “worship music” conferences at churches in the region. This weekend we’ll be at his home church in Maplewood, MN… Apostolic Bible Church (ABC).  Worship service on Friday night (tomorrow) and clinic/workshop on Saturday morning.  Details are on Facebook.

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cdmichaelolson_longarmofloveIn honor of the record I’m working on this week with Nate Sabin, I think the feature album for this time around should be one that he’s produced. My favorite in that category is a Minneapolis native named Michael Olson’s debut album called Long Arm Of Love. Overall, the record is definitely a Nashville, “Contemporary Christian” vibe, and yet there’s an artistic integrity that most CCM records don’t quite capture.

First of all, Olson has a killer voice. If you like a great vocal performance, then this is the record for you. After that, the songwriting is wonderful. Great arrangements, thoughtful lyrics, and catchy melodies. But like I said, the real draw to this record for me is the production, which is just dripping with cool tones and ideas. Odd time bars that still feel good, unorthodox instrumentation and parts, and lots of smart but abrupt left turns make the record feel at once like a great pop album AND an art concept.

All that being said, the real reason that I first listened this album was the drummer. Steve Brewster has been an A-list studio guy in Nashville for decades, and his playing on this album is SO GREAT. His sounds, his feel, his ideas… they are all top notch and very inspiring. I learn something every time I listen to his playing on this record. In fact, the Brewster’s performance on this record is what prompted me to write the post about the “less is more” concept. See… he plays a lot of notes, but it doesn’t FEEL like he plays a lot of notes, and how those two things coexist is amazing to me. His patterns often take strange turns and his fills are very big and full, yet you would never accuse him of overplaying.  Awesome.

Also, I should note that I learned something really important from Steve Brewster… via my friend Aaron Fabbrini. Aaron was sitting in on a Brewster drum session down at Dark Horse studios in Nashville. He came back and told me that Brewster always uses some kind of sock (or washcloth or something) on the hihats. Yep, just drapes it across the hats and then hits on top of it. The towel dampens a little of the brash high end that make the hihat every engineer’s bitter enemy. Hats will normally bleed into all the other drum mics and make it difficult to mix levels properly, but the towel decreases that effect quite a bit. I’ve been using a towel on my hats in the studio for about a year now, and it works great. All you drummers… try it for yourself.

So, check out Michael Olson’s Long Arm Of Love and I promise you’ll like it. (Actually, click that link and also check out the new website I found with VERY cheap prices on discs.)

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I’m doing some session work again this week… and it’s at another studio that I’ve not been in before. Fuzzy Slippers in lowertown St. Paul is a super cool room with all kinds of vibe. I’m working on a record for an artist named Jay Asplin. This is another project produced by my friend Nate Sabin, and I am enjoying the opportunity to work with him again.

The coolest part of these sessions is the other studio musicians I’m playing with. Aaron Fabbrini is on bass with Ben Gowell on guitar, like the last session I did with Nate, and both of those guys always bring tons of creativity and great playing to the table. The new faces are… a killer engineer Todd Robbins, and the great multi-instrumentalist Phil Madeira. They are both from Nashville and very well-known (click Phil’s name for a link to his wikipedia page… SERIOUS credits on that guy’s resume).

I am definitely feeling out of my league on these sessions, and I’m excited about that… which brings me to the main topic of this post…

The challenge of playing music with people who are better than me is cool on so many levels. First off, I get to see how they work, glean some wisdom from them, and grow a little in my craft. Then, I find myself being pushed to perform on a higher level than I would normally push myself to, which also helps me to improve my ability. I also love the feeling of being the underdog – knowing that I’m the “young new guy” in the room and learning how to rise above the intimidation that comes with that.

Anyway, this should be a good week. I’m thankful for the opportunity to be making music with these guys. If you look real close at the picture above, on my floor tom you’ll see a container of wafer cookies that we used as a shaker on the tune we just tracked.

I was back in Two Pillars studio again today (Mon), this time working on a Christmas track for a vocalist named Brian Bates. My friend Nate Sabin was producing the track, and he’s a great guy that up until now I have not had the pleasure of working with. Aaron Fabrinni was also there on bass, and Ben Gowell on guitar.

Have I ever mentioned how much I enjoy being in the studio? Love it.

The most fascinating aspect of studio work for me (right now at least) is the HUGE difference that one little change will make. Like… a fill for instance. The placement of one note, just a little behind the beat, makes all the difference. Suddenly the whole fill is cooler – just because one note is played slightly different. Being in the studio always makes me pay way more attention to my live playing, so as to capture those nuances and make that big difference in my live performances too.

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