It's hard to believe, but it's been over a decade since The Brilliant Mistakes formed, and five years since the release of our last album, Dumb Luck. In that time we've been hard at work not just making new music, but being consumed by our lives: Marriages, homes, children, jobs, pets, gardens, The Sopranos. But our music beckoned - as it always does - and led us back on the trail. Distant Drumming is the result of a year spent in a basement studio in the Woodlawn section of the Bronx, a heavily Irish enclave thick with redheads and soda bread, pubs and ample parking. Lincoln Schleifer, a fiftysomething unrepentant Jewish hippie who has made his own career as a great bassist working with such icons as Levon Helm, Donald Fagen, Boz Scaggs, Solomon Burke, Warren Haynes and many others, produced. We had worked with Lincoln on Dumb Luck, and decided to work with him again, not only because he did such an incredible job on that album, but because he convinced us he could offer us much more this time if we brought him deeper and earlier into our creative process: choosing songs, arranging them, experimenting with sounds, vibes, tempos and instrumentation. He was right. As a result, Distant Drumming is stranger, more beautiful, organic and, by far, the most musically accomplished album we've ever made. We've never recorded our songs with the idea of making them radio-friendly. The fact that they are is because we are influenced by classic rock and pop craftspeople like the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Byrds, the Band and the Kinks - and later Elvis Costello, Squeeze, Crowded House, Aimee Mann and so many others. We knew, however, that we wanted this record to sound and feel different. We wanted it to be more acoustic-based with an emphasis on grooves, dynamics and textures. We also wanted it to take us in directions we couldn't anticipate. So we dove into making this record with wide open minds. The result is music that is "classic" sounding on the surface, but also possesses layers of weird and wonderful mojo. Lincoln has dubbed his studio "Lincoln's Log Cabin" and although it's in his basement, for a bunch of musicians like us, it is a frontier. Mainly because it is filled floor to ceiling with vintage amps, keyboards, basses, guitars and recording gear. To enter the space is to imagine how much fun you could have exploring the infinite range of sounds lurking in all of those instruments. And that is exactly what we did. We threw the sonic equivalent of buckets of paint around like in that old J. Geils Band video. Alan dug into a myriad of keyboards: upright piano, Hammond B3, Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer electric piano and a Farfisa organ. Paul attacked the drums but also banged on bongos and shook whatever was laying around. We used the drum loop from a Hammond Aurora Classic organ as the rhythmic foundation to the song "Becoming." In addition to bass, for the first time I played acoustic guitar on almost every song. At various moments, there are handclaps, spoken word, lush and painstakingly arranged harmonies and background vocals and gorgeous layers of six and twelve-string electric guitars. We were thrilled to have some incredible guests come in to sing and play. They included one of our favorite singer-songwriters, Mike Viola, frontman for The Candy Butchers as well as one of the writers of the songs for the hilarious musical comedy Walk Hard; Larry Campbell, longtime Bob Dylan multi-instrumentalist who has worked with the greats, including Levon Helm, Paul Simon and Ron Sexsmith; Marc Shulman, best known for his work on Suzanne Vega's groundbreaking albums, and our own guitar wizard John Putnam, who has an uncanny ability to play exactly the right thing for the song. Lincoln himself was also a most valuable player, adding acoustic and electric guitar, mandolin, harmonium, percussion and various other musical flourishes. We should also commend Fred Kevorkian (Ryan Adams, The White Stripes, Phish), who did a masterful job at mastering the album. Distant Drumming is a 10-song collection that encompasses carefully wrought ballads such as the moody and magical "Water Falling Down" and the atmospheric, CSNY-evoking "Wake Up Your Heart," the joyous, jangly country-rock of "The Day I Found My Hands" and "Monday Morning (Sky Above You)," the high-energy bass-driven attack of "The Circle's Not Broken," the dark, Lennon-esque piano march of "Good Year for a Change," the sizzling, harmony-drenched pop of "Time in the Night" and "The Words" and the swinging acoustic folk rock of "Let's Pretend." There are many thematic and emotional currents running through the album too, which is mostly the result of having two songwriters in the band, kindred spirits, but each with their own unique voice. As a result, the album is by turns political, hopeful, soulful, reflective, thoughtful and, dare I say, ambitious. The title for Distant Drumming is taken from the chorus of perhaps the album's most provocative and innovative track, "Becoming." It's about listening to and following the music that's inside you. It is something The Brilliant Mistakes have always done as a group. We don't know where it is leading us. But we're enjoying the journey. Erik Philbrook The Brilliant Mistakes.
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