Friday, January 29, 2010

One man. One guitar. Many moods. Here is my new CD.

Project Summary:

Floating Feather Music is pleased to introduce, Many Moods, the fourth solo CD by Minnesota based finger-style guitarist, Ben Woolman. His latest effort offers the listener a diverse mix of musical genres ranging from the 1920s through the present century. In a sense, it is a nod to the history of finger-style guitar as well as an example of contemporary development of the style. This cosmopolitan collection features 8 original compositions and 3 arrangements with melodies hinting at the regional influences of: Latin America, Africa, Ireland, Eastern Europe, and the US, and evoking colors of: sunshine, sorrow, soul, funky, energy, joy, drama, and hope. Not since his debut CD, Lost in Density, has there been such a comprehensive representation of his abilities; a pleasant intermingling of diverse musical influences which in turn showcase his virtuosic skill and range of musical expression. It is a fine balance between intellect and intuition. According to Ben, "This project comes the closest to representing the many aspects of who I am as a player. It is a very personal statement with a splash of academia. Get to know this music and you will get to know me."

The Facts:

Male, 5 foot 10 inches, 39 years old, father, husband, musician, basement dweller, Minnesota proud, 15 year professional, 10 fingers, 10 toes, sensitive soul, big heart.

The Process:

Many Moods was recorded by the artist, alone, for the first time, in his basement studio. Says Woolman, "The time and space that was afforded with the independent process of recording at home was absolutely crucial in obtaining the results I wanted. With these luxuries, I was really able to control my environment and capture better performances in the studio more so than I ever have in my career. The result is a very intimate, natural, and transparent sound. There is no hiding on this record."

The Personnel:

Ben Woolman: All guitars, all music
Recorded and Produced by: Ben Woolman
Mixed and Mastered by: Tim Snow
Friends and trusted ears: Tim Buzza, Steve Digre, Dan Schwartz
Photography and Design Concept: Rebecca Pavlenko
Design Layout: Jim Dryden

The Track List:

1. One Afternoon (3:32) - A simple happy tune written one afternoon.
2. Invisible Sun (3:27) - One of my favorite songs by The Police, arr. Woolman.
3. Sadie's Smile (3:45) - My daughter, her smile.
4. Mazurka Dance (4:19) - Conjuring the spirits of my Polish ancestors.
5. Picture of Romance (3:44) - Dedicated to my lovely wife.
6. Salamander Swing (3:39) - Me. I am a Salamander.
7. Me, Myself, and You (3:24) - Wife and daughter sleeping upstairs, me in the basement writing.
8. Up and Back (4:01) - A reflection on progress.
9. Wicked Ascent (4:18) - Inspired by my climb of Mt. Whitney with my Father and Brother.
10. Blake Says (3:13) - An homage to the great guitarist, Blind Blake.
11. Legends of the Fall (5:12) - A gorgeous sweeping orchestral piece written by James Horner, arr.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Student, Teacher, and Fan

Since becoming a "professional" musician, how I experience a live concert has forever changed. It is no longer simply an open, joyful absorption of sound that formed my musical being as a youth, but, rather, I now process the experience (in varying degrees and order) as a consummate student, teacher, and fan. For better or for worse, this is how it all goes down, and, ultimately, all three elements mix together, funneling down into the big pot of professional development, and, hopefully, inspiration.

As a lifelong student of music, I analyze a performance and try to learn something new - a technique, a lick, a compositional concept, a joke, etc. A guitar concert can be especially fruitful given that is my primary medium. Depending on the performer, you can also learn what NOT to do as well. Then, student becomes teacher. I try to extract examples to reinforce a topic, clarify an idea, or gain a new historical or musical perspective to incorporate and pass on to my students. As a fan, I find a moment to lay back, listen, and enjoy.

So, it is from these perspectives that I offer you my thoughts on the Dakota Dave Hull show which took place at the Riverview Cafe in Minneapolis, January 16th, 2010:

Dakota Dave Hull is a self described 'Guitarist. Producer. Old Fart.' I chuckle every time I read that on his Facebook page. A longtime local musical fixture, he is an absolute joy to watch; a model of good taste and musicality. All contemporary finger-style guitarists need to see this guy as there are too many lessons to be listed here. His playing incorporates very subtle, internal pyrotechnics, that have a huge impact. As a player, I can tell you that pulling off such musical effects is way more difficult than speed and technical facility. It is something that can only be developed from years and years of practice. He tells a great story with his playing, with every note that he plays, and is always following a catchy, sometimes profound, sometimes whimsical melody. The performance was a veritable guitar/roots music history seminar as well (albeit a very entertaining one). Over the course of the evening Dave played 5 different guitars: two National baritone guitars (tuned down to low B), a custom Hoffman piccolo guitar (tuned up an octave above standard tuning), a jumbo 6 string, and a standard National Reso-Phonic guitar. The musical ground he covered began somewhere in the 1800's moved through the 20th century and landed in the present. He played tunes of or inspired by: Tin Pan Alley, Stephen Foster, Ragtime, Cakewalks, Gospel, Joseph Spence, Irish Fiddle Tunes, as well as his own compositions that were a happy blend of some or one or ALL of these genres. He is a throwback, one of the most direct links to the traditions of American music for sure and through his work and performance over the years, he has become an important historical figure unto himself. This is meat and potatoes music, it is substantial, the base, and, who doesn't love meat and potatoes? Dakota Dave demonstrates that old time is a great time and still very relevant.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Do the Hustle

Ah, fear, loathing, and the drudgery of self-promotion. This is the game we play as independent musicians, the big challenge of the one man show. Armed with 1000 copies of the new CD, wielding the the double edged sword of ego and arrogance from a sheath of humble graciousness, I am ready to battle the behemoth of the music industry. It is time to get the new music in the hands of the press, radio (what is left of it), Internet resources, famous people I know, Blogs, and so on. It is time to do the hustle, time to face the business of music, time to market myself from an objective point of view. Step one in this process: writing the press release. I must find the proper superlatives to describe the CD, the music, and myself. I must say nice things about myself, be creative, avoid cliches, convince others (press folks) that what I say is true, to convince them of the same things. My words will become their words. "Really, the CD is great, I am great, the press release says so!"

Oh, but it would be so much more fun if somehow the CD would take on a life of it's own and somehow, magically, land in the right hands, the right ears, which, in turn, would yield the positive press and the gigs that I need. I know, things could be much worse. I also know, things could be so much better as well. I guess this is what keeps me going, pushing forward, and avoiding a day job.

Yep, it is time to do the hustle. Gotta write that press release, gotta make that call, send that e-mail, make that poster, book that gig, route that tour, but, gosh, that song sounds so good, my guitar is right here, have you checked out that old Dylan album?, I need another cup of coffee, I should text my wife, what time is it?, ya know, I haven't checked Facebook in a while...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Out of My Hands

So I have done it again. I delivered the master CD to the duplication house, and, in return for my several thousand dollar investment, I will soon receive 1000 copies of my latest release. I have listened to this musical collection at least 1000 times and have probably spent 1000 hours in totality trying to make the music right by my intuition and expectations. Oh man, expectations can be debilitating. It always feels like such a long road, a long arduous journey, all in the name of trying to make good product and working that tricky business of art as commerce. Lord knows through the recording process it is very hard to please the player. At least this player. It is also hard to listen as an objective listener. But in the end, I love the music, the performances, and then again, sometimes I am not sure. The tunes have already changed and are indeed living breathing organisms that continue to grow. But as they now exist on the CD, embalmed in a digitized form, they are beyond my control. No, it is not all that bleak. I really do love this record (yes, I still think of them as records) and I am very proud of the work and very much looking forward to sharing it with the masses. But there is always internal conflict. It's just hard when you grow so close to something, grow with something, grow into something, help it develop, pain and pleasure, sorrow and elation, and all of the other varied mixed emotions, and then, you have to let it go, coming to terms with the fact that you did the best you could, and tried to develop it in the most honest way holding true to your core values...wait...that sounds like...This is my first solo studio release since my daughter Sadie was born. And, of course, like with all other life endeavors since that day, my perspective has forever been skewed within my craft. She has not yet left the house. Thankfully that is many years away, but, I have a sneaking feeling, a microcosmic sense, of how that day is going to feel. Perhaps, with every CD, every tune, I release into the wild, it is sort of a conditioning process for such times of farewell, a sonic workout for this sensitive artist, preparing for my child's ultimate departure. But, geez, it just never really seems to get any easier. And, I suspect, it never will.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Babe and the Punk Band

I must have been 11 years old. A time when I really started to relate to music in a passionate way. The cool older brother neighbor was filling me with megawatt infused doses of various classic rock favorites; Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Rush, etc. (to this day, Aerosmith - Toys in the Attic is still one of my favorite records). Piano lessons had been offered and accepted and I was slowly working my way through the basic classical repertoire of the day. On the side, however, I began to learn pop tunes; music that really inspired me to play. The evolution of my own personal musical discovery had begun. One day, our babysitter, she must have been 15 years old, was watching my brother and I. I sat down to practice my lessons, soon got bored, and then broke into the Styx tune, Babe. She who was previously ignoring my efforts suddenly rushed over in a fit of excitement, seemingly all hot and bothered, and began to fawn over my playing. She was just so excited and made me play the tune a couple more times. What was this all about? To me, this was Beatles stuff. I was a rock star. I was so cool. Or so that is how I saw it. She was a 15 year old girl. I was 11. Nonetheless, it was an epiphany. In an instant I understood the power of music and it's ability to move others, the listener, and hence, the audience (and how to pick up chicks. I met my wife at one of my gigs). I learned that music is not just a solitary experience during performance. It is about connecting and inciting emotion from the listener. I learned that the music lives beyond my own personal borders.

Fast forward 3 years and I get a call to join the neighborhood punk band. By this time I was a budding bassist and had yet to play with any other musicians. I had no idea what to expect. Punk rock was not even on my radar screen. I show up at the first rehearsal, the guitarist leads me through the chord progressions (all original material which was cool), a count of four and we were off. Something about that afternoon, the Summer air, the hormones, dumb luck, whatever, we clicked. The music was loud and forceful. It was sheer power, pure energy, summarized as raw expression. I can still feel the drums kicking down my back. The bass vibrations were intoxicating. The presence of sound was utterly and completely rocking my previously ordered sensibilities. I had never FELT the music like this before. I did not want it to end. The foundation had been laid and I was ready to run.

To this day, I think, on a subconscious level, I still draw upon these two experiences when I play (albeit, in a much more mature/developed manner), and try to recreate each one, again and again.