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Current Tape Reviews

SPOTLIGHT 88: Windy Way
 
Artist Name:
Ryan Cullen / Elder Statesmen
  Title:
SPOTLIGHT 88: Windy Way
 
Date Posted:
June 2015
 
Genre:
Rock and Pop
Equipment Used:

PC running Steinberg Nuendo 3.2. Mics: Neumann KM 184 and U 87, AEA R84, 1960s-vintage Sennheiser MD 421, Shure SM57 and SM7, AKG D12. 1950s Ampex 351 preamps, API 3124 4-channel Mic/Line/DI preamp with modified op amps, Langley BIG preamps, Empirical Labs Distressor EL8, Urei LA-4, and dbx 903 compressor, Avalon VT-737sp mic pre/compressor.

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Production Notes & Credits:

"Windy Way" is a male vocal acoustic based track. The band Elder Statesmen is a trio with Pat Westcott on guitar and lead vocals (at least on this track), Robin Eckman on drums, and Jim Cullen on bass. The song was composed by Pat and Elder Statesmen; Ryan did all the recording and engineering, with the exception of the mastering, which was done by Trackworx in California.

Reviewed By: Marty Peters
Rating: 5
This month's SPOTLIGHT is a superb and exotic effort that showcases not only the band's formidable skills, but also the glory of some stellar gear/old school technique, providing a killer set of sounds throughout. In his production notes, Ryan tells us, "This is an unusual mix of instruments with a good catchy melody. Other than a few (minor) EQ curves added, there were no plug-ins used for tone/distortion or other desired effects. I'd get the sound I was looking for, than record it." Fair enough. Let's take a closer look at this stellar effort, shall we?

First off, we would agree that the instrument choices here are pretty slick. The Lumineers-style stereo handclaps that intro the song quickly give way to a "Beatles go Maharishi"-era vibe that showcases some incredibly well-recorded acoustic guitar and vocal sounds.

As we mentioned earlier, Ryan certainly has an enviable gear list, but that is not as uncommon as it may seem in this day and age. I have friends whose "weekend ride" Harley-Davidsons well exceed Ryan's list in cost... and besides, as a wise guy once said, "It's not the tools, but what you do with them, that makes the magic."

While we receive an enormous number of submissions that feature acoustic guitar and vocals, very few, if any, contain the clarity, presence and body of the one featured here. While we are not privy to the exact signal path, both the Neumann KM 184 and U 87 are outstanding on acoustic guitars. Kudos also to Pat for his performance here; given the pristine nature of the sound, there are very few artifacts such as string squeaks present.

The sonic goodness spills over to Pat's vocals as well. The softly-delivered vocals fill a large space, and we love the doubling effect as well. Many times recordists will confuse the volume ratio while tracking, believing (often erroneously) that a screamed vocal is going to sound gigantic in a track, when often it's the close-miked, softly sung vocal that has the biggest presence. Ah, but lest you loyal readers fall into the "Sheesh, another singer/songwriter" trap, check the dirty, nasty fuzz bass/snare and hi-hat outro from Robin and Jim! Fantastic arrangement choice, in our opinion, and a hell of a creative way to end this way cool track.

As Ryan mentioned, he achieved his results here without EQ or plug-ins. In other words, he relied on some time-tested techniques that our craft is really based on, including mic choice and placement, preamp choice, hard effort, and perhaps most importantly, decisiveness.

At the risk of totally ascending our soapbox, let's congratulate Ryan for having the courage to take this path when the "unlimited track count, grab a plug-in, fix it in the mix, paralyzed by options" easy out is so available. Respect.

Summary: Well played (and recorded), sirs!

Contact: Ryan Cullen/Elder Statesmen, schphranx@mac.com
About: Marty Peters

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