Shatter the Calm was recorded over a 9 month period, from November 2001 to July 2002 at
the Fringe Studios in Los Altos Hills, California. Very little changed in the tracklist
from start to finish, but an unbelievable amount of time was put into the production by
myself, producer Jerremy Holland, and my wife Elena (graphic designer for this CD). I
didn't have the 20-odd pages required to really get a good rumination rolling about each
set, so here's my expanded list of liner notes for each track.. some things printed in
the CD sleeve are duplicated here, some things there I don't say here!
Sliabh Russel/Peter Barnes/Indian Summer
Sliabh Russel is great fun to play on a mandolin or bouzouki.. I couldn’t make up my mind which to use so I recorded a bouzouki part after I finished the mandolin part. Peter Barnes is a Frank Ferrel composition, named for a musical friend of his who plays Piano. The Milwaukee scene (fiddler Jan Earnest in particular) was quite taken with his “Yankee Dreams” recording, and we quickly learned most of the tunes on that recording to play in our local sessions. This is my favorite of Frank’s compositions, it has a really brash confidence about it. Indian Summer was composed by Rick Gagne, formerly of Dun Creagan. Rick & I got in touch in the early days of the Internet through the Irtrad-L email list, back when there were still less than a dozen of us hooked up online to talk about Irish music. I met Rick in Milwakee when a group of ethnomusicologists came through town, and we had some mighty sessions. Rick mailed me sheet music to this tune and I have always enjoyed playing it, hoping that it will eventually catch on as a staple that I can find in sessions. Rick says
I wrote it in a hot October in Philadelphia following a cold September.
The gradual shift from major to minor over the four parts makes me think of
the cold winter weather ahead. It was written in 1987.
Zan McLeod accompanies this track on guitar. I did an alternative mix of this track (no guitar part,
different mixes on mandolin/bouzouki) that was released on a promo for Zoukfest 2002. At the time of
writing, I still have a few of those disks left if you want to order one!
The Eagle’s Whistle/Stenson’s #2/The Earl’s Chair
The Eagle’s Whistle is a Shetland march that I first heard as an air on a recording by Frank Ferrel (“Yankee Dreams”). I later heard Aly Bain’s setting and grew to enjoy playing it as a march. I’ve always liked Stenson’s (here played in Dmaj instead of the more common Amaj) as it has some nice chances to slide notes and play up the neck on the high string on the bouzouki. The Earl’s Chair is a tune I learned on the bouzouki after a friend used it as an example to me of a tune that would be too hard to play on the bouzouki! Zan McLeod provides backing on this track by way of mail order. I recorded this track several weeks before it was sent to Zan to track his guitar part on the computer!
Midnight on the Water/Whiskey Before Breakfast
Midnight on the Water is a favorite old-time fiddle waltz. I’d heard some recordings of Aly Bain playing “Bonaparte’s Retreat” in DDAD tuning (drop the low G all the way down to a D!) and started experimenting on mandolin. It was several years after messing around with this that I received my Steve Smith Mandolin, and then another 2 years until I tried this tuning on it. It’s quite tricky to keep the low D from going sharp- the trick I’ve learned is to tune it nearly a quarter pitch flat and whack it a few times until it comes up. I Actually recorded this set on the original strings that Steve shipped me on the mandolin, 2 years old at the time I recorded this. The old “dead” sounding strings actually hold the tuning on that low D better than new ones do. I love how the bottom D string sounds when I play this set, it’s easy to become totally absorbed in the huge sound. If you're a mandolin player, give it a try.. playing around with this tunings gave
me one of my first real "AHA!" moments playing an instrument. The variations on the mandolin part for Whiskey Before Breakfast just sort of appeared to me one day while my whole family was in the living room watching my 2 year old son playing with his train set. When I recorded this take it was going so well that I lost myself a bit and kicked in an unplanned tempo increase. When I recorded the harmonica track on this I had the ironic experience of wishing that the mandolin player wouldn’t have played the tune so damn fast!
The Hearty Boys of Ballymote/Dan Collins’ Father’s/Con Cassidy’s
Two trad tuned learned from a Jerry Holland recording, followed by a northern Irish jig. The first two jigs I learned from Jerry’s first book of fiddle tunes, Con Cassidy’s was an eclectic favorite in Milwaukee (and a common session staple in the San Francisco Bay area). Con Cassidy’s has some fun arpeggios- I like to pick a triplet across three strings by tilting the pick and dragging it up slowly across the strings. I tracked this one on the Steve Smith mandolin first, then later switched to the Gibson when I recorded the final to get a bit more bubble from the excessive triplets in the first & last tunes. Paul provides a wonderful driving old-style accompaniment that reminds me of playing for dancers in legion halls in Milwaukee. A funny thing happened when we brought this from the studio in Berkeley (Muscletone Studios) to the studio in Los Altos Hills- we imported at the wrong bit depth, so the tune slowed down and dropped about a
pitch and a half. That version actually sounds pretty cool too :)
Finnish Polka/The Swarm of Angry Bees/Matthew’s Polka
The Finnish is from Kevin Burke’s “If the Cap Fits”, “The Swarm of Angry Bees” isn’t the real title of this polka, but that’s what it reminds me of. Chris Buckley, a fiddler/Violist in 180 & the Letter G, would play this at an unbelievable pace at our gigs and I always started laughing at the fiddle mike he had for some time that sounded like a swarm of angry bees. The real title of that polka is “O’Keefe’s” (according to walking tune encyclopedia Phil Rubenzer of Milwaukee, Wisconsin). Matthew’s is named for my son- I keep changing my mind on if it’s in Dmaj or Amaj. It depends on which instrument I pick up really. Sometimes it has shuffle in the B-part, sometimes it doesn’t. I notated the tune with shuffle in case you feel like giving it a crack, it’s an unusual shuffle figure as it has such a short duration that it has an odd way of getting back to the downbeats.
The Battle March Medley
This was actually the tune that started me on the long journey down the Irish/Celtic music road. By the time I heard this medley, I was already a fan of the Pogues. Their instrumental tracks were sparse, but always intrigued me. I read the list of instruments on the album (a task that can take several minutes!) and spotted “mandolin” on the list. I had no idea what a bouzouki or cittern was, so I assumed that was the instrument I was hearing on the Battle March track. Several years afterwards, I finally found out it was really a Sobell bouzouki/octave mandolin that Terry Woods was playing on the track. Terry had an early role in bringing the Greek Bouzouki into Irish music, along with Andy Irvine and Johnny Moynihan. This track drove me to hunt for more instrumental work by the Pogues- they released quite a few EP’s (3 or 4 track vynil/CD recordings), usually with a remix of one of the album track and 3 new ones. The new ones would often include lengthy instrumentals, or spare settings of Irish pub song classics. This cut (and "Shanne Bradley", track 14)
comes from the "Fairytale of New York" EP, and is also on "If I Should Fall From Grace With God"
Stirling Castle/The Shetland Fiddler
Stirling Castle is sometimes played in the Scottish tradition as a strathspey, and in the Northern Irish tradition it loses some of the irregularity to the “snaps” to make it a slightly twisted Hornpipe. One late night in the studio Jerremy started playing around with The Shetland Fiddler, applying digital filters to make it into an electric guitar-like rock anthem (the filter was called “Nigel”, complete with knobs that go to eleven). I kind of liked the effect-
It may appear on an EP of remixes from this album if we get the time!
Jackson’s Morning Brush/I Buried My Wife and Danced On Top of Her
I used to always use this as a solo set when I was playing with 180 and the Letter G in
Milwaukee in the mid/late 90’s. The Sobell I play is a short-scale (20 ¾”) mandola tuned
GDAEA, and here it has a mandolin capo covering the top 4 courses only to make the tuning
(G)GDAD. This is a neat “stunt” tuning taught to me by Roger Landes some years ago, it
allows for a deep ringing drone note beneath the melody, giving the impression that you are
playing more than one instrument at a time. “Jackson’s” is a tune I heard on a Mick Maloney
Recording (“Strings Attached”) and fell in love with. “I Buried..” is a tune I first heard on a
Paddy Glacken recording (“In Full Spate”) that has an especially nice way of sitting on this
tuning, it’s always been a favorite of mine to play with the partial capo trick as you can pull
of a fairly remarkable-sounding descending chord line in the B-part along with the melody.
Here's a setting of the tune in the
key of D (I'm really pretended to play in D minus the capos on the recording). This setting isn't
exactly what I recorded, but it has most of the unusual bits/ornaments/chord tricks listed in it.
This track was done without overdubs, the bits that sound like there is a harmony line are the
capo trick coming through.
The Hanged Man’s Reel
Another tune I first heard played by Aly Bain. This tune is sometimes played on the fiddle in AEAC# tuning (you can get some great unisions & harmonies with that A/C# pair on the top!). I played it on my (normally) DGDAD bouzouki, tuned to DADAD and with a capo on the 7th, giving a final tuning of AEAEA. It’s a very rewarding tune to learn, as it has that deceptive simplicity that allows you to really improvise and explore interesting ornamentation. I read a description of the tune somewhere that comes with a story.. a fiddler is convicted of murder and asks to play a tune before he is put on the gallows. He plays this tune... the fiddler smashes his fiddle and breaks the bow over his knee when he finishes the tune and he is hung. I didn’t even feel the slightest temptation to do this with the bouzouki when I finished recoding this. The harmonics I play replace plucked strings on the fiddle setting. In one story about this tune I read, those plucked strings make a cracking sound that is supposed to signify the sound the fiddler’s neck breaking as the noose tightens! My good friend Asher Gray plays bodhran on this cut. Asher is also a magnificent flute, whistle and bouzouki player with Anam Ri, a Milwaukee Celtic band. A different version of this (without the drum) was released on the
Zoukfest 2002 promo CD mentioned above in the notes for track 1.
Shatter the Calm: Let down the Blade/Keily’s
"Let Down the Blade" is a Liam Kelly (Flautist in Dervish) composition. My title for this set comes from a few years ago in Weston MO, where the first Zoukfest was being held. I’d just arrived in town and said hello to several old friends, and Steve Smith pulled a mandolin out of a case and handed it to me. At the same time I was introduced to Beth Pattersen, a great zooker from New Orleans, who happened to have her bouzouki (made on the bench at the exact same time as my Steve Smith 10-stringer) out. I plucked timidly at first, but then just starting whoomping out these two slides, and Beth joined in with equal fervor. I was totally oblivious to the fact that a slow session was going on down the steps in a rock-walled room basement that was being bombarded by the booming mandolin and bouzouki. The session leader walked by in disgust, and someone was heard to say “what was that tune called, Shatter the Calm”? On this cut, I succumbed to the temptation to multi-track various instruments- the Gibson mandolin, the Steve Smith Bouzouki, and 2 harmonicas are heard at various points here.
Three Donegal Mazurkas
A set of three mazurkas from the playing of Johnny Doherty. I like the way that you can sound 3 or even 4 strings at a time on the mandolin to do your own accompaniment on this one. In spite of that, I went ahead and asked Zan McLeod
to contribute a part to this, and he obliged me by sending back a beautiful accompaniment part on his Steve Smith
The Mason’s Apron/Tam Lin/The Banjo Reel
Three tunes played live (I suppose very few tunes are recorded “dead”, I guess I’m just trying to say that we recorded both the guitar and banjo part at the same time) in the studio with Paul Kotapish. Paul has a great way of bringing out the sweetness in a tune. Sometimes, left to my own devices, I hit on a warp speed version of these tunes, but I’m really glad Paul’s influence came through on this track. The Banjo Reel is one of my own compositions, I can’t remember the circumstances that it came to me under, but it’s one of the only ones of my own that I still actually like! The Banjo used to record this track was traded in towards the National Tenor Guitar used on track 14.
I have an mpeg video clip of this set being played at the relase party,
this time on the National Tenor (the thing I'm holding that looks like a chromed toaster with a banjo neck).
Aires de Pontevedra
This is another one that is in either D or A major depending on what I pick up. It’s not really a common session tune, so it doesn’t really seem to matter. Basically you want to play it on whatever the top string is tuned to in a DGAD or DAEA-topped bouzouki. It has a realy fun part where you zip high up the neck and cross-pick the B-part, one of the tunes that got me to learn how to play up there. Kips Bay has recorded this tune, and I also heard it on a compilation of Breton
Music (despite the fact that this is a Galician tune!).
A Waltz composed by Shane MacGowan (formerly the frontman & lead singer of the Pogues).
Shanne Bradley was a one-time bandmate of Shane's in a band called "The Nipple Erectors". Shanne is
a fine bassist and a very nice person to boot! This waltz is a
lovely little tune that appeared on the same EP as "The Battle March Medley", a fairly rare 3-track CD
called "Fairytale of New York" (that was a very popular single of theirs back in the day). This tune was
a last minute add-in to the disk while I was trying to think of a nice slow piece to play on the National
Resophonic Tenor guitar to end things on a soft note.. played along with the mandolin note-for-note, it
reminds me sometimes of a honky-tonk piano sound! The National has a great "honk" to it, it's like a
tenor banjo in all the right ways, and a guitar at the same time. I think a lot more Irish tenor banjo
players would trade in their banjos for one of these if they had a crack on one!
Going through some of the unused tracks from the recording recently (10/30/2002), I found some very nice
clean recordings of the national on some jigs that I'll probably tidy up with fades and post on this site