Todd Adelman in his home studio where “Highways & Lowways” was recorded.
Photo by Jeffrey V. Smith
By Jeffrey V. Smith
While recording his latest album, just about everything went Todd Adelman’s way. He brought a bunch of top musicians and engineers to his Nederland-area studio and immersed them into his music and the Colorado experience. Although the final product took almost two years to complete, everyone agrees it was worth the wait. His new alt-country album, “Highways & Lowways,” will be “officially” released January 2015.
The recording session took four days at Adelman’s Mountain House Studio. The musician, who has been a mainstay on the Front Range music scene since the mid-90s, wrote the 14 original songs, sung all lead vocals, played acoustic guitar as well as piano and harmonica.
To get the sound he wanted, he assembled a talented band including Marshall Crenshaw’s drummer Diego Voglino, Gov’t Mule’s Andy Hess on bass, Pete Rubens of The Old Nationals on piano and organ, Lucinda Williams’ guitarist Doug Pettibone and Kelvin Holly, from Little Richard’s band, on guitars. To engineer the project, Adelman brought in Chad Hailey, who’s worked with J.J. Cale, Janis Ian and Neil Young among others, and Brandon Bell, who’s worked with Alison Krauss, Jerry Douglas and many more.
“I prefer to work in an environment where all of the musicians are immersed in the project together and can work out parts and arrangements collaboratively,” Adelman said. “I had a strong vision for how I wanted this record to sound both sonically as well as from a part stand point. I put countless hours in to figuring out who the right players are from the musicians to the engineers, to the mastering house. I have been very lucky over the years to work with exceptional musicians both locally and nationally. The lesson I consistently learn is there are a lot of great players, but finding the right player for the specific task is a time consuming process and incredibly important.”
Although many of the players and engineers were strangers at the beginning of the project, they left good friends. “We had a blast making this record, and I, for one, was sorry when the session ended,” Adelman said. “A lot of us were strangers at the beginning, but by the end we were an extended family. This is one of the great gifts of making music.”
Adelman’s own Mountain House Studio was another big component in getting the sound he was looking for. Having recorded in some of the great studios across the country, he couldn’t find one that had the gear and vibe he was used to and desired when he moved to Colorado 20 years ago. “I started accumulating gear and at some point decided to open The Mountain House as a commercial facility. The studio reflects my sonic tastes in that it is highly analog. My gear list resembles what I would find at many of the great places I’ve recorded.”
Hailey and Bell, according to Adelman, are “exceptional” engineers and have worked on countless great records. They were yet another component to creating the perfect sound. “I let them run with it from the start and chimed in when I had a strong opinion. I feel strongly that when you hire the right people for the job, it is best to let them do their thing.”
They started with about 25 songs and whittled them down to 16 they thought would make a “cohesive and moving” record. In the end, 14 made the cut. “I take keys, tempo, groove in to consideration, but don’t put too much weight on it. As a songwriter first and foremost, I am concerned with the narrator’s voice, and is it consistent,” Adelman said. “I listen to a lot of music, and the records I gravitate towards are those that bring you to a certain time and place. I am proud of this batch of songs.”
According to Adelman, the session went extremely well and everything went his way when it came to achieving his vision. The positive vibes continued even after the recording was finished.
On the last night, three feet of snow fell. “I love when this happens as it gives the out-of-towners the full Nederland experience,” he explained. “Miraculously, everyone got out… with no delays. Kelvin is from Muscle Shoals, Chad and Brandon from Nashville and Doug from LA. They all got a kick out of it and it seems to still be the topic of conversation. They still can’t believe they got home. Though I wish we all got marooned, I told em’ that when the stars are aligned, shit just seems to go your way. That was the way the whole session went!”
Although the record was recorded live in four days, it took about two years to finish it. “We added background vocals, horns, etc. I didn’t expect it to take this long,” Adelman said. “We had decided on a trajectory and staying true to that was more important than creating a deadline.”
One of the most important reasons Adelman’s latest project worked out so well, he says, is thanks to the support from his wife, Rebecca, and daughter, Abilene.
The artist is currently playing with Todd Adelman and The Country Mile in support of the new record. The band plays Rockabillies in Arvada Dec. 5 and Waterloo in Louisville, Dec. 13.
Visit http://www.mountainhouserecording.com or toddadelman.com to learn more.
Originally published in the December 2014 issue of the MMAC Monthly