Friday, July 26, 2013

Stung--Marc Cohn and Mary Chapin Carpenter Concert, Great Barrington, MA 7-25-13

I went to hear my friend Marc do a concert with Mary Chapin Carpenter at a beautiful old theater in Great Barrington, MA. I only decided to go, a few days ago when I looked up what he was doing on tour. I haven't seen him in a few years. And usually I wait until he comes right to Northampton, but that isn't happening this year, and the 15 dates  he's doing with Mary are really special in that they are doing each others songs together. Mary is being inducted this year into the Nashiville Songwriter's Hall of Fame, only the 15th woman to get in, and Marc is her presenter.

When Marc puts me on the guest list, he'll sometimes do something really special that I don't expect. When I went to pick up the ticket, it turned out that it was in one of the balcony boxes. 

All by myself like the the King of Norway, until I got joined by a really nice musician friend of Marc's keyboard guy Glenn.  I never sat in one of those before. It was just really great, because I felt so included in the night, like I could just soak it all in. And I was by myself with my notebook propped on the ledge, taking notes on Mary's songs, she has some great ones of course. My favorite was was probably "This Shirt" --one where every verse was about about this shirt that she'd had with silver buttons that had been all over her life with her, and where it had gone travel and hardships and leaning her head on a window going through France and one the beach when she was there with some guy she loved who is of course all nostalgia at this point, just raising the power of the magic of the shirt.

It was an exquisite concert, from the both of them individually, and from them together backing up or taking over the others' songs.. At the end, they sang these songs they'd sung in Central Park in a benefit concert a few weeks earlier. They sang these songs from the classics, "The Wee Small Hours of the Morning" done by Mary, and then Moon River by Marc (oh such a beautiful, nimble soulful, expressive voice. It moved grown men to tears--at least one. ) And after the first go through of the song, Mary asked the audience if they felt like singing. Of course, I wanted nothing more. And those of us that wanted to as a communal choir of gratitude to the two of them and to being part of this community, while Marc and Mary sat back, and listened, and I just sang it real quiet and gentle with all the other people, and it was heaven, just heaven. So nice to make music after hearing it. And there were a lot of great singers there, because the two of them are songwriters' songwriters with great voices, so they attract like. What a great ending to a great night. I felt re-re-re reborn to life, really.

So I went to the meet and greet in the front lobby and met Marc' tour manager Tom, and his producer accompanyist and longtime friend John Leventhal in the lobby hallway. Among the recordings he was signing was an EP with live versions of songs from his last album, and it leads off with Live Out the String, which I just heard in the car as I was returning to the driveway of the house where the kitchen table sits where I wrote the letter to him that he used as lyrics. Big cheering sound at the end. So nice.

The other thing that happened, that I was excited about on the way to the theater I went to the Woody Guthrie family museum (in the Alice's Restaurant Church, "just a half a mile from the railroad track") and met a guy there with a guitar, and we went on the porch and played. He was great, and happened to have three guitars with him including a Gibson J-45 (the John Lennon guitar) and we traded off songs to play in you name one, and I'll name one fashion, and I had a lead sheet in my case for my newest song (48 hours old) "Didn't Wanna Stop Myself" (I didn't stop myself)  so we started with that, and it totally clicked for me in accoustic version, and he played great lead, like jeez I wanted to go right to a studio with him, but at least we traded cards, and I probably will see this guy again.

I was so glad to see Marc and just give him a brother hug. I was so grateful for his being. He was great. Its such a weird kind of public thing where people are waiting in line to see him but real stuff finds a way to come through anyway, and people give a little space for that. He said, "We gotta have the talk sometime not now, its been quite a two years. I'll tell you later." He asked how I was, and I told him I'm really enjoying music, and he said, I know, I know, I see it, I'm sorry I just don't have time to tell you." I so understand, and really its one of the great pleasures of going to these concerts just to feel a very brief moment of excitement and reconnection, that feels completely sufficient even as a 2 minute glimpse. Who knows, maybe that's one of the reasons he does meet and greets, to catch up.  I could have tried to hang out longer, but I'm real big on savoring the hell out of what was offered without making anybody sorry they were so nice to me. I bet he could get an excellent song out of things that happened tonight, including the bizarre bit about getting stung by a bee on stage, and being o.k. but surprised by this.  Even if he doesn't write this into a song metaphor somehow, I might.

Closing bow (L to R: John Leventhal, Marc Cohn, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Glenn Patcha )

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Streets of Gold

Our chill and sweet band, the SilverTone5 has emerged through a beautiful organic process that has at times driven me to madness and despair with its sadistic slowness.

In the beginning was David, my everyday kind of real-life friend, who at one time was someone I'd get together with to throw a baseball or talk about movies, with no thought of music, and who happened to be a guitar playing master craftsman. One day we picked up some guitars and he said, "Why don't we jam regularly, its good for me to get back in this."

. . .Then came Robbie Lloyd Henderson, at first as a banjo player (!?) (did that really happen?), who bought himself a bass and an amplifier and settled in, though he is also a great lead guitarist and songwriter, among other renaissance talents.

. . .That's how it was for a long time, just the three of us, but then jazz, rock and soul diva Kristie arrived like it was always meant to be.

. . .and on the day of the session below, Laura Mustard -- a musical energy phenomenon, songwriter, performer and rock and roll animal, agreed to sit in on drums, and  because she was secretly a long-time brilliant percussionist among her many more obvious creative talents, she happens to be able to intuit all the changes and fills and build ups, and endings like she's been here all along.

All this came together in a flash while I was all the while writing songs in profusion as if I were expecting the band to appear which eventually did. And on my recordings, my digital alias has always been Michael & the SilverTone5, featuring, at times, a horn section and female harmony singers. All of a sudden, we are this band that seems to have a history and depth that belies the fact that we've only been fully in existence for a week (or 5 years, depending how you look at it), but what a week so far!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

New Video of the Day

Here is a video of Jon and me playing the last two songs of our set on 7-19-13. I really love the way he plays for reasons you can hear for yourself. So we did this big ballady song, and then, just like in concerts I like, we switch up the mood on a dime, and end with something way upbeat.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Finding New Sounds

Click below the picture to get the video.

Here, click on this:

Last night I was playing a set with Jon and felt myself come unstuck in time like in a Kurt Vonnegut novel. It was a small room, but I imagined quite vividly that I was simultaneously in another reality in which there were many hundreds of people there. When I closed my eyes, I was one guy playing for both audiences. Huh. Cool trick. Must try it more often, as I am doing that at this moment writing for an audience of 15 plus, 50 Russian Malware Spybots in this world, and the Huffington Post as well. Watch this space tomorrow for another video.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

"Mark Twain" recording session at Northfire Studio 7-5-13

Recorded a song today at legendary Northfire Studio in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Took a song just written as result of a songwriting collaboration started in a songwriting workshop over Skype. Perhaps more on that in a future blog post. Suffice it to say, I got fortunate to end up getting to do a trial collaboration with an extremely talented singer/songwriter/composer and we developed  one of her many great musical and lyrical ideas--this one has such a ninja chorus it was sitting there saying, would you write me already, what do you want, a formal invitation? So I wrote some verses working off her title, "Mark Twain" and the next thing I heard was a clicking sound I now recognize as the activation switch for my actual voice actually finding itself. 

Northfire Recording Studio is a sweet little place, but they do some seriously great work there. Artists come from far and wide to record. If Emily Dickinson were alive today, I'm sure that not only would she be writing and recording songs, but that this would be her studio, not only because she could walk over from her house but because it would respect her need for a room of her own.

I was there to do just this one song. 
How long do you think it takes to do one song--a 5 minute song? 

We started at 10 o'clock with the acoustic guitar track. 
I did one with just my little red guitar that I've had since high school, bare hands, muted rhythm no pick.
Then I did another one with my full sized acoustic to ring in the choruses.
Then another one of electric rhythm with a Stratocaster that they miked into a Super Reverb in the hallway so it cut, singed and echoed just right.
Then another with a big full-sized gorgeous concert grand piano.
Then another with the prettiest sounding vintage Fender Rhodes you could imagine.
Then another with lead vocals.
Then another with harmonies,
Then another with shakers and another with congas.
Then another with tambourine,
Then another with the hugely talented Reed Sutherland who playing a grooved-in liquid bassline.
Then another of mixing and final edits.

Got out at 5. Seven Hours, liquid protein in grape juice was lunch, during a microphone set up.
Actually, Reed's liquid bass line was what really kept me going.

Marc Seedorf engineers as Reed Sutherland punches in his bass part during our session at Northfire Recording Studio in Amherst, MA 7-5-13

Came equipped with three guitars, a ukelele and bag of percussion instruments and a page of lyrics. Even though I have many unrecorded songs, some of them I thought at the time were the one to spend a day on, I wanted to see what would happen if I took an inspired idea and stood at the edge of a cliff in the canyon with a glider and took a jump. With nothing assured, I wanted to do something better than I ever did it before and even though there's nothing wrong with taking something proven and making it better, I wanted to take the story of Mark Twain's life as material for a song--how he notes the foibles of mankind while also being hopeful enough to love the human race. He seems to be able to convey that  the collective story of humans is tragic and the personal story of each person is ultimately tragic--except  that it isn't. Humanity is redeemed some, even in its barbarity, through its art, and on the individual level, people are redeemed even in terrible loss, through love. Anyway, that's my take on Twain. I wanted to feel that, and convey give some of the flavor of his message. It ended up somehow overlapping with the process of playing with these big sounds. I wanted to put myself in the role of being the middle point connecting my good friend (in my imagination, musically) Elvis Costello, to my good friend (language-istically) Mark Twain. I just knew they'd like each other, as I like them both so much.

There's the lyric on the music stand. There were three tea light candles on the table. When I put candles and a big box of matches in my session bag, I thought it was kind of odd, but I had an instinct to make the occasion ceremonial. Doing the lead vocals seemed like the best time and place to do that.  I asked Marc if there was a floor lamp. I knew what I was doing, and why but I could't quite explain it if someone asked me. I didn't need to. He was encouraging. It was totally o.k. by him.  He said, "Any way you get yourself comfortable just helps me do my job better and makes it easier for me."

Did I mention how encouraging and masterful Marc Seedorf is as a session engineer? While being all about getting things ready, about moving calmly and constantly toward any possibilities being invited, I'd get a impulse, and he'd say, let's do it. He knew any of these passing things was important to the freedom to let something be what it needed to be. For example, when we were mixing the editing, I heard him isolate the vocal. He was cleaning it up, finding the pops between the places where we had punched in a re-do of a note or line. Even though we put a fair amount of effort into constructing a smooth instrumental ending to the song, I realized that the best ending was what I just heard by accident, the isolated vocal track saying, "always believed" stripped off all the 11 other tracks we had carefully been building up all this time.  It had been a long day. We had put in a lot of work. He understood what I was asking for, and we threw out the old ending he'd been crafting for 20 minutes and made a new one and it really helped make the song, and it was his willingness to instantly see that is how it could happen in the first place and I could invite my intuition out. He made it possible to do that. It's a little bit like getting a wild horse or deer to stick around through being patience itself.

In a documentary about Soul Singer/Songwriter Bill Withers, he says:

"One of the things I always tell my kids is that it's OK to head out for wonderful, but on your way to wonderful, you're gonna have to pass through all right," Withers says. "When you get to all right, take a good look around and get used to it, because that may be as far as you're gonna go."

I really savored this day, and so many moments of the day, like this one,
getting to play a Stratocaster while wearing headphones and someone on the other side of the glass
giving me a reason to reach for something big.  As we were setting up the grand piano, I said, "This right here is the most fun you can have in life. " Usually when someone says that, they qualify it somehow. I didn't-- at all. Intentionally so, because it didn't need any qualification in that moment. I knew that was funny, because how could I mean that? Except, I did. He qualified my sentence for me, though by saying, "It's the most fun you can have, that doesn't involve sitting down at a grand piano." 

Marc finished his mixing and cleaned it up, removing stray hair, hairy frequencies and getting it ready to be heard, and while I was doing a final listen to check the sound levels, I was sitting in the control room with a clipboard, holding a pencil as tears rolled out of my eyes. Sometimes someone will say, "I was crying for joy." That wasn't it. It wasn't as simple as crying for joy. I was crying for the resonance the big sound from the studio speakers was making with something that was suddenly awake and present in the room finally having a way to manifest itself, sharably in the world. There was happiness in it though, it sounded just as tremendous as my heroes. "I'm Aimee Mann!" I said, if you know what I mean. And you might not know what I mean, so I'll say it more plainly. The sonic richness, the clean sound of built emotional melody that is so miraculous that it makes you hold your breath for a second when on her record, it was coming out of what I had just watched myself do for 7 hours. It was cut from the very same cloth. It had to have come from me. I was going to have to change my idea of who I was.  Somehow, I think I'm going to have to take this in. This is now what I know how to sound like. 

 Could see the summer sunlight to the outdoors through the window in the control room, and even from the main recording room, but was not prepared for how bright the sunshine was of a 90 degree July day re-entering the world but carrying this new sound in me now.

Watch for "Mark Twain", coming soon to iTunes when it's good n' ready to.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Rehearsing In the Studio

On the Saturday before Memorial Day we gather to turn the amps up, and put in foam ear plugs, recalling famous dead rock stars, their sacrifices and musical legacies, because Freedom is not Free. In addition to   Kirtan-influenced versions of Creedence Clearwater's "Born on the Bayou" we also ran through a number of the latest releases from the bedroom comforter-top studios of Michael and the SilverTone8, which you can hear on line:

This is what the session sounded like:

And here are some studio recordings:
     Anthem for the greatness everywhere resplendent, inchoate and incipient.
     We could make things so much better than what we put up with, let's.
    The Inaugural Theme of "El Presidente," my suddenly-mythical Mexican Stratocaster
     Open Tuning Dulcimer-Pop
     Orchestral Arrangement almost certainly shaped by the majestic Ray Charles version of "Georgia On My Mind" heard way many times on the soundtrack of a 1979 in a Ray-goes "Claymation" movie short when I was a theater usher.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Controversy and New Releases

        In the contract with my record label, they've limited me to releasing no more than 30 songs a year. I've argued with them endlessly, but to no avail. They say its in my interest to have the albums eagerly awaited each year at the holiday season. I tell them they don't understand the songwriting process. They counter that they understand the industry, and are currently repackaging my greatest hits in four albums:

The Very Best of Michael Silverstone and the SilverTone5
Michael Silverstone and the SilverTone5:  Greatest Hits
Michael Silverstone and the SilverTone5: Live at the Thirsty Mind
and a remastered re-issue of my debut album Flying Blind

      I keep writing and recording new songs and they say:  "Stop. People want to hear the early stuff that defined your sound. They associate it with 2009-2010, a special time in their lives, when we were younger and the world was a more carefree place." I counter, "But this is the best work I've ever done." Wasted words. The head of A and R actually said to me. "That's really not the point. You're killing your brand with overexposure."

      Doubtful. But just the same, this industry has chewed up and spit out people you'll never hear of far more talented than I. Reluctantly, I have to suffer the idiocy of their, "legal agreements" in order to receive their "royalty checks" so I can continue to have "lunch".

     Perhaps I can't release any more songs until Jan 1, 2014 but that won't stop me from sharing these tracks by my latest discovery and protégé, the very talented Mark Zimmerman:

Over You:
It's been called Everly Brothers Redux. (It's rumored that that's me on harmony, not true.):


Earth Survey:
A Speculative Science Fiction song from the perspective of an earth-colonizing super-being: 

Tried to make it as purdy as I possibly could :

Hope you enjoy these, and and in so doing, stick it to the man.



Saturday, January 26, 2013

Shutesbury Athletic Club March 1st, 8:30

The SilverTone5 play one of their songs that gradually gives way to
 an (well, the only) Eric Burdon and the Animals/Santa Esmerelda/Odetta classic.
At The Thirsty Mind Cafe and Wine Bar, Hadley, MA 1-26-13.

More at:

and at:

Friday, January 4, 2013

What Happens When You Play Live


Last night I was hosting the Thirsty Mind Open Mic. On  my 2 song turn I played a new song and a classic Roy Orbison song. Something happened at the end that was one of those moments that you can either fight or go with. I'm so glad that via this video I got to watch myself at a time I managed instinctively to go with what happened. It gives me more trust for the future.  Going with it is always the right choice, but how could you know that unless you have opportunities to practice what you would do if circumstances were not controllable. It doesn't actually doesn't wreck everything, but makes it better. Who knew?

Happy New Year,