The new CD "Blues, Swings & Other Things" was at first a small, personal project for Mike McCloskey. But it eventually grew in time and scale, and finally came to include 10 tracks in an array of musical genres, performed by some 30 top-notch, Madison-area musicians. -
Gayle Woreland, Arts Editor/ Wisconsin State Journal
After nearly four years working on his CD "Blues, Swings & Other Things," guitarist Mike McCloskey listened to his nine completed tracks, and thought the job was done. But his wife, Kerry, knew one thing was missing.
She turned to McCloskey, who grew up singing in an Irish family and plays the Bodhran drum each year in Madison's St. Patrick's Day parade. And she said, "You have to do an Irish song," he recalls.
On McCloskey's CD -- which will be celebrated Feb. 8 with a party and live jam -- his wife's request evolved into a seven-minute medley performed by 13 musicians, including McCloskey's grandsons, Cullen, 10, and Brody, 8, who provide vocal harmonies. McCloskey's brother, Joe, and son, Jamie, also join in.
"It ended up being a production number," McCloskey recalls. "I didn't tell Kerry that I was bringing the grandboys in to sing. So I gave it to her as a Mother's Day gift."
That's much the story of "Blues, Swings & Other Things" -- at first a small, personal project for McCloskey, but one that grew in time and scale, and finally came to include 10 tracks in an array of musical genres, performed by some 30 top-notch, Madison-area musicians. At 60, McCloskey calls them all friends, from violinist Randy Sabien, whom he met through a neighbor, to string bass player Tom Swenson, a rock band buddy from his high school days.
McCloskey, a guitarist for 25 years with the band Moondance, composed five of the tunes on the CD -- from the boogie-woogie "As I Can Be" to the dreamy "Those Evenin' Blues." Other songs he arranged vary from the 1918 jazz standard "After You've Gone" to "You Can Close Your Eyes" by James Taylor.
"Mike is very focused on the music," says Chris Powers, who plays mandolin and bouzouki on the CD. "He has a good respect for both acoustic and electric music and musicians."
The feeling is mutual, says recording engineer Ron Linzell, who runs Middleton's Rocket 88 Studio and played on the CD. "The musicians who played on this did it for free," says Linzell. "He might take them out for a hamburger and a beer afterwards, but I've never seen anything quite like it. It's not the easiest thing in the world to get people to put aside time, but because of the respect they have for Mike and the admiration for his musicianship, they were willing to do it."
The mostly acoustic "Blues, Swings & Other Things" grew out of McCloskey's eclectic musical tastes.
His dad, a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist known as "Smilin' Jim" McCloskey, performed regularly in Madison in the 1940s and '50s.
Wearing a red flannel shirt as he sits near the woodstove in his Civil War-era stone home near Oregon, the guitarist says he didn't set out to make an autobiographical CD, but that's kind of how it turned out.
"I wanted to make sure we did all the songs in the purest instrumentation, meaning I didn't want any synthesizers, any fake clarinets, no effects other than a little bit of reverb," he says. "I'm a pretty simple guy, really. This was quite the complicated project. Fortunately, everybody was so cooperative and so great."