Rick Harris is a bit surprised by how things have turned out. The Alabama native woke up one day to find himself living in Germany, far away from his sons and his friends and all that had been familiar. He wasn't complaining -- there were good reasons for the journey but . . . he wasn't quite sure what was going to happen next.
He had met Mathias Weil, a Swiss guitarist, a couple of years earlier in Alabama and after the two of them had played a gig near Zurich, Mat suggested to Rick that they visit Stephen Ferron, another expatriate American, who was living in western Switzerland. The three met and picked and sang and Stephen decided immediately that Rick was the production project he'd been looking for. "It was interesting," he says, "because Rick sees himself as an instrumentalist who happens to sing a bit. But it was his voice that I thought should be shared with as many people as possible."
"This is the Beginning" showcases both Rick's voice and his prowess on Dobro and acoustic guitar.
The title track was written by Pat Donohue. “It’s a great song and it’s ideally suited to Rick’s talents,” says Stephen , who co-produced the album with Martin Levan. Rick adds with a smile, “It’s also a perfect metaphor for a group of musicians starting out on a new adventure.”
The album was recorded at Red Kite Studio in a remote location in South Wales. Stephen comments, “We thought it would be a good idea to go to a residential studio far from the distractions of our homes and we started listening to albums with sounds we particularly liked, paying special attention to where they’d been recorded. One of my favorites was Ashore by June Tabor and she had done it at Red Kite. When I spoke to Martin Levan (engineer, co-producer and studio owner), I knew that it would be a good location for us.”
Some outstanding musicians supported the band on the project: English bassist Tim Harries, Scottish drummer/percussionist James Mackintosh and English multi-instrumentalist Simon Keegan-Phipps joined the five band members in the studio. Rick's lead vocals are backed by Thomas Merritt and Menia Ohrem, who are also members of his live band.
Mathias points out, “We’d seen James play on the Transatlantic Sessions TV series with some of the best acoustic musicians in the world and we’d look at each other and say, ‘That’s the guy!’ And amazingly, we were able to get him.” Thomas , who also plays drums and percussion in the live shows says, “Watching James in the studio is like a master class in how to accompany acoustic music. He does these incredibly complex things that never get in the way of the song. And we never saw him make a mistake, which would be a great reason to hate him but he’s so friendly and funny that it would be impossible. Plus, he has a really cool accent.”
About bassist Tim Harries, Stephen says, “I’d seen Tim play with the seminal folk-rock band Steeleye Span back in the late 80s and I was so impressed that I actually wrote him a geeky fan letter. A while later I’d seen him with Bill Bruford playing a strange kind of fusion jazz and Tim was just as good at that so I’d followed his career for a long time. When I found out that he would be available, I put on my producer’s hat and fired myself as bassist, to the great benefit of the album.”
Simon Keegan-Phipps had been one of Stephen’s tutors in a graduate program in world music. He arrived at the studio with an accordion, a concertina, a mandolin, a mandola and a guitar. He played all these instruments on the album along with piano. Rick comments, “Having Simon in the studio was amazing. Each time we’d start doing the basic tracks of a new song, he’d add a bit of whatever instrument was missing – his parts were like herbs and spices and he always knew just what to add. He’s a very sensitive musician.”
Co-producer and engineer Martin Levan’s long, distinguished career has included engineering and production work on well-regarded albums in a number of genres (who else has worked with Ralph McTell, Iron Maiden and Maggie and Terre Roche?) and nearly three decades as a musical theatre sound designer. He worked with Andrew Lloyd Webber on some of the most successful musicals of all time and produced or co-produced the original cast soundtrack albums for such shows as Kiss of the Spider Woman and the Grammy Award-winning Cats.