Several years in the making, "Ship of State" (the follow up to my first album "Mike Skliar") is an exciting and dynamic work with 20 songs covering a huge range of styles and moods.
The project grew out of several activities, including my active participation in several “songwriting challenges” sponsored through February Album Writing Month (fawm.org) and 50/90 (Fifty songs in Ninety Days). I was also studying more advanced jazz harmony, learning more on guitar and mandolin, and exploring bluegrass and so-called “Americana” roots music in greater depth. Finally, during the 2008 presidential election, writing a series of political songs for WBAI and other media outlets provided additional songwriting experience.
The result is a 20 track album which covers a broad range of music- from the driving rock and roll of “Money Blues” to the gospel call-and-response state-of the-nation song “Ship of State” to the jazz harmonies and chords of “Song for Ruth”… and that’s just the first three songs! Other styles/moods include fingerpicked blues, bluegrass, ‘spoken word-jazz’, Beatles-flavored pop/rock, and not least, a Dylanesque word-play.
There are literally contributions from musicians around the world on the album. Many of the basic tracks feature multi-instrumentalist (guitar, bass, pedal steel) Tom Ricciuti, who was also the co-producer. Robert Weiss plays drums, and Angelina Powers and Elaine DiMasi sang harmony vocals. Joe Brent, a classical and jazz mandolin & violin player, who’s played with everyone from Stephane Grappelli to symphony orchestras around the world, lent his talents to two songs. Interestingly, I was able to assemble a virtual choir for the title song “Ship of State” using computer technology to send files. When you hear the call-and response chorus, you’re hearing singers from Croydon, England (Benjamin Nolan), Toronto, Canada (Errol Elumir), Texas (Roy Hughes), California (Ross Durand) Missouri (T.C. Elliot), Wisconsin (Nancy Rost), Long Island (Elaine DiMasi) plus some of us here in New York City. Another British musician, Paul “Hoopshank” Turrell, contributed keyboards on two songs and drums on another.
The album was produced and recorded by myself and Tom Ricciuti, with mixing assistance from Erik Didriksen, who also did the artwork and layout for the CD. (I did the photography). All songs were written by me, with the exception of “Helen”, which was co-written with Nancy Rost.
I’m playing a variety of string instruments on this album including some unusual guitars. On several songs (and pictured on the front cover) I play a baritone-scale Tricone National resonator guitar. At various points I’m also playing my Taylor 814ce acoustic, Fender Stratocaster electric, 12 string acoustic, Flatiron F-style mandolin, Beard dobro (resonator guitar, lap style), Regal resonator guitar, tenor banjo, Martin nylon string guitar, and on one song, an Indian sitar. I also play blues harmonica on several songs.
Tom plays a variety of electric guitars including Fender Telecaster, Stratocaster, and most notably a vintage Gibson Super 400 jazz guitar, as well as pedal steel and bass. (He also does the funkiest ‘finger-snaps’ this side of Maynard G Krebs on the song ‘A writer” ) Joe plays a custom designed Italian bowl-back mandolin, which has to be seen to be believed.
In addition to the satisfaction of seeing the finished recording take shape with some of the fine contributions mentioned above, the writing process was an interesting one.
There are songs dealing with the economic crisis, family dysfunction, politics, the search for happiness, and love and relationships. Yet there are songs with more unusual subject matter – the closing of a mystery bookstore, the rise of the Beatles, the Obama campaign, and memories and echoes of many no longer with us- George Carlin, Buddy Holly, John Lennon, Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin, and my grandmother, to name a few. While the album feels a bit more serious in subject matter and tone then my last album, it still has more then a little touch of humor all the way through.