Author: obrownlee

#38 “The Gospel According to Me” with Skip Heller and the Carnival of Soul

Chaka Khan meets Dr Teeth & the Electric Mayhem in a tune that boldly makes a few suggestions on how to show up in the world.

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Olivia Brownlee with Carnival of Soul

Arranged & Produced by Skip Heller
Recorded & Mixed by Gavin Ross at Steady Studios, Burbank, CA
November, 2017
Vocals: Olivia Brownlee
Trumpet: Matt Mattera
Tenor & Baritone Saxophones, Shaker: Manny Montiel Diaz
Organ, Electric Piano: John Bird
Guitar: Skip Heller
Electric Bass: Chris Camacho
Drums: Howard Greene
Session Coordinator: Bob Cantu

Olivia Brownlee — Vocals, Song

Every now and again someone will approach me in person and request to be a part of the Songography project directly. After my good friend Skip Heller viewed a livestream of “Gospel,” he commented immediately that he wanted to produce it, arrange it, and bask with me in the glory of its existence in the world. Knowing Skip and his incomparable musicality, I jumped at the opportunity.

A Word on the Studio:
Gavin’s place, like so many studios in Los Angeles, is tucked cozily in a residential backyard in what may have originally been a garage but has been repurposed into a marvelous hive of industry. A large isolation room occupies the back half, there’s a small control room in the middle, and the front half is an impressive and giddy maze of equipment, instruments, and cables snaking loyally back to the board. Gavin won my heart with his collection of masks from around the world hung happily in the control room next to posters of famous soul singers, and he won my respect for his attentiveness to the plot, his quiet demeanor, and his attitude for efficiency. I tried to take pictures of the session for posterity but nobody would stay still long enough. So I had to draw my producer instead…

A Word on the Producer:
Skip booked the studio and the musicians, devised the musical arrangement, and directed the session – I basically showed up, interviewed him on Facebook Live, and laid the vocal track. To have someone produce that totally for me was a new and welcome experience, and I felt in very capable hands. Skip comes with an impressive resume – he has conducted in-studio orchestras, composed for Sesame Street (an association with Jim Henson will endear me to anyone), and is the pinnacle of class in that he rarely namedrops or boasts, though his prolific career in Hollywood would give him the right. He made the session possible financially for me by lumping it in with one of his own sessions from his project “Carnival of Soul.” His enthusiasm for my song made me feel like I had done something really worthy by writing it.

Thank you for your support!

Thank you for your support!

“Utah Moon” by Michael McGinnis

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Recorded at McCoy Productions in Los Angeles, CA
October, 2017
Producer/Engineer — Russell Wolff, Krazy Pop Studios
Guitar — Olivia Brownlee, Michael McGinnis
Vocals — Olivia Brownlee, Michael McGinnis
Song — Michael McGinnis

A Word on the Songwriter:
I didn’t really know they played music on the radio because music was always being played live in my household, church, and at my parents’ shows. Michael McGinnis has known me since I was a small child, and was consequently one of my earliest musical and songwriting influences (along with my parents, my uncles, Bob Marlowe, and David Covington, among some others). His songs have punctuated pivotal moments in my life, and I recently got to tell him how the song “It’s All Good” got me through one of the toughest years I’ve experienced so far. He’s a phenomenal talent, a deep artist, an interested human, and a bleeding romantic. He will always be young. Catch him for one of his famous birthday shows at the Coffee Gallery in Altadena.

A Word on the Mixologist/Producer:
Russell Wolff talks as fast as he works. A transplant from New York via Nashville, Russell is a speedy comper and a critical listener, makes friends first and cohorts soon after, and rues boredom. Sincere and helpful, happy to go extra miles for the sake of the take and the sake of the song, delighted to make connections and discoveries and to praise what’s great and work on what needs work, I’m happy to have met him through our mutual friend Eric Schwartz and to have placed this annual cover track in his capable, enthusiastic hands. Click the link above to learn more about Krazy Pop Studios.


“Weird Little Bonnet” at 68 Sound

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Recorded at 68 Sound in Los Angeles, CA
September, 2017
Guitar — Nate LaPointe
Bass — Hal Cragin
Drums — Adam Gust
Engineer — Bob Biles
Olivia Brownlee — Vocals, Song

A Word on the Song:
Funny how seemingly mundane, even childish beginnings can result in a timely cultural hot potato. This song was written just before the #metoo movement and was not inspired by personal events. It was more like I wanted something to rhyme with the line, “…and a scarf so red you’d think Christ had opened a vein on it.” What rhymes with “on it”? I mused…Bonnet! And then the whole thing promptly tumbled out.

This song hasn’t been widely distributed or even recognized, I have no personal experience with domestic abuse, and I don’t know many people who are open about their experience with domestic abuse…in short I have little business penning a song like this. But “on it” rhymes with “bonnet,” and I have an imagination, and trying to imagine a viable circumstance in which a bad guy discovers in a bad way that his proclivities are not socially acceptable in his own herd is, I think, a thought experiment worth indulging. Or mentally exploring what act of bravery (like confronting an abusive partner in a public space) could result in the sudden cessation of a vortex that ultimately ends in death (if not the body then certainly the spirit)…Or pondering what groups of people might take matters into their own hands in an extreme and immediate situation…

We all like solutions. We don’t always have the time, energy, or resources to rummage for them. I think maybe one of our jobs as artists is to do the rummaging through options on the behalf of those who are disproportionately occupied in hiding themselves – their thoughts, their bodies, their pain…folks traversing where, “but for the grace of God,” I might also.

A Word on the Crew:
Adam Gust wanted IN, and boy was he welcome (and always will be)! Providing not only his interstellar and intensely creative and innovative drum skills, but also his studio, his hospitality, and even his favorite engineer, Bob Biles, we packed this puppy into a four-hour session and called it a day! Fierce musicianeers Hal Cragin (who has previously been heard on “Rake,” #21!) and Nate LaPointe backed us up effortlessly, lending the blazing funk attitude I felt was so desperately needed on this track. This was a dream band, and they are all so much taller than I am (not saying much but still wow)…


Thank you for your support!

Thank you for your support!

“Sugarfree” at Wonka Sound

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Recorded at Wonka Sound in Lowell, MA
Engineer — Bob Nash,
Trombone — Tim Lewandowski
Trumpet — Marc Presler
Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Kazoo, Song — Olivia Brownlee

A Word on the Song:
All this year so far I’ve been doing a monthly “voting” concert where I pass ballots out to the audience and literally have them vote on which of the unreleased tunes I’m playing they think I should record next. In July I had the privilege of playing a set of ten songs for my friends at the Elements Primitive Skills Gathering in the Sequoia National Forest, and when I finished this song a wonderful woman came to her feet and shouted “THAT ONE!” And fortunately after counting the votes later that evening it seems most of the crowd agreed with her.
It’s funny – I don’t usually think of my songs as feminist statements, but I certainly don’t mind if they are taken that way. 🙂

A Word on the Crew:
I don’t often tour, but when I do I build it around my community, which inevitably includes a passel of wondrous musicians, and this month’s trip to Boston is no different. I have been wanting to record with Tim Lewandowski for years, so I asked him who in town really gets horns and we booked a session with Bob Nash right away. In the absence of a horn band (and a proper arrangement) I recruited our good friend Marc for some snazzy trumpeting and the three of us made up some horn parts in the car on the way to the session.
Wonka Sound is spacious, elegant, and well set up for large bands and soloists to do live takes and/or multitracking. There are several effective options for isolation and large soundproof windows. Bob is a pro and cares deeply about a clean sound on a good track.

Thank you for your support!

Thank you for your support!

2017 Annual New England Tour

I’m pleased to announce some dates coming up next week…ob-ne-tour-poster.png

Wednesday, August 23
Wednesday Jam
Naked Oystah Beach Bar & Restaurant, Hull, MA
Doors at 8:00pm, Songs at 9:00pm
All Ages, Pass the Hat

 Friday, August 25
Carriage House Concerts
The Carriage House, Newburyport, MA
Doors/Optional Potluck at 6:00pm, Music at 7:00pm
All Ages, Suggested Donation $20

 Saturday, August 26
House of Papa Ricci & Mama Sue, Seconsett Island, MA
Doors and Food at 4:00pm, Music all night by various artists
All Ages, $30

 Monday, August 28
Fort Point Theatre Channel
Fort Point, Boston, MA
7:30pm Show

Thank you for your support!

Thank you for your support!

“The Ballad of Cooper Young” at The Donkey Den

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Blair Sinta — Engineer and Drummer at The Donkey Den, Los Angeles, CA
Chris Murphy — Fiddle, Mandolin
Greg McFall — Bass

Olivia Brownlee — Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Song

A Word on the Song:
I did a house concert for my friends and built a little tour around it to make some extra cash. At one of these extra gigs a woman wielding a wine glass approached me and said with conviction in her voice: “You have to write a song about my husband.” And proceeded to tell me (while her husband sat with us and nodded seriously whenever I looked at him to see whether she was joking) the true tale I’ve worked to recreate a little bit for you here… #strangerthanfiction

A Word on the Crew:
Blair Sinta totes a bagful of really impressive drumming credentials and lives up to them both in person and professionally. His studio is usually used for creating drum tracks, but when I approached him with the idea of the project he was happy to give multi-tracking this heartracing tune a try (we never would have fit if we’d wanted to do it live, the studio is delightfully tiny). I went first and put down guitar and vocals, followed by our friend Greg McFall on the bass, then Blair on drums. Chris helped us get some really unique drum sounds and worked the mix with us, and then put down a mandolin and fiddle track in less than 15 minutes, creating the catchy instrumental lick you hear on the spot. We were there a little longer than I usually try to be (I like getting in and out within 3 hours and I think we quit around hour 4), but ultimately through teamwork, sweat, and raw determination, the product you hear is something I’m pretty proud of, and glad to have these crazy willings by my side. ❤


“Poor Tom” at Holiver Productions

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Zak St John — Engineer at Holiver Productions, Los Angeles, CA
Gabriel Wheaton — Fiddle

Olivia Brownlee — Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Song

A Word on the Song:
I was honestly surprised when this song won the popular vote — I wrote it a long time ago (I think I woke up from a dream where I was singing it) and always thought it was a little out there. But according to others, it comes across as timeless, upbeat, and as if it were penned by “Anonymous” 200 years ago.

A Word on the Crew:
I know Gabe through work here in Los Angeles, and a finer, funnier, more affable fiddlin’ fellow I don’t think you’ll ever meet, at least not with red hair. One of the most musically intelligent people I’ve met in a while, Gabe is a consummate improviser, reader, listener, and performer, and has as much classical training as he does practice with his electric loop pedal. He takes direction, has incredibly interesting ideas, and radiates good vibes.

When you enter the garage studio of Zak St John you must first pass through his barrage of adorable guard dogs, two of whom provided the portmanteau of his studio’s name. Draped with hippie blankets, snares, and a couple of remarkable handmade instruments, Holiver is a cozy haven for people who want to get stuff done quickly and with a lot of laughs and innovative solutions. Zak was a laid back gentleman of an engineer, sardonic and swift, and my only regret in the session is that I didn’t use his legendary drumming skills.


“Bad Book” at The Chalet

Will Golden — Co-Producer and Engineer at The Chalet, Los Angeles, CA
Michael Jerome Moore — Drums
Greg McFall — Bass Guitar

Olivia Brownlee — Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Song

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A Word on the Song:
After writing this song I realized it said much more about me than about the subject. We are obliged to love the moments when our own art—over which we thought we had the control—teaches us where we are failing at being a human, and gives us clues as to how to improve the quality of not just our own lives, but the lives of those with whom we are in community.

A Word on the Team:
I asked Michael Jerome Moore (with whom I’ve had the distinct pleasure of playing live many times courtesy of our mutual friend, Chris Murphy) who he likes to record with, and unhesitatingly he dropped Will Golden’s name. On this blog we’ve already discussed how much we love a relaxed, homey vibe in the studio (without losing the “away from home,” office feel), and The Chalet certainly flies that banner. Instruments of all kinds occupy the three sound rooms on the first floor…and in the loft we find the console, the machines, and the machinist, hair tussled and looking as if he’d already been there for hours developing copy-brain on some other project and was happy to take in a live band doing a live song. Everyone was professional, proud, peaceful, and I felt the song occupied the priority of the few hours we spent there. Both Michael and Greg stayed after the recording to listen down and make sure they were happy with how they’d performed, and Will was incredibly accommodating, quick, and interested while maintaining a sincerely cool, loving, and detached vibe. Great spot/crew.

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“All the Time” with Nostalgia Media

Garrin Hertel — Co-Producer and Engineer at Nostalgia Media Mobile Recording, Spokane, WA
Eugene Jablonski — Standup Bass
Merilee Updike — Clarinet
Matt Henson — Tenor Saxophone
Brendan Cesaratto — Drumkit
Pamela & Scott Brownlee, et al — Gang Vocals
Special thanks to the Rockin’ B Ranch in Liberty Lake, WA, for providing the recording location.

Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Song — Olivia Brownlee

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A Word on the Song:
My favorite story about this song (and there are a LOT of stories about this song) is the last line of the bridge. Traditionally, the last line of the bridge of a novelty song like this is the MONEY line, and when I first wrote it in 2012 I used a line I knew was a placeholder – it was a little cryptic, it wasn’t very funny, and it was a bit undercontextualized. It wasn’t until 2017 that I was driving down the 101 in the San Fernando Valley and the line that should have been there all along – and which you hear on the recording – charged into my head and almost ran me off the road with laughter. Leonardo da Vinci is credited with saying, “Art is never finished, only abandoned”…I hold with that, and with the fact that you sometimes circle back around to it.

A Word on the Team:
You luck out on the fly sometimes – when I was visiting friends and family in the Spokane area I went to see my good buddies The Hot Club of Spokane, and it occurred to me that it would be a crime to miss this spontaneous opportunity to work with Garrin. Matt and Merilee arranged their parts on the fly, Eugene was observant and I saw him crack a smile several smiles, Brendan showed up song unheard and nailed it, and my parents, GOD BLESS THEM, were about the best sports and hosts a daughter could ask for.


As always, PM me for the contact info of any of the collaborators listed in this blog.

“Anywhere I Be” at Woodworks Recording Studio

Engineer/Co-Producer, WoodWorks Recording Studio, Los Angeles, CA — Brent Woods 
Producer, Accordion — Ken Liebenson
Drums/Percussion — Jeff Sorenson
Violin — Tim Weed
Upright Bass — Freddie Johnson
Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Song — Olivia Brownlee

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A Word on the Song:
I was living in Boston when I received my invitation to Captain and Clark’s wedding in Leavenworth, WA. On the plane ride over I realized I had not budgeted for a wedding gift for them. So between the flight, the drive, and the stay, I meditated on what I admired about their extraordinary relationship, and presented this song (along with a bottle of Washington State’s finest wheat whiskey from Dry Fly Distillery, of course). Thanks to this couple for fighting fiercely for the inspirational life.

A Word on the Team: 
Working with Brent Woods was one of those unique times when we decided to value the project over the budget. Between the team Ken Liebenson assembled for this number, the song itself, and Brent’s dedication to the best performance from everyone, I think we scored crackerjack. I’m so thankful for everyone’s willingness to stick around and dig out, question, and reconstructtheir artistry on a not-uncomplicated song. Sometimes the performers have worked together before, and sometimes everyone is new to everyone – on this day we had a mix of new and old faces, and everyone worked with interest, good humor, and liveliness. Endless thanks y’all!


As always, PM me for the contact info of any of the collaborators listed in this blog.