#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.

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The Blessing Song at Jax Trax

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Jack Lee was a quiet tree of invitingness when Therese Barron and I entered the house at the very northern end of the Santa Monica Mountains. His home felt occupied, but with enough room in it for those who entered so that they didn’t feel they might knock something or someone aside by being there. A stone on the desk in the living room where we recorded read a comforting quote by the poet Tagore. Anyone who values the work of Tagore is a win in my book. Thanks to our mutual friend, Nick Thorkelson, for the introduction. 🙂

A Word on the Engineer/Co-Producer/Accompanist/Studio:
Jack Lee is a master of a comfortable silence. He was genuinely excited about the “three-hour challenge” of the Singles Project, and rose to it effectively, making excellent use of both our time by setting a schedule of what needed to happen by when — “Let’s do your part first, then add my parts until such and such a time, then comp, mix, and master.” His dobro and soulful piano parts – created on the spot – fit succinctly into the Blessing Song, unobtrusively, with a spiritual loveliness that not many have naturally in their fingers. The man is an artist and poet in many capacities, and we only scratched the surface of it by calling upon his skills as an engineer and instrumentalist. I’m glad to have him on my roster.