“Here Comes Santa Claus” (Gene Autry Cover)

Originally posted 2009-12-21 12:00:07. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

For Gene Autry chords & lyrics, CLICK HERE!

By Chris Moore:

Hello and welcome to the final Monday edition of the Laptop Sessions before Christmas Day!  There’s been a lot of Christmas music being posted this month, and it’s hard to believe that this season is almost coming to a close.

Regardless, it’s an honor to kick off Christmas week here at the best cover song music video blog in the universe.

(And the most modest, too…)

“Here Comes Santa Claus” is a track from MoU’s expanded Christmas chord book.  It fits all the criteria for an enjoyable live song — easy to play, upbeat, instantly recognizable, and just plain fun.  There have been so many versions of this song recorded since Gene Autry’s original.  He himself re-recorded it not once, but twice.  In addition, Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, and Bob Dylan have all recorded their own versions over the years.

In fact, in my favorite music/TV crossover this year, Dylan’s version was used as the opening song in the first few minutes of a Bones episode a couple weeks ago.  Of course, it faded out just as a bank robbery and a bombing were about to occur, but somehow I think Dylan must have enjoyed this macabre twist on the season for peace on earth and good will toward men.

That is, if he watches television.  I’m not entirely convinced he’s moved on from the radio…

It’s not only difficult to believe that Christmas will be this Friday, but that the new year is also just around the corner.  You should know that you have a special Guest Session to look forward to this Friday, with new sessions regular Jeremy Hammond bringing yet another all-new artist’s material to the blog.  It’ll be one of those “how have we not included a song from this guy” moments, I promise.  Being that it’s the end of the decade as well, there’s a lot to look forward to in the coming weeks.  To celebrate the decade’s best albums, The Weekend Review is in the middle of a Top Five Albums of the Decade, 2000-2009 countdown, with number 3 having been revealed yesterday in Ben Folds’ 2001 release Rockin’ the Suburbs.

On a side note, yesterday’s review brings me within one review of my twenty-six review commitment for the year, as suggested by Jim back in February of this year.  I hope he’ll be happy to hear that, in the spirit of continual progress, I’ll be committing to one review a week this year for a grand total of fifty-two!  Because I’ll be reviewing albums on a very regular basis, I’ll be able to really vary the type of reviews that I do.  For instance, I tend to review the albums I like most because I’ve always figured, why waste my time on the music I’m not crazy about?

Well, no more.

This will be a year of exercising my critical abilities as I review new 2010 releases, revisit the classic hits and infamous misses of the past, as well as continue my Deep Racks Report series (for which I already have five albums lined up — I’ve featured albums that begin with A, B, and C, so you maybe you can imagine where I’m going with this…). And I’ll be continuing the five star rating system I introduced a couple of weeks ago. While I’m still hesitant to comfortably box an album into a fraction like that, I really like the feel of the five star rating system.

In other end-of-the-year highlights, the Laptop Sessions will be featuring some great lists, including the Weekend Review’s take on the following:

“The Top Thirty Rock Albums of the Decade”

“The Top Ten Rock Albums of 2009”

“Yes, No, or Maybe So: One Sentence Reviews of 2009 Albums”

“The Top Ten Rock Songs of 2009”

“The Best Packaging of the Year”

“The Best Deluxe Edition Features of the Year”

As a final note, I would like to call on Jim and Jeff to share their thoughts for the best music of the decade.  We all have our overlapping areas of mutual appreciation, but we certainly have room for debate.  Considerable room, at times.

I know what my picks are for the best albums and songs of the decade, but I would love to be reminded or learn of Jim and Jeff’s picks.

With that, I’m done for tonight.  As I sign off, I wish a merry Christmas to all those out there eagerly awaiting a Christmas Eve service or the pitter-patter of eight tiny reindeer overhead.  As for me, I’m going back to the MoU 2006 Christmas Concert CD for a stroll down memory — and also Santa Claus — lane.

See you next session!

Music Review: Wilco’s “Wilco (the album)”

Originally posted 2009-07-06 23:55:58. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

RATING:  4 / 5 stars

By Chris Moore

For an album that is thematically based in the mysteries of human nature and love, the opening track is remarkably straightforward.  “Are you under the impression / This isn’t your life? / Do you dabble in depression?” Jeff Tweedy inquires in “Wilco (the song)” before declaring that “Wilco will love you baby.”

But don’t let the unabashed directness — even Tweedy admits it may appear cheesy at first  — of this opening track deter you from taking the album seriously.

Immediately after “Wilco (the song)” fades out, the heartbeat of “Deeper Down” steadily fades in with the crash of a cymbal.  This song is more subtle and serves as a reminder that the band has not lost its flair for more experimental fare, even after its flirtation with the more straightforward songwriting and jam band mentalities present on 2007’s Sky Blue Sky.  Aside from the standard acoustic and electric guitars, bass, and drums, this track also incorporates lap steel (which is becoming a standard Wilco instrument, particularly since the arrival of Nels Cline), loops, harpsichord, Mellotron cello and vibraphone, bowed piano (go ahead: look up “bowed piano” — it’s wild…), synthesizer, and cimbalom.  Based on the list of instrumental credits alone, it is apparent Wilco is not through with the sonic experiments that have earned them fame throughout their career, ever since the opening moments of “Misunderstood” on 1996’s Being There.

“Deeper Down” also begins to tackle the core subjects covered by the album, namely the uncertainties in both our relationships and personal lives.  As Tweedy sings, “Out beyond the telescope’s pry / Up above the tallest Dutch dope high / He realized / This mystery is his.”  The unknown elements that the singer is concerned with here are not the ones that can be analyzed by using scientific equipment or engaging in a study.  Rather, personal demons and mysteries are on display for examination throughout the song and the album.

As the next verse begins to employ the metaphor of the ocean floor for the depths of the human mind, a creaking sound invokes the image of a deep sea vehicle moving farther and farther down into the watery depths.

This is the one track on the album that is not written solely by Tweedy.  A collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone, “Deeper Down” is the perfect bookend to the album proper.

“One Wing” returns to the lighthearted lyricism of the opening song, the title metaphor of this third track comparing a full relationship to a bird (“We once belonged to a bird”) and the aftermath of a breakup to the separation of those all-important feathery appendages (“One wing will never ever fly, dear / Neither yours nor mine, I fear / We can only wave goodbye”).  Again, this type of songwriting may seem worthy of a dismissal at first, but it works in context here.

The fourth track is anything but lighthearted.  Told from the manic perspective of one who has just committed murder (online sources suggest the victim was the narrator’s girlfriend), “Bull Black Nova” is the sonic standout here, being easily the most experimental track on the album.  Spin‘s review of the album suggests that this song is out of place in what is largely a body of traditionally arranged songs, but this is not the case.  After all, what will drive a person to killing another — particularly a loved one — is perhaps the greatest human mystery of all.

Driven by a steady beat and arrangement of electric guitars, this track fittingly evokes the mental hysteria of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.”  Indeed, the mystery dealt with in this song is perhaps best described as how one might handle the aftermath of having committed such a heinous crime.

The first of two acoustic masterpieces, “You and I” prominently features the first duet to be included on a Wilco album.  Accompanied by Leslie Feist, Tweedy presents this moving track with a fittingly subdued instrumental performance by the other members of the band.  Moreover, this song advances the motif of the album.  As Tweedy and Feist sing, “Oh, I don’t need to know / Everything about you / Oh, I don’t want to know / And you don’t need to know / That much about me.”  This song considers the reality that two people may still be strangers, regardless of how close they become.  While that may sound negative, it is turned around in the song as a positive and natural element of any relationship.

Tweedy later goes it alone on “Solitaire,” the eighth track.  This is another acoustic gem highlighted by Tweedy’s understated but heartfelt double-tracked vocals.  Lyrically, this is the perfect example of a simple but powerfully written song.  (Click here to see the Laptop Session this song inspired.)

“You Never Know” is the first single; it comes halfway through the album, proving that Wilco was only warming up.  This song nicely features all of the elements that make this an excellent band: Tweedy’s vocals, Cline’s lead guitar, Sansone’s piano,  Jorgensen’s organ, and the typically strong bass and drums of Stirratt and Kotche, respectively.  What stands out about this track is that it is clearly Wilco in sound and style, yet, as several other reviews have noted, the stylistic touches are strongly reminiscent of one of the best songwriter/guitarists of all time: George Harrison.  It is nearly impossible to listen to “You Never Know” and not hear Harrison’s characteristic flourishes in the mix.  In a recent interview, Tweedy suggested that the similarities were not planned, but that he was pleased to offer an homage.

No other journalist has pointed out that the Hammond organ stylings on “You and I” sound like a reference to Bob Dylan’s “I Believe In You,” so I’ll just throw that one out there, too…

The second half of the album is equally as strong as the first.  “I’ll Fight” (a standout track) and “Sonny Feeling” (highlighted by Cline’s lap steel guitar licks) are a powerful combination, occupying the ninth and tenth slots on the album.  The former is a statement of purpose, evoking Biblical references to drive the point home.  The latter evades an entirely concrete interpretation, but it is clear that the song centers around a pivotal experience in a high school student’s life.  The middle is perhaps the strongest section of this song, as Tweedy sings, “You know it’s true / The other shoe / It waits for you / What can you do? / Remember to show gratitude / The darkest night is nothing new.”

In addition to the aforementioned “Solitaire,” the true highlights of the second half are certainly the two acoustic-based songs “Country Disappeared” and “Everlasting Everything.”  “Country Disappeared” is just about as political as you’ll hear Wilco (in song at least), but it is still best described as poetic and personal.  If “Deeper Down” is a fitting thematic bookend at the opening of the album, then “Everlasting Everything” is the ideal closer.  As Tweedy sings, “Oh I know this might sound sad / But everything goes, both the good and the bad / So it all adds up, and you should be glad / Everlasting love is all you had.”  This is apparently what is to be found after digging “deeper down,” namely the realization that a life driven by love is worthwhile.  With this, Wilco (the album) turns out to be perhaps the most positive release in the Wilco catalog.

As “Everlasting Everything” fades out and “Wilco (the song)” thunders in, listeners will find it difficult to pop the CD out of the player or change the selection on the iPod.  And this is just as a great album should be.  Is Wilco (the album) the perfect record, or even a masterpiece?  The answer is undoubtedly in the negative.  And yet there is something compelling, soothing, passionate, and masterful about it.

This is the story of a band putting out a strong seventh release, continuing to impress after an already impressive career.

How To EQ Your Recordings – Tips on Equalization from a Music Producer

Originally posted 2009-09-01 22:53:15. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Jim Fusco:

Welcome new and longtime fans of the Laptop Sessions to this very special article that I believe will help a lot of aspiring musicians and recording artists make their recordings sound professional while recording them at home.  This article isn’t just in lieu of recording my usual Tuesday night Laptop Sessions acoustic cover song music video- my list of covers to do is actually longer than ever- I just had the urge to write an informative article that many people will find interesting and useful.  Before getting down to business, let me note that I’m hoping to record an extra-special cover song music video this week for inclusion on the music blog next Tuesday night, so stay tuned!

I’ve always battled with trying to make my home recordings sound professional.  I went out and spent hundreds of dollars on acoustic foam that I hung on the wall (and by “hung”, I mean attached to the wall by spray glue, permanent wall tape, and Gorilla glue), invested in some computer processing plugins for my music, and bought great microphones and amplifiers.  But, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get that “home recording” sound out of my songs!  I do have a few tricks now (one secret way of getting the most volume out of my recordings and another to clear everything up), but that’s after the mixing occurs.

This article is meant to focus on the tweaking that should be done while mixing a song down to a 2-track stereo pre-master.  After you’re done recording, go into the EQ (or equalization) settings on your workstation, which I’m assuming is digital nowadays.  I use a DAW (or Digital Audio Workstation)- a Tascam 2488 24-track recorder.  I love it and I really can’t see myself upgrading for any reason for a very long time.  My brother prefers to use the computer and uses Sony’s ACID.  Some use Pro Tools, but I never got into it, even though I’m a huge Mac fan.  To be honest, I use Final Cut Pro for video editing, but I’m not really a fan of that, either.  I used to LOVE Sonic Foundry’s Vegas (before Sony bought them out) for video editing.

One more point before we get to the EQ settings- back when I recorded using analog equipment, I never had to deal with equalizing the multitracks of my songs.  Truth be told, I actually still love analog recording, even though I always worked towards removing that hiss that goes along with recording on old fashioned cassette tapes.  You see, with digital audio recording, you reach a peak at “0”- if your volume goes above zero, it’ll “clip” and you won’t hear anything- maybe a bit of digital distortion.  But, with analog recording, you could allow the levels to go into the red a couple of decibels and still get clear recordings (to a certain degree).  Thus, all my old analog masters are much louder and fuller.  Plus, since there was more room for me to boost levels, individual instruments stood out in the mix more.  Of course, I realize now that what I was doing really wasn’t the “proper” way to record and mix, but honestly, the results were there, so “proper” isn’t really a good argument for me.

Onto EQ- basically, I’m going to give you some pointers on how to EQ certain tracks so that your audio doesn’t sound muddy when you mix it down to a 2-track stereo pre-master.  The theory behind cutting some of these “bands” of equalization (say all the sound below 50Hz) is this: Say you have 24 tracks like I have on my DAW.  Well, when you record, you’re recording ALL the possible sound spectrum that your microphone or pickup can handle.  Then, the DAW records every possible piece of sound information it hears because DAW’s are digital and can pick up any sound, especially when it’s uncompressed PCM files (like .wav or .aiff files on your computer).  The theory here is much like the file-size savings you get when you convert something from a .wav or .aiff file to an .mp3 file.  You get essentially the same sound quality, but at a tenth (or less) of the file size!  How is that accomplished?

Well, with mp3s, it’s a combination of a couple things- first, it compresses the data in a special format that’s smaller in file size than a standard uncompressed .wav or .aiff.  That part doesn’t matter to us here.  What matters is that all-important second piece to the mp3 compression- mp3s don’t carry ALL of the sound information that uncompressed files do.  So, for instance, a high quality mp3 file will have all the sound frequencies, minus the very, very high and very, very low frequencies.  The vast majority of humans don’t hear these sound frequencies anyway, so shaving them off the sound file doesn’t alter the sound we hear that much.  But, since there are less frequencies (and thus, less information in the file), the file size gets smaller.  Now, if you have a lower quality mp3, one of the ways it gets the file size down is to limit the sound frequencies in the file further.  That’s why you get a low quality mp3 that sounds like it’s coming through a phone- there’s not as many frequencies in the file, so the size is smaller, but the sound is affected more.  Once you start cutting into sound frequencies that humans can actually hear, you start altering the sound of the music file.

So, how does all that relate to EQ-ing your music?

Well, we’re essentially trying to do that same second-piece of the mp3 process, but track-by-track.  And, we’re not trying to save file size, we’re trying to save from that “muddy” sound that home recordings get.  So, why does that “muddy” sound happen when you mixdown your recordings?

Well, I’ve always noticed that the sound coming out of my 24-track is pristine during regular playback.  But, when I mix it all down to a pre-master, I notice the difference.  That’s when the recorder tries to blend all your tracks together and fit 24-tracks worth of sound into just two tracks- a left channel and a right channel for stereo.  As you can imagine, that’s not an easy task and there are a lot of “assumptions” your recorder makes when mixing down.  For instance, if two tracks have a sound playing at the same frequency and at the same volume, your recorder may decide to give once precedent over the other during the mixdown process, which brings one sound out and drowns the other one out.

Also, have you ever noticed that live acoustic recordings, such as one person singing with an acoustic guitar and nothing else, always sound so much clearer and louder, especially when it comes from a home recording?  Well, that’s because you only have two tracks competing for their share of the sound space.  And since a guitar and one vocal track don’t compete for as much sound space as, say, a guitar and bass would (without EQ, that is), you get a much clearer recording.

So, the idea is this: we have 24 tracks of sound that use every single possible frequency.   That means that the bass guitar track, even though the part you really want to hear (most of the time, unless you’re Brian Wilson) is in the low frequencies, it still contains a recording of ALL frequencies, from low to high.  Now, say you had a vocal track.  Vocals take up a very specific range of EQ frequencies, as the human voice can only go so high or low- most of the time, we’re right in the middle.  Well, the recorder also records ALL possible frequencies on this track, as well, including ones that would conflict with your bass track.  Now, add two acoustic guitars, electric guitar, piano, drums, etc. and you have every single one of these tracks with sound information in every single possible EQ band.

But, the point is- Every instrument or vocal track only needs certain frequencies! So, why would you have 24 tracks all have hum in the 80HZ range (say from a furnace that was on next door that your microphone happened to faintly pick up) and drown out your bass drum, which thrives in that frequency?  (Just a note- that furnace sound at 80Hz may sound very faint on one track, but multiply it 24 times over and you’ve got a major problem that you wouldn’t have been able to fix without EQ)  So, every instrument needs its own sound space to live in.  If you reduce the number of tracks competing for a certain EQ frequency band, you’ll give every instrument its own “pocket” of sound space in the mix and nothing will get drowned-out.

I will also point out that this is my least favorite part of the recording process- it’s tedious, there are SO many options (do I cut by 3 db or 4 db?), and since you have to go track-by-track, it takes forever.  But, this process is the single biggest reason why my recordings don’t sound “homemade” anymore, so it’s definitely worth the effort.  I just have to remember to go back and read that sentence the next time I go to mix a song…

I figure the best way to go is by instrument:

Vocals: Ah, a very important part.  For vocals, especially recorded at home, you’re definitely going to want to make them brighter and to remove those bassy undertones that appear in the recordings.  For each vocal track (which for me, is plenty) I reduce sound at the 225Hz mark (most EQ setups will allow you to pick a frequency and when you either boost or reduce that frequency, it’ll boost or reduce the frequencies immediately around it, too).  I reduce at 225Hz a lot, up to -10 db, but make sure to listen back in case you’re altering the sound too much.

Then, I boost at 4kHz (that’s kilohertz, as opposed to Hz, or hertz- Hz (hertz) are lower frequencies and kHz (kilohertz) are high frequencies) to bring out the main range of the vocals, as that’s where most of the sound information in a vocal track lies.  I’d give a boost of about 3db.

Finally, if you don’t have a great condenser microphone, don’t worry!  You can breathe some life into your vocal tracks by giving a 1 or 2 db boost at the very high 10kHz frequency.  This will help brighten your vocal tracks.

Guitar: For guitars, especially acoustic guitars, I cut everything below 100Hz, as this will interfere with our bass drum sound- something that should be avoided at all costs.  I cut to -10db here.  Then, you can boost about 3db anywhere between 150Hz and 5kHz, depending on your guitar and the sound you want.  If I have two acoustic guitar tracks, I’ll EQ one with a boost in the lower frequencies and the other with a boost towards the high frequencies to give a balanced, different sound to each.  I like bright acoustics most of the time, so I’ll go towards 3kHz, but for some mean electric guitar, you may want to keep it around 1000Hz.

Bass: Again, you’d think this would be the “lowest” EQ space in your mix, but it’s not- you need that space for the bass drum or your song won’t have a beat!  So, give a cut at 250Hz and below of about 3db.  If you’re like me and like a “crunchy” bass (listen to the bass on “Sloop John B” by the Beach Boys and you’ll hear what I’m talking about), you can brighten the string noise of the bass by adding a couple decibels to about the 3.5kHz range.

Bass Drum: The all-important bass drum lives in the “bottom” of your EQ mix.  Increase the 80Hz frequency (by as much as you want, but start at 3db) or you can go up to the 100Hz mark, if you think it sounds better.  Between 150Hz and 600Hz, though, you’ll want to cut the EQ so it doesn’t interfere with your bass or possibly your guitars, depending on your decision.  So, here, cut quite a bit: up to -10db.  For this, you can also add a bit of “bite” at the 3.5kHz range.

Snare Drum: Also important, you’ll want to get rid of that “boxiness” sound at around 900Hz and maybe give a boost (we’re talking a couple of decibels here) all the way up at 9kHz for some brightness.

Cymbals: Cut anything below 200Hz on these almost completely- why would you EVER need those low frequencies from a cymbal?  This is the perfect example of useless sound information that would muddy-up and get in the way of your bass drum.  Give another cut (slight- maybe 1 or 2db) at 1.5kHz to take away some of the annoying ring and loudness from the cymbals that will cut through your mix too much.  You can also apply these changes to a tambourine track.

Some other tips:

– Cut at 50Hz to reduce microphone “pops” on your audio tracks- I hate when a great take is ruined by a popped “P”, so this should help.

– Piano is a tough one because it actually uses many of the frequencies in the sound spectrum.  But, to make it sound more “aggressive” (Jerry Lee Lewis, anyone?), boost your EQ at around 2kHz.

– To give some “sparkle” to your guitars, especially acoustic, you can give a 1 or 2 db boost to the 10kHz region, as well.

I hope these tips help you out while mixing your recordings.  I know they certainly helped me!  But, just like the old “leading a horse to water” adage, I figured it was best to first educate you on why this process is so important and why it works before giving you the info. you’ll need to get great sounding recordings, even if you’re rocking out in your home studio.

If you have any questions/comments, arguments/beefs, let me know by leaving a comment below!

“Three Marlenas” (Wallflowers Cover)

Originally posted 2008-05-05 20:46:27. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Jeff Copperthite:

Good evening to everyone at www.laptopsessions.com. It’s Jeff for your Monday edition, and it’s time to go back to the favorite band and to exhaust all their singles from “Bringing Down The Horse”. I get the privilege of bringing you “Three Marlenas”.

I also bring it to you while being shy of a few pounds. You’ll notice I am now clean-shaven, and that is because it was the agreement with my wife. If I purchased a new amplifier, then I would have to shave the beard. Speaking of which, you will see my Behringer BXL1800 tomorrow when I let you know what I think of it.

Anyway, while this song is quite simple to play, it tells an interesting story and I like the song a lot. “Bringing Down The Horse” is a terrific album and you should consider giving it a listen if you can.

The Wallflowers are a popular band here at www.laptopsessions.com. I’m sure you’ll hear more of them in future sessions. Until then, enjoy “Three Marlenas”, and come back tomorrow for Jim’s latest and greatest Laptop Session!

Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, Jeff’s acoustic cover song music videos are no longer on YouTube, but we decided to keep his cover song blog posts up.  We figured these music blog entries would be good for posterity’s sake and because Jeff always gave such insightful posts each Session.  We hope to see Jeff’s impressive catalog of acoustic rock songs here on the Laptop Sessions cover songs and original music blog again in the future.  But, for now, please make sure to check-out hundreds of other acoustic cover songs from all of your favorite bands here on the Laptop Sessions music blog!