Why the Beige Album?
Like most projects, if you think about it too much, you'll probably never do it. I can't say this was some sort of "bucket list" objective - this project took longer than almost anything I've ever worked on and one of the few that didn't involve original compositions. But it's one of my favorite things I've ever done, and I hope that it honors the original work. In a way, this is my review of the White Album. Talk is cheap. Fortunately, so is recording time.
It started innocently enough. Christmas week of 2018, my pal Joe Malone who I record with emailed me a request to record Back in the USSR during our next Chaos session at the Den in West Paterson, NJ. It was odd - we were old high school friends that usually got together a couple times a year, made up a bunch of stuff on the spot and tried to leave the session with a finished tune. Now we're doing a cover? Joe's additional parameter - it should sound nothing like the original.
I was going to ignore the request, but then I almost immediately thought of a version that could work - a slowed down jazz/blues version. I recorded it quickly and sent it along - Joe liked it immediately and he scheduled time in January 2019 to record it. (Which we never actually did, but that's another story). Within the next five days or so, I recorded Ob-La-Di, Wild Honey Pie, Dear Prudence and Glass Onion. Joe, one of the most encouraging people I knew gave me a lot of positive feedback, and at this point, I was committed to doing the whole thing. By late March, I had recorded about 20 of the album songs, included a rap part that Joe did for Monkey.
And then full stop.
With work at a fever pitch and life being intense, there wasn't time. And with my daughter commandeering the Macbook, access to recording was a bit limited. And finally, I was starting to have some trouble coming up with inspired arrangements. Songs like Martha My Dear, Honey Pie and Long Long Long were not coming to me as quickly, and forcing the issue didn't work.
Enter John Zincani. Over the summer of 2019, I had gotten together with him to finish some old NIC recording. NIC was a band we had formed in 1991, played a gig and then dissolved immediately after. In 2010 we all got back together and John produced and played on a number of songs. John had also produced one of my songs a while back for a benefit album I was putting together. He is an excellent producer not only from a technical side, but is very good at coaxing performances out of people. By chance I happened to mention the recordings which by now I was calling the Beige Album. As a Beatle fanatic like myself, he knew exactly what I was up to. I played a few of the recordings for him and he showed a lot of interest in helping out. He soon became a principal architect for what this album eventually became.
Between April and September of 2019, not much had happened. I will still stuck for some of the songs, but I started sending John some of the tunes I had recorded. John is an excellent musician, but a fanatical recordist, and he worked his magic cleaning up a lot of the tracks, eq'ing and fixing my vocals to keep them in tune and adding guitars and basses where needed. While he was bringing the songs to a very high level, I had time to finish some of the other songs. I brought in my daughter Kyra to sing Honey Pie as my original lead vocal was unlistenable. Kyra not only brought her amazing singing voice to the tune, but also wrote the melody. It's one of my favorites. Over the course of the next few months, I recorded the remainder tracks and reworked some of the original versiions.
Enter the Pandemic.
You would think this would be a great time to bunker in and finish. This was not the case, as being an essential worker takes a lot of time out of your day. Between March and December, I would record when I could, and John kept on working his magic. I actually recorded a new version of Back in the USSR at his place and we got it done in one sitting, he adding his bass and drums later. Finally, by late January, 2021, all original tracks were completed and John completed mixing in mid February.
So....here we are. And yet, I still haven't answered the question - why the Beige Album? Well, a couple of reasons, which didn't all hit me at the same time. The White Album me not only as a musician and songwriter, but as a creative person. The four of them went into a studio knowing they could create any way they wanted. They walked in with a bunch of songs and recorded them as they saw fit. It was gratifying to know I could do the same thing - walk into my little studio with all these great songs and record them any way I saw fit. And most of all...
It was so much fun. You really get to realize how great these songs are when you're working on them.