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The Making of Long Road to Heaven

Here is my first commentary on Long Road to Heaven. I will have more to say on the songs, my journey in music, and what making this album has meant to me, but for now, here is a little bit of how the album came together.

After Covid I got back into going to open mics and playing shows. I started trying to book shows for myself at festivals, restaurants, bars, breweries, and I played some showcases with my friend Doug Edgell, who I had been taking guitar lessons with for years. I had written hundreds of songs since 2013, I was trying to get practice playing live shows, and I was trying to learn from other musicians around Pittsburgh. I felt like I had a pool of songs that I might be able to put together in an album. 

I tried to try to create a vision of what that might look like and I had some conversations with various people about how I might record these songs. I had an idea of what I wanted to do and the basics of the instruments that I would ideally want to include, which are traditional for country and bluegrass. That starts with acoustic guitar, fiddle, mandolin, and possibly telecaster and steel guitar. At first I wasn’t sure what I would be able to do. I thought it would be more tractable for my first recording experience to try to maybe just do a solo acoustic album by myself and I always loved that style of recording that focuses on the song. At one point I had the idea of just recording with a bluegrass band to limit the number of instruments and variables, and overhead that would go into recording. I thought it would be much harder to have a full band with drums, electric, and steel guitar, but would have loved to be able to do that.

I eventually got in touch with Clint Erb out of the Ligonier, PA area. He has done a lot of recording and plays live shows around western PA. He had recorded a number of other artists in his home studio, particularly Marty Zundel who recommended that I go talk to Clint. Clint and I immediately found that we had shared musical tastes. Particularly Jason Boland and The Stragglers, who was a foundational artist for me, the music that I loved, and a big part of what inspired me to start writing songs years ago.

I was really lucky to be able to work with Clint in his home studio with a laid back atmosphere and low pressure. He gave me time and worked with me to figure out how to get my vocals sounding right. Clint is very talented and capable in what he brought to the table. He was able to play any instrument that I could have ever wanted. Certainly, a lot of what you hear on the album, Long Road to Heaven, the sound, instrumentation, production, and recording is Clint and his abilities with his home studio and his work as a musician. 

I came in with the songs. I had written all the lyrics and I had already been playing these nine songs for years. Some of them date back to 2017. I had the structures of the songs, the chords, the arrangements, and I had a pretty good idea for all of them what I was looking for in terms of the instrumentation. I had plans for each song, like which ones would be a little bit harder, which ones would be more toned down, soft single instruments etc. So I came and said, here’s my list of songs, here’s the instruments I want to put on them, here’s the players that I want to get to come in, and the instruments that I want them to play on certain tracks.

We brought in some other musicians and Clint and I worked together to piece it all together. We had Ray Bruckman and Gary Antol from the Jacobs Ferry Stragglers. They came in and Gary played lead acoustic guitar on three songs. Ray came in and played fiddle and mandolin on a number of songs. Clint played drums, bass, acoustic guitar, telecaster, steel guitar, percussion, and he did the harmony vocals. And we had Doug Edgell play lead acoustic guitar on Cliffside Farm. That was special to me to have him playing on this album.

So in the end, it ended up with a fuller, more complete, sound than I could have ever asked for. I am so thankful for these people’s time and contributions to these songs, that I have put my heart into for years.