Mandolin Menagerie

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Mandolin Menagerie is a collection of seven instrumental pieces of original music recorded mainly during the first six months of the Covid pandemic lock down. Isolation imposed restrictions on the process, so I found myself working by myself in my home studio overdubbing all of the musical parts except for the bass, which is played by my friend Eddie Guthman, who would courageously come over every so often, masked, and record his contributions to the project.

I assigned myself the task of composing tunes with the names of animals, birds, and various amphibians as a sort of humorous stimulus to the creative process. There are efforts in each tune to try and make the melody sound like the creature for whom it is titled. The idea originated when I was in Hawaii in January-February 2020 on the Big Island. Every evening the coqui frogs would start their deafening chants. In order to practice in the evenings I was forced to play in their chosen key. I noticed that their mating calls consisted of two-notes—F sharp and G natural. So I built a tune around those two notes, then I recorded their actual nightly frolics on my iPhone and spliced their music at the end of that instrumental recording.

After that I proceeded to “Dawg's Bark,” which is a homage to my friend and mentor, David Grisman. “The Kitty Kat Waltz” has a recurring figure at the end of each section that resembles a cat's meow. “Turkeys, Turkeys, Turkeys” was inspired by the local flock of wild turkeys who visit our neighborhood daily. The principle phrase of the tune is designed to sound like a turkey's gobble. “The Penguin Blues” is played on my my Fender Stratocaster using the overdub process to create twin guitars in harmony. After researching the calls of penguins I decided that the B part should try to imitate their cries. “The White Swan” is a homage to my friend and band mate, David LaFlamme, who composed the iconic 60's rock classic, “White Bird.” The melody is first played on my Martin D28 guitar. I like to imagine it captures the image of a swan's graceful flight.

“The Dream” is the only exception to the menagerie. The tune actually did come to me in a dream that I vaguely remembered. In the dream I was playing the piano and trying to sound either like Chopin or Beethoven's “Moonlight Sonata.” I managed to write down the chord progression I could recall and added a simple melody later. Having David Grisman join me on this recording confers a double entendre on the title, since it has always been my dream to play music with him. I owe a special thank you to David Grisman, and to Jeff Martin of Studio E in Sebastopol who arranged the recording session.

The artwork for the project consists of all my own sketches of animals. I hope the art critics will not be too unkind. If I manage to break even on this project I promise I'll hire a real artist for the next one.