Singer Clay Aiken talks with Kipper, Grammy-winning producer, while recording "On My Way Here"
I’ve been meaning to take a look at the histories of the musicians and technicians who contributed to Clay Aiken's wonderful new CD, "On My Way Here" since the credits were first available --- hey, I read movie credits, too, since I’ve been in them and I see the names of friends all of the time.
It took me two weeks, but as I Googled their names last night, I laughed --- and then I laughed harder.
The men performing with Clay in the "On My Way Here" video bear no resemblance to the Central Casting pop band in the “Invisible” video, as supplied by the director of that piece. These men have the look of people who have been around a while, and everything I could hear as I listened to the album revealed remarkable levels of musicianship. One of them, the guitarist, even looked a bit familiar to me, and I thought it was interesting that the pianist asked --- and was allowed --- to sing on the CD. I figured there was a story behind the names in the credits.
The CD reviews were so at odds with the evidence of my own ears. On song after song, supporting Clay’s extraordinary voice, interpretive skills and growing artistry, I could hear some especially fine musicianship and the same kind of top-flight production that earned Kipper and Sting a Grammy for "Brand New Day" as Best Pop Album. (The single named --- and singularly talented --- Kipper, Aiken's producer, has also worked with renowned jazz trumpeter Chris Botti, among other leading musicians.)
Kipper's interesting and innovative work is known within music circles, if not in the general public, but I was curious to learn about the artists playing in support of "On My Way Here." My tastes are eclectic, my collection is rather large and I've seen hundreds of live concerts, from pop to jazz to rock to blues to funk to soul to world beat... you get the idea. Listening to the CD, I heard inspired artistry and great professionalism, from the musicians to the engineering to the mix. But some of the reviews were odd, not criticizing Clay's peerless voice but everything that surrounded him, implying the CD wasn't worthwhile despite the evident vocal talent. That simply wasn't what I was hearing.
These are the men behind the “uninspired, stock music” --- as some of the critics would have it.
Keith Carlock – Drums
Keith has played and/or toured with Steely Dan, Sting, James Taylor, Donald Fagen, Walter Becker, Diana Ross, Faith Hill, The Blues Brothers Band, Leni Stern, David Johansen and the Harry Smiths, Richard Bona, Chris Botti, Wayne Krantz, Harry Belafonte, Oz Noy, Paula Abdul and Grover Washington, Jr, to name a few.
Keith was recently voted number 1 Pop drummer and number 3 Best All-Around in Modern Drummer's 2008 Readers Poll.
There's some interesting stuff at Keith's website and in this article from Drummer World Magazine.
Keith at the drums.
Freddie Washington – Bass:
Freddie joined Herbie Hancock’s band at age 19, and has played in sessions or on tour with Steely Dan, Michael Jackson, Al Jarreau, Aaron Neville, Lionel Richie, Anita Baker, B.B. King, Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Whitney Houston, Donald Fagen, The Crusaders, George Benson, Denise Williams, Johnny Mathis, Burt Bacharach, and Kenny Loggins.
He has a platinum record as the songwriter of Patrice Rushen’s smash hit, “Forget Me Nots.”
Here is Freddie's Bio and a great article on his work with Donald Fagen from Bass Player.
Freddie and his bass.
Jon Herington – Guitar:
Jon has played with Steely Dan for both recording and touring. Jon has also toured with Donald Fagen, Boz Scaggs, Bette Midler, Phoebe Snow, Madeleine Peyroux, saxophonist Bill Evans, the contemporary jazz superband Chroma, and jazz/blues organ great Jack McDuff.
Read Jon's Profile and his reviews at his website, and watch him featured on "My Old School" in this AOL video of Steely Dan.
Jon plays his guitar.
Jeff Young – Piano, Organ, Vocals:
Jeff has played with Steely Dan, Sting, Boz Scaggs, Jackson Browne, Shawn Colvin, Phoebe Snow, Michael McDonald, Curtis Stigers and many more. He appeared in the acclaimed Broadway musical “Gospel at Colonus.” Vonda Shepard once sang in his band, leading to Jeff being hired to play for several episodes of “Ally McBeal.”
Jeff on keyboards.
There's a connection between these four musicians.
The men on this CD are the longtime Steely Dan band, backing Donald Fagen and Walter Becker --- and not a single one of these “music critics” recognized them or their musicianship.
Fusing jazz, pop and blues, multiple Grammy-winners Steely Dan (Donald Fagen and Walter Becker) are one of the most acclaimed bands in music history. They are members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
This is the caliber of musician that Clay Aiken chose as his session men for "On My Way Here."
But assumptions are an interesting thing. Critic after critic, determined to dismiss any effort Clay put forward, wrote reviews with little or no bearing on the reality of the music on "On My Way Here" --- right down to trashing musicians they had praised in other reviews. According to multiple sources, Keith, Freddie, Jon and Jeff are considered among the best session men in the world --- unless they are playing with Clay Aiken, apparently.
And as for the “sound” of the album:
It was recorded and mixed by Nathaniel Kunkel.
Nathaniel’s work with Sheila Nicholls, The Crystal Method, Lyle Lovett, Graham Nash, James Taylor, and Sting, among others, “has earned him the reputation of being one of the foremost authorities on engineering in surround sound.
“Nathaniel’s mix work has garnered him industry acclaim and awards, including Grammy awards for his work with Lyle Lovett, B.B. King, The Trio (Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton), and comedian Robin Williams; Surround Music Awards for his work with Graham Nash, James Taylor and Insane Clown Posse; and an Emmy for his recent work with Sting.”
Nathaniel is the son of drummer Russell Kunkel, a longtime James Taylor sideman.
Here's a great article on his work with David Crosby and Graham Nash from Mix Online, "the world's leading magazine for the professional recording and sound production technology industry."
Read about his Studio Without Walls, and check out the artists Nathaniel has worked with.
Finally, Cameron Craig engineered the strings.
Cameron is a Grammy-winner who has worked with Duffy, The Hours, Suzanne Vega, Amy Winehouse, Tina Turner, Joe Strummer, Garbage and Blur, among many others.
Unfortunately, musician's websites are often out of date, so there's just one mention of their work with Clay. (I suppose RCA didn't think it was worthy of note in the press release for this CD.)
So it doesn’t matter what some critics say, because they clearly don’t have a clue. I know that Clay got the best in the business to work on this album, people with experience, artistry, awards and respect within the music industry, where it really counts.
Working with Kipper as producer and Jaymes Foster as executive producer, Clay Aiken got to work with the best --- and the results are evident on "On My Way Here." It’s only fitting, because Clay is one of the best, as well.
So don't believe the critics' dismissals --- hell, don't even believe my praise.
Listen for yourself.
Listen for yourself.
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Clay Aiken, On My Way Here, Kipper, Sting, Keith Carlock, Ready Freddie Washington, Jon Herington, Jeff Young, Steely Dan, Donald Fagen, Walter Becker, Nathaniel Kunkel, Cameron Craig, Amy Winehouse, Pop Music, Rock Music, Jazz, blues, Music Criticism, Jaymes Foster, American Idol, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Grammy Awards, Chris Botti, Dean Gordon Smith, Linda Ryan, Mikael Wood, Harold Cohen