Recording "Small Graces"

A Conversation With Bob Bennett

Long before Phil Naish and I worked together, the idea of him producing was floated to me, and I was concerned because none of the records I had ever heard him produce sounded like me. I thought, gee, I don't know how in the world that would work. Then it worked out for us to work together, and it was clear from the get-go, he was going to produce me, rather than live through me! As a consequence, he was so respectful of making sure that the guitar and the voice were the centerpiece everything would build around that. In fact, instead of coming in and playing to tracks that were already done or playing at the same time with the other basic-track musicians, we recorded the guitar and vocal first, with a click-track, to get the most natural performance I was capable of. Then we brought the other players in later and had them play around what I had done. What that means, is that the album sounds a lot more like me. But it also means we drove the bass player crazy! That's what makes Danny O'Lannerghty so great. He is a very sensitive accompanist as well as a great musician in his own right, and can hold his own with anybody. His sensitivity was just astounding, his ability to work with and around a finger-style guitarist who steps all over the potential bass parts!

Ken Lewis played percussion. What a sensitive and creative player. It was just amazing. Much of the instrumental overdubs were done when I was back in California. In the past, it would have driven me nuts to do that, but by the time I had worked a few hours with Phil and Ronnie, it was clear we were in such sync over what we wanted. It couldn't have gone better if I had been there myself. I'm very, very happy with what happened. And Ken, using just the rudimentary elements of percussion without a full drum kit, brought wonderful creativity to the songs.

This album marks the mandola debut of Phil Naish! On "Lone Star State" he played mandola!. He blows my mind. He just walked right in and did it, like he'd been doing it all his life. He can do it all! To mix metaphors between producer and physician, Phil has such a great and relaxed bedside manner, you might be tempted to think he’s not paying that close of attention, but he doesn't miss a thing.

Ronnie Brookshire did the engineering and mixing. He’s responsible for some of the best-sounding engineering anywhere. He was such an encouragement to work with, and although he worked in support of Phil’s producing, I can’t help but wonder if we’ll see more “produced by” credits for him in the not-to-distant future.

With time and budget constraints that are not the norm for these guys, they both really worked their magic and are very easy to work with.

Lisa Cochran did background vocals on "Hand of Kindness" and "The Only Risk Worth Taking." Lisa could sing the phone book and I would want to answer an altar call! She is amazing. And, Lisa may be one of the funniest people I've met personally. She is just a hoot. On "Jesus in our Time" and "Small Graces," the dynamic duo of Bonnie Keen and Cheryl Rogers sang backgrounds and they were terrific. They accomplished in a couple of hours what would have taken me weeks. They just came in and were wonderful ... and again, funny! (Perhaps there’s some sort of correlation between great singing and great humor ... I don't know!) They caught the vision for the songs and you can hear it.

Scott Brasher did such a wonderful job on the string arrangement for "The Only Risk Worth Taking." He really wrote the daylights out of it. It was so sensitive and appropriate, with the sounds that he got, and the playing he did. Night after night I was on the road with he and Michael Card, and was amazed at the vibrancy that he would bring to the proceedings. He'd plug in all his keyboards and meticulously set them up, and get all the right sounds. We'd be in having dinner, and he'd be doing his own major league sound check. He would rather make it sound right than eat, I think. People who listen to Michael's music are aware of Scott's song writing and arrangements. To have him be a part of this was an honor, and he did the song in splendid fashion.

Michael Card, I would have to say, was the guardian angel of the whole proceeding. It's not just that he co-owns the studio with Phil, and the record is coming out on Covenant Artists ... he has been so encouraging to me these past few years. The only reason I had a career during 1990 and 1991 is because of the tour I did with Mike. To this day, I still have people coming up to me saying, "I'm so glad to see you playing in concert. The first time I saw you was with Michael Card." To get in front of his audiences was one of the nicest things that has ever happened to me. You're not going to see his name on the formal recording credits, but there should be a huge imprint across the whole thing with his name on it.

In summary, it was a love-fest! These people didn't show up because I could pay them huge sums of money or offer them prestige. They showed up because they wanted to support the music. It was really humbling to accept their love and work and for me to experience that day in and day out. There is no way in the world I can repay them.

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