Winter 2020 

A NEW YEAR: Wrapping Up 2019

I can't believe it's been a year since I last posted any "News", but that should tell you a lot about how 2019 went. It did not let up much, on all fronts. I took on some extra outdoor jobs, doing my Gardenessa gig and had to contend with the insect population (ticks) to the extent that it overshadowed my life and became a war to stay healthy. Anyway, I made it through, & produced lots of music in the studio, despite struggles out in the field. And - I finished my first book of poetry.

 

RIDGERUNNER: Poems, lyrics ... how different are they?

Very! A poem floats in space, on a blank page, not anchored by music. This project started with a grant application I made to the Vermont Community Foundation, back in 2017, and I times, i thought I'd never finish. I had to get an extension for another year, ostensibly because I arbitrarily picked "100 poems" as my goal - and that's a lot of poems! Finally, after many manuscript revisions and book design issues,  we have a book!

You can order it online here or if you prefer, get it directly from me.  This paperback edition (featured above) is perfectly affordable at $15;  whereas the fancier hardcover, with full color photos to match each of my 100 poems, is more pricey - and can be pre-ordered here.

 

BONES OF THE HEART: Uplifting, humorous .... and quintessential Davey!

This record came out on the Thunder Ridge label last summer, just in time for Davey to take physical copies with him to California where he had an art exhibition featuring his amazing photography. As with all major projects, we called in the troops to help us put finishing touches on & those highlights make this album a lot of fun. For example, harp player Pete Meijer did some great playing!

 

[Pete Meijer]

[Bow Thayer]

And Bow Thayer, ditto, playing - whatever that thing is ... a steel guitar!

 

[Jim Pitman; Davey Davis]

And pedal steel player extraordinaire, Jim Pitman, always a pleasure to work with Jim!  You can listen to or buy Davey's album here, he's undoubtedly one of Vermont's most original songwriters - and a damn good singer! I've never heard a voice like his, rich and expressive, and totally without pretension.

As I was producing  this album, I ended up playing on it, and one of my favorite tracks and one that I'm super proud of, is "Ghost of the Chateauguay" which is loosely based on local history & things that happened a long time ago in the towns of Bridgewater and Barnard, Vermont. Davey's a woods rambler and deer hunter from since he was a kid, so his grasp on rural ways is authentic. We've posted it up here for you to listen, on Soundcloud.

[Kristina Stykos; photo by Jack Rowell]

RIVER OF LIGHT: A new solo album from Kristina .. that's me!

Yes, my new album is out and it was just designated the #2 in the County Tracks "Best Vermont Albums of 2019". That sure was a lot of work! I'm kicking back a little, which means I'm gearing up to start on a few more albums that are personal to me, including a new Cousins Project album, a new Ariel Zevon album and an instrumental album, featuring my acoustic guitar work. You can hear/buy tracks from the album in the Music section of this website.

 

 

SONGS FROM A DYNAMIC DUO: Kara and Andy Lake release their new album!

I'm happy to announce that we had so much fun making this album, that we almost didn't want the process to end. But you have to end it, to put out an album. And so we did. But looking back, I treasure so much about working with Kara and Andy, who go by the stage name: Jennings and McComber. Best of luck to them!

 

[Andy Lake]

[Kara Lake]

 

VIDEO: In support of Val McCallum's new album "Chateauguay" 

[Val McCallum]

Val is a regular here at Pepperbox Studio, and contributed a lot of amazing guitar, bass and vocal parts for my new album, River of Light. So I jumped at the opportunity to do something in support of his new album, Chateauguay, coming out at about the same time.

In 2019, I put these videos together for Val McCallum. Check it out! His songs tell poignant stories to tell, and the photos he gave me to work with brought tears to my eyes, every time.

 

[Charlie's Coal & Brothers}

 

BACK FROM BLUE HILL, MAINE: Ben Pfohl, guitar ace, raconteur & humorist

                                     [Ben Pfohl]

Living an international life in three countries, songwriter & performer Ben Pfohl managed to spend enough time in Vermont this last year to almost finish his upcoming album; surprisingly his first official, full-length recording! Despite exercising virtuosic proficiency on his instruments, and a well honed, articulate songcraft, Ben has successfully avoided being caught "in perpetuity" - but 2020 will change that, I'm happy to report!

As part of Ben's project, the studio was also graced with visits and contributions in 2019 from bassist Pat Melvin, pianist Henry Finch, and Sarah Rosenbaum, Ben's partner, a talented singer. We expect to be finishing up this album in 2020, with a little more help from our friends, adding more bass & some drums to the mix. Can't wait to wrap and share this with the world! Ben is a great songwriter, and this is going to be a popular album.

 

                                      [Pat Melvin]

 

POETS, MUSICIANS & THE BEST VIBE AROUND: Los Lorcas

These guys won me over, not that I need to be won over, but it's always nice to feel immediately at home in the company of strangers. Actually, I had met Patridge (Buzz) Boswell in his alternate incarnation as director of the Lebanon NH Opera House years ago, when I hung around there as a performer, presenter and all around back-stage groupie. Since those days gone by, we have both done a lot of growing and changing, so it was almost like meeting him for the first time - and we have way more in common now than I ever suspected we could.

Enter Peter Money and Nat Williams, two heart-centric, brilliant creatives, to round out the band. Using mostly their own entirely stunning poetry, and a few stolen lyrics from other poets, they weave songs that are sometimes spoken, sometimes sung. I could not wait to get into the mixing process, to spend more time listening to what they had to say. We'll be finishing up these pieces to release an album this month, and the result should be stellar.

 

[Peter Money, Nat Williams, Kristina Stykos, Patridge Boswell]

 

OLD FRIENDS: The celtic guitars of Pam Bockes & Leed Brewer

These two musical associates have been plying their finger-picking trades for many years in the Montpelier area, playing coffee houses, wineries, parties & special events and it was a treat to finally catch up with them, and see how their sound has evolved. Wow! The interplay and flow of these two gorgeous guitars being played in tandem utilizing a tasteful, lyrical repertoire, leaves us enchanted. Theirs is not easy material to master, and they support each other with such grace and good humor, I can't imagine a better pairing! We rushed this collection of 11 tunes into production for holiday dispersal, but not without first taking time to balance and add fairy dust. It went out the door with a smile and a nod ... as I imagined all their happy friends receiving such a fine gift!

 

[Pam Bockes]

[Leeds Brewer, Pam Bockes]

Fall 2018 

RIVER OF LIGHT: The Final Push

å

With all the things going on in my life this year, it was hard to imagine

how I'd ever find the time to finish my 7th solo album, "River of Light".

Here are the wonderful, amazing folks who made it happen. They not 

only played & sang, but co-created arrangements with me on the fly,

as we worked together in the studio and also long distance.

 [Jeff Berlin]

[Abby Jenne]

[Steve Mayone]

[Val McCallum]

[Patrick Ross]

 So what's happening now? After several false starts, the "River of Light"

mixes have made their way to Avatar Studios in NYC, and are in good

hands with mastering engineer Fred Kevorkian. As of this writing, they

are scheduled to be done. This final stage of adding professional ears

and polish to my musical productions is both terrifying and a big relief.

He hears my mistakes as well as the good stuff. And he tells me. For

some reason, this album threw a lot of technical curve balls,

right at the end. I went through weeks of corrections, mostly small, but

in one case a total restructuring of a song was necessary. That's why I

try to work with the best people I can find. Getting things to this level is

not for the faint of heart.

HAUSNER, COANE & PITMAN: Old Time Country Done Right

 

 [Carol Hausner]

 

As part of my ongoing album project with Carol Hausner, I had the pleasure

of live recording her trio with Danny Coane [guitar & vocals] and Jim Pitman

[dobro]. What a fantastic sound, between the harmony singing and old time

picking! We're looking forward to bringing a few more of Vermont's local

luminaries into studio this winter, and I'm excited to hear Carol's vision

coming to fruition. Truly, this kind of hand-crafted record making is a labor

of love, and takes a lot of commitment to pull off! Thanks to all who contribute

their time and care to preserve this art form.

 

 

 

[Danny Coane, Carol Hausner, Jim Pitman]

 

THE ELUSIVE GIG: Continuing Adventures with Ariel & Others

[Kristina Stykos, Ariel Zevon, Linda Warnaar - photo by Bow Thayer]

 

Check out Bob's Place, a.k.a. the old Windsor Farmer's Exchange!

 

It's at the end of Depot Ave., just across the tracks from Windsor Station.

Now I'd say it's the coolest, unknown venue in Vermont, but then again

I'm biased, since the guy who owns it and renovated it is my buddy, Bob

Haight. Bob is an architect, designer and all around amazing guy. This mini

festival occurred in July.

 

Now I often get asked if I gig. Kind of, sometimes, I do. It's less fun since

I've been struggling with vocal issues, but I never say never. Depends on

who wants me to do it, or pressures me to do it. And if the numerous hours

of rehearsal time & drive time can justify the cause. And if I can bring

something special to the table. I know what I'm good at, and what

I'm not good at.

 

So Ariel, Linda and I played this gig at Bob's Place, and before that,

in June, opened for Dar Williams at Chandler Music Hall. It's a joy to

play at the Chandler under any conditions; it's a great venue.

 

Other than that, I was asked to play at the campaign kick-off for John Obrien,

who is running for state rep from Tunbridge. Go John! It's not quite my voting

district but if you know my radio show, 11th Hour Radio , you'll know that

John's wife Emily is my co-host. It was a great night of playing until my

fingers froze .. because it was October & chilly in the barn but I was having too

much fun with fiddlers Steve Muise and Butch Howe, to notice!

 

[Steve Muise, Kristina Stykos, Butch Howe]

 

NEW FROM ABRIAL: Songs That Make You Think A Little Off-Planet

[Abrial; a.k.a. Caitlin Pomerantz]

 

After she recorded her album "Take Shelter" here at Pepperbox Studio in 2014,

I didn't see Caitlin for a while. I later heard her life took her to busk on

the streets of Nashville, then at some point back to Hawaii, and then on to

Indonesia. So I sure am glad that when she had a scant week or so back here

in Vermont, she wanted to nail down some new material - for us to develop

towards a new EP. Honestly, I won't be surprised one day, to see Caitlin standing

side-by-side future President Tulsi Gabbard, fielding questions as her press

secretary.  This is totally within the realm of possibility. However, in the meantime,

we have a few songs to get out!

 

LOST AT SEA: Ryan Clayton

[Ryan Clayton]

Sometimes people come to the studio in unexpected ways, and I'd say Ryan

fits this description, although now I can clearly how the seed was planted,

that led us to this remarkable juncture. Ryan Clayton: political activist,  skilled

media commentator, troll-in-chief targeting Donald J. Trump literally from

the moment he was elected until Ryan's life was radically changed by PTSD, and

a near-death experience in the waters off Indonesia. You can read all about it

here. We met by chance a few years ago, when he randomly found my Airbnb

rooms-for-rent online. He didn't know at the time he was going to become a

 

songwriter.

 

Fast forward to this fall, when he arrived, sheaf of papers in hand and a plan for

action: not political this time, but musical. We worked a good, long 12 hour day

which included ideas coming via cell phone from his brother Chad, to complete

a song about healing and emotional safety. For his first time singing in front of a

microphone, the results were amazing. Stay posted!

 

BONES OF THE HEART: A New Album on the Horizon from Davey Davis

[Davey Davis]

[Val McCallum, Pooh Sprague]

[Jeff Berlin]

 

 

[Pooh Sprague, Val McCallum, Jeff Berlin]

 

[Davey Davis, Val McCallum, Pooh Sprague]

[Val McCallum, Jeff Berlin, Pooh Sprague, Davey Davis]

Pictures often tell the best story, and here you see another epic gathering

of the clan, live tracking with Davey Davis [vocals], Val McCallum [guitars],

Pooh Sprague [bass] and Jeff Berlin [drums]. We tracked four songs that day

that were downright funky and fun! An additional day was added with drummer

Jeffrey Yurek of Claremont, NH to track a few more.

[Jeffrey Yurek]

I can't wait to get current with work on this record, so y'all can hear it! Davey's

new album, "Bones of the Heart" is almost completely tracked, waiting for "yours

truly" to get back to it, add a few parts and put it all together. Stay posted!

 

TWO DOLLAR WOMAN: Singer-Songwriter Ben Reed's Album is Here!

 

Nothing makes me happier than to finish an album and be able to post the

beautiful album artwork here. Congratulations to Thunder Ridge Records'

recording artist Ben Reed of Billings, MT!!! - for all his hard work and creativity

which has resulted in this unique album of cowboy songs, poignant love songs,

songs about life and ... a song about Jim Morrison of the Doors!! A thrill

to produce thanks to Ben's concept & Patrick Ross's magnificent string work!

The album includes a gorgeous 16 page booklet and many of Ben's stunning

photographs of wildlife and landscapes in and around his home out west.

You can buy his album here.

 

Spring 2018 

THE BIG STAGE: A NIGHT WITH JACKSON BROWNE

The daffodils are up and last night we took a quick trip to Boston at

the invitation of Jackson Browne, who made room in his show at the

Blue Hills Pavilion for Ariel to perform a couple of her songs from

"The Detangler". I'd say they treated us right, but that doesn't nearly

describe it. This group of hard-working music people has a collective

heart of gold. Here are a few photos:

 Ariel Zevon with guitar tech David

Ariel Zevon, Val McCallum and Greg Leisz

Kristina Stykos, Jeff Young, Jackson Browne and Ariel Zevon

Jackson Browne and Kristina Stykos

 

THE AMAZING KOSMIC KELTIC OF JENNINGS & MCCOMBER

There's so much going on in the studio! Kara and Andy Watters Lake,

a.k.a. Jennings and McComber, have been hard at work laying tracks

for their new album, an acoustic masterpiece.

 Kara and Andy Watters Lake

 Andy Lake and son Sam

 Kara Watters Lake

Kara and Andy bring so much joy into the room, I don't know what I'll

do when they finally are done recording and leave. But leave they must,

for the world needs this album, full of soaring hopes and dazzling dreams.

Their original songs that they sing as a duo out and about Vermont present

a powerful dose of human kindness, compassion & craft. I am so excited

and honored to be producing this with them!

 

 Andy Lake

FROM THE BLUE HILLS OF MAINE: BEN PFOHL

Although we talked about Ben doing an album years ago, we did not

make the commitment to it until this year. Now he's unstoppable or

rather his songs are unstoppable as they come often careening,

sometimes elegantly flowing, out of his dynamic vintage Gibson

guitar and his gravelly, expressive voice.

 Ben Pfohl

There is a lot of angular,cowboy poetry here, blunt and graspable, with

a poignancy and drive all its own. I'm proud to be producing this album

with Ben, as I help him shape his top notch performances into recordings,

featuring his impeccable writer's skills and punchy country pickin'.

Ben Pfohl

REAL VERMONT COUNTRY FROM SONGSTRESS CAROL HAUSNER

What an incredible pleasure to finally be working & hanging out with

an artist I'd heard about for a long time but never really gotten to know.

Carol's well known in bluegrass circles for her gorgeous high lonesome singing

style and fine songwriting. Now don't I know it!

 

Carol Hausner

Getting inside the song is what it's all about, and Carol's encouraged me

to add some parts - on mandolin, bass or whatever works, so it's getting

more fun by the minute! We've been entertaining guest appearances

by her musical friends, including Jonathan Kaplan ("the doctor"), Danny

Coane, and Rachel Sucher, which keeps it lively and interesting around here.

 

 Carol Hausner and Rachel Sucher

A few of the songs lean folk-wards, and I've had a great time employing

the multiple voices of my many guitars, each with it's own special personality

and sound. This record should be done in a few months, and I'm pretty excited

to be producing it with Carol!

Winter 2018 

From the Producer's Desk: Welcome to my World!

 

Yes, lately I've been wearing out my producer's hat. With so many

amazing artists and interesting projects, there's not enough time in

the day. Eventually it comes: the need for balance. The time to regroup,

breathe & leave space. To waste time and not just fill it. This is the way

back to my own most personal work.

Big thanks to my cousin Steve Mayone who drove up after a gig in

Boston recently, to spend the weekend laying down tracks for my next

solo CD, an almost forgotten, left by the wayside affair, put off on the

side of the road due to my scrambling efforts to recover from a divorce,

get back on my feet financially and stabilize enough to return to

my core focus. Why does it have to be so hard sometimes?

Who would divorce me, right? I look pretty nice. Just to make things

more exciting, I lost my voice. Oh, I know. I've been saying that about

my singing voice for a while, and you thought I was just being coy.

Actually, I have a degenerative neurological condition called S.D., or

Spasmodic Dysphonia. It was getting so bad last fall, I began to totally

freak out. I was fortunate enough to run across one of the premier

speech therapists who help people deal with this, on Youtube. On the

spot, I contacted her and scheduled a session with her. It was either

get help, or crawl into a hole and die.

So I dropped everything I was doing, and took three weeks to drive to

Atlanta, GA. I was able to finally get solid support and understanding for

this unbelievably difficult vocal issue, caused by deep-seated and long

standing emotional trauma, and made worse at every turn by fear &

the isolating effects of being unable to speak.

That is the mysterious crossroads where I find myself, sorely tested,

thankful to have work , coming to terms with my new voice, curious to

experiment with it. I accept that I'll likely never sing or speak

again in silken tones. But my voice reflects one person's journey

to unravel and uncover layers of sublimated abuse. Fly, ragged bird -

beyond the spotlight or the stage! Pray your wings take you to the

realm of the truth tellers, where you can tell an honest story.

I have many friends who keep showing up to help me do just that.

One in particular is songwriter & guitarist Val McCallum.

He lives in L.A. but spent a bunch of his childhood years in West Windsor,

Vermont, also known as Brownsville. I can say from first hand experience,

Brownsville has some magic, and a singular mountain in the middle of it.

The clans that hale from there carry a unique weight in the Vermont

music scene. It was my best friend musician Davey Davis born & raised

on Mt. Ascutney who introduced me to Val. What a great collaborator

I've found in Val. My new solo album features his playing, singing &

many of his production ideas. Our time in the studio together and

long distance working relationship has helped keep my creative light

alive. 

 

 

Fall 2017 

From the Producer's Desk: The Detangler by Ariel Zevon

 

Okay, I'm not going to sound a trumpet or anything but I am going to

wink at the cat because - we got it done! This much awaited collection

of 16 original songs by Ariel Zevon recorded and produced upstairs 

is all shrink-wrapped up and ready for distribution. And so comes the

snow & the wood fires are burning. With the advent of winter, we are

excited to present this, our latest creative effort: The Detangler. 

If you want, download it now at CD Baby.

Val McCallum (guitar) & Pappy Biondo (banjo) at Pepperbox Studio

Patrick Ross (fiddle) and Ariel Zevon [Photo by Mark Collier]

 

Kristina Stykos and Ariel Zevon at Pepperbox Studio, 2017 [Photo by Mark Collier]

 

Spring/Summer 2017 

From the Producers Desk: Meeting our Funding Goal


It's true, we reached out Kickstarter goal of $5,000 and

are now moving into the final stages of recording and mixing

Ariel's album, The Detangler. To those who donated, we can't

thank you enough for your support and kind words. The

process of making contact with people who care about our

music is essential to keeping our spirits high and our creativity

flowing. Nourishment of all types is necessary to make it through

something as hard as making a record.I guess that's why Ariel

never walks into Pepperbox Studio without baskets of things

like fresh goat milk chevre, raw honey and fresh baked macaroons.

We try to stay healthy and keep our lives balanced, while staying

true to the music that wants to be made.

Thanks to some of our favorite session players: drummer

Matt Musty [Grace Potter] & guitarist Val McCallum [Jackson Browne]

for bringing generous amounts of good will and skillful musicianship

to the project. Their time and energy pushed us to a new level

at a time when we needed it most. Thanks also to new friends:

trumpet player Gary Hubbard and vocalist Abby Jenne whose

talents have been refreshing and dynamic in all the right ways.

This is an album with edge and style, largely defined by the

songwriter but then quadrupled in artistry by these players. Truly

a collaborative experiment that has kept us surprised at

every twist and turn. 

As producer and primary session musician (gulp!) for this project,

my hours in the studio can be long and nail biting. Being a bit of a

perfectionist, i want to get things right and sometimes that means

dismantling a song & putting it back together in a new way. Ariel

has been very patient with my process, and the results speak for

themselves. Figuring out what I feel in response to her music and

how I want to shape my conversation with it often involves opening

every stringed instrument case in the studio. Each guitar has a

different voice and the microphones play a part. I'm grateful to be

on a high with my learning curve, still challenged but really enjoying

the outcomes of my intuitive approach to arranging. 

What's left now for me are a few more overdubs, and lots of

mixing angst. This is where the rubber hits the road. I'm looking

forward to getting everything wrapped up by the end of the summer,

at which time the whole kit and caboodle will go to our mastering

engineer in New York City. Stay tuned and we'll report back when

we go to press. Yes, we are making a physical CD, even though

it's starting to be considered old fashioned. A real thing in your

hand is really nice to have, even if it is symbolic, or considered a

souvenir. We still like 'em.

[Ariel Zevon and Val McCallum]

[Dave Keller and Kristina Stykos]

Congratulations to songwriter and performer Robert Bryant upon completion of his double album recorded here at Pepperbox Studio over the last year and a half! His collection of songs is titled "Back Road Benevolence" and spans two disks, each produced with its own distinct flavor and production style. Disk One, "Heart of the Hill" is a group of songs Robert put in my hands to arrange, with additional musical contributions from fiddler Patrick Ross, vocalist Nikki Matheson and Robert's daughter Caileigh. Disk Two, "As Far As We Know", features the collaborative work of Robert and blues guitarist Dave Keller, which I captured live here at Pepperbox in a couple sessions. Really great stuff and much beautiful effort from all participants thanks to Robert's persistent and loving guidance. He truly had a vision here, and made sure we got it to the finish line.

 

 [Davey Davis]

Davey's album Bones of the Heart is moving along, with the planning stages for a live weekend recording session in the works, to cover all the basic tracks to this 13 songs CD. After charting everything out from Davey's remarkable home-spun demos, we decided to start with a basic trio of bass, drums and rhythm guitar and work upwards from there. Spending a solid two day listening retreat was exactly what I needed to gain insight into what makes these songs tick. I had to figure out some of the key pieces that make up his signature sound, a funky groove that Davey has honed after years of working alone in his home studio. Coming away from that I found myself meditating on a little Willie Nelson, a little Buddy Holly, and a handful of something psychoactive. The deceptively simple language and smooth vocal delivery that comes so naturally to Davey somehow packs in a powerful message. So I'll be excited to be in the studio soon with Davey, his brothers Jeff and Rick, and drummer Jeff Berlin. We'll see what we can do to serve up this incredible songwriter's vision in a new, more potent cocktail.

[Deb Langstaff and Megan Henderson]

In April, I took some of  my recording gear on a road trip and headed to Providence RI, then Boston MA, to record two musicians who have worked together for years and recently embarked on an amazing project. Deborah Langstaff, who some may know as the daughter of John Langstaff, founder of Revels, has taken her life-long study of the poems of German poet Hilde Domin and applied it to the creation of songs using her own [Deb's] translations, approved by the poet before her death in 2006. Trying out the compositions together for the first time, Deb and pianist Megan Henderson were able to lay out the groundwork for this incredibly moving song cycle in one short weekend.  I was the fly on the wall, catching each take with rapt attention as it went whizzing by. Watching these two seasoned performers iron out their arrangements was awe inspiring. Did I mention we ate well? Somehow there was also time for dinners at the local Indian restaurant. For what is music without food? Deb and I will be mixing phase one of the project in Vermont in June, at Pepperbox Studio. 

FALL/WINTER 2017 

 This has been one of the most busy winters I've had in a while and creative projects in the studio are stacking up; not a bad thing! I'm in the producer's role for most of them, engineering, arranging, playing parts & hiring session players to support these collaborative visions. I'm proud of the unique process that brings each album recorded at Pepperbox Studio to completion. It takes courage & determination to show up for work that is at once personal and universal. Music created here often gets built from just a single voice or rudimentary chord progression. Songs come forward and are cared for. I can't tell you how exciting it is to enter into another songwriter's world, to find a connection to my own musical heart and mind. The challenges and surprises are endless. Payback is sweet, when the artist walks out with something to share with the world, be it family, friends, strangers or bigger audiences. For all of us, there is deep learning, through diligent engagement & thoughtful self expression. 

 Ariel Zevon comes honestly to her songwriting chops, but probably didn't dream much about taking her music to the next step until I coaxed her out of the closet. Well, not exactly a closet but an off-grid farm in the sticks where she single parents twin teenage boys, raises goats, rabbits, llamas, chicken & other animals while running a whole foods catering business out of her richly illustrated food truck. I was looking for something fun to do, that would hopefully engage new parts of my musical brain when I happened to stumble across a few of Ariel's selfie videos, buried on Youtube. We knew each other already, but not that well, so I texted her. "What the heck? I didn't know you wrote songs! And they're good!" We had agreed it would be an experiment, never to see the light of day if necessary. The rest is history. We're in the final stages of recording her first album of original songs.  I'm happy to report that broken plow trucks have not deterred us nor has head scratching made us bald. We have much to revel in & a little more hard work to lean into so stay posted for a Kickstarter campaign due out in the next month! 

Robert Bryant came to Pepperbox Studio with a group of songs and song ideas, with a vision for building an album of original music from the ground up. Over the course of many months, we would sketch things out, often sitting by the wood stove,until the chords sounded right, then go upstairs to record and listen again. The process was slow, the results are magnificent. We've since incorporated fiddle work from Patrick Ross, blues guitar from Dave Keller and harmony vocals from Robert's daughter, Caileigh. Of course I have thrown in many a guitar part, mandolin parts and the occasional bass line. We're getting close to the end of our creative odyssey, adding final edits and working up final mixes for what looks like will be two albums, with distinctively different styles, each one showcasing a different side of Robert's songwriting. All this from an artist who, when he first came through the door, did not feel comfortable calling himself a musician! I'm excited for him and for all of us who contributed to this work; I feel grateful to have been a part of it.

 I met Jamie Gage when he interviewed me for his radio show "Green Mountain Global" on Royalton Community Radio. I found out then that he was a poet, and finishing up a poetry book to be published by Finishing Line Press of Kentucky. Being a poetry junkie and curious about it, I made sure to get a copy when it came out! Fast forward to our next encounter in which he informed me that he wrote songs too and was serious about doing some recording with me. I could only imagine the wonderful convergence of words and sounds coming my way! This has opened up into a wonderful experience for both of us, putting together an EP of six original songs, with some light production. Being new to recording always necessitates taking a little extra time to find the most comfortable way to get the most natural performance. This sets the session up right to move forward in a relaxed way. The immersion into Jamie's poetry has been a joy. Stay posted for the results of our collaboration!

 People find out about what I do in different ways. Ben Fuller arrived at Pepperbox Studio because he works outdoors as a landscaper - and so do I! In Vermont, artists often need more than one job. So it was through this non-music network that he was referred to me, as others pushed him to get rolling with his musical aspirations. And let me tell you, his talent is larger than life. This guy could be in Nashville, killin' it. But he's not. He's in Vermont, grew up on a tractor, works with his hands, and goes to open mics for fun. He could take his music anywhere, and that will be his challenge. Step one has been to record a group of solid country covers, and step two is to begin writing and recording his first group of original songs. We've done a music video of the first of these original songs, here: Lion Eyes. Like most young people, Ben is working more than full time to make ends meet, so this project is a labor of love that moves forward in fits and starts, when he can steal the time. That's no problem, because he has what it takes to bring it home. And its another exciting opportunity for me to hone my production chops and help someone realize their dreams.

 [Rick Davis, Lane Gibson, Jim Reiman]

 

[Davey Davis]

It's not every day that a 7th generation Vermonter walks through the door with a huge catalog of music already produced in Vermont but the desire to try something different. That's where I come in. Davey heard some of the music we've produced here at Pepperbox and said to himself: "I want me some of that" (my words). Actually, the production goals around here are pretty simple: to make you sound like you sound, to the nth degree. It's a stripped down style, nothing too fancy but certainly tasteful, with nothing that takes you too far afield from your core sound. The baseline is what you bring, represented in it's best light. Davey has a powerful, elegant voice, that is supple and expressive. Our decision was to put that up front and get it right. His songwriting is mature, ranges from complex to iconic and there could be a million approaches to working with him. We're starting with careful attention to the acoustic guitar parts, since Davey writes his songs on guitar, and we're pushing the vocal quality to its highest place. That is a joint effort, with me as coach and Davey as an artist with high personal standards. After that, we can call on Davey's extensive musical network to enhance & support. Our session with Rick Davis, Lane Gibson and Jim Reiman doing backup vocals for Davey's song "Night Church", about a remote bar in New Brunswick CA, was a lot of fun. We're readying a Kickstarter campaign for this album project, so again: stay posted!

 Sometimes artists fall through the cracks and don't get the recognition they deserve, because they've spent most of their musical career flying under the radar. Jim Reiman is a case in point. Once the owner/founder of a small record label, Rooster Records, a fire destroyed the business and many of the tapes. After this huge loss of a dream, he kept his own music going. Music fans in Central Vermont may be familiar with his down home guitar picking and gorgeous raspy vocals, but more likely they've been to any number of his restaurants: Prince & Pauper, Three Tomatoes, Centerra Grill, etc. I met Jim many years ago, hired to play at a music night he was hosting. I liked his affable style right away, and went on to play with him at a few parties and local events. Then we lost touch. Well, this year has been a renaissance of sorts, bringing many old friends to my studio, Jim among them. Our recording project has already yielded a gem, that to me exemplifies Jim's charm and style: a Roy Orbison cover, "She's a Mystery Girl". I can't wait to see where this goes! 


Eddie Russell is a veteran, troubadour and one-of-a-kind prolific songwriter. Currently living in Louisiana, he lost almost everything he owns in the 2016 flood. Maybe that's why he decided it was time to get moving and document his vast backlog of classic songs written over decades, dealing with topics such as cops, trout, your mom, motels, garage sales and love. His choice to come work at Pepperbox Studio was driven by a desire to get the best production, with the fewest bells and whistles. His music is funny, hard hitting, wise and ironic. This is going to be an blast! We start work next summer. 

WINTER 2016 

When you know it's time to upgrade the studio software, you heave a sigh of .. not relief. You knuckle down and remind yourself that it's just something that has to be done. Make sure there is nothing scheduled for a month, and clear your calendar. Expect glitches. There are sure to be glitches. You're jumping from Pro Tools 10 to 12? Suck in your gut. Chart it out. Consider your hardware and your cables. It's always the little things that are going to hang you up. Don't try to quit coffee now.

Maybe if you keep two systems going, the old one on the old computer, and the new one on the new computer, you can proceed without breaking stride. So I got halfway into the change-over, and some really great sessions came in.

This is Turnip Truck. I am in love with their version of "Jesus on the Mainline". And you had to fall in love with them when you heard them crank out a lively rendition of "Cash on the Barrel". Just waiting to see how much further they want to go with a great acoustic sound!

 

And this exceptional singer-songwriter? Miranda Moody Miller. I've had ear-worms of her songs all weekend. "Holding onto Hopeful" cannot be eradicated. Nor should it be! The message is real and compassionate. We worked on redoing her guitar parts without the vocal, set against the backdrop of drummer Matt Musty's beats recorded a year ago. Did I mention that Matt's been backing Grace Potter? I guess we snagged him just before he hit the big time. Hoping to get him back in the studio for a couple new tracks!

 

 

 And then there's Sophie! Her last year of high school and an ambitious calendar, including one of the lead roles in her school's annual musical! We'll be working on a few of her original songs, adding accompaniment by her wonderful dad, Andy. Such a treat!

 

SUMMER 2015 

It’s full on gardening season and some of you may not know that I’m a landscape gardener when I’m not being a musician or a producer. Living in Vermont is a lot about following the rhythms of the seasons, and occasionally doing battle with them. I like being outdoors. And I like to work. My seasonal work outdoors pulls me deeply into myself in significant ways, touching emotions that otherwise lay dormant. My camera goes with me to my jobs, and there is more to see & feel than I can hardly keep up with.

 

Moving backwards in time, I can truly say that the push to finish “Horse Thief” this last winter was a marathon. At times I felt I had bitten off more than I could chew. But I’m not a quitter when it comes to my creativity. Where there is a will, there is a way. I have learned from experience that breaking down monumental projects into bite size pieces is the way to proceed. Just look at what is in front of you for the day. Occasionally step back to get the bigger picture overview when you’re not feeling overwhelmed. Then zoom back in and address the task at hand. That’s all. It’s a day at a time.

 

It’s a big castle I live in, and the idea this winter was to minimize expenditures and live close to the bone. I slept on the couch next to the woodstove, and kept that fire going around the clock. It was a record cold and snowy winter. Every few days it was necessary to haul wood by hand and in the back of my Subaru over and through snowdrifts. Thank god for the plow truck. I only broke it once, and really it was just steel piece holding the spare tire to the undercarriage. And the new additional bank of solar panels wired into the house made a huge difference, powering the studio extra hours each day so that I didn’t have to run the generator as much. I had to stay on my toes in terms of keeping up with things, but the stars seemed somewhat aligned to help me “get ‘er done”. I hit my spring deadline for completion of the album, just about when I had hoped to. Organizing the graphics took a little longer, but that was okay.

 

Studio clients were not quite so numerous this winter. Perhaps people picked up my vibe that I was not to be disturbed while “Horse Thief” had the front burner. Complicating things, in December I managed to throw my back out for the first time in my life after a particularly grueling afternoon throwing firewood. I figured out a little too late how not to twist and contort my body like that. Guess I was taking out some of my angry, manic energy on the wood pile when it backfired. It took me months to feel like myself again physically. Tip: don’t move firewood when you’re feeling angry and manic. Go ski into the woods instead.

 

The sessions I did have were incredibly special and there were silver linings. First of all, Miranda Moody Miller returned to the studio, to move on from the demo recordings we’d done to the real deal. She told me about a drummer. A guy she “bumped into – native of Bradford, Vermont, working musician, Berklee College grad, moving to Nashville in a month. But she’d lined him up between tours to do her drum tracks. Enter: Matthew Musty.

 

Matt set up his drum kit and we worked a few long days on Miranda’s cool songs. Since the kit was in-house for a week, I hit him up. Do you think you could throw down a few tracks for “Horse Thief” in between Miranda’s sessions? Sure! Long story short, Matt slammed out some great parts. I’m so thankful that the convenience of his being in the studio with Miranda led to this partnership with me.  I’m sure I’ll be working with him in the future. Nashville isn’t that far.

 

I’ve been lucky with drummers and “Horse Thief” features two.  Of course my album wouldn’t exist without the collaborative genius of drummer Jeff Berlin, whom I often work with from the ground up when song productions are in the formative stage. His beats, though I hesitate to call his organic, nuanced artistry by that term, have repeatedly helped me to find what I’m looking for when an idea is floating around. A session with Jeff kicks up the energy and infuses it with his signature heart and soul. Although each step of the production process is exciting, this initial marriage of my basic tracks to Jeff’s drumming always gets me headed. He is often my first influence after a song is charted out. He does me right!

 

I also want to acknowledge a few other players who made time to work with me on “Horse Thief”. My old friend Neal Massa drove up from Ithaca NY to add piano parts, in places I felt my playing was not going to cut it. I’m so glad he was willing to do this! His sense of funk & jazz phrasing and his good energy brought exactly what I needed to the project. Singer Nikki Matheson also came into the studio at exactly the right moment - to layer in her beautiful vocals. She’s the type that can walk in and nail it. I like that. Her participation and encouragement meant a lot to me. Ditto, my pals Bow Thayer and Patrick Ross. We always find a groove unique to our chemistry, having been band mates and studio partners many times over. Patrick’s fiddle quietly supports until it wows, and I always leave a solo for him. Bow brought in his newest invention “bojotar” and yes, that is an instrument. If you hear what sounds like slide guitar, that’s it. Always experimental, always fun with those two. Special thanks also to Alex Abraham for making himself available to do a track for me at Bow’s Woodshed studio. Running the board over there was an interesting challenge!

 

Lastly, my cousin Steve Mayone’s musical and personal generosity is one of the mainstays of my recording and performing life. We had a fun and musically gratifying local gig this May at the Tunbridge Town Hall, part of the Mountain Folk Series, and a fundraiser for WFVR community radio, joining forces with singer/songwriter Lizzy Mandell and bassist Scott Corneille.

 

When I need “something” on a song, Steve finds it and offers me options. That’s why we continue to work as a team, despite his being in Brooklyn & not nearby. We’ll be getting on with our next Cousins Project album later in the summer. I can’t wait!

 

 

Back to other sessions, that came to Pepperbox this winter and spring. A band from Boston and the Cape found me on the internet – go figure! The Laughing Crow Band did an intensive weekend here, and then band leader Phil Austin came back to do solo work. A lot of creativity there! We had the pillows and blankets out to muffle the guitar amps and it was still loud. Great musicality & verve led by Phil’s Joni Mitchell-esque vibe on electric slide guitar. There’s a great album there if they choose to complete it!

 

 In March, I was really excited to work with bluegrass style singer/guitarist Tim McKenzie, formerly of the Pine Island, a much-loved Burlington, Vermont band popular in the 70s. Our session, long in the planning, was designed to get Tim back in the studio after decades away. Issues with hearing loss had deterred him, but our time together proved he still has all the skills. I’d like to work with him on a stripped down “Tim McKenzie Unplugged” album – a girl can dream!

 

I’m on the other side of all that now, sitting at my kitchen table on a cloudy summer’s day. From here in the extravagant green & lush hills surrounding my house and studio, I’ll be working to promote my new album, supported by a new radio service being designed by some very smart trouble makers in the southern half of the state: Caballbreaker Radio. More on this in a future post, I’m sure.