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Bellfuries, ‘Working Man’s Blues’

The Bellfuries’ latest album was recorded in Hi-Style Studios (Chicago) by engineer/musician Alex Hall. Working Man’s Blues reflects what Hall and Hi-Style capture so well: vintage rock ’n’ roll with modern attitude.

“They’ve been playing together a long time and play together really well,” Hall says. “This studio works really well with a band that’s ready to track live.”

Hi-Style was built by in-demand upright bass player Jimmy Sutton (JD McPherson, Andrew Bird, Koko Taylor, etc.), and Hall has honed his approach to recording stand-up:

“Bass can be a beast, and each one is different,” he says. “One big problem that engineers can run into is, you wind up with holes; certain notes come through strong and others disappear. I’m lucky because Jimmy has house basses that record well.

“Jeff [Seaver] played a King bass into an Altec 639 birdcage mic, which is a combination ribbon/dynamic. It sounds bizarre by itself on full range, but it’s magical on bass. I position it on the high string side, probably above the F hole, depending if he’s slapping or plucking. With slapping, if you get too far up toward the fingerboard, it sounds like a rubber band; and if you get too low, then it’s just boomy low end. The chain beyond that is the mic pre’s in two Ampex MX10 mixers, into a Berlant tape machine.

“Working live forces you to ignore bleed, which people struggle with a lot with upright bass, especially if you’ve got a high-end-y sound like cymbals bleeding into the bass mic. You have to make the bleed work, and once you accept that, maybe the sound of the off-axis drums and the bass mic causes you to move the overhead to compensate, and maybe that combination sounds really groovy. I love that kind of stuff.”