Gregory Alan Isakov With the Colorado Symphony is a singer/songwriter-meets-classical album that pairs Isakov’s gentle, intimate voice with moody orchestral parts. It was conceived as a live album: producer/engineer Jamie Mefford would record Isakov performing with the symphony, playing and singing his original songs while Scott O’Neil conducted new scores arranged by violinist Tom Hagerman (Devotchka) and singer/guitarist Jay Clifford (Jump Little Children).
However, the artists and producer Mefford ultimately decided to go with a cleaner, more studio-style approach. “They have a recording setup with Logic in Boettcher Hall, where they perform,” Mefford says. “We went in with our scores and we gave them click tracks.”
Symphony sessions were miked systematically, where the first and second musicians in each section would be close-miked, and the remaining members as a group. Mefford made use of the symphony’s extensive inventory of Neumann D Series mics; models included the DM184D and D01, and the KU 100 binaural head microphone. “Their entire system is digital, starting from the microphones,” Mefford says. “It was a full-size symphony, and we came out with 74 or 75 tracks.”
Mefford and Isakov took the orchestral tracks over to Isakov’s personal studio, which is installed in a barn on the farm where Isakov lives. There, Mefford recorded Isakov and his band: Jeb Bows, fiddle; Philip Parker, cello; James Ham, piano; John Grigsby, bass; Julie Davis, vocals; Steve Varney, electric guitar, banjo and vocals; and Mefford playing organ, synths and additional electric guitar. Those sessions were recorded to Pro Tools; Isakov’s guitar and vocals were among the last parts to be done. “He played a lot of acoustic guitar on this record,” Mefford recalls. “We miked that with a Royer 122 and a Neumann U87, blended together, into a Vintech 72 preamp and a UA 1176.”
They tracked Isakov’s voice to Mefford’s Flea 47 microphone, through a Classic Audio Products CAPI VP28 pre, into a Retro Double Wide compressor and an IGS Rubber Bands EQ.
“It was an interesting project, just to take that many tracks and put everything together. It ended up being more than 100 tracks of audio; just keeping organized was a handful,” Mefford says. “We mixed in Pro Tools. We also did a mix outside of the box. We tried all different kinds of summing. And ultimately, we mixed down to a Tascam ATR-60 16-track 1-inch tape machine and summed analog back into Pro Tools. That tape machine won. It gave the album more of a ‘record’ feel. Everything just instantly sounded more together and more classic.”