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Capturing John Kruth and Folklorkestra

How Folklorkestra conjured a genre-bending mashup of song, story and instrumentation in the studio

Folklorkestra is, from left: John Kruth, Ray Peterson, Kenny Margolis, Kathy Halverson, Premik Russell Tubbs and Rohin Khemani. Photo: Stan Schnier
Folklorkestra is, from left: John Kruth, Ray Peterson, Kenny Margolis, Kathy Halverson, Premik Russell Tubbs and Rohin Khemani. Photo: Stan Schnier

The making of Folklorkestra’s A Strange Day in June was all about heart—both musically and personally. And it was indeed a strange time in the life of multi-instrumentalist John Kruth.

Two years ago, having disbanded his previous band, TriBeCaStan, after releasing five albums, musician friend Elliott Sharp asked how he was planning to now produce and perform his musical ideas. When Kruth replied that he honestly didn’t know, Sharp suggested that he apply for a grant. Kruth discovered such an opportunity from the Chamber Music of America, and with a deadline of three days, decided to give it a shot in the fall of 2022, thinking he had a snowball’s chance.

He was understandably suspicious, then, when he got an email from a person named Jose Feliciano inviting him to the Chamber Music of America’s $1,000-per-plate gala. “Is Jose Feliciano even alive?” he asked himself. The email went straight into his trash, his skepticism magnified by the fact that he had recently been scammed. But a couple of days later he received a congratulatory email saying he had been awarded a substantial grant. He still didn’t believe it, but his wife and friends convinced him it was real. [P.S. It was not guitarist Jose Feliciano after all, although, yes, he is still alive.]

Kruth immediately called some of the musicians who had recorded or performed live with TriBeCaStan, including members Kenny Margolis, Premik Russell Tubbs and Ray Peterson, along with Kathy Halvorson and Rohan Khemani, to create a genre-defying musical ensemble. When the grant money came through in February 2023, they all gathered at Jim Clouse’s Park West Studios, Brooklyn, N.Y., to rehearse the “four or five songs” Kruth had written in the months prior.

Then one night, “around the Ides of March,” Kruth was walking his dog when “a giant needle falls out of the sky and pierces my heart, and about 30 seconds later comes the barbed wire,” he describes. Fortunately, he already had an appointment with a cardiologist for the following day, at which point the doctor sent him directly to Beth Israel Hospital, where he was diagnosed with a myocardial bridge. It then took months to find the correct medication, and while waiting, Kruth’s entire constitution was compromised.

“I felt 20 years older,” he says. “I was walking with a cane. I was short of breath, foggy, and I couldn’t even play the flute.” He remained productive, however, and wrote the rest of the music in bed. Rehearsals continued, now in his Greenwich Village apartment, and by the end of May 2023, Folklorkestra was headed back to Park West, where the arrangement of the main studio and four iso rooms offered ideal sightlines.


The objective was to record the core band as live as possible across what turned out to be five main tracking sessions. Peterson was set up in the main room with his bass going direct, while Tubbs, who mostly played lap steel on the sessions, was separated by a gobo and also recording direct. Margolis and his accordion were set up in the spacious drum booth, where there was plenty of room for mics on the left and right to capture the stereo sides of the instrument. Percussion (tabla, dumbek) shared another iso room.

Kruth was set up in the back iso, where he could spread out his array of instruments— including mandolin, mandocello, 12-string guitar, banjo, recorder, penny whistle and bass flute—and be ready at all times, encouraging the live performance approach.

The result? “A Butterfly at 80” had just one overdub of Tubbs playing flute and was recorded in “one-and-a-half takes.” “Ravel’s Bolero” was one take. “Orange Sky,” about the Canadian wildfires, was completely improvised, with “only one or two overdubs” to add an instrument. The album’s closer, “Meet Me in the Meadow,” was one take, completely improvised.

Kruth and engineer Clouse have enjoyed working together since the formation of TriBeCaStan nearly a decade ago, and they now share an approach that “goes beyond telepathy; we are telepathetic,” Kruth says with a laugh. Clouse counters that “working with Kruth all these years has been a gas! There were instruments I couldn’t even spell.”

But he has had to learn the sound of each new instrument Kruth and others might bring to a session—and how to record it properly. “I have the person play it, and I stand there and become a microphone,” Clouse explains. “It’s like, ‘Okay, that’s interesting. The sound is not coming out the front, it’s kind of coming out the side, or a little bit in the back if you hold it away from yourself.’ So there were the obvious ways to record some of them, and then there was, ‘Oh, listen to it, it’s got this great sound right about here.’ Each instrument has its own personality.”

Clouse chose NoHype Audio ribbon mics to record strings, woodwinds, acoustic guitars and some of Kruth’s instruments. For the accordion and a few of Kruth’s other instruments, he selected an Aston Element, an English mic Clouse describes as a capsule that combines elements of a ribbon, condenser and dynamic mic, and “looks like a little alien.” For tabla and dumbek, he used AKGs.

The caliber of musicianship made his role in the recording relatively easy, Clouse says, though “A Pair of Boleros” did prove to be a bit of a challenge. “A Pair of Boleros” started out as an homage to Jimmy Page’s “Beck’s Bolero” on Jeff Beck’s Truth, Kruth explains. While all the male musicians were excited, the classically trained Halvorson said, “I’ve never heard it before.” Long pause. “But I do know Ravel’s ‘Bolero.’” That flipped a switch in Kruth’s left brain, and he asked Halverson to start off with Ravel’s “Bolero” and to play it rubato—with no time at all—“like Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way.”


Clouse records through a Mackie 32-input console with Digital Performer as his sequencer. For the way he prefers to record and mix, he says, especially on Kruth’s projects, he needs a console: “This one has 32 channels, and each one has its own output, which is essential because that output has to go into the interface, which then goes into your computer, which is the Digital Performer part.”

For mixing, he goes back out of the computer into ten channels on the console, split stereo left and right. “Each channel is exclusively for one instrument—one for the drums, one for horns, one for the bass, et cetera, with a two-channel stereo section on the board for the mix,” he explains. “Coming back through the board, it’s basically analog, and then it goes through my limiters and into the Lexicon, the good ol’ Lexicon reverb. I basically do my mix as if they’re playing it for real. Then it all goes back into the computer as a stereo mix, a left and right stereo file, and that is what I master. Each channel has a limiter, not a compressor. I don’t like compressing the sound; you miss the highs and lows.”

By virtue of its instrumentation and compositional twists and turns, A Strange Day in June has many sonic highs and lows. On “Be Careful What You Say to an Armed Lady,” Kruth weaves Appalachian music with the sounds of Americana, peppered with Cajun spices.

“Punko” takes “Wipeout” to another level, with Rohin Khemani on a rockin’ dumbek, Kruth on 12-string acoustic guitar and Halverson on oboe, creating a unique descending pipeline riff. From the hues of “Mariska” to the nuances of the final three-track suite, Kruth says the making of this record was about color.

“My wife is a beautiful colorist, and we talk about color a lot,” Kruth says. “I talk to her about song as color all the time. I became a multi-instrumentalist so I have a broader palette.

This album was a very interesting experience because I probably did the least instrumentally on it. But Neil Young made Harvest practically in a wheelchair, while Roland Kirk, who I wrote my first book on, recorded after a stroke in a wheelchair, with one hand—so you do what you can.”