One of the most interesting, even surprising, successes in the R&B scene last year wasAcoustic Soul, the multi-Platinum Motown debut by India.Arie. The album was a synthesis of modern R&B pop and earthy Bill Withers-type acoustic guitar-based roots soul that was a breath of fresh air in a genre that was sounding increasingly bloodless and mechanical. The album won loads of acclaim, as well as many awards and honors, including nominations for seven Grammy Awards.
Very few people, however, realized that the project was largely conceived and produced in Nashville. It wasn't just the national music press that seemed to miss this — the local press was also largely oblivious to this development or unwilling to really pay attention. Does the misguided notion persist that nothing this cool in urban R&B could happen in Music City?
When Arie first came to Nashville from Atlanta, she was introduced to local producers/singer/songwriters/multi-instrumentalists Blue Miller, Shannon Sanders and Andrew Ramsey, among others. Miller (who once played guitar for Isaac Hayes) ended up co-producing and co-writing with Arie on a number of tracks on Acoustic Soul, while Sanders co-wrote some of the album's biggest tracks, including the hit “Video.”
For Arie's sophomore Motown effort, Voyage to India: A Journey of Self Discovery, she returned to Nashville and this time co-produced the album with Sanders and Ramsey. Both men are well-established in Nashville as producers, songwriters and session players. Sanders, in particular, recently enjoyed quite a bit of success with hip hop artist Haystak. One of the tracks that Sanders and Ramsey created with Arie was “Get It Together,” which was recorded at Ramsey's studio, Drew's Groove.
“India's vocal was recorded with a Sony C800-G mic and Neve 1081 mic pre,” says Ramsey. “It went through an LA-2A compressor into Logic Audio. My acoustic guitar was recorded stereo into Logic through the following mic setup: The neck was miked with an Audio-Technica 4051 and Neve 1081 mic pre through an LA-2A compressor, while the body utilized an Audio-Technica 4033 through a Yahama 02R mic pre and compressor.”
When it came time to mix “Get It Together,” Ramsey and Sanders felt that mixer/engineer F. Reid Shippen (Atticus Fault, John Hiatt, Cece Winans and Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise) was the perfect choice. Dan Shike, Reid's assistant of four years, also helped out. They had already used Shippen to mix a previous Arie track called “Good Man,” which appeared on the soundtrack for We Were Soldiers. Shippen works almost exclusively at Recording Arts, a facility in mid-town Nashville, near Vanderbilt University.
The studio was founded in 1985 by Carl Tatz and continues to enjoy a steady stream of projects that range from alternative rock to urban R&B, much of it done by Shippen.
“We already knew about Recording Arts from previous projects, so working there was just a natural choice,” states Ramsey. “Reid worked for a lot of the Gotee label projects, and they do a lot of rap and R&B. Reid knows how to mix that, and Recording Arts is where we fell in love with his style of mixing. He understood how to get the low end right, and how to get the background vocals and the lead vocal positioned correctly.”
For “Get It Together,” Shippen mixed through an SSL 4064 G Plus console with Ultimation. The monitors were Dynaudio M3s with Avalon crossovers, bi-amped, with Bryston 7B-STs on the highs, 6Bs on the lows. There were also Yamaha NS-10s with an NHT sub. Pro Tools 5.1.1 was the recording/playback medium.
The lead vocals went through Fairchild 660, UREI LA-3A and Pultec EQP-1A3 to the console, while an EMT 250 helped with the ambience. The background vocals went to Neve 81069 pre's, VacRac tube EQ and SPL de-essers. Shippen ran the bass and electric guitar through Neve 2252 compressors, and acoustics went through vintage 117s.
The mix bus from the SSL went through an Avalon 2055 and Focusrite Red 3 into Apogee PSX-100, printed to Alesis Masterlink at 24-bit, 96k and Ampex ATR-102 ½-inch (BASF 900 at +5/250). Other gear utilized by Shippen included the Empirical Labs Fatso, two Lexicon PCM 60s, Lexicon 480L, a TC M5000 and Korg SDD-2000 delays.
For a number of the other tracks on the album, Alvin Speights (TLC's Waterfalls) handled the mixing in Atlanta and New York.
“We have learned so much from being in a town like Nashville,” states Sanders, who also functions as Arie's music director on the road. “There are so many great songwriters and musicians and studios. And you pick up on so much that you don't even realize it until you go to other cities to work.”
Sent your Nashville news toMrBlurge@aol.com.