Friday, June 13, 2008

Steve Wynn - Crossing Dragon Bridge

To quote directly from Steve Wynn’s self-written liner notes from Crossing Dragon Bridge: “…It’s a snapshot, a dream, an acid flashback, a tourist guide, a midnight snack, a morning cup of coffee…” and I couldn’t agree more. Bringing all of his considerable talents and 25-year history of record making to bear, this fine musician has really come up with a winner. Recorded and produced by multi-talented Chris Eckman at Studio Zuma in Ljubljana, Slovenia and mixed (in Portland, Oregon) by the ever-great Tucker Martine, this album is a joy! The list of Mr. Steve Wynn’s bands and history is far too long to document here (ok- Dream Syndicate, Danny and Dusty to name but two…) but trust me, this guy’s been around forever and, luckily for us, is playing some of the best music of his life. I suppose if you had to sum up his “sound” in one sentence it would be electric guitar, bass and drums combo. This one’s different though and Crossing Dragon Bridge attempts to step outside those confines and/or at least to cast a different perspective on the format. Still, the touchstones are always Steve’s sharp eye, clever pen and ever present sense of humor. The CD skips easily between quiet and acceleration, reflection and the madly grinning clown, whole notes and skipped stones, acceptance and rebellion. It has a sense of fun and yet the music is always focused and flows evenly, clean and pure.
Each song follows the other like a good friend and you come to not only enjoy what you’re hearing but also to relish the arrival of the next. Stepping outside of one’s musical environment and attempting something new is NOT always an easy thing to do. Especially in today’s world where “safe” is usually considered best, what Steve Wynn has achieved with his newest collection of songs is truly a remarkable feat from this long running songwriter and musician. Encore Steve!!


Given all of the above, this CD also very much bears the stamp of its recordist and producer Chris Eckman as well as the mixing engineer Tucker Martine. Characterized first and foremost by fine contributions from the live musicians, the production itself is stellar. It is made more so by the use of interesting samples, loops, sonic subtleties, refreshing musical interventions and lush string arrangements. This is not the invisible hand that is producing. Respectfully done though and with a deft hand and skilled application of modern recording techniques Crossing Dragon Bridge feels to us like Eckman has yet again expanded his own production skills and boundaries. I had the chance to recently talk with him about this CD and Chris was kind enough to answer a few questions about the making of Crossing Dragon Bridge (Released February 18, 2008):

Leaky Sparrow: What was the most challenging aspect of putting Crossing Dragon Bridge together?
Chris Eckman: The most challenging part was to keep heading in a new direction. Steve came to me wanting to try something different, and that is not always an easy thing to pull off. Everyone has their style, the thing that makes them special and unique, and you certainly do not want to abandon that completely. That would be pointless. But I guess you try to stretch it to include some different shadings and different colors. Anytime that we thought that we were venturing into business as usual we would discuss it and see if there was another path we could take. I think in the end we did a pretty good job of balancing the new and the time tested. But it is something you have to be aware of all the time or it is very easy to slip into established patterns.

LS: What was the most rewarding part?
: The most rewarding thing for me, was definitely just hanging out with Steve. Besides being a great guy he is an encyclopedia of music and it is very inspiring to be around that kind of energy. I guess the other big personal satisfaction that I got out of the project, was that Steve trusted me to do rather large scale string arrangements for the album. This is something that I am increasingly interested in, and it was a real thrill to go to Prague and work with orchestral musicians of that caliber. Now I am spoiled and I won't be able to work with anyone else but them.

LS: Can you tell us why you used Tucker Martine to mix the record?
: When Steve and I started the album, we were not even sure it would develop into a full-length project. At one point we thought maybe it would only be an Internet only EP or something like that. During the three weeks he was in Ljubljana we finished most of the recording, but we did not have enough time to mix the record. What to do? I suggested Tucker Martine as a mixer because not only do I think he is magical with sonic details, he also had mixed Terry Lee Hale’s Shotgun Pillowcase without either of us being there, and the results [were] amazing. I think you can reach a point with an album where you are just too close it, and it is really a relief to hand it over to someone with a gifted perspective. On Crossing Dragon Bridge I wore a lot of hats: producer, musician, recording engineer, string arranger and I think the album really benefited from handing it over to Tucker for the mix. Steve and I stayed involved in the final mixes, through the Internet. Tucker would send us along mp3's of the mixes and we would make comments: during a few of the discussions we were having e-mail conversations in real-time in three different cities and time zones: Portland (where Tucker is based), New York and Ljubljana. What a small world we live in.

Steve Wynn co-wrote a few songs for the Brad Rice album Karma Bed. Here is one: Brad Rice - What_I_Know.mp3
Steve Wynn - California Style .mp3
Terry Lee Hale - Hearts .mp3 (Shotgun Pillowcase– 2007 – Produced by Chris Eckman and mixed by Tucker Martine)
Chris Eckman - Novi Svet Theme .mp3 (Novi Svet O.S.T. - 2003)
Jesse Sykes - The Dreaming Dead .mp3 (Oh, My Girl – 2004 – Produced by Tucker Martine)

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