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Spinoza's Dream




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The Story

  I was a huge Al Stewart fan growing up, and saw him for the first time in 1985 at the legendary Royal Albert Hall in London. I fibbed my way backstage and met Peter White, his longtime guitarist. Since my teen years, I had dreamt of playing guitar with Al, and through Peter I wound up meeting him in the late 90s and by 2001 I became his touring partner.  In 2006, I retunred to the UK for the third time with Al, and this time we played with a full band at the Royal Albert Hall!  In 2013, we came back, joined by most of the original musicians  who played on his "Year of the Cat" album. We got along well and it occurred to me that it would be a dream to record with these guys…

   In 2014, my good friends Phil and Jean Wilson told me about a wonderful studio in the countryside in Wales that belongs to Phil’s college friend, Martin Levan. It looked lovely, but it seemed unlikely that I could ever record there. A month later, Al and I played at the Cropredy festival with Tim Renwick, the guitarist who played on many of his classic records. While over in the UK, I spoke with Tim, Stuart Elliott (Year of the Cat drummer), and Mark Griffiths (who played at the Royal Albert Hall with us), and they all said they'd work with me if we recorded in the UK!  I contacted Martin, and he said he'd be willing to work with me.  This was great stuff, but I had two problems: I had no budget, and I had no songs!  Over dinner with Al one evening I mentioned that I’d always wanted to do a philosophically-themed album (I have a PhD in Philosophy), and he enthusiastically encouraged me, suggesting that each track could be linked to a particular philosopher. For the rest of 2014, I went on a bit of a writing spree and started recording rough demos. Meanwhile, I was quietly speaking with some of my fans/friends/supporters who I thought might be interested in the project and who might help me raise the funds that I needed to record.

   In 2015, we came back to the Royal Albert Hall for two shows with a full band,  under the musical direction of Peter White. Somehow in the midst of this, I asked Peter if he’d be willing to play on the album and he agreed! While touring, we bumped into Graham Smith, who played harmonica on two of Al’s records, and he also agreed to play on the record. And I saw Robin Lamble (who played bass and sang with Al for quite a while in the 70's and 80's), who told me that he was living in Wales.  In June, by some miracle, the budget for recording was there, in the form of some very generous donations and loans from a small number of people! I booked the studio time and flights and coordinated with the musicians and continued to work on the songs.

     The bulk of the recording was done over a three week period in July and August 2015, with the core band (Stuart, Tim, Mark and myself) playing more of less live without a click, just as they would have done in the 70's. Martin Levan was not only an incredible engineer, but turned out to be a great vocal coach for me, getting performances that I actually liked (most singers don’t like to hear themselves sing). We worked 10-14 hours a day, because there was a limited time-frame, but got 11 songs down (including one that I wrote the day I arrived there). We brought in Dave Ellis and Boo Howard, a wonderful folk duo that have sung together for over 30 years – and Dave played on a few tracks of Al’s “Modern Times” album. Then as I was getting ready to leave, Robin Lamble and his wife Sarah came over to visit the studio (they live fairly close by) and I asked Robin if he’d be willing to make a cameo appearance on backing vocals. It was sounded so great that we asked him to come back after I left Wales and add vocals to a bunch of other songs!

    Last fall, after I returned to the US, Martin continued to work on the tracks, and Al, Peter White and Graham all sent in parts via the internet! We tracked down Colin Elgie (who illustrated the cover of “Year of the Cat” and designed the logo) and he agreed to design the cover and artwork. Anne Burghard (a very talented journalist, musician, photographer and videographer) came over to the Albert Hall and to Wales and got wonderful shots, many of which will be in the booklet, and at the same time shot video footage. So, she has been hard at work editing all this material and we will have several music videos, as well as a short “Making Of” documentary piece soon. Mixing and mastering is complete.  We are in the home stretch and aiming for a May 2016 release date. I will be doing my first solo European tour in April and May of 2016 to promote the new album.  It's been quite a journey so far and it's not over yet!