It’s been almost six months since my last blog. But hey, this isn’t Confession. Or is it? I do confess that I’ve experienced more than a few “burn-out” moments as of late. Nobody wants this album to be done more than me, and that has caused considerable anxiety as we approach the final days of production. This is my first effort to reflect on much of this, so let’s pick up where we left off.

On August 30, 2014 I made my second voyage to Florida to finish “More Than That” with my cousin Meagan Partington. My last trip had been a wash due to a broken tape machine at the studio I booked. To ensure success this time around, I decided to borrow a Tascam cassette recorder and ship some of my own equipment to my cousin George’s house. This proved to be the right course of action. On August 31st, three years to the day after Pat Laudicina passed away, Meagan and I recorded our tribute to her live in George’s living room. The longest journey on the album so far was finally brought to a satisfying and heartwarming conclusion. When I got back to New Jersey I quickly edited the best performances of “More Than That” onto a ½” master tape.

This left only one song to complete: “The Tidal Track.” The song took shape quickly in the beginning of 2014, and the basic tracks were all recorded within a month’s time. My cousin Joseph Nardino and I set about writing lyrics and a vocal melody for the song. Joseph’s brother and co-writer Anthony Nardino had been a key player in the song’s development, but that role would soon diminish. In April, Anthony and his wife Lisa welcomed their twin babies into the world, and we graciously accepted that he would have to focus on raising his family. Nonetheless, I felt confident we could work out a great melody, especially with somebody like Jonathan Bross to coach us. That confidence evaporated the morning of April 30th, when I learned that Jonathan had suffered a stroke.

As detailed in my last blog, Jonathan began recovering and eventually gave the green light finish the album at his Sound Over Sound Productions studio. But what would become of “The Tidal Track?” With Anthony and Jonathan each dealing with their new realities, our most trusted melodic advisors were gone. Joseph was also preoccupied, marrying his fiancee Fernanda and then vacationing in Brazil for the summer. I decided to shift my focus to recording and mixing the rest of the album. By the time Joseph was ready to continue work on “The Tidal Track,” most of the album was finished. I was able to get Max Feinstein to record a big guitar solo on August 15th, but then the song’s master tape would remain on the shelf for four months.

The delays encountered on “The Tidal Track” did not deter me from a vigorous working schedule. 10 YouTube videos were edited and released during the summer and fall, including several Artist Spotlights, a showcase of the tape machines, an album preview, and the making of “More Than That” and “Weasel.” On October 21st, we launched what would become a very successful Kickstarter campaign, raising enough money to manufacture For The Record in 2015. During this campaign I also sat for an interview with Phil Simon of The Huffington Post. The article, titled “Return of the Artisan?” was published on October 26th, and it was the first major public announcement that Johnny Rock and Friends were up to something.

With so many accomplishments on hand, it was difficult to bask in the glory when I knew the album was not yet completed. Joseph and I would carry out more than a dozen rewrites of the lyrics and melody for “The Tidal Track,” but by the end of November we still had not reached a consensus. I reached out to some of my friends who are fantastic lyricists, hoping they could nudge us in the right direction, but this song stumped even them. As the paranoia manifested, I reckoned drastic action had to be taken.

I discarded all of my previous attempts at the lyrics and started from scratch. For an entire week my apartment became a miserable state of affairs – piles of unwashed dishes, dirty laundry and garbage everywhere, wires and cables tangled in several rooms. For days I played rough mixes of the song literally backwards and forwards, searching for anything that might spark a better melody. At one point I found myself intoxicated to the point of almost drooling over my laptop, feverishly trying out new ideas. As sad as this all sounds, eventually this single-minded obsession paid off. Words started flow like water from a broken faucet, and melodies began to take shape. I owned this song, not the other way around.

Joseph and I met in December to rework the lyrics, and at long last we had a breakthrough. Shortly thereafter, much to our surprise and relief, Anthony briefly re-entered the songwriting process. When finished, Anthony had taken our disjointed ideas and turned them into cohesive and distinctive sections, solving many problems that Joseph and I had struggled with for weeks. Anthony had one more suggestion – it needed a better singer. I had no ego about this notion; the thought of recording the vocal by myself on tape was really terrifying. Joseph suggested that we reach out to his high school friend Gerald Daniel, a gospel singer.

We met with Jerry the first week of 2015, and we immediately found him to be the right voice for “The Tidal Track.” Joseph and I worked alongside Jerry to draft the final set of lyrics, and by the end of the day all the right pieces were in place. This frustratingly abstract song about an old guitar finally had a voice, and two recording sessions in January at Sound Over Sound left us with a solid, soulful lead vocal. Three more sessions to record background vocals ensued with some special guests, and the song was back on track. As of this writing, we have only the lead guitar to record.

“The Tidal Track,” on its own, stands to be the most ambitious undertaking of my musical career. Never before has one of my productions seen so many great ideas not only incorporated into the finished product, but many more tossed on the cutting room floor. It has been an exhausting experience for many of us, half due to creative arguments, half due to technological limitations. Be that as it may, I still look forward to holding this hard-earned vinyl record in my hands, and celebrating its release with my friends. Yet I wonder, can I ever truly wax poetic about the virtues of analog recording again?