Skip to content

Category Archives: Trio Tracks

Excerpted and/or remastered songs from Trio

My Favorite Trio Tracks: #1 – Up & Down / So Hard (from Trio Season 3, #5)

My favorite Trio tracks have documented many memorable musical moments from 2000 to 2004. Songs made their debut, found their fans, and were gradually refined or radically transformed.

However, sometimes the best part of Trio is playing a song – old or new, well known or obscure – and playing it very, very well. This became my mission throughout all of Season 5, with outstanding results, but up until then a specific pair of Season 3 tunes were the best example.

I remember very specifically burning them to CD and listening to them on the train ride to Elise’s house, and as soon as I arrived pushing the disc into her stereo, ignoring that one of the tunes was a touch explicit and Elise’s 10 year old brother was sitting on the floor playing video games. Not to mention that the cover in the middle of the two songs was “Untouchable Face.”

(Little did I suspect that years later I’d take him to a Dresden Dolls concert where backup dancers would pantomime giving each other back alley abortions, alternating the Charleston with pulling doll parts out from under their dresses. That made me feel so much better about blasting “Untouchable Face” in his living room.)

Check out “Up & Down” and the debut of “So Hard” from Trio Season 3, #5. And, tune in next week for the first Trio of Season 6.

My Favorite Trio Tracks: #2 – Granted (from Trio Season 4, #2)

While surveying my Trios for this list of favorites tracks I decided against including the fully-mixed songs from the middle of Season 4. Though they appeared in Trio they didn’t adhere to the spirit of Trio – I built them piece by piece from a click track rather than recording them live.

Except for “Granted.”

“Granted” came to me in the middle of the night. I awoke, bolt upright, crying, and reached for a piece of paper. The next thing I remember was crossing out a line in the final verse, and the next thing after that was getting through a guitar/vocal version of the song in a single take.

What could be more quintessentially Trio than that?

After hearing the guitar/vocal I realized that a lot more had come to me than just the basic structure of the song. Without even thinking about it I added a lattice of background vocals and guitars around the original demo, replacing some of them in the coming days with more polished versions. The end result was one of my most professional-sounding tracks of all time, which wound up as the opening track of Trio Season 4, #2.

As a song “Granted” exists across opposing worlds – awake and asleep, alive and slipping away. Now you can hear it two different ways for the first time – fully polished and completely naked. At the core of each is my voice, hoarse at 3am from waking up crying, singing words straight from a legal pad pockmarked with arrows and crossouts.

I love this song so much that I’m afraid to hear it any other way.

My Favorite Trio Tracks: #3 – Wings of the Ragman (from Trio Season 3, #6)

Cover songs are a tricky business.

Many songs – especially pop songs – are distinct because of their arrangement, or their production, and when they’re stripped down to just an acoustic guitar they are entirely unarresting. As covers those sorts of songs are only as effective as you know how to make them; you have to bring your own strong sense of interpretation and inertia to the song to keep it interesting for the listener.

Peter Mulvey‘s “Wings of the Ragman” is a different creature, maybe because of its aerobic, alternately-tuned guitar or it’s rapid, flowing melody. Or, maybe it’s something else. No matter what, my version of it from Trio Season 3, #6 is very nearly my favorite Trio recording of all time.

My Favorite Trio Tracks: #4 – Are You / Relief (from Trio Season 4, #4 / #1)

I’m straying from the script here – being indecisive. So, you get two songs instead of one.

Originally you were meant to get “Are You” from Trio Season 4, #4. However, listening to it tonight I was compelled to alter a flubbed change – editing it out in favor of a seamless transition.

The result sounded good, but that’s not what this highlights series has been about – I haven’t done any digital work to these recordings other than restoration, and occasional touch of reverb.

The irony is that “Are You” was intentionally imperfect – it bucked the trend of huge mixing projects that had overwhelmed an aborted Trio season that had began over a year before. “Are You” truly is a folk song – perhaps my only one – and at the time I resolved to keep it folky and untouched.

The endeavor of bringing mixing to Trio began 53 weeks earlier with Trio Season 4, #1. Actually, you’ve heard an earlier recording of the song in question – “Relief” – already during this series. I recorded this particular “Relief” in a single take, but then decided to add just a touch of harmony. And then just a touch more.

Really, I don’t know much in the way of restraint when it comes to harmony.

I haven’t heard the guitar/vocal recording without the harmony for almost four years; hearing it tonight I find myself wondering why I was so convinced it needed any harmony to begin with.

Which is the purer representation of Trio – my recovery from excess (in mixing and in perfectionism), or my first step into it (sans the excess)?

Up to you, I suppose.

My Favorite Trio Tracks: #5 – Lost (from Trio Season 3, #6)

Songs start with something at their center – an experience, a feeling, a great line, or a snippet of melody. Yet, once they’re fully formed they wind up attached to other contexts and meanings.

From that perspective I can understand why some songwriters personify their songs; Tori Amos, for example, refers to them as her “girls,” and ascribes assertive opinions and stubborn tempers to each one.

I don’t know that “Lost” has ever talked back to me, but it’s certainly a character. It came to me in a single blast in the middle of a Journalism class in Randell hall on May 16 of my Freshmen year, scribbled straight through on a single sheet of lined paper.

The guitar arrangement came later, but in the same lightning bolt fashion – so perfect in my head that I recorded it four times in a row before I felt like I captured some part of it on tape.

Then I promptly forgot it.

Really it was a little more complicated than that. I was writing so many songs at the time that “Lost” didn’t really stick out, and then I broke my collarbone and was forced to go on a brief hiatus from playing. And, when I had healed enough to play again I had a backlog of lyrics waiting to transform into songs.

By the time I returned to “Lost” it was months after it was originally written, and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to play its chorus. The chords sounded simple on my four recordings, but I couldn’t quite get the fingerings.

It took the better part of the year for me to suss out the secrets of my guitar part, and as soon as I did I recorded a quiet-but-determined take of “Lost” – exactly the way it had been playing in my head for half a year – in Trio Season 1, #11.

I adore that recording, but it’s not quite one of my favorite tracks.

Over the years “Lost” has stuck with me through ups and downs. Playing with cellos, in different keys, segueing into “Lucky Star,” and changing from 3/4 to 4/4. Recently I feel like maybe we’ve parted ways … at least for a little while.

Somewhere in the middle of that journey was another take as quintessential as its first Trio appearance – a recording that remains one of my all-time favorites over four years after the fact. It originally appeared on January 13, 2003, in Trio Season 3, #6.

My Favorite Trio Tracks: #6 – Wicked Little Town (from Trio Season 4, #5)

I’m not known for having a knack for spot-on cover songs, especially when they involve any sort of specificity in guitar playing. I’m a much more approximate kind of guy.

I’m also not known for controlled use of vibrato, or willingness to commit my falsetto to record.

It’s the presence of all of those elements that make my relatively off-the-cuff cover of Hedwig and the Angry Inch‘s “Wicked Little Town” in Trio Season 4, #5 one of my favorite Trio performances, despite some quibbles re: flatness.

(I bet some of you Googlers would love to see some chords here. Unfortunately, I haven’t played this in three years and I have work in the morning. I do recall that I’m capoed relatively high – perhaps seventh fret? I’ll come back with a transcription as soon as I’m able.)

I often remark that I’m not much of a musical fan, but I freely admit that one of my lifelong dreams is to play Hedwig. That said, I’m actually a much better vocal fit for his other half, Tommy Gnosis, as voiced in the film by Hedwig co-originator Stephen Trask.

My Favorite Trio Tracks: #7 – Will It Ever Come (from Trio Season 3, #1)

I’ve now exhausted my favorite tracks from Trio’s first two seasons – their lo-fi production values and still-developing vocals bar them from the apex of my favorites list.

Tonight’s selection is the first song of Season 3, and thus the first ever “hi-fi” Trio recorded (and preserved) as a high quality wav rather than a crummy real audio file.

The song in question is a raucous, improvisational, up-tempo take on “Will It Ever Come.”

After I built my top fifteen list I was a little puzzled at the placement of this track on the upper half … it’s not nearly as definitive as some of the songs that I’ve highlighted so far. Yet, every re-listen proves its place: I wish every Trio could stay faithful to the framework of a tune while remaining this carefree and spirited.

My Favorite Trio Tracks: #8 – Icy Cold (from Trio Season 2, #15)

No matter how premeditated or rehearsed Trio has become over the years, it often yields surprising results – even in the control-freakish Season 5 I nailed a reinvention of “Other Plans” in single take.

When I had my tonsils removed in 2002 I had no way of knowing how it would impact my singing. I waited, impatiently for my throat to heal enough that I could sing.

As my first sans-tonsil week ended my voice started to return to normal. At first I sounded weird and too-open – like Bjork. Higher notes were less constrained, lower ones more boomy.

I decided that I had to document my altered vocals with a Trio, but with my singing handicapped my song choices were limited. As a result, on the few songs I could sing I spent more time rehearsing my guitar parts than vocals – my voice wouldn’t stand up to repeated tries at each song, so my fingers had to deliver their peak performance.

That’s how I arrived at this fantastic version of “Icy Cold,” from Trio Season 2, #15. The fingerstyle passages at the beginning and end were played exactly as arranged – I didn’t ad-lib at all (highly unusual for me when it comes to intricate guitar pieces).

At the time the addition seemed like a lark, but over the years it’s held up as one of the best all Trio performances – a one-time-only reinvention of one of my favorite original songs.

My Favorite Trio Tracks: #9 – Typical (from Trio Season 2, #13)

Trio can act as a snapshot, catching songs as they transform from one form to another. That’s certainly the case with this recording of “Typical,” from Trio Season 2, #13.

At the time the song was a year and a half old, and it still hadn’t truly found its niche, but as soon as I ad-libbed my first staccato between-verse riff while recording this Trio I knew I had found the way “Typical” was meant to be played.

My Favorite Trio Tracks: #10 – Relief (from Trio Season 1, #8)

While researching my Trio favorites I came across a recording I had completely forgotten – a demo of “Relief” recorded just minutes after I finished writing it.

The demo didn’t sound too much like the song I play today – the guitar rhythms never solidified, and the vocal wasn’t as distinct.

This version of “Relief,” from Trio Season 1, #8, was recorded just seven days later. You can clearly hear that in those seven days the song resolved very clearly into the form it’s stayed in for the past seven years.