Blake recorded his newest album at Cook Sound Studios on Lookout Mountain in Fort Payne, Alabama, which is also where he cut 2015’s Wood, Wire & Words.
When it comes to recording Norman Blake, the old saw “less is more” is the guiding principle, says recording engineer David Hammonds, who helmed the controls for Brushwood at Cook Sound Studios on Lookout Mountain in Fort Payne, Alabama. (The facility is owned by Jeff Cook, lead guitarist for country music juggernaut Alabama.) Hammonds has been working with Blake since 2006.
“We used all Neumann microphones,” Hammonds says. “A U 87 on his vocals, and Norman brought some really old mics—two Neumann guitar mics, those pencil [condenser] mics. It was a pretty simple setup. We used a Universal Audio 1176 compressor and some really cool preamps. We just did a little X pattern with the microphones on the guitar and close-miked his vocal with that U 87. You run into phasing issues like that, but it is what it is. It’s a live setup, and it’s as simple as it can get from an engineer’s perspective. You hit the record button and Norman Blake delivers.”
You might think an old-time acoustic music purist like Blake would prefer recording to tape, but that’s not the case. “We didn’t do anything to tape,” Hammonds says. “It all went down to Pro Tools. Norman seems to think that the Pro Tools rig sounds more like LPs than actual tape does. He’s a connoisseur of collecting the old mono LPs and things like that from back in the day. And he likes the sound of Pro Tools as well or better than tape. We do have tape available.”
When describing what it’s like to record such a renowned musical force, Hammonds’ enthusiasm is palpable. “This guy’s not like anybody else,” he says. “I swear to God I watch him play and I’m thinking, how does he get all that to come out of a guitar at the same time?”