The stirring sonic spring of Greg McIntosh

. May 29, 2012.

“My work with Jim (Roll) is clangy and spacious,” said singer/songwriter Gregory McIntosh. “The guitars are bigger, noisier and looser…, but there’s a quieter element to the songs, too, with some horn arrangements, piano and pedal steel.”

McIntosh is steadily crafting what will be his first proper “solo” album; but it might never have happened had he not started working with engineer/producer Jim Roll at Backseat Studios a few months ago.

The Ypsi-based folk-rocker was, at that time, laid off and he had recently ended his long tenure in the A2 Americana pop quintet Great Lakes Myth Society, a band with which he’d recorded and performed for 13 of his 33 years.

He’d already given up on initial songs tracked with Roll at Backseat in 2009 and had, due to money constraints, resorted to squeezing in lo-fi 8-track home recordings in between tours with Drunken Barn Dance.

But then (as stories go), while McIntosh took a break at Backseat, his new boss, Roll, played back a few of those “lost” 09 tracks. “Not only am I surprised at how good the songs had actually turned out,” McIntosh said, “I’m sort of blown away by some of it because I don’t even remember tracking whole pieces.”

New blood on the tracks

Now, by “solo” album, we mean that the songs themselves come from McIntosh’s heart, but they’re being breathed into life with the help of his new band, featuring Molly Jean Schoen on bass and Matt Jones on drums, along with Roll (who also performs with McIntosh in Drunken Barn Dance) helming the sound board.

Schoen comes into the story by way of McIntosh recording her own respective solo album at Big Sky Recording (the latest outlet for the budding sound engineering-side of McIntosh). Big Sky, aided by engineer Geoff Michael, is also where McIntosh tracked a few other songs for this indeterminably forthcoming opus. “The songs from each session definitely have a different sound,” McIntosh said. With Michael, the songs are “tighter, smaller sounding, but clearer.”

Heretofore, his solo songs had churned a punchy Americana vibe, warmed by his smooth mid-range voice as well as the shuffling acoustic guitar, brushing drums and softly chimed pianos. But leading into some of these songs, he was influenced by listening to seminal 70’s soul crooners like Al Green and Wilson Pickett  and dissecting the harmonic phrasings and inversions of big-band staples like Cole Porter and George Gershwin, all the while bearing in mind the studio approach of the Beatles, Kinks and XTC in terms of expansive-pop production. “I don’t know if I pulled it off, but I’m happy with it, so that’s all that matters, I guess.”

Difficult or surreal as it was to separate from GLMS, McIntosh expressed nothing but love for his band mates and nodded to the brothers Monger (Jamie and Tim) as integral influences upon his own songwriting. Jones, his current drummer and “one of the great, hard-working songwriters out there,” comes to mind, as does the leader of his other band, Drunken Barn Dance’s Scott Sellwood. And Roll, a longtime friend and collaborator, “is one of my favorite dudes on the planet.”

The album is steadily being crafted and recorded this summer, with no solid release plans as of yet. Backseat Studios, though, will eventually set up a second studio next door, but again, no solid plans at deadline. http://www.myspace.com/theowlmcintosh

Sounds of summer: Let me briefly give you my diary of internet “bandcamp”-music surfing, from the Ann Arbor scene: dreamy/strident, fuzz-fired minimalist pop from Tanager (Eleanor Schmitt), look for the Attic Dweller EP. Seek out the dazzling harmonies and glowing acoustic/piano-blend of baroque-pop duo Match by Match, as they preview tracks from their forthcoming American Crowbar.

Until next time…