Second take: Bombadil re-releasing ‘Tarpits and Canyonlands’

Jun. 19, 2014 @ 10:55 AM

With metronome keeping tempo, Stuart Robinson plays a note from a chord that he and the other members of Bombadil are trying to perfect. “Let’s do that ‘aahh’ again,” he says, and they launch into another try at the vocal harmonies for “I Am.”

Bombadil – Robinson, James Phillips, Daniel Michalak, and Bryan Rahija – were rehearsing at a house in Durham for Saturday’s concert at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro marking the re-release of their 2009 recording “Tarpits and Canyonlands.” When ‘Tarpits’ was originally released, Bombadil planned to tour and support the record, but Michalak (who plays piano, bass and other instruments) developed a nerve condition that made playing an instrument, along with other everyday motions, difficult. The recording nonetheless received high critical acclaim, including one critic comparing it to a folk-rock version of The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” When Michalak’s condition improved (he said he has been pain-free for six months), Dolphus Ramseur, who runs Ramseur Records, which originally released the record, decided he wanted to expose more listeners to “Tarpits and Canyonlands.”
“He has always told us it’s one of his favorite records he put out as a record [label] owner,” Michalak said.
The CD is a re-release, but at Cat’s Cradle Bombadil will unveil the first release of the two-disc vinyl version of “Tarpits and Canyonlands.”  Recording engineer and producer Scott Solter mastered the 15 songs directly from the analog tapes for the vinyl, Phillips, who principally plays drums, said. The discs are at 45 rpm to allow for higher sound quality. “Every step is classic recording technology,” Phillips said. None of the vinyl version has touched a computer.
The vinyl release also has original artwork. The disc sleeves have original paintings of the band members. It also has a folder with 14 art prints that illustrate the songs, a lyric sheet and a story inspired by the songs. At Cat’s Cradle, Bombadil will play the recording from beginning to end. Joining them will be cellist Josh Starmer (who played on the recording), and some local horn players.
The 15 songs on ‘Tarpits’ have well-crafted vocal harmonies, accessible melodies. With the addition of sparingly used strings and horns, Bombadil also employs some effective tone colors. Other recordings in the Bombadil discography are “A  Buzz, a Buzz” from 2008 and “Metrics of Affection” from 2013. “Tarpits and Canyonlands” represents what Michalak calls “super mixing,” or recording parts several times and putting them together. He cites the piano parts on “Oto The Bear,” as one example of mixing different piano parts from different sessions. 
The group is beginning to “get a handle on songwriting,” and is focusing on combining instruments, layering and arranging, Rahija said. This process of arranging involves lots of discussion and trial and error, he said. Rahija uses the word “synesthesia” to describe their songwriting process, or “thinking about the colors of songs, trying to imagine songs in that way.” The band also has had a lot of discussion about other art forms as they relate to song composing, including narrative. The band takes its name from a character in J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels. The band members mention several books they are now reading, among them Monica Byrne’s “The Girl in the Road,” Larry McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove,” and Jules Verne’s novels.
Robinson, who coached the rehearsal of the vocals for “I Am,” said the band also works hard on vocal technique (they do their vocalization exercises). He shows a reporter a piece of paper with some chord progressions the band is working on, trying to get better at harmonies and write songs “that are above our current ability level.”
Just before the interview this week, Robinson was recording some parts for Bombadil’s new project due out next year. After the Cat’s Cradle release party, Bombadil will leave in July for a three-week  tour. “We’re excited,” Michalak said.


WHAT: First vinyl release of Bombadil’s “Tarpits and Canyonlands”
WHEN: Saturday, 8:30 p.m.
WHERE: Cat’s Cradle, 300 E. Main St., Carrboro
ADMISSION: Tickets are $10. For information and to purchase, call 919-967-9053 or visit