"The Easy Ways"
Another concept album- could it really have been nine years since "What About Today?" After a small "suite" of songs that overlapped each other on "Those Around Us", Jim decided to expand the idea and arrange "The Easy Ways" in a way that was anything BUT easy! Having a pool of songs and deciding what order they will go on the album is difficult enough. But taking and arranging them in a way that allows the ending of one song to become the beginning of the next song is a big undertaking. And, this time, Jim wanted to take it one step further: have elements of some songs show up in other songs!
It actually was an organic process- Jim noticed that he was returning to certain musical themes while writing the songs on "The Easy Ways". These songs, though written fairly quickly, weren't recorded for months after they were written. Jim kept playing them acoustically (on his new Seagull Entourage acoustic guitar) and letting the production develop in his head. Armed with three new tube amplifiers from Gretsch, Vox, and Fender (the Excelsior) and new guitars (an Epiphone Les Paul with hand-wired custom pickups, a Gretsch Double-Jet, an Epiphone Wilshire, and an Epiphone Les Paul with P-90 pickups) Jim had a lot to think about when it came to producing this new batch of songs. With hundreds of pickup, guitar, and amplifier combinations, how to choose which one for each song?
As time went on, Jim realized that parts of certain songs would fit into parts of other songs. So, the process of re-writing almost every song on the album began. Jim incorporated elements of songs into others on the album- listening to the whole project at once creates a special experience that you can't get by listening to the songs individually. The "album" idea isn't dead just yet!
The idea to take this route with the new album began even before the re-writing process, though. Jim had a bunch of ideas for songs- too many to really fit on one album. But, many of these songs were actually just "vignettes"- maybe just a riff or just a chorus. After playing around with these ideas for months, Jim decided to not force fleshing-out each of these ideas into full songs. Why not use these segments as links to songs on the new album? So, while there are 16 tracks on the album, there are over 22 total "segments" that turn "The Easy Ways" from a collection of songs to a full "album".
Sure, it's a lost art, but maybe there was an influence from the Beach Boys comeback album, "That's Why God Made the Radio" in 2012. The last few songs run together in a style that harkens back to the "SMiLE" project of the mid-60s. And maybe Jim was listening to The Moody Blues a bit too much. Or, maybe he had one too many conversations about the second side of Abbey Road. Or maybe the time just felt right to do an album again as ambitious as "What About Today?" was back in 2005.
The difference, though, lies in the production values from 2005 to 2014. Jim's home studio now has a quality Shure condenser microphone for vocals, a Shure SM-57 mic for instruments, and a brand-new 7-mic drum setup complete with its own mixer. The drums (which have always been an important part of Jim's sound) are now more present and dynamic than ever. The guitars, as previously mentioned, are not only better than ever, but no two songs have the same guitar sound. Each song sounds fresh and creative as a result. The bass also got a huge upgrade on "The Easy Ways", as a new tube-amp sound gives the album a bass presence that Jim's been searching for since he started making albums in 2001. Listeners will also notice a Hammond B3 organ that has never appeared on Jim's songs in the past. Talk about a cool retro sound that fits in with Jim's style!
You can't forget about the harmonies, either. As a new technique, Jim made full vocal demos of almost every song before recording the real tracks for the album. This allowed him to work on the harmony parts and tweak them before going to record the final versions. It also allowed him to practice the vocal parts. A vocal part is very difficult to sing for the first time if no one has ever sung it before. Your brain doesn't have a "baseline" to go off of. So, having recordings of all the vocal parts made the final recording process much easier. Listeners will hear the difference in the confidence that Jim sings with- not only on the lead parts, but the backing vocals, as well.
"The Easy Ways" is also unique in a very important way. This album is the first Jim Fusco album to feature only him. He wrote everything himself and sings and plays everything on the album. In all of his past albums, Jim has either collaborated or has had guest players. But, since his brother Mike moved to Los Angeles in late 2012, there was little time to have him play on the album. Jim's pride in "The Easy Ways" is even greater because of the 100% effort he had to put in.
And, as with the previous two albums, Jim enlisted artist Ben Quesnel to paint the cover for "The Easy Ways". This album art partnership is one of Jim's favorite things about recording- having a dedicated person to paint each cover gives Jim's albums continuity. They also make each album extra-special. The paintings are beautiful and unique. Ben is an amazing artist and the covers will probably be worth more than the music someday!
The subject matter of the songs on "The Easy Ways" is more in line with Jim's efforts before "Those Around Us". "The Easy Ways" explores Jim's thoughts about life, love, and (as always) his insecurities. But, while writing about these very personal subjects, Jim purposely tried to give the songs a more universal appeal- the feelings Jim struggles with at times are ones that many feel, as well. Expressing these feelings through songs is what allows Jim to better connect with people. And he sincerely hopes "The Easy Ways" connects with you, too!
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