Eric 2010/10/29 5:07pm

We were able to enjoy a few days at home after the IBMA Awards Show before heading back to Nashville to record our new album for Compass Records. We have said before that it's all about the material, that when the songs are there, we know it's time to record. We had a batch of songs we couldn't wait to cut, so we headed back to Music City with confidence. Fresh off our night at the Ryman, we were fired up even more than usual. We had met Ben Surratt about a month earlier at Pickin' in the Panhandle in West Virginia, hit it off, and immediately knew that working with him as a recording engineer would be fun. It's a good thing, because the work is hard. There have to be light moments. It reminds me a little of haying season. We worked like dogs in the summer time, but we'd always find time to play ball or have a water fight or to pick on each other or the hired men. There was no ball or water fights in the studio, but there was loads of good-natured ribbing. If you work with us, you need to be able to take it. Ben was great, both professionally and personally. I really believe that to make a successful recording, everyone has to be as comfortable as possible. Ben helped foster that kind of environment at Compass Studios.

I am so proud of how the band performed. The guys all seemed at the top of their game. Mike Barber again co-produced the record with us. Leigh and I lean hard on Mike. His sense of timing is just so good. He has a good sense for the feeling of the song. Are we rushing? Are we playing behind? Simply put, are we playing together? That's what making music is in a nutshell. Are your ears out? Are you making music? Leigh and Mike are so good at locking in on guitar and bass. I put them up high in my headphone mix and lean on that bed they're making. When the song has the feel that puts smiles on our faces and leads to heads bobbing in agreement, we go with the track. We try to fix as little as possible, but we always have enough separation that we can fix where we need to. The older we get, the more we think about a song's feel. I believe that feel will trump instrumental acrobatics every time.

We recorded songs by Joe Newberry, Chris Henry, The O'Kanes, Louvin Brothers, and Jim and Jesse. The rest of the songs are new originals. I am very proud of all the material, but I'm especially excited about our originals. I know songwriting is what really drives Leigh. I've written with him and he reminds me of a fine painter. He just has to get every little detail right. He will hunt a line down long past the point where I'll have given up. I'll say, "I'm sick of this. I'll work on it later," Leigh, if he has the time, will just keep hunting until it is done. He wrote a song for this record that follows the Gibson line from the boat in Scotland to present day called "Safe Passage." It's so beautiful. He wrote another one called "Help My Brother" that I spied in his guitar case last winter. I asked, "What's this?" I grabbed it out of my hands and he said, "It's awful...wanna hear it?" Shows how insecure we can be as writers. He played it for me and I couldn't get it out of my head. We co-wrote a couple on the record, one with Tim O'Brien and another with Jon Weisberger. I think they're both special. Leigh and I need to make more trips to Nashville. Both songs came from a songwriting trip we took last fall. I wrote several songs that I think stand up as some of my best.

Once again, we put our harmonies down simultaneously on a microphone owned by our friend Dave Sinko. I love singing that way. One night we pushed ourselves farther than we should have. We thought our voices were starting to wear out, but we sang "He Can Be Found," an amazing Gospel song by the Louvins to end the day. The next morning, we asked Ben if we could hear it. Mike is not melodramatic by any means,and I hope he doesn't mind me telling this, but he had to leave the control room filled with emotion. I hope it hits many the same way.

We had some very special guests on this record. Ricky Skaggs came in and sang on Joe Newberry's "Singing As We Rise." We have always waved the Skaggs flag. He is a hero of ours and very much a part of who we are musically. It's an honor to have him on our record. We are also honored by Claire Lynch's, Alison Brown's, and Mike Witcher's presence. Claire lent her angelic voice to Leigh's "Talk To Me," a tender ballad we'd forgotten but dug up by our buddy Dick Decosse from a session we did at his farmhouse in Churubusco, NY. Alison Brown came in on a wooden banjo and locked in immediately. I said, "Thank you, Alison. I'd never have thought of that part in million years." She said, "Ah, yeah you would. The banjo would have brought it out of you." I don't think so. Mike Witcher came in and played great dobro. He's an equally fine photographer and took hundreds of shots of us the Sunday before the sessions.

So here we are, borderline-exhausted after driving eighteen hours to Nashville, putting in eighty plus hours in a week in the studio with a show in Kentucky in between, followed by an eighteen-hour drive home. Where does it leave us? I think we have a remarkable record in the can that will be released early in 2011. I think you will hear the results of band that has worked together all over America, in Canada, Germany, and Ireland in a blur of a year or so. I think you'll hear the joy of having just taken home some IBMA awards. We are so close to the project and have yet to mix it, but I really hope it is as good as I think it is.