Old Ideas in a New Recording Studio: Jamie Lawson’s Modern Moondance

2015 saw the release of a self-titled album from Jamie Lawson, although it was by no means his first time in a recording studio. His 2003 debut album Last Night Stars is an ocean of swelling picking patterns and delicately plucked metal. His second studio album from 2010, The Pull of the Moon, is a predominantly acoustic setting for Lawson’s songwriting, who again brought talented session musicians into the recording studio with him. His third album follows a similar vein, cradling honest lyrics with intelligent band arrangements. It’s deceptively simple.

Beneath the simplicity, however, was a complex vision. When interviewed by Rolling Stone, Lawson cited Van Morrison’s 1970 album Moondance as the key influence; “there’s all this space. You can put on headphones and feel like you’re in the room…You know, drums are over there, the singers over there.” Moondance was tracked in a corner of A&R recording studio A in New York, all live with the exception of the odd overdubbed harmonies; the floor plan of the recording studio correlates directly to the layout of the mix, as was typical of the time.

Whilst conceptually and creatively Jamie Lawson follows in Morrison’s footsteps well, the mix lets it down a bit. The brass and vocal “pa-da- pa”s in Ahead of Myself are a clever nod to the “la-la-la”s in Caravan. Morrison’s engineer Yakus would mic the snare in the recording studio “to fit with his voice so every time there’s a hit it’s not a distraction.” The dull snare hits in Wasn’t Expecting That are not dissimilar. But Lawson’s album has a much narrower stereo width than Moondance, and it’s harder to “feel like you’re in the room” of the recording studio when the mix doesn’t envelop the listener as completely as it maybe could. Panning is still used effectively, if not to extremities; outside of the main vocals very little sits in the dead centre, as with Morrison’s work. When considering the different markets of the two releases, it is more understandable. These days music is consumed on stereo sound systems; headphones, car radios, desktop speakers. When Van Morrison was in the recording studio working on Moondance in August and September of 1969 a significant number of music consumers would still have been using mono systems. The general public hadn’t quite caught up to the industry yet. A stereo mix when played on a mono system is more likely to retain its clarity with extreme pans. Subtler pans where a performance features in both channel strips can become muddied when left and right are paired into the one signal. So perhaps mono systems were a consideration in the recording studio when mixing Moondance.
Thus, it wouldn’t have been so necessary for Jamie Lawson’s modern Moondance to follow suit. Still, it is a shame. Did Lawson get ahead of himself? Not at all. The album is just more modern’ than it is Moondance.