Abigail recording in Norway.

This month sees the release of The Human Element, the debut album from Abigail Petersen, an insanely talented South African singer, songwriter and pianist.

In a blog from about a year ago, I documented my time spending a week working in beautiful Norway, and this is indeed the project that I was working on.

Abigail comes from a jazz background and, although this is very much a pop album, her jazz influences seep through in the form of expensive chords and luxurious melodies.

(Yep, I just wrote “luxurious melodies”.)

Her songs, the ballads in particular – such as 21 Days and I’ve Found You – feel like old classics from first listen; the kind of songs that might have been released in the singer/songwriter heyday of the 70s and played on daytime Radio 2.  I love this style of music – it never grows old.

The album was a very long time in the making – about two years in total.  Abby sent me a number of rough demos and we Skyped back and forth (along with her affable sister/manager Jo) to discuss ideas, suggestions, arrangements.

I’ve worked on a number of albums in my time and some come together pretty quickly, and some take a while, leaving no stone unturned.  I can honestly say that every single note and beat of this album was pored over; nothing left unchecked or undiscussed.  Abigail put everything she had into the album, which is the culmination of a lifetime’s music.

Interestingly, the songs that took the longest were the ones with the least instrumentation.  Fallen Angel, on the face of it, sounds very simple, but that simplicity took a very long time to get right.  As it was only vocals, piano, bass and drums, every single note and beat counted.

Whereas the bigger, kitchen-sink-type songs such as If I Could Live Forever and The Human Element, sound very complex but were actually done reasonably quickly.

The vocals were recorded at Abigail and Jo’s house in a beautiful Norwegian hamlet overlooking a fjord – easily the best recording environment I’ve ever experienced.  Jo and her partner Arne had assembled Avery cool vocal booth and I brought my trusty AKG c414 xlii mic for the trip.  Over five days, we recorded an average of three songs a day with the final day put aside for backing vocals and any extras.

All instrumentation was played by Abigail and I.  She recorded the acoustic piano, electric piano and organ parts at home and sent them to me, and I played all the other instruments, except bass on Attached which was recorded by Dan Hawkins, whose playing was so funky that we stripped the intro back and decided to reassemble it around his playing.

I highly recommend this album for a good mix of classic songwriting, huge power ballads and a good dose of funk.  You can download The Human Element from iTunes and Amazon.