It’s been nearly 20 years since Lucinda Williams melded roots, rock and country into the Grammy-winning classic Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. For the album’s anniversary, Jimbo Mathus (Squirrel Nut Zippers) took on the challenge of interpreting it on solo blues guitar for Solo Sounds. As described by Mathus, “This one is my favorite so far. Solo blues guitar with no vocals, no overdubs, in super hi-res sound quality. These are really hard to do but very cool to listen to.”
Brooklyn-based Solo Sounds specializes in intimate recordings of iconic songs and albums performed by one musician on a single instrument. All titles are meticulously produced by label co-founder Eric Ambel (Nils Lofgren, Steve Earle, Joan Jett) and his team at Cowboy Technical Services. Scott Ambrose Reilly is the other co-founder and The Orchard is a partner in the label. Stereophile tells the story of how the label got started in their December issue, “Solo Sounds: The Power of One”.
The unique series is building a catalog of albums, it already boasts over 70 titles played on various instruments by noteworthy musicians, with many more on the way. Standouts include: Solo Country Guitar: Ben Hall Performs Nirvana’s Nevermind, Solo Piano: Charlie Giordano Performs Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs, Solo Cello: Trevor Exter Performs Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, Solo Piano: Bette Sussman Performs Selections from Ryan Adams’ 2005 Trilogy, and Solo Fender-Rhodes Piano: Rob Arthur Performs Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange.
Ultimately what makes these recordings different from the other instrumentals found on streaming services is the superior recording quality, the high level of musicianship, the pairing of a single instrument with an album and music that is being made by a person. “The whole point is, there’s humans playing these,” Reilly says. “How do we take this sort of cottage industry of computerized, electronically generated instrumental covers and put humans in it? It’s hard to capture the humanness and yet it not have errors.”