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Mix nuts

An interview with breakout roots-music production stars the Tremolo Twins
By TED DROZDOWSKI  |  September 23, 2008

ALTERNATE ROOTS: With their penchant for dialing in the right vibe for any type of roots music, Dinallo and Carlisle could call themselves the Rust Brothers.

Pop music has a history of great production teams. There’s R&B pioneers Jerry Wexler and Ahmet Ertegün, Memphis rock ’n’ soul masters Chips Moman and Dan Penn, soundscapers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, Boston’s alt-rock wonder boys Paul Kolderie and Sean Slade, brother team Chris and Tom Lord-Alge, and sample-happy mindbenders the Dust Brothers.

Now Boston has a new duo vying for honors: Michael Dinallo and Ducky Carlisle. With their penchant for dialing in the right vibe for any type of roots music — blues, country, R&B, folk, primal rock — they could call themselves the Rust Brothers if they weren’t already known as the Tremolo Twins. And their moniker can be found on one of the year’s hottest R&B comebacks, Eddie Floyd’s new Eddie Loves You So on the revived Stax label. They’ve also just wrapped a reunion disc by Boston’s own Radio Kings. After a 10-year break, the Kings (with Dinallo on guitar) will play Harry’s in Hyannis on September 25, Toad in Porter Square on October 1, and Sally O’Brien’s in Union Square on October 24.

When Carlisle and Dinallo met a decade ago, they were Savages — members of vocal powerhouse Barrence Whitfield’s band. Ducky was the drummer and Michael played six-string. Carlisle was already a well-established engineer/producer and was in Robin Lane’s band and Kevin Connolly’s. He was also about to score a major breakthrough for his engineering work on Susan Tedeschi’s Grammy-nominated Just Won’t Burn (Tone-Cool). Dinallo was a fleet-fingered musician and songwriter who’d co-led the Radio Kings and backed harmonica ace Jerry Portnoy.

“Immediately it was like we were brothers,” says Carlisle. “We had similar tastes, a lot of the same musical reference points, and we thought the same things were funny.”

In 2004 their friendship become a partnership, and they began producing a series of albums at Carlisle’s Ice Station Zebra studio in his Medford home (which is where I talked to them). The first was Norwegian singer-songwriter William Hut’s Days To Remember (Corazong). Its follow-up, Night Fall, for Universal Records/Europe, went platinum in Scandinavia. They’ve also made albums for local artists: country songwriter Stan Martin and blues guitarist Bill McQuade, as well as Roomful of Blues frontman Dave Howard’s 2006 solo I Tried To Tell You (Gibraltar). And they’ve mixed tracks for bluesman Johnny Hoy. Recently Carlisle mixed several tunes on Buddy Guy’s just-released Skin Deep (Silvertone), the highest-charting album in the blues legend’s half-century career.

So it’s clear the guys have ears — but they also have a strategy. Carlisle: “Michael is great at all the things I don’t enjoy doing, like working with the bands or artists on songs and arrangements before they come into the studio.”

“And Ducky,” chimes in Dinallo, “loves spending all his time in the studio. He knows how to make great sounds and mix albums so they’re world-class. So that’s our division of labor.”

Carlisle: “We’re so on the same page musically that we can go hours in the studio without saying a word, and when one of us decides to speak up, suddenly the other one is saying exactly the same thing.”

They’ll dive in on drums and guitar, too, when they have an especially appealing project like ’60s soul vet Floyd’s Eddie Loves You So. Thanks to some recent tour dates with Floyd, they’re even bandmates again.

Like the original Stax, American Recordings, Muscle Shoals, and a handful of other classic studios, Ice Station Zebra has a house band, with Steve Sadler on lap steel, bassists Marc Hickox and Dean Cassell, and drummer Andy Plaisted. “With a developing artist it’s about getting their best material,” Dinallo says. “Often younger artists don’t know how to arrange their material and best showcase their strengths, and that’s where pre-production and a good band comes in. But with a veteran like Eddie you’ve got to be more respectful. For example, he asked us not to use B-3 organ or horns too often. He didn’t want it to sound too much like the classic Stax sound, because he’d already done that.”

Carlisle interjects: “Should we tell him about our dream artist?”


“Now that we’ve worked with Eddie, we’d like to do one with [’60s Stax veteran] William Bell. But what we’d really like is to make a gutbucket-nasty Whitney Houston album. If we could get her into the studio with whatever scars she’s got and get her to sing for real, she could make a great record.”

Related: Too many shows, Review: Let Freedom Sing! Music of the Civil Rights Movement, Mixed messages, More more >
  Topics: Music Features , Entertainment, Music, Whitney Houston,  More more >
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