Local musician George Arsene has a lot of reasons to be excited about his first CD, “Lucky Star” for his country rock band Rancho Deluxe.
Not only did he record it with renowned Nanton-based producer Steve Loree, but in the process of recording a cover of “Come On Train,” by his musical idol Willie P Bennett, the long-time mandolinist and vocalist for Fred Eaglesmith who passed away in 2008 got to hang out with his sister Esther and hear stories about him.
But most importantly, he got to make music with friends including drummer Brad Brouwer, bassist Paul Holden, pedal steel guitarist Ryan “Skinny” Dyck and multi-instrumentalist Tyler Bird, who plays guitar, accordion, fiddle and adds background vocals to the CD.
“‘Lucky Stars’ was a great opportunity to make music with good friends,” said Arsene, who plays quite a bit with Rancho Deluxe as well as solo and is a frequent finalist in the South Country Fair Songwriting Competition. Several of his South Country Fair songs are on the CD.
“I enter the competition every year but never win,” he observed.
“We’re a hot country rock band and I just want people to hear the CD and then come out to a show and see that,” he said, noting there will be CD release parties May 23 in Nanton at the Auditorium with Lance Loree’s band the Pail Bunters, May 24 at The Slice and in Calgary, May 25 in the afternoon at the Ship and Anchor. They are also playing the Twin Butte General Store June 8. And they have a good festival gig set up for summer.
Because of everyone’s busy schedules, he isn’t planning on doing a more extensive tour in support of “Lucky Stars.”
Arsene enjoyed working with Steve Loree, a much-in-demand producer, though ran into some scheduling conflicts with band members, injuries and a few funding issues. He had to co-ordinate the busy schedules of Loree and his bandmates.
“We were supposed to go up and record but Brad Brouwer got in a car accident. Eventually Steve just brought all of his recording equipment here and set everything up and we recorded some bed tracks. I went up on my own to record some good vocals. But it was great to record it here in the garage where everything started,” said Arsene.
Arsene’s garage is a popular hangout and home to many a late night jam session for local musicians and touring musicians alike when they play Lethbridge.
Arsene was especially excited to record “Come On Train.”
“I just like that song. I don’t know a lot about music rights except you have to contact who ever owns them and get permission to record a cover. Steve knows Esther and it turns out she lives in Pitcher Butte and offered to put me in contact with her. I just called her and sent her my version and asked if it was all right for me to record it and she said Willie would have loved it. So I got to go out and spend an afternoon with her.
“She told me all these great stories about Willie P Bennett. He even helped start the South Country Fair. So that was the coolest experience,” Arsene enthused.
He enjoyed working with Steve Loree, who plays with Jr. Gone Wild and worked with a long, diverse list of Western Canadian and Alberta musicians including Ian Tyson, Tin and the Toad, Petunia and even Vancouver Celtic punk band The Real McKenzies.
“I’ve never worked so hard than those three days. Steve had a lot of ideas and there were disagreements. I had to get really passionate about my music. He has a vision for a Southern Alberta sound, like the Red Dirt sound, he said.
“I’m really grateful he took the time to work with me,” he said.
“It was absolutely great,” he said, adding he is pleased with the result.
“It sounds like us,” he said, adding the songs were inspired by old friends like Tom Dooley, who passed away a few years ago, and another friend of his who was involved in a drunk-driving accident, the South Country Fair, The Twin Butte store and more.
“I write about the people and places I know,” he summarized.
“I just want people to come out and see the band.”
The Lethbridge CD release party is at the Slice May 24 at 9 p.m. with Steve Foord opening the show.