Twenty-five years ago, Richard Barone created a masterpiece his first time at bat as a solo artist. Following the amicable breakup of the acclaimed indie-pop band The Bongos, the singer-songwriter and guitarist decided to put a new spin on the accepted rock rhythm section paradigm, replacing bass and drums with cello and percussion, for a live album he recorded during a single evening at the legendary Bottom Line nightclub in New York City.
The result was Cool Blue Halo, a work of uncommon beauty and unflinching intimacy that was a harbinger of things to come: in just a few short years, the practice of performing "unplugged" would become something of a litmus test for many of the world's top acts.
Barone claims he wasn't trying to start a revolution. Rather, he was aiming for, as he puts it, "music that itself had a feeling of timelessness." It was early 1987, and having just settled into a new home in New York's West Village, Barone found himself listening to the music of his youth: Brian Eno, Donovan, T. Rex, David Bowie, and The Beatlesʼ 'White Album.' He became fascinated with the idea of creating music that wasn't era-specific. "I started writing and demoing a batch of new songs, and found all these influences were coming through, combining in new ways," Barone says. "The pause between chapters I found myself in had given me a blank page that I was anxious to fill.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Cool Blue Halo, Barone assembled the album's original players (Nick Celeste, guitar; Valerie Nartanjo, percussion; and Jane Scarpantoni, cello), along with guests such as producer Tony Visconti and The Band's Garth Hudson, among others, for a one-night rereading of the classic disc at New York's City Winery. The group rehearsed at Barone's home away from home, the Gibson Guitar Showroom in the Big Apple, which is where we hooked up with him recently for a video look (see above) at some of his favorite Gibson models.
Cool Blue Halo is now available in a 25th anniversary box set that includes the digitally remastered original album, along with demos and nine new bonus tracks, a DVD of the City Winery show and more goodies.