Track By Track: Eric Krasno and Stanton Moore Honor Amy Winehouse, Kacey Musgraves, Sharon Jones and Other Iconic Women with ‘Book of Queens’
photo: Marc Pagani
“I’ve been missing the organ-trio thing now that Soulive is mostly retired,” guitarist Eric Krasno acknowledges, as he details the origins of his new three-piece with Galactic drummer Stanton Moore. “I’ve always loved playing with Stanton so I threw it out to him while I was sitting on my porch, talking with him on the phone and having a cup of coffee. That planted the seed.”
This idea flourished and became the Krasno Moore Project. The pair eventually enlisted organ player Eric Finland and traveled to Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock, N.Y., to record Book of Queens, which presents nine instrumental versions of songs by iconic women artists.
“After that initial call, I went over to his house one day when we were at Jazz Fest, and we hung out with our wives in the pool,” Krasno recalls. “I said to him, ‘If we do a trio project, we should come up with a concept for the album.’ Then we started spitballing, and I was like, ‘What about a tribute to women in music?’ He loved it, our wives loved it and we immediately started making a playlist. We wanted a mix of modern artists and older artists.”
The final list included Amy Winehouse, Aretha Franklin, Billie Eilish, Sharon Jones, H.E.R, Kacey Musgraves and Brittany Howard. The record also features guest appearances by Branford Marsalis, Cory Henry and Robert Randolph.
“It took on momentum really quickly,” the guitarist notes. “I called Eric Finland, who had been working with me a lot. I knew he would fit in perfectly. Then we started Zooming because none of us lived near each other. We were in New York, Los Angeles and New Orleans. Soon after, we began sending demos back and forth— ‘What if we did this groove with this guitar line?’”
“Just like Eric had specific guitars tones and sounds that he wanted for each track, I had a vibe, a vision and a sound in mind for each song before we went to Levon’s,” Moore adds. “Even though it’s all instrumental, I really tried to approach it as if it were a singer-songwriter record. I love playing with singer-songwriters. So I was playing for the song, creating colors and supportive musical landscapes—not just parts, not just grooves but dynamic hills and valleys that really contributed to our interpretation of the song. I had to come up with some new things, which was a challenge, but one that I really embraced. I just loved making this record.”
You Know I’m No Good
STANTON MOORE: When Eric and I started talking about this project, we thought it was a really good idea, but we didn’t quite know what it would sound like. This was the first tune we talked about. We wanted to figure out how we could reinvent it.
I listened to it, and I was like, “If there was no preexisting groove to this, what would I do?” I decided that I wanted to put this swampy shuffle on it.
So I recorded myself playing in our front room with my iPhone. My wife and I have moved into the house of our dreams, but we still need to get a lot of furniture. The front room is very empty, but it’s got a piano and drums—it’s a cavernous sound. So I was like, “It’s not gonna sound great, but this will give you the idea.”
What was so great about working with these guys is that they could envision what it would sound like. They saw right past the sound quality and were like, “Oh yeah, this groove is great.” Then Eric Finland put some organ on top of it, and Kraz put this really reverby sounding guitar on top of it. I redid the drums when I could get to my studio and we instantly knew we had a vibe.
ERIC KRASNO: Amy Winehouse was on the list right off the bat. I’ve always loved that song—it has this kind of spooky melody. The funny thing is that on the initial one, the drums are kind of the iconic part, but Stanton heard it and added this shuffle groove that was totally different and cool.
I think it defines the sound of this group in terms of its differentiation from Soulive and Galactic. Dynamically, it’s a little bit different, where it’s not just in-your-face funk and hip-hop. It’s this danceable but interesting groove that sets the mood for the album.
SM: We love Sharon Jones. We love The Dap-Kings, and they have a very specific, retro approach. They’re so good at creating a retro vibe that sounds like it was recorded between ‘68 and ‘72. It sounds amazing, but we didn’t want to do that.
So we took this great song by Sharon and The Dap-Kings and we put our own high-energy funk on it. I’m really happy with the way that one turned out, and when we play it live, it’s super banging.
EK: Stanton and I both knew Sharon and got to play with her. She has an incredible story. She’s legendary and rhythm was always at the core of what she did, just like James Brown.
I’ve always loved that track and Stanton came up with a groove that really worked for it. This one we came to later in the process, but I’m really happy it’s on there. We were like, “This one’s for the funk heads so they know we still do that.” [Laughs.]
EK: I’ve been slightly obsessed with that song for a while. When I was producing Kat Wright, she played it for me. This was closer to when it came out, and I probably listened to it 10 times over the next few days.
When I produce records, it’s become a reference track that I often pull up. It’s so well-produced, it’s such a great melody and an incredible song. So as soon as we decided to think outside the box and do a modern artist, I was like, “I’ve got one.”
I started learning it on guitar and sent an arrangement to the guys. Where it could have been a straight-up funk groove, Stanton went a different way and brought a different vibe to it. SM: I could hear how beautiful it is and I wanted to play something that almost sounded like a drum set and a shaker. I’m friends with Pedro Segundo and Taku Hirano, two worldrenowned percussionists who spend a lot of time in New Orleans. So I wanted it to sound like I had one of these guys playing an incredible shaker next to me. But since there were no percussion overdubs, I was like, “How am I going to replicate that?” I could have done it with brushes, but I wanted to come up with something where I’m playing with sticks on the snare drum and incorporating buzz rolls, and then I’m getting a strong, upbeat hi-hat chick.
I had to work on it because while it sounds so simple, it’s really challenging to play. You’ve got to play very quietly with the 16th notes—it takes a lot of control. It’s not only a groove that I’d never played before, but it’s also a melody that I’d never heard before by an artist I’d never covered before. So it was a challenge, but it’s a new color that I’m able to use in other situations.
EK: I felt it would be cool to include Billie Eilish because she represents musicality and real artistry. I did “Lost Cause” with Scary Pockets a little while ago, but I sang it. That one was actually a suggestion by my friend Victoria Canal, who’s an incredible young pop singer I’ve worked with a bunch. I thought a funk version would be really cool because of the bassline and the melody.
When we got together, Eric Finland had heard that version I did with Scary Pockets and was like, “Why don’t we do that but as an instrumental?” Once we took it into our world, it was very different from the Scary Pockets thing.
SM: I think Billy Eilish is such an exciting artist. There’s an unbridled creativity and a willingness to take chances. I’ve thought about doing a ballad version of one of her songs with my piano trio, but I haven’t gotten around to that yet.
We put a 16th-note funk groove on this one, but I really wanted it to have a vibe. So I carefully selected the snare drum I was going to play on it. It’s a 3” x 13” snare and it’s got this really distinctive pop to it. Then I shipped that snare to Levon Helm Studio, knowing that I would probably only play it on that one song. I’ve gotten so many comments about that snare because it sounds so distinctive.
For the backbeat on this song, I wanted a very high tuned but very dead pop. For the pulse of it, I didn’t want a shaker-esque sound like “Lost Cause” but a consistent 16th-note sound. So I came up with a consistent 16thnote groove on the hi-hat and a particular gracenote rhythm that interlocks with the bass drum that’s kind of hypnotic. I wanted both “Lost Cause” and “Slow Burn” to be hypnotic but in different ways, with different textures.
Stay High feat. Cory Henry
EK: I threw this one in the mix because it’s been on every playlist I’ve made for the last couple of years. I love Brittany Howard and this is a great song, so it’s been in rotation for me. We wanted to include new artists, so we said, “ Who’s soulful? Who’s got great melodies?”
Everyone liked the idea of having Cory Henry on the track. He and I talk a lot, so it was also kind of an excuse to go over to his studio in LA. I brought the session over, sat with him and he layered some synth. Eric Finland had already laid his organ on it so it sounds very organic, then all of a sudden, there’s this synth madness. It’s a standout moment on the record.
SM: During COVID, I read the Jeff Porcaro book [It’s About Time]. He was one of the world’s greatest session drummers and played on countless incredible tracks— lots of Steely Dan stuff, and of course, he was a founding member of Toto. Jeff was a master of playing all kinds of different shuffles and I really went down the Jeff Porcaro rabbit hole.
I wanted to reference Jeff Porcaro on this one, so I’m doing a snare drum sound that is muffled and lower pitched. That little triplet at the end of the second bar is also a shoutout to Jeff Porcaro, kind of giving him the props that he deserves. I felt that type of groove would just sit perfectly with our approach to “Stay High.”
Fever feat. Branford Marsalis
EK: I was looking for songs that had more of a shuffle groove and this one came up. There’s a beat that Adam Deitch made many years ago that I played on, which was a sample of “Fever.”
Branford came in after we did everything else live, which led to an interesting formulation. Normally when a saxophone player is soloing, I would just be comping the rhythm. But if you listen really closely, you can also hear me soloing. We worked it out and made it so it’s kind of a conversation between me and him throughout the whole song. We ended up using that as part of the vibe.
I first met Branford at Christmas Jam. I’d been a huge fan of his and it turned out that he knew all about Soulive and Lettuce. He told me, “I’d love to do something with you.” I saw him three or four times afterward and he always said that. So, finally, I was like, “OK, well now this is it.” [Laughs.]
SM: I absolutely love playing shuffles and playing with brushes. So I wanted to do something where I was playing a shuffle with brushes in the beginning and then I switched over to playing with sticks.
People mostly know me for my funk drumming. So getting the chance to play this on a record with Branford, where people will get to hear me play some of the other stuff I’ve been working on over the years, is near and dear to my heart. It was very exciting for me to play this kind of driving shuffle behind one of the most swinging cats of all time. It was a dream come true.
A Natural Woman
EK: “Natural Woman” was one of those that I kind of avoided at first. I was like, “It’s too down the middle.” Then when we played it, we were like, “Oh man!”
Now that we’ve been on tour, it’s the house favorite every time. Everyone sings it, and it’s a big moment during the night. If you’re going to do a song tribute to females in music, a Carole King/ Aretha combo, come on! [Laughs.]
SM: I don’t know if I could have played this in my 20s. To play something like “Natural Woman” with such a slow feel, takes a lot of maturity. I think in my 20s and early 30s, I had a desire to show people that I could play. I’ve played on so many records now that I don’t have to prove that to people. So I can lay back and play this the way that it needs to be played.
I’m 50 years old and I think you have to get to a point where you’ve lived enough life, and played enough music that you’re like, “Oh yeah, I’m gonna enjoy this.” [Laughs.]
SM: I got to incorporate my signature pandeiro on “Carried Away” and it was an absolute blast. A pandeiro is a Brazilian instrument that you play with your hands, but I designed one that’s played with a drum set. I’ve got it on the left of my hi-hat, and I came up with a bombastic groove to go with this.
I love working with cats who let you run wild with your creativity and playing this one live is an absolute banger. It’s super funky.
EK: I love that artist, H.E.R. When we were thinking of new artists, she was one of the ones that came up. My friend actually produced that song. When I played it for Stanton, he instantly had an idea for the pandeiro and a groove that was interesting and unique.
This album is a lot of things, but one of those things is a showcase for Stanton to show off all these different styles he’s good at. It’s not just a funk-drummer album. He plays brushes and shuffles and shows all these colors. This one sounds like there are three percussionists. He’s playing all these different rhythms at once.
I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free feat. Robert Randolph
EK: This one wasn’t on the list. We were at Levon’s and Eric Finland had an arrangement of that song he was playing. It was so beautiful that we were like, “Let’s do it.”
Then after we made that decision, I said, “Let’s call Robert Randolph. He can add that slide-vocal gospel thing.” He agreed to do it and it was perfect for what the song needed.
SM: Playing a ballad with brushes is something I couldn’t have done as convincingly when I was younger, but I’ve been doing it every week for years. I play with my piano trio—David Torkanowsky and James Singleton—on Mondays at the Columns Hotel when I’m in town. Sometimes I’ll even fly out on the weekends and then I’ll come home to do it.
I don’t tour with the trio much, but I’ve been able to work on all this stuff. So it feels like this is the right record at the right moment in my development as an artist. I’m really proud of it because I get to show a diversity that I’ve been working on for the last decade but don’t always get to present to the national audience.