Eat, Sleep, Breathe the Music

When I work on a large-scale remastering project, I immerse myself. During the day, I sculpt the music and work to uncover the sounds that hide under decades of tape, cassette, DAT and vinyl decay, and then I pop those songs on my iPhone and listen to them during my commute home for a different perspective. So I suppose it's no surprise that when I wake up in the night (which, I swear, is only a regular occurrence because I have a toddler and a baby; I'm not an insomniac), the songs are still playing in my head. Like a record. Over and over. And over.

For most of June and July, I was working on the Caffè Lena box set for Tompkins Square records, 47 songs covering nearly four decades of recordings. This was a monster project but equal parts challenging and rewarding. I'm truly excited for this music to be released.

Surprisingly, some of the best sounding recordings were the earliest - Barbara Dane ripping it up on a 1968 performance of Mama Yancey’s Advice / Love With a Feeling, Jean Ritchie's voice, pure and unadorned, the perfect banjo sounds of Guy Carawan. Some of the later recordings were much more damaged and required intense restoring, including Ramblin' Jack Elliot's 1992 performance of Pretty Boy Floyd and Christine Lavin's 1987 performance of It’s A Good Thing He Can’t Read My Mind, which was marred by crazy sibilance from a combination of recording and deteriorating media problems. (Why did it have to be the song about SSSushi and SSSkiing that had the sibilance problem?)

Tip of the hat to Izotope RX 3, especially Spectral Repair, my go-to weapon for detailed de-essing. And to Celemony's Capstan, which I used to correct speed fluctuations in a few tracks.

Back to eating, sleeping, breathing the music... It's nearly a month later, and I still wake up with Tom Paxton's Morning Again running through my head and that breathtaking lyric "I make more coffee and catch myself pouring one for you." Or Bill Staines'Sweet Wyoming Home, and not just because for many years when I was a kid, Wyoming was my home. Or Hedy West's inimitable phrasing on Shady Grove.

Some projects just make a permanent imprint.