Santa is Real, the Christmas record my old band the Kennett Brothers put together, is long out-of-print, and, thanks to the efforts of obsessive Wilco completists, prohibitively expensive on the second-hand market. In the spirit of the season, I’m posting an MP3 of one of the tracks, our cover of the Louvin Brothers song ‘A Shutin at Christmas‘.
The five Kennett Brothers tracks on the disc were recorded at my house in Logan Square, using Cool Edit Pro on a PC-based studio. We used a Rodes NT1 mic on almost everything, that being the best mic I had at the time (and a very versatile and decent-sounding large-diaphragm condenser). Some of the electric guitars and the bass were recorded with an SM 57. Otherwise, it’s all NT1. The board was a simple rack-mounted Alesis (the same one that Tangleweed uses for our live shows), and then everything ran through a MOTU 2408 into a Compaq PC, which was, hands down, the worst piece of computing equipment I have ever owned. Microsoft’s Windows ME operating system, recently named one of the worst tech products of all time, gave rise to more new Apple sales than a thousand sexy iPod ads ever could have. But I digress. While I’m on the subject of digressions, MOTU’s support of the windows platform leaves a lot, an awful lot, to be desired. If you are determined to use their unicorn-loving products, save yourself the trouble and run them on a Mac.
The lineup, as best as I can remember is:
- Edward Burch: Acoustic guitar, lead vocal, keyboards, autoharp
- Andrew Leach: Steel guitar, electric guitar, harmony vocal
- John Peacock: Glockenspiel
- Kenneth P.W. Rainey: Bass, lap steel (e-bow), keyboards
This track, as were all our tracks on this record, was built up from an acoustic guitar track and scratch vocal. I don’t recall using a click track. Everything else on the track was an overdub. There are probably about 50 tracks on the tune. Most everything is double-tracked or triple-tracked. In particular, the number of e-bow overdubs on this track is totally out of hand. It exceeds 30 tracks. Easily. I kept bouncing them down to a few stereo tracks as the processor on my underpowered PC began to slow under load. By the time I finally finished with the wall of e-bows, I had lost count of the tracks. Suffice it to say, there are a lot.
We mixed everything at the last possible moment, the night before the record was to be mastered. The mixing was done in John Peacock’s Lincoln Park apartment the night of a giant blizzard in Chicago. John went out in the blizzard earlier in the evening to fetch the glockenspiel for his recording of ‘Christmastime’ on the CD. The glockenspiel track was, if I remember correctly, added during the mastering session to help de-sludgify the mix. It works well. I caught a Fullerton bus home at some ungodly hour of the morning, and trudged the last few blocks through about fourteen inches of snow. The next morning John and Ed drove the mixes down to Urbana to master it in Adam Schmitt’s studio.
The song itself is not one of the Louvin’s better-known tunes. It’s from one of their earlier radio shows, and it appears on the Rounder CD, Songs That Tell a Story. What I like about Edward’s approach to the song is its earnestness and sincerity. He admirably resists the temptation to ham it up during the spoken sermon portion of the song as well. Andy’s backing vocals are similarly true to the Louvin’s tradition. The Kennett Brothers were born from Ryan Jerving and Ed Burch’s shared admiration of the Louvin brothers, and this track, despite the wall of overdubs, maintains a real reverence for their work.