Label: Sub Pop
Catalog #: 71426
Grammy-winning music producer and author Ian Brennan (Tinariwen, Zomba Prison Project, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott) grew up in the Bay Area with his older sister, Jane, who has Down syndrome. Just prior to the COVID outbreak, he returned home to visit Jane’s weekday program, where dozens of adults with varying cognitive and ambulatory abilities occupy their weekday hours at a sheltered workshop.
At the workshop, a diverse group of over twenty individuals participated in the musical project that birthed this single. Participants ranged in age from early-twenties to sixties (with the life expectancy of their population still stubbornly flatlining at a mere sixty-years-old). Over half were women. Many were also consigned to wheelchairs or utilized crutches, canes, and braces to walk. None had sung into a microphone before or held a stringed instrument.
The recordings were set up in a narrow, plasterboard-walled room with throbbing Technicolor lights and a disco ball, a place designed to have a paradoxically calming effect on some of the residents.
Brennan believes that there are few more expressive singers than those that are non-verbal. Possessing a limited vocabulary dams up feelings, particularly when what few words are belaboredly uttered are not understood due to a speech impediment. In Brennan’s words: “Whether traveling to more remote places like South Sudan or Cambodia or exploring voices close to home, our goal is not to find the ‘exotic,’ but to de-exoticize and find the emotional common ground throughout the world.”
Possibly Brennan’s most personal work ever, the recordings were made with the involvement of his and Jane’s father, who was in the final stages of his battle with cancer, and who sadly passed just two months later.
Jazz great Bill Frisell (13-time DownBeat Magazine "Guitarist of the Year" winner) guests on “My Life,” adding an elegiac and gentle layer to vocalist Grace’s intricate melodies and epic emotional investment. Brennan states, “Frisell is such an empathic musician. I can’t think of a more perfect fit for the Sheltered Workshop Singers.”