Monday, July 14, 2008

Ferron Rare self-titled debut album mp3 1977

ferron_lg
"Ferron" by Ferron, Lucy Records 1977
Canadian Lesbian Folk Music
Let’s set this into context. By the 1970’s, the folk revival of the 60’s, with its combination of new, lyrically driven poetic songwriting and socially conscious topicality had morphed into the lush produced sound of James Taylor and Jackson Browne. The Women’s Music movement sprang up around the same time, partly in response to the fact that women’s issues were not being covered by the mainstream music of the time. Women like Holly Near, Meg Christian, and Cris Williamson were feminists, openly gay, and making a new type of music by and for women.
Ferron debuted at a benefit concert in 1975. She had lived a hard life – running away from home when she was 15, supporting herself and learning write and sing. Her first two albums, in 1977 and 1978, were self-produced and financed, and enabled her to record a string of critically acclaimed, professionally produced albums starting in 1980. She toured extensively and built up a large following in North America. One night, she was playing a show in Pennsylvania, and a scruffy girl in army fatigues opened for her. The girl asked Ferron if she had any advice for starting out in the music industry. Ferron said “don’t ever sign with a label.” A few years later, Ferron signed to Warner, and a few years after that, wound up broke, her albums owned by Warner, her career in ruins. The girl in army fatigues was Ani DiFranco, who of course, founded Righteous Babe Records in 1989.
Ferron’s self-titled debut was self-released on Lucy Records in 1977. Only a thousand copies were pressed, and she has since expressed her dissatisfaction with it, and her second album, “Backed Up.” I do not know what the exact status of the album’s future is, but it seems highly unlikely that it will ever be re-released. I would be curious to know if she even still has the master tapes, and what state they might be in after thirty years.
Now, to the album itself. I’ll describe some of the technical stuff, and then give a brief review of the content.
Since it was only released on vinyl, I knew that it would be a somewhat tedious vinyl-to-mp3 ripping process. Things got even more complicated when I went to actually listen to it. According to her website, Ferron recorded the album with the help of some friends in a radio studio, using either a 2 or 4 track recorder. She’s right when she says that it was technically very limited. I don’t think they have much, if any, vocal compression at all. It doesn’t appear to have been mixed to vinyl properly, either. The engineer added a few reverb effects, and that’s about it.
Usually, for commercial vinyl releases, there’s a lot of engineering that goes on in order to get the sound waves to fit properly onto the vinyl surface. The RIAA standard is to cut the low frequency waves (which take up too much space) and then boost the upper waves. When played back in a stereo system, this effect is compensated for, which is why older stereos all have a phono input – that particular circuit pathway reconstitutes the signal from the turntable by amplifying it, and cutting the highs and boosting the lows.
I have some technical limitations with my ripping process. I don’t have a stereo receiver, so I don’t have a simple way to compensate for the RIAA compression methods. What I do is plug my turntable (with my Ortofon cartridge) into my m-audio box, which interfaces with the USB on my laptop. The m-box has a built in preamp that is usually good enough to get the levels I need. I recorded to my hardrive as a high quality wav file, and only downconverted to mp3 after the signal processing was done.
After recording the album onto my hard drive, I then applied some noise reduction, and cut the highs and boost the lows using the graphic EQ settings on CoolEdit Pro. Now, if I had a better signal chain for all this, with more powerful sound processing software, I think the final product would have come out a lot better. I don’t pretend to know all of this stuff.
One of the problems is that I don’t want to overplay the record itself in order to experiment with a bunch of different configurations. The vinyl surface is far from perfect, and seems to have a decent amount of wear on it. In addition, the low audio levels and lack of vocal compression and engineering means that what I got out of the rip was extremely noisy. It was barely listenable. In order to get enough volume, I had to crank the preamps all the way up, and this magnified the noise from the vinyl surface tremendously. To get around this, and to correct some very significant scratch sounds, I sampled a piece of ambient record noise and used the noise reduction plugins to get rid of that, and then pop/hiss eliminators to try to smooth the pops and crackles, of which there were many. You can still hear some noise, but most of the tracks are now pretty clean. The problem is that there is now some vocal distortion. In trying to cut the offensive frequencies, the noise reduction software got some of the good frequencies as well. More fine-tuning could eliminate this problem, but at this point, I had to basically give up.
There are a lot of ways to do a better job with this restoration work. All of them include money and equipment I don’t have. The vinyl could use a good cleaning, too. The best case scenario would be to find some enormously wealthy audiophile who has a laser turntable – the kind that uses a laser to read the disc surface and then reconstitute it as a sound, rather than trying to trace the path of the original cutting head with a mechanical stylus and cartridge.
The songs themselves are brilliant and touching. A few of them are classics that have endured on her repertoire, like “Who Loses,” “I Am Hungry,” and “Borderlines.” Others have never been re-recorded, and I don’t know if they are even played in concert at all, such as ‘Under the Weather,” and “Bourbon Street Vision.”
The overriding factor in these songs is starkness. It’s just Ferron and her guitar, which I think is really the way it works best. “Not A Still Life,” her live album from 1992, is my favorite album of hers. The emotional accessibility of her live performance is touching. Here, on her debut record, you can see that same charisma. Her voice is earthy and expressive, without needing to resort to pop star tricks – modulations and high notes and perfect autotune pitch.
Her lyrical content is raw, and often openly gay. Singing a love song about a woman in 1977 was cutting edge, and as she remarked recently in an interview, her music has since come to seem squarer than it was. In Bourbon Street Vision particularly, she grapples with her sexuality with an encounter with an older woman, who is clearly coming on to her:
She said “aren’t you in to a good time tonight?”
As the moon, badly placed made me feel so uptight
“Are you looking for something to make it all right?”
“No,” I said
She said “Look yourself in my eye, see how you lie,
I’ve been following scatters of heart-shapes to find you
And you’re in tune to color, you always have been
Mostly known for your crying for practice
Ferron in this song is scared and unsure, her fear palpable and confusing. In “Freedom,” she talks about this conflict from an early age:
Little girls in their dresses and boys in their guns
And me in some center just sitting
I’m neither the other nor neither this one
And I feel like a poem half written
There is always an undercurrent of paranoia and fear in her songs. Reviewers tend to emphasize her poetic imagery, or her graceful depictions of love, but to me what sets Ferron above the rest is the unsettling aspect to her songs. “I Am Hungry” is filled with an intense awareness of what she does not have. And even the bittersweet “Borderlines” is filled with confusion – sung with sweetness, but tinged with anger. These are uncomfortable emotions, not pat love songs. Relationships have always dominated the subject matter of her songs, as we can see here, but they are rarely straightforward. Seldom in her songs does she get what she wants.
She also doesn’t sing directly about things. I read a critic once who praised her directness, but I don’t see that being the case at all. She is direct with the imagery and the statements she makes, for sure. At the micro level she is direct. But stepping back and comprehending the totality of the songs reveals greater meaning and complexity.
This album, though rough and imperfect, shows her talent from the very beginning. In fact, its imperfections make it all the more endearing. Ferron has never been about creating a distancing polish. Instead she creates an accessible intimacy that few performers have achieved. And this little album, recorded at some radio station somewhere and sold out of her basement in Canada, is where it all began.
  1. O Baby
  2. Slender Wet Branches
  3. Who Loses
  4. Dead Men and Lovers
  5. Rollspin
  6. Under the Weather
  7. Fly on My Nose
  8. Just the Wind
  9. Luckie
  10. Bourbon Street Vision
  11. I am Hungry
  12. Borderlines
  13. Freedom
  14. In Retrospect
  15. Wind Blown Leaf
Download Album Here

You can find out more about her at Ferron's official website. Please support this living legend! She and Bitch (one of Ani's crew, also in Shortbus) have just released an astonishing new album called Boulder.

Ferron's Official Site

15 comments:

Matt Agnello said...

Wow! An amazing amount of information about the process of preserving and restoring this old work. The technical side is just as fascinating as the artistic side. Nice job, Johnny. Looking forward to your next post.

Anonymous said...

http://www.soundfountain.com/amb/rc1.html

Anonymous said...

fabulous! thanks for the ferron - from the days of full circle coffeehouse!

Silent 3 said...

oh man oh man oh man thank you so much for these 2 lps. I've heard of them but never HEARD them. I've been a fan of Ferron's since Testimony, and have also seen her perform. Honestly, i don't think i've ever seen a performer take the people furthest in the back of the room and make them feel like they're right up front.

Johnny Desolation said...

I know exactly what you mean - Ferron is an amazing performer live. She really brings you right into the emotional landscape.

Anonymous said...

can you please reupload this album & any other Ferron albums you may have - thank you

Johnny Desolation said...

The download link for the album appears to still work, so I don't think it needs to be re-upped.

The only Ferron albums I have posted are "Ferron" and "Ferron Backed Up," and those are the only two I am going to post here, because they are out of print and doubtless will never be in print again. You can buy her other albums at her web site.

Anonymous said...

This file has been deleted because it has been inactive for over 30 days

none of the 4 links work.

It would be great to get hold of this classic album

-thank you ^_^

Johnny Desolation said...

Ferron and Ferron Backed Up are both re-upped, enjoy!

Anonymous said...

Excellent !!! thank you very much Johnny ^_^

Anonymous said...

huge thanks for all your effort to share these priceless recordings. This is just a wonderful gift to all lovers of quality music.

But having put so much effort into restoring the debut and saving it as .wav, wouldn't it be better to post it at 320kbs rather than 128? It seems a waste of all your hard work to limit the output to low bitrate.

Regardless this is much appreciated

vox

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this. I've been looking for this on and off for years. I was give a cassette tape of this album in the early 90s and it eventually died. Though technically not well produced, this album is raw, poetic and so good! What you've done is truly a labor of love and much appreciated!

Anonymous said...

is it possible to obtain rips of this and her second album without giving my cell phone number to telemarketers?

Johnny Desolation said...

reupped again!

Anonymous said...

Thank you SO MUCH!! This is like sitting down and having a long conversation with old friends you thought were lost forever. Ah, the lyrics, the singing, the spare guitar sound. What a gift. Liz