Ben and Ellen Harper’s ‘Childhood Home’

“They’re both excellent wordsmiths, and when they harmonize, you can definitely tell there’s that genetic vibration that happens only when people who are related sing,” says engineer Ethan Allen, who recorded the delicate new folk album from singer/songwriter Ben Harper and his mother, Ellen Harper in Ben’s Machine Shop studio.
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Photo: Danny Clinch

“They’re both excellent wordsmiths, and when they harmonize, you can definitely tell there’s that genetic vibration that happens only when people who are related sing,” says engineer Ethan Allen, who recorded the delicate new folk album from singer/songwriter Ben Harper and his mother, Ellen Harper in Ben’s Machine Shop studio.

Ben and his mom share a deep connection to roots music; Ben grew up around the musicians who frequent the Claremont Folk Music Center and shop that Ellen’s family has run for two generations. Childhood Home is their first album together.

“There was also a lot of preparation—sitting around with two acoustic guitars and really crafting their vocals together,” Allen says. “Their harmonies were recorded separately. We would start with the writer of the song. The lead vocal would be so emotive and raw, it would take a certain amount of tailoring to get that right, and then the other vocal would harmonize with the lead.”

Allen came to the session with a pair of his own Neumann U 67s and a Retro 176 limiter. All of the vocals were recorded to a U 67 or an AEA R84, through the 176.

“Often, Ben would be playing acoustic guitar or a resonator guitar while he was singing, so the vocal mic is capturing both the vocal and the instrument equally, and I’m trying to get the right phase-coherent sound,” Allen says. “We would find the right balance within the picture itself: never trying to be artificial in the blend or separate sources that were recorded, but maybe backing his mic up two feet, for example, just to make sure it’s getting the right blend.”