|Mark Hallman at Congress House Studio|
A film by Rain Perry
I first discovered singer-songwriter Rain Perry in 2003 when Tom Russell sang her beautiful song “Yosemite” on a promo EP sent out in conjunction with his Modern Art album. I believe he recorded the song during the sessions for that album at Mark Hallman’s Congress House Studio in Austin, Texas. About a decade later, I wrote about Rain’s album Men, which was also recorded at Congress House with Mark as producer, principal accompanist and occasional songwriting collaborator.
Rain’s latest project is a highly interesting and engaging documentary film called The Shopkeeper which, on the surface, tells the story of Mark Hallman’s career as a musician – he was a principal in the ‘70s band Navarro and worked extensively as a sideman with Dan Fogelberg and Carole King – recording engineer and record producer, and of his Congress House Studio, by now the longest-running recording studio in Austin, one of the great American music cities.
But, more than that, the film looks at how the music business has changed over the decades of Mark’s career and at the existential issues facing artists, recording studios and record companies in an era where the public wants to consume music without paying for it.
Rain effectively uses comments and commentaries from artists – some who I know well, some whose music is familiar to me, some who I’d not heard of before – including Mark Hallman, of course, Tom Russell, Eliza Gilkyson, Ani DiFranco, Andrew Hardin, Sarah Hickman, Iain Matthews and many others. These artists lend much insight both to the stories of Congress House and to how the underlying issues of a changing music business have affected them and their careers. There are several terrific segments where singer-songwriter Jon Dee Graham uses facts and figures (with charts) to show the financial changes in the music business over the years.
Along the way we get to hear some of the great music that has been made at the Congress House over the years and bear witness to Mark’s struggle to keep the studio economically viable.
The Shopkeeper is a film that should be seen by anyone interested in understanding what it means to be an independent roots music artist in these times.