Safe and Sound
by Sheril Stanford
No one ever claims the music community in Boston is tight. That is, until it comes time to rally around a good cause; then, nobody does it better. Safe and Sound, an outstanding collection of music from some of Boston’s finest musicians, assembled in response to the 1994 shootings of two women’s health care workers in a Boston suburb, is proof enough.
In December 1994, Shannon Lowney and Lee Ann Nichols, receptionists at two women’s health clinics, were gunned down in a brutal and senseless, act of cowardly violence. The incident stunned the city and prompted a group of Boston musicians to band together in the hope of gaining something positive from the tragedy. For Kay Hanley of Letter to Cleo, Jules Verdone, and Planet Jumper vocalist Sarah Reitkopp, and drummer Jeff Cawthorne, the tragedy struck especially hard because Shannon Lowney was a personal friend.
The first step they took was to turn an upcoming Letters to Cleo two night stand at Boston’s immortal club, the Rat, into a benefit performance. Once the idea was born, it grew to enormous proportions. The artists quickly discovered they were not alone in their desire to act on their anguish. When the idea grew from two shows to nine, with 37 bands and 150 musicians in seven different clubs, Safe and Sound became an unstoppable juggernaut. Proceeds from the sold out shows, well over $40,000, went to nonprofit organizations supporting safe health care for women and children.
The shows featured artists from across the musical spectrum: ska, pop, punk, metal, established bands and unknowns, from Kristin Hersh to Kevin Salem. Even Aerosmith sent a check (they were out of town at the time).
It’s now two years later, and while the perpetrator been convicted and is now safely in jail, the song remains the same. Safe access to women’s health care is still in jeopardy. The Safe and Sound disc is here to remind us that the problems haven’t gone away. But don’t let the serious purpose of this release scare you off. And don’t buy it just cuz the proceeds go to a good cause. Buy it because it’s a collection of some of the best music in the country from musicians who just happen to have Boston roots or connections. Let’s just run down the list of featured artists shall we? Letters to Cleo, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Morphine, Tracy Bonham, Belly, Deluxx Folk Implosion, Juliana Hatfield, Bill Janovitz (without Buffalo Tom), Scarce, Fuzzy, Kevin Salem, Aimee Mann, Jen Trynin, Mary Lou Lord, Gigolo Aunts and Mung. Whew!
The collection includes some previously released tracks but also many B-sides, unreleased or import-only cuts, and some new songs written specifically for the disc.
Some of the outstanding selections include Jen Trynin’s “Don’t Take it Out on Me,” written especially for the Safe and Sound project, with Jen’s normally ferocious voice taking on an almost pleading quality in its intensity. Equally compelling are Scarce’s acoustic contribution “Naked Freakshadow,” haunting and exposed, and “Waves,” with Juliana Hatfield’s little girl vocals set to soaring bass hooks. The disc also includes some kickin’ live tracks by Morphine, who contributed “Radar” (you know, the one that goes, “If I am guilty, so are you, it was March 4, 1982”), and Tracy Bonham, whose voice on this live version of “Navy Bean” sounds even purer than what you currently hear on the radio.
Letters to Cleo is joined by Boston legend Charlie Chesterman on a spunky cover of Chesterman’s own “You Dirty Rat.” Deluxx Folk Implosion, one of Lou Barlow’s many side projects, offers up “U Can’t Win,” droll and spare in Barlow’s classic indie style. And The Mighty Mighty Bosstones always please with their high energy ska on “The Impression I Get.” If all the big names on this disc don’t woo you, it’s worth owning just for Mung’s hyperspeed “Red Light.”
The Bosstones have become major players in this push to raise money and awareness, and Safe and Sound was released on their own own label, Big Rig, in conjunction with Mercury. Money raised from sales of the disc will go to the largest clinic access program in the country, The National Clinic Access Project, along with local Boston area women’s health and safety organizations. Buy, buy, buy; listen, listen, listen!