- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 1, 2005

SHOKAN, N.Y. - Allaire Studios sit at the end of a slithering mountain road. Airy rooms offer skytop views of the Catskill Mountains.

Norah Jones, Tim McGraw and David Bowie are among those who recorded here, bypassing studios a couple of hours south in Manhattan.

At a time when even big-name recording studios are closing, Allaire has found a niche as a “destination studio.” Musicians come and stay at a white-sided mountaintop compound that offers not only studios near the artsy enclave of Woodstock, but bedrooms, meals and working space cloistered from the world below.

“You go up there, and it’s just this amazing place on top of a mountain,” says keyboardist Bo Koster of My Morning Jacket, a rock band that recorded its upcoming album “Z” at the studio.

At its core, Allaire is like a lot of professional studios — a forest of microphone stands, a roomful of vintage guitars, and consoles with a mind-numbing number of tiny knobs.

The difference is that Allaire is housed in a Xanadu-style summer home built by an industrialist in the 1920s. The largest studio is a soaring space 45 feet high at the tip of the cathedral ceiling with oak plank floors, a stone fireplace and windows offering an eagle-eye view of the Catskills.

“The scale of everything here is enormous,” says studio manager Mark McKenna.

Randall Wallace, a photographer, musician and grandson of Henry Wallace (vice president of the United States from 1941-1945), bought the mountain spread in 1998 and converted it into a studio named for his late sister.

The second artist to record here was a soulful and still obscure singer named Norah Jones. Her album, “Come Away With Me,” became a sleeper sensation in 2002 and Allaire’s profile rose with Miss Jones’ popularity.

“It gave us a tremendous leg up,” Mr. McKenna says.

The genre-spanning roster of artists who have recorded here since then include the Strokes, Roseanne Cash, the Raveonettes and Jason Mraz.

Mr. Bowie liked the area so much he bought some land on the mountain next door. Miss Jones and Mr. McGraw have each recorded two albums at Allaire. Mr. McGraw has said he chose Allaire to be far away from distractions — a sentiment echoed by other musicians.

“I watched the trees change and just was wandering in the woods every morning before we started recording,” says jazz singer Lizz Wright on recording the recently released “Dreaming Wide Awake.”

“And we just stayed up there. I was detached.”

These contemporary stars are following a path musicians have been making to the Woodstock area since about a century ago, when utopian artists and crafters started colonizing the mountain town 90 miles north of New York City.

While the generation-defining Woodstock concert in 1969 was actually staged 50 miles away in Bethel, there’s still been a lot of music history committed to tape around here.

Nearby Saugerties was home to the pink-sided tract house where two ‘60s classics — the Band’s “Music From Big Pink” and their album with Bob Dylan, “The Basement Tapes” — were recorded.

Mr. Dylan’s old manager, Albert Grossman, set up Bearsville Studios near Woodstock as the ‘60s ended. R.E.M., Phish and the Dave Matthews Band are among the more recent bands to record there. (The main Bearsville studio is now a private residence, and a satellite space called Bearsville Studios at Turtle Creek is for sale.)

Allaire is a far cry from Big Pink’s cinder block basement studio, where a hot-water heater was used as a mike stand. Use of Allaire can cost $15,000 to $18,000 a week, far beyond the means of a garage band.

Still, Allaire is operating during a stormy time in the industry when studios have been feeling the pain. Among the closings announced this year were New York City’s Hit Factory, Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama and Royaltone Studios in Los Angeles.

Industry officials blame too much competition and increasingly frugal record labels. But the most often cited reason is the availability of digital audio production systems like Pro Tools, which allows bands to skip the studio and make decent recordings in their garage or living rooms.

That sort of do-it-yourself attitude seems foreign at Allaire. Musicians can kick back after sessions in a nicely appointed bedroom down the hall. Meals are provided by a chef. There’s a tennis court. The place gives off a vacation vibe. Former Crowded House members Tim and Neil Finn even brought along their children for their session.

In a world where every bedroom is a potential studio, Allaire offers the polar opposite. As Mr. McKenna notes: “You can’t have the Strokes come in and record in your Manhattan apartment living room.”

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