Chicago Daily Law Bulletin June 25, 2007 Volume: 153 Issue: 124
In this prof's voice, the law is truly lyrical
By Pat Milhizer Law Bulletin staff writer
Henry H. Perritt Jr. had already been a law school dean, worked under four U.S. presidents, made a run for Congress, flown airplanes, sailed boats and penned more than a dozen books.
But he hadn't yet invented a new musical genre.
So the Chicago-Kent College of Law professor got down to work — and he dubbed the music style that he has created ''law rock.'' You can hear it on Perritt's freshman singing and song-writing effort, ''Wind Will Fill the Sails,'' recorded with his band Modofac.
He describes the style as something that happens when a 60-something law professor writes songs and eventually records them with a bunch of 20-something rock and jazz musicians.
About three years ago, Perritt started taking piano lessons and became interested in music theory and composition. One of his law students had a recommendation to help him learn more — write a song.
' 'And I said, 'That's ridiculous. I can't write a song. And I don't sing particularly well.' [The student] said, 'Anybody can sing, and it's not all that complicated to write a simple song.' So I started playing around with it,'' Perritt said.
One of Perritt's former students, Matt Topic, later introduced Perritt to musician Tim Sandusky, who owns a recording studio.
''It's a good start, especially for somebody coming in at this phase in his life and career,'' said Topic, who plays the trumpet on a handful of tracks. ''It took a lot of courage for him to do it.''
Perritt and Sandusky decided to work together, and both sing on the album.
''As Hank has been doing this process, I've learned everything he does in his life,'' Sandusky said. ''And it seems like every two years, he embarks on something new.
' 'He's not looking to make millions of dollars. He wants to write songs about his friends, for his friends and about his life — whether it's about a student of his or a trip on his sailboat,'' Sandusky said.
The album presents both serious and lighter points, perhaps none lighter — but a legitimate inquiry, Sandusky said — than a song that was written after Sandusky talked with Perritt about the legality of owning a skunk as a pet.
A sample of the lyrics: ''It's time for a skunk / My own skunk full of stripes / Law does not matter / I want my own skunk!''
The album takes a more serious tone on ''Back of the Room,'' in which Perritt addresses his thoughts on approaching a law student who looks bummed out in class.
''It's not uncommon to teach a big class, and you'll see a kid in the back that is just kind of tuned out. And if you're a good teacher, you try to reach out to them and see what's going on,'' Perritt said. ''At least some of the time, you turn the situation around by paying some attention and finding what the problem is and working directly with the student.
''And I think some of the things that I'm proudest of in 25 years of teaching are the times when I've done that and have gotten some results…. It means a lot to me,'' Perritt said.
Another song, ''He Held the Parchment High,'' addresses the suicide of a Chicago-Kent student two days before graduation. The student's brother accepted the diploma.
As the song recounts, ''He held the parchment high in the hollow, silent air / The room all knew his brother would not ever be there.''
The album also features ''Kosovo Disco,'' the first song Perritt wrote. During many trips to Kosovo, Perritt interviewed more than 100 Kosovo Liberation Army soldiers and wrote a book about it.
''Most were 17, 18 years old and they talked about how they got so fed up with what they viewed as oppression,'' Perritt said. ''So I was thinking about their stories when I was flying back from Europe. So I started to jot down some lyrics for a song.''
''Mainly you do it because you enjoy it. But there's also a desire that other people enjoy it. I don't have any illusions that the album is going to go to the top of the charts. But I put a lot of effort into it and so has Tim,'' Perritt said.
''Whether somebody likes the music is up to them.''
Reviewer: Ryan Warden (posted on CDBaby) As astutely noted in the preceding reviews, the album is good and needs no qualification, however, when one considers the fact that Hank Perritt only began taking music seriously about two years ago, the product is that much more impressive. Without reiterating that which has been fully acknowledged below, Hank Perritt truly is a great man. He is a brilliant lawyer and professor and one of the most prolific legal authors of his time. That he would even consider lending his enormous talent to the music field at his age is quite refreshing -- that he actually went out and did something about it is exceptional, and says a lot about what type of man Hank Perritt is.
"Wind Will Fill the Sails" is a fine debut effort. The title track has the feel of Sergeant Pepper and captures the excitement felt by the songwriter when engaging in one of his favorite pastimes - sailing. Several of the songs on the album are dedicated to law school life. These songs can be appreciated by any listener. For the lawyer, the songs really hit home, and it is wonderful to get a glimpse inside the mind and heart of this brilliant man and see just how caring he truly is. For the non-lawyer, these songs provide a taste of the constant pressures an aspiring lawyer faces in the struggle to be among the best and the brightest.
"Kosovo Disco" is another song worthy of mention. In addition to his myriad accomplishments as a lawyer, engineer, professor, author, mentor, and now singer-songwriter, Hank Perritt is a fine humanitarian who has made several trips to Kosovo, in an attempt to do his part to rebuild that war-torn nation and to help fellow human beings. "Kosovo Disco" recounts Hank's most recent journey to Kosovo.
Hank expresses a community's collective sadness over a young man's suicide in "He Held the Parchment High." The song is so touching that it must have actually happened, although I am not familiar with the real-life story to which the song pertains. Hank does not have a traditionally beautiful voice. But do not let that turn you off. Some of our finest songwriters had voices that some found to be less than pristine at first. Bob Dylan comes to mind. It is not perfect pitch or rich tone that makes us FEEL, but rather, the way in which the singer-songwriter turns a phrase. Hank Perritt has that. I am sure you will enjoy the album.
-------------------------------------- Reviewer: Ed Harris (posted on CDBaby)
Introspective, eclectic, lyrically sophisticated, sometimes catchy and playful; words and phrases that aptly describe Modofac’s first effort Wind Will Fill the Sails. The band and its songs are in large part the brainchild of law professor Hank Perritt who, at 60-something and looking back on a very distinguished career as an engineer, lawyer, advisor to several US presidents, law professor and international legal scholar, dean of a law school and candidate for Congress (whew!), decided that music would be his next conquest.
Hank and his Modofac crew in this freshman effort seemed to have mirrored the same broad strokes of subject matter reflected in Hank’s career path by pulling together such disparate lyrical topics from the legality of owning a skunk (“It’s Time for a Skunk”) to nation building (“Kosovo Disco” and “Albanian Fire for the Colors”) to the senselessness of suicide (“He Held the Parchment High”) and keeping one’s eye on the prize (“Did You Have a Dream?”). And the lyrics are often quite sophisticated both stylistically and in terms of the stories and feelings conveyed.
The listener can really feel, for example, the law professor’s empathy for and his reaching out to the downhearted law student in “Back of the Room” and the jubilation of completing the last final exam of a law school education in “I’m Done.” However, the real stand-out tune on the record for this listener is “Did You Have a Dream?” Though I could speculate that the lyrics are about staying focused on the realization of a dream in the music business or in the law, the words sweep more broadly and seem really to be about not losing sight of any life-dream in the tangled mess that often accompanies the process of attaining the dream. Musically, the song uses an interesting lyrical melody atop the main chord progressions of a guitar and what sounds like a dulcimer. A mid-song break with alternating dissonant electric guitar chords and cymbal/tom crashes seems to symbolize the loss of the dream through the process of its pursuit. But, the listener’s attention is again grabbed by the finish of the break where Hank’s voice, in full three part harmony, admonishes the song’s subject to “listen to [him] now” and attempts to bring focus back to the dream. The song is enhanced by a wonderful musical saw melody beautifully played by Sarah Holtschlag which gives the song a decidedly “Tom Waitsy” feel. Other bits of musical accent abound in this well-put-together piece to make it this listener’s favorite.
If I am to mention one downside of the record, it is that the musical styles are a bit too eclectic. From the pop-punky sound of “Tethered by Today” to the jazzy Sinatra-esque sound of “Expectations,” the broad range of styles might leave some wondering whether there is a distinctive Modofac style. However, finding a distinctive voice is a process that all bands go through and is indeed something we listener’s often enjoy watching through the course of our fandom. Also, Hank’s broad range of life experience and accomplishments might be too constrained were Modofac to restrict itself to a single style. And, in the end, many of the common themes throughout the record – themes in subject matter and in vocal and playing styles – begin to sound “Modofac” after a few listens.
Thus, perhaps we should watch and enjoy seeing just how Hank and Modofac further find and refine their own voice. On the whole, Hank Perritt certainly has done something here that younger musicians who are far more concerned with their success often struggle to do: tap into one’s own knowledge, experience and feelings and bring the listener to know, experience and feel through the musician’s senses. No small feat, but Hank’s success at this may be because of his vast experience along the many paths he has walked.
BRILLIANT DEBUT ALBUM! Reviewer: Phillip J. Bergmann (posted on CDBaby 22 June 2007)
Before listening to this debut album, it is important to make light of a few facts about the genius behind this endeavor: Hank Perritt is an aeronautical AND astronautical engineer, a law professor, author, master of business and a world-renowned speaker...WHO TAUGHT HIMSELF MUSIC THEORY! Let's make sure this is clear: Hank taught himself advanced music theory, seeking advice and insight from colleagues and books!
Now, I urge you to think about that while listening to a few key tracks, about which I'd like to make a few brief notes:
2) Tethered...is a classic rock, up-tempo number, evocative of a time in rock music in which one could hear ACTUAL MUSIC and tonality. Pay close attention to the harmonies and lyrics!
4) Kosovo Disco...has an AWESOME BEAT with killer lyrics. Notice the use of mixed meter within the lyrics, on what is a seemingly basic beat. As with many of Hank's songs, the lyrical rhythm gives way to a quasi-hemiola.
5) I Think...is full of poignant lyrics! I love the various hints at modulations throughout the piece, although they're almost always deceptive!
7) Rim Clicks...is toe-tapping, up-beat, while being thoughtful, introspective, nostalgic...AND HUMOROUS! This is a terrific track!
8) He Held...sounds incredibly harmonically/theoretically challenging, however it's progression is very simple! This track is amazingly thought provoking and mysterious. Listen for the use of deceptive cadences that don't go "perfect" until the very end!
9) Wind Has Filled...is no doubt an adventure, the music from which makes the listener really feel a part of the journey, like we're traveling together!
11) Expectations...is the song that says: "Just when you think Hank's music isn't tonal enough, his melodic lines really take you by surprise!" This number will definitely leave you humming and toe-tapping...
13) Albanian Fire...IMAGINE: Being at the Opera with NO SUBTITLES! If the heart-felt music in this un-translated number doesn't convey messages of loss/death, hard times, and progression towards pride, hope and nationalism THEN YOU'RE NOT LISTENING!
14) I'm Done...is incredibly playful, joyous and tons of fun!
The studio artists and various collaborators are undoubtedly talented performers...they deserve credit for breathing life and creativity into Hank's somewhat calculated, rigid musicianship! I have been blessed with Hank in my life - truly blessed - and am honored to say that I have assisted "Filling His Sails With Wind" since the very young age of two! That said, it is now time to place the spotlight on this brilliant lawyer/engineer turned musician & songwriter!