Today, two British songwriters whose work, though thoroughly contemporary, is grounded in English folk and American roots music: Sam Brookes and Johnny Flynn. The songs explore darkness, light, and the healing powers of love and the land.
Above: "Numb" by Sam Brookes -- a gorgeous song about love and loss from Brookes' first album, Kairos.
Below: Brookes' version of "Black-Eyed Dog" by the great Nick Drake. The "black dog" and the "black-eyed dog" are terms for depression, which Drake suffered and died from.
While the daily news remains disheartening, let's start the week with lively, toe-tapping, spirit-lifting tunes from Ireland, England, and Scotland...and some charming donkeys.
Above: "Leads" by Moxie, an alt-trad band from Sligo and Limerick, Ireland. The band members are Cillian Doheny, Jos Kelly, Darren Roche, Ted Kelly, and Paddy Hazel. The video was shot in the beautiful Irish landscape and, yes, includes a donkey.
Below: "The Bonny Ship, the Diamond," recorded by Beoga for their seventh album, Before We Change our Mind. The band members are Liam Bradley, Sean Og Graham, Damian McKee, Eamon Murray, and singer/fiddler Niamh Dunne. They're from County Kerry, Ireland.
Above: "The Greenland Whale," recorded by Sam Kelly & the Lost Boys for their new album, Pretty Peggy. Kelly (from Norfolk, England) is backed by Ciaran Algar, Evan Carson, Graham Coe, and Jamie Francis.
Below, another song about whaling history: "Race to Be King" by Seth Lakeman, performed at the Minack open-air theatre on the Cornish coast. Seth hails from here in Devon, on the other side of Dartmoor. The song is from his fourth album, Poor Man's Heaven.
And a tune to end with on this wet and windy morning:
"Wet Field Day" by Elephant Sessions, from the Scottish highlands. The band members are Greg Barry, Mark Bruce, Euan Smillie, Alasdair Taylor, and Seth Tinsley. The young man in the video is Shaun Somerville.
The donkey sketches today are by Dutch genre painterGerard ter Borch(1617-1681) and English illustratorSean Briggs. For more donkeys, check out the donkeycams at the Donkey Sanctuary on Devon's south coast. There are other lovely creatures up the road from us at Dartmoor's Miniature Pony Centre: shaggy little ponies, shire horses, and more. The video on their homepage is a delight.
After last week's discussion of Gaelic place-names, we must surely start the week some Gaelic songs....
In the documentary series Port, Scottish singer Julie Fowlis teamed up with Irish singer Muireann NicAmhlaoibh to investigate Gaelic music and culture in its variations across the two countries. We listened to songs from the northern islands of Scotland in a previous post. Today, we start with two Post performances filmed in Ireland.
Above: "Dé Domhnaigh/Eleanór na Rún."
Below: "Fill-iù Oro Hù Ò/O Cò Bheir Mi Leam."
The singers are Niamh Farrell (from Ireland) and Linda Macleod (from Scotland), backed up Stephen Markham, Seamie O'Dowd, Fowlis and NicAmhlaoibh.
Above: The Gloaming's recording session for "The Pilgrim's Song," based on the Irish-language poems of Seán Ó Riordáin. Iarla Ó Lionáird sings in the sean-nós style (traditionally performed a capella), accompanied by Martin Hayes, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, Dennis Cahill, and Thomas Bartlett.
Below: "Aurora," an instrumental piece by the Irish band Beoga. The group is: Damian McKee, Seán Óg Graham, Liam Bradley, Eamon Murray, and Niamh Dunne.
The art today is by Ronan Halpin, who studied at the National College of Art & Design in Dublin and the Yale School of Art in America. He now lives and works on Achill Island, off of Ireland's west coast.
The pieces here are: Achill Goat, Pooka, Chimera, and The Old King.
In troubled times, we need music to lift our spirits more then ever -- so today I'm turning to The Mae Trio from Melbourne, Australia to brighten the start of a new week. The musicians are Maggie Rigby (banjo, ukulele, guitar), her sister Elsie Rigby (violin, ukulele), and Anita Hillman (cello, bass).
Above: The video for "Well Enough Alone" from the trio's new album, Take Care, Take Cover.
Below: "Mr. Moon," filmed for the Songs from a Room series in London in 2015.
My apologies for being away for so long, dear Readers. I was in high spirits just a month ago, after visiting friends on the Isle of Skye -- but then life turned around and clobbered us from an unexpected direction. (For family privacy sake, I can't be more explicit.) Now we're picking ourselves up off the ground, a bit bruised but eager to return to the things that shine a light in hard times: books and art and puppets and theatre, and the community (both near and far) that sustains us.
I'm back in the studio today, with Child Ballads by Anais Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer on the stereo: a lovely reminder of the folklore traditions that lie at the roots of the Mythic Arts field. When the album first appeared in 2013, there were listeners on this side of the Atlantic nonplused to hear classic British ballads sung in American accents -- forgetting that such songs made their way over to the New World with Anglo-Scots immigrants and are part of America's folk heritage too. Francis Child, the famous ballad collector, was an American himself: a scholar of literature, language and folklore at Harvard University. (For more information on the man, and on the ballads, go here.)
Above: Mitchell & Hamer perform an unusual version of "Tam Lin," Child Ballad #39. This variant omits the role of the Fairy Queen in stealing Tam Lin away, but includes a part of the song often elided in other renditions: Janet's intent to get rid of her unborn child (by the use of magical, poisonous plants) until Tam Lin dissuades her.
Above: Mitchell performs "Clyde Waters" (Child Ballad #216) on the Prairie Home Companion program, backed up by the great Chris Thile on mandolin and Sarah Jarosz on vocals, among others.
Below: a song from Mitchell's extraordinary folk opera Hadestown, based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Hadestown first appeared as a concept album in 2010, and was turned into a theatrical production by New York Theatre Workshop in 2016.
Although written almost a decade ago, Mitchell's Hadestown song "Why We Build the Wall" is especially relevant today, in the age of Trump. And so, sadly, is the final song: "Deportee" by Woody Guthrie (from 1948), which Mitchell performed a few months ago with Austin Nevins.
I cannot celebrate America's Independence Day when the country of my birth is in such a serious crisis. Instead, I celebrate and stand with all the good people who Resist, in their myriad ways, and refuse to be divided neighbor from neighbor. Stand strong, everyone. You have my respect, my gratitude, and my love.
The video above is from Nahko Bear, an American musician & earth activist of Apache, Mohawk, Puerto Rican, & Filipino heritage. (For more of his music, go here, here, and here.)
I'm heading up the Isle of Skye at the end of the week (to celebrate an old friend's birthday), so I'm turning northward today with Gaelic music by musicians from Scotland and beyond.
To start with (above), a lovely short video by Julie Fowlis, from Uist in the Outer Hebrides, explaining why the preservation of the Gaelic language remains so important today. "Speaking a language that has been around for thousands of years," says Fowlis, "you get a different perspective on your own country and an understanding of the people you come from. By singing the traditional songs, you get a better understanding of your own area and it brings the stories of local communities and the history of the people alive."
In Port, a programme for the BBC, Fowlis teamed up with Irish singer Muireann NicAmhlaoibh to investigate Gaelic music and culture in its variations across the two countries. In the video below, they bring Irish bodhrán player Donnchadh Gough (from Danú) and Irish singer Síle Denvir (from Líadan) to Fowlis' home island, North Uist.
In the next two videos, also from Port, Fowlis & NicAmhlaoibh visit the Orkney Isles in the far north of Scotland.
Above, Fowlis sings "The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry" with The Unthanks (from Northumbria), backed up by Orcadian musicians.
Below, they're joined by Irish singer Liam Ó Maonlaí (from The Hothouse Flowers), performing "Amhrán na Heascainne."
Above: Kathleen MacInnes, a wonderful singer from South Uist, performs "Gur milis Mòrag" with the young American bluegrass musician Sarah Jarosz, from Texas. The video was filmed back in 2011 for the BBC's TransAtlantic Sessions programme.
Below, moving from the pastoral to the urban, and the old to the new:
"An Dà Là,' " a timely song by the Scottish band Mànran, from their fine new album of the same name, full of songs about personal and political upheavals both historic and contemporary. The title comes from a Gaelic expression meaning "great change." The lyrics to the song are here. Be bold, be strong.
The world is a troubled place right now, but love, friendship, compassion, and art are among the things that keep us going, connecting us over every wall, border, and division....
Above: "Time Will Tell" by singer/songwriter Gregory Alan Isakov and his band. Born in South Africa, Isakov was raised in Pennsylvania and is now based in Colorado.
Below: "Start to Walk" by the great Sengalese singer Awa Ly, who was born and raised in Paris, and is now based in Rome. She's accompanied here by singer/songwriter Claudio Domestico, from Naples, Italy.
Above: "Tus Pies (Your Feet)," a beautiful song and heart-breaking video by Nahko Bear. Nahko is singer/songwriter of Apache/Mohawk, Puerto Rican & Filipino heritage. Raised in Oregon, he's now based in Hawaii.
Below: "Boy with a Coin" by Iron and Wine (Sam Beam), accompanied by Spanish flamenco dancers. Born in South Carolina, Beam is now based in Durham, North Carolina.
Above: "Call it Dreaming" by Iron & Wine, a moving song from Beam's new album, Beast Epic.
Below: "Darkness of the Dream" by The Tallest Man on Earth (Kristian Matsson), a wonderful singer/songwriter/performance artist from Dalarna, Sweden.
Sending love to you all.
The drawings today are by the American artistCharles W. White(1918 -1979). The son of a railroad worker on the south side of Chicago, he won a scholarship to the Art Institute of Chicago, and went on to teach at schools in New Orleans and in Los Angeles while also creating public artworks during the Depression and exhibiting widely across the United States. An extraordinary man.
Today is Memorial Day in America, know more prosaically as the Late May Bank Holiday here. Let's honor it gently, with instrumental tunes both old and new....
Above: "Mayfair at Rhayader, 1927" by Welsh composer & guitarist Toby Hay (from his luminous new album, The Gathering), with archival footage of people gathering for May Day in Powys, Wales, in the years between the wars.
"I first listened to The Gathering," says author Robert Macfarlane, "late in the day, late in the year -- the year of Trump, of Brexit, of tides of darkness rising fast on all sides. And for a bright hour, Toby Hay’s music cast strong light, fought the shadows back a little. The tracks of this album -- quick-fingered, deep-felt -- open landscapes in the mind’s eye. It feels, listening to them, as if they have a little of the power -- the power that linguists call ‘illocutionary’ and magicians call ‘conjuring’ -- to summon things into being, or bring pasts briefly back to life. It came as no surprise to learn that Toby has sometimes hoped that the playing of ‘Starlings’ (in which the notes teem and swoop and swarm) might one day call up an actual murmuration. Place, memory, nature, loss and dreamed-of geographies are the subjects of this beautiful music: that gathering of feelings that go by the untranslatable Welsh word hiraeth. There is a sadness at what has gone here, but not a nostalgia. The world’s dew gleams on this music, but the world’s dust swirls through it too."
Below: "Mrs Mackenzie's Farewell to Culloden Academy" from Scottish composer & fiddler Graham Mackenzie. In this video -- a recording session for his Crossing Borders album -- Mackenzie is joined by Megan Robertson Henderson and Robbie Mackenzie on fiddles, Innes Watson on viola/guitar, Alice Allen on cello, Stewart Wilson on double bass, Ciorstaidh Beaton on clarsach, Scott Wood on pipes, and Jim Molyneux on piano.
Above:"Echo" by Talisk, a Scottish folk trio based in Glasgow: Mohsen Amini on concertina, Haley Keenan on fiddle, and Craig Irving on guitar. The song is from their debut album, Abyss.
Below: "Olympus" by Fourth Moon, also based in Glasgow: Mohsen Amini on concertina, David Lombardi on fiddle, Géza Frank flute & pipes, and Jean Damei on guitar. The band's first album, which I'm greatly looking forward to, is due out this year.
And to end with on this Memorial day, a tune by a band from Manchester:
"Father Quinn's/Apsley Cottage/Mrs. Mackenzie's Dilemma" performed by Aizle: Graham Mackenzie on fiddle, Ciaran Clifford on whistle, Joe Bardwell on guitar, Jim Molyneux on piano, and Stewart Wilson on double bass. The tunes appear on their first EP, Aizle, which came out earlier this year.