Tunes for a Monday Morning

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.

The Child BalladsI'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.

Below: Mitchell & Hamer perform "Willie's Lady," Child Ballad #6.

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.


The 4th of July

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.)


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Uist, the Outer Hebrides

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.

Sheep on the Isle of Skye by Mathieu Noel


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Detail from a drawing by Charles White

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.

Drawing by Charles White

Drawing by Charles White

The drawings today are by the American artist Charles 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.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

A piano in the forest

Today, four gorgeous pieces of music for piano, because beauty is a powerful antidote to the darkness during troubled times.

Above: "Divenire" by Italian composer & pianist Ludovico Einaudi (from his album of the same name), performed at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 2010.

Below: "Re" by German composer & pianist Nils Frahm, from his album Screws (2012). The animated video was directed by Balázs Simon.

Re by Nils Frahm

Above: "Willow," by British composer & pianist Helen Jane Long, accompanied by The London Players. This performance of the song (from her Intervensions album) was filmed in Philadelphia.

Below: "Hanging D" by Dutch composer & pianist Joep Beving, who describes his work at "simple music for complex emotions." The piece is from his new album, Prehension.

Re by Nils Frahm


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Cover image for Toby Hay's The Gathering

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.

Their memory for a blessing


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Nightingale  photographed by John Bridges

Today's music comes from the brilliant British folk singer and folk song collector Sam Lee. I'm completely in love with this young man's music -- as well as with the wide variety of collaborative projects he instigates or contributes to. If you ever have the chance to see him live, please don't miss it.  His recordings of old ballads and Gypsy Traveller songs are wonderful, but hearing them live -- as they are meant to be heard -- is just extraordinary.

The Nightingale by Henry Justice Ford (1860-1940)Above: A BBC profile of Lee's "Singing With the Nightingales," an annual series of events in which folk, classical, and jazz musicians collaborate with nightingales in their natural habitats. As the website explains, guests at the nightingale gatherings are invited "not just to listen to these birds in ear-tinglingly close proximity, but to share an evening around the fire, delving into your hosts’ and guest musicians' own funds of rare songs and stories." After supper by the fire, the small audience for each event is lead "in silence and darkness into the nightingale’s habitat, not only to listen to these majestic birds, but to share in an improvised collaboration; to experience what happens when bird and human virtuosi converge in musical collaboration."

Below: "One Morning in May," a traditional British song performed by Lee and Kathryn Tickell (on Northumbrian smallpipes) for BBC Radio 3.

Above: "Blackbird," a traditional British Traveller song peformed by Lee in Amsterdam -- with Jonah Brody on piano, Joshua Green on percussion, amd Flora Curzon on violin.

Above: "Lovely Molly," a gorgeous rendition of a Scottish Traveller song by Lee, Brody, and Green for The Lullaby Project at the Howard Assembly Room in Leeds.

Above: "The Blind Beggar," performed by Lee with Lisa Knapp and Nathaniel Mann at the Foundling Museum in London as part of their Broadside Ballads project. A broadside, the three musicians explain, "is a single sheet of inexpensive paper printed on one side, often with a ballad, rhyme, news and sometimes with woodcut illustrations. Broadside ballads, from the sixteenth to twentieth centuries, contain words and images once displayed and sung daily in Britain’s streets and inns. Although part of living traditions of folksong, popular art and literature, these illustrated printed sheets are now rare and preserved in only a few libraries." In developing the project, they spent time researching the ballads at the Bodleian, and then created new contemporary arrangements for these historic songs.

Below: "Lord Gregory" (Child Ballad #76) performed by Sam Lee with the Choir of World Cultures (directed by Barbara Morgenstern) from Berlin.

Blackbird

For more on Sam Lee's work with Gyspy ballads, see this previous post from 2015,  and a video talk about his work here.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Irish fiddle

Today, traditional music from Dublin, Ireland:

Above, "Willie O Winsbury" (Child Ballad #100) performed by Ye Vagabonds, a folk duo consisting of brothers Diarmuid and Brían Mac Gloinn.

Below: Ye Vagabonds again with "Barbara Ellen" (Child Ballad #84).

Above: "The Holland Hankerchief" (Child Ballad #272) performed by The Morning Tree, an Irish-Italian-American folk trio based in Dublin. The group consists of Eoghan O’Shaughnessy (guitar), Consuelo Nerea Breschi (fiddle and bouzouki), and Lindsay Straw (guitar and bouzouki).

Below: The magical video for "Hiljainen Suru," a Finnish folk song, by Slow Moving Clouds, a Dublin trio that draws inspiration from both the Irish and Nordic traditions: Danny Diamond (fiddle) and Kevin Murphy (cello), and Aki (nyckleharpa).

Meldon Hill,Chagford

And an instrumental piece to end with: "Devil's Polska" by Slow Moving Clouds.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Presently by Jeanie Tomanek

My apologies for the paucity of posts recently -- a combination of life, health, and family matters has kept me out of the studio. But it's a new week and I'm starting again, returning to work and hoping for a good stretch of quiet, interruption-free time.

Let's start the week gently, with lyrical poetry and women's voices in beautiful harmony....

Above: "The Blood I Bled" by The Staves, a trio of sisters from Watford, Hertfordshire. The performance was filmed for the American program A Prairie Home Companion last autumn.

Below: "Damn It All" by The Staves, performed at KUTX radio station in Austin, Texas in March.

Above: "The Lost Sky" by Jesca Hoop, performed on A Prairie Home Companion in February,  backed up by Chris Thile, Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O'Donovan, Stuart Duncan, Alan Hampton, and Julian Lage. Hoop is an American singer-songwriter based in Manchester, England.

Below: "Pegasi" by Jesca Hoop.

And one more:

"Home" by The Henry Girls, a trio of sisters from Donegal, Ireland, backed up by The Inishowen Gospel Choir.

Upright Blessing by Jeanie Tomanek

The gorgeous art today is, of course, by Jeanie Tomanek, who lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

"I paint," she says, "to explore the significance of ideas, memories, events, feelings, dreams and images that seem to demand my closer attention....Literature, folktales, and myths often inspire my exploration of the feminine archetype."

To learn more about the artist and her work, please go here.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

MayDay in Chagford

Happy Beltane and May Day!

The music this morning is from Lisa Knapp, a British folk musician who has long been interested in the traditional songs of the season. Her extraordinary new album, Till April is Dead: A Garland of May, is highly recommended -- as is her previous five-track release, Hunt the Hare: A Branch of May.

Above:  Knapp's video for "Till April is Dead," the title song of her new album. As music reviewer Thomas Blake describes it: "Sayings from French, German, Spanish, Gaelic and English folklore become entwined (in both sound and meaning) over simple plucked strings before Knapp sings a lighter than air rendition of Hal-An-Tow, a song made famous by the Watersons and the Albion Band. The song’s inherent strangeness -- the coupling of nonsense words with quasi-religious and mythological imagery -- is only thrown into sharper focus by its new setting."

Below: A beautiful version of the English folk song "The Blacksmith" (audio only), from a previous Knapp album, Wild and Undaunted.

Above: The spooky, folkloric video for Knapp's song "Black Horse." This one comes from Hidden Seam, and features vocals by James Yorkston.

Below: "Enter Ariel" by Clara Sanabras -- with Lisa Knapp, Chorus of Dissent Britten Sinfonia, London Voices, and the Ceyda Tanc Youth Dance. The song comes from Hum About the Ears, a thoroughly gorgeous folk opera by Sanabras based on Shakespeare's The Tempest. To learn more about it, please go here.

And to end with:

Lisa Knapp's rendition of "Don't You Go Rushing," a traditional May song collected by Cecil Sharp in Somerset in 1907. 

The photographs above come from previous May Day celebrations here in Chagford. That's Howard dancing the Obby Oss, and Jason of England dancing the Jack-in-the-Green. The piper is Andy Letcher. For more May Day photos, go here.

And to learn more about the folklore of May Day, go here. Up the May!

The Obby Oss & the Jack-in-Green dance down the High Street  in Chagford