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November 2020

Tunes for a Monday Morning

Dartmoor sheep

Above: "A Touring Tale of Ireland," featuring the words and music of Scottish singer/songwriter James Yorkston. The song he performs, titled "Struggle," appears on his forthcoming album, The Wide Wide River (February, 2021). In the little film above, Yorkston reflects on childhood trips to Ireland and the traveling life of a touring musician. It's a poignant subject during this pandemic year, when so many tours have been cancelled, and so many music and drama venues have fallen silent.

Below: "A Day Well Spent," featuring Bernie Pháid and Jefferson Hamer in concert on the Dingle peninsula in western Ireland. Pháid, from Dingle, plays a blend of Irish, Scottish, and American folk music; her most recent album is Síol (2014). Hamer, from Brooklyn, New York, is also drawn to music with transAtlantic roots, ranging from American country and bluegrass to an album of Child Ballads (2013) sung with Anais Mitchell.

Both videos are by Myles O'Reilly, who does wonderful work documenting Ireland's folk music scene. You can see more of his films, and support further endeavours, by joining his Patreon page here.

Above: "Lamentations of Round-Oak Waters" by English singer/songwriter Jim Ghedi, inspired by the poem of that title by John Clare (1793-1864). "The poem and his life were centred around the time of the land enclosure act in England," Ghedi explains, "where common land was enclosed and lower class farmworkers and labourers and their families were forced into poverty." (For more on the devastating history of the enclosures, see this previous post.) The song will appear on Ghedi's new album, In The Furrows Of Common Place, due out in January. The video was filmed in the Hebrides.

Below: "Goose and Common," a 17th century protest song performed by the English folk duo The Askew Sisters. It's from their fine album Enclosure (2019), full of songs examining many forms of enclosure, and our relationship with the land we live on.

Above: "She Took a Gamble" by Scottish singer/songwriter Hannah Read, who grew up in Edinburgh and the Isle of Eigg and is now based in Brooklyn, New York. The song appeared on her album Way Out I'll Wander (2018), featuring Jefferson Hamer and Sarah Jarosz on guitar and backing vocals. The video was shot on Eigg, in the Inner Hebrides.

Below: "Kicks In" by Scottish singer/songwriter (and sheep farmer) Colin Macleod, from the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. The song appeared on his first album, Bloodlines (2018). His latest, Hold Fast, will be out in January.

Sheep by the sea - Getty Images

And one more to end with, above:  "Wild Mountain Time," a Scottish/Irish folk song popularized by Joan Baez, The Corries, and others -- sung by Colin Macleod in a spare and lovely performance recorded at home on Lewis in 2018.

By the way, if you're interested in farming life on remote Scottish islands (as I am), I recommend Catherine Munro's beautiful blog. Catherine is a crofter in the Shetlands, and an anthropologist researching human-animal relationships, landscape and identity. 

Dartmoor sheep


Happy Thanksgiving from Myth & Moor

In the shadow of Old Oak

Wind and water, feather and stone, green grass, white cloud, black fur, red tongue, the panting of the the breath and the pounding of the heart and the winding of the path we’re traveling on, these are the things I’m grateful for, this hill, these prints of hoof and paw, of fairy footsteps in mud and moss, for the hard climb up and the bounding back down, for labor, for ease, for persistence, for joy, for all these things and more besides:

On the hill

for birds and bees and beetles and brambles and the last blackberries in bracken and thorn, for the scent of time and the taste of age, and the brittle brown leaves snapping underfoot, for the spirits that dance in mist and smoke and the ancestors in our blood and bones, for the mystery that some call God but that I call rain and thistle and fossil and crow, and love, of course, I am thankful for love, and light, laughter, delight, desire, but also for loss and grief (those patient teachers), dark nights, new moons, bright stars,

Chagford nestled in the hills

for sleep, for dreams, for waking at the witching hour in a bed that’s safe and warm, for the ticking of the clock, and the creaking of the walls, and the hush that comes just before the dawn, and my dear one’s breath rising and falling and a little dog snoring by the kitchen hearth, and the house that holds us, the life that molds us, the children, the friends, the neighbors, the village, the hill that shelters us in its palm and the land that roots us in place and time, for all this and more I am awestruck, I am dumbstruck, I am grateful, and I am giving thanks.

Hill and hound


Veriditas and the vegetable soul

Bean Longpod by Charles Jones

For those of you making Thanksgiving feasts today, here's a post rooted in garden soil....

"The word vegetable comes from the root that means the very opposite of immobile, passive, dull, or uneventful. Vegere means to animate, enliven, invigorate, arouse. Vegete means to grow, to be refreshing, to vivify, animate. From these roots come words such as vigil, vigilant, and vigor, with all their connotations of being wide-awake, alert, of keeping watch. 'The understanding...was vagete, quick, and lively," observed one critic in 1662. Ben Jonson described what he saw as desirable characteristics in woman, 'faire, young, and vegetous.' Such respect for the vegetable soul was not confined merely to a robust sensual life, but extended into the religious dimension. 'Man is righteous in his Vegetated Spectre,' proclaimed Blake when commenting about the beliefs of the ancient Druids. Elsewhere it was insisted that 'A vegetous faith is able to say unto a mountain, Be moved into the sea.'

"The downward pull of vegetables, of the vegetable soul, has also provided exemplary images of being placed, of being grounded, of having roots. For example, Jung said, 'I am fully committed to the idea that human existence should be rooted in the earth.' He bemoaned modern culture's lack of earth-based ancestral connections. As Henry Corbin put it, the past is not behind us, but beneath our feet. What better way to touch the ground than through cabbages, which the poet Robert Bly says 'love the earth.' The word root comes from the Indo-European root ra, meaning to derive, to grow out of. To be 'radical' is get back to the roots. Radish stems from the same etymological roots."

- Peter Bishop (The Greening of Psychology: The Vegetable World in Myth, Dream, and Healing)

Cabbages (Larry's Perfection) by Charles Jones

Good People, most royal greening verdancy,
rooted in the sun, you shine with radiant light.

Hildegard of Bingen (''Original Blessing'')

Potatoes by Charles Jones

"A cornerstone of Hildegard of Bingen's spirituality was Viriditas, or greening power, her revelation of the animating life force manifest in the natural world that infuses all creation with moisture and vitality. To her, the divine was manifest in every leaf and blade of grass. Just as a ray of sunlight is the sun, Hildegard believed that a flower or a stone was God, though not the whole of God. Creation revealed the face of the invisible creator. Hildegard celebrated the sacred in nature, something highly relevant for us in this age of climate change and the destruction of natural habitats.''

- Mary Sharratt ("Eight Reasons Why Hildegard Matters Now")

Peas by Charles Jones

"I'm a champion of subtley. The subtler something is, the more you have to pay attention, and that's a good thing. Remember, it's not always the big, loud species that are the best teachers. Sometimes it's the little, quiet, humble ones.

"Plants have the ability to transmit energy. Plants draw in and transform earth and water and nutrients and light and make their bodies out of them. Plants are a manifestation of these forces being woven together, and we humans have relied on them to sustain us since the beginning of our evolution. In cultures that are close to the earth I see a recognition of the power of plants to hold and draw energy and to move it along, thereby changing in a healing way. The plant world is constantly whispering to us, if we can hear it."

- Kathleen Harrison ("Women, Plants, and Culture," Moonwise)

Turnips by Charles Jones

Onions by Charles Jones

" 'Eating is an agricultural act,' as Wendell Berry famously said. It is also an ecological act, and a political act, too. Though much has been done to obscure this simple fact, how and what we eat determines to a great extent the use we make of the world -- and what is to become of it."

- Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals)

Plums by Charles Jones

The photographs in this post are by Charles Jones, a Victorian gardener and photographer born in Wolverhampton, Staffordshire in 1866. His work was largely unknown (even to his family) until hundreds of his images were discovered in a suitcase at an antiques market in south London in 1982; since then his beautiful images of vegetables and flowers have appeared in major museum exhibitions and been published in a book, The Plant Kingdoms Of Charles Jones (1998).

More information on the artist can be found here, and additional photographs can be seen here.

McGreedy's Scarlet by Charles Jones


Myth & Moor update

Strayway Child BY Terri Windling

I'll be out of the studio again today due to family business (we're still helping an elderly relative in a difficult situation), and another vet visit with Tilly. Tilly's leg is doing a little better now: the scary lump has decreased in size and we're hopeful that she may not need an operation, as long as it continues to heal. Thank you so much for all the good wishes, love, and prayers that have been sent her way, and ours. Oof, what a stress-filled month it's been! Even without the US election and the UK lockdown, although they've been looming large too.

The hound and I will be back just as soon as we can, focused on art and books and the natural world other good things.

The Fates by Gretchen Jacobsen

Drawinga: The Strayaway Child by me, and The Three Fates by Gretchen Jacobsen.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Bluegrass fiddle and banj0

With so many eyes on America as the aftermath of the election unfolds, let's start the week with a collection of American folk ballads, old and new. The North American ballad tradition grew from the music of immigrant, enslaved, and indigenous peoples, blended into a distinct new form, which still influences bluegrass, folk, gospel, and country music to this day. Like most things in America, the history of the continent's balladry is complex, diverse, and many-faceted -- and all the richer for being a "melting pot" of songs and tunes. 

Above: "When First Unto This Country" performed by singer/songwriter Aoife O'Donovan, with Crooked Still. The song appeared on their early album Crooked Still Live (2009), but this version was filmed at a bluegrass festival in 2017.

Below: "Black is the Color" performed by singer/songwriter, banjo player and music historian Rhiannon Giddens (of the Carolina Chocolate Drops).  It's from Giddens' solo album Tomorrow is My Turn (2015). 

Above: "Come All You Coal Miners / Take Me to Harlan" performed by husband-and-wife banjo masters Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn, with clog-dancing by Washburn and movement work from Pilobolus. The first piece, written by Sarah Ogan Gunning, concerns mining life in the Appalachian region of Kentucky; the second, by Fleck and Washburn, was inspired by the stories of those who left the mountains for urban life.

Below: "Émigré"  by singer/songwriter Alela Diane, from her album Cusp (2017)

Above: "Clyde Water," performed by Anais MitchellJefferson Hamer. This song, from the Anglo-Scots tradition, is found in the American ballad songbook too, carried over the ocean by immigrants. It appears on the Mitchell & Hamer album Child Ballads (2013), featuring songs collected by the American ballad historian James Francis Child.

Below: "Thomas County Law" by Iron and Wine (singer/songwriter Sam Beam). The song appeared on his album Beast Epic (2017).

To end with, a couple of Dylan songs influenced by American balladry:

Above: "Boots of Spanish Leather," performed by Mandolin Orange (Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz) for Audiotree Live in 2014.

Below: "Wagon Wheel" performed by Darius Rucker (from Hootie and the Blowfish). It's from Rucker's solo album True Believers (2013).

For more North American ballads, and ballad-influenced songs, go here.