Tunes for a Monday Morning

Freshly picked blackberries

The Devon hedgerows are thick with blackberries and the orchards hang heavy with their fruits, so here are songs of farmers and plough boys, the harvest time, and the land's abundance....

Above: "Harvest Song" performed by Devon folk musician Jim Causley. It's from his early album Fruits of the Earth (2005).

Below: "Reaphook and Sickle" performed by Waterson-Carthy (Norma Waterson, Martin Carthy, Eliza Carthy, and Tim van Eyken), from their album Holy Heathens and the Old Green Man (2006)

Above: "Hey John Barleycorn" performed by Jack Rutter, a folk musician from West Yorkshire. This song isn't the better-known Barleycorn ballad popularised by Robert Burns but a broadside ballad from the 17th century, extolling the virtues of a plant which will soon be made into ale and beer. The song appeared on Rutter's album Hills (2017).

Below: "The Farmer's Toast" performed by folk musician Kate Rusby, from South Yorkshire. The song appeared on her recent album Philosophers, Poets & Kings (2019).

Above: "The Barley and the Rye" performed by Bill Jones, a folk musician from Sunderland in the north of England. The song appeared on her early album Panchpuran (2001).

Below: "Ploughboy Lads" performed by Scottish musician Alasdair Roberts (of The Furrow Collective). The song appeared on his early solo album The Crook of My Arm (2001).

Above: Ralph McTell's "The Hiring Fair," performed by the long running folk-rock band Fairport Convention. This version of the song appeared on Fairport's album In Real Time (1987).

Below: "Lovely Molly," performed by London-based folk singer and song collector Sam Lee, with London's Roundhouse Choir, at the BBBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, 2016. The song appeared on his album The Fade in Time (2015). For more of his music, go here and here

Our courtyard, early autumn

Blackberries picked this morning

And one more....

Below: "Soil & Soul," a new song by the English vocal harmony trio Lady Maisery (Hannah James, Hazel Askew, and Rowan Rheingans). It appears on their album Live (2020).

A field of heritage apples

Apples on the courtyard table


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Garden gathering

Here in Devon, apples cluster on mossy old trees and blackberries are ripening as the summer eases into autumn. The morning air is crisp with change ... yet the pandemic goes drearily on and on. With each new season we learn new ways to live with it, but it takes a heavy toll.

Working from an isolated cabin by the woods, my daily routines (long hours of solitary desk work, broken by rambles through the hills with Tilly) have changed less than most. But Chagford, our village, is a sociable place, and it is very strange to have gone so long without meeting up with friends and neighbours for meals, music, community events, shared celebrations. The summer went by in the blink of an eye and seems to have barely happened at all. The Dartmoor countryside was as beautiful as always, the air even clearer, the birdsong more vivid ... but without friends gathered at an outdoor table, or sprawled around a picnic blanket, or playing music by a campfire while the kids and dogs tumble through the tall grass, it didn't actually feel like summer. I usually love the turning of the seaon, but this year it is tinged with melachology for all we've missed.

In honour of convivial summers past, and in the hope that there will be many more to come, I'm starting the week with songs of feasts and friendships, and of weathering hard times together....

Above: "Rang Tang Ring Toon" by Moutain Man, an American vocal harmony trio (Molly Erin Sarle, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, and Amelia Randall Meath) from the mountains of Vermont. The song appeared on their second album, Magic Ship (2018).

Below: "Nest" by Ruth Moody, from Winnipeg, Canada -- best known as a member of the Wailin' Jennys trio. The song appeared on her first solo album, The Garden (2010).

Above: "Stand Like an Oak," a new single fom Rising Appalachia (sisters Leah and Chloe Smith), who divide their time between Georgia and New Orleans. Their most recent album is Leylines (2019).

Below: "Old Pine," by Ben Howard, who hails from the other side of the moor. This one, set on the Devon/Cornwall coast, is an old favourite of mine from Ben's first album, Every Kingdom (2011).

Above: "Old Ties and Companions" by Mandolin Orange (Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz), from North Carolina. The song appeared on their fourth album, Such Jubilee (2015).

Below: An ode to the "Company of Friends" by Carrie Elkin and Danny Schmidt, from Austin, Texas. The song appeared on Elkin's solo album For Keeps (2012).

Candles in the courtyard

But let's not end on that somber note.

Below, "Typhoon" by Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards reminds us that after the wreckage of life's storms there's a time for building up again, preferably surrounded by our friends. The song is from their new album, Bitter Better (July 2020).

Around the table in Elizabeth-Jane's cottage

Top photograph: Preparing for a gathering of friends in my mother-in-law's garden here in Chagford, pre-pandemic.
Bottom photograph: Feasting with a group of women friends: Wendy Froud, me, Carol Amos, Elizabeth-Jane Baldry, Marja Lee and Hazel Brown (holding the camera), in Elizabeth-Jane's cottage kitchen. We'd been meeting monthly like this for over 25 years until the pandemic struck. I long for the day when we'll meet so freely again. I know it will come.


The Visionary Art of Marja Lee Kruÿt

Marja Lee Kruÿt

Marja Lee Kruÿt was born and raised in the Netherlands in the province of Drenthe: a beautiful, dolmen-studded region in the northeast of the country, near the German border. She spent five years studying fashion illustration design in Amsterdam, and at the age of twenty she embarked on a professional career as a fashion illustrator. In 1964, Marja moved to London, where she created fashion drawings for major stores in England and abroad, as well as for newspapers and magazines such as Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. She was also involved in the ballet — both as a dancer and as a costumer for various productions -- and she made clothes for a Plimlico boutique that catered to the likes of Marianne Faithful, Mick Jagger, Pete Townsend, and Brian Jones. (Faithful was often photographed during those years in a cape Marja designed for her.)

Marja Lee KruÿtWhile she was living in London, in a flat above Quentin Crisp's, Marja met her future husband, Alan Lee, a talented book illustrator. In 1975, the couple moved to a rural village at the edge of Dartmoor, sharing a house with their friend and fellow-artist, Brian Froud.

Brian Sanders described the house in 1977 (in the book The Land of Froud):  "From the outside the house is a modest Victorian cottage set back from the street in a tangled garden. From the moment that one crosses the threshold, guarded by a moss and lichen jewelled hand pointing skywards, from amid a welter of muddy wellington boots, a different land begins. Two families, the Lees and the Frouds, live here: the real Lee children side-by-side with Brian's family, the Troll King, his brother, and their mother. The mother has a hand in her back, and when Brian holds her they become one. The puppet fits to him and there is a deep affection between them: Brian the wizard surrounded by his animate creations, discussing them with a child who believes in them as much as he does. Walls, shelves and floors are crowded with books, toys, found objects and constructions. Ghosts, faeries and pictures of goblins abound." (It was during these years that Alan and Brian produced their now-classic art book, Faeries.)

Meanwhile, Marja continued to pursue her London-based illustration career until her children were born, but afterwards (like so many other women artists of her generation) her fashion work was set aside while she raised her children, and provided admin support for her husband's busy career. Yet even during those years focused on running a household, her creative powers did not lie dormant. She created costumes for local theatrical productions, and for figures sculpted by doll-artist Wendy Froud; she drew portraits, designed hats and clothes, and studied the Celtic harp...all while excelling in the area Grace Nuth has dubbed domythic art: bringing myth, magic, and romantism into every aspect of domestic life.

 Marja Lee Kruÿt

In 1998, her children grown, a new chapter in her life began when Marja returned to the studio. The work she produced was astonishing: drawings and paintings with a rich maturity of vision that had been quietly brewing over all those years, emerging like dreams, straight from the subconscious, each one a treasure of mythic art.

Marja Lee Kruÿt

"I've always been interested in dreams," she says. "And in myth, mysticism, and symbolism. Through the use of color, of line, of the symbolic nature of garments, objects, patterns, and flowers, I attempt to create pictures that work on many different levels: marrying our everyday reality with other planes of dream and intuition. Painting, to me, is soul work, healing work. It's a kind of meditation."

Marja Lee Kruyt

Her creative practice is a spiritual one, craft and technique in service to spiritual intent.

"I begin each picture with a ceremony," she explains, "opening myself to the picture's theme and asking to be given the symbols with which to represent that theme. It's important to stay wide open as I work, to let the images come through me, unforced, shapes and colors emerging intuitively. It's a slow, deep, painstaking process, and a single picture can take me several months -- working out the composition and colors by doing many drawings and watercolor sketches first. Each part of the picture must be right; each element has an individual meaning, yet must also be woven into the rest of the design. I often use Celtic patterns, for instance, which represent the way things weave together in life -- and the way that our lives in the here-and-now are woven with other dimensions of consciousness.

Marja Lee Kruÿt

 "Flowers, animals, stones -- all these pictorial elements must work as part of the painting's composition, but have symbolic meanings as well. The specific flow and movement of a garment, for instance, can represent different aspects of spiritual awareness. I draw upon Celtic symbols ... Eastern symbols ... Steiner colour theory ... Perelandra essences ... mandalas ... whatever the picture calls for. Watercolor is a fluid medium and I strive to work with, not against, the flow. That may sound airy-fairy but it's not, really; watercolor is a medium that requires technical precision too. In art, as in life, we must be grounded and free-flowing, intuitive, all at once. I suppose making pictures in this way, like any spiritual practice, is really all about balance."

Marja Lee Kruÿt

"My background in fashion illustration is probably evident in my paintings, as well as my love of music and harps. I also like painting children, representing that childlike part within each of us. And fairies. Living here on Dartmoor, fairies were bound to turn up in my pictures!

"I have always loved the Victorian 'fairy painters' and book illustrators, such as Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac, as well as the Pre-Raphaelites: William Morris, Burne-Jones, Rossetti. But the artists who have influenced me the most are Gustav Klimt, Sulamith Wülfing, and the Renaissance painters Sandro Botticelli and Benezzo Gozzoli -- particularly the angels. Wülfing's influence is probably the most apparent. I feel an affinity with her. She drew angels even as a little girl, often talking about her angels and guides, and was influenced by Krishnamurti, the White Brotherhood, and the Theosophical Society. She was a mystic, really, and expressed her mysticism through her art. There are things that we can portray through pictures and symbols that we can't convey as easily through words. Art can speak directly to the soul. Wülfing's best pictures do this -- as do some of the great religious pictures from the Renaissance.

Marja Lee Kruÿt

"I think art can be healing, moving, enlightening. It can also be puzzling, disturbing, or even upsetting...and sometimes that is necessary. It wakes you up. When you live with a picture, when you keep looking at it and taking it into yourself over a period of time, it can change you: moving you from one way of thinking to another, from one level of consciousness to the next. I like pictures that make you keep on looking, that reveal themselves and their meanings slowly. Art that keeps on giving you more, and a little more, every time you look."

Painting studio

Marja works from an exquisite painting studio at the back of a "secret garden," tucked away at the end of a path behind the old stone building where she lives. It is from here she does her "soul work," weaving painting and spiritual practices into a life lived on many levels at once. She creates magic on each one of those levels, and trails beauty behind wherever she goes.

Marja Lee Kruÿt

Marja at Kelmscott Manor

Photograph: Marja Lee Kruÿt at Kelmscott Manor (William Morris' country house in the Cotswolds), 2017. For a post about our trip up to Kelmscott, go here. For folklore of the harp, go here.

The paintings and drawings above are under copright by Marja Lee Kruyt, and may not be reproduced without her permission; all rights are reserved by the artist. The title of each artwork can be found in the picture captions. (Run your cursor over the images to see them.) The Brian Sanders quote is from The Land of Froud (Peacock Press/Bantam Books, 1977).


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Notebook sketch by Jackie Morrie

As many of you know, I spent much of 2018 - 2019 happily immersed in the Modern Fairies project, an arts and research initiative which brought folk musicians, artists, writers, folklorists and filmmakers together to create works exploring what Britian's folklore tradition means to us in the modern world. After twelve months of research and collaboration, the project ended with a concert and multi-media presentation at the Sage Theatre in Gateshead/Newcastle (Spring 2019), but my MF colleagues are continuing to develop this material in a number of interesting ways -- the most recent of which is Wrackline, a gorgeous, deeply magical new album by the distinguished folksinger, songwriter, and music scholar Fay Hield. (It comes out in September, but is available for pre-orders now.)

Moonstruck hare by Jackie MorrisIn the run-up to Wrackline's release next month, Fay is publishing posts highlighting the album's six folklore themes -- beginning with tales of witches (and other women) who cast themselves into the shapes of hares.

Above: A short video in which Fay introduces the concept of the new album.

Below: "Hare Spell," from Wrackline. As Fay explains:

"In exploring the mythical supernatural on the Modern Fairies project I became excited by the question of real magic and belief, and spent some time looking at magical acts themselves, rather than the stories about them. Inge Thomson and I chatted about the nature of spells and where the magic lay. Words are commonly seen to hold power, but as musicians, we wondered how we could draw this out through sound. We toyed with the relationship of music to language noticing that pitches are conveniently given letter names. That evening at the very first meeting of the Modern Fairies [at Oxford University, Summer 2018], we mused about how music could come out of the words themselves.

"I needed a spell, a real one that held magic. Jackie Morris gave me some words about a hare and a little digging showed that it comes from Isobel Gowdie, the wife of John Gilbert, likely a cottar in Auldearn, near Inverness. Isobel was tried in 1662 during the witchcraft trials and her confession gives a clear account, seemingly uncoerced, into her activities with the devil and visiting the king of the fairie. She includes several spells and chants used to conduct her own magic, including this spell to turn the utterer into a hare to do the devil’s work."

Photograph by Fay Hield

Below: "When She Comes," a second hare song which grew from a collaboration between Fay and poet Sarah Hesketh. Sarah writes:

"As I sat and listened to Fay transform her reading about Isobel Gowdie into song, I found myself really drawn into the story she was beginning to tell through the music. Here were two characters -- a woman and a hare -- with an incredibly strange and intimate relationship. Fay's song 'Hare Spell' was a glimpse into that relationship from Isobel's point of view; but what, I wondered, did the hare have to say about it all? How did he feel about having his body appropriated for her eldritch purposes? Was this a kind of hi-jacking or was there something more complex and consensual going on between the two of them? I wanted to explore the idea that the hare might be more than just a passive vessel for Isobel's adventures, and how it might feel for him to have to say goodbye as she decided to return to her own body."

The words are by Sarah and the music by Fay, with underlying chordal structures created by Ben Nicholls and Inge Thomson for Modern Fairies project, then further developed by Sam Sweeney and Rob Harbron for Wrackline. This is the Modern Fairies version, recorded at The Sage performance in April 2019. It was one my favourite songs from the show, bringing a lump to my throat every time I heard Fay sing it. (Sarah's exquisite lyrics  are here.) 

Three hares by Jackie Morris

There are more shape-shifiting hares to come: Fay, Inge, Sarah and I are working with the good folks of the Alternative Stories podcast to create an audio drama on the subject; we'll let you when the broadcast date is set. And keep an eye on Fay's blog in the weeks ahead if you'd like to know more about the other songs on Wrackline (including one based on my poem "The Night Journey," which is an honour indeed).

Selkie art by Natalie Reid

Another thread of work that emerged from the Modern Fairies project was inspired by selkie (seal people) lore -- including songs created by Lucy Farrell, Inge Thompson, Barney Morse-Brown and Fay, presented in the final Modern Fairies show with art by Natalie Reid

In the Autumn 2019, four of us from the project (Lucy, Fay, Barney, and me) reunited to present The Secrets of the Selkies: an evening of song and story at the Being Human Festival in Sheffield. During the week leading to festival, as the others ordered and rehearsed their music, my job as a writer/editor was to weave poems and monologues between the songs to join them into a common narrative, examining classic "selkie bride" folk tales from several characters' point of view. I don't know what the evening was like from the audience, but from the stage it felt like pure magic ... ending with choral singing of the selkie's call by everyone in the hall. 

Above: A screen projection produced by Lucy -- with Natalie's art, Lucy's music, and selkie encounters described by Inge (who grew up on Fair Isle) and others.

Below: A little video by Tim James capturing a collage of moments from The Secrets of the Selkies.

The Secrets of the Selkies - me  Fay  Lucy  and Barney

Art above: Hares by Jackie Morris, and a selkie by Natalie Reid.  The photograph of Fay's banjo is by Elly Lucas. All rights to the music and art above reserved by the musicians and artists.

To read previous posts on the Modern Fairies project, go here.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Gannets over St Kilda by Jill Harden (BBC)

The music today is from an extraordinary musical project: The Lost Songs of St Kilda.

The islands of St Kilda, at the westernmost edge of the Scottish Hebrides, were continuously inhabited for over two millenia until its last residents were officially evacuated in 1930. As Patrick Barkham writes in The Islander:

"St Kilda is the most famous island -- or islands -- in Britain. Hiort, as it is known in Gaelic, is an archipelago containing Hirta (in Gaelic, Hirte), Borerary (Boraraigh), Soay (Sòthaigh) and Dùn. It is the most peripheral of British isles, fifty miles west of the Outer Hebrides, a hundred miles from the Scottish mainland. Plenty of islands lost their people in the early 1900s, particularly the smaller islands of the Outer Hebrides -- Berneray, Mingulay, Sandray, Taransay, Scarp and Boreray -- but St Kilda has become the generic example of small-island extinction. A pinprick on any map, alone in the Atlantic, it is much more prominent in many mental cartographies, an object of obsession and longing -- 'as much a place of the imaginationas a physical reality', as Madeleine Bunting says in her tour of the Hebrides. St Kilda is Britain's only dual World Heritage site, protected for both its nature and its culture; and archaeologists, geologists, ecologists and historical anthropologists have poured over it, subjecting it to more than seven hundred books and scholarly articles. Its story is told and retold, polished and revised, mostly by outsiders like me, who wonder: Were the Hiortaich unique, or rather like us? And why, after so many generations of habitation, did they abandon the home they loved?"

Why, indeed. That's a question journalists and scholars have been asking since the evacuation, with complex and contradictory answers.

Inhabitants of St. Kilda

The Lost Songs of St Kilda is a collection of traditional tunes from the islands -- all of which would have been lost forever were it not for Trevor Morrison, who had learned them from his piano teacher, a St Kilda evacuee. Morrison made a home-recording of the songs, and after his death, in 2012, the recording eventually found its way to the offices of Decca Records. Decca then asked Sir James Macmillan and other Scottish composers to develop the St Kildan tunes, aided by the Scottish Festival Orchestral and additional musicians (including Julie Fowlis, from North Uist). The result is this very beautiful album: a tribute to a lost musical tradition and a vanished way of life.

Women & girls of St Kilda

Above, a short video about the project.

Below, the returning of the Lost Songs, after all these years, to the place where they were born.

Above, "Soay," a tune named after one of the smaller islands of St Kilda. The name is derived from Seyðoy, meaning the Island of the Sheep in Old Norse. The piece is performed by composer Sir James Macmillan on Hirta, the largest of the islands. (If you live in an area where this video won't play, you can access an audio-only version of the song here.)

Below, "Hirta," with film footage from the 1920s, and contemporary photographs. There are several theories about the orgins of the island's name, including its possible derivation from Hirt, the Norse word for shepherd, or from h-Iar-Tìr, a Scots Gaelic word meaning "westland." (An audio-only version of the song is here.)

To learn more about the Lost Songs project, go here.

I also recommend Hirta Songs (2014), a fine album of music by Aladsair Roberts and poetry by Robin Robertson. The piece below is "The Leaving of St Kilda."

And one more recommendation: Night Waking (2011), a novel by Sarah Moss that was partially inspired by St. Kilda's history. The story takes place on a fictional Scottish island, split between contemporary and Victorian narratives: darkly comic and mysterious by turns. It's the first in a sequence of interconnected novels, followed by Bodies of Light (set in Victorian Manchester and London) and Signs for Lost Children (set in Cornwall and Japan). I personally think Moss is one of the best writers working in Britain today.

Children of St Kilda

St Kilda islanders


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Dawn chorus

At a time when the daily news is so discordant, I find myself turning to voices in harmony to remind me that's there is also so much good in people, joining together to make the kind of beauty that no one voice can make alone. The videos today come from the long-running Tiny Desk Concert series, recorded in the office of National Public Radio in Washington DC (prior to the pandemic).

Above: Three songs by the American bluegrass & roots trio I'm With Her (Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O'Donovan). The songs are "See You Around," "Game to Lose" and "Overland."

Below: Three songs by the American folk quartet Darlingside (Don Mitchell, Auyon Mukharji, Harris Paseltiner, and David Senft). The songs are "The God of Loss," "The Best of the Best of Times," and "Extralife."

Below: Four songs by the Soweto Gospel Choir (formed by David Mulovhedzi and Beverly Bryer), who sing in a mix of South African languages and English. The songs are "Seteng Sediba," "Emarabeni," "Emlanjeni/Yelele" and "Kae le Kae."

"Our songs travel the earth. We sing to one another. Not a single note is ever lost and no song is original. They all come from the same place and go back to a time when only the stones howled."  - Louise Erdrich (The Master Butchers Singing Club)

Bird song


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Wild geese in flight

On a quiet summer morning in Devon, as birdsong fills the woodland behind my studio, here is music in appreciation of our winged neighbours everywhere....

Above:  "The Lark Ascending" by English composer Ralph Vaughn Williams (1872-1958), performed by violinist Hilary Hahn with Camerata Salzburg at the George Enescu Festival, 2013. Williams' composition was inspired by George Meredith's poem of the same name.

Below: "The Wild Dove, Opus 110," by Czech composer Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904), performed by the Symfonieorkest Vlaanderen in Belgium in 2012. (The video will direct you over to YouTube to hear this one.)

Above: "The Blackbird," a short piece for flute and piano by French composer Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992), performed by Kenneth Smith on flute and Matthew Schellhorn on piano. Messiaen was a passionate ornithologist as well as a musician, and spent a great deal of time in the wild studying birdsong.

Below: "Cantus Arcticus, Op.61" by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928-2016), performed by the Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra. In this piece, the conventional instrumental soloist is replace with taped birdsong from Arctic Finland.

Above: "Bird Concerto with Pianosong" by British composer Jonathan Harvey (1939-2012), performed by Ensemble X, at Cornell University in upstate New York, 2018.

Below: "songbirdsongs, movement 5, morning dove" by American composer John Luther Adams, performed by Sandbox Percussion on marimba, with Jessica Sindell, Martha Aarons, Zack Patten, and John Luther Adams on ocarinas, at the Tippet Rise Art Center in Montana, 2018.

And one more to end with, above: "The Gannets" by Scottish composers Inge Thomson and Jenny Sturgeon, from their gorgeous album, Northern Flyway (2014), exploring the ecology, folklore, symbolism and mythology of birds in the northern isles of Scotland.

Gannets over the Shetlands


Tunes for a Monday Morning

The Seal Children by Jackie Morris

Above: "Faoiseamh a Gheobhadsa" performed by Zoë Conway and John Mc Intyre, a husband-and-wife folk duo from Ireland. The song appeared on their second album, Allt (2018).

Below:  "Tàladh Dhòmhnaill Ghuirm" performed by Julie Fowlis (Scotland),  Pádraig Rynne (Ireland), Aoife Ní Bhríain (Ireland), and Kris Drever (Scotland) at the Sugar Club, Dublin, in 2016. The video was filmed by John Gray and Annie Baylis.

Above: "Fill a Bhruinneall" sung by Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh (Ireland),  Julie Fowlis (Scotland), and Aodán Ó Ceallaigh (Ireland) for the Port television programme, BBC Alba. The song is followed by a strathspey and two reels performed with Liz Doherty, Duncan Chisholm, Bruce MacGregor,  Mike Vass, and Mhairi Hall.

Below: "Blackwaterside," a traditional Irish song (in English) performed by Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, from her new album Thar Toinn/Seabourne (2o2o)

Above: "Fear a Bhata (The Boatman)" sung by Irish singer and banjo player Alison Helzer. The song appeared on her debut album, Carolan's Welcome (2010).

Below: "Lament for Lost Friends" by Alex Cumming & Nicola Beazley, a folk duo from Somerset and Rochdale, England. The song appeared on their debut album Across the Water (2016).

Selkie Swimming by Jackie Morris

The beautiful art today is from The Seal Children by Jackie Morris.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

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Because the 4th of July has just passed, today's music is all from America -- the beautiful, troubled, complicated country I was born and raised in. Rebecca Solnit writes: "For anything you can say about the United States, you can also say the opposite: we're rootless except we're also the Hopi, who haven't moved in several centuries; we're violent except we're also the Franciscans nonviolently resisting nucelar weapons out here; we're consumers except the West is studded with visionary environmentalists." It's a land of extremes, but also of every possible gradient on the lines in between.

For me, the salient fact about America is its enormous diversity. The music today represents just some of the many, many musical traditions expressing the energy, poignancy, spiritual depth and complexity of American culture. It's a country I love and despair of in equal measure, yet I'm glad that it's where I am from.

Above: "The March" by the country band The Chicks (formerly known as The Dixie Chicks), from their new album Gaslighting. Many thanks to Lunar Hine for recommending this one.

Below: "Motel in Memphis" by the American roots band Old Crow Medicine Show. The song appeared on their album Tennessee Pusher in 2008, but the video was released last month in support of Black Lives Matter.

Above: "Build a House" by singer/songwriter and bluegrass banjo player Rhiannon Giddens, accompanied by cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Both musicians are national treasures. The video was released last month in honor of the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth.

Below: "Peze Cafe" by Leyla McCalla, a Haitian-American musician based in New Orleans who sings in French, Haitian Creole, and English -- reminding us that America has been a land of many different languages since its beginnings. The song is from McCalla's fine album A Day for the Hunter, a Day for the Prey (2016). She also appears on Songs of Our Native Daughters, a fabulous collaboration between four Black women banjo players: McCalla, Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, and Allison Russell. 

Above: "Rivermouth" by Rising Appalachia (Leah and Chloe Smith), based in the southern Appalachian region and Louisiana, mixing the musical traditions of both regions. The sisters are activists as well as musicians, working with Mississippi River, Gulf, and Klamath water protectors and other Waterkeepers around the world to preserve drinkable, fishable, swimmable water for everyone, everywhere. The song is from their sixth album, Wider Circles (2015).

Above: "Aqui No Será" by the Latin hip-hop/salsa/funk/jazz fusion band Ozomatli, based in Los Angeles, with Tylana Enomoto and Chali 2na. Ozomotli guitarist Raúl Pacheco says: "This is a song I heard on a mix tape in college titled Chicano Power, written by Enrique Ramirez. It contained not only Chicano anthem songs, but other songs from different regions about political struggle throughout the Americas."

Above: "Love Letters to God" by Nahko Bear (a musician of Apache, Mowhawk, Filipino, Puerto Rican heritage) with his band, Medicine for the People. The song appeared on Hoka (2016). The video was filmed in support of the water protectors at Standing Rock in the Dakotas. 

Below: "One World (We Are the One)," a collaboration between IllumiNative and Mag 7 intended "to show the richness, diversity, and beauty of Indian Country." IllumiNative is a Native-led initiative challenging Native stereotypes in popular culture, and encouraging authentic portrayals of Native communities. Mag 7 is a collective of seven MCs and songwriters from different indigenous nations: Drezus (Plains Cree), Supaman (Crow), PJ Vegas (Shoshone/Yaqui), Kahara Hodges (Navajo), Doc Native (Seminole), Spencer Battiest (Seminole), and Emcee One (Osage/Potawatomi).

Above: "Love Will Find a Way" by the wonderful musician and activist Michael Franti, with his band Spearhead. The video was directed and produced by Franti, and released in November, 2016. He says: "Diversity needs you. Equality needs you. Justice needs you. Love needs you."

Below: "Rise Up" by R&B singer/songwriter Andra Day, from her first album Cheers to the Fall (2015).  Day writes: "All we need is hope, and for that we have each other." 

''When I dare to be powerful," said poet and activist Audre Lorde, "to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.''

Women's suffrage leaders 1920


Tunes for a Monday Morning

The Joyous Twilight by Catherine Hyde

I'm completely addicted to Huam, the latest album from Salt House -- a Scottish folk trio consisting of Ewan MacPherson, Lauren MacColl, and Jenny Sturgeon. Ewan was one of my colleagues on the Modern Fairies project, but I'd loved Salt House (and his other band, Shooglenifty) long before meeting him. The last Salt House album, Undersong, is another one I listen to over and over, and I highly recommend seeking both of them out. "Huam," by the way, is a Scottish word for the call of an owl. 

Above: "Mountain of Gold" from Huam, with a video filmed by Alex Bowman.

Below: "Fire Light" from Huam. The song is based on a poem by the great Scottish nature writer Nan Shepherd.

Above: "Lord Ullin's Daughter" from Huam, based on a poem by Thomas Campbell (1777 - 1844).

Below:  "Hope is the Thing With Feathers" from Huam, based on a poem by Emily Dickinson (1830-1886).

Above: "Union of Crows" from Huam, written by Ewan McPherson.

Below: "All Shall Be Still" from Huam, written by Ewan McPherson.

To end with, two of my favourites from Undersong. The album was recorded in an old Telford church on the Isle of Berneray in the Outer Hebrides.

Above: "Charmer," written by Jenny Sturgeon, inspired by "Now Westlin' Winds" by Robert Burns (1759-1796).

Below: "Staring at Stars," written by Ewan MacPherson.

The paintings today are by Catherine Hyde, based in Cornwall. Please visit the artist's website to see more of her beautiful work.

The Spaces Between Words by Catherine Hyde