Tunes for a Monday Morning

PPiKG 3b

While I've been out of the studio over the last two weeks (due to medical issues again), autumn has come to the hills of Devon and painted the hills in rust and gold. The songs I've chosen today are old favourites evoking the turn of the season: the blackberries in the hedgerows, the leaves underfoot, the coziness of a fire as the nights draw in. As I look out the window, the distant slope of the open moor is covered in mist. Fall leafTilly snores beside me, subdued like the weather, and in the stillness and quiet a new work week begins.....

Above: "Blackberry Lane" by  Emily Mae Winters, who was born in England, raised in Ireland, and is now based in London. The song was performed for the Oak Sessions in the autumn of 2016. It appeared on her album Siren Serenade the following year.

Below: John Denver's "Take Me Home Country Roads" sung by the American vocal trio Mountain Man (Molly Erin Sarle, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, and Amelia Randall Meath). The video was filmed for a "Live from the Garden" performance last year.

Above: "Everything Changes" by Rachel Sermanni, from the Highlands of Scotland. The song can be found on her EP Everything Changes (2014).

Below: "Stags Bellow" by Martha Tilston, from Cornwall. The song appeared on her album Machines of Love and Grace (2012).

Above: "Westlin Winds" (with lyrics by Robert Burns) performed by Ben Walker and Kirsty Merryn. I count this song as an "old favourite" because I've long been fond of the classic version by Dick Gaughin (1981) -- but this new rendition, from Walker & Merryn's EP Life and the Land (2021), is also a beauty. 

Below: "Shelter" by Olivia Chaney, who was born in Florence and raised in Oxfordshire. The song appeared on her beautiful album Shelter (2018), and the video was filmed in her family cottage on the North York Moors. This song and the two that follow celebrate the fires that keep us warm through the cold of the year. Here in Devon it's almost cold enough to light the old stove in our own kitchen hearth, which will then stay burning until the spring, the small glowing heart of our house.

Above: "Fire Light" by the Scottish folk trio Salt House (Jenny Sturgen, Ewan McPherson, and Lauren MacColl), recorded remotely (due to Covid restrictions) in Shetland and Inverness-shire last year. The song can be found on their gorgeous third album Huam (2020). With apologies to all the other good folk bands out there, Salt House is my hands-down favourite. (The song-writing! The musicianship! The harmonies!) They've got a new EP coming out in December (on my birthday, serendipitously enough), available for pre-order here from the fabulous Hudson Records.

Below: "Mountain of Gold" by Salt House, also from Huam. This one is more wintery than autumnal, a taste of the cold months approaching. 

Autumn color

The art above is by Arthur Rackham (1867-1939).


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Digital Art by Christian Schloe

I woke up to a choir of late-summer birdsong this morning, so here's a collection of "bird songs" to start the week.

Above: "The Eagle" by Scottish musicians Jenny Sturgeon and Inge Thomson, from their collaborative stage show and album Northern Flyway (2014): an audio-visual production exploring the ecology, folklore, symbolism and mythology of birds. The music "draws on the field recordings of birdsong expert Magnus Robb, on Sturgeon͛'s background as a bird biologist, and on Thomson͛s home turf of Fair Isle, Shetland." It's a gorgeous album.

Below: "Union of Crows" by Salt House (Jenny Sturgeon, Lauren MacColl, Ewan MacPherson), based in Scotland. The song, written by Ewan, appears on the band's latest album, Huam (2020), which is highly recommended. Huam is a Scottish word meaning "the moan of an owl in the warm days of summer."

Above: "Jenny Wren" by singer, songwriter and folk music scholar Fay Hield (co-creator of the Modern Fairies project), performed with Sam Sweeney, Rob Habron, and Ben Nicholls. This is an original song rooted in the folk tradition, drawing on the "problematic pregnancy" theme in British balladry. Fay discusses this theme and the process of writing "Jenny Wren" here. The song appears on her deeply magical album Wrackline (2020), also highly recommended.

Below: "The Magpie," a song compiled from magpie superstitions and rhymes, performed by The Unthanks (Rachel and Becky Unthank), from Northumbria. The song appeared on their album Mount the Air (2015), and is performed here that same year.

Above: Sydney Carter's "The Crow on the Cradle," performed by the English vocal harmony trio Lady Maisery (Hannah James, Hazel Askew, Rowan Rheingans). The song appeared on their second album, Mayday (2013).

Below: "Little Sparrow" by Leyla McCalla, an American classical, folk, and Delta blues musician of Haitian heritage. The song appears on her fine solo album A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey (2016).

Above: "Cuckoo," a traditional British ballad performed by The Rheingans Sisters (Rowan and Anna Rheingans), from the Peak District. The song appeared on their second album Already Home (2019).

Below: "Cuckoo" is also part of the North American song tradition. This variant of the ballad is performed by Rising Appalachia (sisters Leah Song and Chloe Smith), who draw inspiration from the folk, bluegrass, and blues of their native Georgia and the vibrantly multi-cultural music traditions of New Orleans.

From dawn to dusk, two final "bird songs" to end with:

Above: "Waiting for the Lark," a traditional song performed by folksinger and fiddle player Jackie Oates, from Staffordshire. The song appeared on her fifth solo album, Lullabies (2013).

Below: "Nest," written by Canadian folk, bluegrass, and blues musician Ruth Moody. The song appeared on her first solo album The Garden (2010).

...up in these wild skies...we'll greet the moonrise...when the day is spent....

Digital art by Christian Schloe

The digital collages above are by Christian Schloe; all rights rserved by the artist. To see more of Schloe's work, go here.

For a post on the  folklore of birds, go here.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Sheep on Dartmoor near the Scorhill stone circle

This week, Nordic music old and new....

Above: "Hathaway's Cavalier" by the Danish folk band Basco (Andreas Tophøj, Hal Parfitt-Murray, Anders Ringgaard Andersen, Ale Carr). The song is an old favourite from their album Big Basco (2012).

Below: "Litti Kirsti" by Basco, with Jullie Hjetland. The performance was filmed in Copenhagen in 2016.

Above: "Fjellvåk" performed by The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc (Olav Luksengård Mjelva from Norway​, Anders Hall​ from Sweden, Kevin Henderson from the Shetland Islands). The tune -- written by John Ole Morken, Annlaug Børsheim and Olav L. Mjelva -- appeared on their early album The Nordic Block (2011). The film was made in 2016.

Below: "Dravbakken," a Norwegian tune performed by The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc earlier this year. The song appears on their latest album, Bonfrost (2020). 

Above: "Æ Rømeser" performed by The Danish String Quartet (Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen, Frederik Øland, Asbjørn Nørgaard, Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin). The song appeared on their fourth album, Last Leaf (2017).

Below: "Pentamime" performed by the Danish/Swedish trio Dreamers' Circus (Nikolaj Busk, Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen, Ale Carr) in Copenhagen in 2019. The song, written by Busk, appears on their most recent album, Blue White Gold (2020).


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Selkie by Jackie Morris

Above: "Teif on da Lum" by fiddler and composer Vicky Gray, from the Shetland Islands. The song appears on her debut EP, Atlaness (2021). The video is by Shetland film-maker JJ Jamieson.

Below: "The Grey Selkie of Sule Skerry" (Child Ballad 113), a traditional song of the Orkney and Shetland islands, performed by singer/songwriter Maz O'Conner. The video of seals is not by O'Connor but underscores the song beautifully, filmed by divers off the coast of Coll in the Inner Hebrides, and the Farne Islands of Northumberland. The song itself can be found on O'Conner's second album, This Willowed Light (2014). For previous selkie posts, go here.

Above: "Selkie-boy" by Julie Fowlis, from the Outer Hebrides, based on the words of Robert Macfarlane, the art of Jackie Morris, and the lore of selkies. The piece was created for The Lost Words: Spell Songs (2019), a glorious album and concert series that turned the "spells" found in Jackie & Robert's beautiful book The Lost Words into equally beautiful music. The video was filmed near Jackie's home on the coast of Wales, where she inked the verses of "Selkie-boy" onto stone as a gift to the sea. “When we went in search of seals for the film it was almost as if they knew," she says. "There were many seals in a cave where usually there were only a few. The water was crystal clear, so we could watch them move under water. They seemed almost to welcome us, just sitting beneath the skin of the sea and yes, beckoning us down, to where we belonged. And the colour of the water, the light on it, was a deep green.”

Below: "The Arms of the Ocean" by Gaelic singer/songwriter Rachel Walker, with Alec Dalglish (from Skerryvore). The song was released as a single in 2017. Walker's most recent solo album is Gael (2020), and it's a beauty.

Above: "Charmer" by Salt House (Jenny Sturgeon, Lauren MacColl, Ewan MacPherson), a trio based in Scotland whose music I listen to constantly.  This one is from their gorgeous second album Undersong (2018). The album was made and the video filmed on the Hebridean island of Berensay.

Below: "Caim Chaluim Chille chaoimh (The encompassing of Columba the kindly)" by Julie Fowlis, Éamon Doorley, Zoë Conway, and John McIntyre. The piece "is based on a text from Alexander Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica, a multi-volume collection of Gaelic prayers, incantations, charms and songs collected in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland over one hundred years ago. The musicians have also woven into the text some words from a blessing from the Middle-Irish period. Their composition bridges the Sea of Moyle and generations of tradition in a contemporary and layered arrangement using voices, guitar, bouzouki, violin and oboe to commemorate the remarkable Columba -- a man who left an indelible mark on the life, literature and landscape of both Ireland and Scotland. In the video they have made to accompany their composition, the four musicians and singers have invited artist Ellis O’Connor to respond in paint, inspired by the music they have created."

For a previous post on Columba and other "peregrini" of the northern islands go here.

From ''The Seal Children'' by Jackie Morris

The art today is from The Seal Children by Jackie Morris (Frances Lincoln Children's Books, 2005, & Otter-Barry Books, revised edition, 2016), which I highly recommend. And speaking of seal and selkie tales, there's been a discussion on Twitter recently on just how good Margo Lanagan's selkie novel The Brides of Rollrock Island is. 


Tunes for a Monday Morning

My Shanty by George O'Keeffe

Yesterday was the 4th of July (Independence Day) in America, so the tunes I've chosen are all from that beautiful, complex, and music-filled country.

Above: "Wayfaring Stranger," an American folk and Gospel classic, performed by the MacArthur-Award-winning musician and music historian Rhiannon Giddens. Giddens comes from North Carolina (where she was a founding member of the bluegrass/roots band Carolina Chocolate Drops), and now works internationally in a number of musical genres. In this performance she's accompanied by Scottish musician Phil Cunningham, filmed in Northern Ireland in 2017.

Below: "Black is the Color," a song found in the North American folk tradition as well as in the British Isles. (We listened to an Irish version here two weeks ago.) Giddens recorded it for first solo album, Tomorrow is My Turn (2015), backed up by her colleagues from Carolina Chocolate Drops and others.

Above: John Hiatt's "Crossing Muddy Water" performed by I'm With Her (Sara Watkins, Aoife O'Donovan, Sarah Jarosz) at the Greyfox Bluegrass Festival in 2019. The trio has released one album so far (See You Around, 2018), but each member has several fine solo albums and recordings with Nickel Creek (Sara Watkins) and Crooked Still (Aoife O'Donovan).

Below: "Boll Weevil," an old Delta blues song performed by singer, fiddler, and banjo player Jake Blount (from Rhode Island), whose work explores the roots of Black and indigenous stringband music. The song appears on Blount's first album, Spider Tales (2020). 

Above: "Send Brighter Days" performed by the great American blues guitarist Eric Bibb (from New York City) -- accompanied by his wife, Ulrika Bibb, at their home in Sweden during the pandemic last summer. The song, with its roots in the American Spiritual tradition, was written by Eric Bibb and Malian griot Habib Koité.

Below: "The Roving Cowboy/Avarguli (阿瓦尔古丽)" performed by composer and musician Wu Fei (from Beijing) and clawhammer banjo master Abigail Washburn (based in Nashville). The song appears on their collaborative album Wu Fei & Abigail Washburn (2020), which merges American old-time music with Chinese folksong to demonstrate the connective power of music across disparate cultures. It's simply stunning.

Above: "There Used To Be Horses" by singer/songwriter Amy Speace (based in Nashville). The song is from her new album of the same name, released earlier this year. 

After that heartbreaker, let's end with: "New Star" by Watchhouse (Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz), a folk/roots duo formerly known as Mandolin Orange. It's from their new album of the same name, due out in August.

Happy Birthday, America.

The painting above is "My Shanty (Lake George)" is by Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986). Although she's now best known for her iconic paintings of New Mexico in the American south-west, O'Keeffe also spent part of each year back east with her husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz, who had an apartment in New York City and a country retreat by Lake George in the Adirondaks. I recommend the updated edition of Georgia O'Keeffe: A Life by Roxana Robinson if you'd like to know more about this remarkable woman.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

St Kevin and the Blackbird by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Above: "Là Luain/The Day That Never Comes" by Rachel Walker (from Skippinish), a singer/songwriter based in the Scottish Highlands. Walker collaborated with Gaelic poet Marcas Mac An Tuairneir on the lyrics, and James Graham provides additional vocals. (Full music and animation credits can be found at the end of the video.) The song appears on her most recent solo album, Gaol (2020), which is a beauty.

Below: "Tìr is Sàl/Land and Sea," another songwriting collaboration between Walker and Mac An Tuairneir. It's a Gaelic waulking song, she explains, "about the ties we have to the land and the way working the land is often a love passed from generation to generation." Walker is accompanied by Aaron Jones (of Old Blind Dogs), filmed in Glasgow last autumn.

Above: "Streets of Forbes," an Australian folk song performed by Varo (Lucie Azconaga and Consuelo Nerea Breschi), a French/Italian duo based in Dublin. The song appears on their first album, Varo (2020), which displays a range of influences from Irish and world folk to medieval, baroque, and classical music. It's gorgeous.

Below: "Sovay," a traditional British folk song, also known as "The Female Highwayman." This one, too, can be found on the duo's debut album.

Above: "Three Ravens" (Child Ballad #26), performed by Hannah James & Toby Kuhn. James, an accomplished English folk musician and dancer, has performed with Lady Maisery, Maddy Prior, Songs of Separation and many others in addition to her solo work. Kuhn, a wandering cellist from Burgandy, has performed with Bipolar Bows, The Wild String Trio, Old Salt and Zamee, among others. The video above was recorded in Gent, Belgium in 2020. 

Below: "The Vine Dance," with music by Toby Kuhn and dancing by Hannah James. It is, they explain, "an original tune written in the Turkish spring under a bougainvillea and recorded in the Slovenian autumn under an apple tree" (2021).

One more, to end with....

Below: "Oblique Jig and Miss Heidi Hendy" by the Anglo/French folk-dance band Topette!! (Andy Cutting, James Delarre, Julien Cartonnet, Tania Buisse, and Barnaby Stradling). The song appeared on their second album, Rhododendron (2019); the video was filmed at the Sidmouth Folk Festival that same year, pre-pandemic. (A limited version of the festival is returning this summer, provided no further lockdowns occur.)

The imagery today is by two artists whose work I love beyond measure: "St Kevin and the Blackbird" by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, based in Wales; and "We Are Bird" by Rima Staines, based here on Dartmoor. 

We Are a Bird by Rima Staines