Saturday, May 27, 2017

Songs of Hope: Let the Light In

As the lines of history unfold, there are days when it seems -- and is-- very dark. Music however can be a way to uplift, to connect, to let the light in, to help each other along the way. Two such songs are

Love Is on Our Side, seen here in a vintage clip from the television show Texas Connection. Tish Hinojosa continues to write and sing eloquently of many things. This song, which you may find on her album Homeland, speaks to timeless ideas of connection, hope, and struggle.

Carrie Newcomer is always looking, she says, “to find the sacred in the ordinary, the everyday.” That comes through in this song, which is is called A Shovel Is A Prayer. In it she uses familiar images and ideas to speak of reflection, gratitude, and hope. It is recorded on her album The Beautiful Not Yet.

In both of these songs, there’s full recognition that following the ways of hope, trust, and connection is often neither easy nor obvious. It takes courage; it requires reflection. Music such as Tish Hinojosa and Carrie Newcomer have created her, and continue to create, makes a thoughful companion for the journey.

You may also wish to see
Songs of Hope, Gracias a la Vida part of a series here at Music Road
Music of Resilience, part of series I am writing at Wandering Educators
Tish Hinojosa: Our Little Planet
Music and Mystery: Conversation with Carrie Newcomer continues

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Songs of Hope, Gracias a La Vida

At times silence and reflection are ways to consider deep change -- although I agree that things have been a bit too silent here at Music Road of late. I hope you have been enjoying perusing the ten years of archives, though -- I have been pointing some of those stories out to you over on Twitter. I am there as @kerrydexter if you care to follow.

Music is a good companion for such times. Not so much in the sense of protest songs -- though they have their place, anger only gets you so far, and it's not sustaining for good choices in the long run, either. Compassion, friendship, reflection, good questions, faith, community -- thos things help with hard times and sustaining hope and focus.

There will be much more music to come here along the music road. I invite you to stay tuned, and in the meantime take a listen to Tish Hinojosa and Joan Baez singing Gracias a la Vida -- Thanks to Life.

Baez has recorded the song on her album Gracias a La Vida

An album from Hinojosa you may like is

You may also wish to see a few other things I have been writing on related subjects
at Wandering Educators Music of Resilience
at Perceptive Travel Crossing Borders in Music
at Wandering Educators Songs of Friendship
here at Music Road Songs of Hope part one

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Music in times of change

In the midst of change and uncertainty, it’s often a good idea to take time for contemplation and reflection, time to find interior silence -- even when there may not be much in exterior circumstances to encourage that.

Music is a good gateway to silence. That can seem a paradox, but recall that creating music is as much about the notes as the space between them. It has been said that a painter paints on canvas, and a musician paints on silence.

With those ideas in mind, take a listen to these four pieces of music.

At times music without words -- tunes, in the Celtic music world -- invite this sort of reflection. Fiddle player and composer Hanneke Cassel draws on the traditions of Scotland and Cape Breton with hints of bluegrass, Americana, and occasional inflections to other places her travels have taken her. Take a listen to the Gretl in the Garden set, which you may find recorded on her album Trip to Walden Pond.

Songwriter Carrie Newcomer often looks to intersections of faith and the everyday to frame her stories. Hers is a clear eyed faith and a clear hearted look at living both in the moment and seeing threads of connection, grace, and spirit that pull through, now and then laced with humor too. In this song, Newcomer reminds that in times of uncertainty it is often wise to, as she says in the title of her song, Lean In Toward the Light. The song is recorded on her album The Beautiful Not Yet.

Music can be a gift of hope, whatever the circumstance. Cara Dillon knows this. Dillon comes from Northern Ireland and loves to perform and record music from the folk traditions of Ireland and Scotland. She recognizes ideas that connect across time and oceans, too. This song, Bright Morning Stars Arising, has engaged Dillon’s audiences from Ireland to Scotland to China. You may find it on her album A Thousand Hearts.

The members of the band Capercaillie have taken their music to Africa, the middle east, North America, and other points across the globe. Their base, and the heart of their music, is in their home in Scotland, however. You will hear references to Scotland in this song -- the poetry of Sorely Maclean, for instance. It is a piece that invites more than one listen for both melody and words, though, and connects with ideas of contemplation, reflection, and trust whatever place you may call home. Karen Matheson sings lead. The song and the album where you will find it are both called At the Heart of It All.

You may also wish to see
Gaelic, family, story: Karen Matheson
more about Cara Dillon’s album A Thousand Hearts
Music, silence, and spiritual journey
Music and mystery: conversation with Carroe Newcomer

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Monday, March 13, 2017

Songs of Hope 4

Friendship. In these times when the political and social world seems to be tilting in ways unexpected, keeping the light of friendship and encouragement burning with people you know and trust is a subject upon which to reflect, and reflect again.

Kathy Mattea has said that she likes to find songs which keep teaching her lessons, and that she has found that this one does. Not the most cheerful way to suggest that you think about friendship, perhaps, but it is a place to begin. Mattea has recorded the song on her album Lonesome Standard Time. Bill Cooley, who plays with Mattea in this video, has a n excellent album of guitar music out called In Search of Home.

Carrie Newcomer says that she was thinking about all the times someone has encouraged her when she was in a hard place when she wrote the song You Can Do This Hard Thing. As she often does when writing songs, poems, or essays, Newcomer draws on her personal experiences to make her points. From them she creates ideas and images that become universal. Newcomer has recorded the song on her album The Beautiful Not Yet.

As she makes her life as a professional musician, Cathie Ryan well knows about leave taking, and about trusting that you will see friends again and you will keep in touch with each other though time and distance may separate you. She often chooses this song, So Here’s to You, to bring her live performances to a close -- well, almost.

As she does in this clip from a show at the Great Lakes Folk Festival, she often pairs it with the witty song Johnny Be Fair and a set of reels and jigs to send her listeners home in a light hearted manner. That’s also an act of friendship shared from performer to audience. Ryan has recorded So Here’s to You on her album Somewhere Along the Road. You’ll find Johnny Be Fair and the tune set on her recording Through Wind and Rain.

You’ll enjoy other music from these artists as well. Here are stories I’ve written about some of that
Cathie Ryan: Through Wind and Rain
Kathy Mattea: Calling Me Home
Music & Mystery: Conversation with Carrie Newcomer Continues
This story is part of a series on music for these times. Here's another in the series Songs of Hope 3

Fire photograph by Kerry Dexter. Thank you for respecting copyright.

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Songs of Hope 3

As we make our way through public and private conversation about immigration, environmental stewardship, and political change, there’s is music. Music to help with mulling these things over, to hearing these concerns as other generations have wrestled with them, to hear them as poets and musicians work with them. Continuing the series I’ve begun of songs of hope, here is a song that speaks to the troubles of race, one that considers, albeit a bit obliquely, environmental change, another that reframes the idea of refugees, and one that offers connection and friendship over the long haul struggle.

Give a listen to these; take your time with them. Go look up the albums on which they are recorded, too, and other work by these thoughtful artists, each of whom I’ve written about here at Music Road and elsewhere in my work. To borrow a line from one of Carrie Newcomer’s lyrics -- she is another artist whose work you should know -- “Light every candle that you can, we need some light to see...”

In her song Detroit Was Burning, Cathie Ryan moves from a child’s eye view to an adult’s reflection and remembrance of the riots in that Michigan city after mart Luther KIng was shot. She has recorded it on her album called Cathie Ryan.

Eddi Reader took a fragment of a Robert Burns song and made it into a story that is both a love song and a lament. Listen to that line about “they’re turning out all of the stars...” and others... This performance of the song Leezie Lindsay was recorded at the Celtic Connections Festival several years ago, and Emily Smith joins in on harmonies. The song is most readily available on the recent retrospective album Best of Eddi Reader.

Though you could call it a Christmas song -- Gretchen Peters has recorded on her Christmas album Northern Lights, after all -- the song Waitin’ on Mary has thought provoking words and images to offer about refugees. These resonate across seasons.

In this time of almost unending news that is awful, or at least difficult and challenging, it is wise to remember that it is a long road and many of us are walking it together. Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem offer a bit of hope and connection and wise words for the road with their song Shine On. It is recorded on their album Big Old Life.

You may also wish to see
Eddi Reader sings more of the songs of Robert Burns
Some Bright Morning from Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem
Songs of Hope continued
Winter meditation

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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Late Winter, Christmas, and Music

Late winter, leading up to Christmas, is a time that calls to flurries of activity and travel, preparation and celebration, even as it calls equally to reflection and quiet. Music, specifically of the season and otherwise, is always a good companion and a fine gateway to all these things. For a moment in the midst of hurry or for a longer time in the silence of night and morning, let the work of these musicians be you companion and guide.

Allow this music to renew your hope and peace and joy...

Wintersong, from New England based quartet Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem offers joy, sadness, reflection, exuberance, and good questions. All of this is framed in great harmony, fine lead singing, and top class playing on fiddle, bass, guitar, and percussion. There’s a lively treatment of Jesse Winchester’s Let’s Make a Baby King, a gospel infused spiritual from the African American tradition with Children Go Where I Send Thee. Christmas Bells finds guitarist Anand Nayak setting Longfellow’s words to a new, reflective melody. The four (Arbo on fiddle, Scott Kessel on percussion, Andrew Kinsey on bass, and Nayak on guitar; they all sing) interweave voices on a song Kinsey grew up with called Julian of Norwich. Arbo’s haunting lead well suits her original music framing words by Alfred Lord Tennyson in Ring Out Wild Bells. There’s a lifting of hope in the closing song, Singing in the Land. That’s just a hint of the music, which will make a fine companion for winter’s celebrations and questions.

The title of Heidi Talbot’s newest recording, Here We Go 1,2,3 suggests change. That is an idea that pulls through the songs, the ones she writes, and the ones she chooses from contemporary writers and from traditional sources. Talbot is Irish, living now in Scotland and married to fiddle player and composer John McCusker, who worked with her to produce this project. They’ve created a musical journey that references tradition and yet is contemporary. A clear eyed facing of shifting ground and a thread of resilience to learn from whatever comes are threads that pull through as well. These are stories, too, that leave any certain conclusion open to the hearer’s reflections. Talbot’s fine soprano and thoughtful phrasing illuminate these ideas in songs including the title track, Chelsea Piers, Song for Rose (will you remember me), and The Year That I Was Born.

...and if you happen to be looking for Christmas music, Talbot worked for some years with the band Cherish the Ladies. She is the voice on their fine seasonal album called On Christmas Night on songs including Silent NIght, The Holly and the Berry (all the women trade verses on this one), and The Castle of Dromore.

For her album Songs for Christmas, Emily Smith has chosen traditional and contemporary songs along with carols that have become favorites over the years as she done festive season concerts in her home region of Dumfries and Galloway in the southwest of Scotland. This year she’s expanded her holiday tour across Scotland, sharing such favorite carols as God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen and Silent Night along with the gentle contemporary piece Santa Will Find You, the American spiritual Heard from Heaven Today and the Scots song Christ Has My Hairt Aye. Her clear voice and thoughtful phrasing imbue the songs with holiday grace and make the collection work well together. Smith’s own songwriting shines too on Find Hope and on Winter Song.

This is Cara Dillon’s first year to offer a Christmas album. Her choices for the album, which is called Upon a Winter’s Night, are in keeping with the path she’s been following in her non seasonal work, With husband and musical partner Sam Lakeman, Dillon has created a seasonal outing that shares several original songs from the couple, a piece in Irish, a reach back in time to the twelfth century for the Wexford Carol and even further back for the Advent hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Dillon, who grew up in Northern Ireland, infuses the songs with a haunting grace and touches of Celtic connection along the way.

Carrie Newcomer’s recording The Beautiful Not Yet is not filled with carols -- it is not a seasonal album -- but the ideas of connection, of questions, of thoughtful reflection, and of staying in touch across time and miles work well with the holiday season. New comer has a gorgeous alto voice on which to tell the stories in this collection of original songs, too. It is an album that works well across the seasons -- as indeed all the recordings here do. During the winter holidays you might find Lean in Toward the Light, The Season Of Mercy, Sanctuary, and The Slender Thread especially worth hearing.

Bringing us back to Advent and Christmas, Matt and Shannon Heaton offer Fine Winter’s Night, which moves from contemplating how the cold dark skies of winter connect to warmth inside our homes and lives, to lively jigs and reels, both original and from Irish tradition. There’s a vignette of a Christmas love story set in Victorian era winter, and a story about a cat and Christmas, too, along with thoughtful presentations of carols including O Little Own of Bethlehem and It Came Upon the Midnight Clear. Shannon plays the flute, Matt plays the guitar, and they both sing, trading leads, joining in duets, and adding graceful harmonies as festive songs mix in with seasonal tunes.

Photograph at top by Jude Beck, other photographs by Kerry Dexter. Thank you for respecting copyright.

You may also wish to see
Music for a Winter’s Day at Wandering Educators
Scotland, Christmas, and Music at Journey to Scotland
Music for the Heart of Winter: Cathie Ryan here at Music Road
Cherish the Ladies: storytellers in song: Christmas here at Music Road

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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Music for the heart of winter: Cathie Ryan

Christmas, and season of Advent which comes before it, are times that invite both celebration and reflection. These cold days of winter when dark comes early invite quiet solitude and well as gathering and sharing in community. Winter and its holidays and holy days have inspired musicians to explore all these things in many ways: through classic songs of the season which have been handed down, through their own ways of interpreting familiar songs, and through creation of their own seasonal stories.

Cathie Ryan is one such musician. The award winning Irish American singer and songwriter tours internationally through the year and has been a guest on winter season programs of other top artists. This is the first year, though, that she will be offering a series of holiday concerts of her own design. It is to be called The Winter’s Heart.

“I love Christmas! The sharing of meals, of gifts, of song, of together time is a blessing,” Ryan says. “We all slow down to be with our family, our community. No matter how stressed we are, Christmas seems to take the edge off, people are more patient and kind. I wanted to bring the band together to make some beautiful Christmas music that we could all share. And to sing to those who may not have anyone to celebrate the holiday with - to ameliorate the loneliness. Music does that. One of my most favorite things about Christmas,” she adds, “is that we celebrate the holiday with song.”

That recognition of connection and community goes deep for Ryan. She grew up in Michigan, the child of parents who had emigrated from Ireland. They’d spend time in summer with family back in Kerry and in Tipperary. In Detroit, her parents loved not only Irish music but country singers such as Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn, and Ryan also heard music of Motown and of Appalachia. As an adult Ryan has spent time living in both the US and in Ireland. All of this has had influence on how she understands music. She’s chosen the subtitle of the Winter’s Heart series to be An Irish American Christmas.

That duality was one of the things which guided Ryan’s choices of music for the shows. “I love Christmas songs and the impulse was to do lots of songs we all know already, but I’d like to highlight our Irish American traditions through song so that will mean new songs!” she says. “There are some beloved songs that are musts, like Silent Night, and we will be singing those. My guitarist, Patsy O’Brien, and I have written a song called The Winter’s Heart that we’ll do. There are also some lovely Christmas songs sung in Ireland in Irish and in English that aren’t so well known in America, and I look forward to sharing those.”

The spiritual aspects of the season also go deep for Ryan. “The way we open our hearts at Christmas inspired the show’s title. The Winter’s Heart seems to encapsulate everything I believe Christmas is about, including Christ being born at Christmas and all of the heart centered teachings of Christianity. It is beautiful that in this time of cold and barrenness, a time when most of us go inside, we open our hearts, our homes, to new hope, new life and to each other. It raises us up.

“We have a big, beautiful shared songbook, we all join in the music,” Cathie Ryan says. “It is a reminder that we are all connected at the core. I love that.”

Tour dates for The Winter’s Heart: An Irish American Christmas

On this tour, Ryan will be accompanied by Patsy O’Brien from Cork on guitar and vocals, Patrick Mangan from New York on fiddle, and Kieran O’Hare from Chicago on uillean pipes, Irish flute, and tin whistle. Among them the three men have appeared with a roster of top artists including Eileen Ivers, Don Henley, and the Milwaukee Symphony, and have appeared on stages with shows from from Riverdance to Broadway theater.

Tour graphic courtesy of Cathie Ryan; photos of Ireland in winter and Cathie Ryan with bodhran by Kerry Dexter. Thank you for respecting copyright.

You may also wish to see
Cathie Ryan’s most recent recording Through Wind and Rain.
Cherish the Ladies: storytellers in song
Listening to Christmas
First week in Advent: candle in the window

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