Friday, January 31, 2014

Only the Necessary Notes

Today's link is mostly for the first tune in the set, a slow air called Donald Ross of Vancouver. This is a tune that's always hit me as getting a magnificent effect with remarkably few notes; repeating in just enough of the right places so that it haunts you rather comfortably. It just sounds like a memory. The band here, Taliska, is new to me, but the smallpipes and French horn combo was quite a good idea.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Not A Ballad, Quite

Here's another sad old song that seems to have been rolling around for so long that all the jagged edges have been smoothed off, like sea-glass. It's an American one this time.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


I sat down and made a list of (very favourable) things I thought I should say before posting this song, but then I second-guessed that and thought it might be best to let the song stand on its own merits. For those of you, like me, who might have to look up the words, it's sung in the voice of a mountain in Nova Scotia that's seen generations come and go. The title means "The Blue Mountain's Lullaby." The words are by Jeff MacDonald, and the tune by Brian Ó hEadhra, who sings it here.

  Tàladh na Beinne Guirme

 And sort of P.S., except that might imply that it's of secondary importance, which it isn't: if you liked that song, just go browse through Brian Ó hEadhra's Soundcloud page, why dontchya? It's grand.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Toe Tapper

Blazin' Fiddles (a lot of 'em) with a strathspey and some polkas.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Big Music

Piobaireachd, with a whole band. . .and then some.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Meanwhile, in Real Life

I'm sorry I've managed to slip yet a third time. And on Burns Night, of all nights! You would think I'd have something rather appropriate to the season planned for that, and I did--but when I tried for an hour and a bit to get it to come together. . .it proved to be rather futile. I went to bed and (apropos to nothing) read The Return of the King instead. Then again, isn't it rather generally known that the best-laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley?

This afternoon I went and saw some very splendid music--live. The group was the Sacramento Baroque Soloists, and the venue Rudolph Steiner College. The former are quite thoroughly a delight to watch and to listen to, the latter is, as far as I'm concerned, has accomplished the two main features of any acceptable concert location: a.) a hall small enough to make amplification unneccesary, b.) a garden to walk in during the interval. Well, I had not set the second criteria before I attended a concert (by the same group, in fact) in the same location back in October, but thirty-seconds' acquaintance with such an amenity is a strong persuader. There are some ornamental plants scattered throughout, but the garden is largely utilitarian, though none the less peaceful for that. It is terribly pleasant to come out into the silence to savour the eddies of cello and harpsichord that are still whirling about in your mind and walk among evidence of careful husbandry; there is art in gardening, no less.

Today's concert was the yearly cello feature that the Sacramento Baroque Soloists perform, so the instrumentation was minimal; a cello, an organ, and a theorbo; the organist and the theorboist (that's less stuttery if you say it aloud) doubled on harpsichord and guitar, respectively. You've probably gathered that I'm fond of small ensembles, of baroque music, and period instruments, not to mention cellos in general, so I was very much predisposed to like it, and I very much did. I like the ephemeral quality of a live performance, something rather akin to a good sunset, or the smell of rain about you; you can't capture it all in even the most carefully-chosen words. But "Vivaldi," is a pretty good word, under the circumstances, and "Gabrielli," and, most impressively, "Barriere."

That said (and said, and said!) alas, I can't very well show you what I heard today--and even if I did, well, there's still the garden to take into account. But the group does have a website with audio of some past performances.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Pretty Bonny

Today's tune is "The Bonny Breast Knot," played by Sara-Jane Summers as a marching air. It also appears in the Cabar Feidh Collection (one of those voluminous piping tomes) as a 2/4 march called "The Pretty Apron."

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Definite Favourite

I suspect today's ballad merits a better-reflected and better-researched post sometime in the future. I said just the other day that I couldn't choose a favourite fiddler, which is true. I'd be hard-put to settle on a favourite movie, or a favourite book, or a favourite band, but this old song I find so perennially haunting that I shall have to make an exception and admit that I do have a favourite ballad. My only regret in the matter is that I first read it as a poem. . .I read it for years and years as a poem that I liked very much, and no setting I've subsequently found for it has a tune that carries, to my ear, quite the perfection of the words, though the many masterful singers have given more than adequate performances of it with the tunes they were given. Here's Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer with one setting of "Sir Patrick Spens." And here's an early Jean Redpath recording of another:

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Premise Holds

Remember a couple of weeks ago, I said playing Bach was is definitely one of those things that is so worth doing that it's worth doing badly? Well, Jens Kruger also goes on the list of people who do it quite the opposite of badly. But may that not stop the rest of us from trying.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

An Air

If I were asked to name a favourite fiddler. . .well, even if I could, it would probably be a different one every time, but both Alasdair White and Ewen Henderson remain consistently quite high in the theoretical list that I would pick from. Here they play "Iain Ghlinn' Cuaich". . .(though with Henderson on the piano, in this case).

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Mostly Piping. Except for the Singing. And the Whistle. And. . .

Allan MacDonald has a selection of pieces he's written and/or performed available to listen to on his website. I discovered that when I was looking for a recording of the charming little air "Cille Pheadair," which you can indeed hear there, but more than that, you can hear Seudan's take on "Thogail nam Bho," a couple of the fiddle-centred piobaireachds from Bonnie Rideout's albums and quite a range of other tunes and songs.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

If Everybody Did This. . .

If everybody did this, I really don't think I'd mind. I mean, if everybody did a Roger Miller track or two, or even a whole album. There's something about those songs that just says, "Sing me!" And the more other folks sing 'em, the more contagious they get. Anyway, O'Brien Party of 7 (Hot Rize's Tim O'Brien, and various relations) went the full-album route, and if the sample exemplifies the rest of the recording, they did well. And if it doesn't exemplify the whole album, well they can rest content on the laurels of "In the Summertime". "In the Summertime" with fiddle--and feet!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Fair Warning

Today being the 17th and all, you're probably rushing around in a panic realizing that there are only only two months until St. Patrick's Day and you don't have a thing to listen to. Okay, or maybe not. But in the unlikely event that you are finding yourself in that extremity, worry no more. There's always Bua. Some very, very tight fiddling to be had here, and the singing is superb. They do the MySpace thing, so there is a whole list of things to listen to.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Time for Another Ballad

"Barbara Allen," holds a peculiar fascination for me. Perhaps it's just that finely-distilled poignancy that can only result from a song being passed from ear to ear for who-knows-how-many hundred years. There's no artifice left in it, no poet's self-indulgence, just the strong lines of a very tragic story. Though I've all the patience in the world to sit through an all-the-verses rendition, I was quite happy to find this short version of the song by Bethany Hamilton and Kristy Fowler that uses my favourite setting for the tune, and uses it very well indeed.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Quiet One

Here's a track from Ron Block's new album, a banjo setting of the old hymn "Wondrous Love."

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Wild Geese

I had hoped to find a video of Jim Malcolm singing his "Jimmy's Gone to Flanders," which is one of my favourite examples of singer-songwriting--if that can be a noun. Alas, there wasn't anything on that (well, you can get the words on his website; still, you really should hear it sung) but that search brought up this video. I had found the poem in an anthology some years ago; it makes a rather haunting song.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Even More Northerly

The idea for this rather random series was that I was going to go on about music I was fond of, by which I meant music I've admired, most likely, for a long time. But this morning, when I was looking for something else, I discovered the Swedish trio Väsen. I might be the last person in the world to "discover" them; they have a dozen and more albums out. But, man, what a water-tight bit of ensemble playing.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Fiddling and Such

Whew, you're spared sad songs yet another day. Here's Bruce MacGregor (fiddle), Sandy Brechin (accordion) and Brian Ó hEadhra (guitar) with some very lively French Canadian tunes. And here's the MacGregor third of the trio by himself with a tune he composed.

Friday, January 10, 2014

It Really Is A Song

If you have never heard the Tannahill Weavers. . .well, obviously you've never stolen my CD collection, for one thing. (Thank you.) Here they are to sing "Ower the Hills And Far Awa." Also, my criteria for today's post was that it should not be slow or sad. Well, one out of two ain't bad. . .and it's really not that sad; he still had his pipes.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

For I Must Cross the Stream Tonight. . .

The world of the old ballads is a particularly vivid one. The topography of that land boasts not merely hills, but high, high hills, the wine is no pale stuff, but blood-red, and you might think, from the tales, that it was there rarely any season but the merry month of May. But if the charms of that land are bright as gems, its perils are to be found at every turn, for the rose seems rarely to grow without the brier, and all of the waters are wondrous deep and wondrous strong.

I think I shall be perennially entranced by the language of those songs. There is a dignity to them, perhaps lent, in part, by age, but if the words are simple and the tales sad, they seem the more poignant, like illuminations from old manuscripts painted in bright colours with never a brush-stroke out of place. I rather suspect I will be posting more than one of them this month, but for starters, here's Kate Rusby singing "Annan Waters."

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Nicely Done

Taste in music is a very subjective matter. I know that. My opinion as to whose medley was best at last year's Worlds is, if possible, an even more subjective matter. But I do think Boghall and Bathgate's medley was very, very good. It's easily in my (yes, very subjective) top 3 from last year's competition. I remember at the time I first heard it being particularly taken with the lovely transition from the slow air to the strathspey, though I had forgotten since that the strathspey itself was "Seonaidh's Tune," one I'm particularly fond of. No, not for any reason at all. I told you. It's subjective. But that is unequivocally very, very good piping.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Something New (To Me)

When I'm teaching beginning fiddle, I quite often use the tune "Farewell to Fiunary." But here is Ivan Drever singing it, for a change.

Monday, January 6, 2014

A Little Christmas Here, And Where You Can Get More

Well, since today is Epiphany, you'll get kind of a double-feature post. First off, the confession--what I really wanted to do in the way of musical posts was a 12 Days of Christmas thing, which, you with your sharp eyes, will have noticed, I did not do. But my friend Mahri did, and not only did she pick some smashin' songs, but she posted a fair bit of background on each of them. So if you're looking for a good way to polish off your Christmas cheer, you can toddle over to Fire, Fleet, and Candlelight and spend an afternoon with a chance of meeting a few new carols. Many of them were new to me, anyway, and now they're going on my "it's just not Christmas without this one" playlist next year.

The sole tune I've come up with for posting on this occasion is. . .well, considerably less Christmasy, and really not even merry, but it is very well done. I was wandering the interwebs in search of a musical rendition of Robert Louis Stevenson's "Christmas at Sea," as I recalled hearing a version I rather liked last year. I was delighted instead to stumble across this one by a shanty group from Bristol. Sung. . .well, like a shanty, what else? It's a splendid bit of tunesmithing, not to mention singing. (Least it prove too sad a song for the season, the singers, The Longest Johns, have followed it there on Bandcamp with a "God Rest You Merry," that is also a most hearty feast for the ears--and actually cheery. So there. Merry Christmas after all.)

Sunday, January 5, 2014

. . .And One From Shetland

I'm fairly certain I've mentioned Jenna Reid's fiddling before, but her voice is every bit as warm and lovely as her skill with the bow. Thanks to Bandcamp, you can listen to "The Hams of Muckle Roe,*" and thanks to Walk Shetland, you can read about the Hams themselves.

*Really, I'm putting that kind of mildly. Jenna Reid has two entire solo CD's up on that site, both of them very much worth listening to: Laughing Girl and Morning Moon.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

"When the Dandenong from Melbourne Sailed. . ."

Well, here it is, four days into the New Year. Don't you think it's time for a song, with words and that sort of thing? Here's Bruce Molsky and his fiddle with "Wreck of the Dandenong."

The very effective chorus is apparently a recent innovation. A more traditional setting of the song,  along with the lyrics, and even newspaper quotes about the wreck, can be found here at An Australian Folk Song A Day.

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Thing Very Worth Doing

G.K. Chesterton famously said that a thing worth doing was worth doing badly. Playing through the joyful intricacies of Bach's music is definitely high on my list of things worth that risk. Fortunately for us, though, Chris Thile is not obliged to do it badly.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Tried and True

Of the many tracks, artists and CD's I've scribbled down, meaning to write something about them here someday, I feel the most remiss about neglecting the two I mention today. I have most certainly not been at all remiss in listening to them over the past couple of years. 
The set "Donald & Gordon's" from Píob is Fidheall by Nova Scotians Kenneth and Angus MacKenzie wandered through my internet radio list and I thought it would be worth having the CD, if only for that tight, driven track. As it turned out, there isn't a remotely bad or unexciting track in the lot. Indeed, if I remember correctly, the only one I have ever skipped habitually was 4, "When Harry Met Shelly," and that only in the time my pipe band was learning a version of the first tune "Highlander's Farewell to Ireland" ("Highland Harry") for our MSR, leaving me quite in terror of getting the MacKenzie's very contagious setting stuck in my head where it might be confused with the setting I was supposed to be learning.

Despite the title (yes, that does mean "Pipes and Fiddle") the CD is far from minimalist as far as arrangements are concerned. Angus, the brother who is doing the piping in this case, also plays the whistle, and there are guest artists variously supplying guitar, percussion, banjo, bouzouki, and piano, insuring that the album never settles into a single, predictable sound. Better, if the musical presentation is quite impressively polished, it is truly polished to be its brightest, its most vivacious, not carefully reigned in by the studio setting.

But isn't much use just telling you about it, when you can listen to it here. There is also a bio of the MacKenzie brothers (taken from the CD jacket, in fact) on the website of the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre. 

One aspect of the musicianship on Píob is Fidheall that was a bit of a revelation to me was the use of the piano. I knew piano was fairly common in Cape Breton music, but it was, perhaps, hearing a CD's worth of it in conjunction with the pipes--and not merely as a rhythm instrument, even in that setting--that underlined its delightful versatility. The clincher: there is one track on the album that strays entirely from the pipes-and-fiddle theme, and that is a piano solo  ("Calum's Cille Combo") by a third MacKenzie brother, Calum. You just don't hear reels on the piano every day. Or at least I don't. . .

Or at least I didn't until I decided (and very quickly) that I must have More of That Sort of Thing. Quite fortunately, Mac Morin, who did the rest of the piano work on Píob is Fidheall, has a solo album (self-titled), and it's splendid. Again, it's an album of very Cape Breton music with a variety of accompanying musicians, so the soundscape changes a bit from track to track. I have no aesthetic reasons for choosing "Hughie's Old Place" as my favourite set: I just never manage to tire of hearing "Bog A' Lochan," as a piano tune. But it would be a bit more comprehensive to state that, as with the previous CD I mentioned, there isn't a track I don't admire. And, as with the previous CD, it seems to wear mighty well.

There are plenty of clips here.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Putting the Happy in Happy New Year

    May you all be on your way to having your best year yet. I did make a small blog-related resolution this year; I took a notion to post every day in January. The slight reasoning behind this is that I have amassed enough intentions for music-related posts to get me through a month, a sort of tune a day concept (with perhaps a review or two thrown in). There is really no theme to it other than that.
    Anyway, to kick things off in a lively fashion, here is the first tune, or rather, set, in this case, some reels from Session A9. It's a MySpace link, so hopefully you are not bombarded with ads--if you are though, it's worth weathering them, particularly, says I, for the last tune, "Road to Errogie."