Tunes for a Monday Morning

Art by Florence Susan Harrison (1878-1955)

Today, songs of love (good, bad, and faery-haunted), rooted in the ballad tradition of the British Isles.

Above: "Orfeo" (Child Ballad #19), performed by the American folk/bluegrass duo Anna & Elizabeth, with a shadow puppet video created by the musicians themselves. This rendition of an old Scots faery ballad is from their debut album, Anna & Elizabeth (2017).

Below: "Polly Vaughan" (Roud Ballad #166) performed by The Furrow Collective at the Halifax Square Chapel in West Yorkshire. The group is composed of four English/Scottish musicians who also have strong solo careers: Alasdair Roberts, Emily Portman, Rachel Newton, and Lucy Farrell. The song is from their second album, Wild Hog (2014).

Above: "Sylvie" (also known as "Sovay" or "The Female Highwayman," Roud Ballad #7), performed by Rachael McShane & The Cartographers (Matt Ord, Julian Sutton, & Dan Rogers). The song will appear on a new album of re-worked ballads in 2018.

Below: "False Lady" (also known as "Young Hunting," Child Ballad #68) by the North London band Teyr (Dominic Henderson, Tommie Black-Roff, and James Gavin). The song comes from their fine first album, Far From the Tree (2016). 

Above: "Anyone But Me," a contemporary ballad by the English alt-folk duo Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker, from their second album, Fire & Fortune (2013). The song is performed at The Crossroads in London, a venue which pairs cross-genre musicians with an in-house chamber orchestra and choir.

Below: "Three Fishers,"  a ballad based on a poem by Charles Kingsley (1819-1923), performed by Fara. The band is composed of Scottish musicians Jennifer Austin, Kristan Harvey, Jeana Leslie and Catriona Price. The song is from their lovely first album, Cross the Line (2016).

Art by Florence Susan Harrison

The art today is by Florence Susan Harrison (1878-1955). She was born in Brisbane, Australia, but spent much of her childhood at sea (her father was a sea caption) and at a great-aunt's school in England. It's not known where (or if) Harrison formally studied art, but she established a very successful career as an illustrator for the Blackie & Son publishing house (Glasgow and London) from 1905 onward.

Art by Florence Susan Harrison


Tunes for a Monday Morning

I don't know about you, but the world is seeming particularly crazy to me right now, and I need a dose of hope, courage, and inspiration this morning....

"To hope is to gamble. It's to bet on your futures, on your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty is better than gloom and safety. To hope is dangerous, and yet it is the opposite of fear, for to live is to risk."  - Rebecca Solnit (Hope in the Dark)

Above: "Rise Up" by Andra Day (based in San Diego, California), from her album Cheers to the Fall (2015). The gorgeous video was directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

Below: "Glory" by John Legend and Common, who wrote the song for the the civil rights film Selma (2014), directed by Ava DuVernay.

"But hope is not about what we expect. It is an embrace of the essential unknowability of the world, of the breaks with the present, the surprises. Or perhaps studying the record more carefully leads us to expect miracles -- not when and where we expect them, but to expect to be astonished, to expect that we don't know. And this is grounds to act."   - Rebecca Solnit (Hope in the Dark)

Above: "Love Letters to God" by Nahko Bear (of Apache/Mowhawk/Filipino/Puerto Rican heritage), from his album Hoka (2016). The video was filmed in support of the water protectors at Standing Rock in the Dakotas.

Below: "Almost Like Praying" by composer & playright Lin-Manuel Miranda (creator of Hamilton), with Marc Anthony, Ruben Blades, Gloria Estefan, Fat Joe, Luis Fonsi, Jenifer Lopez, Rita Moreno and many others -- a track created as a fundraiser for recovery efforts in storm-shattered Puerto Rico.

Miranda's lyrics begin with a line from "Maria" (his favorite song from West Side Story), then weave in the names of the towns on the island -- evoking the spirit of place, the strength of community, and a sense of hope in the darkest of times. "For Puerto Ricans who live all over the world who have a connection and family on the island," he explains, "there was a terrible silence for several days where we were just waiting for word. And my Twitter feed, my Facebook feed, were just filled with family members listing the names of towns where their families were living. 'And from my grandmothers in Lares, my uncle is in Vega Alta -- has anyone seen them? Has anyone heard from them?' And I thought, well the only lyric that really unites us and that makes the most sense for a fundraising song is if I can somehow write a song that includes all 78 towns in Puerto Rico so that no one feels left out and no one's town feels forgotten."

You can buy the song here, or donate directly to the Hispanic Federation here.

"Joy doesn't betray but sustains activism. And when you face a politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated and isolated, joy is a fine act of insurrection."  - Rebecca Solnit (Hope in the Dark)

Below: "Level Up" by pianist & songwriter Vienna Teng (who is based in Detroit). The video was directed Lawrence Chen, choreographed by Jaclyn Walsh, and features the dancer Tommy Guns Ly, among others. "If you're afraid, give more; if you're alive, give more," Teng tells us in this moving and joyful song...which circles us back to Andra Day's words above: "All we need is hope; and for that we have each other."

"Inside the word 'emergency' is 'emerge'; from an emergency new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters."  - Rebecca Solnit (Hope in the Dark)

newborn muntjac deer


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Victoria and Tilly, south Devon

This morning, the call of the sea...and life on the coast....

Below: "The Call/Daughters of Watchet/Caturn's Night" by singer/songwriters Ange Hardy and Lukas Drinkwater, from their gorgeous album Findings (2016). Hardy is based in Somerset, and Drinkwater in Exeter, here in Devon.

Above: "The Bow to the Sailor" by Ange Hardy, from her beautiful solo album The Lament of the Black Sheep (2014). The video was filmed on Watchet beach, Somerset.

Below: "Boat" by  alt-folk band Flats & Sharps, based in Cornwall. This charming song appears on their first album, King of My Mind (2017).

Above: "In Spirit,"  a new ghost ballad by Kim Lowings and the Greenwood, from the English Midlands. The song appears on their recent album Wild and Wicked Youth (2017).

Below: "Lady of the Sea" by Seth Lakeman, about a shipwreck off the Cornish coast. I never get tired of this one, which is from an early album, Freedom Fields (2006). Lakeman is from here on Dartmoor.

One more: "Alive" by Skippinish, an alt-folk group from the Scottish Highlands. The song appears on their new latest, The Seventh Wave, and the video is just lovely.

Post script: This upbeat music was chosen and posted before I heard the news of the shooting in Las Vegas. My heart goes out to all friends and family in America.

Me and Tilly, north Devon

Photographs: Our daughter and Tilly on the south Devon coast; me and Tilly on the north Devon coast, near the Cornish border.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Light

Today, two British songwriters whose work, though thoroughly contemporary, is grounded in English folk and American roots music: Sam Brookes and Johnny Flynn. The songs explore darkness, light, and the healing powers of love and the land.

Above: "Numb" by Sam Brookes -- a gorgeous song about love and loss from Brookes' first album, Kairos.

Below: Brookes' version of "Black-Eyed Dog" by the great Nick Drake. The "black dog" and the "black-eyed dog" are terms for depression, which Drake suffered and died from.

Above: "Crazy World and You" by Sam Brookes, a song about being a light in the darkness ourselves.

Below: "Country Mile" by the wonderful Johnny Flynn,  from his album of the same name. Like the song above, this one leads us to the solace of open spaces.

The final two songs are from Johnny Flynn's most recent album, Sillion. Both touch on the healing power of human connection to the more-than-human world.

Above is "Wandering Aengus," Flynn's 21st-century take on the classic poem by William Butler Yates. Below is his achingly poignant new song and video, "Raising the Dead."

Globe Clustered Confluence by Rune Guneriussen

The last image is by Norwegian photographer & installation artist Rune Guneriussen.

 


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Sketches of donkeys. Gerard ter Borch  c1612

While the daily news remains disheartening, let's start the week with lively, toe-tapping, spirit-lifting tunes from Ireland, England, and Scotland...and some charming donkeys.

Above: "Leads" by Moxie, an alt-trad band from Sligo and Limerick, Ireland. The band members are Cillian Doheny, Jos Kelly, Darren Roche, Ted Kelly, and Paddy Hazel. The video was shot in the beautiful Irish landscape and, yes, includes a donkey.

Below: "The Bonny Ship, the Diamond," recorded by Beoga for their seventh album, Before We Change our Mind.  The band members are Liam Bradley, Sean Og Graham, Damian McKee, Eamon Murray, and singer/fiddler Niamh Dunne. They're from County Kerry, Ireland.

Above: "The Greenland Whale," recorded by Sam Kelly & the Lost Boys for their new album, Pretty Peggy. Kelly (from Norfolk, England) is backed by Ciaran Algar, Evan Carson, Graham Coe, and Jamie Francis.

Below, another song about whaling history: "Race to Be King" by Seth Lakeman, performed at the Minack open-air theatre on the Cornish coast. Seth hails from here in Devon, on the other side of Dartmoor. The song is from his fourth album, Poor Man's Heaven.

And a tune to end with on this wet and windy morning:

"Wet Field Day" by Elephant Sessions, from the Scottish highlands. The band members are Greg Barry, Mark Bruce, Euan Smillie, Alasdair Taylor, and Seth Tinsley. The young man in the video is Shaun Somerville. 

The donkey sketches today are by Dutch genre painter Gerard ter Borch (1617-1681) and English illustrator Sean Briggs. For more donkeys, check out the donkeycams at the Donkey Sanctuary on Devon's south coast.  There are other lovely creatures up the road from us at Dartmoor's Miniature Pony Centre: shaggy little ponies, shire horses, and more. The video on their homepage is a delight.

Donkey sketch by Sean Briggs


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Achill Goat

After last week's discussion of Gaelic place-names, we must surely start the week with some Gaelic songs....

In the documentary series Port, Scottish singer Julie Fowlis teamed up with Irish singer Muireann NicAmhlaoibh to investigate Gaelic music and culture in its variations across the two countries. We listened to songs from the northern islands of Scotland in a previous post. Today, we start with two Port performances filmed in Ireland.

Above: "Dé Domhnaigh/Eleanór na Rún."

Below: "Fill-iù Oro Hù Ò/O Cò Bheir Mi Leam."

The singers are Niamh Farrell (from Ireland) and Linda Macleod (from Scotland), backed up Stephen Markham, Seamie O'Dowd, Fowlis and NicAmhlaoibh.

Pooka

Above: The Gloaming's recording session for "The Pilgrim's Song," based on the Irish-language poems of Seán Ó Riordáin. Iarla Ó Lionáird sings in the sean-nós style (traditionally performed a capella), accompanied by Martin Hayes, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, Dennis Cahill, and Thomas Bartlett.

Below: "Aurora," an instrumental piece by the Irish band Beoga. The group is: Damian McKee, Seán Óg Graham, Liam Bradley, Eamon Murray, and Niamh Dunne.

Chimera

The art today is by Ronan Halpin, who studied at the National College of Art & Design in Dublin and the Yale School of Art in America. He now lives and works on Achill Island, off of Ireland's west coast.

The pieces here are: Achill Goat, Pooka, Chimera, and The Old King.

The Old King


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Under the Summer Town by Rima Staines

In troubled times, we need music to lift our spirits more then ever -- so today I'm turning to The Mae Trio from Melbourne, Australia to brighten the start of a new week. The musicians are Maggie Rigby (banjo, ukulele, guitar), her sister Elsie Rigby (violin, ukulele), and Anita Hillman (cello, bass).

Above: The video for "Well Enough Alone" from the trio's new album, Take Care, Take Cover.

Below: "Mr. Moon," filmed for the Songs from a Room series in London in 2015.

Pilgrim's Moon by Rima Staines

 Above: An acapela version of Kate Rubsy's song "Lately," which was on their first album, Housewarming (2014).

Below: "Grandman's," filmed for the Songs from a Room series in June of this year.

And one more:

The Mae Trio and the great Scottish songwriter Dougie Maclean perform "She Loves Me."

The lovely paintings above are by Rima Staines.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

My apologies for being away for so long, dear Readers. I was in high spirits just a month ago, after visiting friends on the Isle of Skye -- but then life turned around and clobbered us from an unexpected direction. (For family privacy sake, I can't be more explicit.) Now we're picking ourselves up off the ground, a bit bruised but eager to return to the things that shine a light in hard times: books and art and puppets and theatre, and the community (both near and far) that sustains us.

The Child BalladsI'm back in the studio today, with Child Ballads by Anais Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer on the stereo: a lovely reminder of the folklore traditions that lie at the roots of the Mythic Arts field. When the album first appeared in 2013, there were listeners on this side of the Atlantic nonplused to hear classic British ballads sung in American accents -- forgetting that such songs made their way over to the New World with Anglo-Scots immigrants and are part of America's folk heritage too. Francis Child, the famous ballad collector, was an American himself: a scholar of literature, language and folklore at Harvard University. (For more information on the man, and on the ballads, go here.)

Above: Mitchell & Hamer perform an unusual version of "Tam Lin," Child Ballad #39. This variant omits the role of the Fairy Queen in stealing Tam Lin away, but includes a part of the song often elided in other renditions: Janet's intent to get rid of her unborn child (by the use of magical, poisonous plants) until Tam Lin dissuades her.

Below: Mitchell & Hamer perform "Willie's Lady," Child Ballad #6.

Above: Mitchell performs "Clyde Waters" (Child Ballad #216) on the Prairie Home Companion program, backed up by the great Chris Thile on mandolin and Sarah Jarosz on vocals, among others.

Below: a song from Mitchell's extraordinary folk opera Hadestown, based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Hadestown first appeared as a concept album in 2010, and was turned into a theatrical production by New York Theatre Workshop in 2016.

Although written almost a decade ago, Mitchell's Hadestown song "Why We Build the Wall" is especially relevant today, in the age of Trump. And so, sadly, is the final song: "Deportee" by Woody Guthrie (from 1948), which Mitchell performed a few months ago with Austin Nevins.


The 4th of July

I cannot celebrate America's Independence Day when the country of my birth is in such a serious crisis. Instead, I celebrate and stand with all the good people who Resist, in their myriad ways, and refuse to be divided neighbor from neighbor. Stand strong, everyone. You have my respect, my gratitude, and my love.

The video above is from Nahko Bear, an American musician & earth activist of Apache, Mohawk, Puerto Rican, & Filipino heritage. (For more of his music, go here, here, and here.)


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Uist, the Outer Hebrides

I'm heading up the Isle of Skye at the end of the week (to celebrate an old friend's birthday), so I'm turning northward today with Gaelic music by musicians from Scotland and beyond.

To start with (above), a lovely short video by Julie Fowlis, from Uist in the Outer Hebrides, explaining why the preservation of the Gaelic language remains so important today. "Speaking a language that has been around for thousands of years," says Fowlis, "you get a different perspective on your own country and an understanding of the people you come from. By singing the traditional songs, you get a better understanding of your own area and it brings the stories of local communities and the history of the people alive."

In Port, a programme for the BBC, Fowlis teamed up with Irish singer Muireann NicAmhlaoibh to investigate Gaelic music and culture in its variations across the two countries. In the video below, they bring Irish bodhrán player Donnchadh Gough (from Danú) and Irish singer Síle Denvir (from Líadan) to Fowlis' home island, North Uist.

In the next two videos, also from Port, Fowlis & NicAmhlaoibh visit the Orkney Isles in the far north of Scotland.

Above, Fowlis sings "The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry"  with The Unthanks (from Northumbria), backed up by Orcadian musicians.

Below, they're joined by Irish singer Liam Ó Maonlaí (from The Hothouse Flowers), performing "Amhrán na Heascainne."

Above: Kathleen MacInnes, a wonderful singer from South Uist, performs "Gur milis Mòrag" with the young American bluegrass musician Sarah Jarosz, from Texas. The video was filmed back in 2011 for the BBC's TransAtlantic Sessions programme.

Below, moving from the pastoral to the urban, and the old to the new:

"An Dà Là,' " a timely song by the Scottish band Mànran, from their fine new album of the same name, full of songs about personal and political upheavals both historic and contemporary. The title comes from a Gaelic expression meaning "great change." The lyrics to the song are here. Be bold, be strong.

Sheep on the Isle of Skye by Mathieu Noel