I've been deeply in love with Nahko Bear's music since his first album came out in 2013, but living in a tiny village on Dartmoor, I've never been anywhere near one of his concerts. You can imagine my astonishment then when I learned he was coming to Devon this spring on a small accoustic tour, billed as "an evening of poetry, story, and brotherhood medicine in song" with his friend Trevor Hall. Howard and I went to the gig last week, held in an arts centre in Exeter. The room was packed, the night was magical, and I'm so glad we were there. How these two open-hearted, unpretentious young men with nothing but two guitars and a piano between them managed to fill the room with such powerful medicine for body and soul is unfathomable...but they did.
This week's "Monday Tunes" come from both musicians: Nahko Bear, a singer/songwriter of Apache, Mohawk, Puerto Rican & Filipino heritage, who was raised in Oregon and now lives in Hawaii. And Trevor Hall, a folk/roots/reggae musician who grew up on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, and now lives in Boulder, Colorado.
Above: "What I Know" by Trevor Hall, from his forthcoming album The Fruitfall Darkess.
Below: "Dear Brother" by Nahko Bear, performed in New York City last month with two members of his band, Medicine for the People: Max Ribner (on horn) and Tim Snider (on fiddle).
Above: "San Quentin" by Nahko Bear, performed with Ribner and Snider in Philadelphia last summer.
Below: "Tus Pie (Your Feet)," from the same performance. This is my absolute favorite of Nahko's song, and I couldn't help tearing up a bit when he played it in Exeter last week -- on solo piano (rather than guitar), sliding into it from a rather stunning version of "Bridge Over Troubled Waters."
The world is a fractured and fractious place right now, so let's start the week with some harmony.
Above: "Green Unstopping" by The Rheingans Sisters: Anna and Rowan Rheingans, from the Peak District of Derbyshire. The song comes from their second album, Bright Field, which has just been released.
Below: "She Took a Gamble" by Hannah Read, a Scottish singer/songwriter who now lives in Brooklyn, New York. The song appears on her second album, Way Out I'll Wander (2018). The video was shot on the Island of Eigg in the Scottish Hebrides.
(Both Rowan and Hannah participated in the "Songs of Separation" project on the Island of Eigg, discussed in a previous post.)
Above: Bruce Springsteen's "I'm on Fire" performed by The Staves: sisters Jessica, Camilla and Emily Staveley-Taylor, from Hertfordshire. Their most recent album is The Way is Read (2017).
Below: "Floral Dresses" by Lucy Rose, a singer/songwriter from Warwickshire, backed up by The Staves. The song comes from Rose's third studio album, Something’s Changing (2017).
To end with:
"Horses" by Dala: Sheila Carabine and Amanda Walthe from Ontario, Canada. This song -- as perfect and poignant as a Charles de Lint story -- appears on their fourth album, Everyone is Someone (2009), and their live album, Girls from the North Country (2010).
I'm going to start the week with music by some of the young musicians now coming up in the British folk scene. When I despair of the world, I look at this new generation, in all areas of art and activism, and it gives me hope. But we need to support them.
Above: "Lock Keeper" (written by Canadian folk legend Stan Rogers), performed by Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar -- whose fourth album, Utopia and Wasteland, has just been released. It's beautifully crafted, with a socio-political edge (in the great Ewan MacColl tradition), full of stories both old and new, and just incredibly good.
Below: "Seven Hills" (written by Greg Russell), which is also from the new album.
Above: "Silent Majority" (written by the late Scottish musician Lionel McClelland), performed by Russell & Algar in 2017. The song, which can be found on their terrific third album of the same name (2016), is all too relevant today -- particularly here in Britain, where the protest movement is still small (compared to America) despite the toxic, 1%-driven politics upending our lives.
Below: "Road to Dorchester" (written by Mick Ryan & Graham Moore), performed by Russell in 2017. The song appears on his fine solo album, Inclined to be Red (2017).
Above: a beautiful cover of "Delicate" (by Damien Rice), performed by Russell & Algar with singer/songwriter Luke Jackson in 2016. (Yes, it's all young men in this post. I've been sharing plenty of women's music in the last few months, including here and here, so today it's the lad's turn.)
Below: Luke Jackson gives a lovely stripped-down folk performance of "Free Falling" (by Tom Petty), backed up by Andy Sharps and Elliott Norris, filmed at Light Tones Studios a few weeks ago. Jackson also has a new album out: Solo - Duo - Trio, recorded live in Canterbury. With influences ranging from folk to the blues, it's well worth seeking out. That voice! It melts my bones.
To end with, above:
"We've Got Stories" (2015), written and performed by Luke Jackson and Emrys Plant to raise funds for the Wise Words project, which aims to engage young people with spoken word, "inspiring wonder & curiosity through unexpected encounters with poetry and storytelling." I love this so very much.
On a snowy morning here on Dartmoor, my thoughts have turned northward to the beautiful "Island Songs" created by Icelandic musician and composer Ólafur Arnalds. Arnalds travelled for seven weeks to seven locations, creating seven new works in collaboration with a range of other musicians, each performance documented by Icelandic film director Bladvin Zophoníasson.
Above, Week One: Árbakkinn, a collaboration with poet Einar Georg, filmed in Hvammstangi.
"Colorful fishing vessels are often moored in the tiny harbour of Hvammstangi," says Arnalds, "a town that sits in the eastern shore of the Miðfjörður. The name is derived from hvammur, which means 'a green space in a mountain.' The town is home to Einar, a poet and professor of Icelandic language and literature."
Below, Week Two:1995, a collaboration with organist Dagný Arnalds, filmed in Önundarfjörður.
"The shores of Önundarfjörður are surrounded by picturesque valleys and mountains -- but in winter this can be a harsh and treacherous landscape. In October 1995, a devastating avalanche struck the village of Flateyri, and now, next to the church, sits a memorial stone bearing the names of all the people whose lives were lost. Dagný is a music teacher who lives in this remote place and plays the organ and harmonium in the local churches of Flateyri and Holt."
Above, Week Three:Raddir, a collaboration with conductor Hilmar Örn Agnarsson and composer Georg Kári Hilmarsson in Selvogur.
"A small, wooden stave church, known as The Church of Sailors, sits in a solitary landscape, with views of the ocean from a lonely beach. Hilmar and Georg, father and son, gather here with a chamber choir made up of people from the local area."
Below, Week Six:Particles, a collaboration with vocalist Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir (Of Monsters & Men), filmed in Garður.
"Nanna is from the tiny, scattered community of Garður on the Reykjanes peninsula. Two lighthouses sit on the wind-battered seafront, and one of them is the setting for Particles."
Below, Week Seven:Doria, filmed in Reykjavik.
"Reykjavík is my home," says Arnalds. "For this final week I wanted to concentrate on the people around me, because ultimately it is people, even more than places, who inspire my music and art. Doria was filmed at Iðnó Concert Hall, where I gathered my closest friends, family and the Island Songs contributors for the project's final recording session."
Today's songs are all from the troubled, complicated, enraging, inspiring, enormously diverse and utterly beautiful country of my birth...
Above: "Little Sparrow" by Leyla McCalla, from her second album A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey (2016). McCalla, an extraodinary young cello and banjo player of Haitian Creole heritage, grew up in the New York area and is now based in New Orleans.
Below: "Bring Your Love to Me" by the wonderful Avett Brothers from North Carolina: singer/songwriters Seth & Scott Avett, backed up by Bob Crawford on double bass and Joe Kwon on cello. The song appears on their eighth studio album, Magpie and the Dandelion (2013). The shadow puppetry in the video is by Hobey Ford.
Above: "Winners " by the bluegrass & roots band Trampled by Turtles from Minnesota, in the American Midwest. The band is: Dave Simonett, Tim Saxhaug, Dave Carroll, Erik Berry, and Ryan Young. The song appears on their eighth album, Wild Animals (2014).
Below: "Call it Dreaming" by Iron & Wine: the stage name of singer/songwriter Sam Beam, from the Carolinas. The song appears on his lovely eighth album, Beast Epic (2017).
Above: "Tus Pies" by Nakho Bear, a brilliant young musician/activist of Apache, Mohawk, Puerto Rican & Filipino heritage. Nahko grew up in the Pacific Northwest, and is now based in Hawaii. I love this song, and this simple performance, filmed in New York City in 2016.
Below, to end with: "Good to Be Alive Today" by a musician/activist of my own generation: the beautiful and big-hearted Michael Franti, who hails from northern California. The song appears on Soulrocker (2017), the ninth studio album by Franti and his reaggae/roots/rock/soul/jazz band, Spearhead. This man's love and passion never flags. I want to be the same.
Today, music from the members of Salt House, a Scottish folk trio consisting of Ewan MacPherson (from Shooglenifty), Lauren MacColl (from the all-women fiddle group Rant), and Jenny Sturgeon (whose project Northern Flyaway, about the music, folklore, and ecology of birds, we discussed a few weeks ago). They've just released a beautiful new album, Undersong, which I highly recommend. The album was recorded in an old Telford church (converted into an arts studio) on the Isle of Berneray in the Outer Hebrides.
Above: "Staring at Stars," written by Ewan MacPherson, with a video of the making of Undersong in the church by the sea on Bernaray.
Below: "Charmer," written by Jenny Sturgeon, inspired by Robert Burns' "Now Westlin' Winds."
Above: "Ruisgarry," composed by Lauren MacColl, named for a crofting township on Bernaray -- performed here with Ewan MacPherson in a cottage in the Trossachs in 2015.
Below: "Turn Ye to Me," a mournful song of the sea by Highland poet John Wilson (1785-1854), with music composed by Jenny Sturgeon -- performed here by the Salt House trio for the Cabin Sessions last November.
Above: "The Selkie Song" by Jenny Sturgeon, a gorgeous rendition of Scottish selkie lore -- performed here with Jonny Hardie (from Old Blind Dogs) on the Isle of May (a nature reserve in the Outer Firth of Forth) in 2014. Backing vocals are by the Isle of May staff. The song can be found on Sturgeon's second solo album, From the Skein.
Below, to end with: "Old Shoes," Sturgeon's lovely paean to walkers and wanderers -- beautifully performed by Salt House in Aberdeenshire two years ago.
Today's theme is highwaymen (and their bold female counterparts) in British balladry. It's a subject of particular interest to me, for I've recently learned that I'm very, very distantly related to one John Clavell (1601-1643), known in his day as the "poetical highwayman" -- a robber, a rogue, and the author of "A Recantation of an Ill Led Life." * These songs of scofflaws and ne'er-do-wells are dedicated to Ellen Kushner and the writing team of the Tremontaine series. If you're following these fabulous stories online, or have read the new anthology, Tremontaine, then you'll know why.
Above: "Shoot Them All" by Pilgrims' Way, whose new album, Stand & Deliver, is entirely devoted to highwaymen and brigands. "Shoot Them All" is their exuberant rendition of a traditional song known variously as "The Undaunted Female," "The Staffordshire Maid," and "The Serving Girl and the Robber."
Above: "Alan Tyne of Harrow" by James Fagan & Nancy Kerr. The exact history of this 18th century broadside ballad is a contested one, but it's probably a variant of an older Irish song, "Valentine O'Hara."
Below: "Turpin Hero" by Jake Bugg (audio only). This too is an 18th century ballad, but based on a known historical character. As A.L. Lloyd explains: "Dick Turpin, an East End butcher’s boy, commenced his wild career by stealing cattle in West Ham and selling the beef, door to door. Pursued by the law, he took to housebreaking and highway robbery. Things became hot, he retired, got into a squabble over a gamecock, was arrested, unmasked, and hanged on April 6, 1739."
Above: "Sylvie," a song also known as "Sovay" and "The Female Highwayman." Collected in Oxfordshire in 1911 by Cecil Sharp (but certainly much older), it was popularized during the '60s folk revival by a beautiful rendition from Pentangle. The version above was recorded for a forthcoming album of ballads by Rachel McShane, with her band The Cartographers. She stitched the song together, she says, "from lyrics found in dusty old books and websites and wrote a new melody and arrangement."
Below: "The Highwayman," written by Alfred Noyes in 1906, with new music composed by Canadian harpist and music scholar Loreena McKennitt (audio only). It's from her gorgeous sixth album, The Book of Secrets (1997).
The art in this post is from a children's book version of "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes, illustrated by Charles Mikolaycak (1937-1993).
*Although it's not known where the Clavell family originated (some say the Celtic region of Spain), John Clavell's branch setttled in Dorset, England, while mine lived in the French Alps, near Grenoble, before fleeing to Switzerland and the Netherlands during the Reformation. My many-times-great-grandfather, George Craft Clavel, sailed on a Dutch ship to Philadelphia as child in 1737, where he was sold to a button factory owner to help pay for the family's passage. He paid off the bond after five year's work, rejoined his family, and became a farmer and Indian trader on what was then the remote Pennsylvania frontier.
This morning I've been listening to yMusic, a brilliantly innovative chamber ensemble from New York City composed of Hideaki Aomori (clarinet), Gabriel Cabezas (cello), C.J. Camerieri (trumpet), Alex Dopp (flute), Rob Moose (violin), and Nadia Sirota (viola). If you like the music of, say, Phillip Glass or John Luther Adams, then please go have a listen to yMusic's three fine albums.
Above, "Bladed Stance" (composed by Marcos Balter), from the ensemble's second album, Balance Problems (2014). The video was filmed by Dan Huiting, edited by Kevin Russel, with additional footage by Patrick Pierson.
Below, "First" (composed by Ryan Lott of Sun Lux), performed for Colorado Public Radio last year. The piece is from their new album of the same name (2017).
Above, "All My Life," performed a couple of months ago on Chris Thile's Life From Here program -- with vocals by The Staves (sisters Jessica, Camilla, & Emily Staveley-Taylor), a folk trio from Hertfordshire, England, known for their exquisite harmonies.
Below, "Trouble on My Mind," from the same program.
Above, "Rivers," yMusic's beautiful collaboration with The Tallest Man on Earth , i.e. Kristian Matsson, a Swedish singer/songwriter who writes and performs in his second language, English. The video was filmed for a Pitchfork TV Session in 2016.
Matsson, too, is a brilliantly innovative musician, and one whose creative journey I find deeply inspiring. Recently, he took a year off from touring to devote himself to songwriting, and to sharing the new songs in an intimate, more immediate way through self-made videos filmed in and around his home in Dalarna, Sweden. The first of the videos is below; and you can follow the rest of this lovely series here. (Or on Facebook here.)
Dear Kristian Matsson, you are definitely of use.
Photographs: the Trotternish peninsula on the Isle of Skye, from our journey there last June.
Above, "Dh’èirich mi moch, b’ fheàrr nach do dh’èirich" by Julie Fowlis, from the Isle of Uist in the Outer Hebrides. The song appears on her magical new album, Alterum -- named for a Latin word that means "otherness" or "the other."
The mythical, dreamlike video (directed by Craig Mackay) was conceived as a spiritual and otherworldly interpretation of loss. "My own work is steeped in tradition and historical reference specific to the Highlands," says Fowlis, "with a leaning to many beliefs and cultures," so the video features both sea and land, "the two most contrasting elements we exist in." The owl feathers symbolize journeys, transitions, and silent flights through the dark of the night, used in a headdress to link them to these more ancient associations.
Below, "The Swan Swims" by Ione Fyfe, a fine singer and ballad collector from Aberdeenshire in north-east Scotland. The song is a variant of Twa Sisters (Child Ballad #10), and will appear on Fyfe's much-anticipated new album, Away From My Window (March 2018).
Above and below: two songs from Emily Mae Winters' stunning new album, Siren Serenade (2017). Winters was born in Birmingham, raised on the south coast of Ireland, and is now based in London.
The first is the album's title song, inspired by the sirens of myth, with backing vocals by Lauren Bush, Hannah Sanders and Lauren Parker. The second is "Down by the Sally Gardens," with lyrics by William Butler Yeats, from a poem published in The Wanderings of Oisin, 1889.
To end with, two classic songs by Robert Burns sung by two more wonderful Scottish singers...
Above: "Ae Fond Kiss" by Robyn Stapleton, from Stranraer, on the south-west coast.
Below: "Green Grow the Rashes, O' " by Siobhan Miller, from Penicuik, near Edinburgh.
The art today: two drawings for Hans Christian Andersen's "The Wild Swans" by Helen Stratton (1867-1961). Stratton was born in India, raised in Bath, and spent her adult life in Kensington, London, working as an illustrator.
Below: "Émigré" by Alela Diane, a singer/songwriter from Portland, Oregon. The song appears on her fifth album, Cusp, due out next month. The album, she says, is an exploration of motherhood in many different guises, inspired by her second daughter's birth.
Above: "Let Them Be All" by Kyle Carey, a singer/songwriter inspired by both the American and Gaelic folk traditions. It comes from her fine second album, North Star. Carey's third album, The Art of Forgetting, is just about to be released.
Below: "At The Purchaser's Option" by Rhiannon Giddens, the brilliant young singer/songwriter/fiddler/banjo player from North Carolina who was awarded a MacArthur "genius grant" last year. (And well deserved too.) The song comes from her new album Freedom Highway (2017).
Above: Tish Hinojosa's now-classic song about migrants on the American/Mexican border, "Donde Voy (Where I Go)." She's accompanied by Mavin Dykhus in this performance, which was filmed on tour in Germany.
Below: "Going Home" performed by singer/songwriter/banjo player Abigail Washburn with Wu Tong, Yo-Yo Ma, and The Silkroad Ensemble, a group dedicated to music "sparking radical cultural collaboration." The song -- first popularized by singer & civil rights activist Paul Robeson (1898-1976) -- is performed in Chinese and English as part of the Poem for You project. To learn more about it, go here.
Above: Abigail Washburn again, this time performing "Don’t Let it Bring You Down” with her husband, fellow banjo player Béla Fleck. The song is from their terrific new album, Echo in the Valley (2017).
Below, to end with: "True Freedom" by Native American musician and activist Pura Fé, of the Tuscarora Nation. This lovely performance was filmed two years ago at The Alhambra in Paris.