Archive for Inside the Songs category
I've always known Laura Cortese as a fiddler first and foremost, and though of course she's a wonderful singer and also a powerful and insightful songwriter, it took until her new solo album, Into the Dark, for me to realize that her music had moved far beyond her roots in New England's vibrant fiddle scene. On Into the Dark, which -full disclosure- we promoted to roots radio, Cortese's songs touch on much more serious topics than the usual roots music album. And the fiddle's there, though refracted through a new lens. Using pizzicato, innovative string arrangements based on the rural rhythms of American fiddling, and some of the best guest artists possible in New England and beyond (Hanneke Cassel, Mariel Vandersteel, Natalie Haas, Valerie Thompson, Brittany Haas, Dirk Powell, Kris Drever, Dietrich Strause, and more). But those songs. I kept coming back to those songs. There's so much depth in this songwriting, and the songs fall into my most favorite category of songwriting: using traditional forms to subvert the tradition. I had to know more about the songs, so I've been chatting with Laura for a little while now and figured she'd be perfect for our next "Inside the Songs." NOTE: Though Inside the Songs are usually about songs the artist has written, I had to ask Laura here about her cover of the traditional song "Train on the Island." She totally re-envisions what many see as a "throwaway" song in old-time music, drawing so many new meanings out of the old, and strange lyrics.
Inside the Songs with Laura Cortese
" "For Catherine" was actually the hardest song on the album to finish. I started working on it after my mom told me about a gang rape that happened in Richmond, CA. I lived there from age 3 till 10. The incident took place at a school homecoming dance, over 20 people watched and didn't intervene or even call the police for two hours. I started to do some research and learned about "Bystander Effect", which basically means that when large groups of people are present individuals are less likely to get involved and stop something. I kept reading and found out about Kitty Genovese's rape and murder case which prompted the first investigation into the bystander effect. I started to read a lot about rape victims, their personal accounts, just trying to understand a small part of what they must have to process. As I worked to retell the story eventually I came to the idea of prayer, one victim praying to Catherine, recounting the story but also trying to heal."
Train on the Island (traditional):
I first heard this tune from the playing of Bruce Molsky. I remember hearing it, loving bruces voice, his chord choices, the melody and vaguely following the story until he got to the lyric "me and my love we fell out, might be for the best". That perked up my ears...A little heartbreak always does. The song has evolved for me over the years. It has come to mean more to me now than when I first heard it.
"Run and tell my true love he's the one I love the best"...being on the road away from my loved ones far too often, singing this line is really an effort to send my love home. Not really being in the presence of people you love, wanting them to know that they are the ones who are important to you.
"Run and tell my true love he don't know what he's worth"...We all question our purpose at times. Sometimes I've witnessed people whose question of purpose is so apparent in their body language and attitude that it is obvious that they aren't aware of their intrinsic value. I know I am going full bore Californian here...with the rare exception nearly everyone I have met in my life has something beautiful to offer this world. Sometimes it is easier to see the value in others than in yourself. When I see someone who doesn't know their value, I want to tell them all the wonderful ways they touch my life...In the end we each have to find our own relationship to that value.
About two years ago we were asked to perform at the home of a man who was dying of cancer. It was a gift from his fiddle playing friend. He was there with his wife, daughter and another family friend all together to enjoy the music together. We sang a few songs and then came to 'Train on the Island'. To look into the eyes of a man who knows he is dying while you sing the lyrics "run and tell my true love I'm sick and I can't go" is something I will never forget. I rarely sing this song without thinking of him and his family.
When you finally get to "run and tell my true love, I can't hold the wheel" you've been on a journey. The desperation of communicating love, and one saying to the other, I just don't think I can keep this going in the right direction...
I am not sure I have found out exactly what "train on the island" really means...I have come to think of it as relationship. Relationships are often about momentum...they take a lot of energy to start or to redirect when they have gone wrong...I love the image of a train on an island...it is emotional, not literal.
"I wrote this song after reading a Patti Smith quote from Dream of Life. The quote involved being a child not having time to day dream. I invented a scenario of a girl who would have had that experience. When I first started the song it was a series of vignette's to explain the first verse...
"When I was a girl on the Village Green, I hadn't time for day dreaming, I carried linens soft and bright, I carried secrets through the night."
The first draft was all the secrets she witnessed walking through her town. In the end the song was much more about the girl and her own secret wishes and dreams. And it was really about me...struggling with the constant battle between a need for time off to just live and the impulse to work hard to give my life meaning. It comes together in the last verse...
"I would not want for petticoats or gloves of crocheted lace
But for a story worth being told, pen to a page
How I wished to sit and take in the violet's smell
As the music slowed I awoke from the spell!"
10/04/2013 | comments (1)
I've been a fan of Cajun accordionist and songwriter Ganey Arsement for a little while now, not just because of his powerful accordion playing or excellent Cajun singing, but really because he's a great French language songwriter. There aren't a ton of Cajun's actively writing songs in French these days (nod to Anna Laura Edmiston, formerly of Feufollet, who's another favorite Cajun songwriter), so it's meaningful to have a good writer bringing out new songs. And Arsement is a good writer. He writes what he knows, the deeply connected families of Cajuns in SW Louisiana and around his home in Lake Charles, and he's deeply proud of his heritage. It's a musical as well as cultural heritage; Ganey's great-grandfather André Doucet was a musician as well as a blacksmith. On Ganey's new album, Le Forgeron, he pays homage both to his great-grandfather's roots in traditional Cajun music and to his own love for honky-tonk and urban blues. Songs dip into all these genres, and the twang of the pedal steel and sawing fiddles are always present.
I wanted to know more about the original songs on his new album, so I asked Ganey to take part in an Inside the Songs with us!
Inside the Songs with Ganey Arsement
Le Forgeron (The Blacksmith)
The lyrics of the song pretty much sum up my great-grandfather's persona. He loaded up his pickup truck with his wife, two children and everything he owned in the 1930s and left Church Point, LA headed to Lake Charles where it was rumored that farmers in that area were in dire need of a skilled blacksmith. My grandmother told me that despite being very young, she remembered that they had run out of gas near Lacassine and were pulled the rest of the way by a team of horses.
He traded his work for a piece of property and the labor to build a house, eventually selling that house and building another on the property. His shop was located on the opposite end of the property on what is known as the Gulf Hwy. After I was born, he bought a house and had it moved to his property for my parents and me to live in. I lived next door to him for the first nine years of my life.
Relative to the quality of life his friends and family had back home, he was considered very successful and was able to afford some things in life that they could not. He never put a dime in any bank, and he slept with a shotgun next to his bed to protect his money.
He had a reputation for being a hard worker. He worked in his shop Monday to Friday, from sun up until my great-grandmother rang the bell for dinner. He never drank during the week, but he would play his accordion for me in his living room every evening. When Saturday arrived, the whisky came out and by sundown, they were at the dancehall.
With all this said, the song was actually a jovial poke at my great-grandfather, his work ethic and his weekend fun. It shares a very similar melody with another Cajun favorite, Tee Mamou. The musicians on the record were mostly Sidney Brown's band. When I recorded the song, I changed some of the words to include my great-grandmother in the lyrics and partly because I wasn't sure what was being said.
Here, In My Arms
I first had the idea for this song back in 1998 when I was on tour with Balfa Toujours. My grandparents were well known dancers and charter members of the Cajun French Music Association. They were responsible, in part, for me becoming a musician.
A number of years later, my grandfather lost his leg to peripheral heart disease. On the day he came home from the hospital, literally within minutes of getting home, he had an accident. The curiosity was killing him, and he went to the bathroom scale to see how much weight he had lost with the leg. After weighing himself, he stepped off of the scale leading with the leg that he didn't have and fell cracking the back of his head on the tub.
We helped him to his chair, and I went to get an ice pack, for him. When I returned, my grandmother was sitting on the stool next to him, holding his hand and talking to him in French. I didn't hear the whole conversation, but I heard her say, "Je vais rester ici. Prends ma main." (I will stay here. Hold my hand.)
Losing his leg was something that my grandfather never came to grips with. He was never able to get around well. He went through at least five prosthesis trying to find one to make him feel normal. I abandoned the idea of the song. It was too painful for all involved. He passed about seven years later.
At my grandmother's funeral, someone commented that they could finally dance together again in Heaven. I remember thinking...they never stopped. I knew then that I had to find a way to finish the song. By the way, we did bury her in red. It was her favorite color.
I struggled for years about how to deliver this song. There were so many things to say about them, and their dancing, but I only had a couple of minutes to say it. If I did it in French, a large number of people who need to hear this story wouldn't understand it. If I did it in English, it would completely dismiss the importance of the culture and the language. It occurred to me, one day, that I could do it in French and English, and the point would be understood by all.
Quand les temps apres finir (When the End Times Come)
Ironically, I never anticipated that someone would ask for the origins of this song, but here we are. LOL! If you recall, in the latter part of last year, we were anticipating the end of the world. Despite being rescheduled a couple of times, we eventually settled on a date. Anyway, I am a high school teacher, and I run a GED program for students who have fallen too far behind to graduate for whatever reason. Last year, in my group of twelve, I had two students who had Aspberger Syndrome. Each day, as the end of the world approached, one of them got increasingly anxious. On the eve of the supposed event, he announced that he wasn't coming to school the next day. When I asked why, he replied, "if the world is gonna end, I want to be at home with my mom and my sister." That stuck with me for days. Even after the apocalypse. LOL! It became a profound thought to me, and I, too, decided that if I had warning, of impending doom, I would want to die with my family. I actually initially tried to write a song in English, but could never seem to convey the sentiment.
Thanks to Ganey for the beautiful music and inspiring back stories!
08/26/2013 | comments (0)
I've worked with Texas-based singer-songwriter Raina Rose before, and I have to say that she's one of the most delightful folk musicians I know. Hard working, hard touring, and hard traveling, she makes no excuses for her music and strives at every show to really communicate her songs to the audience. Plenty of songwriters sing their own songs, but she really connects her songs to her audience. If you're looking for the true heart of the American singer-songwriter movement, Raina would the key, and that's just what the filmmakers who made the documentary FOLK found out. They followed Raina (plus her two friends/collaborators Anthony da Costa and John Elliott) and two other singer-songwriters, tracking them on the road and at the Folk Alliance Conference, among other places. Raina was pregnant at the time and touring heavily with hubby Andrew Pressman who left a lucrative career at Apple to play folk music. You can check it out HERE. Raina and Andrew live in Austin, Texas now, raising their boy Emmett and continuing to play and record. She's indefatigable!
But all this to say that Raina Rose's new album, Caldera, sounds very different from her previous work. The new album is much more atmospheric, more relaxed for Raina vocally, and beautifully beautifully produced. I think it's her best album yet. I wanted to get at the heart of the new album, to find out why it sounded so new and fresh, so I invited Raina to take part in an Inside the Songs feature! It turns out the album was a true labor of love.
Inside the Songs with Raina Rose
"Caldera is the first album I have ever made with any sort of budget. We took our time and even re-tracked some things that weren’t working. We recorded in a beautiful workspace as opposed to a basement or someone’s repurposed apartment. I feel very proud of this album and hope that it ends up having meaning for other people as well. It would not be possible without my husband/bass player Andrew Pressman who also produced it. He hired amazing musicians and worked his ass off to make my songs as highly evolved as possible."
We were on a 10,000 mile, 2 month long tour summer of 2012 with our then 7 month old. It was wonderful. We drove from Texas to California to Oregon and then took a ferry into Canada to play a few Canadian folk festivals with Sam Baker & Carrie Elkin. A good friend came along for the ride to help with the baby. We drove through some amazing territory and I was really trying to grasp at inspiration and use the extra freedom that having a tour nanny had afforded me. We had a day after the Calgary Folk Festival where we had nowhere to go and lots of time to kill, so we lounged around a park for 8 hours. I ended up writing the lyrics to this song while pushing the stroller as we were leaving the park. Maybe I was feeling pensive. Or trying to explain how I think I may be holding things close to my chest while fully aware that I am very easy to read and a terrible liar. I wrote the music to this song in Dallas Center, Iowa in an apartment that our hosts lent us for 3 whole days. They stocked it with good food and I was able to spend some time writing. It’s funny how I used to drowsily wait for the muse, now as a mom, I set appointments with her and if she doesn’t show up, I work anyway.
Swing Wide The Gates:
I wrote one song while I was pregnant, and it was written before I knew I was pregnant. It seemed that once I knew Emmett was coming, my entirety of my brain capacity and creative energy were focused on decoding pregnancy, reading about labor, and trying to maintain my zen. It was very hard for me not to be able to write. I have always thought of myself as a “SONGWRITER” before anything else, even woman. I was terrified that “MOM” was going to push “SONGWRITER” out of my heart. At our baby shower some friends gave us a huge amount of wildflower seeds. In late October we sprinkled them in the front yard and forgot about them. Emmett was born in November. In February, I still hadn’t written a song. Then the wildflowers started blooming. They grew taller than our heads. They became a jungle. It was a sunny February morning when I wrote this song. It is all about how transformative labor is, from girl into woman. Woman is made to cry. Oh Mercy Me. There will always be a sunny morning again. There will always be hope for wildflowers.
I Lost It:
We have a friend whose family owns an enormous bison ranch in Texas. They have a house in Telluride Colorado. For years, all our traveling musician friends would camp on their couches during the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. It’s a really good time up there. Beautiful is a word that barely covers it. I used to take my dog Hopi on tour with me everywhere. She got spayed right before Telluride and she may have ripped up some of their carpet. From then on we were relegated to sleep in the laundry room. I wrote this song sleeping on a foam mat that was my bed for 3 years, between the washer dryer, the water heater and the cans of paint. I had just broken up with the man who would become my husband (and was still my bass player at the time) for the second and what we assumed was final time. Post break-up, we still embarked on a 2 month summer tour in a 15 passenger van with 3 other people and 2 dogs. I was so scared of committing to ANYONE. Let alone someone who was obviously so good for me. The bridge is really the meat of this song, I think. “It was good, and I longed for it dearly, but my two arms couldn’t carry it all”. The tour fell apart in a firey blaze and we fell back together. I am so grateful for how bad that tour was, because it made me realize how great the man. I have fun singing this song now, mainly because now, I am home.
Thanks to Raina Rose for her lovely responses! You can buy Caldera on CDBaby Now:
Photos by Jen Hellow, except photo of Raina/Andrew by Rodney Bursiel.
08/16/2013 | comments (1)
April Wolfe at Common Folk Music got me connected to the lush, beautiful, and yes, literate, songwriting of North Carolina's Wes Tirey. Downloading his new EP, I Stood Among Trees, off Bandcamp I just kicked back in my chair and listened. I tried to glean the meaning behind his songs, I tried to track the story as it unfolded in the song. Usually I consume music like a half-starved man, wolfing down entire albums while eyeing the next possible meal, moving on to the a new album while I'm still chewing on the last one. But Tirey's music stopped me cold. It gave me a moment of peace and thought, a break from the noise of music. That's a strange thing to say, but great writing will make you take a step back to consider.
Everything about Wes Tirey is compelling, hell even the town he lives in is interesting: Black Mountain, North Carolina. Just hearing that I'm spinning up crazy stories about the people in his town. I knew I had to find out more about Tirey, so I dropped him a line to see if he'd do an Inside The Songs. I hope you get the same chance I did to really listen to the music that Wes Tirey is making. He's got a powerful vision.
Hearth Music Inside the Songs with Wes Tirey
"As a philosophy student, I’m forced to write a lot –– so I do write outside of songwriting. I write poetry here and there, but not too often these days; it comes and goes –– mostly goes. I can’t say that my academic writing influences my songwriting, or vice versa, but it does keep my brain sharp. The things I study as a student do have a big influence on my songwriting, though. I mean, I may not be writing about Plato or Hegel, but exploring how empirical experiences can lead to a song is pretty cool.
I work at the writing center on campus, so I tutor students on writing throughout the week. It’s an amazing job. I help edit the undergraduate research journal, too –– so I’m surrounded by writing everyday."
"The Evening Tide"
"Most of the songs on the EP I’ve had under my belt for a while. I had a couple years where I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing with my music. I wrote a lot of instrumental pieces, but was struggling with writing lyrics. It wasn’t until last winter that I started writing stuff I was really satisfied with; but when I finally decided to go into the studio again, I knew I had to record some older songs, “The Evening Tide” being one of them.
I wrote it six years ago, when I was 21, in between classes at the community college I was attending. (I think I even wrote some of it in class –– but it was a math class, so I wouldn’t be paying attention anyways.) I had been burning holes in my copies of Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited and Townes Van Zandt’s Townes Van Zandt, listening to “Desolation Row” and “Fare Thee Well, Miss Carousel” religiously. I was also reading Flannery O’Connor’s short stories like they were devotional studies. I wanted to write a kind of Southern Gothic “cast of characters” song, and after I wrote the first line down, everything else just fell into place."
"Final Resting Place"
"This is another one that I’ve had for a while. It almost didn’t end up on the EP because I had reservations about my vocal performance (I have reservations about all my vocal performances, actually); but I ultimately decided to put it on there.
I wrote it in 2008. I had played a show in Cincinnati, and when I was driving back to Dayton I got caught in one of the worst windstorms in Ohio history. There was a really strange, apocalyptic feeling in the air. My radio and CD player both weren’t working in my car, which actually made for a good environment for songwriting. By the time I finally made it back home I had about half of the song written (in my head –– I could roll a cigarette with one hand and drive, but never mastered writing and driving). The power was out at my parents’ place, so I went up the road to my grandparents. My sister had the TV on –– the market had literally just crashed. The mixture of environmental and economic calamity really cemented the eerie, apocalyptic feeling, and when I went back home I finished the rest of the song, the tone of it changing from an account of the apocalypse to a display of spiritual writhing (please excuse the melodrama –– I’m full of it)."
"This was one of the new songs I wrote for the EP before going into the studio. Last summer I read Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, and during the winter I was reading the bible –– especially the Old Testament –– on and off. In the annals of American folk music, it’s basically impossible to avoid biblical references and imagery in songs, so I like to go to the source itself. It’s such strange and beautiful stuff –– just listen to Bascom Lamar Lunsford sing “Dry Bones” or Blind Willie Johnson sing “John the Revelator” and try not to be moved somehow.
Blood Meridian itself is rather biblical in its prose, and the imagery in it is so violent. (How McCarthy manages to make such a brutal book beautiful is beyond me.) It obliterates any notion that we’re fundamentally good by nature –– or it at least suggests that we’re all equal in that we’re all equally capable of doing evil things. I used “Wild Beasts” as a space to explore that idea; but I didn’t want it to have a straightforward narrative –– so I made sure that it was more of a landscape piece than a story."
07/18/2013 | comments (0)
I started doing these Inside the Songs articles based on a hunch: if a great songwriter could write a great song, couldn't they also write a great story about it? After all, whatever inspired them to go out of their way to put a story to music must have been pretty interesting. Now with fifteen features under our belt, the hunch has proved absolutely true. So it's a pleasure to bring along our sixteenth Inside the Songs feature with Maine folk/roots songwriter Putnam Smith. Many folks these days are attuned to creating music the "old-fashioned" way and melding this old music with a lifestyle that harkens back to pre-digital times. Putnam takes this a little farther than most; his new album, Kitchen, Love..., was printed via pedal-powered letterpress, and features is ongoing obsession with antique cast iron cookware. The music itself draws elements from the roots of American music, featuring some beautiful clawhammer banjo playing, but is also informed by today's modern songwriters. Putnam's music isn't anachronistic or archaic, it's just as heavily informed by a sense of reverence for our shared past and a deep abiding love for the future pathways of American music.
I caught up with him to see if he could tell me more about a few favorite songs from the new album. Here they are in his words:
Inside the Songs with Putnam Smith
Putnam Smith - The Artist Up on the Hill
"I'd been bartering with this friend of mine: work on my website in exchange for banjo lessons. My friend's the quiet type, not all that forthcoming with stuff from his past -- that is, until one night, after one of these banjo lessons, and a couple of beers. Suddenly, out came all these amazing stories from his past that I'd never heard before. Stories from the early 1970s (when I was still in diapers!), the post-woodstock era, adventuring around the country with his former wife. Setting up a tent in downtown San Francisco; driving flat out in a '68 Coronet convertible; making love out in the desert of New Mexico. Well...you have to be careful what you share with a songwriter: a couple nights later, out came this song."
Putnam Smith - Emily Dickinson
"Perhaps as a reaction from spending too much time on the road, leading an overly social existence, I came home from tour, and felt an overwhelming need for solitude. I live in a log cabin half an hour North of Portland, Maine -- but even this didn't seem to be enough. I found myself reading books about Dick Proenneke (who lived alone in a remote hand-built cabin in Alaska for 30 years), the journals of Thoreau, and the poems of Emily Dickinson. The "Belle of Amherst," though, was the one that ended up catching my fancy, mandolin in hand. She wrote over 1,800 poems, yet only a handful were published in her lifetime (and anonymously, at that). She dressed almost exclusively in white, baked bread, worked in the garden, and wrote poems which she buried away in a trunk. What can I say? I have a mad crush on a long-dead poet from the 19th Century."
Putnam Smith - Cast Iron Pan
"I think of this song as a political song disguised as a racy love song disguised as a song about a cast iron pan. I love to cook, and it was something of a revelation when someone introduced me to cast iron cookery: non-stick pans whose surface not only doesn't flake off in due course of planned obsolescence, but gets better with age? Radical! I happen to love generations-worn things that still work (I also print my CD Jackets on a 1901 pedal-powered letterpress -- cast iron, no less!). So now, I sometimes feel like a proselytizer. What I didn't realize until I started playing this song out, is that cast iron cookery does indeed have something of a cult following. Don't believe me? Check out the music video we made, including a flash-mob cast iron pan street dance:
Musically, the banjo riff is somewhat derived from the old time fiddle tune, "Raleigh and Spencer," which I learned off an old Tommy Jarrell record. For me though, it's the trumpet and trombone that make the song..."
Putnam Smith's "Kitchen, Love..."
Itchy Sabot Records, 2013
06/18/2013 | comments (0)
Iarla Ó Lionáird has a preternatural ability to change the way we hear traditional music. Heir to the rich and ancient tradition of Irish sean-nos singing (unaccompanied ballads in the Irish language), he's turned this insider musical art form (often performed in pubs with closed eyes and near-trance-like energy) into the arena shows of his former band Afro-Celtic Sound System. He didn't do this by changing the tradition, but by moving even deeper into the tradition than you'd think possible. With Afro-Celt and with his earlier solo albums, he used sparse electronics, strings, and minimalist arrangements to create soundscapes to support the songs. He created a modern context for an ancient sound. This isn't something easy to do, and it took a lifetime of mastery for him to manipulate sound this deftly without losing site of the transcendent core of the music.Talking about why he turned down early offers to record before joining Peter Gabriel's Real World Records, Ó Lionáird says "They wanted to treat it as folk music. But sean nos is darker, more passionate and ancient than that. It has never been about strutting your stuff. You stand there and hold it. It's all about empathy."
Now, Iarla Ó Lionáird has a new album out, Foxlight, and it's a beautiful new round of songs, surprisingly most from his own pen. Not many artists are writing new sean nos songs these days, but it seems to come naturally to Ó Lionáird. So much so that the listener would be hard pressed to tell the new songs from the traditional songs on the album. Curious to know more about the inspiration behind the songs, we asked Iarla to participate in one of Hearth Music's Inside the Songs features. Here's what he had to say about three songs on the album.
Inside the Songs with Irish Singer Iarla Ó Lionáird
"I suppose this song started as a waking dream that I had about my own family. During the making of the album this was the first time in my life where I was surrounded by my own children, my wife, the household hubub as it were of daily family life. And I think all of this mayhem and all that beautiful chaos infiltrated and fed into the creative process of making the record at every level. This dream had at its core a somewhat dis-embodied and yet stark realization, and a sense of responsibility for all the lives that I had created with my wife and their independent trajectory. It was suffused with a sort of speculative energy pervading the writing and by that I mean this song as I was writing it explored this idea of the realization on my part that the future really belonged to them and that I would have to be not just satisfied with that but in fact understand that this was quite simply the order of things and the way things should be.
The song lyric itself describes a quasi-dreamlike situation of my then very young children dancing around the bedroom in the morning as I was sleeping and me somehow slowing everything down and looking at them as creatures connected to me but also as independent and beautiful entities unto themselves. At the end of it all what this song is really about is acceptance. It's about taking every day and every moment as it comes and being thankful for what we have."
"This is an ancient song composed by the blind harper Turlough O'Carolan (1670–1738). O'Carolan is famed for his harp music but is much less appreciated for the many songs he composed during his life. He composed this song in praise of Eleanor Plunkett of Robertstown in the County of Meath who was the only survivor of her family following a fire in which their home was destroyed. I came across this song many years ago whilst preparing for a concert with quite a few harp players and it is extremely well known as part of their ancient repertoire. These harpists were unaware of its provenance as a song and so I commenced a period of research, uncovering quite a few verses and working on them editorially to see if I could make them fit well with the melody. I felt from the beginning that the composer had perhaps performed this song in a semi-spoken manner thus the lyric did not always fit perfectly with the meter of the melody And what a beautiful melody it is.
Still throughout my several years of preparing this song for the recording I decided to strip back much of its harpish mannerisms and articulations. I love the version we settled on for the album. I believe it has an open expansive quality that retains the core value of O'Carolans tremendous melodic sense as well as the touching sentiment with which the composer addresses the lady in question, having, as he says, nothing to offer her but his music. There is a particular delight also in recovering this song from the past and giving it voice for the first time in centuries. Special thanks is deserved her by composer Jon Hopkins for playing piano so beautifully on the recording."
"The Goat Song"
"Inevitably we are lucky if we grow up in a house which has music song and dance. I was doubly lucky in that I grew up also in a region of West of Ireland where singing, traditional singing was endemic. My mother's family were well-known as singers but particularly her aunt Elizabeth Cronin who was recorded in the 1950s by among others Alan Lomax and Jean Ritchie for the Smithsonian Folkways Collection. So in that sense singing was in the blood and I learned many's the song for my own mother as a young boy. The Goat Song is one such song. This is a comic and light song and it describes humorously how a person is trying to milk two yellow goats into a hat but that the hat alas has several holes in it thus leaking the milk all over the place.
Initially I was unsure about including this song on the record thinking perhaps that it was a little too trite but my producer Leo Abrahams prevailed upon me, as he often did when I was in doubt, and good sense made me reconsider that it had its charms and more than deserved its place. It also pleased me greatly to have recorded this song for my mother knowing that she would enjoy it so much and that it would rekindle memories of the past for both of us. In all of these recordings for my album Foxlight I am incredibly indebted to Leo for all of his patience, extraordinary skill and enormous dedication to the project."
Special thanks to Iarla Ó Lionáird for agreeing to talk about the songs. Check out this video about the making of Foxlight: