Here goes–to kick off 2013, we will be presenting you SEVEN “BEST of” lists in the next two weeks . First up is Kerry Dexter with music, of course. Don’t miss our gift of “bests”. Resolve to sign up for an e-mail subscription to A Traveler’s Library.
By Kerry Dexter
Travel is about moving from place to place, seeing things, meeting people, all the aspects of being present in a place. There are journeys of intellect and imagination, too, journeys which happen through books and film and conversation. Every sort of travel also has an aspect of spirit and of faith, of asking good questions, of changing the questions to ask, of living with certain and uncertain answers. Music is a doorway, an inspiration, a guide, and a companion of such travels.
Here are several of my choices for albums which make good companions and guides for journeys of the spirit. Take a listen: they may not be
at all what you’d expect.
Cathie Ryan’s album Through Wind and Rain offers a journey marked by resilience, reflection, and hope, with a bit of humor and a lot of Ireland and Irish America thrown in. Ryan is the first generation daughter of parents who came to Michigan from Kerry and Tipperary, and has herself spent time living in both Ireland and America, a woman who has been honored both for the grace of her singing and the insight of her songwriting and song choices. All of that is here.
Unexpected beauty at the heart of dusty rocks called geodes, persistence of connection across time and place, lessons learned from holding burning anger, frying eggs that sound like psalms: those are just a few of the things that come in for comment and reflection in Carrie Newcomer’s choice of songs for her album Kindred Spirits. It’s a retrospective of sorts, as Newcomer looked back over more than a dozen albums with an eye to songs which especially addressed matter of the spirit. There are several new songs in the collection as well.
It might be a Christmas album, but you don’t have to stop listening to Fine Winter’s Night now that the holiday is past: Matt and Shannon Heaton’s songs and tunes of winter, of faith, of community, and of friendship are good for any season. A good companion to look forward and look back at the many aspects of what is to be learned during the winter season.
Hanneke Cassel makes her points without words, through the voice of her fiddle on For Reasons Unseen. Her eloquence on this album includes versions of tunes from the traditions of Scotland (Cassel is the former U. S. National Scottish style fiddle champion, among other things), a song she learned while spending time teaching and learning in China, and music in the Celtic style of her own composition. It’s all well worth repeated listening.
Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem chose to take the spiritual aspect of things for their recording Some Bright Morning. From a modern day reworking of the lyrics of an old gospel song to a thoughtful piece from Arbo which intertwines ideas of bridges in imagination and physical world, the quartet (Arbo plays the fiddle and sings; her band mates, the men of daisy mayhem, are Andrew Kinsey on bass, Anand Nayak on guitars, and Scott Kessel on percussion which ranges from a regular drum kit to a cookie tin to a pizza box — the men all sing too) travel through the stories they offer with melody, harmony, word, and imagination.
Wilderness Plots is an album that came out of five songwriting friends becoming intrigued by a book of short stories about people in the time when the Ohio River Valley was the frontier of America. Stories and circumstances differ enough to make things interesting and thought provoking, but the ideas and choices have resonance with life today as well. The five songwriters, each with very different voices, both singing voices and in writing style, are Tim Grimm, Michael White, Tom Roznowski, Krista Detor, and Carrie Newcomer.
Julie Fowlis is up for an Oscar for a song she did in English for the soundtrack of the movie Brave, an animated film from Disney Pixar which is set in medieval Scotland. A native of Scotland’s Western Isles, Fowlis most usually sings in Scottish Gaelic, which is what you will hear on her album Uam. Whether or not you understand the language – she tells the stories and lyrics in the liner notes if you do not – you’ll hear wind and sea and land and journey,community and choice and friendship, questions asked and answered, in her songs.
Land, sea, mountain, legend, history, solitude and community: those are all things you’ll hear in the music of Altan in their album The Poison Glen. The album is named for a beautiful place (which is itself named by a cartographer’s mistake or from and ancient legend, take your pick) in the band’s home territory , County Donegal in Ireland’s far northwest. The world traveling group decided to focus on things close to home for this recording. Led by the singing and fiddle playing of Mairéad Ni Mhaonaigh, the musicians explore songs in Irish and in English and tunes both original and from the tradition. There’s wisdom in them all.
Note: Links to album titles take you to articles where you can learn more. It is the policy of A Traveler’s Library to reveal affiliate relationships. Album cover images here are links to Amazon, where you can listen to partial music tracks and shop for albums. If you click on the cover picture and make a purchase at Amazon, it will benefit Music Road, for which we thank you.
Come back tomorrow for Best Posts about Cultural Travel.