Posted by: Barbara Evanhoe | January 1, 2012

New Music for a New Year

The week between Christmas and the New Year is an odd “time out of time”…still the holidays, but not really, as all the presents have been opened – many already returned – family visits concluded – much food and drink consumed, and most of us are ready for the quiet moments of introspection that come with the remaining winter days and nights.

Keith and I have spent much of this past week enjoying the gift of new music, complements of my son and his lovely lady.

Four CD’s, thoughtfully selected…..each the work of a singer-songwriter, duo or duo with guest back-up… us much to learn from and aspire to with our own music in this new year.

The Swell Season‘s 3 CD set – “Strict Joy”, the work of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, released in 2009, is a hauntingly beautiful combination of emotionally honest lyrics, innocent, angelic vocals, and a variety of rhythm combinations, from jazz to waltz tempos.

Listen carefully and you may notice sounds reminiscent of Van Morrison, Neil Young, The Red Hot Chili Peppers or Counting Crows.

Every cut on this CD is worth listening to…..a few of our favorites are “Low Rising”, “In These Arms” and “Fantasy Man”….Delightful!

It wasn’t until I was listening to the cut “The Way it Goes” from the CD ‘The Harrow and The Harvest”, released in 2011 by Gillian Welch and partner, David Rawling, that I remembered hearing the song earlier in the year on an NPR “First Listen” segment.

The tune and the lyrics simply struck me. Two voices with an acoustic backdrop. I just may have to add this song to my personal performance repertoire.

It’s been a long time since Gillian Welch released a CD, and I agree with Billboard reviewer, Justin Jacobs…..”The rawest and dustiest of this year’s crop of roots music: a completely acoustic set, each song lovingly stripped naked, with whispered harmonies, Rawlings’ lullaby guitar and Welch’s sad-eyed melodies. It’s a record for slowly sipping a strong drink at dusk, for remembering bittersweet and forgotten loves.

I am still in the process of digesting the music on “Tales of Brave Ida”, a 1994 release by the Indie Rock Band, “Ida”, from New York City.

The works of artists Elizabeth Mitchell and Daniel Littleton on this CD are mainly quiet arrangements that gently flow along with interesting back-up instruments that drone sweetly under vocal harmonies.

As musicians, we listen to music not only for entertainment, but to learn….and I know instinctively that I can learn a lot from this music that is so different from the “songs” that Keith and I generally perform.

I am just now entering the depths of it, and look forward to spending more time with “Ida”, to discover the secrets they have to offer.

Our fourth CD, last to be mentioned, but definitely not least, is singer-songwriter Justin Vernon’s  “Bon Iver, Bon Iver”, another 2011 release featured on NPR’s “First Listen”.

The instrumentation on this CD is dreamy, other-worldy, and harmonic, and the vocals move in and out of the music along with a celestial choir in the background, and there is a familiarity there that you just can’t put your finger on…..and yet it is all fresh.

Rolling Stone’s Jon Dolan provides a track-by-track breakdown in this review… this point, I don’t claim to understand as he does….I simply listen and enjoy, in hopes of some day capturing the how and why of these beautiful sounds, and perhaps bringing some aspect of them into our music.


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