It’s January 1st 2021. The start of a new year and everybody, the world over, is hoping that this year is better than the last. There was a Facebook post I saw which said “I thought 2020 would be the year I got everything I wanted. Instead, it’s the year I’ve become more grateful than ever for everything I already have.” Very wise and I will try to be more grateful and less of a whinger this year. Aren’t we all supposed to make New Year’s Resolutions today? The thing is, it’s normal with a resolution to decide to change your behaviour but when so many restrictions are placed in our way, none of us have as much control as normal. There’s no point in me saying that I’m going to spend more time visiting friends or going to away football matches because, at the moment, I’m not allowed to. I’ve used an online calculator which tells me that, at the current rate of vaccinations, I will be “fully protected” by June 22nd. Blimey. That’s a long time to wait before I can do what I want to. I need to adopt the attitude of Livingstone, Columbus and Scott (from “Dr Livingstone I Presume” by The Moody Blues) and find what I’m looking for from within rather than without. Life goes on within you and without you.
Graham Potter, the Brighton manager, was asked yesterday what his New Year’s Resolutions were and he replied that he wanted to improve. He has a masters degree in leadership and emotional intelligence and it shows. He is constantly looking within for improvement and encouraging his players to do the same. It’s a shame that Brighton are still playing so toothlessly. The point of this is that looking for personal growth and development is a worthy aim and I would love to be able to do the same. So the normal resolutions of losing weight, doing more exercise, writing the blog, volunteering more, reading more, listening to more music, keeping more in touch with friends and being more caring towards Roo all apply but I would love to be able to say by the end of the year that they have all taken place within the context of personal growth.
I have listened to a lot of music this year. However, I think I don’t spend enough time sitting down with the headphones on and doing nothing else but listening to an album. The “Bonny Light Horseman” album is playing now and I’ve got half an ear open but I’m not giving it my full attention. Listening to music is different to having music on. I must try harder.
It was interesting yesterday to write about “fables of sanctuary stones, scarecrows and buried villages alongside dread stories of purgatory, sacrifice, rape, bestiality and murder“. It took about four hours to listen to the whole box set and to write about it – most of it was copied from the sleevenotes, some of it was gleaned from Wikipedia and there were one or two personal reflections. I don’t suppose I’ll ever listen to those songs again – I didn’t especially enjoy much of it but it was a hugely interesting four hours. It cost £20 to buy and part of me thinks that it was a waste of money if I don’t ever get it off the shelf again. Another part of me thinks that four hours entertainment for £20 is excellent value. I can easily spend three times that amount in one evening by drinking pints of Harvey’s, eating peanuts and scoffing a curry.
Obviously, this whole blog is self indulgent but there was part of me that wondered if my list of all things 2020 was even more self indulgent than normal. I do like a list though and I shall look back on that page more than most. It occurred to me that I haven’t really listened to the Bonny Light Horseman album properly and yet I adjudged it to be the best album by a group, mainly on the basis of the first three tracks alone which are wonderful. If I never listen to the album again, it won’t have been a waste of money but I would like to spend 2021 giving proper attention to music rather than write about an album and just move on. It’s not as if I’m short of time.
I can’t remember how I first came across Anais Mitchell but her 2012 album, “Young Man In America”, was the first music of hers that I heard and it’s wonderful. Investigating her back catalogue, I came across “Hadestown” which sets the story of Orpheus and the Underworld to music. It has since been turned into a Tony and Grammy winning Broadway musical. In 2018, Anais Mitchell, Eric Johnson and Josh Kaufman accepted an invitation from Aaron Dessner of The National to perform together at the Eaux Clare Festival that he was curating with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver (who sung some vocals on the recorded version of “Hadestown”). They enjoyed playing together so much that they recorded an album. In November, they released a single called “Clementine” so there may be another album on its way.
Eric Johnson is an American singer-songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist. He is the leader of the folk-rock band Fruit Bats, and he has also scored films (e.g. Our Idiot Brother and Smashed).
Josh Kaufman is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer, composer, arranger and engineer and is a member of the post punk band, Muzz.
The album consists of 11 traditional songs that have been arranged by the three members of the band. Sometimes the results are similar to other versions and sometimes they sound completely different, often combining two or more songs. The whole album sounds “folky” and the singing and playing are sublime. Anais Mitchell is no stranger to re interpreting traditional folk songs – she released an album of “Child Ballads” in 2013 with Jefferson Hamer. (Francis Child collected 305 traditional English and Scottish songs and published them in the early Twentieth Century).
The first song is “Bonny Light Horseman and Eric Johnson said “the song comes from the Napoleonic Wars and it’s a song of incredible sadness. It’s this completely hopeless story of a man who’s gone to war and his love is singing about being a dove, flying across the sea to find him.”
“Deep In Love” is based on a song called “The Water Is Wide”, sometimes called “Waly Waly” which is a Scottish folk song from the early 17th century. It is Child Ballad 204. The version on this album is gorgeous. It slides gracefully from note to note making a song of effortless beauty.
The Roving is another beautiful song and uses the lyrics of a song called “Loving Hannah” which was sung by an American singer called Jean Ritchie 60 years ago although the origins appear to have been from Ireland many years before that. It’s repetitive lyrics create a lovely balmy immersive mood.
That takes care of the first three songs which I know well and love but, this afternoon, I have grown to love the rest of the album. “Jane Jane” sounds a lot like an early 1970s version by Tia Blake but that version is based on a Peter, Paul and Mary track from several years earlier, which itself is a combination of two older songs, including the Appalachian Christmas song, “Children Go Where I Send Thee.”
I know “Bright Morning Stars Are Rising” because The Incredible String Band played it at the start of their BBC concert in 1971. It is a traditional Appalachian folk song about angels.
10000 Miles is a re-working of an 18th century ballad, sometimes known as “Fare Thee Well” and sometimes known as “The Turtle Dove”. The lyrics bear some resemblance to “A Red Red Rose”, a poem by Robert Burns.
Sitting and listening intently to this album will provide more pleasure. How lucky we all are to be inundated with so much astounding music to listen to. “I’ve got a feeling that ‘21 is going to be a good year. “