Monday, April 29, 2024

Scotland's Music: Two Down from Anna Massie

Anna Massie is a skilled backing musician on stage and in the recording studio, an ace collaborator at band work (she is a member of RANT and Blazin’ Fiddles), a gifted producer, and as the creator of The Black Isle Correspondent videos and presenter of BBC Scotland’s flagship folk radio show Travelling Folk, an award winning broadcaster.

Two Down is her recently released solo album

Indeed, Anna has a lot on her plate and many ways to share her musical gifts. So it makes sense that is has been some time -- since 2003 to be exact-- since she has recorded a solo album.

“I have been extremely lucky to work with a wide range of wonderful musicians over the years, but this is the first time I’ve recorded an entire Ot’album myself, playing all the musical roles,” Anna said.

“It’s ben a challenge, but a lot of fun. I’ve loved having complete creative control over the record and being able to explore my own individual sound.”

Anna is well known for her creative dexterity on guitar and her skill on fiddle. If you watched The Black Isle Correspondent you’ll know she is also a singer (if that’s new to you, this album is fine chance to hear her voice). Banjo, mandolin, tenor guitar, keyboards and mouth trumpet (“it’s exactly what you think, and it’s a real thing,” Anna points out in the sleeve notes) are instruments she brings into the mix as well.

A fine gathering of music it is, one that allows Anna space to show her creativity as a songwriter, arranger, and producer as well as a player. Her dry and wry wit comes out, too.

That wit is especially in evidence in her selection of songs to cover.

Among those are My Life Is Over Again from Cape Breton ’s JP Cormier which deftly pokes fun at a number of country music song tales, and Australian Tom Morgan’s The Outdoor Type, which finds the singer poking fun at herself for how much she’s not that.

On a bit of of a gentler note, Anna opens the album with her song Thanks for Writing, a light rhyming piece that yet contains some of that balance of connection and isolation found during lockdown times.

Dinner Medals is a lovely tune with a funny reason for its name (I will let you read the sleeve notes to find out about that).

The title tune of the Worth the Wait set is gentle, thoughtful, and lively, written to celebrate the marriage of Lauren MacColl and Ewan MacPherson (you have met both of them through their music here along the Music Road). It pairs with tunes written to honor a Black Isle naturalist and to mark the end of the first lockdown time in Scotland. ,

Tunes for friends’ weddings make up another set; there’s a tune written to mark one hundred days of the Black Isle Correspondent during lockdown, and a lovely arrangement of traditional tunes Battle of Waterloo and Out on the Ocean.

There’s also The Lovat Bar, a fine tune Anna wrote for her students in guitar class at the annual Blazin’ in Beauly music school that Blazin’ Fiddles members host each summer.

Two Down is almost a solo album -- but it seems only right that Anna invited her parents to join in.

Goren Berg’s Polka is a a tune her dad Bob Massie wrote and on which he plays mandolin. Her mum. Alison Massie, joins on spoons for that tune and also adds spoon percussion to that set of wedding tunes mentioned earlier.

There’s a tune inspired by Anna’ parents, too -- or at least their garden experiences. Anna spent the first pf Scotland’s lockdowns back in the Black Isle where she saw first hand how the veg growing was going. The tune is called The Pioneer Waltz. With that tune, and other songs and tunes on Two Down, you will have a fine time, whether you are exploring all the musical lines, laughing at the sound of the mouth trumpet, or taking the quieter tunes including The Pioneer Waltz, The Love Bar, and Out on the Ocean.

Anna has remarked that what she’d wish for Two Down is that it gives listeners a smile. That it does, on many levels.

You may also wish to see
Lauren MacColl’s album Haar, on which Anna plays guitars
About Blazin’ Fiddles
RANT’s album called Spin
From the Katie McNally Trio, the album Now More Than Ever. , which Anna produced

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Thursday, April 11, 2024

Scotland's music: Haar from Lauren MacColl

Haar. In the northeast of Scotland that is the name for a mist that often comes in across the coast. It lends a feeling of uncertainty as one walks about and tries to find one’s way.

Musician Lauren MacColl had some of the grimmer aspects of what haar can suggest on her mind as she began writing music for an album, and working on music commissioned for Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters., MacColl’s instrument is the fiddle.

She found her way through the fog, though, to peace and hope.

“This music was written during a year of huge personal loss, when it often felt that the haar had engulfed me and those closest to me,” she said.

“Working on this album has been a solace,” MacColl continued, “and at the heart of it is a strong pull towards the coast both its fragility and its strength. Haar --- tor me-- is a reminder that that after the mist always comes the light.”

That idea appears that more than once in the music MacColl has composed and has chosen for the album she named Haar.

Most of is inspired by landscapes, seascapes, and stories of the place she calls home, the Black Isle in the northeast Highlands of Scotland.

The Black Isle is not an island, though it has a good bit of coast as it is a peninsula bounded by the Cromarty Firth, the Beauly Firth, and the Moray Firth. It lies just a bit north of Inverness. People have been coming to settle there, to work the waters and the land, since the time of the Picts and before.

Several of the tunes Lauren MacColl offers on Haar were inspired by histories of shipwrecks and lives lost at sea, and the effect these had on the communities left behind. In these tunes, MacColl has a gift for evoking hardship, change, and resilience through the music of her fiddle.

There are happier stories in the journey on which she tales her listeners as well.

One such is the set which pairs the tunes The Lost Bell and Women of the Shore. The fast paced opening tune is inspired by the true story of two bells cast in Holland for churches on the Black Isle back in 1624. They both almost made lies beneath the waters to this day. That, Lauren decided, warranted a lively tune.

She pairs it with a tune of history and resilience honoring the women who had such a large part of in the lives of fishing communities in the Black Isle and all along Scotland’s coasts and waters.

Another story of resilience is honored and illuminated in the tune Culbin. The town of Culbin, east of Nairn, was overcome by a great sandstorm in 1694. Residents fled and did not return.

About a hundred years ago, Scotland’s Forestry Commission began planting trees, and now, as Lauren writes in her sleeve notes

”Culbin is a thriving home to nature.It is an ever changing place where shifting sands continue to remind us of the power of our coasts. A place full of dragonflies and singing seals.”

That love of and respect for nature, and a view of changing life along the coast both cleared eye and poetic come through clearly in Lauren’s work. Whether she is writing a tune inspired by the northern lights, or changes in spring weather, or a memory of how her grandmother’s love for the area her family calls home inspires her own love of the place and her work to share its stories through her music, without speaking a word Lauren evokes history. community, and landscape.

It is MacColl’s clear storytelling with her fiddle that anchors and informs the music on Haar.

She has gathered a group of musical friends to come along with her on the journey too, several of them with their own ties to the area. You will hear Rachel Newton on harp and spoken word, James Lindsay on bass, Alice Allen on cello, Jennifer Austin on piano, Anna Massie on acoustic and nylon guitars, and Mairearad Green on accordion.

You may also wish to see

Lauren MacColl has other projects on the go. Among them: she is a member of the bands RANT and Salt House, and the duo Heal and Harrow with Rachel Newton.
Rachel Newton is also part of the Spell Songs project
James LIndsay is a member of the top band Breabach
The title track of Haar is part of this story, in the Music for Shifting Times series at Wandering Educators

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Friday, March 08, 2024

Ireland's music: Roisin Reimagined: Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh and The Irish Chamber Orchestra

Róisín Dubh, a love song that with time became one of Ireland’s most well known political songs

Slan le Maigh, a song of love for a place, and a song of leaving and farewell

An tSeanbhean Bhocht, a allegory of Ireland celebrating the Rising of 1798 and the spirit of independence

An Chúilfhionn, with poetic words of loved place and loved woman set to a slow air that has become one of Ireland’s best known melodies

These songs and a good number more are al part of this story.

These songs go back centuries. Some have connections which reach back further in time as well.

Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh found her world turned upside down when the pandemic struck.

A touring musician, she couldn’t tour; an artist who loves to share Ireland’s traditional culture and engage her with audiences in person, she wondered when and if she’d be able to do that again.

Nic Amhlaoibh is also a person who likes to look forward and to plan.

A conversation with her friend, producer and instrumentalist Donal O’Connor, got her thinking.

What would you like to do, when this is over, he asked? What would be your dream project?

Maybe something with strings, a string quartet...? she said.

Why not go bigger? Why not have an orchestra? O’Connor suggested.

They did.

The result of that question: Roisin Reimagined, first a concert and a broadcast, then as a recording.

The creation of these saw Nic Amhlaoibh, O’Connor, the Irish Chamber Orchestra, six contemporary Irish composers, several players of traditional instruments, the Kilkenny Arts Festival, and more folk behind the scenes join together to create a project that brings together folk and classical music, stories from Ireland’s sean nos canon, the high art of Irish song, told with new perspectives.

A gathering of songs mainly from the sixteenth through the nineteenth century (though some are thought to have origins far older), sung in Irish, form the basis of the project.

Most are what is known as big songs, songs from the history of Irish song. They are part of what is known as the sean nos or old style tradition, a style which was passed own singer to singer.

“A singer may give you a song, the basics of it, but you have to find your own way inot it,” Nic Amhlaoibh said. In sean nos, the emotion of the song is conveyed by the style and ornamentation the singer chooses through which to tell the tale, that finding your won way into the song.

Does that sound confusing ot unfamiliar? It’s not; think about a song you enjoy in another style and you will see that there are connections.

In recent centuries sean nos has been thought of and passed down as unaccompanied singing. Nic Amhlaoibh’s research has found that was not always the case, though.

If you’re Irish, or well familiar with Irish music, you’ll know some of these songs. Róisín Dubh, Slan le Miagh, and An tSeanbhean Bhocht, for instance, those three mentioned at the top have melodies which will seem familiar even it you cannot quite place where you’ve heard them.

Nic Amhlaoibh learned many of the songs on Roisin Re-imagined growing up in the west Kerry Gaeltacht, and has sung some of them on occasion as part of her own concerts as a solo artist.

“In some ways it’s a full circle love story back to these songs,” Nic Amhlaoibh told Matthew of the Oboe Windfree podcast.

Several of the songs were newer to her repretoire; she’d learned sean-nos traditional style growing up in west Kerry, though.She’d done occasional one off gigs with orchestras, working with composers?arrangers and an orchestra on a full on productionwas new to her.

All of this “was a challenge I wanted,” she said.

There are songs of love, of longing, of leaving. Some have words written by poets, some with authors unknown.

There are songs with other stories too, a song trading wordplay in Irish and English, for instance, as well as the march rhythm of An tSeanbhean Bhoch, and a set of fast paced songs including Cuirfimid deaindí, a lively piece often sung to and with children.

In the songs in varying combinations, there are the voice of traditional singer, singing in Irish, the musicians of a chamber orchestra playing violin, viola, cello, and bass; players of traditional instruments including fiddle, harp, uillean pipes, arrangements by six Irish composers, each coming from different musical worlds...

What holds these elements and combinations together?

Respect -- respect of the musicians for each other and for what each brings to the music -- is clear and central to every idea and every note.

It is a powerful unique, creative project that respects the musical traditions from which it comes and frames them with new ideas.

Nic Amhlaoibh’s voice, presence, understanding of and love for the material form another centerpiece.

So does the skill of producer Donal O’Connor.

Muireann grew up in the west Kerry Gaeltacht with Irish as her first language. Music, language, and landscape have influenced her style and the material she chooses as well.

Thirteen years touring the world as lead singer and flute player with the top traditional band Danu,a thriving solo career with albums featuring songs in irish and in English, collaborations with artists from a range of genres including classical, elctronica, and Scottish folk form part of Nic Amhlaoibh’s story as well. She is also a successful broadcaster, presenting programs on Irish and English language radio in Ireland and on Irish and Scottish television..

Donal O’Connor is from the other side of Ireland on the east coast. He is from a musical family that saw him having lessons in both fiddle and classical violin while growiing up. He is in demand as a player, and as a producer of recorded music and broadcast projects including Se Mo Laoch, Celtic Connections, Bosca Ceoil and mnay others.

Then there’s the Irish Chamber Orchestra -- known for its willingness to explore connections between classical and traditional music. The Kilkenny Arts Festival, which co-commissioned the project, is equally willing to explore musical adventures, as are the six Irish composer/arrangers involved in Roisin Reimagined: Cormac McCarthy, Paul Campbell, Linda Buckley, Sam Perkin, Niamh Varian-Barry, and Michael Keeney

You will find your own way in to the songs of Roisin Reimagined. Each piece is well worth your time: there is a lot going on in all of them, and there’s is directness and clarity, too to be experienced as you take time to listen. You may like to know, too, that the sleeve notes for Roisin ReImagined include lyrics in Irish and English as well as notes on the stories of the songs.

You may also wish to see
Muireann Nic Amhloaibh’s album Foxglove & Fuschia
Dual, a recording Nic Amhlaoibh made with Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis from Scotland
Women of Ireland: Four Musicians, including Nic Amhlaobh along with Katan Casey, Cathie Ryan, and Cara Dillon

Photographs of Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, The Irish Chamber Orchestra, and Donal O'Connor courtesy of the artists

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Sunday, December 31, 2023

At the year's turning: 5 songs for new year's reflection

At the turning of the year, it is a time of looking forward and looking back. As ever here at Music Road, the stories found in music are company along the way, and guides to help think about the challenges, acceprt the sorrows, and share the celebrations of the turn of seasons.

Carrie Newcomer’s song Singing in the Dark works for this point in the seasons and beyond.

The idea for the song sparked for Newcomer when she spent a bit of time at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. A respected writer, artist, and thinker on matters of the spirit, she’d been invited to experience the place where spiritual teacher and writer Thomas Merton had lived.

While there, she attended several of the services through which the monks keep hours of the day -- matins, lauds, vespers, compline, for example -- some of which occur in the dark of night and the dark of very early hours of the morning.

On new year’s eve and other times, someone is always singing in the dark...

You will find Singing in the Dark on Carrie Newcomer’s album A Great Wild Mercy.

Waitin’ on Mary is a Christmas song, yes. It also works really well with the atmosphere and events going in in the world just now: finding reasons to hope amidst despair, for one thing. Gretchen Peters wrote it. You will find it on her album Northern Lights.

Rani Arbo has set words of Alfred Lord Tennyson to music in Ring Out Wild Bells. Each of the verses she’s chosen speaks to today as much as they did to Tennyson’s time.

You will find it recorded on the Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem album Wintersong.

In Scotland, the celebration of midnight as one year turns to another is marked by and is called the bells. Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem’s song is a nod to that, and so is this...

Auld Lang Syne, as well known as it is, really does belong as a part on one year turning into another. Here’s a fine version of it by Hannah Rarity and Blazin’ Fiddles. You will want to listen, yes, but then perhaps second time round go ahead and sing along.

Bittersweet as the turning of a year may seem at times, it is also a time which invites celebration, connection and hope. Cajun musicians Canray Fontenot and Michael Doucet caught that ideas well in their song Bonne Annee. So did Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem in their performance of it, on their album Wintersong.

Wishing you all the best at the turning of this year, and as the new year unfolds.

You may also wish to see
Three more songs for the new year, from Kris Drever, Fara, and Olivia Newton-John
Ireland, Scotland, and story
December: msuic for a time of hope and reflection at Wandering Educators
Music for peace, undersatnign, and connection at Wandering Educators

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Sunday, December 24, 2023

Christmas eve and the coming days: music as companion

Christmas eve, Christmas day, the days leading up to the turning of the year: they often make for a time of reflection.

All things happening in the world, alongside what challenges and changes may be arising with each of us in our personal circumstances, at times make the quiet and the mindset for such reflection seem hard to come by.

As you’ll know if you’ve been following my work here and in other publications I find music to be a gateway and a good companion to such reflection.

Two recordings to consider

If you may be looking for an especially lively and seasonal recording with singing you will want to join along with, then have a listen to Glad Christmas Comes. from Eliza Carthy and Jon Boden.

The English duo offer a mix of Victorian carols -- such as the title song-- and other favorites and originals. Even if you’ve not heard familiar song done quite the way they offer, or the songs are new to you, the creativity and energy of their singing will engage you.

Tracks to note: Shepherds Arise, Glad Christmas Comes

With her recording O Come Emmanuel Hanneke Cassel offers a more contemplative take on the season.

Cassel’s main instrurment is the fiddle, with which she draws on Scottish, Cape Breton, and Americana flavors to frame her interpretations and create her original music, For this album she has also invited along several of her musical friends to add their voices to different tracks, All the the music is well worth your listening, at the winter season and at other times.

Standout tracks: Silent Night, O Come Emmanuel/Star of Wonder

Wishing you a reflective, peaceful time, whatever way you may be marking this season.

You may also wish to see
Music for December: time for hope & reflection at Wandering Educators
Christmas Eve Reflections at Along the Music Road, my new newsltter at Substack
Another album from Hanneke Cassel
More Winter listening.

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Sunday, December 03, 2023

Advent and music: first week in Advent

Advent: a time os ideas, a time of change....

Whether this season is part of your faith calendar or not, this time at turning of season and turning of year is a good time to reflect.

It may be challenging to pause, perhaps even more so to find interior silence in which to do that reflection.

Music makes a good gateway into reflection.

Though there’s plenty of great seasonal music about, if that’s not what engages you, there are other possibilities too.

Several ideas to consider

Lauren MacColl is a fiddle player and composer based in the north of Scotland. Her album Haar is not seasonal music. It is. however, a collection of thoughtful pieces which make good companions for quiet thinking.

MacColl is joined by musical friends including Rachel Newton on harp and spoken word, Anna Massie on guitar, James Lindsay on double bass, Mairearad Green on accordion, Jennifer Austin on pianos, and Alice Allen on cello. Their collaboration gives added interest and depth, which along with MacColl’s stellar playing, invites repeated listening.

The Lonesome Chronicles from The Kathy Kallick Band takes things in a bit of a different direction. Kallick is an award winning singer, songwriter and guitarist based in northern California; her band memebrs are based all across the US west.

When they get together, it is powerful music they make. For The Lonesome Chronicles, as the title suggests there are songs that consider being lonely and ways of living through that and learning from it.

The album takes listeners on a journey, really, from those considerations of coping with being lonely to celebrating coming out of it ). There are both songs and tunes, a well rounded collection with original music from Kallick and her band members along side well chosen covers of music from William Golden, Earl Scruggs, and John Prine.

For seasonal music, as Advent begins take time to explore three winter seasonal albums from the top Irish American band Cherish the Ladies.

On Christmas Night, Star in the East, and Christmas in Ireland find the group offering varying modds in song and tune, from traditional to original pieces. Heidi Talbot is lead singer for On Christmas Night, Michelle Lee Burke has that role for Star in the East, and Hannah Rarity is lead singer for Christmas in Ireland.

Flute and whistles from band leader and founding member Joanie Madden and guitar from founding member Mary Coogan are creative presences on all the albums, with keys from Kathleen Boyle, accordion from Mirella Murray, and fiddle from Nollaig Casey making part of the mix too.

Each of these albums is well worth taking time with at the winter holidays.

Also to explore: Cherish have put together a digital holiday album with tracks from these albums and other sources featuring Cherish the Ladies with guest singers Heidi Talbot, Hannah Rarity, Don Stiffe, Kate Purcell, Michelle Burke, Bruce Foley, and Seámus Ó'Flatharta. It is called Ultimate Christmas Mix and you can find it on Bandcamp.

...and look for the album Christmas, from Cherish the Ladies founding member and guitarist Mary Coogan.

More to come on music to listen to during Advent as the season unfolds...

You may also wish to see
More ideas for music for the first week in Advent, from a few eyars back
Music for Starry Winter NIghts at Wandering Educators, with a track from On Christmas Nigh form Cherish the Ladies along with music from Andrew Finn Magill, Matt and Shannon Heaton and more
One More Christmas from Austin based musicians Christine Albert and Chris Gage
Learn about Through Wind and Rain, a recording from Cathie Ryan, who was lead singer with Cherish the Ladies for many years

Two ways you can support Music Road -- and thank you!

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Tuesday, November 07, 2023

Scotland's music:Elan from Rachel Hair and Ron Jappy

Elan: that’s the name Rachel Hair and Ron Jappy have chosen for their most recent album.

As it is a word meant to describe something done with energy, style, and enthusiasm, it makes a description reflacting f the duo’s music.

Rachel plays the harp. Ron’s instrument is the guitar. The two thus bring together Scotland’s oldest instrument and one that is newest to the music of Scottish tradition.

They each bring love, respect, and knowledge of that tradition to the ten tracks on Elan.

Eight of the ten tracks are sets in which several tunes are linked; six of the ten include original compositions from Rachel. Other tunes come from traditional sources and from the work of contemporary musicians who draw on Celtic traditions.

Harp and guitar are in good conversation all through the sets and single tunes.

There’s the lively set Tom Toi’s Polka, for instance, with the title tune by Rachel written for a harp learning friend, followed by Battle of Augrim from Irish tradition, and another tune which they write in the sleeve notes “we found when sourcing new material; it obviously caught our eye because of its name!” It is called Harper’s Frolics and comes from English tradition. The light notes of Rachel’s harp dance against the upbeat rhythm of Ron’s guitar through the tunes. Adam Brown adds the beat of bodhran to the mix.

MacLeods of Waipu is a reflective tune that hold stories of journeys and discovery within its notes. When Ron and Rachel were on tour in New Zealand, people kept telling them they needed to go to Waipu as it it s place important to people from Scotland who emigrated to New Zealand.

On a day off they worked in a visit, and sure enough upon visiting the town’s museum, they found connection not only to Scotland but to Ullapoll, the very town in the northwest Highlands where Rachel was born.

Turns out that a school teacher (MacLeod of the tune’s name) during the time of the Highland Clearances led folk from Ullapool first to Cape Breton in Atlantic Canada and several years later to Waipu in North Island.

Cape Breton. comes in for further reference on the album, too: the Cape Breton Jigs set comprises three tunes by three Cape Breton fiddlers, set over to good effect on on harp, guitar, and bodhran.

Daybrak is a quieter set, also taking inspiration from landscape. The title tune comes from famed Shetland fiddler Tom Anderson. The duo pairs it with Rachel’s Dinan Dawn. That is “a Breton style tune inspired by early morning walks to teach harp in the beautifully medieval town of Dinan, Brittany,” she said.

The engaging music on Elan goes to show why Rachel and Ron each have many projects on the go in addition to their duo gigs and recordings.

Ron comes from a coastal village in Scotland’s northeast. He’s been involved in music since he was in primary school and holds a degree from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. He’s in demand for recording and touring in folk and traditional music projects.

Rachel is one of the top folk musicians in Scotland, known for her teaching as well as her performance. These skills and her love for the music of Scotland take her to countries across the world. Rachel has released six solo albums to date and often works on collaborative projects as well.

Rachel’s regular travels take her to teach harp once a month to the Isle of Man; it’s also where her husband comes from. So it’s natural that there’s be a nod to music of the Isle of Man on Elan.

The set Rachel and Ron have chosen to close the album references the Isle in its title, To the Rock, and in its tunes, which include music from Manx tradition and from contemporary Manx writers. That good conversation between harp and guitar (with Adam Brown’s bodhran again joining in) continues through the set.

Clarity, grace, creativity, and, yes, elan inform the tunes themselves and the playing of them through the album.

All the tracks on Elan are well worth your attention, worth your repeated listening in fact.

Lively sets and reflective ones, traditional tunes and newer ones, the music Rachel Hair and Ron Jappy have created becomes soemwhat like enjoying a conversation with good friends, a conversation to which you will want to return

You may also wish to see
Lossan, an ablum from Rachel Hair and Manx Gaelic singer Ruth Keggin
Caoir,. new album from gaelic singer Joy Dunlop, on which Ron plays guitar
Fas, an album celebrating nature from top Scottish band Breabach
Thar Toinn/Seaborne from Irish musician Muirieann Nic Amhlaoibh
The Woods from Scottish musician Hamish Napier

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