season of change: music for autumn 2008
It’s coming up on autumn here in the northern hemisphere, a season of transition from the abundance and openness of summer to the sometimes solitary and focused work of winter. Autumn holds aspects of both those seasons within its time and its changes: there’s sometimes an edge of chill in September winds, and October often brings Indian summer, warm days framed in the blazing changes of fall colors. What sort of music goes along with all that? Here are several ideas.
Sarah Jane Summers is from Inverness, in the Highlands of Scotland, where she first learned to play the fiddle. That Highland background comes out in her work, whether she’s playing the violin or the Hardanger fiddle, which is common in Nordic music. The baker’s dozen of tracks here move naturally among traditional Scottish music, music from Norway, original tunes, and pipe tunes set over to the fiddle, as well as music by the likes of Summers’ peers Jenna Reid and Charlie McKerron. It’s a lovely journey, from The Happy Hardanger through the Guddlin’ on the Burn set to Spike on a Bike and Urban Trad. Summers’ band mate from the Nu Nordic group Fribo, Ewan MacPherson, adds guitar, while cellist Barry Phillips, Paul Jennings on percussion, and Liz Knowles on fiddle are among those join Summers for the recording.
Duncan Chisholm is also from the north of Scotland and one can fairly hear the wind and sea in the music here. Some of it is original music, there are Gordon Duncan tunes set over to the fiddle, a piece composed by flute player Michael McGoldrick and one by piper Fred Morrison. It’s been a while since Chisholm’s last solo album -- he’s been working with singer and writer Ivan Drever, among other things, and touring with Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis. It’s great to hear him on his own, in a set that opens up the ideas of mist and mysteries. Standout cuts include that Fred Morrison tune, Farewell to Uist, paired with McGoldrick’s Glenuig Bay, and Chisholm’s own The Farley Bridge.
Hanneke Cassel and Christopher Lewis
To Calm the Raging Sea
Hanneke Cassel is also a fiddle player, an American one. She’s known as much for her fiery interpretation of Scottish and Cape Breton tunes as for her wildly original compositions inspired by such things as the Boston Red Sox . Here, she joins up with guitarist Christopher Lewis on a collection of hymns, some familiar and some less so, which show that she is able to handle gentleness as well as she commands fire. More about that here
The Geography of Light
The idea of change is one of the constants in the latest release from American singer and songwriter Carrie Newcomer. Other threads which run through the music here include questions of faith and doubt, mystery and hope, and images from Newcomer’s native Indiana landscape. There are songs set in the history of that landscape, one that rethinks the idea of judging a book by its over, and one that’s a real insight into what it is, and is not, like to be called to be an artist. That song, called There Is a Tree, is an outstanding cut, as are Map of Shadows and The Clean Edge of Change. In addition Newcomer has one of the best voices in folk music, or any music for that matter. More about all that here.
My Joy of You
You can’t help but be invited in to the warm and welcoming presence of Doris Rougvie’s voice on the title cut, My Joy of You, with which she opens this collection of songs,. Many of them are favorites which she’s often asked to sing at festivals across her native Scotland, and especially as she hosts song sessions at The Celtic Connections Festival each winter. The fourteen tracks range from the lively and funny Lassie of Fashion, which she wrote with Hugh Hoffman, to the traditional ballad The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry. Rougvie’s take on what’s fast becoming a folk standard, Karine Polwart’s Follow the Heron Home, adds another graceful insight to that song, as does her thoughtful interpretation of the emigrant's return song Farewell Indiana.
Too Long Away
Singer and songwriter Emily Smith opens her latest recording catching a moment of a summer evening in Sunset Hymn and closes it preparing for the lessons of winter in Winter Song. Along the way she introduces the feisty [and dangerous] May Colven and the equally dangerous Mermaid of Galloway, both subjects of traditional songs, adds a lively sea voyage in Caledonia and an unexpected, reflective conversation in Audience of Souls. More about this varied and thoughtful collection here.