Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Songs of Homecoming, to Scotland and other places

Songs are often a sort of conversation -- a distilled and poetic one, if they’re good, with lasting value and connection, with room for both singer and listener, and holding those qualities across time and language. That’s certainly what was going on as Gordeanna McCulloch, Steve Byrne, and Calum Ailig MacMillan offered songs on the idea of homecoming as part of the Songs of Scotland series of concerts at Celtic Connections on Sunday evening. This is a series of intimate concerts, three musicians trading songs in the upstairs listening room of the Universal Folk Club. This night, the musicians’ choices ranged from a song of man from the isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides recounting how he missed his childhood home now he was living in Canada, to thoughts on leaving for university, to the recurring folk theme of a lover who returns from travels and tests his
sweetheart’s fidelity, to the anticipation of wives and lovers as they await the return of the Bonnie Ship the Diamond from its whaling voyage, to a vision of an ideal Scotland, to that classic song of Scottish homecoming, Caledonia. Sung variously in English, Scots and Scots Gaelic, the music, the voices, and the ideas connected with those in the audience, who were invited to, and often did, sing along.

One of the things all of the musicians mentioned, though, was that they’d each searched long and hard for songs of homecoming, rather than just songs of missing home, and had stretched the idea a bit to include a range of approaches. This was all to the good on the night, and it also got me thinking about different songs of homecoming that they didn’t sing. Here are few of those-- I’d be interested to hear what others you’d suggest.

*Although it was Robert Burns’ birthday night, no one offered his tale of The Shepherd's Wife. A personal homecoming to be sure as the song’s story unfolds, but still -- Jim Malcolm and his wife Susie get at the gentle humor of the song on Jim’s recording Acquaintance.

*Emily Smith sings a different song called Caledonia, this one a variation on the hapless woman rescued by the sea captain's love. It’s on her album Too Long Away

*It’s not about Scotland, but The Barra MacNeils song about Cape Breton, called The Island, is close at hand. It is on Album

*A close cousin in idea of Bonnie Ship the Diamond is country star Patty Loveless’ take on The Boys Are Back in Town.

*Cathie Ryan has a classic home coming song about Ireland, I'm Going Back. A song Gerry O’Beirne wrote which Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh has a fine version of called Western Highway could work as a home coming song, too.

*American singer and songwriter Gretchen Peters has a reflective song called Careful How You Go on her album Northern Lights

and then there’s Take Me Back to the Sweet Sunny South, which might not work so well in Scotland, but for those us born south of the Mason Dixon line, it’s part of our musical DNA, along with Hills of Alabam’ and Tennessee Christmas.

over to you --

you may also want to see

Music Road: Celtic Connections 2009 on the way

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


Blogger Cindy said...

Hi Kerry,
Love your blog! A heads up on a neat tie-in from Scotland's Jim Malcolm to us Southerners. His new cd, "The First Cold Day", has a song on it called "Down In Alabama". We host Jim every year in our house concert series, and the song celebrates all the local food we've tried to make him eat over the years. He premiered it at our house last fall. It's a hoot.
Cheers, Y'all,
Wren's Nest Cottage Concerts
Homewood, AL

12:58 PM  
Blogger Kerry Dexter said...

thanks for the kind words. I'm looking forward to hearing that song.

2:51 PM  
Anonymous ReadyMom said...

So Kerry, would any of these songs work as good background music during a Thanksgiving celebration?

1:31 PM  
Blogger Kerry Dexter said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2:43 PM  
Blogger Kerry Dexter said...

Ready Mom,
of these, I'd say Jim Malcolm and the Barras would be the best. There's also a mostly guitar and fiddle album from Jay Ungar and Molly Mason called Harvest Home which would be a good choice.

2:49 PM  
Anonymous ruth pennebaker said...

Kerry -- I love the way you write about music -- with such enthusiasm. This is a lovely post, as usual.

11:28 AM  
Blogger Stephanie Stiavetti said...

Your posts are always fascinating to me because I'm one of those people who - *gasp* - don't listen to music. Sure I enjoy it occasionally, but it never occurs to me to turn it on. I wish I had your enthusiasm for it. Alas...

4:53 AM  

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