Monday, March 22, 2010

Darwin Song Project

Darwin Song Project

Charles Darwin's scientific ideas on the origin of humans and the evolution of species have been the subject of controversy for more than one hundred fifty years. To eight songwriters invited to collaborate on making songs inspired by Darwin and his legacy, though, it was Darwin the husband, the father, the adventurer, and the ministerial student turned scientist wrestling with faith who proved most compelling.

Not that they ignored the impact of his science on the rest of the world. The songs they created took in a range of subjects as wide as their own backgrounds Krista Detor, Jez Lowe, Mark Erelli, Rachael McShane, Chris Wood, Stu Hanna, Karine Polwart, and Emily Smith were invited to spend a week at a farmhouse in rural Shropshire, England, not far from where Darwin himself lived, collaborting on songs. A kicker in the invitation was that they’d come up with enough music to fill an evening’s concert -- a concert which they learned was already sold out, and would recorded for an album and filmed for broadcast.

Another item in the mix was that most of the songwriters were not acquainted with each other, or each other’s music, before the week began. Each comes from the folk genre, but that encompasses a whole range of things, in this case including Lowe’s leftist political commentary, Detor’s enigmatic and indirect mystical reflections, and Smith’s lyrical ballads based in Scottish tradition. It was an adventure for all involved.

The result -- heard in the recording made at the live concert -- shows that they've created songs anchored in the details of Darwin’s life and ideas yet which reach beyond that to universal resonance. There’s the young man setting out on his round the world voyage, excited but not without his doubts. There are people reacting and offering their comments on his published ideas, among them a merchant puzzling out his way and an indignant woman claiming no one will make a monkey out of her. Darwin’s own doubts and faith, and the thoughts of his wife Emma as they seek to love past their differences in belief, come into focus in several songs. There’s a mystical look at time and change, both constants in Darwin's story, a funny song in which the scientist is cast as the villain in a wild west sort of tale, and a sort of hymn where faith and doubt meet and reconcile in respect for love and the unknown.

Impressions of Darwin rather than narrative, the songs show the high levels of imagination and musicality of the eight who collaborated to make them. The energy and connection of their live performance comes across strongly in the recording, with gorgeous harmonies and well thought out lead singing and playing. You do not have to agree or disagree with Charles Darwin's ideas -- or know anything about them, for that matter -- to find much to think about and much to enjoy in the ideas and the music these artists offer.

you may also want to see

Music Road: Best Music, 2009

Music Road: now playing: Emily Smith: Too Long Away

Music Road: Carrie Newcomer: Before & After

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


Blogger Anjuli said...

Is the song "Charlie Darwin" a part of this? I just watched a little 'stop motion' video with this song as the background song- very whimsical - very nice.

8:01 PM  
Blogger Kerry Dexter said...

no, that's another group. if you like that, though, I think you will like this record. some light songs, some more reflective. there's a video on youtube of Krista Detor's song Clock of the World taken from the live concerts for this which you may want to look for. it'll give you a flavor of the more reflective songs.

6:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What an interesting idea! I had no idea albums like this were even made.

1:49 PM  

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