Friday, November 29, 2013

In review--Where Eagles Soar

Native American/World 
Tony Duncan
Native Son 
Canyon Records

I had one of those days where I feel wound up and it doesn’t help that I have been consuming raw chocolate.  So listening to Apache/Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara flutist Tony Duncan’s third album with Canyon Records and I believe his second solo album, Native Son, comes as a relaxing godsend.  When you listen to numerous Native American flute recordings you begin to identify subtle and not so subtle differences and signatures of the many gifted flutists.  Some Native American flutists possess playfulness while others lean heavily into the ethereal realm and others provoke healing tears to flow.  Duncan combines all of those qualities in his playing, which if it was a wine, we would also call it full bodied and robust--not bad for a young musician.

I survived a stressful summer in 2011 in part listening to Estan-Bah (acoustic guitar, Native American flute, Native American frame drum), and experiencing the album, From Where the Sun Rises as healing.  Duncan plays from the depth of his soul and perhaps that is where the healing comes from--breath and heartbeat.  Beside the River gives us a good example of a healing song and I can see someone relaxing on a massage table while this song plays softly in the background.  Eagle Has Blessed Us represents an example of a playful song with its trills followed by elongated notes.  It too soars and glides in the clouds.  Picking up the pace, Quail Dancers also wants to play with us.  And similar to R. Carlos Nakai, Duncan also performs the infamous Amazing Grace on solo Native American flute, but a different interpretation of the religious hymn. 

I would say more, but I rather you pick up the album and experience the flute songs yourself.  There are only so many words to describe music and I think in my 25+ years reviewing recordings, I have already used up those words.  Now, it's your turn.

In review---Girl Swing

The Henry Girl
December Moon 
Independent recording

Hailing from Ireland, the sister trio (Karen, Lorna and Joleen McLaughlin) The Henry’s Girls are the UK’s answer to Canadian women folk bands the Wailin’ Jennys and the Good lovelies. However, they’re no copycat act since Henry’s Girls possess authenticity while even giving Irish music a facelift on their fourth recording December Moon.  One listen to their cover of Elvis Costello’s Watching the Detective (given a cabaret treatment here) turns heads.  And overall, their harmonies sound more bluegrass swing than Celtic.  The girls add some West African flavors via Gameli Tordzro’s kora on Moonstruck, an interlude sandwiched between the send-up December Moon and the lament Rain and Snow.

Anyone looking for a warm acoustic album (banjo, fiddle, harp, accordion, kora, double bass, dobro, percussion, horns, piano, mandolin, ukulele, and Mexican guitar) will feel right at home with December Moon.  There is electric guitar on Rain and Snow as an atmospheric wash.  The Long Road recalls Quebecois traditional music sung in English.  This song swings like a Good Lovelies tune given a rustic treatment.  The punchy horns wed smoothly to the lush spirited vocals.  Warm piano gives Sweet Dreams a new age feel and it’s the type of song you want to listen to as you drift off each night. And going even deeper in that direction, Aisling features bamboo flute (Tordzro again), chimes and harp.

December Moon is the perfect album for someone who wants to warm up to the season, but prefers not to listen to holiday songs.  Bluegrass swing such as Ol'Cook PotWhen Will I See You Again and Couldn’t Ask for More chase the holiday blues away.  I imagine that sitting still through this album would feel like torture.  This is foot-tapping, and get-out-of-the-chair dancing music with a few quiet breathers tossed in for good measure.  Just think, I’m ending the year with one of the most infectious and delightful albums to hit American shores in 2013.  Go girls!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

In review--Impressions of the Night (Chopin and Debussy)

Javier Perianes 
Les Sons et les Parfums 
Debussy meets Chopin 
Harmonia Mundi 

Chopin and Debussy were both known for composing diffused music for the piano, however, while Debussy also composed for ballet, opera, and chamber ensembles, Chopin strictly composed for piano.  Oddly, when I brought up Chopin’s music once to a colleague, he made a grave error in describing Chopin’s music as “small,” simply because Chopin composed for a single instrument.  Any pianist that has performed Chopin’s keyboard work would not use the word “small” to describe it. 

Even listening to Chopin’s mazurkas and nocturnes, provide fascinating contours and development of musical themes, despite the lack of a symphonic or orchestral association.  And even though Chopin did not shout virtuosity like Liszt, Rachmaninoff or Prokofiev or provide mental gymnastics like Bach, Chopin’s seemingly quiet and subtle compositions, provide a pianist challenges nonetheless.   I even imagine that a less talented pianist could come off easily as over dramatic or underplay the dynamic passages.

Pianists such as Angela Hewitt and Spanish pianist Javier Perianes possess the right sensitivity to bring out the fluidity and clarity of Chopin and the French Impressionist composers’ work.  On Debussy meets Chopin, Perianes tunes into this softer musical terrain, never over or under playing.  This is a musician who can go from playing an album of Beethoven sonatas to deftly interpreting not just Chopin alone, but Chopin and Debussy, who have musical connections in common, but are still two distinct composers.  Perianes explores the connection by matching Chopin pieces to corresponding Debussy pieces, usually in the same key and with similar themes such as “night” with Chopin’s Nocturne no 15 and Debussy’s Clair de Lune (two famous pieces of music that draw upon the night for inspiration).

Since I enjoy the works of Chopin, Debussy as well as, Ravel (not featured on this recording), I find this recording relaxing and enchanting.  The liner notes and DVD of performances of a piece by each of the two composers, enriches the listening experience.  And it’s not all quiet or subtle, since passages from Chopin’s Ballad, opus 52, erupt from my laptop before dropping back down to pianissimo. And the closing piece by Debussy, L’Isle joyeuse, which he composed for his second wife, ends the program with a flourish. While some classical music fans would turn to a more showy composer when describing soulful music, I think it would be a mistake to dismiss the soulfulness found in Chopin and Debussy’s piano compositions.  Listened to the right way, these composers could take listeners on a magical, mystical tour.  And on Perianes' recording, these composers receive the royal treatment.

Essay: Music of a Sub-Generation (Pluto in Virgo/Neptune in Scorpio)

10,000 Maniacs, Wikipedia
During my research on children born in the turbulent 1960s for my astrology blog, Whole Astrology, I started listening to songs composed and performed by musicians from this generation that actually begun in 1957 and ended in 1971 (Pluto in Virgo), give or take a few retrogrades of the outer planets.  And while I was doing this research, I saw a lot of creativity among the people born in these revolutionary years as well as, angst that still needs healing as these 1960s children are poised to lead the world to better conclusions these days, again because of outer planet transits echoing those in which they were born.

So remembering my own "dark days" as a professional musician (alternative rock),which I write about in my book Whole Music (Soul Food for the Mind Body Spirit), I spent some time on YouTube revisiting some of my favorite musicians and bands of my early adult years, before I chucked out rock music and started listening only to world, folkloric, jazz and classical, well, predominantly anyway. I would be fooling myself to say that I never hear rock music playing in the background or that I never get a craving to listen to at least some of the music from my past.  However, my main concern here is how the music composed by musicians from our own generation (not baby boomers) shaped our world outlet or how we bonded as a generation either in collective woundedness or eventually decided to empower ourselves through music and take up a leadership position to bring transformation to the planet.

Like any of the previous generation, the seduction and intoxication of rock music led to unhealthy behaviors such as drug experimentation and addiction, rave culture, grunge, goth, and other subculture activities. You also find mental illness or at least musicians who were mentally unstable, usually more with women musicians, no surprises there given the confusing messages about womanhood the 1960s children grew up with, not to mention mixed messages about race, sexuality, and religion.  Many of the children born at this time were also born to troubled parents given the outer planet transits happening at their birth or they witnessed events in the media such as assassinations, footage from the Vietnam War and other disturbing images that they could not assimilate, as no child ever could and here were these unsafe images right dab in their living rooms.

As these children reached adulthood and even when some were still in high school, the specter of AIDS appeared frightening this generation from behaviors that seemed all but natural to the baby boomers.  There would be no rolling in the muddy fields of Woodstock for these folks, at least not without consequences. But that didn't imply that these children carried a burden of guilt from previous generations or that they didn't seek out alternative healing and new age practices to relieve them of this guilt or that they didn't seek some stage to express their creative talents since they would have grown up most likely feeling invisible when Chiron was in Pisces and Neptune was in Scorpio.

So below I'm including a few videos by musicians born 1957 to 1970.  Look for common themes or patterns in this music.  While some artists chose to write straight pop songs, they hardly seemed as sugar-laden as the pop songs of previous eras and sarcasm was never far behind and some songs cut deep below the surface whether speaking about political, social or relationship situations.  Sure, there was the nonsense of the Gogo's "We Got the Beat," the B-52's "Rock Lobster" and whatnot, which I call escapist music (that was needed too to blow off steam).  But the revolutionary spirit of the 1960s itself had not disappeared with many alternative acts referring to the issues of their day, either in an abstract way like R.E.M. or more direct such as Natalie Merchant of the 10,000 Maniacs and Billy Bragg.

Much of this music had so much Pluto power behind it (Pluto in Virgo conjunct Uranus in Virgo sextile Neptune in Scorpio in some cases) that it would be hard not to feel seduced and pulled in by the lyrics, melodies or emotions of the vocalists.  Even the softer English pop had an uncomfortable edginess as you would find with Lush.  So let's revisit the 1980s and 1990s and feel free to leave comments below.

I realize this is not the normal type of post for Whole Music, but since I'm a member of this generation and since I am looking into working part-time as an intuitive life coach for artists, I think we need to take this plunge and do some deeper healing work.  These particular songs could bring catharsis to those who need it and I'm not including any harder edge music here since I don't feel like damaging my own nervous system or lowering my frequency.

1. Billy Bragg, born in 1957, Astrological Sign:Sagittarius

Accident Waiting to Happen 1991, (combines sociopolitical messages with relationship issues)
This is a bit of a rock song for Billy, who normally played acoustic folk songs with humorous lyrics.  On this song, he's not cutesy in anyway at all and stands in his power.  I turned to Billy's music when I found my self drowning in apathy or if I just needed to listen to well-written lyrics that were written by someone closer to my age group.

Roddy Frame, Wikipedia
2. Roddy Frame/Aztec Camera, born 1964, Astrological Sign, Aquarius 

I believe the song, Oblivious comes from early 1980s, sociopolitical comments are embedded in a relationship song.Roddy Frame was the musician who inspired me to get rid of my electric guitar and go acoustic.

3. R.E.M.

Losing my Religion from the album Out of Time.  I prefer the music of R.E.M. before this band went mainstream and the last album I bought buy this band was "Green".  The early sound, acoustic and warm-sounding provided an alternative to synthesizer-based dance music of the new wave bands, which many of these bands came from the shadow or late baby boomers, born in the early to mid-1950s.  The bands earliest songs possessed a jangly acoustic sound that became popular in Seattle in the early 1980s, later to be replaced by grunge rock (unfortunately).

4. Lush

This song, Sweetness and Light, actually feels uplifting and this is an example of ethereal rock music from the UK.This song came out around the same time as the height of grunge music and it gave music audiences an alternative to hard rock, me among the lighter music crowd.  Lush was the alternative to the alternative and released albums on the 4 A.D. label out of the UK. The Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance also recorded albums with this label.

5. 10,000 Maniacs

This band out of Upstate New York spearheaded a folk music revival in the US during the early 1980s and launched the solo career of Natalie Merchant (Scorpio, born in the early 1960s).  The band crafted wonderful melodies backed by both acoustic and electric instruments with sociopolitical lyrics mainly.  Unlike Billy Bragg, the songs of this band did not boast a sense of humor and while the melodies were beautiful and delivered with well-modulated alto vocals, the lyrics were often real downers with a focus on what was going wrong in the world.

Verdi Cries, from the album In My Tribe (Neptune in Scorpio theme)

I feel uncomfortable leaving you with songs with sociopolitical messages or edginess in some cases so I'm going to close this article with a few healing songs to lift your vibration.  While it is fine to wax nostalgia ever so often, I think we also need to get ourselves back into our heart centers which can be done through meditation, yoga, chanting, and sound healing.  I also recommend listening to classical music to bring yourself back to center, but stay away from the edgier classical music compositions that feel discordant.

1. Deva Premal and Mitten (Kirtan Yemaya)

2. Gregorian Chant (Benedictine Monks of St. Michel's)

3. Mozart's Clarinet Concerto (performed by Sharon Kam (soloist and Czech Symphony Orchestra)

4. Bach's Goldberg Variations (performed by Glenn Gould)

5. Astrud Gilberto's Greatest Hits (Brazilian samba and bossa nova)