Album cover from At Last, Etta James' first album (Image via Wikipedia)
We started off tonight’s show with a remembrance of the great r&b vocalist Etta James, who passed away Friday at the age of 73. Millions of listeners will remember her for her great ’60 classic At Last. But her catalog goes far beyond that, with samplings of classic r&b, soul, and early ’60s pop. Although she recorded right up to the point where Alzheimer’s wouldn’t let her go anymore, we focused tonight on a nice sampling from her prime period, between ’60 and ’68. We heard At Last, All I Could Do is Cry, If I Can’t Have You, A Sunday Kind of Love, My Dearest Darling, Security, and I’d Rather Go Blind.
Cover of Brilliant Corners
Then we heard two songs from the great jazz pianist, Thelonious Monk, from his great ’56 album Brilliant Corners. Sonny Rollins was hired for the date as a sideman, right as his own breakthrough album, Saxophone Colossus, was about to be released. Monk was a bit of a challenge to work with, so to have a great saxophonist like Sonny Rollins leads to some absolutely tremendous music, which is certainly the case here, as is demonstrated by these recordings of Brilliant Corners and Pannonica.
Being of Scottish descent, it seems only appropriate that I find a way to celebrate Burns Night musically. Of course, when doing this, one must take care to actually play Scottish music, as opposed to Irish music (nothing against Irish bands, of which there are a great many fine examples that I have enjoyed playing on the show). But this is, after all, a SCOTTISH holiday, celebrating the life and work of the great Scottish poet Robert Burns (you may know his song Auld Lang Syne, or his poem A Red, Red Rose).
Robert Burns (Image via Wikipedia)
When listening to Celtic music, it is good to note the practice of blending songs and melodies together to form new combinations that make up the larger song. This is a long-standing practice in Celtic music, and one will find this in both traditional folk settings and in recordings and performances of bagpipe bands. This is actually one of the interesting facets of Celtic music, given the strong tradition of folk music among Celtic peoples. This allows the numerous traditional melodies and songs (many of which were collected and transcribed by Robert Burns) to take on new life and new contexts.
It is also interesting to note the numerous, intertwining connections between Celtic music and other forms of music. Like with other forms of music, Celtic music does not live in a vacuum. For many years Celtic music has influenced, and in turn has taken influence from, numerous other musical roots and forms, ranging from English folk music to pop and rock music. Also, as Scottish families have emigrated to various locations around the world (i.e. the US, Canada, Australia, etc.), they brought their music with them. I personally would categorize at least some of the roots of bluegrass music as having come from various forms of Celtic music, as there were many settlers of Scottish and Irish descent who settled in the Appalachians. So, the act of examining the roots of Celtic music also has the potential to bring one to a better understanding of some of the roots present in American music.
Members of Silly Wizard perform at Celtic Connexions with Phil Cunningham and Friends - February 2007 (Image via Wikipedia)
So we started this set with a few from The Boys of the Lough (especially appropriate coming from me, as their fiddler, Aly Bain, hails from the Shetland Islands, the same region that my own family lived in for 125 years) : Da Cold Nights o’ Winter/Da Blue Yow/Da Spirit o’ Whiskey, Da Fields o’ Foula/Garster’s Dream/Da Brig (Foula is one of the islans in the Shetland Islands chain, located halfway between Shetland and Norway and owned by Scotland), Da Day Dawn/The Papa Stour Sword Dance/The Cross Reel (Papa Stour is another island in the Shetland Islands chain), and The Greenland Man’s Tune/Da Forfit o’ Da Ship/Green Grow da Radishes (all from their album Midwinter’s Night Dream). Then we heard a few from the fine Scottish band from the ’80s, Silly Wizard: A Scarce O’ Tatties/Lyndhurst, Donald McGillavry/O’Neill’s Cavalry March, The Valley of Strathmore (all from their album So Many Partings), and A.B. Corsi (The Lad from Orkney)/Ril Bheara/Richard Dwyer’s Reels (from their album Wild and Beautiful). Then we heard from Nomos – Wing Commander Donald MacKensie’s/Andy Renwick’s Ferret/Diaran Tourish’s Reel and All The Ways You Wander, from their album I Won’t Be Afraid Anymore. Quite a toe-tapping set!
Next, for a change of pace, we heard from a gospel group that toured various local churches during the mid-70s, The Family. Comprised of a group of missionaries who met while at Youth With A Mission’s evangelism school in Switzerland, they made an album, Fresh Fruit, which has some great songs with some exquisite vocal harmonies. While I don’t remember the event, I’m certain that I have to have been present at one of their performances, with my parents, at which point my mother bought one of their LPs (on the MannaFest Music label, out of San Diego). It is a shame that such lovely music like this might be forgotten in this modern digital age. Happily, modern technology allows us to capture and archive such past glories. Tonight, we heard Teach Us Dear Lord, Temple Song and Two Roads.
We closed the show with a few songs from Keith Green, an early member of the “Contemporary Christian” trend in the ’70s. Interestingly enough, there is a hidden connection between Keith Green and the previous set from The Family – Steve Greisen, member of The Family (now a film executive), eventually married Nelly Ward, member of another Contemporary Christian act, 2nd Chapter of Acts. Nelly’s sister, Annie Ward (later Annie Herring), co-wrote The Easter Song, one of Green’s best-known songs. From Keith Green, we heard Trials Turned to Gold, Asleep in the Light, and My Eyes are Dry.