All posts filed under: Saturday Soundtrack

Semi-regular Saturday updates – to break out of the more serious posts on other days of the week – on musical events, musicians and bands that catch my ear. Think of Paul Krugman’s “Friday Night Music” blog posts…without the PhD in Economics (not to mention the Nobel Prize).

Saturday Soundtrack: Tis’ the season…of Advent

Happy New Year! In the Christian liturgical tradition, the first Sunday of the season of Advent is the beginning of the New Year. In 2020, that day fell earlier this week, on November 29th. So, once again, Happy New Year! Oh, and Advent is definitely not Christmas.* As Frank Wade, one of my priests and benefactors, wrote in a long ago Advent sermon, the season begins with a call for repentance and with the prophet Isaiah, who gives us “the enduring image of the lion and the lamb.” Frank asks us to think about ourselves and the part that is “down behind the civilized surface.” He notes that in that part of our soul, we each have a lion and a lamb. When we are being called to repent, Frank suggests that we are “being called to enter into our own interior wild to face the lion and to call out the lamb. To challenge all that would hurt or destroy. To risk that which is vulnerable.” That’s what Advent is about, not Christmas trees …

Saturday Soundtrack: Gillian Welch and David Rawlings

A friend and former colleague sent me the link to a story in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine entitled How Gillian Welch and David Rawlings Hold Onto Optimism. Author Hanif Abdurraqib writes beautiful prose with the soul of a poet as he describes how the two musicians “discover a new emotional urgency in songs about the slow, challenging, beautiful heat of living.” It is a story perfect for this week in America. I have loved the aching, soulful music of Welch and Rawlings for more than two decades. No one has captured, for me, the essence of their deceptively simple yet oh so deep style better than Abdurraquib does in this new profile. Near the beginning of his essay, he writes, “I saw them in Virginia in the fall of 2018 at an outdoor show that was intermittently stormy. A crowd of a few hundred people descended on a wide field, our feet sinking into the muddy grass. About halfway into their set, they gave a performance of the song “Hard Times” that has …

Saturday Soundtrack: Roots music for ghosts, goblins, and other things that go bump in the night

Happy Halloween! If you grew up with the Monster Mash and decided — based on that small sample size — that there were no decent Halloween songs, I’m here to set the record straight. The really grim and scary songs were all hiding out in the roots music bin, just as the great, old folktales were ones that really hit the mark when it came to ghosts, goblins, and other things that go bump in the night. The Folklore Center at the Library of Congress had a blog post a few years ago entitled Ghost Stories in Song for Halloween. The first tune recommended was Jean Ritchie singing The Unquiet Grave, “which is both a tender love song and a frank conversation with a ghost.” Writing about Ritchie’s version, the liner notes suggest that the song… “…is notable for its exhibition of several universal popular beliefs, including a talking ghost, the idea that excessive grief on the part of mourners disturbs the peace of the dead, the troth plight that binds lovers even after death …

Saturday Soundtrack: Paradise

Music is a language that helps us process loss. Throughout 2020, Americans have had to call on that language time and again as more than 223,000 of our fellow citizens have lost their lives to COVID.  Overall, “25% of U.S. adults say they or someone in their household was laid off or lost their job because of the coronavirus outbreak, with 15% saying this happened to them personally.” On top of this health and economic crisis, we are facing the potential loss of our democracy to minority rule. So many have suffered personal losses during this year, holes in their lives that shake their soul. For those who find nurture in roots, country, folk, and acoustic music, the death of singer/songwriter John Prine to COVID early in the pandemic still creates a void that is difficult to fill. But we try. Thankfully, music provides a way to remember lives and process loss. For this Saturday Soundtrack, I want to focus on the remembrance of a song that, in itself, is about loss: John Prine’s Paradise, …

Steel Wheels 2015

Saturday Soundtrack: The Steel Wheels

I first became aware of The Steel Wheels somewhere around 2008. I had picked up a CD of the Shenandoah Valley-based band on one of our Thanksgiving trips to Staunton and was introduced to and intrigued by the unique voice and careful songcraft of lead singer and songwriter Trent Wagler. But it was at Merlefest in 2012 that the band pushed their way into the front part of my brain, and, I suspect, the brains of thousands of other music fans as well. After one of the main acts wrapped up their show, as I wrote at the time, a number of attendees were exiting the main stage area on the first night of the festival. Suddenly, The Steel Wheels began singing their powerful Rain in the Valley on a small side stage. And like bees flowing to honey, those leaving stopped, turned around, and were glued to their seats through a spirited 30-minute set. As expected, later TSW shows throughout the weekend were packed, as word spread fast. And just like that, they quickly …

Saturday Soundtrack: Mark O’Connor

The 15th anniversary issue of Fretboard Journal* landed in my mailbox this week, just in time to reacquaint me with an old friend: Mark O’Connor. It was a welcome reunion. First, because I discovered that O’Connor — one of the most inventive string musicians of this era — has returned to playing guitar, after a twenty year break that was required by the pain of bursitis and tendonitis. Then I also found his Improvising Toward Democracy solo fiddle pieces on the internet. As he tell his listeners, “I am recording an improvisation on my violin each day, until our country is safe from the clutches of Trumpism, Cultism, Conspiratorialism, Racism and Authoritarianism. I will record a new violin improvisation each day as a form of a sincere musical prayer until Biden/Harris are voted in to the White House ensuring that Americans will retain our hard-fought democracy. I have been given a musical gift, so I will use this in service to my country and our Republic each day now. When I improvise in this manner …