Saturday, May 26, 2007

recent listens

Shirley Collins' very unique 1969 album, Anthems in Eden, is a collection of medieval folk songs, starting with the 28-minute 'A Song-Story' that traces a doomed love affair through a string of stories - her voice is raw and affecting, and the musical accompaniment (provided by her sister, Dolly, among other artists) recreates a Renaissance soundscape with the use of primitive instruments like the sackbut and the crumhorn. These are songs which would not be out of place in John Huston's A Walk With Love and Death or Joao César Monteiro's Silvestre (two great films that I saw for the first time some weeks ago). The subsequent album, Love, Death & the Lady (1970), is a sparer, darker work, and perhaps as essential. Reportedly recorded during the breakdown of the two sisters' marriages, these are songs about loss, loneliness and at times, violence. Josephine Foster, I now realise, is a direct musical descendent.

To add to these is another discovery: Dorothy Carter and her first album, Troubadour (1976). This beautiful, dreamy clamour of medieval-sounding instruments (I'm told they include the hammer dulcimer and the psaltery) deserves a closer examination. For now, it's just waiting to be discovered. Along with playing these ancient instruments, Carter sings on four songs, her voice almost a psychedelic element in itself, at different times quivering with childlike wonder, or manifesting the aged wisdom of an old, old woman. I have to look into her later albums (she kept recording until her death in 2003), but they don't seem to be easy to track down... For me, these recordings are up there with Anne Briggs' The Time Has Come, Vashti Bunyan's Just Another Diamond Day, and Karen Dalton's It's So Hard To Tell... as the great 'primitive-maiden-folk' albums of their time.

Some other recent discoveries and repeat listens:
Pandit Pran Nath - Midnight: Raga Malkauns
Roshan Ara Begum (many more ultra-rare performances by legendary classical Indian musicians to explore)
Pearls Before Swine - Balaklava
Pentangle - Cruel Sister / Sweet Child
William Basinski - Shortwavemusic
Arnold Schoenberg - The Piano Music (Maurizio Pollini)
Alexander von Schlippenbach - Pakistani Pomade
A. K. Salim - Afro Soul/Drum Orgy
And lots of Alice Coltrane.

(2007 music: electro-melancholy and long dusty roads.)

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