In working class lives in different parts of the country, divine intervention and the lottery are the only prospects for change, and one hears that on country singer-songwriter Brandy Clark album 12 Stories, especially in the song “Pray to Jesus,” a sad and honestly reflective song. “We keep our crazy hidden until we’re pushed off the deep end,” sings Brandy Clark in the country rock song “Crazy Women,” in which Clark declares that “crazy women are made by crazy men.”
She is an artist I like and respect, but I find her consistent concern with independence worrying, and not because I do not understand or respect that mission, but because, despite her affirmations, some aspect of that desired state seems to elude her.
In working in New Orleans the band members were finding a home in a town that has long been known for the interactions of different cultures, African, European, Native American—and a place some people think of as Caribbean. New Orleans is a city and a village, a place of family, work, religion, food, music, sex, and violence; a place of piety and pleasure—of private passions that become public. The members of Calexico were able to see the past and the future in New Orleans, the rich and the poor, the familiar and the strange—the complexities.
What poetry means is open to interpretation, but those lines suggest to me that memory possesses what the hand does not hold, and that there are different ways of gaining the world, a spiritual way beyond the material. That is also the realm of art, a form of beauty, craft, emotion, idea, memory, spirit, and thought.
On Polly Butler Cornelius’s album Wild Songs, the use by composer Lori Laitman of Emily Dickinson’s “Will there really be a morning?” becomes an expression of more than spiritual doubt, but a recognition of the possibility of real world cataclysm. The high long notes can be beautiful but nearly blur the sense of the words.
A man who wears glass suits would not throw stones, but he sure can throw light and plenty of shade. Little Richard has been a legend for decades; and there is no one who speaks or sings like him. Little Richard had to be a force of nature: he had a lot of terrain to conquer and there was no established social infrastructure to help him; and he had only his charisma, energy, talent, and will.
Though I imagine it would be easy for Mandel to grandstand or write flashy piano, in every piece, the music is delicate and subservient to the words – it’s all about Cummings and enhancing, and drawing out the meaning of each piece such that they become fresh and new. Lovers of Cummings’ poetry won’t be disappointed with this CD, which is deeply engaged with the original poetry.
“My eyes burn, I have seen the glory of a brighter sun,” Wright sings in “Dreaming Wide Awake,” with its limpid beginning. Lizz Wright sings, “Who are you, stranger, to come here, and answer all my prayers?” and one might ask the same thing of her: and I imagine she may spend her entire career answering the question. It is something to look forward to.
“I Know You By Heart,” written by Diane Scanlon and Eve Nelson, is about the lasting intimacy of love, and Cassidy’s version of “People Get Ready” is the best version of the Curtis Mayfield song I’ve heard. Pete Seeger’s “Oh, Had I A Golden Thread,” apparently one of Cassidy’s favorite songs, has a wistfully maternal quality, while Harburg and Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow” skirts various sentimental associations but Cassidy does not embarrassingly indulge them.
The style is, at times, reminiscent of kd lang’s, with its deep moody smoothness and wide range, especially on the torchier songs like “Burn“ or “Jennifer Says.” The voices move up and down the chromatic scale, toughening down low into…