It's 1997. What's In My Ears?

1997 was [has been] a year of turmoil for me, and it wasn't until about halfway through the calendar year that I realized the ups and downs had been such that, at times, I had been totally out of touch with music. And because I had been in a place where I was not reachable by the music - couldn't be touched by it, even the works or artists that normally can treat any mood or state of mind. So, not only because of other web commitments (Carolyn's persistent excuse for her procrastination and poor time management practices), but also because of temporary insensitivity, this list is rather behind.

So, it is September of 1997. Yes, I AM listening to new music - and old favourites. And yes, I am slow at sharing the news and opinions ... but, here's a try:

A quick list of things which regularly keep my CD player busy (no, the order isn't significant):

Melissa Ferrick: Melissa Ferrick + 1 and Willing To Wait.

(This year, I've seen her open for Lisa Germano and for Blue Rodeo, as well as solo gig at Schuba's Tavern on September 4. And missed her open for Kristen Hersch during the Chicago New Music Festival. Some set list and song comments are on my Melissa Ferrick photo and concert list page.)

Melissa Etheridge: Melissa Etheridge and Brave and Crazy

(no, I'm not crazy about the new, stadium rock shows - haven't seen her live since 1995 - or album)

Susan Werner: Last of the Good Straight Girls

(All of Susan's recordings - including the elusive Live At Tin Angel - are now available via her website (, and there is a discussion mailing list for her music, the "believers", as well

Eleanor McEvoy: What's Following Me?, European release (which includes "Famine")

I think my favourite on the album is Fire Overhead, which manages to move from traditional bodhran through rock to surf guitar (admitting a weakness to surf music as well as the obvious celtic)

Frances Black: The Smile Upon Your Face

Frances' voice is stronger than ever ... she is backed by that group of amazingly versatile musicians ...and she mixes in those jazzy cabaret tunes with the ballads, pop, and Irish ...

Lisa Moscatiello: Innocent When You Dream

another amazing voice, wonderful solo or with accompanying musicians. Love her rendition of House Carpenter - to be colloquial American slang, the Joan Baez version it ain't! (even if both she, I, and many other folk fans grew up listening to that Baez version, Lisa has certainly combined it with a nifty Appalachian version!)

The Mollys: Hat Trick

Tex/Mex/Celtic/American/folk/polka ... you get the idea (maybe??). Music it is difficult to sit still while it is being played

Susan McKeown and the chanting house: Bones

Susan's voice and delivery continue to entrance me and draw me into the mood and atmosphere ...

Marimba Quest: Incidents of Travel

Primarily marimba and other percussion, in contemporary compositions exploring culture of Central and South America

Thom Moore: Gorgeous and Bright

Niamh Parsons & the Loose Connections - "Loosen Up". Green Linnet, 1997.

This became a "frequent play" nearly immediately after I picked it up on 2 July (right after release Tuesday on Green Linnet) I had been waiting for this one since the summer of 1996 (ok, at her Chicago gig in that cold February of 1996, Niamh was sufficiently incautious to mention they were recording and hoped to have the new CD out by the summer). After listening to about 1/2 of it while on the computer, I know it will join my heavy listening list - the great voice (a combination of Sandy Denny and Dolores Keane, to my ears), great mix of traditional and contemporary material, instrumental harmonies that combine and contrast strings, reeds, pipes, guitar, whistles, and percussion ... more later ...

And the CDs which have begun to frequent the CD player during September:

Dar Williams: "End of the Summer".

(This was released earlier in the summer, but I gave my copy to a friend in Ireland, and only recently purchased a replacement!) Ok, those who know me are probably surprised to see this on my list. And I gather that those who loved Dar's first two albums have mixed feelings about the arrangements and accompaniments of this third album. But, to me it is these additions that fills out the imagery Dar has always created through her 'picture stories in poetry'; the drums, percussion, electric guitars, and the backing vocal (including the "Razor and Tie Pep Choir"!!<g>) fill out the exquisite images, harmonize and complement her vocals/ acoustic guitar - and add a texture.

On the other side of the comments, I'll admit: given my obsession with percussion, I do begin to find the "therapeutic" and "organic" beat farms a bit too similar and regular, tending toward a "tiring and same" if I pay too close attention, but ... I also get to listen to the percussive contributions of Glen Velez and even Carol Steele! and the percussion adds to the total feel in a positive way, rather than distracting me or turning me off as does the typical rock accompaniment on another recent recording by one of my favourites (hint: Mary Black's 1997 Shine)

Among the strikingly-poetic lyrics that Dar writes are the following, from the irreverently-titled Teenagers Kick Our Butts (in which she encourages the next generation to keep their older generation on their toes and honest:

I'm sure you know there's lots to learn
But that's not your fault, that's just your turn...

...We use authority for show so we can be a little smarter
We can still grow, and many do
It's when we stop, we can't reach you
We feel the loss, we feel the blame
We're scared to lose, don't be the same ...
Teenagers kick our butts, tell us what the future will bring
Teenagers look at us, we have not solved everything.

What a wonderful perspective to apply as we age from the spotlight. Brings to mind the portrait of my generation painted by Susan Werner in her Baby Boomer Song - much less admirable characteristics attributed to us!

Joan Baez - "Gone From Danger" - Guardian.

Released in the US 23 September. Two 1/2 listens thus far (1 p.m. on 24 September). Another superb effort, in which Joan makes her own 10 creations by contemporary singer-songwriters. (12 creations if one buys the special release sold through Borders Books and Music in the US.) While imprinting each of these with her own personality and exquisite style, Joan simultaneously introduces listeners to the individuality of these "new" songwriters ... "new" to many listeners, but after long hauls in music.

Putting the disc on the player without having read the track list (but having read of the album on the Joan Baez discussion mailing list and the wonderfully- remodelled official website), about 2 bars of the first track cried out Sinead Lohan to me - the lyrics and feel were there, but presented with Joan's personalized approach. (Sinead is the young singer/songwriter from Cork, Ireland, who had two tracks on the "A Woman's Heart II" Irish music compilation, and who opened for Joan on UK tour dates during 1995-6). Similiar harmonious dualities come through on the other tracks as well. And the two-track Borders-special EP are absolutely wonderful! the harmony of the guitars, the live performances from this year (1997's) Newport Folk Festival - at which Joan featured most of the artists appearing on this album.

In my opinion, you ought to go out and buy this!<grin>.

(well, I do admit that the bouzouki on Reunion Hill is too noticeable for me - and I miss the world percussion provided by Carol Steele on the live tours. But these are minor slivers in the overall impact of the album!)

And, as a humorous closing comment - designed to introduce you to yet another musician: With all this introduction of new-to- the-listener singer/songwriters and their material, Joan had better watch out - she'll soon gain a reputation similar to that of Christine Lavin! Amazing musician who must devote as much of her energy to assisting, coaching, and promoting independent singer/songwriter/musicians as her own work. Course, thinking a bit here - Christine will always stay in the lead; I doubt Joan can toss flaming batons well!! ... at all???

Can't quite leave the year 1997 without mentioning listening items frequenting my CD player at the "year-end holiday season":

Susan McKeown: Through the Bitter Frost and Snow - 1-800-PRIME CD, 1997.

Susan, Lindsey Horner and guest musicians perform a mix of original and traditional winter songs. Traditional in the early-Celtic/British, not "U.S. Christmas carols".

Priscilla Herdman, Anne Hills, Cindy Mangsen: Voices of Winter - Gadfly Records, 1997

Again, a winter album, not a Christmas album - although containing more traditional (again defined as with Bitter Frost and Snow) than contemporary material - and some of the contemporary from writers/musicians such as Jean Ritchie and Jack Hardy, whose compositions are difficult to distinguish from traditional. Wonderful vocal harmonies from these three women, who perform solo, but have also been performing together in a musical partnership since the early 1990s. (I do admit that "The Frozen Logger/Proper Cup of Coffee" rather throws off the atmosphere - but, of course, that is why we have personal musical tastes - and CD players are programmable!).

The Soul of Christmas: a Celtic Music Celebration with Thomas Moore - Upaya/Tommy Boy 1997.

Yes, Carolyn listens to traditional American Carols as well ...oops! well, perhaps American & European carols - but titles more associated with Christmas. Prepared as a multimedia piece by inspirational writer Thomas Moore, this consists of two CDs (a music recording and a spoken word recording) packaged with a book of inspirational writing - plus a television version was aired on US PBS stations during the winter pledge breaks (although not here in Chicago). A marvellous collection of singers and musicians. Although titled Celtic, the voices contributing to this recording range from Nikki Matheson, Susan McKeown, Cathie Ryan and Liam Tiernan to Mary Fahl (formerly of October Project) and Kathy Mattea accompanied by Dougie MacLean. Plus the music of Scottish fiddler, Johnny Cunningham. (The televised programme included appearances by Iris Dement and Canadian Jane Siberry).

Jane Siberry: Child (Music for the Christmas Season) - Sheeba, 1997.

Compiled from two nights' performances at The Bottom Line in New York City during December of 1996. Arrangements on the two CDs range from spare to complex, including spoken word pieces, as Jane explores Christmas songs from around the world.

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