Category Archives: America

I Heard it Through the Grapevine

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Building a song

Steve Earle has lived through the sort of horrors that have launched a million country songs: addiction, affliction, heartbreak, even prison. He wears them in his voice, but what’s most appealing about him is the wide-eyed, unmistakable fearlessness with which he goes about his life these days”     NPR Tiny Desk Concerts

Steve Earle and Shawn Colvin sing “Tell Moses” and chart the steps in its creation. How they bound Moses, Martin Luther King and Ferguson, Missouri together in words and music, in answer to the question: “What’s to be done?”:

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The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face

How do you sing the words “The first time ever I saw your face/I thought the sun rose in your eyes” when you know that the face in question is your own? You can’t concentrate on the beauty of your own face, without sounding horribly vain. Peggy Seeger chose to sing the words lightly, to take the words away from her face. From the personal to the universal. Peggy sings love into the song as an essence, simple and natural as air:

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American Honey and God’s Whisper

What you see while you listen affects what you hear.

Seeing Andrea Arnold’s heart-rendingly glorious road movie American Honey made me hear Raury‘s God’s Whisper as the mesmerising background to a tribal dance. In the film, the song’s lyrics flicker in and out of awareness, like sparks coming off the bonfire. You hear and you don’t hear. God’s Whisper is now ‘fixed’ for me as a dance trance with hope, truth and youth at its heart.

For me, savior, with its soft central and spacious, floating ior, sways as a move in the dance: important, but not a bragging shout. I played the song, sound alone, no video, to a British 20 something. His reaction? “Typical 17 year old, calling himself a *saviour.” Words speak differently when you hear them blind. How does savior strike you? Brag or encouragement?

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Clapping Music: Steve Reich and Santi Carcasona

I caught Steve Reich, on the BBC here, talking about the Brussels Flamenco Show that inspired his 1972 Clapping Music. The flamenco was dismal, until the Spanish performers began to mark time with complicated clapping patterns, entrancing Mr Reich in the process. Which led me, in a wonderful ‘completing the circle’ way, back to Spain and to Catalan Percussionist Santi Carcasona:

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