Tag Archives: song

Hurdles and Ruts

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the struggles we all go through when learning and mastering a craft. In this case the craft I speak of is music. But, really, it could be any craft. As a beginner you tell yourself, “If I could just play a tune or two, that would make me really happy”. Then, that is not enough. You need to learn twenty, fifty and then a hundred tunes to be happy. After a hundred you realize that the first twenty that you though you learned need to be re-learned because the way you’re playing them really sucks. Eventually your repertoire grows, your technique gets better, your tool set more rich, and you set new goals for yourself. Here is the point. Beginners have one very key thing in common with experienced craftsman. They are both striving to get better.

Along the journey of musical development it is important to have mentors and role models. And it is important for the mentors to remind those following behind that everyone starts at the beginning, and that the most important key to getting better is to follow the path of your interests. Practice all you want, if you are not doing what you want, you ain’t gettin’ better. And if you’re not getting better, it is likely you are getting worse.

One of the things I like most about mentors or roll models is their war stories. What was the path they followed? What inspired them to work so hard and get so good? What hurdles did they have and how did they get out of their ruts? I also love seeing evidence of their own humble beginnings. It reminds me that they are just people and that they really did have to make their way around similar obstacles.

One of my role models is Paul Brady. The man is simply a brilliant guitar player and I am stuck in a rut behind him. One of my hurdles is to find my way out of that rut and cut my own path. For those that don’t know, Paul Brady took a traditional song called Arthur McBride in the mid seventies and made it famous.

Recently I was poking around YouTube and found this live version of the song from 1977 which, aside from a few amusing mistakes, is identical to the recorded version that drew so much acclaim. Check out the gorgeous base line that serves as its own melody. Listen to the finger picking…especially in the solo. Whewww! Classic stuff.

Now, you want to see something really cool? Check out Paul singing the same song in seventyfour. It sounds hokey by comparison. No beautiful base line. Very little finger picking. Mostly strumming. The singing has no character. Man he sucks! O.k., not really, but you get the point. To get from ’74 to ’77 he had some real work to do. If he had stopped in ’74 I don’t think we would be talking about this song.

So, I don’t know about you, but I’ve got to get back to practice. I’ve got ruts to get out of.

Amadán – Caledonia

Here is a song written by Dougie MacLean that I recorded with Amadán back in ’99 called Caledonia. Sarah Kennedy was our singer at the time. Just to avoid confusion, she is not the same girl that is in the picture of Amadán from my Amadán – Scotsman / Paddy Clancy’s post. She was a tough Somerville chick but I really loved her voice. We had planned on recording The Foggy Dew, which I once heard her silence the nÓg with, but when we got into the studio she changed her mind. Such is life.

Damon, our fiddle player, and I had never heard Caledonia, which is a romantic name for Scotland (thus the photo above from flickr), until that day. So, we improvised all the instrumental bits. For the instrumental break I asked the engineer to play the song while a worked out a flute part. Once I figured out what I wanted to do I asked him to roll tape. He said “I’ve been rolling all along, do you want to take a listen?” I did and decided my job was done.

Not long after this recording Amadán parted ways and I have not heard from Miss Kennedy since. Hopefully she is still singing.

The Call and the Answer

hammered dulcimer

Have you ever heard a song for the first time an yet it felt like you’ve known it forever? I guess you might call it ‘love at first listen’. Well, the hammered dulcimer player at John Stone’s, whom I’ll refrain from naming in this post, sang a song a couple months back that fits that bill. I was able to convince her to sing it again at last night’s session. Man, what a beautiful song. Once she finished singing it I asked her to sing it again. She ignored my second request, and rightfully so. Who really wants to sing a song twice in a row? But I would have listened. And today, it’s all I could do to get the melody out of my head. Or at least my fading recollection of what the melody was.

So, here is the deal. I spent a couple hours recording a melody that is probably not at all what the melody actually is but instead how I remember it. I can get away with this because, after all, it is folk music. Besides, that is how these things evolve. What I recorded is really just a sketch, a placeholder, impromptu harmony and all, until I can convince our hammered dulcimer player to show me how to really play it and record it with me, which I also requested.

The name of the song is ‘The Call and the Answer’. What I have dug up on the song is that it seems to have been written by Phil Colclough, whom I honestly know nothing about. It was recorded by De Dannan on an album called A Jacket of Batteries, which I don’t own and have never heard. So, I suppose I can not truly endorse that album, although I do generally respect De Dannan as very talented so I’m sure it is probably quite good. In any case, here are the lyrics for the chorus. Take a listen to my interpretation of what I heard and I hope to have a guest recording sometime in the near future by our hammered dulcimer player.

You are the call, I am the answer
You are the wish and I am the way
You’re the music, I the dancer
You are the night and I am the day
You are the night and I am the day