This recently uploaded YouTube video is from Nanci Griffith’s first appearance on Austin City Limits, shortly after the release of her breakthrough album Once in a Blue Moon. I remember watching this amazing performance for the first time on PBS on 1985. It was my introduction to Nanci, whose music I’ve cherished for the following 35 years.
Rest in Peace, Nanci. Thanks for the beautiful music.
The duo’s new collection is shot through with a deep longing for home
Two years ago their Grammy-nominated album There Is No Other laid the ground for an intensely productive partnership. Now, Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turrisi have released an album that somehow manages to distil the essence of what many are experiencing in this pandemic: a longing for home and a grappling with death on a scale and in ways living generations hadn’t imagined before 2020.
The American-Italian duo, both long resident in Ireland, give voice to their longing for home, drawing from the American bluegrass and folk canon, Italian opera and folk traditions, English folk and a sheaf of original songs and tunes. Few artists have processed the challenges of pandemic living with such pin-prick precision and raw emotion. This is an album that interrogates our notions of home in this particular time – its emotional lure, its geographical inaccessibility and, unsurprisingly, its ultimate meaning: death.
Giddens and Turrisi don’t shirk the discomfort and disquiet of these times. This remarkably cohesive album of 12 wildly disparate tracks cuts to the heart of what isolation and distance might mean. They draw on the bluegrass tradition for their opening title song, written by Alice Gerrard, and end the collection with a powerfully wordless reading of Amazing Grace, Turrisi’s frame drum and Giddens’s lilting, nay, crying of the melody more lonesome than any lyric. In between the pair draw on the spare contributions of Niwel Tsumbu on guitar and Emer Mayock on pipes and flute, to exquisite effect. Mayock’s pipes on Amazing Grace are lonesomeness personified.
Their cover of Pentangle’s When I Was in My Prime strikes a beautifully spare pose, baroque in tone. Giddens’s pacing is
Have you ever wondered why there seems to be loads of Irish and Scottish music, but nothing from Wales?
Did you know that Deck the halls is a Welsh tune? And did you know that it comes from an ancient Celtic bardic tradition? In fact we have a whole ton of music, songs, and traditions that have ancient origins, including the Mari Lwyd and the world’s oldest harp music. So why has no-one heard it before? In this video we’ll be looking at the past, present and future of traditional music and customs in Wales, and where you can find the good stuff.
A very special thanks to Phyllis Kinney, Harri Llewelyn, Gerard Kilbride, Gwen Màiri, Jordan Price Williams, Welsh Whisperer, Calan, Angharad Jenkins, Patrick Rimes, Gwilym Bowen Rhys, and Emily Jane Coupland for your knowledge and your support! Ffwrnes Gerdd clips by Gethin Scourfield-Gerard KilBride for S4C
Glasgow singer-songwriter Lizzie Reid arrives with a fully-formed sound on her debut EP, Cubicle. It’s a warm and intimate collection of folk and rock songs that showcases her clear skill for storytelling, and a surprisingly diverse range of sounds for a compact collection. The project documents a break-up, and her first same-sex relationship. But its welcoming homespun atmosphere acts as its hidden strength. Recorded at her home in ten days before the first lockdown in March, the project truly exists within that period of stasis.
“We were kind of disconnected by what was going on in the world,” Lizzie says during our Zoom call. “Everyone was freaking out about COVID and isolation, and we were in a completely different headspace. Lockdown came about two days after Oli [Barton-Wood, the record’s producer whose credits include Nilüfer Yanya and Molly Payton] left. I remember at the time thinking, ‘wow those ten days, what a long time to just be in the house.’ Little did I know that would be the next nine months of my life.”
Despite the intimate setting, there was an underlying pressure on the recording process. “We’d already announced that we were going to be releasing music this year so this needed to be the one,” Reid says. “I had recorded a few times with the idea of releasing, but it was never quite right, I felt like it could go one of two ways, but when it came down to it, this had to be the one. I’m a very anxious person… I do always have a sense of time. There was less of that because we were at home the whole time.”
That homely quality manifests through a wonderfully close recording. The gentle fingerpicked guitars of Always Lovely, the closeness of Reid’s breath on the mic – and even the gentle meowing of her cat Ivan at the end of Seamless – all offer heartfelt textures that might not have been captured without a home recording. The sense of home continues with her bandmates, with Reid’s cousin Catriona playing cello twice across the project.