Category Archives: Music

In The DropBox: Flying Colors, Nick Mason, Djabe with Steve Hackett, and Gazpacho

The DropBox overfloweth this week: two live sets, an interesting prog/jazz offering, and the new Gazpacho album.

First up, Flying Colors’ third live album, Third Stage: Live In London, recorded during the tour in support of 2019’s excellent Third Degree. The prog supergroup of Mike Portnoy, Steve Morse, Dave LaRue, Casey McPherson, and Neal Morse just gets better and better. This is a two-disc set featuring the cream of their crop of arena-rock style prog. The rhythm section of Portnoy and LaRue is insane, especially LaRue’s funky bass. If you aren’t familiar with Flying Colors, this is the perfect introduction. If you’re a fan, it’s the best document of their scorching live prowess yet recorded.

Next up is Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets. This is a real treat: Nick Mason, original drummer for Pink Floyd, put together a talented group of musicians to play a relaxed set of pre-Dark Side Of The Moon classics at the Roundhouse. If all you know about the Floyd is DSOTM and later, these songs (with the exception of the Meddle ones) will surprise you. They are playful and psychedelic in a very charming way. Gary Kemp, of Spandau Ballet fame, handles vocals, and he is terrific. It’s obvious both the band and the audience are having a great time, and Nick Mason has not lost his chops one bit.

The Magic Stag, by Hungarian group Djabe, is hard to categorize. The first few songs sound like some sort of raga/smooth jazz hybrid, as if Bob James found himself in Bollywood. Okay, I exaggerate, but there’s definitely an Indian feel to “Power of Wings” courtesy of a sitar jamming with trumpet. Steve Hackett lends his always tasteful guitar to seven of the eleven songs, and he and his wife wrote the lyrics to the title track.

The sixth track, “Unseen Sense” is the highlight, with some outstanding acoustic guitar work supporting a beautiful melody. This is a song worthy of stellar fusion artists such as Oregon, Weather Report, or Mark Isham. The rest of the album maintains the high standard set by this track. If you are looking for a nice album to play on a lazy Sunday morning, Djabe’s The Magic Stag is a perfect choice.

Anything new from Gazpacho is big news, and it’s been two years since we heard from them. Fireworker is their latest, and it is somewhat of a departure from previous efforts. I, for one, am glad to see them stretch out a little. The past few albums were starting to sound a little interchangeable. This one kicks off with the 20-minute epic “Space Cowboy”, which features a huge choir. It’s as if Carl Orff took his Carmina Burana and scored it for a prog rock group. That sounds ambitious, but Gazpacho pulls it off with aplomb.

This song cycle, like most of Gazpacho’s, has a unifying concept. In the words of keyboardist Thomas Andersen,

“There’s an instinctual part of you that lives inside your mind, separate from your consciousness. I call it the ‘Fireworker’ or the ‘Lizard’ or the ‘Space Cowboy.’ It’s an eternal and unbroken lifeforce that’s survived every generation, with a new version in each of us. It’s evolved alongside our consciousness, and it can override us and control all of our actions.” In order to get us to do what it wants, he clarifies, the “Fireworker” will silence the parts of our mind that feel disgust or remorse so that we’re unable to stop it. The conscious part of our mind, Andersen notes, will actually “rationalize and legitimize” those thoughts and actions so that we never discover the beast behind-the-scenes. No matter how we feel about ourselves in terms of identity, accomplishments, and value, we’re all just vessels—or “Sapiens”—that the creature uses until it no longer needs us. “If you play along,” Andersen explains, “It’ll reward you like a puppy and let you feel fantastic; if you don’t, it’ll punish you severely.”

From arena prog, through psychedelic pop, to jazz prog, and finally Norwegian choral prog (for want of a better term!), this is the most eclectic batch of music we’ve ever pulled from the DropBox. I’ll leave you with a little Djabe and Steve Hackett:

 

In The DropBox: Arcade Messiah, Katatonia, and Pineapple Thief

John Bassett was very active in the mid 2010s with his KingBathMat, solo, and Arcade Messiah projects. KingBathMat was a quirky prog group that released five excellent albums of melodic metal, while Arcade Messiah began as an instrumental outfit. AM has released a few EPs since 2016’s III, but Bassett is back with a vengeance in 2020, and it sounds like he never left. In fact, he has taken the best elements of KingBathMat and Arcade Messiah and melded them into a sleek prog-metal machine. He’s now working exclusively under the Arcade Messiah moniker, and their latest effort is The Host. It features his trademark gift for a memorable melody delivered with crunching guitars. If you like your prog rock on the heavy side while remaining hummable, then your can’t go wrong with Arcade Messiah’s latest.

Katatonia’s City Burials is their followup to 2017’s magnificent The Fall of Hearts. This is a set of songs that explore the sadness and sense of loss one gets as one realizes that the past is buried forever. “Behind The Blood” is a ferocious rocker in the tradition of past Katatonia, but the majority of tracks are more hushed and tender. Jonas Renkse’s vocals have never been more warmer and more expressive as they are here. “Vanishers” features a beautiful duet between Renkse and Anni Bernhard that is a highlight. Katatonia’s evolution from extremely dark metal to melodic prog has been fascinating, and City Burials is their strongest effort yet.

Speaking of evolutions, The Pineapple Thief has fully emerged from their Radiohead/minimalist origins, and with Versions Of The Truth they are now one of the finest prog/pop groups active today. In the early 1980s, The Police were one of the biggest groups in the world. Their secret power was letting Stewart Copeland’s drums take the lead, and having Andy Summers’ guitar provide the rhythm.

With Gavin Harrison, The Pineapple Thief have a percussionist as gifted as Copeland, and his drums are way up in the mix, propelling the entire project. Every song is credited to both Harrison and Bruce Soord, and these are the finest set PT has ever recorded. Gone are the 20+ minutes-long meandering explorations, to be replaced by perfectly crafted pop miniatures. Even the longest one – “Our Mire” at 7:26 – is a masterpiece of concision. Stylistically they range from the laconic “Driving Like Maniacs” to the pulverizing “Break It All”, and there isn’t a clunker in the lot.

Three albums, three winners. 2020 isn’t a total disaster!

Beauty Against the Data Lords: The Maria Schneider Orchestra

Beauty like that is strength. One could turn the world upside down with beauty like that.

Doestoevsky, The Idiot

Over the past three decades, Minnesota-born composer Maria Schneider has staked out her own unique territory, based in jazz but expanding beyond category. From classical training and an apprenticeship with master arranger Gil Evans, Schneider parleyed her vivid sense of musical color, vibrant compositions and power-packed conducting skills into the leadership of a 20-piece Jazz Orchestra. At the height of the 1990s jazz boom, Schneider’s ensemble maintained a weekly residence at the New York club Visiones and recorded three fine, critically acclaimed albums (Evanescence, Coming About and Allegresse) for the German label Enja.

Reacting nimbly to the Internet’s disruption of music’s value, Schneider pivoted to crowdfunding for her 21st-century recordings. Concert in the Garden, Sky Blue and The Thompson Fields (along with Winter Morning Walks, a classical song cycle composed for soprano Dawn Upshaw) inhabit a rareified sweet spot where composition and improvisation feed each other, fusing the potent swing of classic big bands and the lush warmth of orchestral tone poems to evoke a deep-rooted, constantly unfolding delight in the world of nature.

But in 2014, David Bowie recruited Schneider and her orchestra for the jolting noir single “Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime).” The collaboration didn’t just boost Schneider’s profile (and result in sax player Donny McCaslin and guitarist Ben Monder backing Bowie on his swan song Blackstar); it unlocked a grainier, more shaded musical vocabulary, evident in her most recent commissions. This expansion also mirrored Schneider’s dedicated activism on behalf of copyright owners, pushing back against Big Data’s predation on both creative content and personal information.

The new Maria Schneider Orchestra double album Data Lords is the magnificent result, their most complete statement to date. Conveying both the bleak potential of online life blindly lived and the bounteous beauty of the life around us we take for granted, Schneider conjures up slow-burning musical structures that, as they catch fire, blaze with fear and dread — but also with hope and joy. Throughout there’s a symphonic sweep, a supple rhythmic foundation and a seamless flow of inexhaustible melody.

Continue reading Beauty Against the Data Lords: The Maria Schneider Orchestra

In The DropBox: Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly & Pain of Salvation

For the past week I have been listening to new albums from Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly and Pain of Salvation. They are labelmates on InsideOut, and they are both excellent efforts.

I’m familiar with Sjöblom through his stellar work with Big Big Train, and he also led Beardfish. Gungfly is now his outlet for his solo work. For their second release, he has pared down Gungfly to a trio with Petter and Rasmus Diamant on drums and bass respectively, while Rikard tackles everything else – and “everything else” covers a lot of instruments!

Overall, it’s a rocking effort with Sjöblom’s vocals running the gamut from a warm and intimate tenor to a harsh low-register rasp. The first track, Traveler, immediately grabs the listener with a driving rhythm that conveys an urgent sense of movement. Sjöblom sings of the difficulties of traveling and being away from family. The fact that its more than 13-minute length feels much briefer is a testament to how well it is constructed.

Happy Somewhere In Between, the first single, is a catchy rocker with a bit of a hoedown feel to it. The rhythm section of the Diamant brothers really shines on this track, effortlessly keeping pace with some very tricky changes.

Clean As A Whistle is a pleasant change of pace with an acoustic guitar opening and a beautiful melody worthy of Nick Drake. It slowly builds in intensity until it explodes into a synthesizer/electric guitar jam.

Alone Together is a song that tugs at the heartstrings. It is a sensitive portrayal of the emotional turmoil parents of mentally ill children have to deal with. Sjöblom’s guitar solos remind me of Steve Howe’s work on Relayer. 

After the brief folky interlude of From Afar, the album closes with the epic On The Shoulders Of Giants. In this delightful track, Sjöblom pays tribute to his prog forebears:

“What happened to me?
The boy who listened to Frank Zappa
And said, ‘This is what I want to be.'”

Sjöblom makes good use of nearly all of its 15 minutes length with some fine guitar work that showcases his talent. Alone Together is a very solid effort from Gungfly, and it illustrates Sjöblom’s mastery of guitar and keyboards as well as his maturity as a lyricist.

Pain Of Salvation’s Panther opens with a chugging, synth-heavy riff on Accelerator. It could fit right in with current “Synthwave” scene with its slightly retro sound paired with contemporary production. As always, Daniel Gildenlöw’s vocals are outstanding – his energy and passion never flagging for a moment.

Unfuture opens with a snaky acoustic blues riff that soon explodes into a full metal treatment which then retreats into a more subdued passage as Gildenlöw sings (as far as I can decipher), “Welcome to the new world/Which sounds sublime/A better and improved world/For our mankind.” This is a song dripping with menace and foreboding, yet sounding seductive and enticing.

In Gildenlöw ‘s words, “Panther is an album with many layers, but at the heart of it you will find my lifelong struggle to calibrate my interface towards mankind, trying to calculate the offset to a species that I have on some levels always felt myself estranged to. A feeling I think many can relate to. ”

His alienation comes through loud and clear throughout the album, which covers an extraordinary range of musical styles. There isn’t a single clunker in the bunch, either. It’s very hard to pick a favorite song, but I  particularly like the title track with its 16(!) tracks of guitar and chorus of “How does it feel to be you?” she once asked me
I said “I feel like a panther trapped in a Dog’s world”.

Another highlight is Species, with the lines, “I stopped watching the news/It was hurting me so/All that matters beats through/Like plutonium glow.” A relentless and addictive guitar riff underpins his frustration with modern media manipulation.

Panther closes with the epic Icon, which, now that I consider it, is the best track on the album. Okay, I admit it – every dang song on this album is irresistible! With Panther, Pain of Salvation have come up with a masterpiece that perfectly captures our current state of isolation and anxiety. It is an artistic triumph, and one of the best releases of 2020.

 

 

Sea of Tranquility Interviews Glass Hammer

Pete Pardo of Sea of Tranquility conducts an in-depth interview of Steve Babb and Fred Schendel, the artists otherwise known as Glass Hammer. While focusing primarily on their newest album, Dreaming City (reviewed on Spirit of Cecilia here), they also cover a wide range of prog-related topics.

Part 1 of the interview:

 

Part 2 of the interview, in which Steve reveals which GH album is “the Seinfeld of prog rock”:

An Interview With Neal Morse

Randy George, Neal Morse, and Mike Portnoy

I think Neal Morse is one of the most exciting and important artists working in music today. Since his embrace of Christianity almost twenty years ago, he has stayed true to his faith while writing and performing some of the most thoughtful and original music in all of rock. However,  his upcoming release, with long-time collaborators Randy George (bass) and Mike Portnoy (drums), is a collection of covers. It is the third album in their wonderfully fun Cover to Cover series, and Inside Out music is rereleasing the first two volumes with it in remastered form.

The new volume, Cov3r to Cov3r, features songs originally performed by Yes, Jethro Tull, David Bowie, Ringo Starr, Gerry Rafferty, Badfinger, King Crimson, Squeeze, Tom Petty, and Lenny Kravitz. While some are obvious hits (their version of Rafferty’s Baker Street is killer) others are deeper cuts, like Crimson’s One More Red Nightmare.

I had the pleasure of chatting with him on the phone while he was out walking with his daughter, enjoying a beautiful summer day in Tennessee.

Thanks for sharing a little of your time with me to discuss yours, Mike’s, and Randy’s new covers album! I think we’re pretty close to the same age, and if I made a massive mixtape of my favorite songs from high school and college, it would include every song on all three volumes of Cover to Cover. How do you all decide which songs to record?

Thanks! Mike loves to do covers, and he is the driving force behind most of these songs. The first two volumes are mostly bonus tracks from earlier albums. We’d finish an album, and the record company would ask us to do some songs for bonus tracks. We all love covers, because they are a wonderful way to blow off some steam after playing long and complicated prog tunes. If we’re on the road, and I’m doing a soundcheck, I can start playing some Zeppelin, and Mike will come running out of the dressing room to join in!

My favorite moment on the new album is pairing up Squeeze’s Black Coffee in Bed with Tempted. Whose idea was that?

That was mine – I used to play Black Coffee in Bed back in the ‘80s, along with Petty’s Running Down a Dream.

When I first heard the opening track, Yes’ “No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Required”, I was wondering, “Who the heck is that singing?” Then I saw in the promo notes that it’s Jon Davison!

Yeah, we got together with him through playing Cruise to the Edge. When we looked at recording that song, I asked myself, “Can I sing this?”, and I realized there’s no way! So we were really glad Jon agreed to sing it.

I think I actually like your version of Baker Street better than the original. I’ve watched the video for it several times and  I get chills when you play your guitar solo. Who is the mystery sax player?

Thanks, man! That’s Jim Hoke, a local Nashville musician. He also does a great job on One More Red Nightmare, which is one of my favorite King Crimson songs.

Listening to all three volumes, it sounds like the three of you just had a blast recording these songs. What was it like recording during a pandemic?

We actually finished our recording before the pandemic hit. Mike recorded the drums in November, I did my stuff in December, and we mixed it in December and January. My “pandemic album” is my upcoming album, Solo Gratia, which I’m really excited about.

Are there any plans for you, Mike, and Randy to do some shows in support of Cover to Cover?

Well, we are going to play a bunch of covers the first night at Morsefest this September. Because of the virus, we have to limit the number of people who can be there in person, but we are also streaming it live, and we have some cool online VIP events planned, like charades and other interactive games.

I have the original versions of the first 2 Cover to Covers, and I notice you’ve changed the track order on the reissues. Why?

They are? I didn’t know that. Ha ha! Mike must have done that. He is the man for figuring out what the best order of tracks should be for albums. It’s his gift, you know, and we figure, let him use it!

I think Randy George is an unsung hero of the bass.  I’ve always wondered, how did you two first connect?

Oh, that’s an interesting story. He actually called me up – we had a mutual friend, and he asked me if I was interested in playing on a solo album of his. I think I was too busy at the time, and I put it off.  Then I had just left Spock’s Beard, I think it was around 2002, and he said he was willing to work with me if I had any projects. He drove all the way from Seattle to Tennessee to audition for my Testimony album, and we’ve been together ever since.

After Cover to Cover Vol 1 -3 is released in July, what other projects are you getting ready to unleash on the world?

Well, MorseFest is coming up in September, there’s a new Transatlantic album coming out next year, and I’m working on the mixes for my Solo Gratia album.

What are you listening to these days?

Ah, let’s see… mostly the Solo Gratia mixes. I am also listening to the audiobook of Andy Stanley’s Irresistible. As far as music goes, I was listening to Pandora’s Neal Morse station, and a really cool Frost* song came up. I’m a big fan of them.

One last question – what role should Christian artists play in today’s culture?

Well, I think we should be pointing people toward the Lord. I want people to experience God through my music; I’m trying to express the glory of God’s heart.

Yeah, I’m glad you didn’t get stuck in the CCM ghetto; you’re taking your music to whomever will listen to it.

You know, the old saying is true – God will provide. He has given me some incredible music for Solo Gratia. I’m the performer, but God is the director. I’m like a piece of glass reflecting his love and glory.

Can I make a request for Volume 4 of Cover to Cover? Something by Jellyfish, and something from Joe Walsh!

Ha Ha! Yeah, I know there are a lot of people who are fans of them, so that might happen one day.

Well, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me, Neal.

Sure! Take care!

Cover to Cover Volumes 1 – 3 will be released July 24, 2020 on Inside Out Music, on CD, vinyl, and digital formats.

You can order tickets to Morsefest 2020 at nealmorse.com.

 

 

 

Music to Soothe the Troubled Mind

I love “ambient”, “space”,  or whatever you want to call that style of music that is primarily electronic and, well, spacey. That said, there’s a fine line between good space music and aural wallpaper. Too much of it is simply banal and trite with clichéd melodies performed on cheesy synths.

Brian Eno is generally considered one of the founders of space music, along with Vangelis, Steve Roach, Tangerine Dream, and others who worked in the 1970s and ’80s. There is a thriving ambient/space music scene today, as evidenced by such Spotify playlists as Atmospheric Calm.

In this post, I want to focus on one artist: Ulrich Schnauss. I first became aware of him when he joined England’s Engineers for their third album, in Praise of More. Intrigued by his effect on their shoegazey sound, I began investigating his solo work, and I was not disappointed. As a matter of fact, I can safely say I have listened to Schnauss’ new box set of his remastered first six albums more than anything else this year. (And what a year 2020 is turning out to be.)

Entitled Now Is A Timeless Present, it is a stunning collection of space, shoegaze, soaring pop, and electronica. Schnauss manages to consistently thread that needle necessary to keep the listener engaged and wanting more. Every album in it has its own identity, yet one can listen to it and understand how he has developed organically to become one of the finest practitioners of ambient working today.

If I had to pick a favorite, it would be his third album, Goodbye, which features vocals that hover just outside the range of intelligibility, in the tradition of classic Cocteau Twins.

Schnauss has also collaborated with Engineers’ guitarist Mark Peters on two albums. I highly recommend their first, Underrated Silence.

He has also joined the latest iteration of Tangerine Dream, continuing that storied group’s career. His latest effort is another collaboration, this time with guitarist Jonas Munk, and it is also excellent. Entitled Passage, it features driving rhythms reminiscent of Tangerine Dream (no surprise there!) as well as beautiful melodies. I’ve posted the video for the opening track, Amaris, below.

If you want to hear more, I’ve put together a Spotify playlist of the tracks that I think are his best. The fact that it is almost 4 hours long indicates the consistently high quality of his music!

Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus, Songs of Yearning

I have never before heard anything quite like this album.  And since I first listened to it at a friend’s urging this past weekend, I find myself returning to it again and again.  It resists description, yet compels a response; it’s utterly fresh but feels like it’s been around forever.

Working as a loose creative collective since the mid-1980s, Liverpool’s Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus have consistently pursued what they describe as “echoes of the sacred” in their work, striving to access a sonic space where transcendence can invade a stiflingly measured-out world.   On their fourth album Songs of Yearning, they’ve discovered new room for rumors of glory to run, and the result is uniquely powerful, its resonance strikingly amplified by the shadows of doubt that now openly stalk our lives.

RAIJ’s music calls to mind much that I’ve heard and loved over the years — abstract soundscapes by Robert Fripp and Brian Eno; the “holy minimalism” of composers Arvo Pärt and Henryk Górecki; the sparse, charged post-rock Talk Talk found with Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock, to name a few.   But comparisons to other artists fall short of describing Songs of Yearning’s rich mix of reticent modesty and bold experiment. Dissecting the music into its component parts — a breathtaking gamut of sound sourced from liturgy, folksong, chamber music, pop & rock of all stripes, ambience, industrial noise, found dialogue and much more — won’t do the trick either.  The only way to catch the breadth and depth of what’s here is to dive in:

Short and relatively direct as it is, “Celestine” unfolds the Revs’ approach with inviting clarity.  The simple acoustic guitar pattern and the female vocal in French doubled by bells — they’re straightforward enough.  But that flute — is it slightly out of tune, or carving out its own tonality?  The acoustic bass and harmony vocals — how is it they sound now consonant, now dissonant, flickering in and out of sync by the second?  And in the end, each layer goes its own way, ever so gently drifting apart harmonically and rhythmically, but still bound up in an organic, contemplative whole.

Continue reading Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus, Songs of Yearning

A Time for WhisKY

By Richard K. Munro

Thomas Munro, Srto his left “AMERICAN JOHNNY Robertson to his right the young boy is his nephew Jimmy Quigley 16 at the tjme.

It’s Five O’Clock. “Whisky is liquid sunshine.” said Robertson.

Like most Highland natives, Auld Pop had a vague knowledge of a thing called barbecue, but had never actually eaten any. He was, however, intimately familiar with whiskey. In fact from 1914-1933 he often made his own. I do not know and have no knowledge if he ever sold any of his poteen. I do know he used to say, “Prohibition? What’s that? No excise officer ever kept a Highland man from his dram.” “Does love make the world go around? Well aye, mon. “Strrruth! . But whiskey makes it go around twice as fast. Aye! An’ gies a mon a sonsie gizz, aye! ThAAt’s a sonsie face – a jolly, smiling face!.

He used to have conservations with his Argyll Squaddies, Jimmy Quigley and American Johnny Robertson. Hae ye a smoke?” he asked. “Aye!” said Johnny,
““Matches?” he asked.
“Enough to burn Rome,” said Johnny.
“Whiskey?” he said
“Enough whiskey for the a river of pain, loss and sorrow For the Abhainn nam Manach itself -that’s the River Beauly for a Lallan laddie like ye, Johnny! “
“Are ye fou, Johnny lad?
” “No’ yet, Tommie!”
“An’ ye, young Jimmy?
“Chan eil fos tamuill beag Brathair mathair!”
Johnny, and what’s That? I ken it’s yer mither-leed (language).
Auld Pop: “He says, not for a little while yet, uncle!”“
Said Johnny To be or not to be, drunk on whiskey, that is the question in the rright-true Saxon tongue.
( a distant train sounds its horn)
Auld Pop grew thoughtful
“I hae always felt that distant train whistles heard in the dead of night are God’s way of letting us know the best days are fast runnin’ awa! .Time’s chariot is running by.An’ the broken hairt it kens nae second spring again, though the weary warld dinna cease frae its greeting. Aye, we are a’ togither tonicht for a wee while. But the parting day is comin’. The whiskey, and romance eventually runs out and the night will soon turn to day. Aye. Ye are a leal n’ true mon, Johnny. You stood by me and Jimmy here in a very dark moment. You and the lads and the Dins- were willing to brave the shadows ‘ death. Medal o no’ yer the bravest mon o’ the Regiment. If Auld Port were here today, he wad understand.”
“Aye”, said Johnny.
“Aye,” said Jimmy
Auld Pop said, “here’s a toast to the Ants and to Auld Port!
TO AULD PORT! TO THE ANTS! they said.
It was dark that night in in the distance they could hear the thud of the German guns round Wipers (Ypres).
Auld Port, Captain Dick MacDonald Porteous had led them in many a trench raid but would never do so again.
That morning, as dawn broke Auld Port was killed. They told his parents it was a stray bullet.
Auld Pop, who was there, said, “it was a Jairmen sniper for sure. Aye. “

May 10. 1915 Lang Syne.

Lochaber No More (funerals for an Argyll. “LOCHABER NO MORE” that was known to be played during WW1 Military funerals with Gun Volley at specific parts of this tune.

Lyrics for “Lochaber No More” :

FAREWELL to Lochaber, farewell to the glen,

⁠No more will he wander Lochaber again.

Lochaber no more! Lochaber no more! ⁠

The lad will return to Lochaber no more!

The trout will come back from the deeps of the sea,

⁠The bird from the wilderness back to the tree,

Flowers to the mountain and tides to the shore, ⁠But he will return to Lochaber no more!

O why should the hills last, that never were young,

⁠Unperishing stars in the heavens be hung;

Be constant the seasons, undrying the stream, ⁠

And he that was gallant be gone like a dream?

Brave songs will be singing in isles of the West,

⁠But he will be silent who sang them the best; T

he dance will be waiting, the pipes will implore,

⁠But he will return to Lochaber no more!

Child of the forest! profound is thy sleep, ⁠

The valley that loved thee awakes but to weep;

When our fires are rekindled at dawn of the morn, ⁠

Our griefs burn afresh, and our prayers are forlorn;

The night falls disconsolate, bringing no peace, ⁠

No hope for our dreams, for our sighs no release;

In vain come the true hearts and look from the door,

⁠For thou wilt return to Lochaber no more!

Neil Munro

)

I can never forget the stories of Captain Dick MacDonald Porteous ASH a hero of 2nd Ypres (KIA May 10, 1915). He spoke fluent Spanish and French (he had been raised partially in Argentina and born in Dublin). “Port” the men called him. My grandfather said he was one of the finest men and bravest soldier he ever knew.

A Passion Like No Other

On Good Friday 2020, the Leipzig Bachfest presented a unique version of Bach’s St. John Passion in Bach’s home church, the Thomaskirche.  It was a performance uncannily suited to these extraordinary times.

To quote the announcement of the performance (quickly re-scheduled for Good Friday following the cancellation of the 2020 Bachfest):

The actual Passion story will be performed by just three musicians. In this production, the Icelandic tenor Benedikt Kristjánsson tells the story of Jesus’ Passion on the basis of Bach’s Passion, taking on the role of the Evangelist and all the other characters – and also conducting the virtual choir. Harpsichordist Elina Albach and percussionist Philipp Lamprecht take the role of the orchestra. (Photo: Nino Halm).

All the viewers at home are invited to sing the chorales besides five singers in St. Thomas’ Church led by Thomaskantor Gotthold Schwarz, and the artists. Bach choirs who were invited to the 2020 Bachfest will be participating by video link.

At first, I found the idea of a chamber St. John Passion a bit disconcerting — like an unrealized idea of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, perhaps?  But the Thomaskirche (with video inserts from the absent choirs) proved the perfect setting for the sparse instrumentation. And as the 90-minute work unwound, it became more and more moving; the musicianship, focus and dedication Kristjánsson, Albach and Lamprecht conjured up was inescapable — especially during a riveting version of the Passion’s finale.  It brings me to tears every time I hear it, and this time was no exception:

Lord, let at last Thine angels come,
To Abram’s bosom bear me home,
That I may die unfearing;
And in its narrow chamber keep
My body safe in peaceful sleep
Until Thy reappearing.
And then from death awaken me,
That these mine eyes with joy may see,
O Son of God, Thy glorious face,
My Savior and my fount of grace.
Lord Jesus Christ, my prayer attend, my prayer attend,
And I will praise Thee without end.

My suggestion: set aside an hour and a half today or tomorrow, hook up your computer or miscellaneous online device to a big screen and a good sound system, and let this powerful version of one of Bach’s greatest masterpieces rip.  The stream is here; program (with the chorales printed out for singing) is here.

— Rick Krueger