Category Archives: Music

Ad Fontes #2

From Lutheran Service Book’s Daily Lectionary for November 30:

‘In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.’  (Isaiah 6:1-4)

Or, to put it another way (especially if you’re Martin Luther assembling his Deutsche Messe in the 1520s):

Isaiah, mighty seer, in days of old
The Lord of all in Spirit did behold
High on a lofty throne, in splendor bright,
With robes that filled the temple courts with light.
Above the throne were flaming seraphim,
Six wings had they, these messengers of Him.
With two they veiled their faces, as was right,
With two they humbly hid their feet from sight,
And with the other two aloft they soared,
One to the other called and praised the Lord:
“Holy is God, the Lord of Sabaoth!
Holy is God, the Lord of Sabaoth!
Holy is God, the Lord of Sabaoth!
His glory fills the heavens and the earth!”
The beams and lintels trembled at the cry,
And clouds of smoke enwrapped the throne on high.

(English translation from The Lutheran Hymnal, 1941, alt.)

— Rick Krueger

PROXY by The Tangent

A review of The Tangent, Proxy (Sony, 2018).

I doubt if I’ll ever forget the first time I encountered The Tangent’s The Music That Died Aloneback in 2003.  I came to them because of a notice that Roine Stolt was a part of it.  At that point, I had not heard of Andy Tillison.  From the moment I first encountered Tillison, though, I thought he was incapable of a misstep.  If anything, I thought way too highly of him (that is, way too highly of any person. While I didn’t think he could walk on water, I had him rather close to being able to do so.  Over the last fifteen years, I have explored every aspect of Tillison’s music—from The Tangent to his PO90 work to his various solo projects.  I even had the privilege of spending several days with Andy and his beautiful and brilliant significant other, Sally. 

But, back to The Music That Died Alone. That album, to this day, remains a masterpiece.  The way that Tillison combined and fused the old and the new amazed me to no end, and it continues to do so.  I can put that CD in the tray and enjoy it after God only knows how many listens. Each time I hear it, I hear something new and fresh. It would not be an exaggeration to state that it has been the soundtrack of my life over one and one half decades.

And, I have felt the same about several other The Tangent albums, but, in particular, Down and Out in Paris and LondonNot as Good as the Book(I own two copies—one never opened, simply to protect the book that comes with it), and, most especially, Le Sacre du Travail.  This last will always be an all-time favorite. If someone forced me to name my top albums of all time, it would certainly be in the top 10 and, very likely, the top 5. I know of no other rock artist—past or present—capable offering social criticism better than does Tillison.  At his best, he is sublimely Chestertonian in his art.

This afternoon, my copy of Proxy, the most relent The Tangent album, arrived.  Amen.  I’d heard a promo copy, but this is the first time I’ve been able to listen to the album in all of its glory. And, it is rather glorious, especially musically. 

The opening track, “Proxy,” tells a rather sordid tale of international diplomacy and manipulations in six parts.

The only way to describe track two, “The Melting Andalusian Skies,” is classy.  The song sounds like something that could’ve been played in a nice nightclub, circa 1947. The war is over, and we, the listeners, want to find the good in what remains.

“A Case of Misplaced Optimism,” is really, really funky. This one might grow on me, but, at the moment, it somewhat eludes my understanding and my sympathy.

Another six-part song, “The Adulthood Lie,” is the highpoint of this album. Avoiding the political rants of the opening track to the album, “The Adulthood Lie” is Tillison at his socially critical best. Indeed, when it comes to writing lyrics about cultural problems and ideas, no one in the current world of music does better, as noted above. 

The final proper track of the album is a re-write and re-release of the 2013 song, “Supper’s Off,” a criticism of those rock fans of the 1970s who became corporate bosses and lawyers. I’m curious to know why Tillison decided to remake this song.  The version from 2013—much leaner than this one—was perfect as is. This 2018 version is certainly fine, but it lacks the raw energy of the original.

The final (bonus) track of the album is a excerpt from Tillison’s last solo album, recorded under the name of “Kalman Filter.” That album, Exo-Oceans, is excellent, but I’m not quite sure what it’s doing as a bonus here. A bit of marketing by an artist who hates marketing?

Tillison has become overly-political in his lyrics over the last two albums. On his last album, he claimed that those who believed in Brexit were Nazi-Hitler sympathizers. Not being British, I guess I don’t understand the issue well. In interviews, Tillison has described himself as an anarchist. I would presume that an anarchist would favor the breakup of large political entities such as the EU.

Maybe anarchism has a different meaning in England than it does here in the States?

Proxy, though, avoids the political rants of the previous album. Not surprisingly, as such, it’s much better. Let’s hope Tillison finds his way out of the political world and fully back into the world of art and social criticism. 

“Wake, Awake! For Night Is Flying!”

On the Last Sunday of the Church Year — or the Last Sunday in Ordinary Time, depending on your liturgical calendar — there’s no better musical commentary than Johann Sebastian Bach’s cantata #140, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (Wake, Awake, For Night Is Flying)!  In this vividly dramatic work, written for the Divine Service at Leipzig’s Thomaskirche, Bach sets all three stanzas of Philipp Nicolai’s Lutheran chorale from 1598, along with recitative and aria texts based on Matthew 25:1-13, Christ’s parable of the ten virgins.

Enjoy a performance of the complete cantata by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Chorus, directed by Ton Koopman, below.   For the German text and a parallel English translation, click here.

— Rick Krueger

 

 

In Defense of Historical Complexity: A Meditation on the Old South

“Sing me a song of a lass that is gone,” the Outlander theme song begins (“The Skye Boat Song”). The show, based on Diana Gabaldon’s romantic history novels, depicts a lost world of 18th century adventure, Scottish highland clans, and loyalty shaped around various allegiances. The protagonist, Claire, is a 20th century woman who has been cast back in time to the different world of 18th century Scotland; she is the “lass” of the title song. At the same time, “lass” symbolizes the whole world of excitement that Claire finds herself living. The world of the past “is gone,” and Outlander is a song contrasting modernity with a specific moment in the past.

In the midst of such a contrast, what is the person with an active historical imagination called to do? Does the past become an extended store of ethical examples demanding moral judgement? Or is there something more to developing an imaginative vision of an alternative time? I propose that there is something more, and that at a minimum an engagement in a formal study of the past should begin with understanding which moves to love. Rather than asking “Were X-group-of-people right or wrong to do Y-action?” the proper historical question is “Why did X believe they should do Y, and what can we find that is admirable in their choices or convictions?” Permit me to illustrate this approach to history using the antebellum and Civil War eras (roughly 1848-1865).

As a boy growing up in Virginia, I developed a love for the Old South. The remnants of the material culture of the South were all around me – historical signs, the iron factory in Richmond, VA., battlefields of minor victories and substantial losses. But perhaps the most formative encounter I had with a vision of southern culture came from the novel Gone with the Wind. One summer I set myself the goal of reading a novel of more than 1000 pages, and the romance of Scarlett and Rhett, the fate of Tara, and the fight to defend home and live in the aftermath of its loss captivated my imagination. Here was a different world, filled with different values, different reactions, different dreams than my own; here was a way of life people fought to protect.

As I grew older, I began formally studying the events of the Civil War. I learned about sectionalism, the economic systems which enabled both the high plantation lifestyle and the poor white farmer to coexist, the evils of slavery, and division which threatened to wreck the Union. I read sermons from pastors in the North who drew from their theological traditions a deep respect for the dignity of the human person to support the abolitionist cause; and then I read speeches from southerners who saw in their aristocratic hierarchical society the hand of God locating each person within a specific place for the good of the body politic. Reading first hand accounts and scholarly interpretations, I observed the complexities of the moment. Stalwart men of virtue (Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson) fought for their homes, their land, and their way of life. Northern generals (Tecumseh Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant) lacked virtue but delivered victories through their scorched earth, “rape of the south” give-no-quarter tactics. Not only did the North win the war, but in doing so the Union set southern economic activity backwards by over a century.

The complexities of this era fascinated me, and to this day I get passionate when confronted with simplistic understandings of the Civil War. This struggle was about slavery, but that issue represented a constitutional question. Could the states break the Union? Which was primary: the people, or the states? Secondarily, this war was also the struggle of two different economies: agrarianism vs. industrialism, and the life of the farm vs. the life of the city. Wrapped into these political and economic concerns were substantial philosophical questions: do all human beings have dignity? If so, how does that dignity work itself out in political life? What is the nature of governing authority? Is it bound by the Constitution? Can the highest authorities violate the source of their authority for a good purpose? What does it mean to be created “equal?” Paired with philosophy, politics, and economics were the rise of abolitionist rhetoric and the power dynamics of an entrenched 19th century racism. These complexities resist simple answers.

Between 1848 and 1865, the United States engaged in a trial by combat to answer fundamental questions. By the end of the Civil War, several questions received answers sealed in blood: the states were subordinate to the Union, the people were the primary political power in the United States, equality meant equal freedom and self-responsibility before the law, and the American economy was one of increased industrial, urbanized patterns of material production and consumption. The South lost, and in its loss passed a way of life. Rather than settling the conflicts once and for all, Northern victory only deepened the complexities which brought the United States to this point. Studying the Civil War era must be more than a formal engagement in condemning the practice of slavery; such a study should be an opportunity to grow in understanding and love.

Historical study begins with seeking understanding through primary text engagement. Reading the works of John C. Calhoun, Jefferson Davis, Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, and the other men of the day emerses the student in the richness of that other moment. For good or ill, these were real men and women seeking to live life well, and in coming to understand their motivations we are moved not to agreement, but to love. It rather resembles a wayward brother – by understanding the choices my brother has made and the circumstances which motivated those choices, I develop a compassion, a desire to suffer alongside him. Were I to teach an American Civil War class, I would not expect students to agree with Southerners (or Northerners necessarily), but I would expect them to search out the motivations which caused hundreds of thousands on both sides to march against each other. And if we reach the level of understanding, a love for fellow human beings is the natural outgrowth of historical study.

Reading of the antebellum South is rather like reading Homer’s Iliad for the first time. One goes to it knowing the Greeks win, but the nobility and grace of Hektor in contrast to the puerile childishness of Achilles forces the reader to sympathize with the doomed city. The South fell, and, for many reasons, rightly so. It’s economic system was untenable: large parts of Southern life were based on a racist anthropology, and failed to align with reality; agrarian life could not keep pace with the technological productivity of an industrialized economy. At the same time, the cultural loss in the post-1865 South was real, and  the costs of that loss merit remembrance. The southern way of life, rooted in the seasons necessary for agriculture and bound up with values of honor, delicacy, and hierarchy contained goods no longer found in American patterns of living. It is only by appreciating the value in what was lost that we see the price of “progress,” and in that sense the history of this period is as tragic as it is victorious in terms of moral or political philosophy.

The tension in how we view the Civil War era and its aftermath came to light in recent years with the publication of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. Lee tells the story of an adult Scout who returns home to Atticus and learns that her father is more complex than she remembers. The book troubled many who read it, because they expected the simplistic dialectic of To Kill a Mockingbird to return; instead, Lee presents us with a realistic racially minded Atticus Finch, a man who is concerned that African-American progress is happening too fast and causing essential change to the civilization he loves. To Kill a Mockingbird is a beloved classic. Who does not find his heart soaring in Atticus’ defense of Tom Robinson? But when Lee forces us to see that Atticus is a more complex figure, it causes the reader to wrestle with the question of change. How should change occur? At what pace should things change? And when change become the new norm, can we not pause and remember what was?

There is also the opposite danger. The Southern Agrarians (including one of my intellectual heroes Richard Weaver) romanticized the South, and in doing so constructed their critique of modernity on shaky ground. This romanticization is also bad history. Here Aristotle provides sound advice: moderation in all things. We cannot glorify the South or embrace the Myth of the Lost Cause; neither can we reduce the Civil War to a triumphant crusade to liberate the slave. The truth of the period will be found in the heart of its complexities.

“Sing me a song of a lass that is gone” encapsulates the enduring attraction of the South. Indeed, the old South has died, and in its death a greater equality for all Americans has developed. It remains for the historian not to pass on a catechesis ensuring that all students understand that the abolitionists were right, but rather to cultivate a desire to understand why the Civil War occurred, and in that understanding that we might exercise “the love which moves the sun and other stars” towards our benighted past.

Burning Shed News (November 23, 2018)

Burning Shed

The Winter Sale


Yes Sirree, Winter is surely here and in our annual bid to help those suffering from seasonally affected misery (and those canny customers with an eye for a bargain), the latest Burning Shed sale includes items from across labels and some massive savings. 

Highlights include

Kscope label releases by Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson, Mansun and many more
A third off King Crimson’s wonderful Thrak box
£10 off the Japanese edition of Bruford’s Seems Like A Lifetime Ago and BB’s Gonzo back catalogue reduced in price
Yes 50th Anniversary tour posters
50% off Peter Blegvad and Andy Partridge’s Gonwards box
Rick Wakeman cardboard replica edition CDs
The final copies of the No-Man ‘EMI pressing’ of Love And Endings
Shriekback catalogue gems
Rupert Hine’s Thinkman trilogy 

Ends Monday November 26th. 

Les Penning & Robert Reed

In Dulci Jubilo (cd/vinyl pre-order)


Les Penning and Robert Reed‘s enchanting version of Christmas classic In Dulci Jubilo (featuring Tom Newman). 

Available as a 5 track maxi-single CD and a 7″ vinyl edition featuring Tom Newman and RR mixes. 

All orders of the vinyl include a free Signed Christmas Card. 

Pre-order for December 14th release. 

Wishbone Ash

Live at Glasgow Apollo 77 (cd/vinyl pre-order)


A live performance from the Front Page News tour of 1977 released for the first time

Strictly limited to 1000 copies on vinyl and 3000 on CD, Live at Glasgow Apollo 77 follows the success of the 30 CD deluxe box set Wishbone Ash The Vintage Years 1970-1991

Pre-order for January 11th release. 

Big Big Train

Back Catalogue Repressings (cds)


2018 repressing of three early BBT releases: Goodbye To The Age Of Steam (1994), English Boy Wonders(1997) and Gathering Speed (2004). 

A fascinating glimpse into the beginnings of one of the UK’s finest contemporary Progressive bands. 

Shipping now. 

Opeth

Greetings Cards / Sorceress – 3D Lenticular Card (cards pre-order)


Pack of 6 blank greetings cards featuring classic Opeth album covers (dimensions: 16cm x 16cm) and a 3D lenticular card of the striking artwork for Sorceress (dimensions: 30cm x 30cm). 

Pre-order for December 7th shipping. 

Michael Clark

Something To Be Won EP (vinyl pre-order)


The debut EP from singer songwriter Michael Clark on 12″ Vinyl. 

Michael’s mesmerically haunting songs recall the simplicity of Elliot Smith, Pink Moon-era Nick Drake and elements of his father Gavin Clark’s (Clayhill, Uncle) work. 

Pre-order for January 25th release. 



Back in stockShipping now

…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead -Tao of the Dead Part III (vinyl) 

David Byrne – True Stories, A Film By David Byrne: The Complete Soundtrack (cd) 

Cosmograf – When Age Has Done Its Duty (vinyl) 

Deep Purple – Fireball / In Rock (2018 remastered versions) (purple vinyl) 

Genesis – Classic Logo / Lamb Faces (t-shirts) 

Carl Glover – Ian Anderson (poster/print) 

Stephen Lambe – Carry On On Screen (book) 

John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest – The 50th Anniversary Concert (cd) 

Marillion – Clutching At Straws (boxsets) 

Rush – Hemispheres 40th Anniversary (Super Deluxe) 

Roine Stolt’s The Flower King Manifesto Of An Alchemist (signed) 

The Syn – Syndestructible (vinyl) 

Tiger Moth Tales – Story Tellers Parts One & Two (vinyl) 

Tom Sheehan – R.E.M: Athens GA – R.E.M In Photographs 1984-2005 (book) 

The Top Of The Poppers – Sing And Play The The Hits Of David Bowie (yellow vinyl) 

Andrew Wild – Queen On Track (book) 

Ad Fontes

From Lutheran Service Book’s Daily Lectionary for November 22:

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,

“Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.” (Revelation 19:6)

Or, to put it another way (especially if you’re George Frederic Handel (and his librettist Charles Jennens):

But wait, there’s more …

Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” (Revelation 19:17-18)

Or, to put it another way, if you’re Genesis with Peter Gabriel:

 

— Rick Krueger

Cecilian Ode #2: “Welcome to All the Pleasures”

In 1683, a new organization, the Musical Society of London, commissioned a setting of Christopher Fishburn’s ode Welcome to All the Pleasures for performance on St. Cecilia’s Day — November 22nd.  The Society chose Henry Purcell, 24 years old and already the organist at both Westminister Abbey and the Chapel Royal, as the composer.

Welcome to All the Pleasures proved a hit, with Purcell’s innovative use of the ritornello (a riff for strings punctuating a section of the work) and the ground (a repeating bass line anchoring vocal variations) causing quite the sensation.  Not only it was published the following year  — a rarity for an extended work in Restoration England — it became the first in a series of Cecilian odes commissioned by the Musical Society for their annual celebration.  Purcell wrote three more such odes before his untimely death in 1695, as did contemporaries like John Blow and successors like George Frederic Handel, often setting libretti by renowned poets such as John Dryden and Alexander Pope.

This year, St. Cecilia’s Day is also Thanksgiving Day in the United States.  Why not give thanks for the gifts of music and poetry by spending 15 minutes with Welcome to All the Pleasures?  The text of Christopher Fishburn’s ode follows below the playlist.

Welcome to All the Pleasures:

Symphony

Alto, tenor and bass: chorus: ritornello
Welcome to all the pleasures that delight
Of ev’ry sense the grateful appetite,
Hail, great assembly of Apollo’s race.
Hail to this happy place, this musical assembly
That seems to be the arc of universal harmony.

Alto: ritornello
Here the Deities approve
The God of Music and of Love;
All the talents they have lent you,
All the blessings they have sent you,
Pleas’d to see what they bestow,
Live and thrive so well below.

Two sopranos and bass: ritornello
While joys celestial their bright souls invade
To find what great improvement you have made.

Alto, tenor and bass: chorus
Then lift up your voices, those organs of nature,
Those charms to the troubled and amorous creature.
The power shall divert us a pleasanter way,
For sorrow and grief find from music relief,
And love its soft charms must obey.
Then lift up your voices, those organs of nature,
Those charms to the troubled and amorous creature.

Tenor: ritornello
Beauty, thou scene of love,
And virtue thou innocent fire,
Made by the powers above
To temper the heat of desire,
Music that fancy employs
In rapture of innocent flame,
We offer with lute and with voice
To Cecilia, Cecilia’s bright name.

Tenor: chorus
In a consort of voices while instruments play
With music we celebrate this holy day;
Iô Cecilia!

(This is the second in a series exploring the Cecilian Ode, a uniquely English poetic and musical genre that spans the centuries from the late 1600s to the present.  Check out Ode #1 here; look for a new ode on or about the 22nd of each month!)

— Rick Krueger