I have never stopped in my tracks to listen to a street musician. But with Morgan O'Kane?
I came, I stopped, I bought the CD.
No one one-man-bands it quite like this.
"Run Freedom, Run" from Urinetown
Now. It is very important that I tell you how I do NOT regularly have musical theater on my iPod. I, in fact, only have musicals on there if I need to listen to them for work...Okay that's not entirely true, actually. Every once in a while I slip a Playlist on there entitled "Musical Stuferooooo" but THAT IS NOT THE POINT.
The point is this: LOOK. Whether or not I am rocking out to Mary Martin, or whether I have banned the MTs for the likes of Johnny Cash ONE SONG ALWAYS REMAINS... and that, my friends, is "Run Freedom, Run..."
Hunter Foster sings the main thrust of the song, with epic contributions from the entire cast. And I was a bit sheepish about this when I shared a dressing room "area" (and bonded doing "Downtown Arty Theatre") with Hunter Foster last year, because I didn't know how to tell him how often that tune had got me going in the morning, how many times it had turned a bad day around with this faux-revivalist-spiritual (complete with a capella choir, tambourine epic modulations, and Hunter quite possibly literally singing his face off, all done with its tongue so deep within its cheek it has Ran-Freedom-Ran half-way to the Arctic...)
I saw The PHJB on Jimmy Fallon, and, in my first ever use of televisual advertising: I WENT STRAIGHT TO THE INTERNET like a BELIEBER-ONE-DIRECTION-FAINTING-ELVIS FANGIRL to purchase tickets to their show. I came apart. So I took my little self out on a date to The McKittrick hotel in my sexy starfish jumpsuit and I lost my brains in The Manderlay Room. "That's It!" is their first ever full EP of original tunes, and they nail it. But the EP cannot capture how Ronell Johnson dances in his tuba, or how red-hot the man-on-keys Rickie Monie tinkles those ivories, nor how sexy the octogenarian Charlie Gabriel is on his clarinet. It is magic beyond description.
That said, "Rattlin' Bones" is my favorite (and truly grabbed me by the neck live). You know how much I love the darkness, love a bit of Halloween flair, and overall: it feels the most "old world" to me as if you are really transporting back in time to the Bourbon Street of yore. Freddie Lonzo's vocals are spot on, while the muted trumpet solos of Mark Braud utterly soar here. But come on: you really should get the album.
"Start Wearing Purple" by Gogol Bordello
...I mean...just... just listen to it.
Like it is 1991.
In the Ukraine.
"Twenty Four Hours a Day" by Elena James
The opening track on the self-titled album of Elena James: golden-throated, fiddling virtuoso is the musical equivalent of a B12 shot in the sternum. The lyrics are adorable, her voice is smooth as smoky, but above all her virtuosic fiddling blows the speakers apart. Elena James is a real gem of a talent. She is a must.
"Farther Along" as performed by The Grascals
"Farther Along" is without question my favorite spiritual song. I love it because the main bulk of the lyrics actually manage to ascend religious specificity. They speak to me because they are speaking to everyone, not merely Christians.
The sentiment is simple: with time, we shall have understanding.
"Farther Along we'll know all about it.The Grascals nail it: you can feel the musicians are connected to its original intent, but they share it with the listeners and give musical space within their interpretation to find your own significance within this beautiful tune. Their musicianship is world class, and though The Peasall sisters are a close second, The Grascals take the prize for the most universal, instrumentally dense, and thoroughly poignant portrayal.
Farther Along we'll understand why.
Cheer up my brothers, live in the sunshine
We'll understand it all by and by."
"One More Night" by Maroon 5
I would also like One More Night with you Adam Levine. We can talk about stuff or... you know... not talk...
"The littlest bird sings the prettiest song" from Blue Horse by The Be Good Tanyas.
The Be Good Tanyas first played together at tree planting camps in British Columbia. So... a great start. They are a Canadian traditional music group, with folk, country, and bluegrass influences.
The record Blue Horse (which combines old-time music standards such as "Oh! Susanna", "The Cuckoo" and "The Lakes of Pontchartrain" with self-penned songs like "The Littlest Birds"), was highly praised for the quality of the vocal harmonies, and the mixture of the new and the traditional in the 8000 instruments they all appear to play with virtuosic, bourbon-soaked, Pacific-Northwestern flair.
Lilly first gave me this album back in the day, and let me just tell you one thing: this album has so many winner songs on it, it is ridiculous. Not one loser song. Not one. Other albums include Chinatown and Hello Love with a lot of winner songs too. But Blue Horse will always be my first Tanya love.
"1985" by Bowling for Soup
No one punk rocks it out with somewhat overly quippy lyrics quite like these boys. But they sure do know how to make me dance, and celebrate feeling über-irresponsible.
"This is Prophetic!" from Nixon in China by John Adams
You would probably be surprised, (or, if you read this blog regularly, not at all surprised) to know that my musical tastes are a touch diverse. But my love of John Adams is at the level of "groupie." I pretty much attend every New York concert of his music, and sometimes travel to see him... like he is THE BOSS. Because to me, he is The Boss. The Boss of contemporary classical music, opera, symphonic genius. I love him and I'm not ashamed. But man: "This is Prophetic..."
Nixon in China is an opera in three acts by John Adams, with a libretto by Alice Goodman. Adams' first opera, it was inspired by U.S. President Richard Nixon's visit to China in 1972.
The work underscores not just the personal and the private in these bigger-than-life figures — (Richard and Pat Nixon, Chou En-lai, Chairman Mao and his wife); but also the rivers of incredible sadness that runs through Alice Goodman's powerful libretto. The sense that life might possibly just be a dream--that big events, however legendary, are entirely beyond our control.
At the top of the Second Act, Pat Nixon is touring the city with translators and guides. Factory workers present her with a small model elephant which, she informs them, is the symbol of the Republican Party (which, of course, her husband leads.) She visits a commune where she is captivated by the children's games that she observes in the school. "I used to be a teacher many years ago", she sings, "and now I'm here to learn from you." She then moves on to the Summer Palace, where, alone on stage, she envisages a peaceful future for the world... (For the record: Dawn Upshaw's recording from her album "The World is So Wide" is my favorite.)
I sent a video from the original Peter Seller's production of the gorgeously contemplative aria to my closest family friend Ken a few years ago, and his response (which I don't think he'd mind me sharing) exceeds what I could ever write myself about the profundity of the piece:
"One of Pat Nixon's first lines, "I treat every day like Christmas..." says it all as she straightens out the sheets on a bed hardly worthy of the First Lady, and lines up the glass and pill bottle on a plain wooden side table....
My first reaction was dismissive....Pat Nixon singing! About "treating every day like Christmas!"
Come on! Mrs. Presidential Sourpuss! And you never saw her lips part, let alone sing an aria. Her emotions were bound tighter than an old whalebone corset.
But that image of her, buttoned up in her red coat, stiff, self conscious, perhaps as paranoid as her husband....straightening the sheet....an ordered existence....Everything in its place....And then you hear one of her first lines, "I treat every day like Christmas" -- and this one line exposed a sentimental side to her, a peek into her feelings that remained publicly hidden behind her stiff exterior. She shows genuine interest in China and the Chinese, even though the scene with the woman in the hospital should betray the cruelty of the Cultural Revolution...but she is quickly taken away "to see the pig"....I felt somewhat sorry for her because I felt she was being deceived, deluded by the Chinese....whose expressions are as stiff as the American's public image of Pat Nixon.
The conflict between the image she presented to the public and these feelings exposed an unresolved conflict. Her public manner was never 'comfortable'. We see a 'comfort' in her behavior with the Chinese, and her comments about "once being a teacher" that seems to reveal a part of Pat Nixon that has long been suppressed for some reason. I'd sure like to know why....
This unresolved conflict is mirrored by the geopolitical tensions of the play's plot. Both hide complex feelings, complex issues. The fact that Nixon DID help change China...four years after his visit Mao and Dun Xiao Ping were dead and Mao's wife was imprisoned....and China began to change....So, you are right, it is beautiful and heartbreaking....Mao killed millions, as did his wife.....And yet Pat Nixon sees hope, while her husband works his balance of power politics with one of the most heinous world leaders in history."
To quote (lifted indelibly by the music, of course),
"This is prophetic!
I foresee a time will come
Dissolves into the atmosphere
Like a perfume, like a perfume...
The simple virtues root and branch
And leaf and flower.
And on that bench
There we’ll relax
and taste the fruit of all our actions.
Life which is so much like a dream?"