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December 29, 2008

Jo Ann Kelly - Blues and Gospel

Looking like this, who wouldn't guess Jo Ann Kelly was a belter of a blueswoman?

Well, I had a request for some "rare blues, the kind only found on your blog". Well I hope this fits the bill, having both 'rare' and 'blues' in the title: Jo Ann Kelly - Blues & Gospel: Rare & Unissued Recordings. Actually, I'd been planning to post it all along, but just hadn't gotten round to writing/illustrating the post yet. Those of you who listened to Jo Ann Kelly's self-titled album from the last great post this year will need no introduction to her. A powerhouse of a voice, housed within the most unsuspecting body and face, and no dainty tricks in the guitar-picking either. She's got a full-bodied tone to her voice and guitar; the kind of sound that slips past your cerebral cortex and finds a happy home in the resonance of your gut. This is bowel-music, not brain-music, and it moves you in a way that no mere mind-music ever could.

While she never accomplished the guitar-feats of Rory Block or the vocal nuances of Maria Muldaur, she could still be called the best white blueswoman, because more than anyone else, she channelled the essence of singer-guitarists like Memphis Minnie, Charley Patton and Son House, and distilled their music through her own life-experience. Like the best of the bluesmen, she shakes you to your bones and makes the plainsong of her lyrics strike the deepest chord in our body. She'll make a believer outta you.

This album has some outstanding tracks featuring the accompaniment of Stefan Grossman and Sam Mitchell (their version of Make Me Down a Pallet is by far the best I've ever heard). In fact, listening to those tracks, you realize that while Grossman never really became a compelling composer, singer, or guitar-soli performer in the manner of John Fahey or the bluesmen he adored, he is one of the best folk-blues accompanyists in history. So long as he's sitting beside someone else who is singing, the results will be brilliant.

This collection also hints at some other musical arenas in which Kelly was equally gifted (besides guitar-driven country blues). There's some piano blues and boogie, and some bonafide Rock&Roll inclueded here which hint at the paths she would take on other recordings in her too-brief lifetime.

Allmusic Biography by Chris Nickson
The rock era saw a few white female singers, like Janis Joplin, show they could sing the blues. But one who could outshine them all -- Jo Ann Kelly -- seemed to slip through the cracks, mostly because she favored the acoustic, Delta style rather than rocking out with a heavy band behind her. But with a huge voice, and a strong guitar style influenced by Memphis Minnie and Charley Patton, she was the queen. Born January 5, 1944, Kelly and her older brother Dave were both taken by the blues, and born at the right time to take advantage of a young British blues scene in the early '60s. By 1964 she was playing in clubs, including the Star in Croydon, and had made her first limited-edition record with future Groundhogs guitarist Tony McPhee. She expanded to play folk and blues clubs all over Britain, generally solo, but occasionally with other artists, bringing together artists like Bessie Smith and Sister Rosetta Tharpe into her own music. After the first National Blues Federation Convention in 1968 her career seemed ready to take flight. She began playing the more lucrative college circuit, followed by her well-received debut album in 1969. At the second National Blues Convention, she jammed with Canned Heat, who invited her to join them on a permanent basis. She declined, not wanting to be a part of a band -- and made the same decision when Johnny Winter offered to help her. Throughout the '70s, Kelly continued to work and record solo, while also gigging for fun in bands run by friends, outfits like Tramp and Chilli Willi -- essentially pub rock, as the scene was called, and in 1979 she helped found the Blues Band, along with brother Dave, and original Fleetwood Mac bassist Bob Brunning. The band backed her on an ambitious show she staged during the early '80s, Ladies and the Blues, in which she paid tribute to her female heros. In 1988, Kelly began to suffer pain. A brain tumor was diagnosed and removed, and she seemed to have recovered, even touring again in 1990 with her brother before collapsing and dying on October 21. Posthumously, she's become a revered blues figure, one who helped clear the path for artists like Bonnie Raitt and Rory Block. But more than a figurehead, her recorded material -- and unreleased sides have appeared often since her death -- show that Kelly truly was a remarkable blueswoman.

Jo Ann Kelly - Blues & Gospel: Rare & Unissued Recordings
Year: 2004
Label: Blues Matters!

AMG Review by Jo-Ann Greene
The Jo Ann Kelly archive has been very poorly treated over the years, with only Indigo's occasional forays during the late 1990s truly spotlighting one of Britain's most underrated, but highly-treasured, blues vocalists. Into this sorry state of affairs weighs Blues Matters!, the label wing of the magazine of the same name, with a collection that totally lives up to its title. Sixteen tracks, recorded between 1967-1984, are bundled up within, and capture Kelly ranging across the stylistic spectrum. The set kicks off with four numbers taken from a rare Harlequin blues EP compilation, recorded with Tony McPhee in 1965. This was not Kelly's first session, she'd done an earlier one for Mike Vernon's Purdah label, but that remains unreleased, and thus this was the music with which Kelly was introduced to the world. Also featured are a pair of tracks from another scarce blues Harlequin compilation, this one released by the label in 1968, as well as a few more taken from other various rare collections. However, the bulk of the album boasts a stream of superb unreleased material, including no less than five songs recorded with guitarist Stefan Grossman during his U.K. tour in the summer of 1977. Kelly guested at several of his shows during that outing, and her performances -- captured for posterity on-tape by Grossman's own tape recorder, and unveiled here for the first time, are as powerful as any of her own period recordings. A wonderful album that hopefully will bring Kelly the acclaim she so justly deserves.

blues and gospel
mp3 320kbps | w/ covers | 2 parts - 49 & 60 mb

and track 11 - Special Rider Blues w/ Stefan Grossman
[which curiously, nobody noticed was missing for quite a while.]

and here's a slightly expanded version of her self-titled album from in the last great post.

Jo Ann Kelly
Label: Epic
Year: 1969

1 Louisiana Blues
2 Fingerprints Blues
3 Driftin' & Driftin'
4 Look Here Partner
5 Moon Going Down
6 Yellow Bee Blues
7 Whiskey Head Woman
8 Sit Down On My Knee
9 Man I'm Lovin'
10 Jinx Blues
11 Come On In My Kitchen

come on in
mp3 vbr 224+ | front & back covers included

Jo Ann Kelly & John Fahey - young love?

thanks to Wirz' Jo Ann Kelly Discography

December 26, 2008

Seventy-Eight Records

Hey everybody. There's a great new blog that's just popped up, especially for you Old-Time and Fahey fans. It's called Mr. Kev's Old Time Tunes. It's the latest of the Grapevine-inspired blogs, so welcome Mr. Kev into our blog-family and pay him a visit at Toad Hall. Who knows, you may even leave with a few presents in your pocketses.

Update: Blog removed, read about it in the comments. He's down but not out, you'll just have to be a super-sleuth to find him now.

Thanks Mr. Kev!

December 24, 2008

It Came Upon a Midnight Queer...

Christmas time is usually marked by a frenzy of crazed consumers out trying to placate their gods of money, desire, and spiritual materialism. And this crazed frenzy is fueled by the incessantly jovial, nostalgic, and sentimental music that have come to be known as 'holiday standards'. Spurred on by this deceitfully toxic sound, people go nuts buying things they hope will appease some need, gratify some desire, and make themselves feel more generous. How's that for a 'Bah Humbug'? Well, they don't call me Irate for nuthin'...

Seriously though, so much Christmas music is like candy canes -- reminds us of snowballs, winter, and childhood, but it's so sweet it'll make us sick. And most of those familiar tunes have been played so many times that we no longer actually hear them, we just associate them with that familiar need to buy things. You can usually tell when an artist has run out of musical vision and/or income, because they release a Christmas album, the ultimate act of selling-out.

Well, this year I compiled a few tunes that will not be used to market products, by artists who didn't sell-out. Some of them are ironic, cynical, or otherwise hillariously blasphemous, others are driven by a desire to connect with the real musical beauty of those traditional tunes and present it in a pure, fresh context.

The music in this collection ranges from hipster jazz to guitar soli to progressive bluegrass to Tuuvan throat-singing to jug band music, so if you're a reader of this blog, chances are you'll enjoy it. And I don't think any of these tracks have been posted elsewhere in the blogosphere. Names like John Fahey, Dan Hicks, David Grisman, Béla Fleck, and Louis Armstrong are all represented. Some unknowns & surprises too, such as one of my favorite xmas-related songs ever, "Beatnik's Wish" by the otherwise unknown Patsy Raye.

From "Aye" to "Ewe", Happy Solstice, Merry Christmas, Cool Yule, Chappy Channukah, Krazy Kwanza, Rad Ramadan, & Cheerful Children's Day!

The Irate Pirate presents: It Came Upon a Midnight Queer...
A different sort of Christmas
better than coal in your stocking
not as good as a fat man in your chimney
2 parts - 65 & 61mb | w/ cover | assorted bit rates

Tracklist below:
If you like the music, support the artists - most of the guys here are alive and working, and they certainly deserve the money for not selling out come yule-time.

And check out The Christmas Jug Band myspace page, for more on that ingenious Dan Hicks yearly raucus.

Click this picture to enlarge and dig that crazy santa claus.

Alan Lomax Collection - Songs of Christmas

The winter solstice sunrise in Newgrange, Ireland

I've got two seasonal holiday posts for ya. This, the first, is mainly historical in interest. It should give you an idea of some of the ways that different western cultures celebrated Noel in the time before shopping malls and plastic jesi. Some of these rhymes, bits of plays, songs, dances, etc go back hundreds or thousands of years. I wouldn't really want to listen to this album a lot, but it's fascinating to hear this stuff once or twice (or perhaps once a year). A couple of the tunes though, are totally captivating and unlike anything I've ever heard (and I've heard a lot of things). It can transport you to another time and place, when we really experienced the dark of winter and embraced its impenetrable stygian gloominess at the same time that we called forth to the return of effulgent daybreak.

From Rounderstore:
Songs of Christmas From the Alan Lomax Collection was recorded by Alan Lomax and several of his colleagues in Britain, Ireland, Italy, Spain, the Southern U.S. and the Caribbean between 1950 to 1964. At the time, commercial forces were overwhelming local traditions, and many folk cultures stood on the brink of great upheavals that would forever alter their ways of life. Lomax always made a point of seeking out the music that epitomized the old Christmas spirit that was closest to his own heart. English Mummers, Italian bagpipes, lullabies, carols, and stories express the unquenchable fun, faith, and good times of Christmas and the immemorial good-luck rituals of the New Year. With Bob & Ron Copper, Ewan MacColl, Seamus Ennis, Vera Ward Hall, the Alabama Sacred Harp singers, the Georgia Sea Island Singers, the Putipu Band of Capri, Norman Edmonds, the Symondsbury Mummers and many, many more. Containing 31 tracks in all, the album comes with extensive liner notes and photographs and complete song and dialect translations from the Spanish, Italian, Latin and Irish.

Songs of Christmas from the Alan Lomax Collection (1940-1964)
Label: Rounder
Year: 1998
arise, shepherds
mp3 128kbps | w/ cover | 61mb

December 17, 2008

R.I.P. Davy Graham (22 November 1940–15 December 2008)

We lost one of the true originals, folks. The John Fahey of Britain, and more. Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Martin Simpson, Martin Carthy, John Martyn, Richard Thompson, not to mention rockers like Jimmy Page and Roy Harper - all of them looked up to him. Everyone who plays in DADGAD owes a debt to Davy, though he devoloped it as much as a way to play oud music on guitar as for Celtic music.

He was tirelessly inventive, constantly challenging himself to bring more depth and breadth into his music. He soaked up the music of Spain, Morocco, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Germany, India, Ireland and the British Isles, as well as classical, jazz, American folk and blues musics, and then he brought all those influences into an integrated, original whole. He called this synthesis "Folk Baroque" referencing not the Baroque period of European music, but Baroque as a concept of inclusivity. A pearl of irregular shape.

And for all that, he was always ahead of his time, and so he was never commercially successful. By the time other artists had hits ripping off his compositions & ideas, Davy was already deep into some new discovery, never looking back, never selling out his artistic

He was roots, he was fruits, he was a seed, true and true.

want to listen?

(Thanks to The Lake Band)

and @ Merlin in Rags

want to watch?
here's Davy Graham - Cry me a River, as captured in a 1959 BBC documentary. 1959!

And here's a great mini-documentary from BBC's Folk Britannia:

and Part 2
which you may be able to dl from the comments of the Merlin in Rags post.

see also "Sita Ram" & "40 Ton Parachute"

Official Site

stay posted; in a couple of days there may be some more.

here's some more:
Davy Graham - The Complete Guitarist
Year: 1977/1999
Label: Kicking Mule / Shanachie

Davey’s mid-1970s album, The Complete Guitarist, featured blues, jazz, Celtic tunes, classical pieces, hymns and some brilliant original instrumentals. Bonus tracks from his album Dance For Two People and the anthology Blues Guitar Workshop round out this overdue reissue

Allmusic Review by Alex Henderson:
To those who are unfamiliar with Davey Graham's work, The Complete Guitarist might seem like a lofty title for this album. But it's a title that the Scottish musician, who has commanded a lot of respect in U.K. folk circles since emerging in the 1960s, lives up to on these unaccompanied acoustic solo-guitar recordings from the late 1970s. Diversity is the rule on this album, and Graham successfully turns his attention to an abundance of traditional Celtic songs (both Scottish and Irish) as well as everything from Bach's "Ein Feste Burg" to blues classics like Big Bill Broonzy's "When I Been Drinking" and Memphis Slim's "How Come You Do Me Like You Do." Whether it's Celtic music, classical, blues, or jazz, Graham has no problem tackling a variety of styles and demonstrating that he really is the complete guitarist. Originally released as a vinyl LP in the late 1970s, The Complete Guitarist was, in 1999, reissued on CD with eight bonus tracks from 1979-1980 added.

complete me!
mp3 320kbps | w/ cover | 86mb

December 15, 2008

Doc & Merle Watson's Guitar Album

And now for something from that other family of 3 generations of guitar wizards: The Watsons. Not quite so world-famous, not so many compositions dedicated to them, but I would argue they have played an equally important role in the evolution of the guitar in the 20th century.

I've talked about the incredible instrumental genius and warm character of Doc Watson before. He never missed a note, and he never played one where one wasn't needed. He turned a generation of folk musicians and guitar players on their heads and took all their praise and imitation in stride. He had no secrets: if you wanted to know how he played a lick or a song, well he'd sit down right there and show you (but you'd better be quick, because he didn't repeat himself, even to his own backup musicians).

His son, Eddy Merle Watson was just as good, but largely unrecognized. Perhaps because his style wasn't as uniqely original as docs (it was sort of a country-boogie-blues fingerpicking with one foot in the waters of the Mississippi delta and the other in the fires of southern rock). Listen to Talking to Casey and you'll realize he belongs among the great slide-guitarists. Or perhaps ne never became famous because he just plain didn't care to be. He was quite content to sit in the background and let his father bask blindly in the spotlight. He held no resentment, that's just the way he liked it.

Tragically, Merle died around the time I was born, whilst joy-riding a tractor on the family farm. But before he departed this world, he gave us the latent gift of his son, Richard Watson who has grown up to be a fine guitarist in his own right. Any recording with Doc & Merle is a treasure, for it captures the same sort of united father-son dynamic that the Romeros have.

On this album, they're joined by the always-welcome fiddler extrordinaire Mark O'Connor, the sometimes-too-loud bassist T. Michael Coleman, and a completely unneccesary drummer. And on one track, they're accosted by jingly chime sounds, no doubt due to the nefarious producer falling asleep at his station.

The tracks are mostly instrumental, and span a wide stylistic field, from hard-driving bluegrass-rock to swanky jazz ditties to soundscapes of Americana (they rearrange Take Me Out to the Ball game in much the same way that John Fahey rearranged hymns and Christmas songs).

As bass-player T. Michael Coleman says, "The tunefulness and ensemble of these two are just marvelous, and the album is recorded in excellent sound, clear and never strident. The superb fiddling of Mark O'Connor is the icing on the cake. No fan of great guitar playing should be without this album. "

And the Allmusic Guide has this to say:
"Like Pickin' the Blues, Guitar Album features Doc and Merle Watson supported by a small band and playing blues. Both guitarists play with deft, nimble grace, spinning out surprisingly hard-edged lines that are simultaneously fluid and gritty."

This album is the first of several contributions by IncaRoads, a generous blog-reader.

Doc & Merle Watson's Guitar Album
Label: Flying Fish
Year: 1972
take me out.
mp3 320kbps | w/ cover | 76mb

thanks IncaRoads!

Los Romeros - Carmen & others

"The Royal Family of the Guitar" they're called. The mighty Spanish family of classical guitar virtuosos, led by their fearless patriarch Celedonio Romero. He and his 3 boys, Pepe, Angel, and Celin rose to fame in the late '50s or early '60s as the greatest guitar quartet in the world, and have been going strong ever since. It's difficult to immagine contemporary groups such as the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet without the precedent of the Romeros.

What made them so good? Well, perfection would be the obvious answer, but it's a vague and heavily-loaded word. The perfection that the Romeros achieved has to do with timing. You see, they not only play cascades of perfect 16th and 64th notes, but they do so in total unison so that the four become as one -- you cannot immagine pulling any one guitar out of the mix, because you cannot even here where one ends and the next begins.

This perfection of timing and unity did not come overnight. Celedonio, loving taskmaster that he was, would practice with his children for two hours before breakfast. And you can just imagine what they did with the rest of their day. All the while, the blessed matriarch of the family, Angelita, was no-doubt slaving away in the kitchen. But Mrs. Romero, angel that she was, was no stay-at-home mom. She was a cultural and artistic mecca all to herself, travelling the world with them and accompanying the more passionate, spanish guitar pieces with her impeccable castanet-playing (her castanets were even blessed by Pope John Paul II). "An avid reader and philosopher, she enhanced their education with weekly trips to art museums. In teaching the young Pepe, she dictated the entire text of Cervantes' Don Quixote to him. She kept his hand-written copy as one of her greatest treasures."

All the members of the original quartet have had distinguished solo careers, playing with many of the best orchestras in the world. Celedonio has written many enduring compositions for the guitar that stand on an equal level with his technical skills. And the grandchildren of the family have picked up guitars and joined the group too (though it still remains a quartet -- Celedonio died in '96).

As for the qualities of this music, well, it's thouroughly classical and mostly Spanish. I say mostly because Georges Bizet's "Carmen" suite isn't really spanish, it's a French romantic opera with Spanish tinges. And, legendary as it is, it still has a certain upper-class 19th-century French flavor to it (though in truth, it stands high above most other works of the genre). And though it is impeccably adapted and played, and though it has a compellingly addictive melody, I'd say it's actually the weakest part of the album. Manuel de Falla's dances are fantastic and ruthlessly passionate. Notice the difference between the Romero's interpretation of Danza Española from La Vida Breve with Pablo Casals' version of the same, posted a while back. While Casals draws forth the mournful qualities, the Romeros inject it with the kind of drive and vitality (enhanced by Angelita's vigorous hand-claps) that makes you realize why the Spanish are such legendary lovers.

But the Romeros are not without depth and subtlety. They draw forth a vivid desperation from Torroba's Sonatina Trianera that brings to mind a walk through the poverty-torn streets of a ravaged post-war Spain. But even in these slum-tunnels, chins are held high, people are celebrating the fruits of life. The music carries the listener through the sweat and bruises of daily life to glimpses of the raw beauty that those cuts and bruises disguise.

Los Romeros - Bizet: Carmen; de Falla: Dances; Torroba: Sonata
Label: Phillips
Year: 1984
cast a net.
mp3 >192kbps vbr | w/ cover | 71mb

I'm pretty sure this one's out-of-print. Very difficult to find, anyway.

December 13, 2008

The Mystery Album

Well, the boat's been shaken a bit, but I think we need to get back to the task at hand: sailing the seas of music. But to acknowledge the great, bleak unknown storm that broods on the horizon, I thought I'd try something a little different.

This album is top-notch. Both musicians are at the top of their game, and one is a world-class virtuoso. And yet, chances are, you haven't heard of them. And I'm not going to tell you about them. In fact, I'm not even going to tell you they're names, or the name of the album. And there aren't any ID3 tags to help you either. The iTunes database won't tell you, and unless you have a very sophisticated ear, you won't be able to guess.

Which means my post won't be deterring any potential sales of the artist's music, and the artist also won't have any chance to benefit from the publicity.

And for you, o gregarious listener, it means you won't have any pre-conceived notions or expectations when you listen. Imagine a black disc arrived in the mail with the instructions: listen.

Really, just listen. Having no name, it has no collection-value, no genre-limitation, no historical background -- essentially, no conceptual attachment. Just experience it for what it is.

And enjoy it. I do.

December 11, 2008

Gone but not forgotten

Another blog done gone...

Well the other day the great Broke Down Engine went off the rails and out of the blogosphere.

But someone was watching carefully, and took some detailed snapshots.

The nefarious privateer known as "Grapeseeder" seems to have a knack for crafting impeccable look-alikes (he even looks like me!). He salvaged a complete map of the treasure from the burning Broken Down Engine, before it disappeared.

He has also offered to let me begin unloading my chests full of musical treasure onto his blog-ship. So links may begin to disappear from this blogship soon (in order to stay afloat in these tempestuous waters), but fear not, they'll resurface over at the Trout Mask Replicator.

Make sure you bookmark it too, because this post may self-destruct after a period of time, if things get too hot.

You see, Broke Down Engine is just the latest in a series of recent blog-closures. And I'd rather not see the Grapevine be next, because there's a lot of work in it and I consider it a valuable resource to the community (links or no). So when you don't see a link you're looking for, check at the Replicator before asking after it in the comments. It doesn't pay to advertise pillaged booty.

I hope you understand the writing between the lines here. I know it may be difficult for some of the international readers, but those who want to figure it out will.

Enjoy. I'll be posting again soon.

December 6, 2008

Chilling Effects...

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December 5, 2008

Rounder Guitar

Rounder Records is a label named after the first 'freak folk' band, the Holy Modal Rounders. They've released about two solid tons of great contemporary traditional music, encompassing a great many genres and traditions, giving a lot of artistic control to the musicians.

This collection focuses on their roster of incredible acoustic guitarists. Most of the guitarists here are flatpickers, each adding their own dimension to the foundation laid by the mighty Doc Watson and the never-satisfied Clarence White. A few notable others include the world king of the National Steel Guitar, Bob Brozman, and the stupendous stride guitar of Gus van Duser. All the pieces here pushed the boundaries of the musical norms of the time, and many are in that vaguely-defined genre-crossing style known as 'New Acoustic' or more commonly, Newgrass.

So give these guys a listen. Technically, they abound in skill and musically, there's some compelling (though often subtle) stuff happening here too. And if you like someone, well, go browse the Rounder website and get some more. Almost all of the artists here are still alive and performing. The exception is the late Clarence White, who's polyrhythmic Bury Me Beneath the Willow is enough to make any guitar player quit or get back to practicing (he's flatpicking and fingerpicking simultaneously, and syncopating like django).

VA - Rounder Guitar: Acoustic Guitar
Year: 1988
Label: Rounder
rounder, flatter, blacker
mp3 192kbps | w/ cover | 96mb

1 Tipper - Tony Rice - 3:36
2 Cowboy Calypso - Russ Barenberg - 3:49
3 Shambhala - Artie Traum - 2:27
4 Jalapeños - John Miller - 1:46
5 Viper's Drag - Guy VanDuser - 3:21
6 Obc, No. 3 - Norman Blake - 5:46
7 Pickin' in the World - Mark OConnor - 3:14
8 All in Good Time - Eric Schoenberg - 4:43
9 Oh, Lady Be Good - John Miller - 1:57
10 Halloween Rehearsal - Russ Barenberg - 4:15
11 Bully Samba - Jon Sholle - 3:48
12 Texas Gales - Norman Blake, Tony Rice - 3:36
13 Pretty Little Indian - Dan Crary - 4:56
14 It's Dark - Mike Marshall, Darol Anger - 5:22
15 Port Tobacco - Tony Rice - 4:45
16 Hawaiian Heat Waves Medley - Bob Brozman - 2:20
17 Black Beauty - Guy VanDuser - 3:18
18 Sídh Beag Agus Sídh Mór - Eric Schoenberg - 2:57
19 President Garfield's Hornpipe - Norman Blake - 2:24
20 Bury Me Beneath the Willow - Clarence White - 1:58

November 27, 2008

A Poet

A poet is someone
Who can pour light into a cup,
Then raise it to nourish
Your beautiful parched, holy mouth.


November 26, 2008

Mississippi John Hurt - 2 Albums

Most readers of this blog will be familiar with the legendary Mississippi John Hurt. His graceful syncopated fingerpicking and gentle voice have turned the hearts and ears of many. While mostly enjoyed by blues-lovers, Hurt was always classified as a songster: his style and repertoire dated back to the 19th Century, and he played his songs pretty much the same way every time (where as 'true' blues artists were said to be playing whatever they felt in the moment). Most people nowadays don't really care about such distinctions, which is good 'cause it certainly didn't make a whiff of difference to the musicians.

These two recordings predate his much better-known recordings for Vanguard, and they have a raw edge to them that the later recordings lack (not that those albums were overly pollished, but, you know...). The fact that some of these songs do differ from later versions show that in fact he was improvising and changing the music as he went. Take that, vampiric volklorists!

According to a biography of his life John Hurt learn to love and appreciate music and guitar playing from William H Carson, a man infatuated with his teacher at the St. James School, located in Avalon, Mississippi. John Hurt stated, "I wasn't allowed to bother Mr. Carson's guitar. I would wait until he feel asleep at my house, then I would slip his guitar into my room and try to play. There I learned to play the guitar at the age of nine years old. After that, my mother bought me a second hand guitar at the price of $1.50! 1 can tell you there was no more beautiful sound than my own guitar music. I was playing for country dances at the same time working very hard on a farm new Avalon Mississippi."

Avalon Blues
Review by Cub Koda
This is the first in a multiple-volume series devoted to the Piedmont recordings Hurt made upon his rediscovery in the early '60s. They capture him with his playing and singing still intact, untouched by the world around him, a world that had changed so much since he initially recorded back in the '20s. Many of his best-known tunes are here -- "Candy Man Blues," "Salty Dog," "Spike Driver Blues," "Louis Collins," "Spanish Fandango," and the title track -- and although Hurt was to re-record them for other labels, these versions are as fine as any. There's really no one else in the blues with the gentle wistfulness of John Hurt, and this collection makes a wonderful addition to anyone's blues or folk music collection.

Mississippi John Hurt - Avalon Blues
Year: 1963
Label: Rounder
you salty dog.
mp3 320kbps | w/ cover | 75mb

Worried Blues
Review by Ron Wynn
This second of two sessions devoted to Mississippi John Hurt's first recordings followed the same pattern as its predecessor. Hurt did mostly blues, with an occasional spiritual number like "Oh Mary Don't You Weep." He sang in a fragile, yet powerful manner, backing his vocals on acoustic guitar in an equally simple, gentle manner with lines and riffs that often surpassed passages with far more intricate voicings. These two CDs restored into public circulation very valuable recordings.

Mississippi John Hurt - Worried Blues
Year: 1963
Label: Rounder
don't you weep.
mp3 320kbps | w/ covers | 92mb

and, apparently, there's a museum and blues festival in his hometown of Avalon, Mississippi. Donating to them would be a better way of supporting his community & music than buying the albums, methinks.

To all you old blues lovers

As I logged into blogger today, I noticed that apparently, this blog has 5 'Followers'. One of them, it turns out, just started a blog on Sunday.

Check it out: Stomp that Thing

Looks promising!

and Gadaya from Times Ain't Like They Used to Be has two great new blogs: Old Weird America and The World's Jukebox

oh, and I never mentioned it but Delta-Slider is a great new blog for guitar fans.


November 22, 2008

Rev. Gary Davis - Ragtime Guitar

We haven't heard any ragtime for a while. It was one of the more recent popular American forms before the recording industry, so it doesn't have quite the ancient quality of traditional pieces that are rooted in Africa or England or colonial times. But there is a quality of movement to it, an aliveness that keeps you on your toes, never staying in one chord for too long. It's one of those musical forms (like Choro) that sits equally well in classical and folk traditions. Being blind, you can bet Gary Davis never read the sheet music for these pieces though, and you know he was improvising as he went too. This music is every bit as idiosyncratic, virtuosic, dynamic, and complex as Joseph Spence's. You can see why he was so revered as a teacher -- a whole school of guitar playing developed in the 60s and 70s based on Gary Davis' ragtime guitar pieces, which he rarely performed, using them instead as teaching tools for his guitar students. You'll hear a very raw quality to these pieces, and the recording as well. It may not have the smooth precision of Stefan Grossman or Woody Mann, but it has a life that those more technical players never attained.

For more Gary Davis, see the post in the archives

Rev. Gary Davis - Ragtime Guitar
Label/Year: Kicking Mule 106 (1974) / Transatlantic 244 (1971)
rec. 1962 - 1970 at Rev. Davis' house

Side A:
- Cincinnati Flow Rag
- West Coast Blues
- Buck Rag
- St. Louis Tickle
- Two Step Candyman
Side B:
- Walkin' Dog Blues
- Italian Rag
- C-Rag
- Waltz Time Candyman
- Make Believe Stunt

from vinyl | mp3 256 cbr | 61mb
get your candy

note: i'm trying out rapidspread, which gives more options than sharebee. but it may go the way of massmirror and shareonall, so whenever you download, post the direct link in the comments and then we'll have a backup if rapidspread goes belly-up.

originally posted by sussex i think. big thanks!

November 21, 2008

Joseph Spence - 2 Albums

I've written extensively about the utterly unique, stupendous, and dumbfounding music of Joseph Spence. So I won't write much this time, but if you haven't heard his music, go and read my other posts on him, and then forget all the words and just listen, because the music really has to be heard to be believed. Actually, hearing it, you still probably won't believe all those sounds are coming from just one man and his guitar.

As one Amazon customer wrote:
The music is absolutely insane. It has no equal. Old Joseph Spence, god bless him, was like Sun Ra with an acoustic guitar. Even the grouchiest customers would leave with a wild gleeful smile on their faces.

Joseph Spence - Happy All the Time
Year: 1994
Label: Elektra

Waxed for Elektra in 1964, this has better sound than the Folkways recordings and offers some of Spence's most percussive playing.

mp3 160kbps | w/ cover | 46mb
get happy

Joseph Spence - Glory
Year: 1991
Label: Rounder

Few musicians have as unique a sound as Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence. Sounding a bit like an old Delta bluesman swept out to sea, Spence grunts and groans his way through his mostly religious song catalog like Howlin' Wolf crossed with Popeye, all the while picking out amazing polyrhythmic patterns on his acoustic guitar in a style that is so idiosyncratic that he has actually been called a folk version of Thelonious Monk. A true folk artist, Spence made few allowances for the commercial music world, and his body of work is as singular as any ever recorded. This collection of spiritual material was recorded in the field by Guy Droussart in Nassau, and it is typical of Spence's performances, alternating solo pieces with tracks where he is joined by Edith, Geneva and Raymond Pinder, and while the sound can be a bit unnerving to the novice listener, a closer examination reveals a wonderful deconstruction and reassembling of these hymns, all laced with Spence's eccentric, jagged guitar runs. Highlights include "Jordan Chilly River," "Down by the Riverside," and "Out on the Rolling Sea," although everything here is of a piece, cut from the same wonderful cloth.

mp3 320kbps | w/ cover | 115mb
part 1 | part 2

big thanks to Op for the albums.

and in case you haven't been over to Times Ain't Like They Used to Be, you'll find some more Spence there too.

November 19, 2008


Well thanks, everyone, for your comments in the discussion on ethics. It's probably the best discussion on the subject I've been a part of, and I learned a lot. Though the discussion's certainly not ended, I've come to some clarity on the whole subject.

The points raised lead me to consider that we may be moving towards a new system of music production, distribution, and consumption. A system based on responsibility and ethics rather than tightly-controlled market capitalism. Whereas the old system looked like "I want this music, so I have to buy it so I can enjoy it," the new system looks more like "I love this music and respect the artist. I want to support the artist as a way of showing thanks and making sure they can continue making it." The new system rewards quality rather than marketing, since it comes from a place of gratitude rather than desire.

Of course, it may be a frightening prospect to musicians and record labels, because there is no control: if people don't want to pay, they don't have to, and they can get the music just the same. But of course nothing is being taken from the artist; data is being copied, so all they lose is potential sales (while gaining potential fans). Because ultimately, music is sound, and sound is vibration, and you can't own vibration. But musicians are people, and people need to eat and be housed and express themselves, which in our society requires money (or goods/services exchange). So, it is our opportunity in this generation to show that a new system based on trust, gratitude, and understanding can be more effective than the old one.

Here are some 2 particularly poignant excerpts from the discussion:

" Your blog is one of my favorite places to find out what soul is, how people in far-away places relate to life, and to otherwise make connections with myself and with my fellow humans teetering on the brink of habitat eradication. Thank you so much for the education and for the joy!" - Joe
"more to the point on ethics is that there are many millions of people with far too much leisure time on their hands. I myself thanks to the new wonders of high-speed have amassed more music than I could ever listen to in my lifetime, beyond making time for my own music-producing capacities. think of the huge potential for time and energy applied, if all those privileged people with time to kill downloading music would commit their concerns about ethics to real-world activities like nuclear disarmament, saving watersheds, food security, restructuring government etc." -psb
It's easy to get lost in the vast sea of buried musical treasure out there. Remember, while there's nuggets, plenty of it would be best left buried, lest it bury us. I've wasted away plenty of my precious youth in pursuit of music and art that speaks to some kind of feeling (joy, sorrow, passion, rage, love, etc.), rather than experiencing life and feeling those things for myself. Pleasures of the senses, however majestic they are, can be a distraction from the experience of the divine self/world. So hopefully, having recognized this, we'll all be able to enjoy the pleasures of music and learning about distant cultures and times, and allow the music and knowledge to bring us together as people in a planet, for we have important work to do, and it should be done joyfully.

So, having said all that, I will get back to posting, as long as I can do so in a healthy way. And I may post non-musical things from time to time as well. It's about expanding horizons, right?

And as for all of you, thanks for your insights and comments. It's great to be reminded why I do this. I hope you've gotten as much from it as I have, and I hope you're balancing music-consumption with life-engagement better than I have. If not, go take a walk, find a tree, sit down, and listen. They make music too...

Oh, and the Seamus Ennis album is back. Hopefully it'll stay.

The Satisfied Sea-rat.

November 12, 2008

A discussion on ethics

Recently, it was brought to my attention that the all the links for the Seamus Ennis album recently posted were dead. This is troubling, because for the first time, there has been a complaint to the file-hosting servers, and they have removed the file. Now, I have a lot of goodies to give to you folks, but it really doesn't make sense for me to upload an album if it will just be deleted by someone else -- it's a waste of my time and theirs.

So, it seems as though a discussion is necessary before we can move on. I fully invite community participation in this: the more viewpoints we can have on this matter the better, and I'm certainly open to other opinions that I may not have considered. So please leave your thoughts in the comments section, but keep it civil, folks.

It seems the first point to be discussed here is one of ethics. Specifically, what is the morality of me distributing albums to which I do not own the copyright, if my stated intention is to support the artists?

I remember a story about how in 1969, Rolling Stone magazine offered to send a copy of Mississippi Fred McDowell's album I Do Not Play No Rock and Roll for free to anyone who wrote to them and asked. And this single act probably caused more rock and roll fans to discover the blues (and subsequently purchase more blues albums, attend concerts, etc.) than any other act of marketing. [i may have some of the details wrong on this account, but you get the point]

Now ultimately, my goal is to support living musicians and to enhance people's enjoyment of life through the discovery of music. In my own small way, of course. So I consider a lot of factors before I make a post.

Firstly, there is the question of quality. There's a hell of a lot of music out there, and life is precious, so I don't waste time on second-rate music just for the purpose of fulfilling a collection.

Secondly, there is the issue of exposure. I ask myself, is this artist/album familiar to the sort of people who would enjoy it? Because it makes no sense for me to be promoting and reviewing artists/albums that are already promoted by other means. I love the Beatles and Frank Zappa, but there are whole blogs dedicated to them.

Thirdly, there is the question of availability. I ask myself: Is this album still in print? Is this album offered anywhere else in the blogosphere, or is this artist well-represented by other albums on other blogs? Because it's senseless to double-up and distribute things that are easily available in other channels. I do sometimes post albums that are still in print, but most of them you'd be hard-pressed to find in your local store, in whatever part of the world you live.

Lastly, there is the question, who will benefit from my post, and who will be harmed? And this is where it gets into speculation, a rather fuzzy science at best. If the artist is dead, I feel this is mostly a no-brainer; while it's nice to support widdows & descendents, it's ridiculous to be giving money to dead musicians while there's living, working ones that need that money to go on making music. The exception to this rule comes when there's a non-profit organization taking the money that would go to the deceased, and doing something useful with it.

If the artist is alive, it's more tricky; the deciding factor is, will the publicity generated by my blog offset the potential loss of sales for the musician? I consider this question quite a lot, and I only post albums when I think my post will help people to get excited about an artist they've never encountered before, and perhaps even seek out and purchase other albums by that artist. Now, whether people do this is up to them, and I support free will in this matter, assuming people have the intelligence to realize that if they don't support the musicians they love, then those musicians won't be able to make the music we all love. But I also make sure that if I'm posting an album by a working musician, an inspired listener won't be able to find all their other albums on other blogs; this is the counterpoint to the second issue: availability.

I'm also aware that record companies need to survive if they're going to support artists and distribute their music. Now, some record companies are huge monsters that give a pittance of the sales to the artists, and some are genuinely supportive, operating from the same love of music that drives my blogging. So, to that end, I try not to distribute albums from small, cool independent labels, and I try not to distribute too many albums from any one of the larger cool labels. And, generally, I don't care about the huge labels, or those who used to be independent and now have been bought out.

Personally, I have become a much more conscious and avid consumer of music thanks to "music piracy". You see, because of music sharing, my interest in and exposure to music has grown 100-fold. If I had to pay $15 every time I saw something interesting and wanted to give it a listen, my musical horizons would have stayed pretty limited. By indulging and supporting my curiosity, the pirates of the inter-seas have made of me a musical connisseur, where once there was just passing interest. Forums and 'sharity' blogs have particularly helped to rouse my interest in unknown artists and forgotten genres. And, since the big-names are readily available for piracy, the obvious choice is to support the lesser-known and local artists.

In fact, I feel that by distributing the music of Son House and Blind Willie Johnson, I may be helping to open up a whole new world of experience for someone who is used to more polished music, and they may begin to appreciate the raw emotions of flamenco music or Greek rebetica. By posting Harry Partch and Tom Cora, I may turn a few people on to a world of improvisational and microtonal avantgarde music. Growth comes through exposure and experience.

Another story, more recent. Radiohead, one of the most intelligent contemporary bands, released their most recent album for download from their website before it was released in physical form. Radiohead allowed users to pay however much they liked. They made £10 Million or so, on an average of £7.00 or so per user. And none of that money got taken by a middle-man in the form of a retail store or a record company. Now, Radiohead is a big-name band with millions of fans. But the principle works the same for small-name artists. And it shows that people who download can be generous, especially if the artist is generous first.

You see, Radiohead realized that even if you issue an album conventionally, even with copy-protection embedded in the CD, it still gets posted on the internet within a week of release. So why not embrace the new system of music-distribution that is evolving, and experiment to see if it has an equal or greater capacity to support the artists than the (outdated?) distribution system of record labels and retail shops.

Remember, the music industry tried to sue radio on the same grounds of copywright infringement. Eventually, it learned to work with radio's inherent marketing capabilities. And the existence of recorded music itself almost destroyed the profession of composer (the music industry now has to give money to a fund that supports living composers).

Now, those are all issues of rights, morality, and money. I don't pretend to have definitive answers to them, but I've tried to demonstrate my thoughts around them. I invite responses that confirm or contradict what I've said.

Another question, which I think is even larger, is: how does all this downloading of music affect my life? I've talked about why I post. But I am really interested to know why you read this blog, and why you download the albums. Is it just a fulfillment of desire, a kind of instant gratification responding to my description of how tasty the music is? Is it filling a hole in you're life? Personally, I think it has something to do with me being afraid of really sitting with myself in silence and feeling. But that's my own issue. It may be different for you.

It's interesting to note that 100 years ago, 90% of Americans played an instrument. Now only 10% do. Most of us just play the CD player now, or the computer. Is this acquisition of music really enhancing your life, or just satisfying an urge to collect? The feeling that it's free, and you're 'saving' money, or that it won't be around forever so you'd better get it now? Or, is this music genuinely helping you to learn, feel, and grow?

Take a moment to really consider this.

Your answers to these questions will determine if and how I continue this blog, so please leave a comment. I'd love to post more music, but I feel we need to all be on the same page, before we can move on.

And to whomever complained about copywrite infringement to the filehosting servers: please, in the future, offer your complaint directly to me. It doesn't do any good to beat around the bush: if there's something I'm doing that you feel is wrong, I should know about it. It really does no good to try to shut down activity like this without appealing to the intelligence and innate sense of ethics of bloggers; if you get rid of public channels, pirates will move to private ones.

November 5, 2008

Joe Venuti & Eddie Lang - Stringin' the Blues

...pieced together from various sources

Venuti claimed to have been born aboard a ship as his parents emigrated from Italy, though many believe he was simply born in Philadelphia. Later in life he said that he was born in Italy in 1896 and that he came to the U.S. in 1906. He became THE great jazz violinist: the father of jazz violin. Eddie Lang (who was also known as Blind Willie Dunn) was a boyhood friend of Venuti, and was the first great jazz guitarist (some say the best-ever rhythm guitarist). They preceded and influenced the legendary duo of Django Reinhardt and Stephanne Grappelli, which means they are at the root of a massive genre (gypsy jazz / hot swing).

Venuti was also a legendary practical joker. Every Christmas he sent Wingy Manone, a one-armed trumpet player, the same gift--one cufflink. He once called a couple dozen bass players with an alleged gig and asked them to show up with their instruments at a busy street corner just so he could view the resulting chaos. He always brought cheap violins to his bar-gigs because his favorite thing was to start fights, smash his violin over someone's head, and jump out the window of the bar. He is said to have chewed up a violin he borrowed from bandleader Paul Whiteman, when still on stage after his own performance with Whiteman's band had finished.

Eddie Lang introduced the guitar to a wider audience and forever changed the way that people listened to music. And he was the first Jazz guitar virtuoso. A boyhood friend of Joe Venuti, Lang took violin lessons for 11 years but switched to guitar before he turned professional in 1924 with the Mound City Blue Blowers. He was soon in great demand for recording dates, both in the jazz world and in pop settings. His sophisticated European sounding chord patterns made him a unique accompanist, but he was also a fine soloist. Lang was a versatile player who could back blues singers, play classical music, and jam with the greatest musicians of his day. He was the house guitarist at Okeh from 1926 to 1933. Using the pseudonym of Blind Willie Dunn, Lang often teamed up with Lonnie Johnson and recorded some of the most dazzling guitar duets you'll hear.

Lang died in 1933 as the result of a botched tonsillectomy, which had been taken at the urging of his friend, Bing Crosby. Venuti fell into obscurity in the 1940s and '50s, but was rediscovered in the 60s and made some great albums, some of which will find their way onto this blog eventually... if you have any of his later period albums please let me know. I'd love to hear them.

Eddie Lang & Joe Venuti - Stringing the Blues
Release Date 1963
Recording Date 1927-1933
Label Columbia
Time 96:21

1 Goin' Places - Lang, Venuti - 2:58
2 Doin' Things - Lang, Venuti - 2:52
3 Perfect - Lang, Signorelli - 3:04
4 Cheese and Crackers - Lang, Venuti - 2:59
5 Stringin' the Blues - Lang, Venuti - 2:37
6 I'm Somebody's Somebody Now - Johnson, Sherman, Silver - 3:09
7 Two-Tone Stomp - Johnson, Lang - 3:03
8 Beatin' the Dog - Venuti - 2:41
9 The Wild Dog - Lang, Venuti - 2:45
10 Dinah - Akst, Lewis, Young - 2:51
11 In the Bottle Blues - King Oliver, Lang, Williams - 2:52
12 Wild Cat - Lang, Venuti - 2:59
13 Guitar Blues - Johnson, Lang - 3:21
14 Bull Frog Moan - Johnson, Lang - 3:19
15 Jet Black Blues - Johnson - 3:04
16 Penn Beach Blues - Lang, Venuti - 2:45
17 It's Right Here for You - Bradford - 3:10
18 You Can't Cheat on a Cheater - Dorsey, Napoleon - 2:59
19 Tiger Rag - DaCosta, Edwards, LaRocca ... - 2:52
20 A Handful of Riffs - Johnson, Lang - 3:07
21 Running Ragged - Hayton, Lang, Trumbauer ... - 3:10
22 Pardon Me, Pretty Baby - Klages, Rose - 3:07
23 I'll Never Be the Same - Kahn, Malneck, Signorelli - 3:12
24 I've Found a New Baby - Palmer, Williams - 3:09
25 Little Girl - Henry, Hyde - 3:00
26 I Got Rhythm - Gershwin, Gershwin - 3:15
27 I Wanna Count Sheep (Till the Cows Come Home) - Little, Young - 3:25
28 Church Street Sobbin' Blues - Cowley, Lada, Williams - 3:03
29 Vibraphonia - Rollini - 2:49
30 Hey! Young Fella - Fields, McHugh - 3:07
31 Some of These Days - Brooks - 2:37
32 Raggin' the Scale - Claypoole - 3:00

old rip from vinyl | m4a (aac) 192 | w/cover | 67 & 68mb
get disc 1 and disc 2

more to come someday. post any you have in the comments!

October 26, 2008

Séamus Ennis - Ceol, Scéalta Agus Amhráin

Seamus Ennis recorded by Jean Ritchie - 1950's

Since I've been in Ireland, I've heard a lot of pretty incredible music. Particularly Irish trad, but really all sorts of music are alive and flourishing in this country. On the subject of Irish trad, it's good to see that the music is as alive as it ever was, with festivals, pub sessions, and lots of young people getting into it (much more so than in many other parts of the world). But when you see these young people (from kids to teens to twenty-somethings), they're usually playing fiddle, accordion, flute/whistle, banjo, or guitar, with the occasional bodhron, harp or mandola thrown in the mix. This is all well and good, but it points to a disturbing trend: very few people are learning the uillean pipes; perhaps because they're so fecking difficult to play. And this is a shame, because the uillean pipes are the most uniquely irish of all instruments (ok...bodhron is unique too), with their unearthly drones and reedy voice. But there are a few young people saddling up to the challenge of playing these swan-instruments (beginning with the task of getting them in tune). And one of them gave me this cd, by the master of the masters, Séamus Ennis. This cd has piping, whistling, and storytelling, all in Irish. For those of you who don't have the privelege of living in a gaeltacht area, you probably won't understand a word of what he's saying. No matter; it's every bit as enjoyable. Just know, this is probably the most Irish thing you'll ever hear.

excerpts of a bio from
Seamus Ennis 1919-1982
Seamus Ennis used to say that it took all of 21 years to become a piper - seven years learning, seven years practising and seven years playing. He may be the exception that proves the rule, because by the age of 21, his playing as evidenced on recordings he made for Radio Eireann in 1940 was as fully developed as when he was 50.
Seamus Ennis, uilleann piper, broadcaster and folklore and music collector, was born on May 5, 1919, in Jamestown in Finglas, then a rural area of North Co Dublin.
As for his musical talent, "it wasn't off the wind he got it," as Sean Mac Reamoinn once commented. His father was James Ennis, a civil servant in the Department of Agriculture, from Naul, Co Dublin, who was a prize-winning musician on several instruments including the uilleann pipes and also a champion dancer. He married Mary Josephine McCabe of County Monaghan in 1916. They had six children.
Seamus's early schooling was at the Holy Faith Convent in Glasnevin and at Belvedere College. Then he attended all-Irish schools at Scoil Cholm Cille and Colaiste Mhuire and this, coupled with family visits to Rosmuc in the Connemara Gaeltacht as a teenager and his father being a keen lover of all things Irish, gave Seamus a grounding in Irish which he developed to the full.

His Irish language proficiency proved a major asset later on. While collecting folk songs and tunes for Radio Eireann and the BBC, he had an uncanny ability to converse in the regional Gaelic dialects with people in Connemara, Donegal, Kerry and even Scotland.

Having studied at commercial college he sat an exam for a post as Employment Exchange Clerk and missed being called for a job by one place. Then in Dublin one day in 1938 he met a close family friend Colm O Lochlainn, who offered him a job at his printing and publishing firm, the Sign of the Three Candles in Fleet Street, Dublin.

Cradle music
Seamus remembers hearing music in the cradle and going to sleep with the sound of his father's pipes in his ears. He knew the names of some of the tunes when he was only three years old and one night, despite valiantly trying to stay awake, he fell asleep as his father played Munster Buttermilk. He tells of how in the morning he was upset at having missed the end of the tune.

There were many musical visitors to the house in Jamestown - pipers Liam Andrews of Dublin and Pat Ward of Drogheda whose face Seamus describes as being adorned by a white "halo beard", James McCrone, a reed maker, the influential fiddle player Frank O'Higgins and John Cawley (flute) - the other members of the Fingal Trio with whom his father played and broadcast in the early days of 2RN which preceded Radio Eireann.

It was on a wet Saturday afternoon that Seamus first put on a Jack Brogan set of pipes which his father had bought in order to play with the Fingal Trio. He had no formal piping lessons from his father who used, however, explain the "difficult bits" and also showed him how to read music in order to learn tunes from Francis O'Neill's book. Seamus said that the only major influence on his piping was his father, who had in turn learned from Nicholas Markey of County Meath, Pat Ward and the other old pipers who used to play in the early years of the Oireachtas competitions.

The piper
Seamus's playing of the uilleann pipes was always instantly recognisable for his tone, technique and particular versions of tunes and the variations which he employed while playing them. Any tune, no matter how commonly played by musicians at sessions or elsewhere, became different when he played it and despite the amount of skill and technique which he used, the tune was never stifled or bent out of shape in any way and this was because Seamus had a great respect for the music and its idiomatic integrity.

His playing of slow airs was special because he had a deep understanding of the songs from which they came and he used this knowledge to play the airs as they might be sung by a good singer. Some of his techniques in dance music were special to himself - a trill on the E' or F' which he used to describe as a "shiver" as it was done by shaking the centre forearm rather than just the fingers, his unique cran (a stuttering roll on the bottom D) and the "ghost D" (an effect which suggests to the listener that two notes are sounding simultaneously). He also had the rare ability to play several notes in the third octave of his chanter.

Seamus's set of pipes have an interesting history. In 1908 his father found them in a sack, in pieces, in a pawnbroker's shop in London and purchased them for a small sum. They turned out after examination and repair to be a set made by Coyne of Thomas Street in Dublin in the early years of the 19th century and their tone to this day is distinctive and beautiful.

He was an excellent communicator and had a special way with children. He loved words and wordplay and liked nothing better than to swap limericks and rhyming couplets with friends such as Willie Clancy and Denis Murphy.

Séamus Ennis - Ceol, Scéalta Agus Amhráin
Originally released 1961, reissued 2006
Label: Gael-linn
get it here
mp3 192+kbps vbr | cover within mp3 files | 55mb

also, check out the blog Pamrapo, which has more great Irish trad, including another Séamus Ennis album.
and you can get Séamus Ennis - The Bonny Bunch of Roses, courtesy of Paul via Time Has Told Me