Light of Day Winterfest 2016

Night Owl

NIGHTOWL

Today I was working on a new manuscript, which really means, I was listening to a lot of new music.

New and new. That’s just what I do. A story has to have a soundscape. A soundtrack all its own.

Later, some songs will fall by the wayside, and I’ll wind up with a playlist made up entirely of songs I adore, that can transport me to my fictional world immediately.

It’s like, double escape. Double journey. Good as double chocolate. If you write, try it. Writing to music is my favorite thing to do, besides maybe singing.

Naturally, I wound up today at the Sirenstories SoundCloud, my secret source for new indie music. In the cloud I found Night Owl, a beautiful, evocative song by Megan McClean.

After listening to Night Owl a few times, I stopped working on my shiny new novel and decided it was time to share the song with you.

Barry Snaith of Wakefield, Britain, who goes by the name, The Inconsistent Jukebox, produced Night Owl, and says of Megan and the song, “I love her voice and it’s a truly beautiful song. It was a pleasure to add what I could to an already haunting piece of art.”

“Megan had originally recorded this on some shitty little mobile phone (probably inside her pocket by the sound of it!). I hope you all like it and can get through the rough sonic quality to see the diamond within.”

We definitely see it Barry. We hear it. We love it.

Megan McClean goes by the nom-de-plume, War Is Noise. On Night Owl she sings and plays acoustic guitar.

Barry Snaith was kind enough to send me the lyrics for Night Owl, with a lovely note that included TONS of amazingness, and this:

“These are the words, but Megan tends to improvise. If you listen, you’ll find that she rarely sings the same way twice – it’s all utterly heartfelt, an outpouring of emotion. That’s what makes it so captivating.”

NIGHT OWL

Lover you pierce my heart


Like a night owl in the dark


And I don’t know how to say these words

Which are unheard

But so simple from my heart.

 

I praise The Lord above 


That is my humble word.


I’m a vagabond


And that is my heritage, dear,


So accept me or not.

 

Lover you pierce my heart


Like a night owl in the dark


And I don’t know how to say these words

Which are unheard

But so simple from my heart.

 

And, with arms stretched so wide


Into the night sky

Past is dead


But you still read what they said.


There is no charm.


Your heart was once warm.

 

Lover you pierce my heart


Like a night owl in the dark


And I don’t know how to say these words

Which are unheard

But so simple from my heart.

 

Album art image by Adrian James Hill.

PS Do yourself a favor and click the link for James Hill. Gorgeousness awaits you.

God Damn I Don’t Know.

Michelle Held painting

The availability of digital recording software, apps, and dyi culture, coupled with the constant state of flux of the music industry, has allowed the process of home recording to become just as sophisticated and creative as studio recording. These days, plenty of talented musicians make their records at home.

And then there are the musicians that make their records sound like home.

That’s the case with Michelle Held—whose name is a speck of a song all its own, go ahead, say it aloud—a singer songwriter from Detroit, who “has a big heart and a guitar” and whose gorgeous song, God Damn I Don’t Know, (which she recorded at home), is a thing of beauty and provocation.

Somebody said I should believe in you 
And somebody else said that you’re just not true 
And the other guy he claims it’s just a vibration between the two 
He said we’re always in motion 
And the other guy says that’s just some magic notion he made up 
To fill in the gaps

Everybody’s walkin along at their own accord tryin to get some sort of award 
Cause they think it means somethin 
But I don’t know I don’t know what it means anymore 
I’m tryin to clear my head 
I’m just walkin along thinkin about people who’re passed and dead 
And I don’t know where they gone to

Thinkin about em makes me sad and blue 
And it makes me wanna stay so damn true 
But I don’t know I don’t know who to stay true to 
Everybody’s right and singin their own song and if they sing it loud enough 
They’ll be able to prove you wrong 
But I don’t know I don’t know anymore

And the other guy says that I do know 
And I got all I need to prove it’s so 
But I don’t know I don’t know if he knows what he’s talkin about 
Everything now seems strange to me 
You seem weird too but don’t take that personally 
Cause I don’t I don’t know what I’m talkin about

And if it’s true if it’s true that I do know 
And I got all I need to prove it’s so 
Well if that’s true if that’s true then why do I feel so God Damn blue 
And now I’m afraid I just offended you 
But those are just some letters that somebody threw together 
And who’s to say who’s to say they have to remain that way

Maybe all that was once tried and true has grown 
And what was set in stone has been blown it ain’t new no more but old 
And all the stories we were sold how can you be sure that they still hold 
Maybe the person who said it was black or white or good or bad 
Was just as sad and blue as you and me and 
Maybe he was trying to find his own way tryin to find a way to break free too

And the other guy said just take the time commit your mind 
And sooner or later you’ll be fine 
But I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know if he’s right 
But I hope he’s right I hope what he’s sayin is true 
And I hope this fight takes me from here to you 
Cause if it don’t take me somewhere well that don’t seem fair

And you gotta remember the joy’s in the journey 
But does the joy end after they wheel you out on that gurney 
I don’t know I don’t know anymore . . . 

Michelle Held has contributed several songs to the Sirenstories SoundCloud and God Damn I Don’t Know is my favorite. Although there are plenty of differences in style, for example Held’s voice is unparalleled when it comes to vibrato, Michelle Held makes me think of Rickie Lee Jones, early Michele Shocked, and Elizabeth Cotton—quite an aural cocktail.

God Damn I Don’t Know is a song written out frustration with  life; not knowing what to do with it. Think Held’s figured it out, yeah?

Love the tags she used on SoundCloud: Indie. Folk. Tired of the Bullshit. Question Everything.

Please follow Michelle Held on fb and twitter.

Then check out Libby, still going strong at 92.

Unfinished Song

Philly area Singer Songwriter Denise Moser was one of the first Sirens on this blog and I’m very happy to share the news that she’s released a new CD, Here Right Now.

The excellent, detailed review written by John Apice and published in No Depression on January 27th covers just about every aspect of Here Right Now, and he calls Unfinished Song the bravest song on the CD. I agree with him completely, and although guitarist Marc Moss did a wonderful job producing this gorgeous, honest collection of songs, Unfinished Song, an a cappella piece that gave me chills when I first heard it, is my favorite.

 

It’s lionhearted.

 

And it’s not just the fact that Denise Moser sings this song alone and unaccompanied that makes Unfinished Song so courageous, it’s the content, and the simple, profound resolution in her voice. If I was willing to bare my soul, like Denise does, this part of the post would be a lot longer. Instead, I’ll just say that I love this song so much, it hurts.

Blank paper is an old friend

My life’s unfinished song

Pretty lines and melodies

No rhyme to hang it on

I walk down roads look straight ahead

And then I change my mind 

I lose the path I double back

Regrets can be unkind

Bright stabs of inspiration

Sometimes I do my best

I put a good face on it

But this heart needs a rest

My mind is all a clutter

In places you can’t see

I never was a mother

That part of me bleeds

Denise released Here Right Now at the end of 2012, and despite the fact that I’m late with this post, she was generous enough to share her thoughts about Unfinished Song.

“It’s interesting to me that Unfinished Song resonates with people. I actually wrote that one a while back, just for me. It came out in one sitting with very little editing. No one else was ever supposed to hear it.

One day in the studio, I thought of it, and I wanted a good version for myself, so I asked Marc to start a new track, and I sang it. He liked it and planted the seed of an idea that I put it on the CD. I had it on the list of songs for consideration and shocked myself a bit that I put it on. It makes me feel vulnerable, and at the same time I don’t live in that space anymore.

Seven of the eleven songs on the CD were written within the past year and a half, and the other four are older ones that I wanted to include in this collection. I surprised myself a bit by what I left out and what I kept in some instances.

I feel proud of this CD. My dad died in March of 2011, and that ushered in a period of intense creativity – it felt like the veils between the sacred and the ordinary were thin. At the same time, I committed to songwriting for 55 minutes a day. I call it my Duck Sessions, because at the end of 55 minutes, the duck on my iPhone timer quacks. This has been my most prolific time, and I’m grateful that new songs continue to be unearthed. I’ve even begun writing customized songs for other people. There are two of those on this CD as well.”

Allow

Breathe. Listen. Feel. Watch.

Allow.

After the events of the last few months, tonight, just sitting and being open to music, feels like a luxury.

Working, talking, rushing. These things are sometimes a balm, sometimes a burden. So I’m setting aside unfinished work—unfinished thoughts even—to simply listen. To allow the soothing guitar lines of Merlin and the Fox to wash over me. To let the voice of Francesca Baines draw me away from this desk, away, away . . .

Woods rise up in my mind along with a memory of Joni Mitchell, and further back now, Annie Haslam. The walking pace of the guitar takes me back to a pre ironic time, where I discover  a lovely voice I’ve never heard. The voice of a Siren from Kinsale, Ireland.

Suddenly, as I listen and write, as I stop worrying about who’s reading, and allow the song to open me up, tears form in my eyes, and I realize just how generous the artists who contribute their music to this blog really are. Offering us their work, song after song, because they want us to hear it. Because they want to give us what they love. Because they must make music, and unless shared, music is not complete.

Francesca

He dwells in the forest with the sleeping owl 
The infants of his oak crack on the ground 
The distant cry of a horn turns to a nearing howl 
Approaching are the huntsmen and their hounds

The fox I feel him falter, wild-eyed and panting fast 
Together we’ll be surefooted let us be calm 
And turn our gaze to the grandfather trees that open out their boughs 
To the outlaws, to the travelers seeking alms

Vivienne! You were sly as he was wild 
Broceliande bore this child 

My path it strays in the maze to the line of men holding their guns 
I fight my flighting urge to turn and run 
And offer them my heart ‘though their foe is more my friend 
We greet each other in a foreign tongue

Cloak him in the scent of heather and the stirring leaves 
Soothe his shaking body still as stone 
Shroud his beating heart in the lichen and the moss 
‘Till fur and the forest become one

Vivienne! You were sly as he was wild 
Broceliande bore this child 

And Merlin you were near as the shots ran out so clear 
As I held a glowing acorn in my hand 
Like a bullet how it shone, like the eyes of your feathered one 
That left a tawny token where I did stand

Vivienne! You were sly as he was wild 
Broceliande bore this child

Restez toujour un âme sauvage 
Ne les laissez pas vous apprivoiser

From Vela, released 21 October 2012
Francesca Baines: voice, guitar, whispering forest
Bruno Hollemaert: accordion

Francesca Baines says:

Merlin & the Fox was written whilst walking in the enchanted forests of Broceliande in Brittany, home of the Arthurian stories. I was looking for the tomb of Merlin when I could hear a fox hunt happening. I started singing a song of protection for the fox and was reminded of one of Merlin’s stories; how he grew up wild and nurtured by the forest itself, and how Vivienne, Lady of the Lake, entrapped him by encircling him in a silken bind, in which he was invisibly tied to her for life. She trained him in spellcraft and gave him many powers, and yet he was a wild man enslaved. Sadly on this day, as I regarded a bright acorn, I could hear the gun shots of the distant hunters. And as I felt the shock of a dead fox, an owl feather fell to the ground – the bird associated with this fine wizard. So this song is for the wild and the untamed.
Working on the song in Foix at the foot of the Pyrenees, I stayed with a man, Paulin, who told me his experience of walking with a Mongolian shaman woman, who sang in clicks, buzzes and hums. By accentuating the consonants within the lyrics and merging the voice with recordings of woodland walks I have endeavored to evoke the elemental nature of a witch’s intonements to echo the aliveness of these whispering forests. French accordionist Bruno Hollemaert brought so much depth of feeling to this song written on guitar and voice.”

 

Like the Sea

Like The Sea

The sea, I feel you like the sea,
deep inside, yet so far away.

I cling to every word you say,
you stole my heart, please give it back to me.

Could it be that it was all just a game to you?
Am I really such a fool?
Don´t you feel the nearness of us?
Life without you is just a rainy day.

Time plays tricks on our minds.
Still I hope there´ll be for us a time.

Anjù is Anja Graefe, a singer songwriter from Ulm, Germany. Anjù recorded Like the Sea at her home, and perhaps that’s part of what gives the song such an intimate sound, but most likely it’s Anjù’s voice, which is quiet, often just above a whisper. The lovely acoustic guitar part and bare bones bass line that accompany Anjù’s spare and sophisticated vocals offer the perfect amount of support to both singer and song.

Anjù‘s smooth voice has just the right amount of inflection and vibrato for contemporary folk, jazz, and even blues. Her approach to blues on her digital album The Attic Sessions is especially refreshing; there are no snarling or guttural sounds that all too often hit the listener over the head because they’re just not, well, snarly or guttural in the right way. Anjù on the other hand sounds a bit like Fiona Apple might sound if she were drifting off into a dream . . . Maybe even a little like Nora Jones. Anjù also tips her hat vocally to some of the icons of jazz, but possibly Chet Baker more than anyone. Just Get Lost, The third track on The Attic Sessions made me smile.

You can get Anjù‘s digital album The Attic Sessions on her bandcamp site and I suggest you do. There are quite a few songs that are just as good as Like the Sea, and all have the same sparse arrangement of voice and guitar. All the songs on The Attic Sessions, whether they’re bluesy or jazz influenced, are evocative and atmospheric, and Anjù’s voice has a lovely, subtle musicality that invites the listener in. Enjoy.

 

A Song for the End of Summer

It’s amazing, what can be done in a bedroom these days. Musically, I mean.

But first, meet Tom Humphries, from the UK. Apparently Humphries is a chef now, but before that played in several bands. I think, perhaps he should get back to it.

Listen to Out There Somewhere and let me know if you agree, Tom Humphries should be Out There Somewhere: on a stage, in a coffee shop, in a club.

It’s pouring rain here in New Jersey and the sky is white. Maybe it was the same in Sheffield when Tom Humphries wrote Out There Somewhere. Even with the upbeat acoustic guitar that reminds me of John Mayer, and the hint of Latin rhythm that provides a sense of warmth, there’s something bleak about Out There Somewhere. Something in Tom Humphries voice that is slightly empty—in a good way. It’s the same starkness that I’ve heard in Van Morrison’s voice, in Joseph Arthur’s. It’s like what I feel now, at the end of Summer.

The sweet background vocals from Andrew Jameson on Out There Somewhere provide another bit of beauty, as well as a nice foil for Humphries’ bare voice.

Now, I know you’re still wondering about the bedroom (caught you) so here you go: Tom Sheffield in a bedroom recording a song about his father. It’s hard to believe just how good the sound quality is. It’s also hard to believe that Humphries wrote the song Father just before he recorded it. It’s lovely and real, and if you’ve ever tried to write about a parent or a family member without the piece collapsing under the weight of sentimentality, then you know how tough it is.

I was blank, a blank slate
You can draw, decide my fate
Follow you round, in your wake

I been off the tracks, and I have steered
Away from love, floods of tears
But all the time, you’ve been here

I told my father I can grow
He said my boy, just stay close

So I say, what do you know
And I say can you show me
How to be, a better man than me

Nowadays, I feel strong
I need to thank you, you’ve helped me along
The twisted path, I’ve been on

Time…Flows…
You’ve seen me change, you’ve seen me curse
When things get tough, I come to you first

I told my father, you take care
Whenever I need you, you are there

So I say, What do you know
And I say can you show me
How to be, a better man than me