Liner Notes from Sweet Burning Light, a sampler of Celtic and Celtic Christian music released in 1999: “Long ago in Ireland, on the Hill of Tara, a fire was to be lit by the High King’s druids marking the celebration of a pagan feast. The tradition was strictly enforced–anyone who was to light a fire prior to the king’s fire on that night would “be lit in the king’s palace the next day.” Yet, that same evening, on the nearby Hill of Slane, Patrick lit a fire to celebrate Easter. It not only preceded the High King’s fire, but it burned even brighter. The king call his druid priests to him only to hear them prophecy that Patrick’s fire would overcome his own fire and burn forever.”
St. Patrick in the Spirit by John Doan
Liner Notes from “the book of secrets” written by Loreena McKennitt while on tour in Italy in 1995 while reading Thomas Cahill’s “How the Irish Save Civilization” chronicling the life of Christian monks during the Western Dark Ages 500–1500 AD or CE (roughly Fall of the Roman Empire to Renaissance): “Monasteries were ofter founded in harsh, remote outposts like the Skellig Islands off Ireland’s west coast. Monks occupied themselves with the copying of religious literary and philosophical texts. Surviving manuscripts tell us much about the cultural identity and even individual characters of their creators via both the books’ beautiful ornamentation, and in the margins, the scribes’ own notations of a whimsical, personal or even racy nature.”
(I think some of the photos in the video below are from the actual Skellig Islands. Keep in mind, these islands would have been the absolute farthest western reaches of Western Civilization during the Dark Ages.)
Skellig by Loreena McKennitt
Just for the heck of it, here are Celtic Woman with “The Voice.” I love the juxtaposition of the sweet female voice and heavy drums.
And finally, a nice Irish Gaelic lullaby to help you drift off to sleep after maybe a pint too many.
There was madness to Laura Nyro’s music. Some songs tip-toed gently as fairy’s feet on flower petals; others stomped like a ghetto gang charging down an alley—and any one of her song’s could do both. Her lyrics could be glints of sparkling sunlight bouncing off flowing melodies or heavy hail pounding a tin roof or mournful tears washing away dreams. Upbeat as a picnic in Central Park. Dark as Satan’s heart. Jazzy. Folksy. Broadway. Soul. Funk. Rock. Gospel. Soaring. Crashing. A poetic muse. A alluring siren. A gutter cussing waif. Her creations were the ultimate synthesis of mind-soul-hand. They should have named a new genre of music just for her: Stream of Consciousness music.
If you have never listened to this woman and enjoy musical surprises, explore songs on You Tube.
Here are two of my favorite examples of her versatility. They go up down over and round just about every mood you can think of. Floating violins. Crashing drums. That’s Laura.
Women’s Blues from Eli and the Thirteenth Confession (Nyro’s)
Women’s Blues from Eli and the Thirteenth Confession (Nyro’s)
Cover of classic pop/rock. This is the kind of music that is running through the veins of some of us urban boomers. It’s just there. Can’t help it.
Gonna Take a Miracle
Laura Nyro /ˈnɪəroʊ/ near-oh (October 18, 1947 – April 8, 1997) was an American songwriter, singer, and pianist. She achieved critical acclaim with her own recordings, particularly the albums Eli and the Thirteenth Confession (1968) and New York Tendaberry (1969), and had commercial success with artists such as Barbra Streisand and The 5th Dimension recording her songs. Her style was a hybrid of Brill Building-style New York pop, jazz, gospel, rhythm and blues, show tunes, rock, and soul.
Between 1968 and 1970, a number of artists had hits with her songs: The 5th Dimension with “Blowing Away“, “Wedding Bell Blues“, “Stoned Soul Picnic“, “Sweet Blindness“, “Save the Country“, and “Black Patch”;Blood, Sweat & Tears and Peter, Paul & Mary with “And When I Die“; Three Dog Night and Maynard Ferguson with “Eli’s Comin’“; and Barbra Streisand with “Stoney End“, “Time and Love”, and “Hands off the Man (Flim Flam Man)”. Nyro’s best-selling single was her recording of Carole King and Gerry Goffin‘s “Up on the Roof“.
Eli and the Thirteenth Confession
(All music written and composed [and sang] by Laura Nyro)
- Sweet Blindness
- Poverty Train
- Lonely Women
- Eli’s Comin’
- Stoned Soul Pinic
- Woman’s Blues
- Once it Was Alright Now
- December’s Budoir
- The Confession
For some people, the streets of Nashville are paved with gold — they came, they were seen and heard, and they conquered the odds against making it in Music City, USA. And once they reach glittering stardom in the country music industry, their lives become legends.
But for those few who make it there are thousands more for whom the streets of Nashville are paved with broken glass.
I’ve met them everywhere. They sell advertising. They work for eye doctors, work as waitresses, waiters, and dishwashers in restaurants and bars. They work construction jobs or as part-time clerks in record stores. They work as dental assistants. And some don’t work at all.
Almost any night or day, you can walk along Lower Broadway in Nashville and find a former backup singer or former musician who once performed you may have heard of. They’ll sing as much of a song as they can remember for a buck or a quarter. Elsewhere, you can find old timers in taverns singing for tips and selling old LPs out of their car. These are the people who are ignored by the younger, fresh-faced kids who come to town on the bus with nothing but a guitar on their back and a pocket full of dreams.
A lot of aspiring singers and songwriters can be found at events called “writers’ nights.” Many taverns around Nashville will hold a writers’ night maybe once a week. A dozen or so performers are allowed to sing three of their songs in hopes that Mr. or Ms. Big Record Producer is sitting in the audience. Usually, however, the audience is full of mostly family and friends: Mom and Dad arriving from who knows where to wish Johnny or Jane some good luck, or the smiling male neighbor of some naive starlet with sparkles in her eyes. Writers’ nights are kind of a potluck. You see almost the entire spectrum of the country music business in a condensed version of “Star Search.” There are some aging has-beens, a lot of young idealistic wannabes, and some singers and writers on the verge of truly making it, with maybe a song or two already recorded by a real live Big Star.
Sometimes professional studio musicians will walk in and say “I’ve just finished a session with (insert any star’s name) and man, I need to unwind.”
I’ve seen some really talented people at the few writers’ nights I’ve been to. I’ve also seen a few who (all politeness aside) don’t have it and never will have it. I saw one guy that will live forever as the worst performer I am ever likely to see if I live a million years. But all of them try their hardest.
Eventually, though, some just stop thinking about making it in the country music biz. A lot of them pack up and go back home. Other stick around Nashville. They slide into a normal, day-to-day routine sans the dreams of greatness. Maybe they sing in the church choir. There are a lot of great church choirs in Nashville.
And a few singers, musicians, and songwriters hang in there on the margins of the industry. They are content to sing in the lesser known bars for next to no pay. I recently saw such a group of musicians at a small bar in Nashville. I was there with five in-laws. Also present were the bartender, a waitress, two guys shooting pool, a woman sitting by herself, a couple of guys standing at the bar, and a guy asleep on a sofa. Frankly, the place was a dive.
I don’t know a lot about music, especially country music. But I’ll say this: this was one of the best bands I’ve ever heard anywhere. The lead guitarist had real command of his instrument. His big mitts effortlessly ran up and down the strings. And he sang with a smoky voice as good as any of the old pros. The bass guitarist was a woman who did justice to several Patsy Cline tunes. The rhythm guitarist had fingers that moved so fast they seemed to blur. And the drummer pounded good and loud. Their arrangements of country classics were unique but still true to the original versions of the songs. My wife, Kathleen, got up on stage and sang a number with them. She sounded good, too. It’s in the family genes. Her dad made a living as a gospel singer: Don Williams of Don and Earl.
At the end of their set I asked the lead guitarist what the name of their band was.
“Well, my name is Allen. And this is Heather,” he said pointing to the bass player.
But the band didn’t have a name.
And Allen said he worked hanging drywall during the day.
Although Allen’s band doesn’t have a name and probably doesn’t have a chance of ever “making it” in Nashville, the band members still perform like they have a dream. Nashville doesn’t have a monopoly on dreamers. But there does seem to be more of them per square foot than anyplace else on earth. And a place so full of dreamers can’t be that bad — even if you do end up with a lot of flat tires from all the roads paved with broken glass instead of gold.