Search results for 'brilliant songs'

Brilliant Songs #28: Mike Batt’s “Market Day in Guernica”

Eighty-five years ago this past week, April 26, 1937, was a market day in Guernica, Spain. It was a Monday, when farmers from the surrounding countryside would bring their crops into the town square to sell to residents and others who flowed in from surrounding towns in the autonomous Basque Country.

The Spanish Civil War was raging at the time, pitting the Republican government against General Francisco Franco’s rebel Nationalist faction and fascist allies Germany and Italy. Guernica, with a population of some 5,000, had not been a center of combat, but it stood some 30 kilometers east of Bilbao, population nearly 200,000, which Franco coveted as a strategically important possession to bring the government to its knees.

Batt was looking back to Guernica when he wrote this song, but nearly 20 years on and still active, the Twitter hashtag he features next to his name @MikeBatt is #StandWithUkraine.

That ma...

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Brilliant Songs #27: Joanna Newsom’s “Baby Birch”

Sometimes, all we want and need is a short declarative bellow hooked into something hummable and danceable.

“I wanna hold your ha-aa-aa-a-anddd!”

“I can’t get noooo….satisfack-shun!”

“I seeee the ba-ad moon a-risin’!”

Other times, we slow the pace, lower the volume and still ourselves for a close listen to a story as it unspools from the mind and imagination of a singing poet as she frames a multi-layered tale across time, space and memory.

Her songs consistently beg big questions but just as consistently refuse the beggar, short-circuiting our Need to Know…

At 40 years old, the nearly unclassifiable Joanna Newsom has been telling such tales for two decades now as a singer-songwriter and harpist. (Yes, the harp!)

Hints of classical music accompany the harp, of course, like wispy clouds joyriding in an aural mashup that wafts along with strains of indie folk, “chamber folk,” avant garde, jazz, and hybrids c...

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Brilliant Songs #26: Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Bogoroditse Devo”

We’re into our annual holiday music mode, our surroundings suffused with traditional Christmas carols and pop songs saluting the season. Little drummer boys going pa rum pum pum pum, sleigh bells jingle-ing, ring-ting tingle-ing, oh, but we have a merry time gliding through the malls and filling our baskets with impossibly packaged toys that resist penetration with all the impregnable fortitude of Fort Knox, do we not?

But amidst all the commercial ballyhoo, there lies a more contemplative dimension: that of a sacred inwardness, a bow to darkened days, the denuded trees and grayed skies of winter, with its incipient if distant promise of renewal.

In much of the world, the symbol of this promise revolves around a child born in a manger to a poor couple, a special star appearing in the sky to note this birth was destined to transform the world...

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Brilliant Songs #25: Jackson C. Frank’s “Marlene”

We all have a core narrative or two or three by which we define our lives, a kind of baseline that self-identifies us and courses through a good part of our relations with the world. Often, they owe at least something to hard luck and trouble overcome—the classic hero’s journey that serves as the core for so many novels, self-help tomes and Hollywood movies.

Sometimes, however, hard luck and trouble just get worse, with even more woe piling on and beating down defenseless souls who can’t seem to catch a break, or who lack the emotional agility and resilience to climb out from under misfortune’s wreckage.

So goes the tragic life story of Buffalo, New York-born singer-songwriter Jackson C. Frank, a one-time friend and esteemed fellow musician of Paul Simon and many other luminaries of the 1960s...

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Brilliant Songs #24: Henryk Górecki’s “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”

As our 20-year nation-building project draws to a catastrophic close in Afghanistan, what do we have to show for it? It’s a painful question made all the more so by the lives of U.S. soldiers and civilians freshly lost in the terrible bombings on Thursday, not to mention the far greater number of Afghans who have paid, and will continue to do so long after our exit, with their lives and freedom for the brief window of semi-democracy both nations worked with such tenacity and treasure to provide for that beleaguered land.

All of it turning now, with near dizzying speed, to ash.

Questions, doubts and recriminations about both our long-running presence and chaotic exit from Afghanistan dominate our national conversation today, at least temporarily pushing the re-emerging horrors of the Covid pandemic out of the spotlight.

The entire symphony is a treasure, a voyage through sorrow and lyricism whose beauty par...

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