Once in a while there comes an album that is so musically perfect and so in tune with its times that you know on one listen that it is destined to be a classic. Such is Freedom Highway, the second collection that Rhiannon Giddens has released under her own name. Its songs are drenched in her country’s history while speaking directly to its troubled present. There is horror here, but inspiration too.
Janis: Little Girl Blue is a documentary directed by Amy Berg about Janis Joplin. It’s a story with which you’re already familiar, and a subject that might too easily appeal to those harbouring a lurid interest in drug-fuelled sexual excesses or a tie-dyed nostalgia for the sixties. Berg, though, avoids sensationalism or pathos (except perhaps in the title), and her film features few of those music biz talking heads, familiar from Friday evening BBC 4 music documentaries, blathering on about how so-and-so was such a wonderful person who single-handedly changed the course of modern music. Continue reading “Janis: Little Girl Blue: break another little bit of my heart”
Watching Ava DuVernay’s film Selma which takes as its subject the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches brought back memories of how, as a teenager growing up in a Cheshire village at the time, the Civil Rights Movement and the music associated with it played a key part in the awakening of my political consciousness. Reading or hearing on the radio about the marchers, their dignity and bravery, and the murders and brutality inflicted upon black Americans in the South, had a deeply radicalising effect on me.
The anthems sung by the likes of Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and Joan Baez, and the electrifying assertions of black pride from soul artists such as Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke just added to the intensity of my feelings. And it wasn’t just me, of course; in the way of these things, the ideas and methods seeded in the civil rights movement spread on the wind – to the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland, to South Africa, and to student activists throughout the world. Continue reading “Songs of Freedom: the Selma playlist”
Sixties folk icon Odetta has died, only a few weeks before she was due to appear at Barak Obama’s inauguration. I can’t do better than quote this Guardian editorial:
There are some singers so startling, so quietly influential and so unique that it is astonishing their name is not part of an everyday musical vocabulary. One such vocalist is Odetta, who died aged 77 on Tuesday. Born in Alabama, her career as a folk singer and guitarist spanned half a century – in her last years she played 60 concerts a year, often in a wheelchair. She inspired a wide range of musicians, including Bob Dylan, who credited her with his return to acoustic guitar. Odetta never placed herself within the folk tradition, yet will always be woven into it for two reasons. The first is her civil rights activism, which drew support from Pete Seeger and led her to sing at the March on Washington in 1963. These were original protest songs, plucked from American folk, spiritual, gospel and blues traditions and given a new resonance in the politicised folk movement. The second reason lies in her voice, which brought a melancholy, fury and eeriness to the music. She assaults Waterboy with growling outbursts, transforms Midnight Special into a bawdy sketch and meanders around Mr Tambourine Man for 10 minutes. One of the joys of listening to Odetta lies in her ability to make her classically trained voice and complex guitar playing serenely understated or strikingly thunderous. Perhaps Maya Angelou praised her best: “If only one could be sure that every 50 years a voice and a soul like Odetta’s would come along, the centuries would pass so quickly and painlessly we would hardly recognize time.
Her Sings Dylan album has several definitive versions of Dylan songs; Blowin’ In The Wind for instance:
Hers was a peerless rendition of Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child. Pasolini used it on the soundtrack to The Gospel According to St Matthew:
- Guardian obituary
- Grit, guts and glory: she inspired Dylan, was pals with Ella, and was due to play at Obama’s inauguration. Jude Rogers on Odetta Holmes 9Includes great YouTube clips).