Saturday, March 6, 2010

First Whisper of Spring

I know that, for many of my readers, it is unmistakably still winter. But here in New Jersey, we have had a major thaw in the last week. The snow is retreating, and there is even a noted increase in bird noises in the morning. For me, this triggers a reflex that tells me that it is time to dance.

That may seem strange, so let me explain. Back in the years before I was a married-with-children, I used to go contradancing whenever I could. (Contradancing, if you don’t know, is a folk dance form native to New England.) This even was the start of a chain of events that led to me meeting my wife. I noticed that many of the dancers would vanish when the weather turned chilly in the fall, and returned at about this time of year. I observed this over several years; it was as reliable as bird migrations. So, even though I have not contra danced in many years, (sigh), I still associate this time of year with the return of the dancers.

k d Lang: (Waltz Me) Once Again Around the Dance Floor


That first dance when everyone comes back is one of the most exciting of the year. There is a sense of exhilaration that comes both from the arrival of warmer weather and being reunited with friends. k d Lang isn’t singing about a contradance, and this isn’t even a song she wrote, but her performance still conveys exactly the feeling I’m talking about.

Finjan: Dancing on Water


I have presented Klezmer music before, but I emphasized that faster songs. Here, the tempo comes down a bit, and the sheer beauty of the music shines through. Finjan, my sources tell me, is the leading klezmer group in Canada. Strangely, there is a connection between this track and the last one. Dancing on Water was arranged by Finjan and Ben Mink. Mink played on some of k d Lang’s best work.

Bruce Cockburn: And We Dance


This wasn’t supposed to be a sequel to last week’s Canadian post, but here is yet another Canadian artist. Bruce Cockburn is a socially and politically aware songwriter. He finds it impossible to live in this world without having strong feelings about what goes on in it. Here, he seeks refuge from the ills of the world in a dance. The effort is only partly successful, but the desire for refuge is beautifully expressed.

XTC: War Dance


Finally, we leave Canada for England. XTC also cared deeply about world events. Here, they take on a particular brand of “patriotism”. There are times when nations experience a kind of blood lust. Here in the United States, we experienced this in the wake of 9/11, and our government was only to happy to fan the flames. As XTC points out here, the results are often tragic for all concerned.

New feature: Spotlight song of the week

Here is a new feature on Oliver di Place. I started this blog because I believed that the world is full of great music that too few people were getting to hear. Now I am even more convinced that this is true. The fact is that I receive more great albums than I can review, even at a rate of an album a week. So now I will feature a song from some of these albums in this spot. The artists featured here are just as worthy as those I give full reviews. This just gives me a way to share more of my discoveries with you. I will also use this space for artists who do not have anything new out, but who I only just discovered.

john Arthur martinez: Cobalt Blue


Country music is comfort music, even when the subject matter is grim. Musically, there are no major surprises, but that does not preclude the possibility of fine musicianship. The lyrics cover a limited range of subjects. So the listener knows more or less what to expect, and the most important factor is the sincerity of the performance. And john Arthur martinez delivers a wonderful performance here.

One of the big problems I have with mainstream, (read: major label), country is the production. Sometimes, everything is scrubbed clean of any personality and given a pop sheen, while other times the chorus builds to a 70s rock crescendo, completely obliterating any chance of subtlety. Martinez avoids these traps, and delivers a set of songs that offer all of the comforts of country as performed by someone who means it. The best of all are the songs he wrote by himself. There are three songs here by other writers, and four co-writes. All sound to me like bids to insure commercial acceptance. But the four songs martinez wrote by himself are the highlights for me. These add organ parts to the mix, as well as female backing vocals. These songs have an honest country feel, but also a soulfulness that fits in beautifully. Cobalt Blue also has an interesting lyric. Is the Cobalt Blue of the title a woman or a drink? I think the answer is yes. I like the ambiguity.

So I will put this one on when I’m looking for musical comfort food. And I hope that martinez’ next one includes more solo originals.