Behind window 11 is British folk singer Kate Rusby

Kate Anna Rusby (born 4 December 1973) is an English folk singer-songwriter from PenistoneBarnsley. Sometimes called the “Barnsley Nightingale”, she has headlined various British national folk festivals, and is one of the best known contemporary English folk singers. In 2001 The Guardian described her as “a superstar of the British acoustic scene.” In 2007 the BBC website described her as “The first lady of young folkies”. She is one of the few folk singers to have been nominated for the Mercury Prize.

300 articles published and growing daily. Check out 2017’s archive

Today we celebrate a milestone. We have published our three hundredth article at FFM. We are thrilled to be able to publish our members’ stories, music videos and products to a global audience and, since our official launch in February this year, we have done that 300 times.  You can read all our articles in the archive (top right)

Thank you all for your great music and support.
Much love and happy music making,
Roger Moisan – Founder, Freedom for Musicians

Advent day 10 and a timeless classic

“The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You)” is a classic Christmas song written by Mel Tormé and Bob Wells in 1944 and was first recorded by The King Cole Trio in 1946. The song was recorded again in stereophonic version with a full orchestra conducted by Ralph Carmichael using the same arrangement for Nat King Cole’s The Christmas Song album in 1961.

One For All: An Album That Changed My Life — Literally

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Go to the profile of mauludSADIQ

It’s such an overused trope now but in 1990, this album shaped the direction of my life

It’s hard to believe now, but there was a time when almost all your favorite rappers were Five Percenters.

If you’re of my era, you knew of Rakim, King Sun, & Lakim Shabazz, very few people knew or thought of LL as God body.

Nowadays you hear the language everywhere — now cipher (incorrectly, annoyingly, pronounced non cipher), build, cipher, etc.

Back in 2005 when I interviewed Barry Gottehrer (author of The Mayor’s Man, one of the only outsider accounts of Five Percent founder, Clarence 13X) before he passed away, Gottehrer found it hard to believe that the organization still existed.

A large part of it still existing has to to do with Rap music, in the 90s particularly, we’re talking the music of Brand Nubian, and for me, specifically we’re talking One For All, which was released on 4 December 1990.

The only way I can explain the significance of the album is to flash you back to that Fall/Winter of 1990.

Mysister-in-law Melanie refers to me as being ‘wide-eyed’ when I first stepped foot on Clark Atlanta University’s campus and I was indeed that.

I went to high school in Denver and lived in the war zone of Park Hill. A fifteen minute walk from Colorado Boulevard to Grape Street was like a trip through the Walking Dead but instead of zombies we had men and women addicted to crack and the people that supplied it constantly screaming, “you looking?!!”

Sprinkle in tinted windowed Impalas, Broncos, and 6–4s, with gang members rolling their windows down taunting with the question, “where you from,” and that was my daily existence. That and jumping in the tub whenever I heard the spraying of semi-automatic weapons — which was often.

Being in Atlanta, particularly the AUC (which is Clark, Morehouse, Mo Brown, & Spelman) was heaven. I mean that. If I crossed the path of another Brother or Sister, we’d greet each other with peace or a right fist to the chest.

It was the first wave of Sistas wearing their hair natural (in my lifetime), we rocked African medallions, red, black, and green belts, ‘It’s Black Thang You Wouldn’t Understand’ T-shirts, being Afrocentric was a point of pride.

As I wrote here, we read every book that we could get our hands on that dealt with our identity and we discussed those books the same way people discuss their top 5 today. This is what the B-boy and B-girl was like in the Fall of 1990.

Despite that, for the majority of the semester (Sep — Dec), most of us didn’t listen to Rap. I always struggle to think of an album from those first months. I can think of some singles like “Around The Way Girl” or “Bonita Applebaum (Hootie Remix)” beyond that…I gots nothing.

It’s amazing how much time I spent in Club Woody (the nickname we had for Woodruff Library). If I wasn’t working on my school work, I was down in the basement, off to the left, four rows back in the African Religion section.

My main focus was on the African’s relationship with God. I studied the different initiation processes from KMT to the Bantu. I studied the Negative Confessions and how priests would study and learn self until they could control the weather. I read about how the Bantu would study and work to become one with Mantu, the great vital force (as Europeans came to describe it).

No matter the region, the African had an innate connection with nature and nature’s connection with God. Some cultures assigned God’s many attributes to animals causing the European to call the African animist. But that was never truly the case.

A vast majority of the cultures that I read about placed an emphasis on Self-Actualization. It was said that he or she who knew themselves would in turn know the universe — to know the microcosm is to know the macrocosm.

If one could master themselves, they could master the forces around them as they are one with them. Pretty heady stuff. But hella inspiring. The only thing that sounded remotely like that was the stuff I heard this Brother Wise kicking. He talked about man being god.

(l-r) Faruq, Daoud, True and Living, Wise, Khalim, & Alijuan circa 1992

Mymain objective when I got to college was to become a Jazz Aficionado.

Mo Better Blues came out right before my freshman year in College on August 3, 1990 and songs from the soundtrack played alongside Soul II Soul instrumentals during Coronation and Fashion Show intermissions.

You rolled up on anyone my first semester, they at least had that soundtrack or Miles Davis Kind of Blue. I wanted to go beyond that. I wanted to know everything that I possibly could about the music.

So what a blessing that I went to school in the AUC. We had (and still have) a 24 hour, 7 day a week Jazz Station. WCLK is solely responsible for me learning the kind of Jazz I prefer (modal), finding my favorite trumpet player (Clifford Brown), and learning the different eras of Jazz.

Every night at midnight, the DJ would play “Acknowledgement,” my intro to Coltrane, and he would give the Arabic greetings of As Salaam Alaikum Wa Rahmatullah. This is what I studied to. But on Sundays, I would be looking for something else. That’s how I found WRFG.

If I have to give credit to WCLK for educating me on Jazz, WRFG has to be credited with bringing me back into the Rap-fold. WRFG gave me the same feels that WBLS, KISS, or Power 99 used to give me.

They played 12” B-sides, remixes, bootlegs, songs that I still can’t find. And this was the era for that. Part of what I love so much about Rap between the years 1990 and 1994 are the hundreds of songs found on 12” or cassette single that never made it to an album.

WRFG played all them shits. And they played the hell out of some bootlegs. Years later, that’s where I heard Illmatic for the first time and it’s where I heard Brand Nubian for the first time.

I knew nothing about them when I heard “Brand Nubian” but I knew “Rigor Mortis.” The Jungle Brothers had used the song for the bridge on “Feelin’ Alright” and it was always one of my faves off Cardiac Arrest. It’s one of them Black family cookout jams.

Can’t lose with that sample. But the lyrics stopped me in my tracks:

Make the people aware that Black means first — Four hundreed years and we’re made to feel cursed — But now it’s our time to rule — Student of the old, teacher of the new school — My inspiration is the Five Percent Nation — As I cram, education was born

This is the first verse, delivered by Lord Jamar. (Sadat had an ill flow but rarely kicked that Five Percent shit). In the last verse, Puba offered up these gems:

I bet I’ll swing something this summer for the Benzi — Seep into the mind the brain and activate the pelvis — Keeping the blind, deaf, dumb, and blind is Elvis — Meaning old, so behold (The black, the beautiful, the bold) — Now if this falls short, I’ll try harder — A wisdom to me is someone like Assata

This was so-called conscious Rap very much in the same vein as The Native Tongues. They kicked these verses all within the confines of partying and having fun.

WRFG also played “All For One” and that song completely blew my wig back. Yes Puba and Sadat had ill rhymes but what stuck in my head and what I can never forget is the end of Lord Jamar’s verse:

Not a Dapper Dan fan, I stay casual — To rock like the J it comes gradual — You got to Know the Ledge to Wise the Dumb — And Understand your Culture of Freedom — Power Equally with the Gods — So you can Build and Born your Cipher — All your life you must teach truth — Of the True and Living God, not a mystery spook — And when you do that, pursue that goal — Which made the Student Enroll and only then you’ll prosper

It sounded like he was rapping with code..and he was (“Ragtime” was also played, but we’ll get to that). I wanted to know that code but in 1990…it was not that simple.

Them WRFG jawns were played right before the November break, a couple of weeks later, the album came out. I spent those weeks leading to the album release trying to get my hands on what was called Supreme Mathematics.

Wise was not coming off them. He pushed me off on his ‘Enlightener,’ Wakeel. Wakeel wanted to know if I was trying “to get down.” I ain’t know about all that, I just wanted to see what this Supreme Mathematics looked like.

Now you can Google em and get a gnarled, Frankenstein Math from god knows where. The only way you could get Supreme Mathematics in 1990 was someone had to allow you to copy theirs…and you had to “get down.” Since I wasn’t trying to do that, no dice.

Then the album came out.

The One For All cassette could have been an Al B Sure Nite/Day side type affair. Side One was The Brand Nubian side and Side Two was the Grand Puba Side. Side One was the Knowledge Side, Side Two was the Wisdom Side.

Opening with “All for One” was a good start, “Concerto In X Minor,” Sadat X’s solo, still brings a smile to my face — hearing a Cannonball Adderley sample can do that. Sadat X gave us the flip side narrative to X-Clan’s more militant one as he recounts the Yusuf Hawkins protest.

The protest known as The Day Of Outrage and Mourning was 7,500 people organized to protest the murder of sixteen year old Yusef Hawkins by a white mob. The protest was mired in violence. This is how Robert D. McFadden of the New York Times described the incident:

‘’Over the bridge!’’ someone shouted and the crowd surged forward into the police line. There was pushing and suddenly the clash erupted. Bricks, bottles and other missiles flew at the officers, who responded by swinging night sticks at protesters who tried to push through their ranks. Chief Scott was struck in the right cheek by a missile.

At least 20 police officers sustained injuries ranging from cuts to broken bones, and an unknown number of demonstrators were hurt in the 20-minute melee. Four people, including two photographers, were also arrested as the police kept the protesters off the bridge’s roadways. NYT, Sep 1 1989 pg B4

Brother J described the mind of those protestors, “Fist up to get down, always ready to step — And if they hit me with that stick yo man I’ll break your neck.” But Sadat gave the other version:

Now case in point y’all remember that Brooklyn Bridge joint — When things got wild and willy? — Yeah that day the Feds played the golden bully

Now we knew more were slain and we all felt the pain — of Yusef Hawkins, and they was mad but we was squakin’ — They tried to show a false compassion, yet at the rally — They tried to bash in our brains — Further adding to the bloodstains

I was mad at this news and so was my brothers — And I wanted to get violent but I’m a lover of Black mothers — And Black mothers need sons — Not children that’s been killed by guns

I had never even considered another perspective beyond being militant and violent. Sadat gave a more thoughtful perspective thus succeeding in one of my criteria for a classic — shit made me think.

“Ragtime” sticks out to me because of Grand Puba trying to throw off the scent of the Gap Band telling us if we want a beat like that “check the stack of Otis Redding,” that and Lord Jamar dropping Math again.

“Dance to My Ministry” is still one of my favorite songs, certainly my favorite thing that Lord Jamar has done. It’s a “Bad Tune.” And it’s lessons from top to bottom. Lost Tribe of Shabazz, Quran and 120 is his fuel, 12 Jewels, Show and Prove, Question and Answer Number 17 in Lost Found Muslim Lesson Number 2, the oft used Allah acronym, all that, rhymed fast as hell over a funky beat.

“Drop the Bomb.” Yo, I love reading the Genius annotations for songs like this. The stuff they miss is great and their explanation for things that they think they catch is hilarious. Like, they totally mess up Lord Jamar saying Just I See Equality (Justice) and Equality are must. Got him saying just I seek equality (I can read the twitter argument between me and the person who read and believes in annotations now).

Then, although they correctly point out where a couple of verses came from in the 1–36, they give the simplistic answer of the wrong food being pork but in the context of the song, Lord Jamar is talking about the mental food consumed that has us thinking like slaves. Jamar offers Islam as the solution for that.

Then a separate annotation posits that the Student Enrollment (the 1–10) is a Nation and Gods and Earth lesson which is entirely wrong. First of all, there was no such thing as that organization in 1990, we were Five Percenters or the Five Percent. Second of all, all the lessons originate from the Nation of Islam. Every one who registers in the NOI has to quote the Student Enrollment.

Then the annotator tries to explain Knowledge Knowledge. Just wrong. This same annotator also falsely claims that some of the Supreme Wisdom derives from Masonry…

See what I’m talking about? Before the internet, this type of thing wasn’t even possible. No one would pretend to know. And forbid the thought if they did because they would be confronted, you can bet on that.

If you wanted to know what that was about in 1990, you had to let someone TEACH you. There was no way around it. There was no other way for you to learn that information and that’s part of what made this album so appealing.

I could go through Grand Puba’s verse also but you get the point. I could also go through the whole album but this ain’t that type of party. I’m sure there’s retrospectives out the wazoo about the album. This is about how One For Allchanged my life.

All of the above mentioned led me into learning about the Five Percent, the tipping point was the video for the remix to “Wake Up.”

The video is magnetic enough, straight propaganda, which isn’t necessarily a bad word. The video PROPAGATES the Five Percent culture, from the beginning where a cipher is taking place, the Universal Flag being seen throughout the video, to the School being shown, I doubt anything done before or prior has had as much of a mass influence (in regards to the Five Percent).

Brothers are wearing crowns, there’s a huge ass Universal Flag behind Grand Puba as he raps, as well as on the neck of an elder, and on the pin of several people throughout the video. That Black and Gold was mighty attractive and hella magnetic.

Then there’s the lyrics. Without knowing the Lessons, Puba might as well be talking straight jibberish. “The attribute Hagi, Helpful to another God In need, He Allah God Islam…” Wait, what? That’s how the song starts.

“Making sure these travels are twenty-three million miles the other six I set the crucifix…” Ooook.

“Preacher got my old earth putting money in the pan…” Your what?

“I wrote this on the day of wisdom power, all being born to myself — god.”

So on and so forth. I’m sure folks listened to it and either phased the words out or did like we tend to do, made up their own words for what they thought Puba was saying.

After that, Hagi takes us through the 1–36. That’s the whole song. Lessons. With an accompanying video. From that moment on I was determined to learn what the hell Brand Nubian were talking about.

My African studies led me to believe that I could arrive their on my own but Brand Nubian and a verbal duel with Wakeel Allah ended all of that.

For the next ten months I researched everything that I possibly could on the Supreme Mathematics, writing down my own definitions, taking on my own name (Sayyed and myself both did, Zig and Zag, we thought that shit was fly), and hunting down someone to give me the lessons.

No one did.

I had to join. And on 31 Oct 1991, before a Rich’s night shift at Lenox Mall, Wakeel finally let me photocopy his Supreme Mathematics, I memorized the words and definitions that night, found an attribute both in English and Arabic that weekend, got tested that next Monday, was on to my Supreme Alphabets, and finished my lessons by 8 March of 1992.

Brand Nubian made the Five Percent appealing. They were B-boys who could rap but they also dropped knowledge. They were fallible, ‘loved’ women, stylish, a couple of years my senior, they were like us.

When I read people saying that 808 and Heartbreaks changed their lives, I can imagine that it was to them what 3 Feet High and Rising was to me, something that made them feel that it was okay to be themselves. If they’re musicians, I gather that it opened up to them the possibilities of making music outside of Rap and R&B.

But I doubt Kanye changed the whole course of their lives.

The past twenty-six years of my life, the majority of my relationships and experiences (I can RELATE to the opposition the Prophet (saw) faced, and know what it’s like standing on belief in the sight of death), all can be traced to that time in my life, my study, my environment, and the catalyst that was One For All.

I remember once I learned the Lessons, listening to the album with a grin. It all seemed so simple to me. And that was part of what made it so dope. That was the power of Rap.

Learning 120 cracked that album open for me as well as Rakim verses, Poor Righteous Teacher verses, Just-Ice verses, etc. It’s also why people’s so-called conscious albums do nothing for me now, if Brand Nubian was steak, that shit be baby food, but that’s another writing for another day. Peace.

The beautiful sound of Anuna is behind window 9

Anúna is Ireland’s flagship acappella vocal ensemble representing the beauty of Irish musical heritage and literature all over the world.

In 1987, Irish composer Michael McGlynn founded the choir in an effort to create a physical voice for his compositions, many of which are strongly influenced by the history and mythology of his homeland. Ireland has a long and sophisticated history of traditional singing or sean nós. McGlynn uses this as the basis for much of his arrangement and composition. Within these songs are universal truths told through the landscape, the philosophy and the mythology of Ireland and beyond.

The name Anúna is derived from the Gaelic term An Uaithne, a collective description for the three ancient forms of Irish music –  Goltraí (song of lament), Geantraí  (song of joy) and Suantraí (the lullaby). An Uaithne and subsequently ANÚNA, is a uniquely beautiful instrument. Over the last thirty years its unique status in Irish musical life has allowed it to create and develop an education programme that the group have taken all over the world.

France mourns their ‘rockeur national’ Johnny Hallyday RIP

One of rock’n’roll’s great showmen whose immense popularity in France never waned.

Johnny Hallyday, who has died aged 74, was France’s rockeur national. In the course of a career that spanned more than half a century, he recorded more than 1,000 songs, sold more than 110m records, and was seen live on more than 180 sellout tours by an estimated 28m people – the equivalent, roughly, of a third of the population of France. It would be difficult to exaggerate the place Hallyday occupied in the collective memory and hearts of his countrymen. Outside France, with the honourable exceptions of French-speaking Belgium and Switzerland, he was viewed mostly with bemusement.

Hallyday’s detractors pointed to the derivative nature of his material: he faithfully copied almost every major rock star from the 1960s on, from Buddy Holly to Elvis Presley, the Who to the Stones, Hendrix to Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi to Prince. More than a quarter of all his recordings were French adaptations of English-language songs. Even his sternest critics, though, would concede that Hallyday was one of rock’s great showmen, almost certainly the only French performer capable not just of selling out, on three successive nights, the Stade de France, but of holding its 80,000-strong crowd rapt in the palm of his hand. His last great free concert, on Bastille Day 2009, at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, drew a live audience of between 800,000 and 1 million people.

Born Jean-Philippe Smet in the Cité Malesherbes estate in Paris, Hallyday was the son of Huguette Clerc and Léon Smet, an itinerant Belgian who at the time was married to another woman. His parents separated within a few months of his birth and Hallyday was raised by a paternal aunt, Hélène Mar. Her two daughters, Menen and Desta, were professional dancers, and from an early age Hallyday accompanied the family on tour in France and abroad. His aunt paid for dance and guitar lessons, and by the age of nine Hallyday was performing on stage during his cousins’ costume changes.

Johnny Hallyday on stage at the Olympia music hall in Paris, 1962.
 Johnny Hallyday on stage at the Olympia music hall in Paris, 1962. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Desta’s husband, an American whose stage name, Lee Halliday, Hallyday borrowed and misspelled, was an early influence: one song the young Johnny performed in Copenhagen in the mid-50s was The Ballad of Davy Crockett. Aged 14 and back in Paris, Hallyday saw Elvis Presley’s Lovin’ You at the cinema: it determined, he would later say, the course of his life.

Hallyday began performing regularly at an early Paris rock venue, Golf-Drouot, and in late 1959 was signed by Vogue records following an appearance on the Paris Cocktail radio show. His first record was released in March 1960; the second single from that four-track EP, Souvenirs Souvenirs, which he performed on television, marked his definitive breakthrough.

By the following year, Hallyday was topping the bill at the Olympia music hall in Paris. His Viens Danser le Twist launched the transatlantic dance craze in France, and a switch to the Philips record label saw the release of his hugely successful first album, Salut les Copains. The first major tour of France by the man now known as l’idole des jeunes witnessed scenes of near-hysteria among fans. A concert at the Place de la Nation drew a crowd of 150,000; France’s yé-yégeneration was born and Hallyday was its leader and the country’s biggest new star. President Charles de Gaulle was so disgusted at this corruption of the country’s youth that he suggested Hallyday fans should be drafted into road-gangs “because they clearly have too much energy to spare”.

Johnny Hallyday performing at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy stadium in Paris, 1992.
 Johnny Hallyday performing at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy stadium in Paris, 1992. Photograph: Francois Xavier Marit/AFP/Getty Images

Remarkably, the singer’s immense popularity in France never really waned. He was, for better or worse, the god of Gallic rock, with all that came with it: the alcohol, the orgies, the fights, the tax scandals and the fast cars (including the Lamborghini from which he walked unscathed after a 125mph pile-up). There was a suicide attempt as early as 1966, and a now-famous drugs confession many years later. There were weddings, flings and divorces. Hallyday was married four times: first, to the pop singer Sylvie Vartan, from 1965 to 1980, with whom he had a son, David; then, in succession, to the actors Babeth Étienne and Adeline Blondieau; and, finally, in 1996, to Laeticia Boudou, a model. He also had a relationship in the 80s with the actor Nathalie Baye, with whom he had a daughter, Laura. All of it helped earn Hallyday some 60 Paris Match covers, more than any other Frenchman. He was a friend of Jacques Chirac, who made him a chevalier of the Légion d’honneur in 1997, and an even closer friend of Nicolas Sarkozy.

Hallyday enjoyed, in fact, the kind of collective adulation the French accord to very few – Edith Piaf, Georges Brassens, Jacques Brel. He was the idol of the farmer and the factory worker, but also of the Left Bank set, who even in the 60s were describing him as “a new Orpheus”, a “French Mayakovsky”, the “ultimate existentialist”. He acted in cult movies, such as Jean-Luc Godard’s 1985 film Détective, and won an award in 2003 for his role in Patrice Leconte’s L’Homme du Train. The conservative Le Figaro summed up his appeal thus: Johnny was, it said, “venerated on the right and on the left, by the people and the intelligentsia, and above all recognised for what he always has been: a sincere artist, a phenomenon on stage, a performer whose every song sticks like [Proust’s] madeleine in the memory of millions of French people”.
Johnny Hallyday, right, as Milan and Jean Rochefort as Manesquier in L’Homme du Train, 2003
 Johnny Hallyday, right, as Milan and Jean Rochefort as Manesquier in L’Homme du Train, 2003

Few outside France, of course, ever really understood this. Hallyday’s records went gold 40 times and platinum 22 times in France, yet sold barely a copy in Britain or the US. Besides the biggest talents in French music, from Michel Polnareff to Michel Berger, Jean-Jacques Goldman to Pascal Obispo, he worked with some enormous British and American names – Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Peter Frampton, Mick Jones. Of his 50 studio and 29 live albums, only a tiny handful were recorded in English: in a positively Springsteen-esque snarl, without a hint of an accent. Like the rest, they were huge hits in France, and bombed elsewhere.

Cruel tongues said that Hallyday’s popularity reflected a cavernous void at the heart of French popular music; the deep-seated envy of a country that has never produced its own Beatles or Stones. Others blamed France’s enduring and hugely nostalgic love affair with the post-war US of Route 66 and Rebel Without a Cause, a love affair that Hallyday, blond, beleathered and Brylcreemed, took considerable care to nurture (his favourite pastime, he said, was riding one of his many Harleys through the Californian desert and staying in small motels).

Hallyday’s abiding tragedy, as he himself admitted, was to have been born in France, land of the sentimental chanson. The language of Molière and Descartes, he knew, did not work with riffs and quiffs. “French lyrics are too unwieldy for rock,” he admitted once. “Our words are too long. And in French, you have to sing words that are conneries, you know, stupid things. You just can’t sing rock’n’roll in French.”

Johnny Hallyday at the Francofolies festival, La Rochelle, 2015.
 Johnny Hallyday at the Francofolies festival, La Rochelle, 2015. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

He received a diagnosis of colon cancer in 2009, then, later the same year, endured an operation on a herniated disc that resulted in him being put in a medically induced coma for three weeks. When news leaked, the doctor responsible for the surgery was attacked in his home.

Hallyday recovered to put out the album L’Attente in 2012, promoted by his first-ever gigs in the UK, at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Two more followed, in 2014 and 2015, as well as a 90-date tour – Rester Vivant (Staying Alive) – that ended last year.

In the end, then, perhaps one of Hallyday’s greatest achievements was simply to have survived at the top for so long“I’m just an interpreter,” he once told Le Monde. “I’ve only ever written a few songs in my life, and I needed a lot of cocaine to do that. But I can put across to an audience some of my feelings. And I cannot live any other way.”

He is survived by Laeticia, their daughters, Jade and Joy, and by David and Laura.

 Johnny Hallyday (Jean-Philippe Smet), singer, born 15 June 1943; died 6 December 2017

2 Great new Arrangements for Wind and Brass from Ashley Buxton

If like me, you are always looking for new repertoire for your ensembles, and need a balance between playability and interest, then these two new arrangements by Ashley Buxton are a perfect match. Click on the images below to see a sample and here a digital preview.

Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, Alto Sax, Tenor Sax, Trumpet, Trombone, Tuba, Horn in F, Euphonium, Drums, Wind Band/Concert band – Intermediate
By Nat “King” Cole. Arranged by Ashley S Buxton. Score, Set of Parts. 34 pages. Published by Ashley Mark Publishing Company (H0.294897-588900).

Brass Choir or Ensemble, Drum Set – Advanced Intermediate
By PSY. Arranged by Ashley S Buxton. Score, Set of Parts. 20 pages. Published by Ashley Mark Publishing Company (H0.294899-227549).

Item Number: H0.294899-227549

The popular Gangnam Style. This version is for Brass Ensemble.

‘River,’ the ‘thoroughly depressing’ Joni Mitchell song that somehow became a Christmas classic

Go to the profile of The Lily News

Plenty of artists have been dreaming of a very, very blue Christmas over the last two decades: “River” — originally featured on Mitchell’s melancholy 1971 masterwork, “Blue” — has become a seasonal favorite, despite being “thoroughly depressing,” as Elbow frontman Guy Garvey noted at a 2009 Christmas concert.

Or perhaps it’s ascended to holiday-hit status precisely because it’s an antidote to all those “songs of joy and peace.”

“We needed a sad Christmas song, didn’t we?” Mitchell said with a chuckle on NPR in 2014. “In the ‘bah humbug’ of it all.”

“River” has long been a popular cover among musicians, more than 500 of whom have recorded it for commercial release. Countless others have performed it in concert.

“We kind of turned it into a Christmas song, even though it was not written as a Christmas song,” White, who started the “River”-as-holiday-song trend nearly two decades ago, said at a holiday concert in 2011.

Christmas collections it’s included in
  • British jazz-fusion guitarist Peter White featured it on his 1997 album, “Songs of the Season”
  • Barry Manilow’s “A Christmas Gift of Love”
  • Linda Ronstadt’s “A Merry Little Christmas”
  • Tracey Thorn’s “Tinsel and Lights”
  • Heart’s “Home for Christmas”
  • Sarah McLachlan’s Grammy-nominated “Wintersong”
  • Idina Menzel’s “Holiday Wishes” album in 2014
  • 98 Degrees’s new album, “Let It Snow”
  • Sam Smith, the best-selling British singer-songwriter, recently covered “River” for Spotify’s Christmas playlist and gushed: “Joni Mitchell is one of the reasons why I write music. … It was a dream to be given the opportunity to cover this song.”
  • Keane frontman Tom Chaplin’s new album, “Twelve Tales of Christmas” has a moody version of “River”

About the song

Linda Ronstadt said “River” was an obvious choice when she recorded her own holiday album, “A Merry Little Christmas,” in 2000.

Ronstadt said at the time that she’d never discussed the meaning of the song with her old friend, Mitchell.

But she had some ideas about what might have inspired it — possibly including Mitchell’s daughter, who was born in the 1960s, when the singer was 21 and about to move from Saskatoon to Toronto.

Mitchell gave the child up for adoption and didn’t have any contact with her until 1997.

“I think that’s what a lot of her singing is about, because it has this very sad tinge,” Ronstadt speculated. “But who really knows if that’s what ‘River’ is about? The answer is: I don’t know, and I bet Joni doesn’t, either.”

James Taylor

James Taylor, who knows the song better than just about anybody aside from Mitchell, said in a 2006 interview with The Post that “I don’t know why it’s suddenly getting picked up as a Christmas song. But some things just become identified as seasonal songs, and this is now one of them.”

At the time, Taylor had just released “James Taylor at Christmas,” which included “River” — a song he’d first heard decades earlier, when Mitchell played it at her home in Los Angeles in 1970, shortly after it was written.

“Most Christmas songs are light and shallow, but ‘River’ is a sad song,” Taylor told The Post. “It starts with a description of a commercially produced version of Christmas in Los Angeles . . . then juxtaposes it with this frozen river, which says, ‘Christmas here is bringing me down.’ It only mentions Christmas in the first verse. Then it’s, ‘Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on’ — wanting to fall into this landscape that she remembers.

“It’s such a beautiful thing, to turn away from the commercial mayhem that Christmas becomes and just breathe in some pine needles. It’s a really blue song.”

Taylor said the song is most likely autobiographical, given that “it starts with a girl from Canada watching them try to make Christmas on La Brea in Los Angeles.”

But he told The Post in 2006 that he’d never actually discussed the meaning with Mitchell, with whom he was romantically involved in the early 1970s.

“Do I want to know who she made cry, who she made say goodbye? Well, I haven’t asked her that question,” Taylor said. “That’s the only mystery in it: Who was it whose heart she broke?”

With a laugh, he added: “There were a lot of us.”

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