Sunday, January 02, 2005

mompoet sound journal #2

Damien Rice
Vector Recordings 2003
***** (out of 5 - I promise I won't just love everything, but I do love this)

Why do we love sad? When my friend Cathy loaned me Damien Rice she cautioned me that this is not "light, uplifting listening," but I am willing to listen to anything for this project, and this is Cathy's favourite CD of 2004, and I trust her. Why do we love sad so much? More about that later.

Cathy's family is all about music. She studied music for years and played in the Burnaby Ladies Pipe band. As a teen, she saved her babysitting money to buy albums. She still plays music at home, accompanying her favourite CDs on the djembe. Her husband, Terry, manages local artist Laura Doyle through his agency, Hystar Entertainment. Previously he worked for A&M, Universal and BMG. Currently, he is President of Music BC. Terry and Cathy hang out with musicians, go to shows and concerts all the time and have the most amazing contemporary music collection that I know about. They have promised to help me with my listening project. (Daughter Megan's pick, The Be Good Tanyas, will be next week's review.) Cathy's favourite artists are Nina Simone, Etta James, Damien Rice, Natalie Merchant, David Gray, Neil Young, BB King, Laura Doyle, Po Girl, Wailin Jennys and Sarah Harmer. Favourite concerts were Ray Charles, Judy Collins, Vince Gill (although she rarely listens to country any more), BB King, Eric Clapton, Rolling Stones and The Eagles. Her music fantasy is to put on a big party for all of her friends and hire Colin James to play for us.

Cathy found about about Damien Rice from her friend, Laura Doyle. Cathy says, "I loved how the songs 'ran into' each other. I enjoyed listening to the quiet lines spoken at the end of the songs, the cello was fantastic, his harmonies with the female singer were beautiful and he sang from deep down in his soul." She shares the CD with Megan, who is also "hooked." Cathy concludes, "At one point we listened to it so much that I thought we might actually wear it out."

Damien Rice is a singer from Ireland who played with a band called Juniper for several years before recording on his own. O is his first full-length CD (there are a few singles) and it is sad. The album is all ballads. Every one is about loss, disappointment, unrequited love, despair. It's named for The Story of O, the classic erotic novel of dominance and submission, and one of the songs refers to the novel. Damien sings and plays the guitar and a few other instruments. He sings with Lisa Hannigan, who has a hidden track at the end of the CD - her own version of Silent Night. The first thing I noticed when I listened was Damien's voice. If he was a classical singer, he'd be a tenor for sure. In some songs he moves up to a falsetto voice for parts of the song. In many songs, he starts out barely whispering, then builds to such volume and intensity that I had to turn my volume control down because my daughter informed me, "I can hear you upstairs Mom." (that's kind of a nice reversal, isn't it?) I watched a couple of Damien's concert videos on the web. The stage is dark. There are no rockets, no leaping about. Musicians sit in chairs or stand and sing and play. Very spare, very sad, and also beautiful. The cello, played by Vyvienne Long, adds layers of sadness and drama. The sound is clean and direct, but not uncomplicated. There is a gregorian chant in one song, and in another, an opera singer, singing Damien's words translated into Finnish because they sound better in that language. All of the tracks except one were recorded in people's homes using portable recording equipment. The lyrics are original too. Here are a few lines from my favourite song, Cannonball:

stones taught me to fly
love taught me to lie
life, it taught me to die
so it's not hard to fall
when you float like a cannonball

You can listen to music and look at lyrics at Damien Rice's official website.

The hit single from the album is Blower's Daughter (featured in the movie, Closer). All of the songs are very good. The sound/tone/theme is consistent and unifying, but the songs are each different from one another. Most important to me, I felt emotional sincerity. My "I am being manipulated" button is pretty easy to push. Nothing touched it in this case.

So why do we love sad so much? I think about the times when I have experienced deep sadness, pain and loss and I know that when I feel this way, it feels good to hear a beautiful and articulate expression of someone else's sadness. It's not just that feeling of "I am not alone," although that's there. It's more like the beauty of the expression raises my own sadness to a level of perfection and beauty. It's kind of an upside-down emotional aesthetic, but it's real and powerful and totally valid, I believe.

When I am happy (which is most of the time) I still love expressions of sadness. I believe that a deep river of sadness runs underneath our day-to-day living, and is an essential element of our emotional/spiritual existence. Understanding and appreciating this sadness - dipping a toe in the river by listening to music like Damien Rices' O - maintains my awareness of this aspect of life. I believe that it is the basis of compassion and generosity.

So there we go, a very sad, very beautiful work of music that I will love to listen to when I am happy and when I am sad.

Thank you Cathy!

Question: none today

mompoet - palms full of jewels

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