Most of us remember when our parents read to us. Many parents choose to read nursery rhymes or less serious (if only on the surface) examples from literature. Natalie Merchant had an enriching experience reading to her daughter for six years but still felt that in many cases “the dried yellow parchment” needed a spark. Defining that spark led to her most ambitious project ever. Leave Your Sleep is a collection of old poems set to new music. Merchant immersed herself in the project, completing over 50 of these arrangements. We have an advance collection of 16.
She did not cut corners on collaboration or creativity. Richie Stearns and Judy Hyman of The Horseflies join her on several songs. Acclaimed hammered dulcimer player, Bill Spence is included. So is Wynton Marsalis who created a New Orleans style jazz arrangement of Nathalia Crane’s “The Janitor’s Boy.” British poet Charles Causley’s “Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience” includes the Irish group Lunasa plus a string section of 13 additional musicians. Gospel music’s Fairfield Four add power and grace to Arthur Macy’s “The Peppery Man.” Each song startles you by how different it is in style and arrangement from the one before it.
This project must have consumed Merchant, but we are the luckier for it. Leave Your Sleep will certainly be recognized by the Grammys and hopefully will be used in literature classes to invite young ears to sample the joy of classic writing.
Originality may be the brightest source of invitation. When you haven’t heard of a group before and your ears are sampling their songs for the first time, instruments and voices may catch your ear, but creativity demands your attention. Tripping Lilly is a new quartet from Cape Cod. Most of their songs are fresh and melodic and sung with energy. The group is lead by brothers Demetrius and Alex Becrelis on guitar and mandolin mostly. Monica Rizzo lays fiddle and all sing well, especially when they harmonize. All three play ukuleles, which I would imagine would be fun to see as well as to hear. Laird Boles fills out the sound with warmth on upright bass.
Though comparisons seldom offer specifics, they might help in this instance since the group’s sound is so new. Alex sounds a bit like Chris Thile when he sings, and even when he plays. The overall sound of the group is like a mix of Thile and the folk pop group, We’re About Nine. “Little Black Dress,” sung by Monica, has bluegrass intensity, but many other songs range from folk-pop to vaudeville. During “Guilty,” Alex and Monica sing verses to the other as if they were each alone at the time. In essence, we get to hear both of their private thoughts at once. “Getting Good” offers a joyful conclusion that solid relationships do happen, and in fact you can become successful at them with experience.
Right now Tripping Lily have only listed dates on the east coast, but they have a video posted on their website. Expect to hear more about them.
Darrell Scott came to Nashville as a session guitarist. He became sought after. Today he also plays mandolin, banjo, lap steel, piano, bass, and slide guitar. As a song writer, Darrell’s songs have been covered by The Dixie Chicks, Clint Black, Sam Bush and countless others. It may be as singer, however, he becomes famous. He has a voice which can soar one moment and be soft spoken the next. All of these talents have lead to A Crooked Road, a 2 CD set in which Darrell wrote every song, sings every part, and plays every instrument. After listening to this one man wonder, you’ll wonder why he’s not famous now.
The album’s title is a thoughtful retrospective on life’s path. Today you can see what lies just ahead. Imagine for a moment that you are years along that path looking back toward where you are now. Darrell claims that your overall experience will be positive, even joyful, but it will NOT be a clear straight road along the way. Perhaps knowing this will help you in your eventual struggle. It’s all about attitude. “Candles in the Rain (Childless Mothers)” is very poetic and may describe women at the end of their lives who don’t have children to visit them. Scott’s best talent is capturing moments. In “Tonight I’m Missing You” he’ll drop you in your tracks as you’ll find yourself remembering the one who got away. He offers a wonderful thank you to his children in “A Father’s Song,” and you’ll have a hard time not smiling as you eavesdrop during “The Day Before Thanksgiving”
These songs have the magic to catch your ear upon first hearing them, and the staying power to invite you back many times, to fall in love with them. Darrell Scott is as good as it gets.