Music for Autumn: A Season of Telling Stories
Autumn is a season of harvest, of celebration, of gathering of family, friends, and community, of shorter days and longer nights. A season of telling stories in company, of reflecting in solitude. A season of change. There is music to go along with all this...
Jennifer Cutting has written a song which takes in aspects of changing times, changing in lives and circumstance that this time of year brings about. She’s called it Leaves of Autumn. Cutting wrote it initially for an album her friend and fellow musician Grace Griffith decided to make as she was living with the changes in her life brought on by Parkinson’s disease. The arrangement that Cutting has done for her own group, Ocean Orchestra, features vocals by Lisa Moscatiello and Celtic harp from Sue Richards.
“What was will never be again
What will be is uncharted
What’s now is change so let’s begin
Among the Leaves of Autumn,”
Cutting writes. Jennifer Cutting and The Ocean orchestra have released Leaves of Autumn as a digital single; it does not appear on any of their albums. In this video, you may hear Moscatiello sing the song unaccompanied.
Chris Smither knows a good bit about that uncharted territory of change. Raised in New Orleans, he followed his music to the vibrant folk scene of Cambridge. Still on the Levee finds him revisiting songs from his -- so far -- fifty year road trip in song writing, and returning to New Orleans to record new versions of them. Drawing on blues and folk tradition, Chris Smither is a songwriter willing to challenge with word and idea, with guitar and rhythm and voice, while fitting those challenges into music and words that become a natural extension of blues and folk history. You’ll not go wrong with any of the twenty five tracks on the two disc set that make up Still on the Levee. If you are new to Smither’s music, Link of Chain, Rosalie, and No Love Today are good places to begin to understand his gifts.
There’s another way to experience Smither’s songs, too: Link of Chain: A Songwriter’s Tribute to Chris Smither, is an album which stands well on its own and works as a companion piece for Still on the Levee. Sixteen musicians, all gifted writers on their own, offer varied interpretations of the man’s music. Aoife O’Donovan and Stephanie Coleman collaborate to bring a haunting Appalachian feeling to the song Small Revelations. Tim O’Brien’s wry sense of humor and natural phrasing add to Origin of the Species. Then there’s the song from Smither’s around the corner neighbor from his Cambridge days, Bonnie Raitt.
Stoney LaRue investigates change from another standpoint. With a name like that, you’d almost know he has to be a country singer, and he is, with song writing chops informed as much by Bob Dylan and country rock as by his years living in Texas and Oklahoma. Aviator is his new release. It features energy-packed tracks that bring crowds to their feet at his live shows, alongside thought provoking songs, including the image-filled title track and the look at relationship and change in the song First One to Know.
The Hello Strangers, who are sisters Brechyn Chace and Larissa Chace Smith, bring country, folk, and Americana storytelling to their songs, songs which seem to fit in well with the gathering that autumn brings. After spending time in the thriving music scene of Austin, Texas, the sisters brought their music back to what they describe as their Pennsytucky roots. Their self-titled album includes love songs, story songs, and the rather appropriate for Halloween tale they tell in Conococheaague. All this shows the sisters’ song writing skills to be as accomplished as their harmonies. Other musicians who sit in include names that may be familiar, including Jim Lauderdale on vocals, Wanda Vick on viola, and Steve Ivey on a range of instruments, from keyboards to mandolin.
In North America, autumn often brings to mind stories of the First Peoples. Louie Gonnie is from the Dine of the southwest. His album Spiraling, Ascending with Prayer takes in spiritual landscapes as well as geographic and emotional ones. With his original music composed in the tradition of prayers of the Native American Church, Gonnie offers pieces including Upon Tranquil Waters, Council of the Fallen, and May Your Dreams Always Come True. He sings most often in Native languages. Here is a song from an earlier recording which includes English words as well, giving a flavor of Gonnie’s writing and singing.
Christine Albert lives in the southwest as well. She is based in Austin and her style works the boundaries of folk, roots, country, and Americana music in ways which perfectly suit her lovely alto with an edge voice. The title track of her recording Everything’s Beautiful Now comes from Albert sitting with her husband’s mother as that lady was passing on; many of the lines, Albert says, come directly from her mother in law’s words.
The songs Albert has chosen and the ones she has written for the album sort themselves around the ideas of change. They include standout original songs Old New Mexico and Flower of the Moon, along with Jackson Browne’s For a Dancer, Shake Russell and Dana Cooper’s Lean My Way, and a graceful conclusion with Tom Peterson’s My Heart’s Prayer. Sitting in with Albert are her husband Chris Gage, her son Troupe Gammage, and a number of musical friends including Eliza Gilkyson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Kym Warner of The Greencards, Lloyd Maines, and Glenn Fukunaga. Here's a nice video of Christine Albert, with her husband and musical partner Chris Gage on guitar. The song is called Full Moon Night. Christine wrote it and it is on their album called Albert & Gage At Anderson Fair.
Brittany Haas, Paul Kowert, and Jordan Tice each have careers with other musical projects. They've discovered that they really have things to say when they make music together, too, so they’ve brought the spirit that has seen them work with cutting edge musicians such as Crooked Still (Haas), The Punch Brothers (Kowert), and Noam Pikelny (Tice); to conversations among fiddle, bass, and guitar that draws on blues, country dance rhythms, jazz, Americana, and Celtic flavors to create instrumental music that is both adventurous and accessible -- so perhaps it is no surprise at all that they chose to call their album You Got This.
Kyle Carey relishes combining and exploring genres and seeing where those changes lead her. In her case, the basics are Americana, especially Appalachian music, and Celtic, especially the music of Scotland. Carey merges both well in her recording North Star, drawing on hints of folk tales to create contemporary stories and staying true to intent while adding to interpretations of traditional and contemporary covers. Many of her characters are seeking or experiencing changes, such as the fisherman and his bride in the title track, or the story of wanderlust told in Winter Fever. Wind Through Casper is an immigration song with a spooky twist. Carey melds both Americana and Celtic in her cover of Kate Wolf’s Across the Great Divide and offers the gentle Down to the River to Pray -- Sios Dhan an Abhainn -- in Scottish Gaelic.
Take a listen to these stories and tales as you make your way through this season -- and possibly as you are thinking of holiday gifts as well. There’s varied music here, music for meditation, dance, inspiration, laughter, and conversation as you make your way through autumn.
Kerry Dexter is the Music Editor at Wandering Educators. You may reach Kerry at music at wanderingeducators dot com
Find more of Kerry's work in Journey to Scotland, National Geographic Traveler, Ireland and the Americas, Perceptive Travel, and other places online and in print, as well as at her site Music Road.