Passages: Music for Rough Times and Calmer Spaces

by Kerry Dexter /
Kerry Dexter's picture
Aug 18, 2020 / 0 comments

The saying that walking on uneven ground is good for improving balance strikes me as a metaphor for parts of the shifting times we are in at present. Music to help you think about that here, from rough seas to calmer waters, from quiet walks to a  tale holding wisdom from older times.

Passages: Music for Rough Times and Calmer Spaces

Ready for the Storm was written by Dougie MacLean, who comes from Highland Perthshire, in Scotland. Country and folk singer Kathy Mattea has often worked with Dougie. In this video, she sings lead and he takes a backing role. It comes from a Transatlantic Sessions recording in Scotland some years back, with another musician whose music you've met in this series, Molly Mason, also adding backing vocals. You will find Ready for the Storm on Kathy Mattea's album Time Passes By, and you may want to look for her recent recording Pretty Bird as well.

The story in Passage West is about changes and choices. It is a contemporary song, written by Irishman John Spillane. John is from Cork, the landscape which frames this emigration tale. Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh sings lead on the song, which the band Danu recorded on their album Buan. This video is from a Celtic Connections concert at The Old Fruitmarket in which the members of Danu are joined by several guests, including Phil Cunningham and Julie Fowlis. Also look for Muireann's most recent release, Thar Toinn/Seaborne.

Bruce Foley has been part of a number of bands in New England and the northeastern US, and has worked as sideman with Andy M. Stewart, Tommy Sands, and others. The song Row On, which he has recorded on his album Turning the Tides, comes in part from notes written in a log book of a Nantucket whaler in 1846. It has also become the closing song for online music sessions Foley and his wife Mary Coogan (you will know her from her work as a member of Cherish the Ladies) have been offering of late on Sunday afternoons through his Facebook page, BruceFoleyMusic.

Carrie Newcomer considers another sort of haven in her song Shelter of the Sky.

I don't how
I don't why
I've always felt so at home
Beneath the shelter of the sky

she sings. You will find the song on her album The Point of Arrival.

You will get to see quite a bit of the sky over Scotland in the video Ewen Henderson made to go along with his tune Camas Daraich. He composed it thinking of a place in  the west of Scotland, overlooking Skye and the Small Isles, which is the site of many happy childhood memories for him, and more recent ones too, as it was the site of his sister's wedding a few years back. You will find it recorded on Henderson's album called Steall, a word which means torrent in Gaelic. Ewen is also a member of the band Manran; you'll have seen his work with them on a song in an earlier article of this series.

To draw this episode to a close, there's a tale of myth from Shetland called King Orfeo. In it, there's danger, grief, despair, change, hope, patience, coruage, mercy, and the healing power of music. Quite a lot for one song, but it's all there for you to discover. Emily Smith sings it here. You will find it on her album Echoes, and you will also want to see her duo project with her husband and musical partner Jamie McClennan. That album is called Small Town Stories.


Thank you for staying with us through this journey. Below, you'll find a link that will take you to an article which has a bit more backstory on the series. It also has links to a number of the stories, including ones called Listening for Community, Music for Winter's Changes, and The Geography of Hope.

Music for Shifting Times

Music for Shifting Times




Kerry Dexter is Music Editor at Wandering Educators. You may reach Kerry at music at wanderingeducators dot com.

You may find more of Kerry's work in National Geographic Traveler, Strings, Perceptive Travel, Journey to Scotland, Irish Fireside, and other places, as well as at her own site, Music Road.