Walking the World of Music with Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem

by Kerry Dexter /
Kerry Dexter's picture
Apr 21, 2015 / 1 comments

A young girl who learned music from from medieval to Poulenc to Paul Winter in the choir at a great cathedral, a boy who loved jumping on his parents' bed, not so much for the love of jumping as for the love of the sounds the springs made, another boy who was drawn to the sound of the bagpipes and knew he had to learn to play them, and a boy who found a dusty old guitar and knew he had to figure it out: Rani Arbo, Scott Kessel, Andrew Kinsey, and Anand Nayak began early on their musical paths.

Classical music, jazz, swing, bluegrass, rock, blues, country, Cajun, Caribbean music, West African music, the musics of Ireland and Scotland and Cape Breton, and other flavors and spices of music: these all became part of the varied lives and learning one or the other and sometimes all four of them chose and encountered. All of this flows together in the deep well they draw on to make their own music as the New England based band Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem. Their most recent recording is called Violets Are Blue.

Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem

Through the fifteen years that Arbo, Kessel, Kinsey, and Nayak have been working together, they have created a distinct and ever evolving presence -- a presence that is defined as much by the ideas they choose to express as by the music and words they choose to express them. What you can expect from Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem on record and in concert is music that will welcome you in, invite you to dance, or tap your feet or join in on the chorus, to have a laugh, to snap your fingers to the beat, and to reflect and consider and make new discoveries long after the last note fades away.

Love is the thread which runs through the songs on Violets Are Blue. Not sentimental stories nor dark ballads of love gone bad, though; these are songs which evoke the work, the balance, the surprise, and the questions inherent in loving deeply and well, and keeping that sort of love going through days and decades. Centering the music are six songs written by Arbo, many of which she worked on while out walking. The opener, Heart of the World, finds the songwriter taking just such a walk, reminding listeners (and herself) of the uplifting to be found in a day to day look around the neighborhood. "I let my quirky neighborhood remind me I'm not alone. There's so much beauty and humanity out there (and inside); the hard part is getting out of your head enough to notice it," she says. Arbo's smokey alto is framed in a snap your fingers beat with percussion from Kessel, bass beats from Kinsey, and guitar and lap steel added by Nayak.  

Walking the World of Music with Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem

Andrew Kinsey takes the lead on Down by the Water, and the band's mastery of progressive country chops comes into focus as he tells this story which could be enigmatic, could be straightforward, could be something else entirely. In any case, as Kinsey points out "You won't be looking at turbines, dams, and sluices the same way again." Walk Around the Wheel finds the band's harmonies framing a sea shanty song -- a sea shanty for marriage, if you will. Kinsey comments that "Shanties are basically work songs that help sailors work in sync, not to mention keep spirits up during long journeys or rough seas. Without them, momentum is lost and accidents happen — nothing you want in the middle of the Atlantic, or in a marriage, for that matter." This song, too, was written by Arbo. 

May Erlewine Bernard wrote the song I Love This City. It is a love song to New Orleans -- one Erlewine  wrote while watching reports of Hurricane Katrina -- and as much as it is centered on a real and particular place, it also works as a way to share the feeling for any well loved landscape. Love for land and the intersections of that with love for a partner comes in through Arbo's song Piece of Land, a quiet meditation which holds ideas of searching, choices, and change. One of the ideas she had in mind when writing, Arbo says, is the stories of women who got into covered wagons "headed," she says "for the wilderness of their husbands' dreams."

It was a different sort of story which led Anand Nayak to write If I'm One. "The band was in Arkansas, doing a residency in Fayetteville," he says, "when we were offered tickets to see the Dalai Lama, along with activists Sister Helen Prejean and Vincent Harding, speak on the subject of non-violence. Each of them spoke simply and with great assuredness about their commitment to the idea of non-violence." He came away from the event with the first line and the idea of the song, which among other things take a poetic look at the ideas of love, sacrifice, and balance, beginning in his mind.

Violets Are Blue closes with the song Sweet and the Bitter, which raises many of the good and lasting and hard questions of love and offers a few indirect answers. Rani Arbo wrote the song, and sings lead. In the closing verse, she says

I don't need to see forever
But I want to taste the sweet with the bitter
It's the only way to keep it together

It seems no accident that the longtime and creative friendship of these four musicians should close a recording with the word together.

Nayak's main instruments are acoustic and electric guitars; for Arbo it is the fiddle; for Kinsey, it's bass, and Kessel's percussion is played on an instrument known as Drumship Enterprise, made up of elements including an old suitcase, cookie tins, cardboard boxes, tubes which once held caulk, and other things as well. Fifteen years of working together have made the four as adept -- and as creative -- at telling their stories through their playing as they do through words and voice.  Each can hold lead voice and the harmonies they create truly serve the songs, too. You'll long remember the sound of Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem -- and you will remember the worlds and ideas they share. 



Kerry Dexter is music editor at Wandering Educators. You may reach her at music at wandering educators dot com.

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




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