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Archive for January, 2011

Continuing in the vein of yesterday’s post about songs spinning gloom with a grin, I was taken aback this morning when a happy-go-lucky version of “When the Roses Bloom Again” by Mac Wiseman popped up in my “Louvin Brothers Radio” playlist on Pandora.  Although I know it’s an A.P. Carter tune and it’s been covered by plenty of artists since it was written over a hundred years ago,  I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve only heard Wilco’s version, recorded during the Mermaid Avenue sessions with Billy Bragg.

That version — a minor-keyed, dark and mournful arrangement — seems to be the appropriate musical backdrop for the sad tale of a soldier’s departure from his lover and his final moments before dying in battle.  You can imagine my surprise when an upbeat bluegrass arrangement of the song came through the headphones — was this the same song?  How can they sing so happily about something so heart-wrenching?

It’s an absolutely beautiful song.  The lyrics are pure, powerful and poetic.  And it bears such a touching message: that while death is part of the natural order of life, it’s never easy to accept — but having faith that someday we’ll be reunited with our loved ones, in another life or state of being, gives us hope and comfort.  As we yearn to see someone’s face, hear their voice and touch their hand once more, the debilitating grief that weighs heavy on our hearts can slowly be wiped away if we call to mind our memories of a life lived like the song’s characters: faithful, brave and true.

Much like the practice of concealing despondent lyrics with buoyant musical arrangements, we place flowers and other symbols on graves.  Is it because we wish to cover our pain with something colorful, fragrant and radiant?  Or do they stand for something else?  Flowers themselves will bend and fade — but they’ll bloom once more.  So perhaps I’m wrong.  Maybe flowers aren’t something we use to shield sorrow.  They’re not to be used as armor, but for affection, adoration and ardor.  They’re the perfect example of the natural order of life.

They remind us that our wounds can become wings.

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Charlie Louvin: 1927-2011

Another legend has passed.  No doubt music fans worldwide will mourn the loss of Charlie Louvin, whose tunes spawned generations of fans of classic country, gospel, folk, blues and the like.  My first introduction to Louvin actually came through Uncle Tupelo’s take on the Louvin Brothers’ “Atomic Power.”  I was floored when I first heard the song.  That a band could take a song with a pleasant country bounce and play it at a breakneck punk pace — without getting rid of the fiddle — was incredibly eye-opening to me.

I’ll admit that I was more than a little late to the alt-country party; I was about 12 when UT broke up and still immersed in the [dying] grunge and alternative rock records in my older brothers’ collection.  But after hearing a tune with such ominous lyrics masked by a jovial musical arrangement,  I suddenly found myself on a mission to dig deeper into country music lore and find more of those songs of doom and dread.  I’m grateful for the discovery, and sad for the loss of another artist who gave the world a tremendous catalog of music.

*The original, 1952.

*Uncle Tupelo, 1994.

*Charlie Louvin + Jeff Tweedy, 2007.

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