Today’s pairing: two lullabies.
Sinead O’Connor: My Darling Child
All the dark and stormy Sinead stories aside, her voice is something exquisite—and I think never more so than on the album Universal Mother. This was her fourth album, and she dedicated it to her son who was 6 or 7 at the time. The album as a whole hit me hard when it came out more than 20 years ago—it’s an almost painfully beautiful account of motherhood (I remember giving it to my own mother, who had it on rotation in her car for years). Sinead’s voice is at its most bare and exposed, her Irish accent on display with those breathy t’s and r’s (how can a “t” be breathy? with Sinead they are). Rolling Stone described her voice on this album as “tissue-fragile.” Some songs have the famous Sinead rage, but most of all she whisper-sings her love for her child, and really for all children as they face growing up. The song “My Darling Child” is the most tender lullaby I’ve heard.
Traditional: El cant dels ocells
When I was a kid there were big FM radio stations that basically played rock, but gave their hosts a free rein to play long album cuts, obscurities, and even things that were definitely not rock. My local outlet was WMMS in Cleveland. One night, among the crickets of Cuyahoga Falls, I heard the strangest song, sung by the most beautiful voice. Full of mystery and longing, it spoke a language I did not know, and while I could not make out a word of it, it lingered in the memory. Then I heard the same tune sung by Joan Baez in a different, less alluring arrangement. Searches of record store bins yielded nothing, and eventually I gave up hope of ever finding the song.
Years later, I picked up a box set of CDs called The Fabulous Victoria de los Angeles, primarily for the exquisite Ravel and Debussy selections. I wasn’t so much interested in the Montsalvatge and Mompou, but on disk 2, among Three Traditional Folksongs, I found my treasure: “El cant dels ocells”. Little did I know this was a famous song, beloved of Pablo Casals, who played his version of it at the beginning of every recital after his exile. I had no idea that it was known by every Catalan or, for that matter, that it was a Christmas lullaby (otherwise I might have checked out the Joan Baez Christmas album!) But there it was, every bit as wonderful as I had remembered. One mystery remained: whose gorgeous arrangement was this? It is the work of Antonio Ros-Marba, who on this recording conducts the Patronato Orquestra Ciudad de Barcelona.
From Miles Mykkanen:
Before coming to Orient for NYFOS@North Fork I spent two months in Europe. My adventures began with a week in Ireland. It was my second time visiting the Emerald Isle but this time around I really fell in love with the country and became fascinated with its compelling history. After a week in the Irish moors and probably enough pints for a year, I trekked off to Vienna for the Franz Schubert Institut where, lo and behold, I met an Irishman and we became fast friends! Between our escapades into the German Lied, my new friend Seán Boylan would introduce me to his favorite Irish bands and singers.
I’ll never forget the night Seán played me The Chieftains’ recording of “The Foggy Dew.” It was a cool, rainy night in Vienna—perfect weather to be celebrating Irish artists. The song narrates the Easter Uprising of 1916 where Irishmen marched into the heart of Dublin and attempted to overtake major buildings—most notably the General Post Office—which were housing British officers. The rebels were annihilated by the British. The Uprising’s leaders, James Connolly and Patrick Pearse, were executed without a trial which lit a necessary fire under the Irish rebellion. Even though the actual Uprising was a major blow for the Irish cause, it was the catalyst that eventually led to Ireland’s independence from the English Crown.
In honor of the Easter Uprising’s centennial, I give you a chilling rendition of “The Foggy Dew” performed by The Chieftains featuring Sinéad O’Connor as the soloist.
As down the glen one Easter morn to a city fair rode I
There Armed lines of marching men in squadrons passed me by
No pipe did hum, no battle drum did sound its loud tattoo
But the Angelus Bell o’er the Liffey’s swells rang out in the foggy dew.
Right proudly high in Dublin Town hung they out the flag of war
‘Twas better to die ‘neath an Irish sky than at Suvla or Sud-El-Bar
And from the plains of Royal Meath strong men came hurrying through
While Britannia’s Huns, with their long range guns sailed in through the foggy dew.
Oh the bravest fell, and the Requiem bell rang mournfully and clear
For those who died that Eastertide in the springing of the year
While the world did gaze, in deep amaze, at those fearless men, but few, Who bore the fight that freedom’s light might shine through the foggy dew.
As back through the glen I rode again and my heart with grief was sore For I parted then with valiant men whom I never shall see more
But to and fro in my dreams I go and I kneel and pray for you,
For slavery fled, O glorious dead, when you fell in the foggy dew.
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