Song of the Day: January 27

Written by David T. Little


In category: Song of the Day

Published January 27, 2016

unnamedThis week our SoTD curator is composer David T. Little who will host and curate the opening evening of NYFOS Next 2016 on February 4th. Little’s operas Soldier Songs and Dog Days have received wide critical acclaim, the latter having received performances this season at Fort Worth Opera and Los Angeles Opera and hailed by The Wall Street Journal as “one of the most exciting new operas of recent years.” Little’s “sharp, elegantly bristling” music (New York Magazine) is potent and dramatic, drawing as much upon his experience as a punk/metal drummer as his classical pedigree. Thank you and welcome, David!

Entrancing and meditative, “I Dream A Highway” ends Gillian Welch’s 2001 album Time (The Revelator). I first heard it in 2004 or so, and it has been one of the most important pieces in my life ever since, in any genre. The song itself feels like a ritual. It repeats the same few chords for much of its 15-minute duration, with a repetitive form, but for an occasional and very brief deviation. But within this are infinite minor details: subtle orchestration changes, slightly evolving harmonies–both in voices and guitar–a tempo that gradually slows throughout, while it continually gets softer. It would be a perfect lullaby if it didn’t hold my attention so powerfully.

The lyrics are gorgeous, and play with images across time, in which the profound is drawn from the ordinary. I find lines like “Now you be Emmylou and I’ll be Gram,” “I’m an in-disguisable shade of twilight,” and “Step into the light poor Lazarus…Let me see the mark Death made,” to be beautifully mysterious and evocative, requiring certain keys to unlock their meaning. The fade-out at the end, usually a kind of songwriter cop-out, here feels like a suggestion that the work continues on into eternity, getting ever slower and ever softer.

Gillian Welch (b.1967) – I Dream A Highway (2001)

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