Unlike pretty much every other online and print music publication, we freely admit we could not designate only one album as the Album of the Year. Instead, we are offering a titanic trifecta of long players, in different styles and simply occupying more rarified air than the other albums we considered for this honor (and it was a close call, even with three selections). In each case, the artist has taken his or her music to a higher level. Of our three selections, Melody Gardot’s The Absence would have been selected Album of the Year were we to single out only one record as 2012’s finest, as its ambitious, multiculturally influenced production (by Heitor Pereira); haunting, mesmerizing, often abstruse lyrics; and seductive, alluring vocals draw the listener into Ms. Gardot’s confidence—if not her boudoir–even while deepening the mystery of exactly who she is and what she represents. The headline over our appraisal of The Absence—“Dietrich. Deneuve. Garbo. Gardot.”—is no joke. Our lengthy treatise on the wonders and puzzles of Melody Gardot is but a click away.
Melody Gardot, a live version of ‘My Heart Won’t Have It Any Other Way,’ from The Absence
In Christine Santelli’s case, this publication has incessantly promoted her since the release of her 2009 album, Guilty. That was a band album, by a nominally blues artist; but with last year’s powerful acoustic guitar-and-vocal Dragonfly (the review of which is published in Deep Roots every month in tandem with a Christine Santelli Video of the Month), she successfully transformed herself into an exceptionl singer-songwriter. As we wrote in our March 2012 review in TheBluegrassSpecial.com: “Bleak and austere in the manner of Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska; flush with the burnished, poignant, bittersweet persistence of memory fueling Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse; and asserting self-reliance in the Marlene Dietrich style (‘good for nothing/men are good for nothing’) even as the last vestiges of dependency linger (think Carmen McRae’s ‘How Did He Look’), Christine Santelli’s solo acoustic stunner Dragonfly is a complex, coming of age work. For all intents and purposes this self-released, bracingly honest work establishes a clear demarcation point between the blues-based artist fronting a full band, introduced on record in 1993 [24 Hours], and the fully matured singer-songwriter whose voice and acoustic guitar alone give wings to her poetry.” For this month’s Christine Santelli Video of the Month and the review of Dragonfly, click here.
After emerging in the mid-‘70s as a key member of the influential progressive rock band Soft Machine, then spending the last half of the ‘80s and first part of the ‘90s writing award winning music for commercials, classically trained Welsh multi-instrumentalist Karl Jenkins began a new career as a composer and conductor. As such he won a devoted following–and equally rabid critics–for his hybrid works meshing symphonic elements with choral music and World Music appropriations of texts, vocals and instruments. In 2000 his The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace became a musical phenomenon and marked the start of a journey navigating the nexus of spiritual, inspirational and socially conscious themes advocating peace and non-violence. In January 2012 he conducted the world premiere of his newest work, The Peacemakers, at Carnegie Hall. Centered on the words of iconic figures such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Anne Frank, Jenkins’s latest grand pronouncement in this realm (it features a thousand-voice choir dubbed The Really Big Choir, along with the London Symphony Orchestra, the City of Birmingham Symphony Youth Chorus, and Rundfunkchor Berlin) is either journey’s end or a necessary sequel
Karl Jenkins, ‘Healing Light: A Celtic Prayer,’ from The Peacemakers
Beautiful, ethereal, searching, uplifting, earthy and majestic–Jenkins’s music is all this, even more so when the various choirs raise their collective voices in reverent conviction. In this instance they sing the words of Jesus (“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God”), Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., the Dalai Lama, Albert Schweitzer, Mother Teresa, St. Francis of Assisi, Sir Thomas Mallory, Percy Bysse Shelley (from “Elegy on the Death of John Keats”) and Anne Frank, along with passages from the Bible, Qu’ran and Bahá’u’lláh (founder of the Bahá’í Faith); one of the most moving numbers is “A Meditation: Peace is…,” humbly and tenderly rendered by soprano Lucy Crowe, singing text written by Terry Waite especially for The Peacemakers and imbued with his belief in peace as a healing, reconciling force. Waite is the former special envoy to the Bishop of Canterbury who, while on a mission to negotiate the release of four British hostages, was captured by Beirut terrorists on January 20, 1987 and held hostage for 1,763 days (the first four years in solitary confinement) before being released in 1991. Jenkins himself contributed exactly one line of his own–“No more war,” sung plaintively by the Youth Chorus at the start of “One Song”–and his wife and musical collaborator Carol Barratt crafted the stirring, idealistic lyrics for the heraldic album closer, “Anthem: Peace, triumphant peace” (“May all our paths meet up and lead to one holy place where peace shall reign in our hearts/one wondrous place when the world has peace, glorious peace, such peace.”), which includes, as sung softly by the Youth Chorus, this sentiment from Anne Frank: “How wonderful it is that no one need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
Audio clip: Anthem: Peace, Triumphant Peace, Karl Jenkins, The Peacemakers, with the London Symphony Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Youth Chorus, The Really Big Chorus–1000 Voices, Simon Halsey, Gareth Davies, Chloë Hanslip, Runfunkchor Berlin
As a work of social conscience; as the apex of the composer’s vision of using choral art to advance his vision of—and plea for–a more humane and civilized global community; as a simply stirring musical experience; and as a consummate distillation of ideas he’s been formulating for more than a decade, Karl Jenkins’s The Peacemakers, a total triumph, accomplishes what its composer told this writer he hoped listeners would take from the work: “Inspiration, I suppose, some sense of spirituality. My first job, as I see it, is to move people emotionally. There are two functions: one is the purely musical function of wanting people to love the music, or enjoy the music, get something out of it spiritually, really—something that enriches them, if you like. Then there’s the other, philosophical angle, which is consider where we are in the world, consider what is happening to the world, and with these iconic figures through generations the message holds true: we’re still striving for a peaceful world.”
As the cover subject of the February 2012 issue of TheBluegrassSpecial.com, Karl Jenkins granted us an exclusive interview about the making and meaning of The Peacemakers, and along the way we questioned him about the journey that’s landed him in the position of being the living composer whose works are most performed today. We have transplanted that revealing interview into this issue of Deep Roots to salute The Peacemakers being named one of our Album of the Year honorees.
Deep Roots has shied away from designating a “Best of 2012” list, although what follows could argue be called exactly that. Rather, we looked back and identified the albums that really stuck with us throughout the year—the emphasis being on “albums,” not collections of downloadable singles but songs inextricably linked, conceptually or thematically, to other tunes on a long player or an EP, in addition to being strong individual statements. This possibly makes us out of step with the modern world, but our every issue testifies to the presence, in great numbers and across this publication’s liberally drawn boundaries defining “roots music,” of musicians still seriously exploring the possibilities an album offers to realize a grand vision of a musical statement, whether that statement be of an intimate, personal nature (be it romantic or spiritual, or both) or one addressing the state of the world and/or union. Our every issue also testifies to the number of artists honoring the album as a long-form means of personal expression—in many cases, their only means of personal expression–and embracing the challenge of meeting the literary and musical standards of the artists of yore that inspired them in this pursuit. And true to the standard we’ve advanced in TheBluegrassSpecial.com and in Deep Roots, our list reflects our interest in the work both of new and developing roots-oriented artists and of seasoned veterans, often overlooked by the mainstream music press, still producing exemplary music, in some instances the best music of their careers. Our 2012 Elite Half-Hundred numbers, of course, 50 albums, but since we only appraise albums we like, in theory every album we review in Deep Roots could make this list. It wasn’t easy to leave some very good records off the Elite Half-Hundred, but for purely arbitrary reasons (or because former Oklahoma Sooners football coach Barry Switzer used to talk about how much he enjoyed it when his teams “hung half a hundred” points on the opposition) we selected 50 as the cutoff. Other than one selection, we have omitted reissues from this Honor Roll, in favor of new music. The one exception is Texas Gospel Vols. 8 & 9: Pay Day 1955-1960 from Acronym Music, simply because the amazing gospel recordings it collects are otherwise so obscure at to have been virtually forgotten were it not for this collection, which in effect makes all the tracks new again. –David McGee, January 2012
Now, on to…