As I hope this blog makes abundantly clear, music is – to quote Frank Zappa – ‘the best’.
Consequently, I type this surrounded by my guitars, recording equipment, amps and shelves and shelves full of recorded music.
Several years ago – when I had hundreds of cassettes and vinyl LPs (remember those?) – I once worked out that I could play my collection for several weeks and not hear the same track twice.
Now, it’s several months at least…there’s music on MP3 CDs, MP3 DVDs and hard disc drives.
We’re not talking mere gigabytes here – it’s terabytes of the stuff…
So, there’s a shitload of music here – and of all kinds, from classical to avant-garde jazz.
Indeed, to coin a phrase, from Abba to Zappa.
My current tastes have been steadily with me for a few years now. I find myself listening to a lot of blues, some country and a hell of a lot of jazz.
Heh…I suppose I’m in a bit of a rut – albeit a very, very pleasant one.
However, I’ve just had my musical world totally fucking rocked by what’s probably the most refreshing and involving album I’ve heard in years.
It’s giving me major goosebumps right now listening to it, and I think I could quite happily get marooned on a desert island with nothing but this beautiful music to keep me company.
Basically, it’s an album of Steely Dan songs sung by two Swedish women with minimal accompaniment – mostly piano.
It’s called ‘Fire in the Hole’ and it’s by Sara Isaksson and Rebecka Törnqvist – although they don’t look like the cover seems to suggest they do.
Here they are:
That’s better, isn’t it?
Here’s the Dan songs they cover:
- Rose Darling
- Green Earrings
- Your Gold Teeth
- Brooklyn (Owes The Charmer Under Me)
- Don’t Take Me Alive
- Do It Again
- Fire In The Hole
- Pearl Of The Quarter
- Midnite Cruiser
What surprised me was that if someone asked me to list a dozen Dan songs I’d like to hear covers of, very few of the above would have made it to my list.
However, Isaksson and Törnqvist make the songs their own, and, with minimal accompaniment, the songs are stripped down to the essentials – melody, harmonies and chord changes – and then sung in such a way that each one becomes a small jewel of dazzlingly radiant beauty.
They’ve made me aware of subtleties in songs that I very often skip through when listening to the original albums on which the tunes appeared. I just know that I’ll revisit the Dan versions with fresh ears now.
Their voices are simultaneously plaintive, vulnerable and sensuous but with an inner strength that supports a format of basically two female voices and an acoustic piano.
Yes, there are other instruments – occasionally you’ll hear a mandolin, a sax, a clarinet, an acoustic guitar, a synth, an electric piano or a kick drum – but it’s basically kept very simple and these other instruments just used for texture and seasoning.
Even the voices reinforce this simplicity, with solo and unison singing used when appropriate, and so the glorious harmony sections are made to really stand out .
Some of the instrumental lines – such as the guitar figure in ‘Brooklyn (Owes The Charmer Under Me)’ – get sung in a vaguely ‘scat’ way, although what could have been a ‘jazz’ album gets elevated to a sort of a melodic purity by dint of the clarity of the singing and an overriding urge to display the inner lyricism of the tunes.
It’s an absolutely fantastic piece of work.
Fortunately, I can share it (sort of) with you on here.
YouTube has a couple of live versions which are almost as good as on the album.
Here they are:
The album’s not a work of genius – it’s something a bit more unique than that.
Just as the planets will occasionally align, the sun will be eclipsed and you get a phone call from someone you were thinking about a minute before the phone rang, it just happened – because it did.
The two voices came together on a few pieces of music and something just happened – something so unique that it became more than just a series of circumstances or a fortunate situation.
Call it serendipity or coincidence, but whatever it was, it all gave rise to some of the most beautiful music I‘ve ever heard…
PS I’ve just read this on a blog regarding this musical gem and I agree 100%:
The fact that it even exists gives me hope for the future of humanity.