Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Saraiki Sufi: Pathane Khan

Sariki Man, Multan


In a land where genuinely great musicians and singers seem to be too numerous to count, Pathane Khan was is in the very top tier. Adored in Pakistan, his singing of the kafian (poetry/songs) of Punjab’s mystic poets, especially Ghulam Farid, is simply some of the most spirituous by a ‘folk’ artist anywhere in the world.  There is not one iota of artifice in Pathane’s performances. His singing style was completely natural and uninhibited. He meant every syllable and breath. And every pause seemed to be designed to allow him the opportunity to hear what the Spirit had to say.

Pathane Khan emerged out of the dry Saraiki heartland of southern Punjab known for its deep and ancient history. The Saraiki language is the culture’s acme of artistic expression and the mystical songs of the Sufi poets its ultimate achievement. He was first heard on Radio Pakistan Multan in the late 60s and for many years was known only to audiences in the southern Punjab northern Sindh region.  Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Pakistan’s first democratically elected (and horribly tragic) Prime Minister was said to have fallen under the spell of Pathane Khan and in particular the song Mehnda Ishq Vi Tu. 

As television spread in the 70’s Pathane Khan was introduced to a national audience and in quick order he became an improbable star. Elderly, with a   shock of white hair that fell on to his shoulders, Pathane by his own admission smoked copious amount of hashish and travelled everywhere with a male companion named Yaseen.  While each of these attributes failed every test of the Official Approval Test of Celebrity there was no way you could argue when he sat behind a harmonium and began to sing.  Nothing could stand before such searing sincerity and love.

The mystical hymn Mehnda Ishq Vi Tu is an excellent way into Pathane’s music and deeply held faith. When I first heard it on a bazaar cassette tape I very nearly cried even though I could only make out the outer edges of the language. This famous and gorgeous song opens tonight’s selection of music which he recorded for Radio Pakistan in the 1970s.  The song is recorded live and Pathane unfolds the verses slowly and deliberately, as if pulling back yet another pardah (curtain) with each stanza.

Each of these devotional songs is a meditation on Love and the True Nature of Ultimate Reality.

A small detail that makes these renditions even sweeter is the regular soft tinging of hand cymbals throughout. Usually associated with Hindu bhajans and temple music the cymbals add a subtle but potent syncretic flavour to the music. While this would almost certainly be disallowed in today’s Pakistan it reflects not only the blending of faiths that for centuries distinguished this part of South Asia but also the dogged determination of Pathane Khan to walk the true path of his art.




            Track Listing:
            01 Mendha Ishq Wi Toon
02 Aa Mil Maro Mar
03 Darshan Bin Akhyan
04 Cheenn En Chharinda Yaar
05 Main Wi Janan Jhook
Listen here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Road Hogs on the Horizon: American Car Songs



And so I suppose the ‘truths’ of contemporary America are many. Depends on where your seat is in the bleachers as to which side is winning. And which team deserves to be slaughtered.

If truth be told, for the past 8 days I’ve not been interested in the least in divining the current State of the Union. The health and ‘state’ of other entities, closer to home and heart have been on my mind.  So as I await to board a plane for that interminable journey back to Australia about all I can say I’ve learned (or rediscovered) about America is:
·      the food is real sugary
·      the TV networks couldn’t survive without the pharmaceutical industry
·      Black Friday is much scarier than Halloween and
·      Americans still love cars. Big ones, new ones, pickups or compacts, it doesn’t matter.

So until next visit, farewell America.  And here are 29 of my favorite car songs by American singers that can be downloaded and played in your car stereo.

Toot toot!



            Track Listing:
01 Real Cool Car (Joe Fournier)
02 Big Cars (Heather Myles)
03 Two-Tone Car (an auto-body experience) [Chuck E Weiss]
04 Blue Car (Greg Brown)
05 Car Wheels On A Gravel Road (Lucinda Williams)
06 The Car-Car Song (Odetta)
07 Gimme the Car (Violent Femmes)
08 Wreck On The Highway (Bruce Springsteen)
09 Automobile (John Prine)
10 Driving Wheel (T Bone Burnett)
11 V-8 Ford Blues (Mose Allison)
12 Guitars, Cadillacs (Dwight Yoakam)
13 Swing Low Sweet Cadillac (Dizzy Gillespie)
14 Pontiac Blues (Sonny Boy Williamson)
15 Rocket 88 (Jackie Berenston and His Delta Cats)
16 Road Hawg (Joe Ely)
17 Drive Like I Never Been Hurt (Ry Cooder)
18 Route 66 (Nat King Cole)
19 One Headlight (The Wallflowers)
20 Black Cadillac (Lightnin' Hopkins)
21 One Piece at a Time (Michelle Shocked)
22 The Ballad of Thunder Road (Robert Mitchum)
23 Long Black Limosine (Elvis Presley)
24 Last Of The V8s (Slaid Cleaves)
25 Racing in the Street (Bruce Springsteen)
26 Four Chrome Wheels (Trooper Jim Foster)
27 Slick Crown Vic (John Hammond)
28 Freedom Machine (Junior Brown)
29 Wheels (Emmy Lou Harris)

Listen here.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Simply Amazing: Aretha Franklin




I’ll bring this mini-series of posts highlighting spiritual/gospel music to  a close with one of the best known, best loved and best selling gospel records of all time.

Originally released as a double LP in 1972, Amazing Grace cracked the Billboard Top Ten upon its release, making it one of the bestselling gospel records of all time. Grace was recorded in a large Baptist church with an ultra-enthusiastic, loving audience in the pews and a full, funky, band as well as the Southern California Community Choir under the direction of her mentor Rev. James Cleveland. Her voice is melismatic and intensely emotional, yet pure and controlled--as if she were directly channeling the Holy Ghost. Aretha's father, the brilliant preacher Rev. C.L. Franklin, makes a brief, proud appearance, remarking how "she has never left the church!" Highlights include the beautiful "Wholy Holy," an 11-minute, heart-stopping "Amazing Grace," and Inez Andrews's stirring song "Mary, Don't You Weep." Way more than a return-to-the-roots record, the set is an inspired gospel-soul workout that arguably showcases Aretha's strongest singing ever. (Amazon Reviews)

Don’t like gospel or religious music? Well don’t be a dill and miss this one because its about as brilliant and moving a recital of R&B vocalizing as you’ll ever hear. Regardless of the theme.



            Track Listing:
            01 Mary, Don't You Weep
02 Precious Lord, Take My Hand & You've Got A Friend
03 Old Landmark
04 Give Yourself To Jesus
05 How I Got Over
06 What A Friend We Have In Jesus
07 Amazing Grace
08 Precious Memories
09 Climbing Higher Mountains
10 Remarks By Reverend C.L. Franklin
11 God Will Take Care Of You
12 Wholy Holy
13 You'll Never Walk Alone
14 Never Grow Old

Listen here





Sunday, November 27, 2011

Music from the heartland: Charlie Haden and Hank Jones



To truly enjoy tonight’s post you need to do one of three things:

   1.    Put on some noise cancelling headphones.
   2.    Wait till everyone is out of the house and turn up the stereo. 
   3.    Make a cup of your favorite drink and sit in a comfortable arm  chair with ears close to the speakers.

This is subtle, quiet music. It is powerful but not loud. It deserves to be heard in its own right and not as background musak at a dinner party.  It is acoustic music and you need to let your ears pick up the unrushed notes.

Charlie Haden
Charlie Haden, a country boy from Iowa, is a contemporary master of the double bass.  Although his early prominence in jazz circles came through his association with some of the music’s most radical free-jazz composers like Ornette Coleman, Haden has never been able to shake his affection for the folk music and hymns he grew up listening to as a boy on the farm in the Midwest.

In the 1970’s and 80’s through his collaboration with Carla Bley and a whole gaggle of other prominent jazz musicians Haden made several overtly political recordings with a focus on the injustices and liberation struggles of the Latin American people. 

“No other instrument in jazz is more essential than the bass, both backbone and heartbeat, and Haden is its master.” (Francis Davis The Atlantic Monthly) Haden played a vital role in this revolutionary new approach, evolving a way of playing that sometimes complemented the soloist and sometimes moved independently. In this respect, Haden helped liberate the bassist from a strictly accompanying role to becoming a more direct participant in group improvisation.

Hank Jones
Hank Jones comes from one of the great jazz families, being the eldest of three brothers who all were significant musicians in their own right. Hank began performing as a very young teenager and in the 1940s moved to New York where he built a career as a pianist working with many of the great names of the bebop era such as Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Milt Jackson and Wes Montgomery.
His ability to both accompany and support band leaders as well as solo made him a very in demand session player and he appeared on countless major and influential jazz recordings in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.
Steal Away: Spirituals, Hymns and Folk Songs is quite simply one of my favorite records of all time. Given the innovative and exploratory nature of Haden’s musical journey and the straight ahead jazz Jones played for most of his career, the simple, almost humble tone of this record comes as a pleasant surprise. These are some of the most famous selections from the great American hymnbook played sincerely, with no trickery or irony. Just an hour of wonderful piano and luscious double bass stealing you away from your preoccupations, worries and exhaustions. Both men share the limelight (if you can call it that), taking turns leading and soloing as well as supporting the other when he’s got something to say.  Listen once, and you’ll play this again and again.


            Track Listing:
            01 It's Me , O Lord, (Standin' in the Need of Prayer)
02 Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen
03 Spiritual
04 Wade in the Water
05 Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
06 Sometimes I Feel like a Motherless Child
07 L'amour de Moy
08 Danny Boy
09 I've Got a Robe, You Got a Robe
10 Steal Away
11 We Shall Overcome
12 Go Down, Moses
13 My Lord What a Mornin'
14 Hymn Medley: Abide With Me/Just As I am/What a Friend We Have in Jesus/Amazing Grace
 Listen here.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Russian Beefcake: Dimitri Hvorostovsky

Dimitri Hvorostovsky


It drifts toward you darkly, like a storm cloud, as if arriving from far away.


So has one critic described the burnished baritone voice of Dmitri Hvorostovsky, one of the current generation’s most dramatic and luscious opera singers.

Hvorostovsky who was born in Siberia but who has lived in London for most of his professional career crashed on to the classical music scene in 1989 when he performed a gigantic upset by winning the Cardiff Best Singer of the World Competition by beating hometown favorite, and stone cold superstar of the opera world (not to mention one of the Washerman’s Dog favorites), Bryn Terfel. Immediately signed to a lucrative recording contract, Dima as Hvorostovsky, is affectionately known, began to tear stage after stage around the world up with his polished Russian baritone.

Blessed (or cursed, depending on what time of the day he is being interviewed) with pound for pound more beefcake then most Hollywood leading men, silvery locks and rugged Slavic features, Dima has been labeled the Elvis of Opera and even had his looks ranked against those of George Clooney in the pages of People magazine. (He was in the global top 50).

Thus far he’s managed to avoid the traps of such media-created celebrity and stuck to the classical straight and narrow. Unlike his great peer and professional rival Terfel he’s avoided the dreaded ‘cross-over’ album and focused on producing serious classical vocal music.

Such as tonight’s feature Credo a stunning collection of Russian church music. Accompanied by the St Petersburg Chamber Choir, Hvorostovsky gives a soul melting and  exhilarating concert that ranks as some of the best baritone singing I’ve ever heard.


         Track Listing:
         01 Come To Me, All You Who Labour
02 The Good Thief
03 Praise Ye The Name Of The Lord
04 Great Doxology
05 Cherubic Hymn
06 Symbol Of Faith (Creed)
07 Our Father
08 Blessed Is The Man
09 From My Youth
10 Let My Prayer
11 Gabriel Appeared
12 Strengthen, O Lord
13 We Praise Thee
Listen here.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Wade in the Water: Songs for the Time of Dying

Death of Socrates

My selection of low key and spiritual music (or just plain silence) of late is a comment upon the hard cold reality that life is great. But it ends.

Two members of my immediate family are counting their last days among us and being one of those who will be left behind, my mood is somewhat somber. 

But the other day I was allowed to share in one of those very special moments that death brings as part of its mighty whirlwind.  A friend of my sister’s has recently had to grapple with the loss of a child. In solidarity my sister gifted her grieving friend with a handmade ‘mourning’ quilt. A ritualistic and symbolic gesture of the sort that we don’t care much about anymore.  The gift was warmly received and a few days later the bereaved woman’s sister sent an email to my sister, whom she had never met.   Attached to the email was the old American deathbed spiritual Angel Band sung simply and in beautiful harmony by the woman, her husband, and daughter.   My sister and I sang along with wet eyes as we thought of those in our family who will soon make that great and final river crossing.

It also inspired me to seek solace in some of the other magnificent songs about death, dying and the mystery that lies beyond this wonderful, beautiful life. In these songs there is joy, anticipation and transcendence. There is also bargaining and fear and resignation. Just what you’d expect to encounter at this most emphatic of human passages.


         Track Listing:
01 Trouble of the World [Mahalia Jackson]
02 Gleams Of That Golden Morning [Bluegrass Cardinals]
03 Life's Railway to Heaven [Patsy Cline]
04 O Death [Ralph Stanley]
05 When the Night Wind Howls [Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra]
06 In My Time of Dying [Be Good Tanyas]
07 A Satisfied Mind [Porter Wagonner]
08 Death Letter [Son House]
09 God Will Dry My Weeping Eyes [Horace Family]
10 Wade In The Water [The Staple Singers]
11 Jordan [Emmylou Harris and Johnny Cash]
12 How I Got Over [Aretha Franklin]
13 River of Love [T Bone Burnett]
14 Haunts Of Ancient Peace [Van Morrison]
15 Gabriel Appeared [Dimitri Hvorostovsky]
16 Slow Train [Bob Dylan]
17 Lord, Just Give Me a Little More Time [Bluegrass Gospel Project]
18 Let the Mystery Be [Iris Dement]
19 River Of Death [The Bluegrass Album Band]
20 Down To The River To Pray [Alison Krauss]
21 Sun Will Never Go Down [The Echoes of Zion]
22 Motherless Children [Mance Lipscomb]
23 There Ain't No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down [Brother Claude Ely]
24 Abide With Me [Bryn Terfel]
25 Amazing Grace [The Mighty Clouds of Joy]
26 In paradisum (Requiem) [Faure]
27 Oh Death Where Is Thy Sting [Rev J.M Gates]
28 Eyes on the Prize [Mavis Staples]
29 Angel Band [Emmylou Harris]

Listen here.