About a year ago I heard a song by the Wailin’ Jennys (the name is a self-admitted fabulous tip of the hat to Waylon Jennings) which they recorded as Long Time Traveler. I’m usually a long time behind the curve on music as I’m nowhere near the industry any more, and this is no exception. The band was formed over ten years ago and this song was included on a release from 2006. I made a note to find this and give it a closer listen down the road.
I did that today. I have a lot of friends that balk at the thought of listening to anything labeled ‘country music’, but make time for this. The simplicity (not necessarily a hallmark of country music, but certainly in evidence here) is a big part of the appeal.
You don’t often find something of this quality and this depth of creative thought. It’s simple, but brilliantly executed.
It’s a Kentucky fiddle tune which has a simple verse/chorus arrangement (in the tradition of fiddle tunes). I used to play 5 string banjo and one of the finest pleasures of that instrument was that most of the tunes adapted for it originated as fiddle tunes a couple of hundred years ago. On the odd occasion that we could find a decent violin player, the delivery always gained a level or two in power and pleasure.
So, this song; it starts with an acappella delivery of the melody on the first verse, an easy breath of music. And if you let your imagination go, you can hear this voice as one string on a violin, played slowly and precisely to evoke a particular mood.
The first chorus is next, and with the first note of it the second voice lays down a drone, to cement the sound of a violin as the object of the exercise. It then joins the first voice again in following the melody, and finally returns to the open string drone sound to finish the line.
When the second verse starts – the third voice finds a second drone note to emulate a third violin string and the instrumental allusion is complete. Three voices singing in perfect imitation of a violin while delivering a traditional fiddle tune.
The subject of the lyric is sacred, as the subject of most of the music created at that time and place was, and of course lends itself perfectly to the key and the pace. When I turn this up and close my eyes I’m transported to a riverbank with huge poplars overhanging the water in the summer sun. I can hear this music from some hill far away: a single player. And if you turn this up and close your eyes you should be able to hear the joy a fiddle player feels when they get it just right. It’s brilliant in concept and brilliant in delivery. Very cool.
This link is to a Youtube version. Enjoy. It’s a great tribute to music, by music.