Blog Archives

“April King” – by Snazz Mammoth

A 2-part set of songs by my solo cello-rock-electronica project –

 

we were gone

 

looking back on our regrets

playback on an old cassette

you will be blamed

for taking off too soon

waking up the neighborhood

piling in the backseat

hit the gas and

off we go

 

we’re gone

 

we were gone

none of us were wrong

 

another bridge is calling

the playing field has been

all leveled out

 

we know we’ve been untrue

never wanted you to be disappointed

 

we’ll drive on

and on

and further

 

 

A Thousand Different Sighs

 

We have been gone so long

the pull’s too strong

out here

open road

 

We don’t know when

when we’ll be

be back home again

 

We sigh

a thousand different sighs

 

We every stop we make

our mind does wake

Under open sky

 

We wish we knew

Knew when we’d

We’d be back again

 

We sigh

a thousand different sighs

 

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“Ghosts of Lower Manhattan” – by Snazz Mammoth

My cello/rock/psychedelic/baroque/electronica musical project, Snazz Mammoth, has been on a bit of a hiatus lately, but finally new songs are getting done.

This is the latest, inspired by the invisible history of Lower Manhattan, where the old town has been built on top of over and over again, but where the spirits of New Amsterdam are still everyone, floating just behind the surface.

Sacred Harp and Idumea

“And am I born to die? To lay this body down…”

The sacred harp, a musical instrument bestowed to us by Creation – our human voice.

The concept is at the core of a capella shape-note singing- a distinctively American way of music – this idea that the gift of the voice is heaven-sent and connects us to the divine.  With roots in the early 19th century, it was among the first styles of music distinct enough to be unique to the New World.  Today it is quite common around the country, but nowhere else more than in its home, the Southern United States.

Shape-note singing is so called because of its notation – to facilitate ease of reading, certain pitches receive a shape that distinguishes them from other notes.

Shape-note singing is an expression of the Sacred Harp.  There is more to it than just singing music.  Especially in the rural South, the Sacred Harp is way of spirituality and community.  There is no audience – each of the four sections face each other in a square.  The person leading is constantly changed-up.  Technique of singing is far less important than the coming together of voices.   Interpretations and embellishment of hymns are passed on aurally to the next generation.

The Sacred Harp is a great example of early America’s quest for a more perfect interpretation of Christianity and society – ideas that are still at the core of this country’s nature.

The raw open harmonies and age-old melodies tear at the soul- they make an intense prayer-  sometimes ecstatic, sometimes apocalyptic.

“Idumea” (number 47b of The Sacred Heart Hymnal) has to be one of the most chilling examples of shape-note singing.  A powerful confrontation with mortality and the transitory nature of existence.

“And am I born to die?
To lay this body down!
And must my trembling spirit fly
Into a world unknown? A land of deepest shade,
Unpierced by human thought;
The dreary regions of the dead,
Where all things are forgot! Soon as from earth I go,
What will become of me?
Eternal happiness or woe
Must then my portion be! Waked by the trumpet sound,
I from my grave shall rise;
And see the Judge with glory crowned,
And see the flaming skies!
The lyrics were written in 1763, and arranged to music in 1816.
It was featured in Cold Mountain, in a polished version, which is nice- but I prefer the more raggedly human versions of the real thing.
For more:
There are also numerous shape-note singing meetings throughout the nation and beyond.  Of course anyone can take part.

“And Death is printed on his face…” Shirley Collins’ Barbara Allen

Sort of an inappropriate time of year to post this, as the lyrics refer to Martinmas (November 11), but it fits this dismal late spring NYC weather of late. ALSO- some versions of the song take place in the “merry month of May”, so….

Either way, what a ballad!

It is first mentioned in the 1660’s in the journal of Samuel Pepys, but likely dates from well before that time. It has been played by tens of thousands of anonymous musicians over the centuries, and therefore, there exist countless versions. Of course, like much British music, the song jumped the Atlantic into American folk. To date, there are many, strikingly contrasting, recordings of the ballad.

Among the versions I’ve heard, this is the most raw, yearning, painful, and bleak rendition. I daresay I don’t know a whole lot about her, but Shirley Collins is a great figure in the English folk revival of the 1960’s to present, and presents “Barbara Allen” with the some of the most bittersweet despair one can conjure in word and song..

“It was round and about last Martinmas-tide,
when the green leaves were swelling.
That young Jimmy Grove of the west country,
Fell in love with Barbara Allen.

“He sent his man into the town,
to the place where she was dwelling.
Says will you come to my Master dear,
if you’re name is Barbara Allen.

“Then slowly, slowly got she up.
And slowly came she nighing
And all she said when there she came:
‘Young man, I think you’re dying.’

”   ‘Indeed I’m sick, I’m very sick.
and shan’t get any any better.
Unless I gain the love of one,
the love of Barbara Allen’

”    ‘But don’t you remember last Saturday night?
when the red wine you were spilling?
You drank all health to the ladies there,
but you slighted Barbara Allen!’

And Death is printed on his face,
and all his heart is stealing,
And again, he cried as she left his side-
‘Hard-hearted Barbara Allen!’

“As she was a-going over the fields
she heard the death bell tolling,
And every sound it seemed to say,
‘Hard-hearted Barbara Allen!’

”   ‘Oh, mother, mother, make my bed
Come make it soft and narrow
Since Jimmy died for me today,
I shall die for him tomorrow.'”