Calon Lân / A Pure Heart

Calon Lan song

Calon Lan

Still pursuing a recent obsession with Welsh music, this American-of-Irish-extraction thought he would reflect a little on the beautiful song “Calon Lân” (generally translated to English as “A Pure Heart”). It’s a song that seems to be deeply embedded in the Welsh culture, to such an extent that you could easily believe it were a much older song than it is. It was first published in 1899, which isn’t yesterday, but is certainly modern times, only fifteen years before WWI.

The lyric was written by the Welsh poet Daniel James, also known by his Welsh poetic nickname, “Gwyrosydd.” It’s reported that he wrote the words as a prayer and then later asked the Welsh tunesmith John Hughes (known also for the great melody “Cwm Rhondda”) to put it to music, which he did, promptly creating a hymn of some sublime beauty and power. Its first appearance was in a Sunday School periodical, and it became widely beloved during what is known as “The Welsh Revival” of 1904-1905, a revival of Christianity which is credited with spurring similar awakenings far beyond the borders of Wales.

The song is also one of a number of great Welsh melodies which can be heard in the classic film, “How Green Was My Valley,” directed by John Ford, from 1941.

It’s the kind of a song where I think most anyone listening to it would find it affecting even with absolutely no idea of what the words mean. I can say at least that it certainly had me reaching for a hankie the first time I heard it, though I had no tangible notion of what it was about. Somehow just the sound of the singing of those syllables and that tune left no doubt that it represented something very profound. It seemed unlikely that it was a song about, say, scrambled eggs. It came across as a statement from deep within the human soul, full of emotion; it was clearly an extraordinarily deep declaration or plea.

Quite a lot of people heard “Calon Lân” for the first time in this way when it was performed on the TV show “Britain’s Got Talent” in 2012, by a choir of young Welsh lads known as “Only Boys Aloud.” It was one of those obviously choreographed but still likeable moments when people are unexpectedly wowed. The video is embedded via YouTube below (and then below that some more scribbling from me about the song). Continue reading “Calon Lân / A Pure Heart”

Something’s Burning, Baby – Bob Dylan

The Cinch Review

Something's Burning Baby, by Bob Dylan
Happy Easter, again! Today, May 5th, was Easter Sunday for those Christians following the Eastern Orthodox calendar (a not inconsiderable number).

Reaching around in the muck of my memory for a song to reference in celebration of this fact, I thought about the big concepts of Easter, and thought of various songs about “rising again” and the like, but it was only when I thought of the rolling away of the stone that I thought of a song that piqued my own interest, because it is a song that is relatively-little-known but looms large in my own recollection, for one reason or another. Actually for a really simple reason: the song, “Something’s Burning, Baby,” was released on the album Empire Burlesque, in 1985. It was the first album that Bob Dylan released after I had become a fan of Bob Dylan, which I did in the 1983/84 time period, at the age of sixteen. So when Empire Burlesque was released in 1985, I think it felt for me kind of like what Highway 61 Revisited must have felt like for people who were Dylan fans back then. I recall an intense feeling of anticipation in advance of the release date, and a sense of wondering: “How is Bob going to blow my mind anew with this one?” To many, this will seem comical, since mid-80s Dylan is commonly mocked—as it was then—but that didn’t (and doesn’t) matter. To me, it was 1965, and every new song from Bob could not but be a dramatic revelation, a brand-spanking-new tablet carried down from the mountain.

People tend to remember fondly the pop-music they listened to during their teen years, their coming-of-age years. It’s a distorted magnifier, associating the music with their biological intensity of feeling during that time. There are those people—very many, in my perception—who essentially stop listening to popular music in any engaged fashion after that period, and it then becomes only a matter of nostalgia. Oblivious to anything else, if they happen hear a track from their youth (by Depeche Mode, the Cure, Journey, take your pick) they suddenly become enormously animated, singing along and gesturing wildly, as if everyone present ought to appreciate how wonderful that song is. Continue reading “Something’s Burning, Baby – Bob Dylan”

The Tempest Rose High

The Cinch Review

There are many lovely versions of the great old song, “Drifting Too Far from the Shore,” written by one Charles E. Moody. There’s Hank Williams, Bill Monroe, and Emmylou Harris, for starters. In the documentary “No Direction Home,” Bob Dylan credits his first hearing of this song, as a child, with igniting a kind of mystical experience for him. When he heard it (it was a record left sitting on a record player in the house his family had moved into) he says he felt like he “was somebody else.” (You might even say he was kind of transfigured.)

Anyhow, the version embedded below via YouTube is by Jerry Garcia, David Grisman and Tony Rice. And it too is lovely. (From an album titled The Pizza Tapes)
Continue reading “The Tempest Rose High”

The (snuff) video for “Duquesne Whistle” by Bob Dylan

The Cinch Review

The video for Bob Dylan’s new song “Duquesne Whistle” has been released today and is embedded below. A little commentary is below that.

The video was directed by Nash Edgerton, and as you can see features a guy trying to woo a girl, having some misadventures and ending up beaten to a pulp. Dylan himself is in it but separate from the main action.

The video doesn’t appear to have been inspired by the song at all (although it’s never impossible for people to come up with massive interpretations). The thinking behind a video like this must be that the song and record stand up by themselves, so why not just create something completely independent? Then you splice them together and maybe you’ll have an interesting interplay. You can see Dylan being into this approach; he loves taking advantage of the accidental. However, I have to say I just don’t dig the fruits of it in this case. The song and the video seem to be fighting one another, and so the combined result is (for me) laborious to watch. I guess I’m old fashioned. I figure if you want to promote a record with a video then the video ought to complement the song rather than essentially relegate it to background music. But to each his own. Continue reading “The (snuff) video for “Duquesne Whistle” by Bob Dylan”

“Duquesne Whistle” – official first single from Tempest by Bob Dylan

The Cinch Review

It’s Bob Dylan’s newest hit record, and you can listen to the whole thing via this post at NPR. I advise you to do so if you need some cheering up. It certainly gave me a lift this morning.

By the way, I think the NPR writer, Ann Powers, is on the mark hearing Louis Armstrong. And not only in Dylan’s voice, but also in the ebullience and joy of this record.

Narrow Way (and The Darkest Hour is Just Before Dawn)

One of the songs on Bob Dylan’s upcoming album, Tempest, is called “Narrow Way.” I haven’t heard it yet, so I don’t now where Dylan takes it—quite possibly somewhere unexpected.

Yet the phrase is one of those immediately familiar ones that a different wordsmith came up with a little less than 2000 years ago. From Matthew 7:13-14 (ESV):

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

Or, via the King James translation:

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

It’s one of the tougher statements of Jesus with regard to salvation, in that he seems to be saying quite bluntly that few will will be saved. It ain’t for me to argue with the Man, but there is a duality that believers wrestle with in Scripture, as in Mark 10:25-27:

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

And from John 11:

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

Merely believing doesn’t seem a terribly high threshold, does it? Maybe especially in this world where we clothe ourselves in beliefs so offhandedly. But the theology will not be settled here.

“Narrow is the way.” It’s no doubt that phrasing in the King James version which was in Ralph Stanley’s head when he wrote “The Darkest Hour Is Just Before Dawn,” many decades ago, with its chorus: Continue reading “Narrow Way (and The Darkest Hour is Just Before Dawn)”

Dreaming with Tears in My Eyes

The Cinch Review

Bono (of U2) recorded the Jimmie Rodgers song “Dreaming with Tears in My Eyes” for a Jimmie Rodgers tribute albumthat was put out on Egyptian Records in 1996. If you happen to look for it on YouTube currently, you’ll see multiple instances where it’s been uploaded, but most of the people uploading and commenting on it seem to be under the impression that the song is actually a Bono or U2 original.

You can listen to the embedded version above (though you might want to avoid looking at the slideshow of images associated with it by this particular uploader). A lot of the YouTubers believe it’s one of Bono’s greatest songs, or even the greatest. It’s not that surprising they assume it’s an original, because Bono’s rendition is certainly far away from any blue yodeling connotations; his characteristically big, breathy vocal floats atop a bed of piano and rising strings. However, that the version works very well is beyond question. In fact, I think it’s total dynamite, and likely the most striking contribution to that album (which is itself very good). Continue reading “Dreaming with Tears in My Eyes”