Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Beauty in Tears


Today’s formative-album replay: Joemy Wilson Carolan’s Cup. Some music is so fused to specific moments in our lives that it can scarce float free of those original bonds. It might even be counted a measure of a music’s weakness that it can’t transcend the circumstances of our first hearing, as if it were only an accident of timing that we came to love it and it's now of no use but as a cheap nostalgia trigger.

That kind of conditional love would apply to many a youthful pop fixation (cf. Little River Band), and you’d think it would also be the fate of this pretty collection of hammered-dulcimer Celtic folk, which my mom brought home from a performance by the artist herself at the Tempe Art Fair during my last summer between high school and college, and which I played on my bedside turntable literally every night of that fleeting, liminal season as I drifted off to sleep. But in fact this record holds up remarkably well, as it happens to be a sampler of tunes attributed to Turlough O'Carolan, a blind harpist who schlepped his axe around Ireland at the turn of the 18th century, and whose music as showcased here hits a happy medium between earthy folk and baroque filigree, between pub and parlor. As someone with a limited stomach for the relentless major-key noodling of much of what passes for Celtic music (unless it’s played by the Pogues), I relish both the restraint of the arrangements and the meandering nuances of these deceptively simple-sounding but limber, long-lined melodies. The hammered dulcimer itself is an odd, circumscribed, spidery instrument that sounds a bit like a unstrung harpischord, but Wilson makes its metallic thrumming dance and sing, even when she recedes behind flute or violin leads, in charts that range from Brandenburg-esque burbling to mournful plainsong.

So yes: I may cling to this record in part for its indelible imprint both as an artifact of a pivotal summer and as a gift from my late mother. It was without question a self-consciously memory-making time: Like the slackers of This Is Our Youth, I was achingly aware of both the ephemerality of that time and the eternal singularity of it as it passed. But just as I recall those transitional months more as a time of lasting, skin-shedding growth for me than a lamentable folly I’m glad to have left behind, this record is a talisman I wear without shame--a Cup that runneth over its initial serving.

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