Thursday, January 01, 2004

HAPPY HARE KRISHNA NEW YEAR, AMERICANS!

I don't even drink any more -- I think I had more than my share of the world liquor supply when I was in my 20s and 30s -- but I fell hungover. Had a few folks over to my swinging pad, including Kate and Hillary of the blues duo Wildsang. We played music until after 4 a.m. At some points it was outright transcendental.

Readers of my column might remember the rave review I gave to Wildsang's album, Sky Dirt, Speak Out Truth. If not, what the hell, I'll post it here. I consider it the best New Mexico album of 2003 -- well, that and The Handsome Family's Singing Bones. I keep forgetting they live in Albuquerque.

But first before I post that review here's some good KSFR news. John Greenspan told me last night that the station plans to start streaming over the internet, possibly as early as March. (I'm betting April or May.) Through the years I don't know how many out-of-town people -- Santa Fe expatriots as well as those who have seen my play lists -- have told me they wish they could hear the station on the web.

It's gonna happen. Happy Hare Krishna New Year!

Here's that Wildsang review:
(Originally published Sept. 2003 in The Santa Fe New Mexican
A surprise highlight of the recent Thirsty Ear Festival -- in fact, I’ve found, the first band I find myself mentioning when people ask about the festival -- was a two-woman blues group based in Coyote, N.M.

There inside the “hotel” saloon at the Eaves Ranch the duo started off with an oft-covered blues chestnut, “Smokestack Lightning.” But just a few bars into the tune it was obvious this wasn’t a typical blues cover band. It was hands down the most passionate and gripping version of that I've heard since Howlin' Wolf died. Wildsang almost seemed to be channeling the lonesome spirit of the Wolf.

But even better were the original tunes that followed -- songs about rapes, lynching, and other happy topics.

Wildsang -- the name is a reference to wild ginseng -- has one of the most intense singers I've heard in awhile. Hillary Kay, according to her press material, is descended from jazz diety Joe “King” Oliver (he’s an uncle according to her bio). She also plays guitar, including a mean slide.

Although the spotlight is on Kay and her songs, harmonica player Kate Freeman, the second half of Wildsang, is an essential part of the group’s sound. Her piercing tones complete the raw soundscape.

The songs they did at their Thirsty Ear set appear on Wildsang’s latest album, Sky Dirt Speak Out Truth. While the CD doesn’t quite match the electricity of their live performance, it’s a good representation of the group’s basic vocals/guitar/harmonica/ sound, resisting the common temptation of bringing in a bunch of musical pals to clutter things up in the studio.

Wildsang plows some of the same disturbing ground as Colorado bluesman Otis Taylor, who I believe is the most important artist of the generation that rose in the ‘90s. Like Taylor’s songs, Kay’s lyrics look unflinchingly at historical horrors and atrocities African Americans have face in this country. (Is there a Rocky Mountain blues movement based in social realism developing here?)

A unifying attribute of Kay’s characters is that they fight back in the face of oppression.

“Ain’t No Strange Fruit” takes its title from the classic Billie Holiday tune. But here Kay doesn’t just describe a lynching. The victim’s wife (and the narrator’s grandmother) takes it upon herself to kill a Klansman in revenge.

Violent vengeance is also the theme of “Josie,” a story about rape. “I did not have my daddy’s shotgun/ Did not have my .22 … just the machete for the sugarcane/Josie said that would do.”

One of the most moving story songs here is “Biscuits,” the tale of a pregnant girl forced to leave her home by a religious father. (“That girl of yours is gonna bring the devil down on us all!”) By the end of the tune, 10 years have past and the mother and son are preparing for a trip to see the family she left behind. “Honey, they’re still your family, no matter how long it’s been,” the mother tells her boy.

It’s not all blood and tragedy on the album though. There’s plenty of love -- and lust -- songs like “Jump Down Mama.” And subtly satisfying is the closing song, “Big Top Circus,” which is about the simple joys of a day at the circus. It’s as sweet as some of their songs are violent .

Somehow I believe Howlin’ Wolf himself would appreciate Wildsang.

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