Not so long ago, people sang about death all the time, in church and out. Death was all around — it was a different world, then — and folks made a logical choice: if you can’t beat it, you might as well sing. It’s good medicine.
Some Bright Morning, the new album from Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem, is good medicine, and not just for contemplating mortality. It does, however, come bearing three sing-alongs about death: the punch-drunk, uke-powered “I’ll Fly Away,” Arbo’s hymnlike setting of Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar,” and the traditional “Travelin’ Shoes,” a proud embrace of the inevitable that finishes with a sustained, album-closing “Hallelujah.”
Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem have earned a reputation for delving deep (they like to joke that they play agnostic gospel music), but this isn’t a Sunday morning record. It’s an all-week, all-year, all-life kind of album, one that leaps from love to loss, through longing and fear, into hope and play. Like the band’s uplifting, acclaimed 2007 effort, Big Old Life (recorded after Arbo’s breast cancer treatment), Some Bright Morning will be left in your changer for long stretches of time, just so you know it’s there when you need it. It is a tincture of ukulele, banjo, recycled percussion, standup bass, fiddle and guitar. It is a salve of spine-tingling four-part harmony. It levies the healing power of four musicians who have played together for twelve years and are still reaching for it.
Some Bright Morning’s twelve tracks offer up the band’s trademark mix of traditional material, unexpected covers and smart, probing originals. Fiddler Rani Arbo’s “Miami Moon” swings slowly through the memories of her late neighbor Rudy, who lived for dancing. Her “Bridges” is a flood of loss for the wreckage of Hurricane Irene and the breakup of a friend’s marriage. Bassist Andrew Kinsey sings “Fire in the Sky,” his stark lament for a life’s work up in flames. Guitarist Anand Nayak rips into Bruce Springsteen’s ode to the raw edge of hope, “Reason To Believe,” with a pounding stringband feel. Drummer Scott Kessel with his “drumship enterprise” — a recycled cardboard box, suitcase, tin cans — fires up the band’s grooves, from the deep, loping Georgia Sea Islands song “Little Johnny Brown” to the funky, shuffling agnostic gospel spiritual, “Hear Jerusalem Moan.”
Two guests - old friends of the band - grace the album. Juno-award-winning Canadian bluesman Ray Bonneville lends his trademark deep and patient harmonica to “Travelin’ Shoes”; and New Englander Mark Erelli (Lori McKenna, Barnstar!, and his own solo catalogue) brings his gorgeous lap steel to Arbo’s “Bridges,’ “Miami Moon,” and Nayak’s electric-guitar-fueled version of the Appalachian ballad, “East Virginia Blues.”
Recorded almost completely live and in one room, Some Bright Morning is like a candid photograph. It captures a vivid, honest and unrepeatable moment in time, thanks to the alchemy between Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem and veteran engineer/co-producer Chris Rival (who recorded Big Old Life). Says Arbo, “We go to Chris because we want to feel a certain way in the studio. On stage, we commit to every note, giving it up for each other and the audience, feeling it more than thinking it. On stage, we know that we and the audience are more than the sum of our parts.” Rival, she says, is so good at capturing live sound, and at finding the heart of a song, that the band can let go and step into that giving space. “He’s got a divining rod for music and for people; it’s a powerful combination. You can have a roomful of 300 listeners, or you can have Chris. It’s the same feeling.”
Some Bright Morning is a beautiful candid photograph of a band twelve years in. Twelve years of winning audiences at Newport, Winnepeg and dozens of North American festivals and performing arts centers. Twelve years of discovering what it’s like to play for schoolchildren, homeless families and hospital patients. Twelve years of church basement coffeehouses and local benefits. Twelve years of being the first audience for each other’s songs, and being bona fide aunts and uncles for each other’s kids.
Some Bright Morning captures now, the way we wish we could still a moment of time with those we love and rest there for a while. It’s full of life, light and music. It’s good medicine.
Harmony, rhythm, and indelible songs are the hallmarks of Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem, a New England-based folk/roots quartet
now in its 17th year. Acoustic Magazine describes their sound as "effortless and loose," adding that "the band shape-shifts through roots styles with aplomb, displaying the kind of relaxed virtuosity only achievable by the best players."...more