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Utne Reader is pleased to premiere "Song of the Sun" by songwriter and composer Timbre from her new album, Sun & Moon.

Steeped in music from the moment she was born, Nashville-based harpist, songwriter, and composer Timbre Cierpke is pulling together everything she's learned on her ambitious new double-album, Sun & Moon, which is out April 7 on Aurora Music. With the Sun portion of the record featuring her chamber folk pieces and the Moon portion featuring her classical compositions, the new release is a beautiful demonstration of Timbre's versatility as a musician; a skill set she's honed collaborating with a diverse group of musicians from Jack White to Ricky Skaggs to mewithoutYou.

All of Timbre's musical gifts are on display in "Song of the Sun," which is one of the record's most vibrant songs. Featuring lovely vocals and harp playing by Timbre, the song is also a great blend of contemporary instrumentation and classical composition. Here's what Timbre has to say about the song:

"Song of the Sun" is one of my favorite songs to perform, and one of the most energetic songs I’ve ever created. It is written from the perspective of the sun, singing over sleeping nature as winter finally comes to an end. There is an affection to it, a tenderness towards the ones that barely made it through, the ones that thought winter would never end, gently warming them to life. It starts out with a single voice, the song of the sun, and then one by one, different kinds of voices begin to join, like they are singing it over themselves, trying to understand that its true for them too, tasting its joy. Drums, harp, strings, brass, and even a huge choir all begin to respond to the sun’s song, stacking theme upon theme until they all respond in one voice, 'We are standing in the sun, and there is nothing light can’t touch! I am alive!'"



“I would like to state this:
That Nile water that God has given you,
Don’t fight among you just for it,
But it might help you all and you might all protect it.”

-“Uruzi Nil” (Burundi)

People have gathered and settled near rivers, lakes and coasts for millennia. As much as these water sources have the power to unite and build communities, they can also divide and create conflict when resources become sparse. In the East African Nile River Basin, the underdeveloped countries in the region often struggle to cooperate and overcome environmental hurdles. The ramifications of colonialism left the area around the world’s longest river paralyzed by complex and politicized water conflicts.

According to The Nile Project, this is part of a greater disconnect between these nations. “In east Africa, even though we’re neighbors, even though the Nile River connects eleven countries, we actually don’t know each other that well,” co-founder Meklit Hadero told Seattle’s KEXP 90.3. Hadero, an Ethiopian-American musician, joined forces with Egyptian ethnomusicologist Mina Girgis to create The Nile Project, which provides educational programs, leadership prizes, fellowships and cultural outreach to promote unity in the region as well as bring international attention to the water conflicts in the basin.We strengthen institutional capacity not by giving money to governments like the World Bank does,” says Girgis, “but by supplementing the governmental capacity with citizen, civil society and private sector capacity by engaging (inspiring, educating and empowering) them to understand and address the cultural, social, economic, and environmental challenges to the Nile's sustainability.”

Founded in 2011, The Nile Project collective (comprised of musicians from various basin countries) goes on extensive international tours, not only to perform but to educate and inspire multicultural efforts. They hold workshops, visit college campuses and elementary schools, and take residencies in various East African countries spreading their message. “We’re modeling the kind of relationship that we’d like to see in East Africa,” says Hadero.

“Who besides you could’ve gathered the people,
We rise to the heights, come down to the gravel,
Come closer to me beloved, come closer to me,
Bring your people’s goodness, enrich me,
Come closer to me beloved, come closer to me,
Break down your barriers, rise to me,
Who besides you could’ve gathered the people,
We rise to the heights, come down to the gravel.”
-"Gharib Ley" (Arabic)

Images provided by The Nile Project.


lowland hum 

Utne Reader is proud to premiere the video of Lowland Hum's "Four Sisters: Part 3" from the folk duo's Four Sisters EP.

Lowland Hum is a North Carolina-based folk duo comprised of Daniel and Lauren Goans. Married in 2012, the duo released its first album, Native Air, in 2013 followed by a three-song EP titled Four Sisters in late 2014. The three songs were intended to be part of a second full-length, but the Goans felt they fit well with each other as a package and decided to release the songs as a limited edition 10-inch with a cover handmade by Lauren, who is also a visual artist.

Here's the video premiere of "Four Sisters: Part 3," which is the final song on the EP. A beautiful backdrop of mountains and waning light provide the perfect setting for the duo's delicate harmonies and Daniel's perfectly subtle guitar. Simply shot and evocative, the video is a great representation of the Goans' approach to making and sharing their music.

On April 14, the duo will release its self-titled second full-length record and will embark on a two-month tour to spread the word. Attendees to their live performances are not only treated to lovely music infused with deep meaning, but to a multisensory experience that includes light installations, art, handmade lyric books, and even local baked goods, all to emphasize the community-oriented focus of their music. As Daniel puts it, their intent is to "remove the 'transactional' nature of the artist / listener relationship."

Listen to more of Lowland Hum's music and view more of Lauren's art at their website.


kristin andreassen

Utne Reader is proud to premiere "The Fish and Sea" from Gondolier, the new album by singer-songwriter Kristin Andreassen.

Known primarily for her work in traditional folk and old-time music circles with the stringband Uncle Earl and other groups, Kristin Andreassen took her time putting together the songs that became Gondolier. The album took shape over a period of years, shaped both by Andreassen's foundation in folk music and the opportunities that came her way to work with artists in other genres, such as Sufjan Stevens. The end result is a beautiful collection of songs that reflect the varied influences Andreassen has encountered and taken to heart over the course of her career thus far. “Most of these were written on a quiet island in New Hampshire,” she says of the songs on Gondolier. “So the lake itself shows up everywhere—rainstorms, boats, fish—submersive sounds and layers in the lyrics and the music.”

Below is the premiere of "The Fish and the Sea" along with three additional songs from the new album. Gondolier is out on Feb. 17, and Andreassen is on tour now in support. 



Photo by John Madere

If you think you aren’t familiar with Lella and Massimo Vignelli, you’re probably wrong. Anyone who has seen the maps and signs for the New York City Subway, the logos for Ford, Bloomingdales and American Airlines (1967-2013), or noticed the ubiquity of the font Helvetica, knows their work. The Vignellis worked together throughout their 57-year marriage, their strengths and weaknesses working in perfect compliment until Massimo’s death last year. Design is One, a documentary by Kathy Brew and Roberto Guerra, took on the task of reducing the extensive careers and endearing personalities of the design world’s most influential couple to 79 minutes of film. The result is an accessible look into the Vignellis’ diverse resume in design, peppered with off-the-cuff philosophizing by the prolific duo as they look back on a lifetime of creative inertia.  

Design is One does not call the viewer to action, pander to the emotions or bury the subject in its own artistic vision. Much like a designer, the film seems to realize that its primary duty is function, disappearing behind subjects who are thankfully articulate and charismatic enough to carry it. Mirroring the varied careers of Lella and Massimo, the film lacks discernible structure. Not necessarily linear or divided by medium, it is most accurately an impressionistic snapshot of the creative passion, celebrated innovation, design philosophy, and contrarian but loving relationship of the famous pair.

The working partnership of the Vignellis is at once contentious, adoring and above all, symbiotic. Lella, the MIT-trained architect and shrewd businesswoman has the less glamorous job of reigning in Massimo, the dreamer, the graphic innovator. As a pair, design is constant—a lifestyle rather than a 9-5 profession. “If you can’t find it, design it,” their motto echoes throughout the film, and true to it the couple even designed clothing and jewelry when they found their standards of utility and aesthetics unmet.

The scene that most concisely encompasses the Vignellis’ dedication to design is set inside their favorite project: the interior of St. Peters Church in New York City. Vignelli design in its purest form, the space is elegant, minimalist, and deceptively functional—seemingly unmoving pews can be rearranged for various uses, and steps open up to reveal additional seating. Lella and Massimo are visibly fulfilled in this space, as they look around with satisfaction and single out their favorite details. At one point, Massimo gestures to a high corner where he and Lella are to be entombed. As if it weren’t poetic enough to spend eternity together amid their own designs, Massimo explains that his name will not be inscribed in his signature Helvetica font, “Which everybody will expect,” he says. “The typeface for the church is Optima. In deference to the standards, my tomb will be in Optima, my name will be in Optima.”  

For those interested in the delicate combination of beauty and utility or curious about the figures who contribute to our visual lexicon, Design is One is time well spent.

Images provided by Vignelli and Associates


yabby you 

Utne Reader is proud to premiere a two-song sampler for the 3-disc box set celebrating the influential music of reggae outsider Vivian "Yabby You" Jackson.

Making a name for himself with his DIY ethos, ardent Christian faith, and influential collaborations, Yabby You earned public recognition for his hit "Conquering Lion," but never managed to reach the heights of his contemporaries in the roots reggae scene. He did, however, make plenty of friends over the years, some of whom became so taken by his music that they did whatever they could to give it greater exposure.

One such friend was Shanachie Entertainment GM Randall Grass, who first heard Yabby You's music in 1977 and has been instrumental in keeping his legacy alive. “It was extremely difficult to obtain but what I heard was transformative," says Grass. "When I went to Jamaica for the first time in 1982, I mentioned to the late Hugh Mundell that I wished I could meet Yabby You, thinking that was an impossible dream. The next day there was a knock on my hotel room door and in came Hugh with Yabby You on crutches behind him. That meeting, marked by much reasoning and quotation of Bible verses, led to the first release by Shanachie of Yabby’s music in America. I last visited him at his home in Jamaica a couple years before his death. When he died I felt a personal mission to preserve and re-present his great musical legacy and so decided to put together this project.”

The project Grass refers to is a comprehensive 3-disc box set titled Dread Prophecy that Shanachie will be releasing on Feb. 17. With 56 total tracks and extensive liner notes, the set includes his well-known classics, 31 songs never before released on CD, as well as 12 never before released rarities. Here is a two-song sampler of the set that includes Yabby You's biggest hit, "Conquering Lion." 


sharon isbin 


PBS documentary and 5-CD box set celebrate the career of classic guitar virtuoso Sharon Isbin. 


Sharon Isbin is widely regarded as one of the foremost guitar players in the world. Though she's primarily known as a classical guitarist, she's collaborated with and cultivated the respect of musicians from numerous genres outside the classical genre.


To celebrate her extraordinary career thus far, American Public Television will be premiering the documentary Sharon Isbin: Troubadour on public television stations throughout the United States now through March. Warner Classics has also released a 5-CD box set with music from the film, Sharon Isbin: 5 Classic Albums, and the DVD/Blu-ray of the documentary will be released in March by Video Artists International. Here is the trailer for the documentary and a brief Q&A with Isbin that offers some additional insight into a remarkable musician.


Talk about about how you discovered the guitar. What drew you to classical music as opposed to other genres?
Our family moved from Minneapolis to Italy for a year when I was nine. The experience opened me up to languages, history, Europe…and the guitar. When an older brother requested guitar lessons—hoping to become the next Elvis—he soon learned the teacher had studied with Segovia and played classical. He bowed out and I took take his place by default. I knew only that I loved folk music and imagined this couldn’t be too far afield!

Throughout your career you've demonstrated an incredible passion for your craft as well as a tenacity for pushing yourself forward. Where does that drive come from? 
I love what I do, and have always been motivated by a pioneering spirit. As a young girl with two older brothers, I was determined to enjoy the same rights and privileges they had. As a guitarist, I believed in the beauty and power of the instrument, and that it deserved the respect afforded other classical instruments like the piano and violin. This meant broadening horizons by commissioning leading composers to write for me, embracing new collaborations and genres, and cultivating a playing style that celebrates lyricism, color and nuance, as well as virtuosity.

It's been said that you've shattered boundaries for both women in music and guitar in the classical genre. Do you feel like you've had to overcome certain kinds of obstacles pertaining to to this throughout your career?
One summer as a kid at the Aspen Music Festival, I was one of only two girls out of fifty guitar students. It was a challenge, but one that motivated me to study even harder to eliminate any questions of gender. I’ve been a soloist with orchestras that either had never had a guitarist before or not for decades. I’m still the only guitarist to have recorded with the New York Philharmonic, and the sole female guitarist to have won a classical GRAMMY! Long before it was fashionable, I mixed genres and worked with jazz and rock artists. The last two seasons, I toured my Guitar Passions trio with jazz greats Stanley Jordan and Romero Lubambo, who, along with rockers Steve Vai, Nancy Wilson from Heart, and Steve Morse, join me in a CD by the same title. Last April, I premiere a concerto written for me by jazz artist Chris Brubeck.


How do you feel the new Sharon Isbin: Troubadour documentary captures the essence of your career? What messages do you think it gets across to the audience? 
Viewers are drawn to the personal, spontaneous and fun nature of the film, and the variety of musical styles shared with artists like Joan Baez, Mark O’Connor, Steve Vai, Tan Dun, Chris Rouse, John Corigliano, Rosalyn Tureck, and non-musicians like Martina Navratilova and First Lady Michelle Obama. Producer Susan Dangel and editor Dick Bartlett accomplish the remarkable by making the audience feel as if they are invisible participants in a truly unexpected journey, whether backstage at the GRAMMYs or launching rockets. People have told me they feel ever more inspired to pursue their dreams, undaunted by roadblocks, empowered by their passion.


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