Arts and Culture

Video Premiere: Annie Moses Band - "Psalm of Life"

Utne Reader is proud to premiere the new video for "Psalm of Life" from genre-blending string band The Annie Moses Band. 

The Annie Moses Band have made a name for themselves as pioneers of contemporary classical music rooted in country and americana influences. Today they are sharing their video for "Psalm of Life", a song whose gorgeous arrangement puts both the band's technical skill and musical versatility to the test. 

"Psalm of Life" will be included on American Rhapsody, the band's forthcoming studio album, due out this autumn. As the band puts it, “'Psalm of Life' is quintessential to what American Rhapsody is all about, and was inspired by many streams of Americana. From the haunting melody of Dvorak’s ‘American' string quartet, to the fiery fiddle reel 'Musical Priest,' to the famous words of Longfellow in his 'Psalm of Life'. It’s an epic journey."

The band is also planning to film a special for PBS entitled "The Art of the Love Song", and have launched a Kickstarter campaign to support the production. 

Video Premiere: Hayward Williams - "Under Control"

Utne Reader is proud to premiere the video for "Under Control" by singer-songwriter Hayward Williams, which is from his new album The Reef.

Anxiety is a difficult challenge for anyone, but it's especially tough for those who make their living putting themselves in anxiety-producing situations. Singer-songwriter Hayward Williams is one of those people, and his latest album, The Reef, is his way of coming to grips with anxiety and how he's going to continue to live his life and make his music.

After a particularly debilitating panic attic in an airport while on tour, Williams decided enough was enough and he sought treatment. Thanks to therapy and anti-anxiety medication, he's been able to keep the acute symptoms of anxiety in check, but not without needing to find a new creative approach to writing and performing his songs. It was with that in mind that Williams wrote the songs on The Reef, using his soulful voice to work through the thoughts and emotions behind his decision to wrestle back control of his life from the grips of anxiety.

One of those songs is "Under Control." "I was on an Australian/New Zealand tour when I wrote 'Under Control,'" says Williams. "When you're down there you're constantly reminded that you're far away from home. There were also a few things up in the air in my life that needed to land in the right place. Mix that up and you get the bones of the song I guess.The video captures those feelings perfectly. I couldn't be happier with the way it turned out."

The Reef is out now

Song Premiere: Ted Drozdowski's Scissormen - "Dreaming on the Road"

Utne Reader is proud to premiere "Dreaming on the Road" by psychedelic blues innovators Ted Drozdowski's Scissormen off their new album Love and Life.

A protégé of the great electric bluesman R.L. Burnside, Ted Drozdowski has been taking what he learned from Burnside to a cosmic level with his experimental juke-joint trio Ted Drozodowski's Scissormen. On the band's sixth album, Love & Life, Drozdowski utilizes just about every guitar effect and multi-tracking technique he can find to impart his characteristic psychedelic vibe to the blues. Speaking about the elaborate production, Drozdowski says he wanted, "to create a broader, unpredictable sonic palette, and just plain get weird." For all of the sonic experimentation on the album, it's worth noting that Drozdowski recorded the record at Omega Lab, which is a "green" studio outside of Nashville. Essentially just a tent on top of a mountain, the studio boasts that it's able to run everything in it on less power than the average hair dryer.

While he certainly elevates traditional blues into another sonic realm with all of the bells and whistles, there are moments on the album that also illustrate his ability be evocative while keeping things simple. One example is the track "Dreaming on the Road," which is a song that Drozdowski wrote in a motel room after the death of New England folksinger Bill Morrissey in 2011:

Drozdowski is also an award-winning music journalist and noted blues expert, and will be publishing an e-book titled Obsessions of a Music Geek, Vol. 1: Blues Guitar Giants to coincide with the album release. Love & Life will be out July 31 on Dolly Sez Woof.

Song Premiere: Bhi Bhiman - "Bread and Butter"

Utne Reader is proud to premiere "Bread and Butter" by Sri Lankan-American folk singer Bhi Bhiman from his new album Rhythm and Reason, available May 19.

Combining a witty sense of humor with biting social commentary, Bhi Bhiman has earned well-deserved comparisons to Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen for his brand of socially-conscious folk rock. On his third album, Rhythm and Reason, Bhiman based the album's 10 songs on his childhood in St. Louis, and his experience as the son of immigrants.

Here is the premiere of Bhiman's new single, "Bread and Butter," followed by a brief Q&A that offers some insight into the lyrics:

What was your inspiration for "Bread and Butter"?
It was inspired by people who find happiness and an appreciation for life despite difficult circumstances.

How did you come up with the idea of describing the 7 deadly sins with
breakfast foods?

The 7 sins appear throughout the lyrics. On that verse in particular, it started with "Don't be jelly, that's my bread and butter." The next thing I knew I had written "That's my jam right there, Cinnamon Sugar Honey / Lady Marmalade, that tart, she owes me money."  And I just kept going.  I love wordplay and comedy and it's fun to incorporate that into my lyrics.

You sing, "This is what I do, sweat down to the bone / Lifetime of hard work, I've come into my own." Who are you channeling? Who are the
hardest working people you know?

That line is probably about me and the work I've put in as a musician ... my 10,000 hours if you will.  But the hardest working people I know are often immigrants. They leave their home and community for an uncertain future in the hopes of opportunity (often taking enormous risks to do so).

What does it feel like to release an album out into the world and relinquish control of the music?
In some ways it feels good, because a lot of hard work was put into it. And it's a great privilege to have your craft be seen or heard. On the other hand it can be intimidating (and sometimes frustrating) to open yourself to scrutiny and critique.

What does Bhi Bhiman eat for breakfast? What sin are you most guilty of?
On a good day, I eat oatmeal with raisins and maple syrup. On an awesome day, it's cold pizza. I'd say my biggest sin is probably gluttony (see eating cold pizza for breakfast).

Rhythm and Reason is out May 19 on BooCoo Music/Thirty Tigers

Song Premiere: Beken - "Kote'w Te Ye"


Utne Reader is proud to premiere "Kote'w Te Ye" by Haitian songwriter Beken from his new album Troubadour, available May 4.

Like most of the people in Haiti, songwriter Beken (given name Jean Prosper Dauphin) has experienced more than his fare share of hardship. Losing his leg in a car accident at the age of 12, Beken seemed destined to live the life of a malare—the ones considered most unfortunate in Haitian society. Beken didn't allow his circumstances to define him, though; in addition to earning a high school education he also learned how to play guitar in order to support himself. He even toured the United States briefly in the 1980s thanks to the initial interest in his brand of melancholy Haitian folk music.

Though well-known in Haiti and with those familiar with Haitian music, Beken is still very much one of the many Haitians just trying to live day to day. In the aftermath of the devastating January 2010 earthquake, a New York Times photographer found Beken living in a temporary camp with thousands of other homeless and destitute Haitians. Once again, luck was on Beken's side as his rediscovery caught the attention of the U.S. distributor Thirty Tigers and producer Chris Donohue.

Though it took several years, Donohue and Beken were able to work together on a new batch of songs that would become Troubadour, his first release on a U.S. label. The lead single is a song called "Kote'w Te Ye," which translates to "Where You Have You Been?" As Donohue explains, the song is Beken's way of addressing the rumors swirling about his whereabouts since the earthquake: 

"In the song, he dispels various rumors of his death and political exile, reassures his fans that he has not abandoned his 'wooden guitar' or his 'beautiful profession,' and asserts that 'whatever your nationality may be, as soon as you hear me you must be consoled.' The passionate urgency of Beken's vocal performance in 'Kote'w Te Ye,' supported by the song's infectious groove and melodies, leave no doubt that the much-revered Haitian maestro has returned with fire in his belly and much left to say to his fans at home and abroad."

Here are the translated lyrics to "Kote'w Te Ye":

Since a very long time I’ve had a wooden guitar
I’m singing for the Holy Trinity
I mustn’t forget Saint Cecilia
Who’s the mother of all musicians
The fans have been impatient
They’re asking where I’ve been
Man, Beken, what are you doing to me this way?
Where have you been, horseman Beken?
Where have you been?
Such a beautiful profession as I have in my hand
How would you want me to abandon it?
It’s not everybody who can find such a gift
That’s my gift that the good Lord gave me
The political crisis made me be silent
They walk around saying I don’t sing any more
But no no no that ‘s not true
Ask me a question
Yes, I know very well that Beken is a serum
That carries a solution to every level of society
Whatever your nationality may be
As soon as you hear me you must be consoled.
(Seven times six,) truth under the drum
Blow the conch shell, I’ll cry, Advance!
I’m bringing a new serum for us
(I am) the medicine
Rumor’s running around, the news is spreading
In Miami they say that I’m dead
The fans say that it’s a lie
The last time I was with them in Haiti
The New York community called to me
What is this news I am hearing?
I have to go back to Paris to sing
Let me cry out!

Song Premiere: Timbre - "Song of the Sun"


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!'"

The Nile Project: Bringing the River Basin Together and to the World


“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.

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