Playlist 2018

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Songs are stories too. And sometimes poetry. And often a comfort to me. Many thanks to my friends for their music.

Fargo, North Dakota, Carter Burwell
Love Theme From Barton Fink, Carter Burwell
My Heart Has Wings, Aengus Finnan
North Wind, Aengus Finnan
Moon On The Water, Aengus Finnan
In the Bleak Midwinter, Bare Necessities
In the Bleak Midwinter, Ryland Angel
St. Margaret’s Hill, Bare Necessities
Old Wife Behind The Fire, Bare Necessities
Hard Times, Gillian Welch
The Way It Will Be, Gillian Welch
Six White Horses, Gillian Welch
Whole Heap a Little Horses, Elizabeth LaPrelle
Pretty Saro. Elizabeth LaPrelle
Black Is the Color, Elizabeth LaPrelle
The Bonny Black Hare, Ian Robb
The Rose of Allandale / Swannanoa, Ian Robb
A Psalm of Life, Jacqueline Schwab
Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, Jacqueline Schwab
Gentle Annie, Jacqueline Schwab
Sous Le Ciel De Paris, 3rd String Trio
Vent D’Automne, 3rd String Trio
Si Bheag, Si Mor, 3rd String Trio

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Beeswing, by Richard Thompson

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Every December I publish my playlist, the songs I’ve been listening to that year. I say that songs are stories too, even the ones without words. And I believe that. I’m still fumbling with the most elementary level of music theory, yet each baby step reinforces that belief.

The story I’m obsessed with right now, the one that’s making it hard for me to pick up a book, is a song by Richard Thompson, an English singer/songwriter and amazing guitarist whom I first heard as part of Fairport Convention. I hadn’t heard this particular song before this week, though I understand it’s been around for a while.

In a concert celebrating the launch of his new CD Land of Fish and Seals, Keith Murphy sang Thompson’s “Beeswing”. In it a man recalls being 19 in the Summer of Love and falling for a girl who refuses to be tied down. The chorus goes:

She was a rare thing, fine as a bee’s wing
So fine a breath of wind might blow her away
She was a lost child, she was runnin’ wild. She said
So long as there’s no price on love I’ll stay
You wouldn’t want me any other way.

As my friend Mary said later, the lyrics are so evocative of that time. I was taken right back to myself at 18, 19, 20. Freedom was a word often on my lips and in my journal. It was the beginning of the second wave Women’s Movement and we were ready to shake off our mothers’ strictures. The little white gloves and girdles and pleated skirts we’d been brought up in were laid aside for bell-bottom jeans and tie-dyed shirts.

More than that, more than having the new magic Pill, we felt like pioneers, exploring where our souls might take us, holding hands in the dark, and running wild in the sunlit cornfields.

Keith brought just the right mix of gentle sadness and nostalgia to the song. The way he lingered on certain words and his deft guitar playing made the story even stronger. I remember that we were nostalgic even then, even in the middle of that time, because we knew it would not last.

It was a rare time, a gossamer time, so light a breath of wind might blow it away.

What’s on your playlist?

Playlist 2017

Songs are stories too. And sometimes poetry. In this year of much darkness and much light, I turned to true stories, songs that gave me courage, and old favorites. Many thanks to my friends for their music.

Blues Run the Game, Jackson C. Frank
Mill Towns, David Francey
Far End of Summer, David Francey
Get Behind the Mule, Tom Waits
Hold On, Tom Waits
House Where Nobody Lives, Tom Waits
Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, Jacqueline Schwab
Lately, Aengus Finnan
Lass Among the Heather, Keith Murphy
C’est Aujoud’hui Grande Fete, Keith Murphy
Waves, Margie Adam
Lighthouse, Cris Williamson
Morning Glory, Terry Garthwaite
Doc Con Xa, Pham Van Ty
Le Morvandiaux Cesar’s The Sound of Sleet, Jeremiah McLane & Timothy Cummings
Bourees 3 Temps, Jeremiah McLane & Timothy Cummings
Keys Meadowhawk Mstr V2, Jeremiah McLane & Timothy Cummings
Let Me Fish Off Cape St. Mary’s, Keith Murphy
A Psalm of Life, Jacqueline Schwab
Loftiδ verδ ur skyndilega kalt, Ólafur Arnalds
ρu Ert Sólin, Ólafur Arnalds
ρu Ert Jöδin, Ólafur Arnalds

The Beat Goes On: The Complete Rebus Stories, by Ian Rankin

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Two weeks ago I was thrilled to hear Ian Rankin speak at my local indie bookstore. He’s been one of my favorite authors ever since the early 1990s when I picked up one of his books at a store in Toronto. I’d seen high praise for his work on DorothyL, a listserv for mystery enthusiasts, but his books were not available where I lived and online bookstores were only just getting started.

Rankin’s books feature John Rebus, following him from his early days as a detective sergeant in Edinburgh as he moves up through the ranks. In the last few years, Rankin has started another series with Inspector Malcolm Fox, but this volume of short stories is all about Rebus.

It’s surprising to me that short story collections are not more popular, especially now when there are so many entertainment options and our attention spans are said to be shrinking. One reason that I sometimes resist short stories is that I find the beginning of a story requires the most concentration. With a novel, the payoff for that investment is much larger than with a short story. However, here the familiar characters and setting make the stories easy to move into.

Putting a story collection together can be tricky. When you put stories written independently next to each other, sometimes unwanted resonances or repetitions might emerge. Not here. The stories are chronological—one of the joys of the Rebus series is that Rankin has the character age in real time—and vary in interesting ways. For example, while all of the stories are in third person, some of them are from the point of view of characters other than Rebus.

We first meet him in his fifties, living alone since his wife left taking their daughter with her. Rebus doesn’t have much of a life outside of the job: just a few friends from work, a broad knowledge of the pubs in Edinburgh, and a love of music. He’s known for going his own way—a trait not valued in a bureaucratic organisation like the police—but also for solving the thorniest crimes. He carries emotional scars from his past, wounds that are chinks in his armor. And, like the best detectives, he has a strong moral code that is constantly being tested.

What I love most in Rankin’s novels are the complex puzzles. The name Rebus itself means a puzzle. In every story, there are multiple strands, later understood to be thematically related, that come together at the end. To my surprise, the stories here are also quite complex despite the smaller playing field.

I also love the huge role played by Edinburgh in Rankin’s work. I feel like I know the city even though I’ve never been there. We endure its weather, spend time in Rebus’s favorite pub, the Oxford Bar, and visit the tourist spots like the Royal Mile and the statue of Greyfriars Bobby. We find ourselves in less savoury parts of town and even explore secret places, like the city below the city. As we follow Rebus in his chase for clues, we start to understand the differences between Edinburgh and other places, such as Glasgow or Fife.

There was standing room only at my local indie bookstore when Ian Rankin spoke. I’m delighted that so many readers have discovered this fabulous author and that he is continuing to give us stories that challenge our minds, enlarge our world, and ask us to look again at our own moral code.

What mystery writers have made your list of favorite authors?

Playlist 2016

Songs, vocal or instrumental, are stories too. And sometimes poetry. These are the songs I kept coming back to this year. Many thanks to my friends for their music. In the end, though, I head back to work, making my own stories.

Bird on a Wire, Jennifer Warnes
Candles In The Dark, Jacqueline Schwab
Oft in the Stilly Night, Flow Gently Sweet Afton, Jacqueline Schwab
Isle of Islay, Donovan
Catch the Wind, Donovan
Black Is the Color, Elizabeth LaPrelle
Handsome Molly, Elizabeth LaPrelle
Wagoner’s Lad, Elizabeth LaPrelle
Storms Are On the Ocean, Elizabeth LaPrelle
Kesh Jigs, Scythian
Malt Is Come Down, Sweet Felons All
Singing Bird, Leela & Ellie Grace
Seamus O’Brien, The Latter Day Lizards
Honeysuckle Cottage, Band of Friends
Whately Barn, Band of Friends
Nostalgia, Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo
Cinema Paradiso: Nostalgia, Yo-Yo Ma/Morricone
Fields Of Gold, Eva Cassidy
Under The Greewood Tree, Hubert Parry
The Blackbird, Hubert Parry
The Lark Ascending, Vaughn Williams Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
Bach: Concerto For 2 Violins In D Minor, BWV 1043 Itzahk Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman; Daniel Barenboim: English Chamber Orchestra
Get Behind The Mule, Tom Waits

What have you been listening to this year?