Wishing Chair, |
The Ghost of Will Harbut
(Terrakin Records, 2000)
I've eagerly anticipated a new album from Wishing Chair since falling in love with their earlier Singing With the Red Wolves, and The Ghost of Will Harbut did not disappoint me. Its ten original songs make up a solid folk-rock album with a bit less of the country flavor in some of Red Wolves. It's also a more outwardly oriented album with more songs relating to public issues and questions while nicely avoiding preachiness.
"The Ghost of Will Harbut," the title song, mourns the loss of the fields, horses and way of life the development of the Kentucky bluegrass country has wrought. I know very little about the area, the way of life, or horses and horse-racing -- and it still brings me to the verge of tears. Kiya Heartwood, who wrote or co-wrote all the songs as well as being one of the lead singers, has captured the beauty of the area so well that its overdevelopment hurts. The simple acoustic guitar and harmonica accompaniment is the perfect match to the intricate lyrics.
I think we've all known people like the woman described in "Now," who "wants all the toys in the big wide world, the power and the glory, she's a growing girl." I laughed the first time I heard it. Heartwood has so perfectly sketched this character with lyrics that are snide, funny and apt!
"Hangin by a String" is another fun song, although one which I cannot approve as a parent! Her father advises her to quit listening to the steel guitar if she wants to go far ... and, of course, she doesn't listen. This is a lively, danceable song with an early-rock 'n' roll sound.
Both "Wheatfields of South Dakota" and "Roads of Tenderness" are beautiful and poetic love songs, with some of the most stunning imagery I've heard in songs. Both describe the early days of a love, with phrases like "...drinking the glass of your whiskey brown eyes" from "Wheatfields," and "This love it feels like diamonds, like dragons in my heart" from "Roads." The poignant lyrics and the soft music set each other off perfectly.
"Rose of Sharon" is also touching but sadder, since it describes a love that used to be shared but is now in the past. Despite the ending, though, the singer wishes the other well, and I enjoyed hearing a song in which a separation did not engender bitterness and vindictiveness, even though it was painful.
I hear a lot of music about teen and young adult angst, so "Middle Age" is refreshing. With its subject of middle-aged angst, it tells how I feel on the bad days but also describes the hope we continue to have.
The remaining songs are the most explicitly political on the album. "Family Man" is shocking and thought-provoking, telling how the singer's grandmother said "It's about time" after the assassination of Martin Luther King, and wondering "Now my grandma was a real good woman -- how could she want that man to die?" It reminds me that although we have a long way to go to a color-blind society, we have come quite a way as well, and asks of people then and now "Good people, black and white, How could you make your hearts so hard?" as it advocates for peaceful change. "99" also encourages us to persist in making changes, in not giving up as "You gain an inch, then lose a yard" because "It's a walk that you and I we won't regret." The album's final song is another call to action as we try to move our society to a "Higher Ground." It's sung in a gospel or anthem style with a very minimal drum accompaniment to the vocal harmonies, and with the repetition of "higher ground" in a call-and-response style makes it particularly effective.
For me politics in the broadest sense are an intrinsic part of life, so I'm not put off by some political content in a CD. In fact, when it's altogether lacking I miss the connection of the intimate with the public. I know not everyone feels this way, though, and I do want to emphasize that the political content of this album is not excessive nor heavy-handed, even if my descriptions of it may sound so.
Wishing Chair's Kiya Heartwood and Miriam Davidson added some additional musicians on various songs, but their style comes through. Musically, this is an excellent album, and the songwriting is superb. (I know I've said that in a lot of my reviews lately -- I've been lucky to have received quite a few wonderful ones!) If you're familiar with Wishing Chair, I know you'll like this album of theirs; if not, either this one or their earlier Singing With the Red Wolves would make a fine addition to the music collections of those who love good songwriting, effectively sung and played.
[ by Amanda Fisher ]