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In need as I was today of a little pick-me-up, I thought it might be time to get back to my Thursday Three habit, snuck in before bedtime. As one of my best music aficionado mates introduced me to the ARC Gospel Choir today, this week’s theme is a little tribute to the great women of Gospel.

At Number 3:

I could not imagine music without Eva. I imagine heaven sounds like this (On bright Sunday afternoons, until which time it should sound like a well-rehearsed Cathedral Choir…)


In at Number 2:

The magnificent Mavis Staples, who needs no introduction.


And at Number 1:

The beautiful Alison Krauss. I will never tire of hearing this song.

Honourable mention for the boys:

It was just about impossible to grow up as a youth group kid in the 90s and not know Jars of Clay – their self-titled album was a bit of a rite of passage! For all there are a lot of things that I don’t love about contemporary church music, this cover has a nice bit of harmony and happiness:


Of my many shortcomings, a lack of any significant musical ability is probably the most disappointing to me. I’ve never really learned an instrument, can’t particularly sing, and lacked the attention span in primary school to make the recorder sound any better than a cheap kazoo. Which is frustrating, because sometimes words on their own just aren’t enough to express what needs to be said, felt, or shared… Whether it’s that exquisite agony of fresh love, or the immense thankfulness that follows an unexpected kindness, or united rage against the man, or the still and quiet contentment of one’s own company.

Perhaps because I am fated to be stuck hearing but not making, I’m particularly appreciating playing my way through the modest little vinyl collection I have been building, now that I have inherited a humble turntable. A few thoughts on that before I move on:

  • Vinyl really does sound better than a CD or mp3 file. REALLY. I’m no physicist, so I don’t entirely grasp ‘the recording is less compressed and therefore the amplitude of the sound wave etc’ business, but there’s a richness and balance that definitely raises the bar.
  • Listening to vinyl is inherently a more attentive experience, mostly because you can’t just hit ‘repeat playlist’ and walk away to do housework or whatever. Rather, hunt through the collection for a record, unpack it from its various sleeves and load it, find that lead in groove (now there’s a band name in the making), gently set down the tone arm… Just for half a dozen songs. Repeat. Somewhere in there – dust is the devil and must burn.
  • Higher end audiophile equipment is becoming increasingly beautiful, and with all the fancy business. Lust territory for sure. Hey there Pro-Ject, with your delicious mahogany plinths to complement a beautiful pair of walnut Ruark active speakers. I see you.

My mismatched wee stash of records is a bit nostalgic – some inherited, some found randomly, some hunted down. Not quite a tune for every occasion just yet, but getting there. So, the albums that have helped this week along its way:

1. Horse Feathers ‘Thistled Spring’

These gentle Appalachian folk are the definition of warm, slightly haunting tunes for when your melancholy needs to be let out. It got a spin because I am firmly of the view that the great United States have contributed more to modern music across a variety of genre than any other nation by far… But aren’t they hurting something fierce at the moment. So in honour of the creative, prophetic, hopeful types speaking truth to power in an increasingly dangerous and bigoted time… You keep on keeping on.

Said it better than I could: ‘There’s a pain in the west, a sinking feeling deep down in their chests… A little town like a lamb. Well a lion came down and took their dam. February was lean, and March came to scream.’ (Vernonia Blues)

(Also you make BEAUTIFUL records. To look at I mean. I heart you).

2. ‘Odetta Sings’

This courageous and graceful lady covers the greats with the best of them. I really like a good reinterpretation of an old hit. And there’s something about a southern dame of Alabama lending her voice to a lilting gospel tune that settles the soul of any old body searching for a little peace and perspective.

Said it better than I could: ‘I don’t build no heathen temples, Where the Lord has laid his hands, there’s a well on the hill. Let it be.’ (Lo and Behold)

(Look at her!)

3. Jamie Lawson (self-titled)

This album has been sitting at the top of my favourites for an unusually long time. I could listen to his honey-coloured voice and soft acoustic guitar for days on end. Well timed reminder; I can just occasionally be guilty of a little attempted self-sufficiency, which has never really been remotely helpful. There are far more good people in my world than I possibly deserve, and I need reminding from time to time that life is best lived in good company, not in safe isolation or deliberate busyness. Thank goodness for gracious friends and better angels.

Said it better than I could: ‘I know I make mistakes and I can let you down, don’t always find the words to say. For all this searching you’re the best thing that I’ve found – I’ll be hoping you stay.’ (Don’t let me let you go)

Thus ends the soundtrack of this week, with all it’s lessons and loveliness. x

A few months ago, I was given quite a remarkable gift – by far the most generous gift I have ever been given by someone I’m not related to, and even then, it may well still be at the top of the list. A friend of mine is an extremely talented artist, and after five happy months of working in the same location, she gave me a matching set of two paintings as a farewell gift. They are stunningly beautiful – like I said, she’s very clever. But the reason I love them so much is not because they are so excellent (they really are), it’s because the content is so significant. They overflow with good memories of important moments, with painstaking care and attention, with steadily devoted attention to imagining for the sake of someone else. They are not the result of overnight effort, but days and weeks. They are incredibly impressive to look at, but perhaps more importantly, deeply moving to feel. I’m pretty lucky to know this girl. Those paintings are hanging on my wall – I see them everyday – and everyday they make me smile. And sometimes I really need that.

In fact, I am only now beginning how much I actually depend on moments like those. I used to think that watching and listening and experiencing the artistic expression of others was an optional extra in life – a luxury to be indulged in when one wished to get cultured and all. It isn’t. It’s life-saving. Sometimes, when all the practical, necessary business of living gets too much, it’s urgent. Breathing in city smog everyday will kill you fairly quickly – every now and then, you need a bit of wide open landscape and some fresh air, or you’ll choke to death. Too much working and being responsible is much the same – suffocating. I forget that sometimes, and find myself needing to correct it, desperately. Late last year, when the candle had been burning too long at both ends, I found myself needing to see something beautiful, like sick people need medicine. So I found myself at the local markets – good food, good coffee, the precious work of gifted artists, set up around the buildings of a school. I remember lying on the oval in the sun, and realising it was the first time I had truly relaxed in about a year. But I know that the gift of that space came at a cost. As I wandered, and chatted with stallholders, I noticed a tension… Their eyes and their words would animate as they explained the story behind their work, and the quirks and particularities that made it theirs. But there was also hesitation in that careful explanation – a modest self-deprecation, in case that labour and love wasn’t recognised or appreciated. Because what if this, the product of my hard work, all I can show on the outside of who I am on the inside, isn’t significant to anyone else? It never occurred to me how costly it must be make good art.

I was reminded of this overwhelmingly again last night, when I saw Missy Higgins in concert at the Enmore. She is a national treasure, in my opinion, and I have made a point of seeing her perform live whenever I can, because she is breathtaking to watch in person. Those few concerts have also uncannily intersected with curious junctions in my own life. These days, mine intersects with all sorts of people in all sorts of places, and mostly we are left with more questions, and less answers. Those things that are bubbling away beneath the surface of my world at the moment – how costly love can be, how physically painful remorse can be, how disorienting and dark uncertainty can be – I don’t have words for them. But you, Missy, you do. And you didn’t find those words living an easy, unreflected life – don’t I know that. Your willingness to share that in the borderlands of private and public life is incredibly generous. Thank you for giving me someone my own age to be in awe of, for being so wise, so cheeky, so honest. You are a master poet, who speaks with words like molten silver that fall from you with such power and such truth. It helped me to hear them. In the middle of those ‘more questions, less answers’ is perhaps the simpler question of ‘What can I not live without?’ Right now, I cannot live without the things that make the world more beautiful.

Quote of the Week

“I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.”

Khaled Hosseini - The Kite Runner


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