I’m On My Way

“I’m On My Way” from Rhiannon Giddens’ album ‘There is no Other‘ with Francesco Turrisi.

Music – Subterranean Homesick Blues

I was born the year after the release of the above film (yes film) for the album Bringing it All Back Home.  And yes, I’m giving away my age for free.  Somehow, this song has always hung in my memory and one of the albums I would listen to regularly through the 1980s was the 1967 release, Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits.  This was my dad’s copy played on the old stereo turntable in the basement and I took it, and several others, with me when I moved away.

A profile photograph of Dylan with a deep blue background

I am not a  consistent fan of Dylan and have little or no interest in some of his music but, when he got it right, it was great.  I recall really rediscovering the Subterranean Homesick Blues in the mid-1980s when it was covered by an oddball supergroup of sorts called Ken Bishop’s Nice Twelve put together for a British television show called the Young Ones.  This was in my young wannabe folk musician phase when I was taking in a lot of influences and drifting around a bit.

Anyway, enjoy this musical interlude.

Wandering Minstral

A Wandering Minstral

A Wandering Minstrel

Here is a painting by the Scottish artist John Burr (1831-1893) of an itinerant fiddler playing for a family in a Scottish lane probably trying to make enough money to eat or maybe even receive some food for his entertainment.  I can’t help but think the father looking out has a skeptical look; possibly wondering what this will cost in the end.

Music and storytelling were a very different commodity in an age of widespread illiteracy and 24 hour media.  It’s hard to even imagine a time when all music was handmade and intimate and not an item to be mass marketed.

Wintergatan – ex Machina

Wintergatan Music, Machines and Homemade Music Instruments from Sweden!

I have a fondness for Rube Goldberg machines and clever design.  If it is something that actually makes music as well, then I’m all for it.  After watching this video I felt a need to find out more so exploring I went.  It was a rabbit hole I fell into and am still learning and watching this amazing work.  Have a look and listen to their machine to see what I mean.  It has some genius engineering, is mechanically amazing, and even sounds great too.  This is the culmination of many trials and failures but is ultimately about the music.

Inspired by earlier mechanical musical instruments, especially those in the Speelklok Museum Martin and Wintergatan were determined to make this thing work.  Using CAD and a CNC cutting machine, they created this beautiful human-powered machine that can be “programmed” to play many musical pieces.


I was really fascinated by the way they dealt with time signatures on a program grid (playing triplets vs. 4/4 time for example) and he explains this all very clearly in the many videos.  The following video is just the tip of a very big iceberg but is a great overview of the machine and the work that went into it.

I cannot begin to describe what they have achieved so I suggest, if you have a look at their website (http://www.wintergatan.net/) and check out their videos on YouTube where they show that actual design and construction from prototypes to finished products.

This is truly a case of Deus ex Machina.

WintergatanEnjoy the ride with Martin and Wintergatan.

Monday Morning Music

banjo cowgirl

I can’t find any info on this photo.  I think is says Prairie May at the bottom?

A little cowboy movie music isn’t a bad thing.  Hollywood has produced some good music with the vast resources it has at its disposal.  Here is a link to My Rifle, My Pony, and Me / June Apple from the film Rio Bravo (the hot links will take you to lyrics).

If you know the Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin movie The Three Amigos (a family favorite around here) the first song reminds me of their homage tune Blue Shadows on the Trail.  Take your mind away from work stress, cowboy up, pick up the guitar, and dream of a life on the trails in the Old West.


Classical Time – for the Banjo-ista


If this doesn’t draw in the banjo enthusiasts, I don’t know what will…

I should say it’s Classic Banjo Time.

The modern banjo has ancient roots and shares much with it’s African antecedents.  Its connection to the lute family along with the whole array of drum-headed cousins crossed many lost cultural boundaries in ancient times.  This makes it the perfect candidate for bridging musical genres and styles, from the Sub-Saharan and Arabic music the banjo, with it’s almost ever-present drone string, morphed into creature we know today.  Most non-players only know it from the post-war music known as Bluegrass or maybe even Old-Time Country but there is, and always has been, a broad range of music brought to life on this bright and varied instrument.


Cowboy Singing – Thomas Eakins

I read somewhere long ago the real instrument of the American Cowboy was the banjo due, in part, to the timing and population of the very people who became cowboys.  Forget the 1950s movie stereotype, most cowboys were freed slaves, their offspring, or poor younger sons of Euro-Americans looking for a job and adventure.  Those who were not were likely caballeros from old Mexico or the west in general; they brought most of the guitarras to the scene.


Thomas Eakins, Home Ranch 1888

Where I was going with this ramble was that the humble little banjo can do more than Mumford and Sons or Yonder Mountain String Band patterned rolls.  Nifty and tight as they may be, some of us want to reach beyond and find the real soul in our hands.  Don’t get me wrong, these are fine musicians, but really just one narrow style in a giant spectrum of sound.

Here’s a great example.  What could be better than Bach and banjo?

I suggest checking out more of Mr. Raphaelson’s videos if you want to add a little novelty to your listening lineup.  Whatever your instrument, love it, learn it, and expand upon it.


Since we opened the post with a banjo beauty shot, it seems appropriate to end with one as well.  I love this inlay, by the way.

The Musician – 1887

By Léon François Comerre, French Academic School.  I think this familiar looking instrument comes from Africa via the Arabic world and is generally called a tanbūr. A sort of distant uncle to the modern banjo, America’s African instrument.


The only thing missing is the drone string.

Making a Spanish Guitar in the 21st Century

My friend Bob sent me a link to an excellent video documenting the construction of a Spanish (i.e. Classical) Guitar.  The man is obviously a real craftsman with a purpose-built shop and this is definitely not a one-off project.  If you are like me and like to see how things are made, this half hour video will more than fill the bill.  And there is a nice soundtrack to accompany the work.  Sit back and enjoy.

Have any of you made your own musical instrument?  Do you want to share the experience?