"This music defies categorization and contains mind-expanding literary lyrics, with soaring psychedelic arcs reminiscent of the best of the late '60's."
- TR Black, KUCI.FM
"Simply beautiful" - London's Kalling
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This intimate folk-infused duo CD was inspired by Picasso's "The Weeping Women," a compelling series of portraits of women in various depictions of despair. Singer/songwriter Angela Carole Brown was moved to compose a body of songs that examined that poignant phenomenon, the shedding of tears. Here she collaborates with guitarist virtuoso Ken Rosser, and together they have created the ambient, post-modern folk odyssey, MUSIC FOR THE WEEPING WOMAN.
With Special guests:
Prince Diabate on kora
Sarah O'Brien on cello
A Personal Note From Ken:
“The thing that I find both strikingly unique and inspiring about Angela is her generosity. Rather than view the band as something she sings on top of, she sings inside the band, finding a way to mesh with the other instruments as an equal. She yields space, focus and direction to other members of the band, to make the whole thing sound as good as it can. She is the ultimate team player, and as a result, the respect that she commands among musicians at every artistic and professional level is no accident. Angela is the kind of musician whose vision shapes the whole music, not just her own performance. Being able to play or sing is one thing, but ultimately it is about what you have to say. Angela always has something to say.
"When Angela suggested this project to me and its inspirational roots in Picasso's Weeping Woman exhibit, I was delighted, as this was not only an exhibit I went out of my way to see while it was in Los Angeles (twice!), but in a broader sense I felt it was a way to reflect upon, and honor, the many women who have played a pivotal role in my own life.
"And in discussing the texture and narrative she wanted to create, I felt in many ways as if Angela was constructing a giant musical amusement park and giving me the only key, so tailor-made was it to my own sensibilities, and so ecstatic was my joy in exploring it.
"I feel very lucky and proud to have been a part of this."
MUSIC FOR THE WEEPING WOMAN:
The Journey from Germ to Music
By Angela Carole Brown
A young woman begins each day with a "scheduled" release, where she unplugs her phone, sits on the edge of her bed, and waits for the floodgates to open. She then cries a good, hearty wail, gets is all out, re-plugs the phone, and happily goes about her day.
This is a scene from a movie I once saw. And though it was obviously intended to depict the over-achieving, high-strung nature of this character in a humorous way, I connected with this moment very profoundly. I knew this woman. She was me. And I realized, after watching this scene, that I hadn't ever validated my own weeping the way this sublime character had. In treating it as one would meditation or exercise, she had given weeping its respectful place in her life.
In our society, we're taught that weeping is a sign of weakness and indulgence. But I have always maintained that the healing power of tears has been tragically underestimated. There truly is a clearing that happens to the mind and heart and spirit when a good cry has been allowed. Even the tears of grief, sadness, or anger can have the power to deliver one to a kind of unburdening.
The phenomenon of the weeping woman is not new. The legend of La Llorona, Spanish for "weeping woman,' has been a part of Hispanic culture since the days of the conquistadores. And of course, there is Picasso's monumental undertaking "Guernica," depicting the horrors of war, in a way no other artist had managed it: by reflecting the impact of war on the woman, the hearth-tender, and her children. It was out of this muraled masterpiece, Picasso's artistic reaction to the Spanish Civil War, that his series "The Weeping Women" came to be, and from that series of iconic portraits that my canon of songs, MUSIC FOR THE WEEPING WOMMAN, has come.
I, however, extended that concept to include not only women (though it was Pablo's feminine muses that inspired), and not only in states of despair, but as well in celebration, yearning, self-examination, joy, and cleansing, all instigators of that poignant phenomenon, the shedding of tears.
The songs that began to spill out of me, in the writing stage, were all about exposing the deepest heart, and as such, have a kind of fragility to them. And for such a journey, I wanted, from a musical standpoint, a more delicate and intimate pas de deux between guitar and voice. So I called upon my longtime collaborator and friend, guitarist virtuoso Ken Rosser. Here is a musician who experiments with textures and uses stringed instruments (of which he plays a multitude, from all over the world) in envelope-pushing ways, just so he can capture a smidgen of gorgeous pathos. He isn't a purist, but the better of it. If I may coin a word, Ken Rosser is an expandist, often assembling sounds with whatever tools are at his disposal, much in the New Music School tradition of the "prepared" approach to the guitar. A small sampling of his instruments includes the pipa and xin-xin of China, the Indian sitar, the djeli-n'goni from Nigeria, the Vietnamese dan bau, the African Guitar, and, of course, good old American guitars and lap steel. So, though this was intended as a simple and sparse guitar and vocals folk recording, it became something altogether richer and more textural. And as he and I began to play around with sound, I began, from the composing standpoint, to think "thicker."
"Blue Sea of August," for example, is almost a sea shanty, yet without the yo-ho-ho-ness of your typical sea shanties. Instead there is a quality of looming doom in the music, much like that sense one might get from staring out at the sea, and acknowledging its ever-elusive horizon. I wanted the feeling of a haunting. So Ken began experimenting with loops and feedback, and a kind of grungy aural-ness that almost evoked the sound of whales, or the creaking of a barge, and suddenly this unfolding of a dark abyss began to take shape. And so what began as an invocation of blue in the "clear waters of Cabo" sense of the word, was suddenly blue as in the dark-almost-black-waters sense, and the feeling of loss became the prevalent sensation in the song. And then, of course, there is also the book-ended "Bells (of the Blue Sea)," which is an instrumental rendering of the same song, and whose textures are even thicker and darker.
I took the title for this song from the 1975 Lena Wertmuller film "Swept Away," whose complete title is actually "Swept Away by an Unusual Occurrence on the Blue Sea of August." But the movie studio nixed the cumbersome title, and went with the shortened version for its official release. Personally, I think they kept the wrong half of the title. There is something iconic and charismatic in the words "blue sea of August", and since no one else was using it, I capitalized on it and spun a tale of longing, loss, and haunting.
"Far Above Rubies" is a genteel waltz, fashioned in the style of an Irish folk song, and which gets its title from the book of Proverbs. "Who can find a virtuous woman, for her worth is far above rubies."
This was a passage read at my mother's funeral six years ago, and, in fact, her passing, and my grief over it, is what single-handedly inspired this project.
My mother was not a singer, but she loved to sing. And we used to tease her that her singing voice sounded a bit like Julia Child. There is a recording of her; one of those situations at a family reunion where someone turned on a tape recorder and stuck it in the corner of the room. And after several drinks and lots of merriment, my mother and her siblings started singing church hymns. They all used to sing in the church choir as kids, so they knew the harmony parts. And at one point, they started singing the hymn "Give Me A Clean Heart," with my mother taking the lead. And for years, whenever we kids would listen to that recording, it would be with much fond, reminiscing joy, and not a little laughter at my mother’s voice.
It was after my mother passed away that I heard her voice very differently when listening to that recording. Suddenly, at least to my ears, there was deep pathos and poignancy to it. And I realized that I could no longer hear her voice the way I used to. And so "Far Above Rubies" became a song about seeing something or someone you've seen or known forever, but suddenly with a new set of eyes (or in this case ears).
On this song, Ken and I are accompanied by the lovely Sarah O'Brien on cello.
"Bagamoyo" is a particularly special song for me. Because it is actually a true story that was told to me years ago by my sister, who lived for a time in the Tanzanian farm town, off the coast of the Indian Ocean. Not only have I found this tale to be quite haunting, and in fact have retold it several times, in various mediums, over the years (it is recalled by the character of "Nona" in my novel "The Assassination of Gabriel Champion."), but I found it especially befitting the thematic nature of this music. Who was to say that I could not include animals, and their emotions (which they do have!), in my expression of weeping women? And suddenly, the idea became exciting for me to explore. I wrote the lyrics with a very prose approach, and tried to give it the feel of old folklore; an ancient tale handed down generations, by old griots. And because this tale is African by its very origin, Ken and I bumped our heads to figure out what we could do to give it more of an African flavor. Enter the venerated kora player from Guinea, Prince Diabate, a musician whom Ken has played with for many years, and who actually hails from a long line of kora players, which was in perfect keeping with my idea of invoking the sense of old folklore.
"Dark December" is a direct response to the grief I experienced after my mother's passing. She was found alone in her home, and I have often wondered what those last minutes in her life must've been like for her. When you're surrounded by loved ones all standing around your death bed, and you get to have a majestic passing, with the laying on of hands and love as you exit this realm, there probably isn't a whole lot of contemplation of the act itself; you're too overwhelmed by the legacies of your life all standing around your bedside. But when you die alone, you have only death to commune with in that instant. What must that "conversation" be like? "Dark December" is my supposing of one's conversation with death.
"Ticket Home" was composed during a very dark time for me, a time of feeling as though I was falling off the wall of sanity, that I was breaking in two. What I've found most fascinating about the meaning of this song - for me - is that I've gotten more than a few responses to the song from people who heard the invocation of finding one's ticket home in a very literal sense, and especially, for example, survivors of Hurricane Katrina. It isn't inaccurate to hear the song that way. Because, though I intend "home" in the title to refer to sanity, it's really ALL about finding one's ground again, whether literally or figuratively. That is the beauty and magic of music. And Ken's lap steel on this piece actually sounds like a woman crying, which breaks my heart every time I hear it.
"Wild Orchids" is an original requiem mass that pays tribute to friends of mine who died from AIDS - I came out of the era, and culture, when all my friends seemed to be disappearing from this horrible malady, and the list was always too long - and to the mothers that were left behind, with the awful plight of having to bury their children before themselves. The wild orchid symbolizes their angelic form, and, in fact, I made a music video for this song (not my recording of it, but a recording done by the Hollywood Master Chorale), that is really just a series of still photographs of stone angels, which was how I had always envisioned these passed souls who had once been my friends. I chose images of stone angels to fuel the piece because, in the words of playwright Tony Kushner: "They commemorate death, yet suggest a world without dying. They're made of the heaviest things on earth, stone. Yet they're winged; they are engines and instruments of flight." And from my own words, they are known as the guardians of our souls. They take up, or we assign them, residence in the memory of our departed ones. And in that respect, they comfort us, in that their very existence, whether real or conjured, assures us that our loved ones are never far.
When I wrote the song "Martin and Malcolm," I assumed anyone who heard the title would automatically know that I was referring to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Surprisingly, not so. I used to introduce the song in performance by saying that I was inspired to write it after a conversation I'd had with my two (at the time) teenaged brothers, and had discovered that their heroes didn't really extend beyond rappers and ballplayers. And I would almost invariably have someone come up to me afterwards and ask if Martin and Malcolm were the names of my two brothers.
Well, okay, yes, in a sense.
But, of course, not in the way people would mean by their question.
I actually made a music video for this song too (me learning about moviemaking is a bit of a dangerous thing), and used a kind of photographic hero's parade of the many in history (Martin and Malcolm being but two of them) who have championed, fought for, and sometimes died for, the rights, freedoms, and protection of others. I also found it particularly poignant that the release date of "Music for the Weeping Woman" was just four days after we, as a country, elected our first-ever African-American president, and suddenly the song had a whole other HUGE resonance to it.
"Seven Bottles of Light" and "Lily in the Wind" are my euphoria songs. They are the unbridled celebration of the rocky, rollercoaster, loopy ride that IS the spiritual journey. And as such, have a sort of buoyant drive to them. Like when you'd spin and twirl as a kid, until you were dizzy with glee.
And here is where I choose to end my elaborations, which actually leaves out a handful of other songs that complete this musical canon. But not because I feel there is less to say about them. Only that in the final end, when it comes to music, it really must simply speak –– or sing –– for itself.
Let a bended note or a bold cadenza take you to places only music can take you.
And a whole canon of songs about weeping? A risky venture, I've been told.
All I have to say about that is that tears are a kind of baptism. They unburden and they renew.
Why does woman weep?
Is it for the pain she bears?
The mighty cloak of weight she wears?
Is it for the love she's found?
The wonders of a bearing ground?
Or is it for the cleansing?
Is it from the goat she scaped
for Eden's fated fall from grace?
The stark motifs of Guernica
that challenge our Utopia?
Or is is simply for the cleansing?
Some will say she's overwrought.
Seeks to wallow in the plot.
But having held one in my arms
without the angle of a lover's charms,
I believe it's largely for the cleansing.
People ask me why I like to cry at movies I've seen twice.
All I have to answer is that sweet release feels awfully nice.
Let it out. Let it go. And come up cleansed and reborn.
"Tears, at times, carry all the weight of speech."
Also please check out Angela's critically acclaimed novel, TRADING FOURS, a story of four L.A. musicians whose lives collide in a single day, available in most online bookstores.