Jay and Abby Michaels - The Harper and The Minstrel, the Celtic/Folk duo from the South Coast of Massachusetts have released their seventh CD. Entitled "For A Moment", the album was recorded in the spring of 2008 at Lindemar Studios.
The music of The Harper and The Minstrel includes traditional songs from the Celtic lands, tunes from the Baroque and Renaissance, and their original material in the Celtic and Folk styles. Their arrangements are performed with Celtic Harps, Flute, Recorder, Pennywhistle, Guitar, Bowed Psaltery and beautiful vocal harmonies.
The latest album features something new. "We've included a few modern cover songs on this CD." Says Jay Michaels, who plays Celtic Harp, Guitar and sings with the duo. "In addition to the Traditional Celtic tunes, we've added a couple of songs by Sting and something by Led Zeppelin."
The Sting songs are Every Little Thing She Does is Magic arranged as a slow acoustic duet, and Fields of Gold performed with Celtic Harp and vocals. The Led Zeppelin song is The Battle of Evermore played with two Harps (nylon and wire-strung), Guitar and vocals.
"We love Led Zeppelin,” says Abby Michaels, who sings and plays Flute, Recorder, Pennywhistle, Bowed Psaltery and Harp. "When we are performing at Renaissance festivals, people will come up and ask us to play some Zeppelin, as a joke. When we do it, folks seem pleasantly surprised. I guess they weren’t expecting a couple of Harp players to rock out."
This CD also features four new originals written by Jay Michaels. The title song For A Moment was inspired by the kindness of a couple near San Francisco, California. "In 2007 we were on a six month tour," says Jay, "We were in Southern California and had a week off, and were invited to spend it with friends of Abby's mother, Josetta and Bruce. They have a house about a half hour southeast of the Golden Gate Bridge. They said that the view of the back yard would make you think you're in Ireland. It did...beautiful rolling hills with green blowing grasses. It was awesome! I had to write a song about it!" The other original compositions are Courage, which Jay describes as a "bit of a protest song", the introspective Solitary Circle, and a song written to honor the memory of Jays' father called The Man That I Remember.
Copyright 2008 all rights reserved
Thanks to Sting & EMI Blackwood Music Inc for
Every Little Thing She Does is Magic & Fields of Gold
Thanks to Led Zeppelin & WB Music Corp for The Battle of Evermore
Here's what G.W. Mercure of Motif Magazine said about the CD...
Jay and Abby Michaels, who perform as The Harper and the Minstrel, are resplendent and refined on their fifth release, For a Moment.
According to Abby, the pair was greatly influenced by Sting’s recent volume of John Dowland’s seventeenth century lute compositions and they have inverted that concept by applying the Renaissance ethos to a trio of familiar, contemporary songs. The first of these, their reading of Sting’s Every Little Thing She Does is Magic, is both faithful and timeless. Hidden harmonies and a longing that belongs to no time are teased out and laid over a simple acoustic guitar arrangement.
Among the finest songs on the disc is their take on the Led Zeppelin classic The Battle of Evermore. Performed with a combination of harp and a soft acoustic guitar, they retain Zeppelin’s menace by allowing their voices to step alternately to the front, before retreating into a flowing harmony, followed by a punchy wire-strung harp that pulls everything into the celebrated denouement. Jay and Abby are at their best here, singing with just enough force to elicit a visceral response without tipping over into a clumsy caricature of Robert Plant’s sometimes heavy-handed vocals.
When I saw them perform at The Mediator Stage, their version of Sting’s Fields of Gold was stunning. It is the disc’s best example of how skilled musicians can make a contemporary composition sound like a two hundred year old traditional ballad that your grandmother used to hum. No tricks to tell you about, no insights: just Jay’s harp and Abby’s vocals; a great song expertly performed.
The title track, For a Moment, was inspired by a California countryside that evoked for Jay, the duo’s principal songwriter, the rolling emerald hills of Ireland. Jay plays the harp with an elegant passion on this track, and a spry pennywhistle lead pairs well with their careful harmonies.
Abby’s fluency with the exotic bowed psaltery is something to behold on Rosemary Faire, and, at just under a minute and a half, much too brief.
Jay’s songwriting is at its best on The Man that I Remember. Jay’s cindery baritone and the six- and twelve-string guitars effectively achieve a cool clarity in which the mundanity of memories is elevated to something singularly sublime and permanent. The narrative swings between straight biography and an even simpler exposition of memories that begin to seem random but by song’s end are revealed to be echoes: points relative to all of us, events that could be from the singer’s life, his father’s life or yours or mine.
For a Moment contains a pair of beautifully rendered Robert Burns ballads. Green Grow the Rashes, O and the unforgettable Comin’ Through the Rye, which features a melody that is a slight variation of the Scotch ballad Common ’ Frae the Town. Abby’s loyal and bold reading of Burns’ exquisite ode to youth and alienation is a highlight of the album and perhaps the most satisfying version of Comin’ Through the Rye that I’ve heard.
You can best judge a musician’s acumen by the way they interpret music, whether that music is familiar to you or obscure. On For a Moment, Jay and Abby Michaels’ deft adaptations of songs from Sting to Robert Burns are thrilling, and they reveal the pair to be artists of some skill.
By G. W. Mercure