Thursday, June 04, 2015

More on Jean Ritchie -- including a moving obituary in the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader and a 2008 cover of "Pretty Saro" by Sam Amidon


'Saro' from the Sam Amidon album 'All Is Well' -- released on Bedroom Community 2008. Video by Jeremy Blatter. Uploaded on Jan 14, 2008

More about Sam Amidon below.

Lexington Herald-Leader

By far the best obit of Jean Ritchie that I've read appeared Tuesday in the Lexington Herald-Leader, just a few miles up the road (I-75) from Berea. Tuesday's Herald-Leader also carried an editorial "Jean Ritchie: A Righteous Voice of Kentucky." It noted:

If you could take all the sweetness and pain of Kentucky's hills — the green valleys and lilting streams, the evening cool, the history of struggle, oppression and strength — and distill them into a sound, it would be Ritchie's voice.

Her legacy — the songs she wrote and the old songs she saved — will live forever as new generations follow Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Rhiannon Giddens and many others who have borrowed from the Ritchie songbook.

Some of her originals, such as "Black Waters," "Blue Diamond Mines" and "The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore," personalize environmental and economic injustices in a plain yet piercing way that few writers have equaled.

But most of all, the editorial said this:

She and her husband, George Pickow, a filmmaker and photographer who died in 2010, were an accomplished team.

They documented not just the folkways and music of Appalachia and the British Isles but also of traditional cultures around the world. Their extensive work is part of the American Folklife Center's collection.

Ritchie led a remarkable life that ended as it began, according to her son, Jon Pickow, surrounded by her family singing.

Read more here: ).

I don't read editorials anymore. Most of them move me to heartburn, if they move me at all. But this one moved me almost to tears.

The Herald-Leader's obituary itself had a prosaic news-obituary headline -- "Jean Ritchie, 92, introduced mountain dulcimer music to the world" -- but it was equally moving. Written by John Cheves of the Herald-Leader, it was lyrical in places.

Here's Cheves's description of the Ritchie family singing in earlier, happier days:

Jean Ruth Ritchie was the last of 14 children born to Balis and Abigail Ritchie in a long-ago place where if you wanted to hear any music, you had better be able to produce it yourself.

The Ritchies, nicknamed "The Singing Family of the Cumberlands," were more than able. Accompanied by Balis on the fiddle or mountain dulcimer, the family joined voices on the front porch in the summer, around the fireplace in the winter, at church, at parties, at festivals. They sang of the hangman and his rope and of Mother getting ready for Heaven when He calls and of Baby Jesus born born O born in Betha-lye-hem. NBC broadcast their Christmas 1955 family reunion to a national audience, live from Viper. There was plenty of music.

More than anything else I've read, Clives' obit in the Herald Leader captures the mixture of high artistry, sophistication and down-home simplicity in Ritchie's music.

Ritchie attended Cumberland College and the University of Kentucky before moving to New York City in 1947 to become a social worker. Her after-hours singing and dulcimer playing in coffeehouses quickly won her a following. In this period following World War II, folk music was a popular curiosity for big-city sophisticates.

This was the first of several "folk revivals" to come, and it launched her career. Dulcimers were uncommon in New York before Ritchie arrived. Afterward, it was — and remains — hard to find a music store without one.

Read more here: Read more here:

Sam Amidon

Here is what the press has to say about the album:

"sky-scrapingly great ... All Is Well is viscerally stunning, comforting, upsetting, entrancing; as long as he can make art like this, Amidon can skip the formality of 'writing songs' forever" -Stylus Magazine

"With All Is Well, Sam Amidon has crafted a precious gem of a record, all in nuances and shades, with delicate overtones and airy harmonies. SigurĂ°sson's production is light and subtle yet it gives these songs fantastic depth and contrast without ever overshadowing Amidon's delivery. " -The Milk Factory

"A soaring and beautiful butterfly of an album, rich with tuneful wonder and epic song craft."

" A veritable classic, a standard for comparisons in this genre from now on. Not to be missed." -Touching Extremes

"a great leap forward... the trio of artists responsible for the record [...] create a very specific space with these arrangements... a very forward-thinking album... Amidon doesn't just update the old world to the new, but finds the roots of the new world in the old. - Pitchfork

"...something of a revelation. Amidon took a collection of traditional songs, wrote new arrangements and [...] turned them into a bedroom rock classic." -Dusted Magazine


No comments: