The Mindful Bard – Rose Laughlin, The Chicago Sessions

Books, Music, and Film to Wake Up Your Muse and Help You Change the World

CD: Rose Laughlin, The Chicago Sessions

Label: Ramblin? Rose Records

Release date: 2008

Where the Cold Rain and Snow Meet the Wild Mountain Thyme

?The most enduring themes in the traditional song canon seem to be of relationship and love (returned or unrequited), parting and love of homeland, life and death . . . The universality of the human experience in these songs are what continue to beguile me.?

Rose Laughlin, liner notes, The Chicago Sessions

I have dim memories of folksingers of my youth, minstrels smelling of wood smoke and patchouli and wearing long hair and long, plaid flannel jackets, both harbouring dry leaves.

They would sing and softly pick out some Joni Mitchell, some Dylan, some Leonard Cohen, all of which I drank in like a thirsty pup. But sooner or later one of them would sing a song so strange and haunting it made the candle flames tremble.

These always turned out to be very old songs, preserved in amber in the Celtic, African, or American roots traditions.

I was soon persuaded that this is what music was about, that these songs were the zenith of my listening experience and that all else was dross.

Although she wasn’t yet born back then, Rose Laughlin’s album of traditional songs revived these memories for me and bade them dance.

Her craft is so meticulous you feel like You’re listening to a meditation or a sung prayer. By her own admission in a recent interview Rose immerses herself in a song for months or longer, until she feels she can do it justice, and to do it justice she not only delivers a flawless performance; she sings every line as if she has lived it. Try to convince me that she hasn’t.

Her artistry is expressed in a high, husky voice that could be compared to that of Marianne Faithfull or Stevie Nicks if Rose’s weren’t so much better. She utilizes a great deal of the kind of ornamentation typical of traditional Irish singing, with many notes to one syllable of text. Like Billie Holiday, she minimizes affect when the line is emotive and emphasizes lines that appear deceptively simple, drawing out their meaning.

All the songs on this CD are gems and it sounds like You’re hearing them for the first time.

?Let No Man Steal Your Thyme? is jarringly beautiful. So is Rose’s very innovative rendition of ?Summertime? (the guitar is smokin?, and there’s actually a fiddle reel at the end).

Laughlin recorded this album just before leaving Chicago to return to her native Seattle. Her music partner, Mike Kirkpatrick, was a boon to the album for three reasons, one being his instrumental prowess, two being his keen understanding of Rose’s musical objectives, and three being his willingness to give Rose creative elbow room. Kudos, Mike.

The Chicago Sessions manifests seven of The Mindful Bard’s criteria for music well worth a listen: 1) it is authentic, original, and delightful; 2) it makes me want to be a better artist; 3) it gives me tools which help me be a better artist; 4) it displays an engagement with and compassionate response to suffering; 5) it inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation; 6) it is about attainment of the true self; and 7) it provides respite from a sick and cruel world, a respite enabling me to renew myself for a return to mindful artistic endeavour.

The Bard could use some help scouting out new material. If you discover any books, compact disks, or movies which came out in the last twelve months and which you think fit the Bard’s criteria, please drop a line to bard@voicemagazine.org. For a list of criteria, go here. If I agree with your recommendation, I’ll thank you online.

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