The great American composer Charles Ives said something remarkably prescient some time before he died in 1954: “The future of music may not lie entirely with music itself but rather in the way it encourages and extends, rather than limits, the aspirations and ideas of the people, in the way it makes itself a part with the finer things that humanity does and dreams of.” This is, I’d emphasize, before blues, soul, folk and gospel became the enabling sound track of the Civil Rights Movement. Before hip-hop gave voice to a marginalized swath of American life. Before the less pivotal but still culturally invigorating Americana renaissance of song and non-commercialized, communal connection. At this precarious time, when people we’ve entrusted to protect our core institutions are instead bad-mouthing and undermining them, I take a great deal of encouragement from the collective assumption by those I know and love and admire that music is our collective testimony and my every observation has been that it’s based on faith, hope and love.
Our weekly sampler of values set in song returns on Wednesday with four very different but surely sublime acts, including a duo swathed in truth and beauty and a hearty band led by a songwriter who’s negotiating his identity in the modern USA.
That would be Naseem Khuri, who was raised in the Boston area by Palestinian immigrants. He’s now the D.C.-based front man for Kingsley Flood. One can imagine it’s been a complex ride for the songwriter, given events in New York, Washington and Boston in the last decades. At his day job, he works in conflict resolution, which led him to tell the Washington Post: “I actually see a lot of similarities between that and the band. I’m trying to connect with people, to think about our relationships, to think about how we’re getting along and how we’re communicating with each other.”
I’ve fallen hard for the recent Kingsley Flood album Another Other, a title that directly addresses the creeping nativism abroad in the land. The title cut surges with horns and brave, challenging confession expressed in Khuri’s cutting and soulful voice. Also exciting is the opening track “The Bridge.” Its sonics strike a balance between clean and distorted, consonant and dissonant, folk and rock. The cry of the insider-outsider and the cathartic heart of the music shout parallels, in my mind anyway, to Alejandro Escovedo. Khuri’s exceptional quintet will close Roots.
In striking contrast to Kingsley Flood’s fulsome folk rock, Lowland Hum brings a refined esthetic to its music and imagery – one that’s gossamer white, minimalist and a little bit dreamy. It’s taken me a few encounters with the music to let its profound magic really sink into my bones. The project is that of married duo Daniel and Lauren Goans of Charlottesville, VA. In their sophisticated tenor, I hear the aching Brit-folk of Sandy Denny, the urbane lyricism of HEM and the canonical harmony of Simon & Garfunkel. Lowland Hum has in the past dipped its toes in rocking waters with a full band and some uptempo tracks (I love the gorgeous “Olivia” from 2015’s self titled album). But the story of their recently released Thin album is one of holing up and paring back. The couple settled into a room in a house where they had to account for creaking floorboards and birdsong out the window and wrote and recorded an intimate and stirring album that should emerge as one of the deepest projects of the year.
Another duo will open Wednesday night’s affair with pop folk of a brighter vibe. They are The Harmaleighs, a duo comprised of Haley Grant on guitar and Kaylee Jasperson on bass. Their locked-together voices course in and around each other beautifully. Their 2016 album Pretty Picture, Dirty Brush has of late been a heart-lifting companion to washing my car on a lovely evening and a couple of long drives. MCR fans will perhaps hear notes of our friends The Vespers in the banjo-friendly, gently pulsing sound. The press has called them “rousing,” “stunning” and “as infectious as it gets.”
Completing our quartet will be emerging artist Hayley Reardon who’s part of the vibrant and history-shaping Boston folk/songwriter scene. From her official backgrounder: “Reardon was named a Bostonian of the Year by the Boston Globe Magazine in 2012 in celebration of not only her music but her work to use it as a vessel for empowerment. With a voice that is distinctively rich and a contemplative sincerity in her songwriting, Reardon has far more in common with Patty Griffin, Lucinda Williams, and Tracy Chapman than many of today’s young pop singer/songwriters, boasting a lyrical and melodic weight far beyond her years.” Her new project out last fall is the album Good, produced by a colleague of Lori McKenna.
So come feel the flood of emotion and the hum of great musicians at our weekly catharsis.
Correction: The story has been updated. Naseem Khuri was born in the United States, not Lebanon.