Fans of the Vermont-based trio Nightingale have had to wait a long time for Three, the band’s third CD. It has been eight years since the last recording (Sometimes When the Moon is High; the first CD was entitled The Coming Dawn). Three is worth the wait. Bottom line, here’s what you should know about this CD: it is a musical feast, full of thoughtfully crafted medleys, excellently played. Becky Tracy’s fiddling is strong and expressive, whether she’s singing out a melody, weaving in a harmony or providing a rhythmic riff. In Jeremiah McLane’s inspired accordion and piano playing, you can hear evidence of his study of styles such as Quebecois and French music, as well as his master’s degree in Contemporary Improvisation. Keith Murphy not only plays superbly on mandolin, guitar, piano, and on his feet (providing foot percussion); he also has a fine singing voice.
Nightingale is an extremely popular contradance band, and their CD is likely to get listeners moving. However, contradance tunes make up less than half of the recording There’s also a Swedish polska, a French mazurka, a strathspey and two schottisches; there are a number of different dance tunes from Brittany. Similarly, there is variety in the tunes Keith sings. The opening song is about Vermont’s hills; the words were written in 1935 by Arthur Guiterman, who became Poet Laureate of Vermont, and set more recently to music by Vermonter Pete Sutherland. There are traditional songs from Newfoundland, Quebec, and Louisiana; the lovely iPsalm of Lifei combines a traditional tune with words by Longfellow.
Uniting the material on Three is a quality of rhythmic strength. It’s not that the tunes are rhythmically similar to one another; some are lyrical and flowing, some meditative, others lively, or driving and intense. Tunes are in meters of two, three, four, five or six. But it’s consistently evident that the band has worked out the rhythmic character for each part of the tunes, and each player is solidly within the right groove. An example: one medley starts in a meditative mood, developing into a lilting strathspey (iBattle of Naskeagi), composed by Jeremiah. The next tune, another of Jeremiah’s, is played first as a strathspey and then as a reel which gets continually faster. The medley is feeling very Cape Breton-esque, when there’s an abrupt change: the band tears into iThe Flying Tent,i a tune composed by Keith after gale-force winds ripped apart a tent being used for a dance event in the Caribbean. Listening to the power and intensity of the rhythms, I can almost feel the whipping of the wind. On another cut, Nightingale took iThe Green Bushes,i folk song in simple waltz time, and composed an exciting, complex accompaniment using interweaving notes of the piano, mandolin, and fiddle to create a rich rhythmic texture with a three-against-two feel. Keith’s piano accompaniment to his waltz, iPeregrination,i is highly syncopated and would infuse the most exhausted dancer with energy.
Nightingale’s harmonic approach is creative and intriguing. The song iHillsi is played with two lines of harmony, one original and one the tune of the Irish reel iMulqueens,i played in a different key from usual but melding perfectly with the song. In the first section of Jeremiah’s composition iRaoulf’s,i he uses every note of the chromatic scale, while the second part is based on a Middle Eastern scale. This is stimulating stuff to listen to.
Nancy MacMillan of Los Angeles, CA in Folk Works Magazine