Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sara Milonovich's Daisycutter

Every Spring and Summer I have a favorite CD that I like to take with me on my jaunts to art galleries to deliver work.

This year’s favorite is Daisycutter by Sara Milonovich.

It was released last year (2009), but this year was the first time I got around to listening to it. She recorded it at the same studio that I recorded Wing’d With Hopes and The Goldenrod (Scott Petitio’s NRS Recording Studio).

I love this album! It is an album that grew on me (there is a lot to listen to in the lush production and I wasn’t used to the genre).

 My favorite is Willie Taylor (just because I like new interpretations of old songs done brilliantly), but the most powerful songs on the album are probably Country Life and Insanity Street.

The album kicks off with Country Life by Steve Knightly of the British Isles. It’s a powerful song about the loss of farms in the English Countryside:

For a taste, here are some of the lyrics:

If you want cheap food well here’s the deal, family farms are brought to heel

Hammer blows of size and scale, foot and mouth the final nail

The coffin of our English dream, lies out on the village green

Where agri-barons CAP in hand, strip this green and pleasant land

Of meadow, woodland, hedgerow, pond, what remains gets built upon

No trains, no jobs

No shops, no pubs.

--- © Steve Knightly

The original Knightly version is here. But, Sara did it great justice with an angry vocal delivery, a blazing fiddle track and a haunting dobro by Abby Gardner. You can hear what Sara did with Knightly’s song on her MYSPACE here.

The next track is Under the Weather (written by K.T. Tunstall and Tommy Danvers). It starts out sounding political:

Under this national raincloud
I’m getting soaked to the skin
Trying to find my umbrella
But I don’t know where to begin

A couple of lines later, it still seems to be in a political vein with these lines:

‘Cause I’m under the weather
Just like the world
So sorry for being so bold

--- © K.T. Tunstall and Tommy Danvers

But then it turns into a love song.

The song is sung in a soft meandering spirit, like the lyrics.

Fiona’s Breakdown is written by Sara and arranged by Sara, John Doyle (who also plays acoustic guitar on the track) and Greg Anderson, the producer of the album. Viktor Krauss, Alison Krauss’s brother, plays acoustic bass on the track. This piece shows she is in the same league as any of the great fiddle players of our time (including Natalie MacMaster). The composition is in tribute to her car, a blazingly fast piece.

Northern Cross is a longing love song written by Leslie Smith. The gist of it is in these 2 poetical lines:

Oh meet me on Red Mountain, lace of laurel, bed of moss
Where the wind's forever howling beneath that Northern Cross

--- © Leslie Smith

Sara’s vocal delivery is plaintive on this piece while 2 fiddles (one played by John Kirk) drone on in the background.

Pleasant Valley Sunday is one of the nice surprises of the album and sets it apart from being another folk album. It has a zydeco rhythm and is just as fun, frolicking and “zippy” sounding as when The Monkees did it. However the Monkees look like a band born in and comfortable with suburbia and their Beatlesque version fails to convince when they sing this anti-suburbia song. Sara’s version does a much better job of persuasion. Here’s a taste of the lyrics:

See Mrs. Gray she's proud today because her roses are in bloom
Mr. Green he's so serene, He's got a t.v. in every room

Another Pleasant Valley Sunday
Here in status symbol land
Mothers complain about how hard life is
And the kids just don't understand

Creature comfort goals
They only numb my soul and make it hard for me to see
My thoughts all seem to stray, to places far away
I need a change of scenery

--- © Carole King/Gerry Goffin

Perhaps the writer, James Howard Kunstler, and the painter, Eric Fischl, would be happy to use Sara’s version as their background music.

The sixth cut, Insanity Street shows Sara’s vocals at her best. The vocal delivery here is soft and melancholic with Sara’s beautiful baritone violin, Abbie Gardner’s stunning dobro and Greg Anderson’s tasteful arrangements on electric guitars, electric piano and organ. The anti-war lyrics by Lillie Palmer pack a powerful punch:

We live on Insanity Street
Where the ends and the means seldom meet
And we walk and we talk while the four horseman stalk
The stones of Insanity Street

And we talk of the coming of peace
Of a time when hostilities cease
But we make and we store all the weapons of war
‘Cause we live on Insanity Street

And when in the turning of years
The market for war disappears
Should we meet on the street with the dust at our feet
And stare at each other through tears

--- © Lillie Palmer

Another favorite is The Last Snowfall, a tune reminiscent of Jay Unger’s sweetest pieces with Natalie Haas on cello, Abbie Gardner on dobro, Scott Petito on bass, Greg Anderson on acoustic guitar and Andre Brunet and Sara on violins.
Right after that is the romping traditional Willie Taylor with a creative arrangement by Sara, Greg Anderson and John Doyle which takes a bit of folk, zydeco, rock and Celtic and melds them into one. As mentioned earlier, it is my favorite on the album.

Here Comes the Flood by Peter Gabriel is probably the most vocally challenging piece on the CD. It enigmatically refers to an apocalypse.

The Lake Arthur Stomp is how I remember Sara before Daisycutter, as part of a fiddle ensemble which included John Kirk, Trish Miller, Ed Lowman and Cedar Sanistreet.

To conclude, this album is one of the best that I have heard in a long time. The fiddling is as good as the fiddling of more well known names in the field, her arrangements are often stunning, her choice of material shows concern for the world that we are building and her vocal chops are as good as any of the better known folk singers on the circuit today.

However, for her next album, I’d like to see her push her vocals to the maximum, reach beyond and below the comfortable range that she shows on Daisycutter because she'd run past the lot of us then.

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