I pressed play on my Ipod and this is what I heard…Little Sparrow, By Leyla McCalla *
Hello readers, and welcome to my first music post of the new year! I have been working on ideas for some new posts to share soon. In the meantime though I figured it would be good to start off with a Photo Shuffle to get myself back to writing again after a Holiday break. So lets get back to some more music!
I am particularly thrilled at the choice my Ipod came up with today. One of the albums I bought recently (got to love those Holiday gift cards!) is the stunning new album by singer and multi-instrumentalist Leyla McCalla. Like many, I first became aware of her a few years back when she was a member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Some of you may remember me writing about another member of that group, Rhiannon Giddens in this post last year. Since leaving the group she has released two solo albums-Vari-Colored Songs (a tribute to Langston Hughes) and most recently, the sublime A Day For The Hunter, A Day For The Prey.
It is one of those albums that goes deep into your soul on the first listen and refuses to let go subsequently. I am completely charmed by this album. Much like her adopted home in New Orleans, it combines many elements throughout. Leyla’s own Haitian background combined with her classically trained cello playing make for an interesting sound. In terms of songs, it includes several Leyla wrote herself together with some traditional Haitian songs and well chosen covers, including ‘Little Sparrow’. The songs are sung in English, French, and Haitian Creole, adding to the richness of sound.
Most mornings, as I stumble out of bed clutching a cup of coffee, I sit and look out the window at the sun starting to rise. There are some trees and overgrown bushes out our back alley, and at this time of year we are usually greeted to the sound of dozens of sparrows flitting back and forth. While our cats stare out the same window twitching and making odd clicking sounds, no doubt wishing they could be outside, I find myself sometimes training my eyes on one particular bird. Just watching the movements it makes, jumping to different branches, then flying a few feet away before returning again. While the cats have their own thought about what they might like to do, I began thinking about what life is like for those particular birds. We know a lot about migration patterns and the biology of birds, but almost nothing about its mind as an individual. What makes it go through this routine every day? Is it pure habit? Is it driven by hunger and safety only? When it sits off on its own is that the sparrow equivalent to having some ‘me’ time? Is it lonely?
I doubt any of those questions are what caused the renowned children’s performer Ella Jenkins to write the song, but now after listening to Leyla McCalla’s beautiful arrangement of the song I find myself thinking about them even more. With just a few words sung, and exquisitely played music the song means so much more to me. The refrain of ‘Wake up, wake up, Little Sparrow, don’t make your home out in the snow’ makes me think of those same little sparrows I see out the window every morning. It makes me wonder if I am asking those questions about the birds themselves, or am I asking myself the questions? In my opinion the best art makes you think without giving you clear answers, and this performance certainly qualifies. The one thing I do know is that Leyla McCalla is an amazing performer, and she’s really only just starting out. Hers will be a name you will continue to hear great things about in the years to come. Of that there is no question.
Little Sparrow-Written By Ella Jenkins
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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle
*Photo Shuffle is a short slice of my regular blogs based on setting my Ipod on shuffle and matching up one of my photographs to whatever comes up.