Goldmund – All Will Prosper

January 01, 1970

(Western Vinyl)


Composer Keith Kenniff recorded this lovely
collection of traditional songs over several years, arranging the melodies
simply for piano and guitar, and recording them in an exceptionally clear, unadorned way that nonetheless
suggests memory, loss and nostalgia. Many of these mostly Civil War-era songs
are very familiar. We are, after all, talking about standards like “Dixie” and “Shenandoah”, and ubiquitous spirituals like
“Amazing Grace.” Yet all have a glow of otherworldliness, of spectral
weightless-ness, as if they were the memory of these songs, packed away in dusty
attics and captured in faded
daguerreotypes, and not the song themselves.


Part of this comes from the way Kenniff recorded
his material, using an open piano with mics placed close enough to the keys to
capture not just the notes but the
sound of fingers on keys. The guitar notes, too, are oddly resonant, hanging on
long past the plucking in iridescent overtones, and this is also the product of
close mic-ing. These production techniques make the music seem like it’s
happening right next to you, every detail hyper clear, almost to the point of
unreality, since you never hear anything this clearly and sharply in real life.
The piano in, for instance, “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” seems more like the
Platonic ideal of a piano, without any of the shadings or flaws or
eccentricities of an actual upright.


That’s an interesting dynamic because these are
songs you’ve probably heard played by amateurs, with missed notes and
indifferent tuning. These songs are always floating out of school music rooms
and screened windows and old camp common rooms. Even now, in the age of Spotify
and limitless choice, there are a lot of people who could hum the melody to
“When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” without much prompting.
Kenniff manages to make a well-worn, familiar body of folk songs sound fresh,
beautiful, even slightly strange. Even the liveliest tunes have an aura of
melancholy, even sprightly “Who Will Save the Left” and porch-picked “Dixie” feel haunted by death and loss.


These are simple arrangements, played on
traditional instruments, but they are not traditional arrangements. Kenniff introduces
some very modern, new-age-y elements into some of these songs, a shimmer of
arpeggiated piano notes runs over “Shenandoah,” an interesting clicking paces
mournful, ghostly “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” (it might be something as
simple as the pressure of fingers on keys).  Unlike certain musical re-creationists,
Kenniff does not seek to embody the spirit of the 1860s, but rather views it
from a remove, turning over carefully, respectfully, with a regard for its
essential separation from the now.


All this adds to a gentle atmosphere of regret, of
unhurried contemplation of things and people who are no longer around us.
Kenniff doesn’t bring these songs to life as much as he hears (and allows us to
hear) a ghostly echo of them, as they reverberate both in the century they
belong to and our own.


DOWNLOAD: “Shenandoah,” “When
Johnny Comes Marching Home” JENNIFER



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