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Hardly Strictly Jazz

Beyond The Blues

By Published: February 6, 2013
I don't get the sense for a second Hemphill nor Dranes saw a musical life outside the ones they chose for themselves. Dranes is because of this release now the subject of new attention (NPR etc), and rightfully so, but it's nothing she would have planned for. Hemphill will likely stay known only to a very few, the people for whom a very specific type of folk music is spiritual nourishment. But Hemphill and Dranes happened, and not in a vacuum. They were musical representatives from apparently marginal communities that seem to have fallen from notice. But they happened, and they gave us great news. Mark Twain wrote of "memories that someday will become all beautiful when the last annoyance that encumbers them shall have faded out of our minds," and music is especially good to this purpose. We romanticize difficult circumstances if it makes for a good story.

The lesson we learn from Leadbelly, Hemphill, and Dranes is that we have to look more closely at our musical past, otherwise we are doomed to painting stereotypes and caricatures, and with a broad brush, at that. These artists and their art tell us we'd do well to know our past as accurately as we can.

If only because it sounds so good.

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