Song journeys

Some of the world’s best travel writers are songwriters.

I’m not talking about those who’ve written famous or not so famous road songs — though I expect that’s a topic which will come up in conversation here in future. Rather I’m thinking of those who do what travel stories, essays, and books do: evoke a sense of place, stir curiosity about it, recall memories, suggest that there is more explore. The musicians who do this best, as with the prose writers who do this best, often are not setting out to write about travel, or at least, not the kind which involves physical geography.

Cathie Ryan begins with just a few elements in the title track of her album The Farthest Wave. A waterside, a sun going down, a woman sorting through things in her mind. — it could be anywhere, and in the way of good songs, if you take it in, make your own, it will suit your landscape. With a word choice here and there, an indirect reference to an ancient legend, spare notes from guitar and bouzouki in the background, and at the right moment a fiddle which speaks as eloquently as the singer does, it is a song which very powerfully evokes and invokes Ireland, though. Not the Ireland of fast flying jigs and clinking glasses nor the one of light as gossamer new age sounds, but an Ireland that is stronger and older than all that, and at the same time very much of the present day. With much more yet to explore.

Carrie Newcomer makes her way from the Popcorn Fair in Versailles to the Mennonite Relief Quilt Sale and through several dozen other county fairs in her song I Wish I May I Wish I Might. A native Hoosier, she laces an intricately woven string of real Indiana place and fair names, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, with just enough narrative, memory, and gentle humor to recall Dogwood Days, or the Maple Syrup Fest, or the sound, smell and taste of another fair that lives in your memory. The turn of a moment’s time is an idea which runs through her album Before & After, on which this song appears. Newcomer evokes a kaleidoscope of fair going moments in her song, more than enough to suggest a return visit might be in order, if, perhaps, only in memory.

Ryan and Newcomer both invite the listener to share a journey, to explore, to remember, to create a new memory, to dream a dream. Did they each set out to write about travel? Journeys of heart and spirit, more likely. But place speaks clearly in their work as well.

photographs copyright Kerry Dexter

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