Other Versions of (a more operatic) River Chanty
Why does one enjoy a piece of music? We might say it's the melody, rhythm, arrangement, or lyrics that we like. Sometimes other factors beyond the sound of the music can affect our feelings. It may be sentiment, a bit of nostalgia, or some personal filter that makes the piece stick with us. And, of course, a combination of any number of these may occur and shape our experience of music.
As I began to explore Duke Special’s music several months ago, I happened upon a couple of videos featuring music written by Kurt Weill for an unfinished play about Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. These were Catfish and Apple Jack. These songs are available for download on Duke Special's Huckleberry Finn EP.
Duke Special was the first person to record Weill's Huckleberry Finn songs in 2009. They had sat since 1950, when Weill died, unrecorded.
Finding this Mark Twain-Huckleberry Finn link in Duke Special became the intangible that raised my fondness for his music. To hear a contemporary performance of something related to Mark Twain, especially considering the indirect way the project came to fruition (via Kurt Weill), was a clincher. In fact, it added to my appreciation of Duke Special, Kurt Weill, and Mark Twain.
But more than that, I'm grateful these songs were recorded by someone who could express the fun of Mark Twain. Thanks Duke!
- How Samuel Clemons adopted the pen name Mark Twain
- The role of the Mississippi river in Twain's works.
"Now we're sliding stern's coming 'round
Miss that bar where the Mississippi Lady went a-ground
Ride us easy, easy river
Mark Twain, quarter twain, quarter less twain, mark twain!"
Page 42 lyrics to River Chanty. *from Water: A Musical Celebration of America's Heartland and Heart (Minnesota Marine Art Museum)
Many readers may already know that this is how Samuel Clemens took the name "Mark Twain."
I didn't, however! River Chanty confused me until I started researching the meaning behind the lyrics.
As the song ends, the lyrics from the beginning of the song are repeated. This time, though, there is a lot of background noise - whispers - that are disorienting almost. Is there an echo? Is someone else speaking? We can't be sure, but we can almost see the boatman disappearing into the night with all the mystery and danger of the river closer than ever. [CLIP 3]
And Just Recently...
On October 6, 2014, Duke Special was Late, Late Show on BBC Radio Ulster for a bit. Here's a bit of the audio from the broadcast. Duke mentions that his PledgeMusic drive is coming along. Pre-order the 2015 album now and help fund the music!