Kenny Klein: Tales Of The Rambling Wren.
Follow Kenny from the levees of New Orleans to the whirling chaos that is the Pagan festival circuit and beyond. Musings, rants, and just plain Pagan talk.
15 Must-Have Pagan Recordings
In meandering over what to cover in this, my very first post to my newest Blog, I've decided that before I go on a rant about issues in the Pagan community (which, don't worry, I will certainly do soon), or pose the difficult questions about where we as Pagans stand, I'd lull you into a false sense of security by speaking about music.
Being a touring Pagan musician, I am sometimes surprised at the number of Pagans who do not listen to Pagan music, or have no idea what is available to them. By Pagan music, I specifically mean music created and recorded by people who identify as Pagan, and who perform for a Pagan audience. So while Stevie Nicks might be Pagan (or might not), and while Loreena McKennitt is definitely Pagan, both perform for a broader mainstream audience. So while their music is very good, and has merit, they do not fit the definition of Pagan musicians (Loreena does and doesn't at the same time, really. Stevie, not so much).
The truth is, there are many acts out there playing Pagan music for Pagan people, some of whom have done great, groundbreaking recordings (and admittedly, some of whom suck). There were dismal days in the '70s and '80s when a lot of music available to Pagans by Pagans was poorly conceived, poorly performed and poorly recorded. But in that mess of less than lovely offerings, there were a few gems, and many people who heard the sucky stuff did not explore further to find these. By the 90s things had changed, and there were more skilled musicians recording for Pagans. In the current era, home recording has become so good, and the numbers of people attracted to Paganism has grown so, that there are simply more good Pagan recordings, and more festivals for Pagan musicians to perform in.
So here is my list of what I consider the 15 most essential Pagan recordings of all time. Some are included for ground-breaking and historical value alone, some because they're my favorites of the bunch. You may agree or disagree (based on my past experience, the latter is most likely), but these are the one I believe every Pagan music library should have.
1. Witches' Hat-The Incredible String Band: While the Incredible String Band was not specifically a Pagan band (though founder Robin Williamson now performs in the Celtic Bardic tradition: born in Scotland, he comes by it honestly) this early recording is as haunting and Witchy as it gets. Find it on the album the Hangman's Beautiful Daughter, 1968.
2. Crazy Man Michael-Fairport Convention: If you don't know Fairport Convention frontwoman Sandy Denny, then be aware that pretty much everything Stevie Nicks is was learned from Sandy. A Wiccan and folksinger, Sandy's rendition of band-mate Richard Thompson's song about divination gone horribly awry will haunt you for a long time. From their Leige And Leif album, 1969.
3. We Won't Wait Any Longer-Gwydion Pendderwen: While I am not a huge Gwydion fan, his first album, Songs For The Old Religion (1975) was the very first collection of songs by a Witch marketed to Witches, and that makes him groundbreaking. His 'We Won't Wait Any Longer,' while derivative of Christian prayer music (as is his 'Lord Of The Dance') has long been a Pagan anthem.
4. The Witching Hour-Lady Isadora: Her voice is gorgeous, her songs beautiful and heartfelt, and the recordings decent enough for 1981. Lady Isadora set a standard for Pagan singers by being better than any who had recorded before her. The title track is my very favorite.
5. Aeolus-Ruth Barrett and Cyntia Smith: recorded the same year as Lady Isadora's debut album, Ruth Barrett and Cyntia Smith, iconic priestesses in the Dianic community, sing together beautifully. But their true talent is their playing of the mountain dulcimer (a stringed instrument that sits on the lap, different from the hammered dulcimer you may have seen at renaissance fairs). While the instrument has always been strummed, Barrett and Smith fingerpick theirs, using the two instruments to create a sound as full as a classical guitar. While this recording is mostly of traditional tunes, it proved to the world that Pagan musicians could play the hell out of their instruments! The follow-up album, Deepening, is also a must-have.
6. Moon Hooves In The Sand-Kenny And Tzipora: Yea, I'm on this. This concept album (only ever released on cassette in 1983) was the very first recorded Pagan ritual in music. It contained a song for sweeping, a song for casting the circle, a call to the elementals, to the Gods, etc. While the songs were good, the recording quality was the best we could afford at the time (which is to say, awful) and the performances not so great. You also cannot find it anywhere, but good luck hunting a copy down.
7. Storybook-Velvet Hammer: Around 1989, a band appeared on the Pagan festival circuit that sort of echoed the appearance ten years earlier of the Runaways on the Punk scene: four women who rocked, and who wrote well, played well and sang amazingly well. Velvet Hammer wrote Pagan songs from a place of femininity, as well as a place of Texas Blues-inspired rock. Keyboardist Ginger Doss played saxophone solos on her synth, and singer Dana Davis could rival Janis or Bonnie. The band later reformed as Dreamtrybe, and members of the band are still performing at festivals today (Ginger Doss with partner Bekah Kelso, and Dana Davis as Darwin Prophet).
8. Carry Me Home-Todd Alan: Todd Alan, like myself, was among the very first openly Pagan musicians to forge a circuit of Pagan festival gigs. His 1990 album, featuring 'Jack In The Green' and his cover of Charlie Murphy's 'Burning Times,' was one of the best recorded and best performed collections at the time. His band went on to reform without him as Green Crown, also worth getting hold of.
9. The Healing Art-Kiva: Kiva was a band that grew out of the all-female group Pomegranate. The band, led by singer Ariana Lightningstorm and drummer Tigre Cruz, also features members of Green Crown. Their 1990 CD weaves drum and chant with original and traditional songs that blend styles both ancient and modern. Kiva has become a festival institution, and are the house band of Maryland's Free Spirit Gathering.
10. Enchantress-Gypsy: In 1991, Alexandrian Witch/occult shop owner/phenom Gypsy released the first album of Pagan dance music. It featured sampled sounds, booming bass and drum, and wailing guitars, under songs about witchcraft and magic. Yea, I played on it. Another ground-breaking recording, breaking the myth that all Pagan music had to be Celtic or Folk derived.
11. That's Why I Wanna Be A Witch-Kim Fox: Fox's quirky first album Moon Hut (1997) contains many witchy tunes, but this one says it all. I love you, Kim Fox!!
12. Lady Moon-Kellianna: with this 2004 release, festival fave Kellianna brought a dignity and intelligence to the medium of Pagan trance-drum-and-chant. Her chanting workshops are among the best.
13. The Moors: The self titled CD by Boston band The Moors (2007) was an amazing combination of Celtic song and chant, drum and guitar, chanted vocals and lengthy jams. While the elements of these songs came from a dozen places, no one had ever put them together like this before. The music embodies the quintessential Pagan drum/chant/song/trance experience.
14. Fire And Bone-Incus: Festival band Incus calls itself "music shaped by fire." This was one of the first festival bands to include fire spinning in its act (the other being the brilliant band/sensory experience Lunar Fire, for whom I could find no recordings). The music is a blend of ancient and modern, with excellent bass, keys and violin.
15. Meet Me In The Shade Of The Maple Tree-Kenny Klein: Yea, this is me. But it is also the very first CD of Pagan Bluegrass music (2010). It was followed by CDs of New Orleans style Pagan Jugband and Cajun music (Ghosts Of The Delta, 2011 and Black Cat Blues, 2012). Despite this my mother still thinks I need a real job.
Lunar Fire is my very favorite festival band. They are not listed above because they don't seem to have a CD for sale. But you can find them, as well as their offshoot band Inti Tribe, all over the Internet. They are awesome, and their fire show is as good as their heavily drum-infused blend of Hispanic and American Pagan Funk music.
Another band I have not mentioned above is Woven Dreams, who later became Cherries-N-Silk. This band of four kids (three brothers and a sister, Sun Ravenstar) played youthful Pagan Punk music at festivals for several years, until the family self-destructed a few years ago.
I'd also lend an ear to Loke E Coyote, who was partnered for several years with Green Crown and Kiva alum Dianna McFadden. Music for heartfelt Pagan stoners, and perhaps the first Pagan rock opera. Loke E Coyote has also proved capable of making happy hippie audiences appear out of thin Utah air!
And finally, one of the early songwriters of the Pagan movement, Lisa Theil. If you can still find her recordings, they are well worth having.
Until next time, this is Kenny Klein, the Rambling Wren, explaining it all.
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