Perambulating the Bounds

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Curtis Mayfield Saves The Day

Susan Alcorn had her show in Nashville this week, and the performances were darker stormier than I remember from last year. Typically lyrical openings developed into very dissonant, noisy stuff. She also did her piece Twin Beams, which is a response to the 2001 attacks in New York but really a protest against what has become of the country since then. The piece opens up with small dissonances, the same note on two adjacent strings set just apart from each other. And it went on from there, to a dense, angry, wounded sound. But at some point it comes off that, and it ends up in People Get Ready by Curtis Mayfield. I don’t have the Wire review of her London show in front of me, but I think she made this same combination in on that show. It’s a remarkable tune, and to me was fully redemptive in this context. It is one of those soul songs that is so close to gospel it’s hard to tell the difference, making for the kind of non-sectarian spiritual expression that has great curative powers. It also brings to mind the person of Curtis Mayfield, who projected joy and gentleness (and I know little about his bio, so I don’t know if that’s the way he was).
Susan has discovered that this song, played on pedal steel, can counterbalance almost anything. She can make a lot of noise with the pedal steel, and when she attaches it by association with post-Trade Center political climate that makes for something very harsh. Even then, there’s no denying People Get Ready. Maybe that undercuts the protest, offering too easy hope – in spite of the evil spirits afloat in our culture, if we just tap into our memories of 60s peace and love it will be better. But from a technical perspective, it is remarkable what the combination of note sequence and instrumental timbre can achieve.


  • hi, i just wanted to tell you thank you on behalf of the Off The Wall group for the lovely article you wrote about us in the Critics Picks. The show was a success and very well attended.

    By Anonymous Jaime Raybin, at 7:48 PM  

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