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This week, Ecléctico welcomes guest DJ Bill Bragin, Executive Artistic Director at The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi and founding co-director of globalFEST. Today we’re listening to Lonnie Holley and going deeper with comments from Bill and a profile by Natalie Baszile.
"Mama's Little Baby" by Lonnie Holley (2012)
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Bill Bragin: The organ on this song can be on the edge, but I like how after Rhiannon sings “they’re calling me home” [on yesterday’s song recommendation] it feels like the church organ starts the service. And then he goes back to childhood and looks back on his life. His vocal phrasing is so blues-rooted and rhythmic. I like to imagine what this vocal performance would sound like with an acoustic guitar, but the organ, to me, also evokes Music in Twelve Parts-era Philip Glass.
Excerpt from a profile of Lonnie Holley by Natalie Baszile in The Bitter Southerner:
Much of Holley’s music is improvised and intensely autobiographical. His lyrics, inspired by recent experience as much as from distant memories, come in a stream of consciousness. His songs are never the same from one performance to the next. I first heard his music piped in over the sound system at the de Young Museum exhibit a year earlier. The songs were a blend of his own growling and moaning, the harmonies a mix of gospel and old-time blues accompanied by his piano to create music that was simultaneously ancient, avant-garde, and cosmic. His song could be prayers.
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Between songs, he addresses the audience, referring to himself in the third person as Tonky McElroy. He shares the story of digging worms as a child, getting hit by the car and lying unconscious, then moves on to share stories about his recent drive down to Los Angeles. He speaks of six spaceships, 144,000 elephants, and the power of memory and human intention.
At the end of the show, he stands up and takes a bow. He salutes the crowd with his signature blessing, “Thumbs up to Mother Universe.”