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Jóhann Jóhannson To Release The Miners Hymns June 7th

Icelandic composer/arranger/electronics-manipulator Jóhann Jóhannson’s first release for FatCat, The Miners’ Hymns, is the score to an exciting collaboration with filmmaker Bill Morrison (best known for his masterpiece Decasia, heralded by the Village Voice as “the most widely-acclaimed American avant-garde film of the fin-de-siecle”). Their film/music project treats the history of Northeast England’s mining community using gorgeous found footage and a brass-based score, which moves from dark and brooding minimalism to moments of rousing transcendence. The Miners’ Hymns album will be released in the U.S. on June 7.

Centered around the Durham coalfield in Northeast England, The Miners’ Hymns film focuses on the hardships of pit work, the powerful role trade unions have historically played in bettering the lives of miners, and the trade unions’ battles with police during the famous 1984 strikes. The film was initially commissioned for Durham County (UK) Council’s International Brass Festival, which incorporated the annual Miners’ Gala into a program celebrating the cultural history of mining with a strong focus on the regional tradition of colliery brass bands. It was created from BFI, BBC, and other archival footage and produced by British artist organization Forma. Immaculately edited, and almost entirely in black-and-white, the film intercuts footage spanning the past 100 years, serving, as Jóhannson puts it, as “a kind of requiem for a disappearing industry, but also a celebration of the culture, life, and struggle of coal miners.”

The Miners’ Hymns marks a welcome return to brass instrumentation for Jóhannson, whose recent work has paired his electronics primarily with strings. Performed and record live by a sixteen-piece brass ensemble (whose ranks included players in the current incarnation of a brass band started by miners in 1877) led by Iceland’s Gudni Franzson, the score is at times lamenting, lyrical, almost droning; elsewhere led by sweepingly triumphant chords and pulse-quickening crescendo. Combined with the ensemble and the huge Durham Cathedral organ, Jóhannson’s own subtle electronics peek through gaps in the score like shafts of life through the church’s stained-glass windows, adding quiet, otherworldly brightness.

The beautifully-packaged CD release of The Miners’ Hymns includes liner notes giving an overview of the historical importance of brass band music in the history of English coalmining and the rise of trade unions, as well as archival photos, film stills, and shots of the recorded performance inside the great Cathedral.

Jóhannson's music has also recently been used for film in a quite different context, soundtracking a much talked-about trailer for the blockbuster film Battle: Los Angeles; watch the trailer here.

The Miners’ Hymns is a featured selection of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Jóhann Jóhannson will be touring later this year in support of the album.

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The Miners’ Hymns at Tribeca Film Festival:

4/22 – Clearview Chelsea 5 (7:00 pm)

4/25 – Clearview Chelsea 9 (7:30 pm)

4/28 – Clearview Chelsea 8 (12:45 pm)

The Miners’ Hymns Tracklisting:

1. They Being Dead yet Speaketh

2. An Injury To One Is The Concern Of All

3. Freedom From Want and Fear

4. There is No Safe Side but the Side of Truth

5. Industrial and Provident, We Unite to Assist Each Other

6. The Cause of Labour is the Hope of the World

Randy Newman @ the Boulder Theatre | 3/9/11

Randy Newman has long been one of the most musically and lyrically ambitious singer-songwriters ever to be at play in the fields of popular music.

Born on November 28, 1943 to a renowned musical family, by seventeen Newman was a working songwriter. In 1968 he debuted with Randy Newman, and before long an unusually wide range of artists were recording his songs.

Critics lauded the musical depth, edge and literary quality of his lyrics as the 70's brought 12 Songs, Live, the classic Sail Away and brilliant and controversial Good Old Boys. Little Criminal caught the public's ear with the hit "Short People". Born Again followed.

In the Eighties, Newman's foray into film composing earned him his first two of sixteen Oscar nominations. Trouble In Paradise and the Grammy-winning score for The Natural followed. Next, Land of Dreams was considered another breakthrough work.

In the Nineties, Newman earned an Emmy and several more Grammys for work on films like Toy Story, James and the Giant Peach, Bug's Life and Toy Story 2. Newman also tickled his adult audience with his darkly hilarious take on Faust. The four-CD compilation: Guilty: 30 Years of Randy Newman and Bad Love followed, and in 2002, Newman won his first Oscar for Best Original Song for Monsters Inc. He has also earned 5 Grammy awards and 2 Emmy awards throughout his career.

The Randy Newman Songbook, Vol. I (2003), his first effort for Nonesuch, introduces powerful new solo versions of early classics and recent gems alike. The eighteen songs are an intimate and powerful reminder of the enduring work that Newman has established. In 2008 he released Harps and Angels; for Nonesuch records. His first collection of new songs since 2009's Bad Love.

Most recently, Newman wrote the songs and score for Disney's The Princess and the Frog as well as Toy Story 3. He has earned two more Academy Award nominations(19 total) in the Best Original Song category for Almost There and Down In New Orleans.

On June 2nd 2010 Newman received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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Dead Symphony #6 Down South

Southern Deadheads have a special opportunity coming up.  On October 5th, the Lagrange (Georgia) Symphony will perform Lee Johnson’s “Dead Symphony #6.”  As the Dead’s publicist and biographer, I flinched a little when I first heard of the idea of a symphonic take on the Dead; I feared “Dead with strings.”  That’s emphatically not Lee Johnson’s Dead Symphony.  Lee had a Deadhead friend, of course (doesn’t everybody?), who initiated him into the cult.  He really got the Dead’s music, which is of course rooted in improvisation.  Since having a 75 piece symphony improvise is….a bad idea, he did the improvising himself in the score, and the result is a take on familiar melodies, with variations, and not a simple new coat of strings.

The CD was much admired, and the live performances, first at the Baltimore Symphony, and more recently at the California Symphony (Walnut Creek, California) and Cabrillo Festival (Santa Cruz, California), have been knock-outs.

Now Lee’s taken the score and given it a final tune-up, so that what will be performed in Lagrange will be the final version.  And Lee will be in the cello section.

Lagrange is going to find itself in a slightly altered state on October 5th – check it out!  

For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.   And be sure to check out Grateful Web's review of Dead Symphony #6.