Possibly by coincidence, or maybe just because I like this kind of thing, the three pieces of music I heard in 2003 which made the biggest impact were all farewells of one kind or another. None were recorded in 2003; only one was released in that year. But this is when I first heard them, and thatï¿½s what matters, to me at least.
The first was a 1982 live recording of Emmylou Harris performing “I’m Movin’ On”, backed by the Hot Band going at full blast for three exceptional minutes. Excellent solos on fiddle, keyboards and guitar break up six verses of heroic singing, all of which transforms Hank Snow’s country classic into something quite different, far more exhilarating, and altogether less smug.
The other two records are more poignant.
The second song was from an even older recording, but I hadnï¿½t caught up with it before: Kathleen Ferrier’s legendary recording of Mahler’s “Der Abschied” [The Farewell] from the end of “Das Lied von der Erde”. There’s a fine appraisal of this record by Derek Lim here which does a good job of explaining what’s so good about it. For me it’s been a way of rediscovering what has been one of my favourite pieces of music for over a decade now, with “Der Abschied” a sort of musical equivalent to the epic final pages of Finnegans Wake as the Liffey flows out to the sea. Thanks, then, to my musicologist friend Aidan Thompson, who gave me the recommendation when I told him I needed to replace my existing CD of this piece.
Finally — and I admit that this isn’t in the same league as these other two records, but still very interesting, and actually from a 2003 release (though it must have been recorded earlier) — the late Joe Strummer singing Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” on his recent and posthumous album, Streetcore. It’s a song I associate with endings as there’s a well-known recording of it from Marley’s final concert in Pittsburgh in September 1980, shortly before he too died young. (My friend Raj tells me, by the way, that the first words spoken in newly-independent Zimbabwe just after the British flag was taken down were: “Ladies and Gentlemen — Bob Marley and the Wailers!” Those were happier times.) I’m told also that my two Favourite Recently-Dead Musicians, Johnny Cash and Joe Strummer, sing the song together on the new Unearthed box, which gives me yet another reason for wanting to go out and buy it, even though on the whole the post-1994 Johnny Cash records don’t thrill me as much as other people seem to like them.