Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Michelle Malone And The Hot Toddies: “Toddie Time” (2023) CD Review

It’s that time of year when artists are legally obligated to release holiday albums in order to retain their music licenses. So for many artists, it’s a matter of going through the motions to fulfill this requirement. But some artists truly get into the spirit of the thing, and excellent albums result from their efforts. Such is the case with Michelle Malone, who created her own Christmas band, The Hot Toddies, a while back specifically to deliver some holiday cheer. A hot toddy is a drink, also known as a hot whiskey, so right away you know this band is going to be in the proper frame of mind for the holidays. The band is made up of Michelle Malone on vocals and guitar, Doug Kees on guitar, Tommy Dean on bass, Robby Handley on bass, and Gerry Hansen on drums. The Hot Toddies released two EPs, one in 2018 and one in 2019, and this album is basically those two EPs combined. The second EP contains two versions of “Up On The House Top” and two versions of “Silent Night,” while the new release contains just one of each. And this is actually not the first full length Christmas album from Michelle Malone And The Hot Toddies. Last year saw the release of Christmas With The Hot Toddies. If you wish to get into the holiday spirit, pour yourself and your loved ones a drink and let this album play. And when it’s over, play it again.

They open the album with a hopping, swinging rendition of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.” It features a fantastic vocal performance, and of course we expect nothing less from Michelle Malone. This track also features a totally delicious guitar lead with a classic sound, and some incredibly cool bass work. This is not one of my favorite holiday songs, but Michelle Malone And The Hot Toddies give us a rendition so good that I find myself loving this track. Things get even cooler with “Zat You, Santa Claus?,” with guitar work and a rhythm that will remind you of The Stray Cats. Michelle Malone is having such a good time, totally throwing herself into the music. “Who's there, who is it coming back for a visit?/Is that you, Santa Claus?/Are you bringing presents for me/Something pleasantly pleasant for me/Then it’s just what I’ve been waiting for/But would you mind slipping it under the door.” If all department stores and banks chose to play this album rather than the usual nonsense, then I might agree that this is the most wonderful time of the year. This song is certainly one to add to your holiday play list.

As “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” begins, that rhythm makes me wonder if this might be a more rocking rendition than we normally hear. It’s unclear for a moment which direction it will go, where that good bass line will lead us. But when Michelle’s vocals come in, the song takes on that sweet, warm, romantic sound and vibe.  This rendition has a really nice ending, with Michelle riffing a bit on the line “I’m going home.” Michelle Malone And The Hot Toddies stay in a mellow mood with “Count Your Blessings (Instead Of Sheep),” here simply titled “Count Your Blessings.” These lines certainly stand out for me this year, after months of a Hollywood strike depleted my bank account: “When my bankroll is getting small/I think of when I have none at all/I fall asleep, counting my blessings.” Ah, but among the blessings I can count is the great music I get to listen to, including this album. Here Michelle’s vocals are supported by guitar.

There is a wonderful jazzy edge to Michelle Malone’s rendition of “Blue Christmas.” And at times there is an edge to her voice as well, a bit of attitude, as when she sings “You’ll be doing all right/With your Christmas of white/But I’ll have a blue, blue Christmas.” That helps this rendition stand out. Plus, it features some strong work on guitar. That’s followed by “Jingle Bells.” This is another holiday song I generally could do without, but Michelle Malone puts her own delightful spin on the song, and there is enough joy in her performance to make  it truly enjoyable. She includes that “I love those J-I-N-G-L-E bells” part at the beginning, as Frank Sinatra did. Plus, she includes lyrics that are often cut, which also helps to make it feel fresh. And check out that great guitar work. At the end of the track, she exclaims, “Woo! She likewise puts her own touch on “Up On The House Top.” As it begins, it feels akin to something like “Tequila.” Here Michelle Malone begins to belt out some lines, her voice having that great raw energy. And then halfway through the track we are treated to some good stuff on harmonica. That’s followed by “Go Tell It On The Mountain.” This version slowly swings, and has an uplifting effect. There is a good dose of gospel to Michelle’s vocal performance, particularly in the second half. This is a rendition to make you feel good.

“Auld Lang Syne” has a different vibe from usual as it starts, with some cool guitar work. There is something of a Latin vibe here. I love how Michelle Malone puts her own mark on these classic numbers. Give a different spin to the New Year this time around, see what happens. With this music, it feels like it’s going to be a good one. For a moment or two we can set aside the struggles that this election year will undoubtedly bring and lift a glass to each other. Then, what is this, bass and finger snaps to start “Silent Night”? You bet! This is likely one of the coolest renditions you’ll hear. Seriously, how often does this song make you feel like dancing, while still having that soothing quality? I love what Michelle Malone and the band do with this song. It is one of my personal favorites. It’s followed by “We Three Kings,” another track that comes as a wonderful surprise. This is a version you can sway to, dance to, and it features a beautiful vocal performance. Michelle Malone wraps up this special holiday album with “Away In A Manger,” once again putting her own excellent spin on it and making the song cooler than it probably has any business being. This rendition contains some delicious guitar work, with a haunting western quality, and a gorgeous and strong vocal performance.

CD Track List

  1. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
  2. Zat You, Santa Claus?
  3. I’ll Be Home For Christmas
  4. Count Your Blessings
  5. Blue Christmas
  6. Jingle Bells
  7. Up On The House Top
  8. Go Tell It On The Mountain
  9. Auld Lang Syne
  10. Silent Night
  11. We Three Kings
  12. Away In A Manger

Toddie Time was released on October 27, 2023, and is available on both CD and vinyl. The vinyl is green, so I want to get a copy of the record (last year’s release was on red vinyl).

Monday, December 4, 2023

Another Great Night Of Music At The Mayan

Ben Vaughn
The new (three months old at this point) concert series at the Mayan Bar & Grill in Monrovia has become one of my favorites in the entire Los Angeles area. The venue, the atmosphere, the people, and, most importantly, the artists they book for the monthly series are fantastic. Last night we were treated to sets by Victoria Jacobs, Dan Janisch And The Sallys, and The Ben Vaughn Ensemble (and next month I hear Ted Russell Kamp will be part of the lineup). At the previous concerts in this series, the first band played outside in the courtyard, but it now being winter in Los Angeles, last night all three bands performed on the indoor stage. And no, for those outside L.A. who might be wondering, it was not all that cold, particularly as the show had an early start time.

Victoria Jacobs and Paul Lacques playing "Today"
At 6:10 p.m., series host Gwendolyn Sanford introduced Victoria Jacobs. I’d seen Victoria Jacobs many times in her role as drummer (and occasional vocalist) in the band I See Hawks In L.A., but last night was the first time I got to see her front and center, and on guitar. Accompanying her was fellow Hawk Paul Lacques on guitar, with Hawks front man Rob Waller joining them on a few songs. She opened her set with “Today,” and then mentioned how she and Paul Lacques had played together twenty-five years ago. “So we figured, what the hell, let’s do it again,” she joked. The first song Rob Waller joined her on was “Spinning,” a song included on the I See Hawks In L.A. 2018 album Live And Never Learn. As he took a seat on the throne-like chair, he offered to let folks come sit on his lap and tell him what they want for Christmas. A woman called out that she wanted his hat. One of my favorite songs of her set was a new one, about skipping stones. “This is a new song, so if I mess up, I mess up,” Victoria said as she started it. It was a fun number, with a bit of Bo Diddley thing happening, and Paul Lacques got a chance to really deliver on guitar. And there was no messing up, not that I could tell, anyway. Rob Waller returned for the last three songs of the set – “Open Door,” “Kensington Market” and “My Parka Saved Me.” Before that final number, both Victoria and Rob put on parkas. Rob Waller played guitar on that one, which freed Victoria to stand and really get into the sometimes playful nature of the lyrics. It was a delightful way to wrap up the set. Her set ended at 7:05 p.m.

Dan Janisch And The Sallys
At 7:15 p.m., while Dan Janisch was setting up, someone in the audience teased him, shouting “Let’s go!” And a moment later The Sallys started their set, opening with “Here She Comes.” A strong start. A line that stood out to me was, “But now I feel like I found a piece of me that I lost a long time ago.” They followed that with “Wild Fun,” one of my favorites. Things were rocking now! By the way, David Serby was sitting in on bass for this show, another treat. “Are you guys having fun?” Dan asked the crowd after that song. Oh, there was no question about it. The set also included “Sweet Mercy,” “Like You Best,” “Honey Bee,” “Where Your Demons Can’t Go” and “Ego Junkie,” that last featuring some nice work on harmonica and a funny spoken word section. “There’s a new upstart named Ben Vaughn after us,” Dan joked toward the end of the set. They finished with “Brother Damnation.” Their set ended at 8:07 p.m.

Ben Vaughn Ensemble
At 8:23 p.m., Gwendolyn introduced Ben Vaughn, and things were off to a hopping start, at least until Sister T experienced some bass amp problems partway through the first song. They soon seemed to be fixed, and she even did a brief lead on bass, but no, there was still trouble, and a team of technicians got right to work on it at the end of that first number. “Kevin, it’s just you and me,” Ben Vaughn said to his drummer, and the two of them began “Percy’s Blues,” a sweet song. Before the end of it, the bass was back in the mix, leading Ben to say, “The unsinkable Sister T.” They followed “Percy’s Blues” with “In My Own Reality” and “Too Sensitive For This World,” two songs I love, two that I connect to strongly. “It’s a wonder anyone survives,” Ben sings in the latter. I also love his sense of humor, which even at times comes across in his guitar playing, as it did last night in “Deep In The Weeds.” And of course his humor played a big part in “Miss Me When I’m Gone.” The crowd cheered as soon as he started that one. The audience then provided some finger snaps during “Blind Alley,” a song on which Ben delivered some wonderful stuff on harmonica but did not play guitar. The band’s set also included “Walkin’ My Way (Back To Your Heart),” “Hey Romeo,” “Heavy Machinery,” “New Jersey Rock ‘N’ Roll,” and “Asking For A Friend.” Before “Asking For A Friend,” Ben remarked on the ceiling fans all being connected. Sister T added, “And they’re powered by ghosts.” And after that one, some requests were called out, including one for “Two Mile Road,” which Ben Vaughn then played. “Thank you,” Ben said afterward. “We haven’t played that one in a long time.” The set wrapped up with “Here Comes Trouble,” which had a big finish on drums, Ben urging Kevin to keep going. The shows of this concert series are scheduled to end at 9 p.m., and though it was already after 9 at that point, everyone was having too good a time to let it end, and so Ben Vaughn Ensemble gave us an encore. They kept everyone dancing with “My First Band,” with multiple endings. Ben Vaughn kept starting it up again. Hey, who wanted this great night to come to a close? The show ended at 9:42 p.m.

Here are a few photos from the night:

Victoria Jacobs performing "Spinning"

Victoria Jacobs performing "Open Door"

Victoria Jacobs performing "My Parka Saved Me"

Dan Janisch

Dan Janisch performing "Ego Junkies"

Dan Janisch

Ben Vaughn Ensemble

Ben Vaughn Ensemble

Ben Vaughn Ensemble performing "Percy's Blues"
Ben Vaughn Ensemble

The Mayan Bar & Grill is located at 317 W. Foothill Blvd., in Monrovia, California. See you there on January 7th for Ted Russell Kamp.

Sunday, December 3, 2023

The Legendary Ten Seconds: “Richard III” (2015) CD Review

A friend of mine who is a Shakespeare fan refuses to attend performances of Richard The Third because of the historical inaccuracies in the way the titular character is portrayed. The band the Legendary Ten Seconds, led by Ian Churchward, helps to set the record straight with its album Richard III, which is actually the third album of music related to the king and the War of the Roses the band has released. It follows Tant Le Desiree, which was released in 2014 and re-issued last month. Like that album, this one contains tracks of narration between the songs, this time written and performed by historian Matthew Lewis. Richard III is the third, but not the last of the band’s War of the Roses albums. The Legendary Ten Seconds have released a few more since then. It’s a fascinating story, with plenty of intriguing characters, so there is a lot of material there for songs. Ian Churchward provides lead vocals, and plays mandola, mandolin, bass, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, 12-string guitar. Rob Bright is on banjo and electric guitar. Mike Zarquon plays mellotron, organ, keyboards, bass, drums and percussion. Tom Churchward plays melodeon. Camilla Joyce, Elaine Churchward, and Gentian Dyer provide vocals.

The album’s first track, “Sheriff Hutton,” has a modern rock sound, with some progressive elements, and features some good work on electric guitar. Sheriff Hutton is a village in North Yorkshire, where there is a castle where the Council of the North was stationed. This song is sung from a modern perspective, of someone who has learned about the castle there and is looking back. “Of Sheriff Hutton I have been told/A sense of wonder did unfold/Of Richard's council of the north/Its lonely ruins I see henceforth.” This track provides an entrance for us in these modern days back to the time of Richard. It is followed by the album’s first bit of narration, which gives biographical information about Richard. The narration on the previous album was given from the perspective of Richard III’s mother, making the narrator a strong character in the story. This time there is a different approach to the narration, the more traditional approach of an historian giving information. “Richard Plantagent was born on the second of October, 1452 at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire.” This track also touches on the rewriting of his biography after Richard’s death. In “Richard Liveth Yet,” the sound is a great mix of modern and medieval, sort of like a medieval rock song, with a catchy rhythm. I dig that bass line. It’s a lively song that celebrates Richard’s birth: “And the delight at the birth of a son/The Duke of York full of pride/And a new life has just begun.”

The next bit of narration is about William Shakespeare’s play, the work that introduced a lot of us to Richard. Matthew Lewis calls the play “a masterpiece in the depiction of evil and the study of the psychology of the antihero, the villain we love to hate.” He adds, “This is the image of King Richard that has imprinted itself onto our collective consciousness – the scheming, evil murderer, worst of all, murderer of children.” Then “Written At Rising” opens with the sounds of a storm and some strong work on electric guitar. This track draws us in, and then holds us with that slow steady beat. There is a power to this one. That’s followed by narration about the medieval Christmas, and how the religious community then “saw the true meaning of Christmas lost in the debauchery.” “How little some things change across the centuries,” Matthew Lewis comments. He then mentions the Lord of Misrule, often a peasant, who was responsible for overseeing and organizing festivities. That leads to “Gold Angels.” This music has a warm feeling of celebration, perfect for a Christmas song, making this an interesting and wonderful addition to your holiday play list. Seriously, you can slip this one into your Christmas day play list and everyone will probably enjoy it. And perhaps you could appoint a Lord of Misrule in your own home. “It was Christmas day in London town/Snow covered the filth in the streets/There was ice on the banks of the River Thames.”

There is some narration regarding the executions of Lord Rivers, Richard Grey and Thomas Vaughan, urging us to take a fresh look at this event. These men are led to their execution in Act III Scene iii of Shakespeare’s play, and this narration leads to a track titled “Act III, Scene IV.” The song’s first lyrics are the first lines of Act III Scene iv, spoken by Hastings: “Now, noble peers, the cause why we are met/Is to determine of the coronation./In God’s name, speak. When is the royal day?” And then Buckingham’s line: “Are all things ready for that royal time?” Female vocals deliver Hastings’ last line and the line by Buckingham, and the music does have the feel of celebration, particularly during the instrumental sections. That is followed by narration about the coronation. “Streets bursting with color and packed with bodies hungry for a glimpse of their new monarch.” This was touched upon in a bit of narration in the previous album, but this time we are provided a lot of interesting information about the coronation, what set it apart and made it remarkable, its historical significance. “The omens were promising/This was something new at a time when the country did not want old problems.” Then “The Year Of Three Kings” begins in a pretty place. “Edward the Fourth his lust for life flown/With the hated Woodvilles the seeds of strife sown/The chronicles tell us of conspiracy/Of the struggle for power in the year of three kings.” And I love of the use of backing vocals on the song’s chorus, “The year of three kinds, the year of three kings/The chronicles tell us of the year of three kings.”

Perhaps the biggest question surrounding Richard III is whether he was responsible for the deaths of the princes in the tower. In Shakespeare’s play, he is. But apparently there is no historical proof that was the case. It is part of the depiction that many object to, for it really helps cement Richard’s image as an evil man. That’s what the next section of narration is about, questioning who actually said that Richard killed the princes. There was rumor and gossip about their disappearance from public view at the time. That leads to “Hollow Crown.” The phrase “hollow crown” was used by Shakespeare in Act III Scene ii of Richard The Second, when Richard says, “let us sit upon the ground/And tell sad stories of the death of kings –/How some have been deposed, some slain in war/Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed,/Some poisoned by their wives, some sleeping killed/All murdered: for within the hollow crown/That rounds the mortal temples of a king/Keeps Death his court.” And so those lines are in mind as we listen to this song about Richard III. This one establishes a strong beat immediately, and interestingly has some dance elements, while also having a darker energy. “A golden crown and it is mine/I wear it for England which I hold dear/A cry of usurper I did hear/This hollow crown upon my head/They say my brother’s sons are dead/Whispers at court behind my throne.”

The disc contains narration about the Battle of Bosworth. Again, this historical event was addressed on the previous album, but from a different perspective. Here is drawn a connection between this and an earlier event: “Seventy years earlier, at the Battle of Agincourt, King Henry The Fifth had done the same thing, as his small band of bedraggled refugees faced the flower and might of French chivalry.” That leads to “Remember My Name,” which has more of a folk vibe, and is about soldiers called to battle, bidding farewell to loved ones, and it features both male and female vocals. “So if I never see you again/I won't forget you/I'll remember your name.” This is one of my favorite tracks. It is followed by the shortest bit of narration on the album, this one simply mentioning Richard’s friend Lord Lovell. “Lord Lovell’s Lament” is a slower and moving number. “Remember those now reviled/Whose faith had wavered not/Their honor has been defiled/They lie in earthen plot.” This track features a pretty instrumental section.

The narration now moves past the death of Richard III. “York rejoiced when Richard became king, and mourned him after Bosworth, doing all that they could to resist the influence of Henry Tudor without openly inviting attack on the city.” “Requiem” is about the reaction of Richard’s older sister to his death as the news spread, and what she had to do regarding a requiem mass for him. “A requiem mass for Richard/She had to prepare/Her heart was full of turmoil/Anger and deep despair.” This track features some excellent work on guitar. Interestingly, another requiem mass was held for Richard III in March of 2015, a few months before the release of this album. His body had been discovered in 2012, which reignited interest in the king. The next narration is about the divided opinion about Richard III, during his lifetime and beyond. Matthew Lewis mentions the works written by Thomas More and William Shakespeare, as well as the novel The Daughter Of Time. This track also gets into the interesting idea that Shakespeare might have been making a point about Robert Cecil, son of William Cecil. The next song, “Royal Title,” is sung from the perspective of Sir George Buck, who wrote a history of King Richard III, a work published after his death in the mid-1600s. In it he apparently defends the king, and now I want to obtain a copy that book. There are so many fascinating facets to this tale, and seems to be enough material for several more albums on the subject. There is a light feel to this track, as in the work on keys. “For King Richard I will write a book/Truth and honor he does deserve.”

Matthew Lewis then talks about how people over the ages have sat at Ambion Hill, which was believed to be the site of the Battle of Bosworth, where Richard III died. That leads to “Ambion Hill,” which has a beautiful opening, like a new day, saying goodbye to the old. “I saw a knight up on Ambion Hill/His armor did shine in the sun/He wore a surcoat of murrey and blue/It felt like a dream had begun.” By the way, the fifth album recorded by The Legendary Ten Seconds to address Richard III is titled Murrey And Blue. This track has a beautiful ending. The subject of the final section of narration is the question about how Richard’s rule might have gone if not for the events at Bosworth Field, and raises the question of how the history of England might have been different had the Tudors not ruled afterward. The album concludes with “How Do You Rebury A King,” addressing the burial of King Richard III in the early spring of 2015. It is a bright, rousing number, a great way to wrap up the album.

CD Track List

  1. Sheriff Hutton
  2. Richard Plantagenet (Narrative)
  3. Richard Liveth Yet
  4. William Shakespeare (Narrative)
  5. Written At Rising
  6. The Medieval Christmas (Narrative)
  7. Gold Angels
  8. The Issue Of (Narrative)
  9. Act III Scene IV
  10. King Richard (Narrative)
  11. The Year Of Three Kings
  12. Who Said (Narrative)
  13. Hollow Crown
  14. As King Richard (Narrative)
  15. Remember My Name
  16. It Was (Narrative)
  17. Lord Lovell’s Lament
  18. Whatever His Motivations (Narrative)
  19. Requiem
  20. Good King Richard (Narrative)
  21. Royal Title
  22. Many Have Stood (Narrative)
  23. Ambion Hill
  24. Part Of The Lament (Narrative)
  25. How Do You Rebury A King

Richard III was released on July 6, 2015.

Saturday, December 2, 2023

The Legendary Ten Seconds: “Tant Le Desiree” (2014/2023) CD Review

The Legendary Ten Seconds, a project started by Ian Churchward, has focused much of its creative energy on the War of the Roses, and especially Richard III. Many people, myself included, have drawn their image of Richard The Third from Shakespeare’s account. It’s a fantastic and exciting play, but might not be entirely historically accurate. As a result of some things Shakespeare included, Richard III has gotten a perhaps undeserved reputation as evil. The Legendary Ten Seconds have been digging into the actual history, dedicating several albums to the story. The second album in this series, Tant Le Desiree, has now gotten a new re-issue, complete with the narration by Sandra Heath Wilson, which was included on the earlier CD release but not the original digital release. Ian Churchward provides lead vocals and plays guitar, 12-string guitar, bass, mandola and mandolin; Mike Zarquon (who goes by Lord Zarquon, and why not?) is on mellotron, organ, keyboards, drums and percussion; Rob Bright is on guitar and banjo; Tom Churchward plays melodeon; and Camilla Joyce provides vocals.

As the first track, “Shakespeare’s Richard,” starts, the music takes us to another time. Then after a few seconds, a more modern and progressive rock sound takes over. The lyrics address William Shakespeare directly: “Master William, you have shown/A tyrant of the English throne/A hunchback with a withered arm/His reputation has been harmed.” The song mixes the old with the new as far as the sound and vibe. “Master Shakespeare for your queen/With sonnet and drama you did dream/Morton's tale you had read/By Thomas More you were misled.” It has often been said that history is told by the victors, and it is believed that the Tudors adjusted the history of Richard The Third. Sir Thomas More wrote The History Of King Richard The Third around 1513. And of course Shakespeare had to appease the queen, she herself a Tudor.

Then we get the first bit of narration by Sandra Heath Wilson. Interestingly, the disc’s narration is from the perspective of Richard III’s mother. Earlier this year at Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, I saw a production of Queen Margaret’s Version Of Shakespeare’s War Of The Roses, which basically combined all three parts of King Henry The Sixth and Richard The Third, focusing on Margaret and the other female characters, telling the story from Margaret’s perspective. So this, in a way, is the other side of that, the same tale (or part of the same tale) told by the mother on the other side. That’s followed by “The Ragged Staff,” an instrumental track. Again, I love the way it combines the modern and the medieval in a way that gives us easy access to the world of the tale being told on this album, almost inviting us to dance our way in. Plus, it has a cool sound, featuring some really nice work on guitar. That is followed by some narration about Richard in battle. It functions as an introduction to the following track, as the narration will do throughout the rest of the album. “He fought valiantly for York, for his brother King Edward IV, and alongside his other remaining brother, George, Duke of Clarence.” There is a light vibe to “Tewkesbury Tale,” which tells the story of battle. “‘Twas after Barnet’s morning mist/King Edward’s army he did dismiss/Then came the news of a queen from France/For the fate of her son she would take a chance.” The queen mentioned here is Margaret.

No king could have had a more faithful and reliable brother than Richard,” our narrator tells us. Because the narration is delivered by Richard III’s mother, we have to take what she says with a bit of skepticism, don’t we? After all, as a narrator, she can’t claim to be impartial, even as she tries to set the record straight, even as she speaks against one of her other sons. “The Gold It Feels So Cold” begins with a drum beat, and has the strong sense of moving forward without hesitation or fear. But there is also a pretty aspect to the music. This one is told from Richard’s perspective: “My brothers took their share of wealth/And I took mine for sure/A heavy heart I still have/When that day I recall/No honor in the treaty/No honor in the gold.” The next bit of narration is about Edward wanting to bring home the bodies of his father and Edmund, who had both died at the Battle of Wakefield. And here she also speaks of Richard’s birth: “So frail a baby he had been/I feared I would lose him/But he fought, oh, how he fought.” A wind and a bell, along with a warlike beat of the drum, begin “To Fotheringhay.” “My dear trusted Richard, I charge you this day/Bring our father and brother to Fotheringhay/To the church near our castle of Fotheringhay/The church near our castle at Fotheringhay.” It is not a dirge, however. There is still determination in its sound, in its drive. The track ends at it began, with the wind and the church bell.

In the next section of narration, we are told this of Richard: “It pleased him to be away from court, from the plotting, subterfuge and sordid cunning he hated so much/He did not want to be embroiled in such dishonorable matters, but embroiled he soon would be.” Ah, but here we can’t help but wonder if a mother’s love for her child clouds her vision of him. Can we so completely dismiss everything we’ve heard and learned about Richard? That narration leads to “Confort Et Liesse,” a pleasant and rather cheerful instrumental track. There is no hint of war or trouble here. Rather, it feels like a dance across the countryside. The narration then tells us about how Edward named Richard as Lord Protector to watch over Edward V, and how the queen (Elizabeth Woodville) plotted against Richard. That leads to “By Hearsay.” Here Ian Churchward sings, “King Edward her husband was buried and gone/In mourning and sorrow she did not linger long.”  On this track, he is joined by the duo Gentian on backing vocals.

Regarding Richard’s coronation and tour through the realm, our narrator has this to say: “How dazzling his banners and standards/How gracious his smiles as the people lined the way to cheer him/They knew he saved them from more years of war and strife during a minority rule/And they did not believe he had harmed his nephews or done away with them.” This, of course, does make some sense. Henry The Sixth had been a young child when he gained the throne, and that certainly was the cause of some of the troubles. The people of England likely didn’t want another child on the throne. And listen to the sting in her voice as she says, “his foul toad of a cousin, Buckingham.” That leads into “Royal Progress,” which also begins with church bells. There is certainly some joy in the sound of this track, as the king’s royal tour is described. “Long live our good King Richard, they shouted to the sky.” I love that work on keys. Yet there does seem to be a hint of something darker, a warning in the guitar work, and before the end of the track we are told, “Of Buckingham’s betrayal he would soon be told/The schemes of Bishop Morton would very soon unfold.”

There was such celebration and joy at Richard’s court,” his mother tells us in the next narration. “He would have been a great king, but there were those who hated him.” It is clear that our narrator has a lot at stake in this telling, which again makes for an intriguing tale, but also makes us question some of the things she tells us. What an interesting effect. The music of the next track, “The Court Of King Richard III,” takes us inside the court, and there is the joy that our narrator has described. I love the female vocals delivering the lines, “In the court of King Richard the Third/The loveliest music I’ve ever heard,” for her voice adds to the loveliness of the music we are hearing. This again helps us feel like we are there. Before the end of the song, treason is mentioned. And so there is a darker tone to the music behind the next bit of narration as we are told, “Death took his wife and son and left him surrounded by baseness and treason.” Here she tells us straight out what the purpose of her narration is: “As the almighty is my witness, I will protect his name/With this, my testimony, I point my accusing finger at all who were soon to set themselves against him on the battlefield.” So, again, no impartial witness, she. There is a sadder, haunting tone to “Fortune’s Wheel.” “The Goddess Fortuna spins the wheel/And our bad luck she may seal.”

About the Battle at Bosworth, our narrator tells us: “And how proudly he defended his crown, his realm and his life.” Interestingly, when she speaks of Richard’s death, she has to stop, a wonderful touch. That leads to “White Surrey,” a song that is partially about his horse. The line “My horse, my horse my White Surrey” calls to mind the famous line, “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!” Here that line paints a different image, creates a different tone from the play’s line. At one point toward the end of the track we hear the galloping of the horses. Now the narration becomes even more personal, as she tells us about wishing her son were still alive to embrace her, rather than relating his deeds. “The Boar Lay Slain” then describes the aftermath of his death. “The boar lay slain on Bosworth Field/Too brave to flee, too proud to kneel/And then a dragon claimed the land/With poisoned tongue and crooked hand.” The use of the word “crooked” here is interesting, because of course it is a word long associated with Richard himself (and with another Richard from our own time), though more precisely “crookback.”

In the next section of narration, she talks about her hatred for Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch. It is interesting how the narration becomes more and more blatantly biased as the CD progresses. And maybe that’s the point. We shouldn’t believe either account fully. It is also interesting that the mother of one king reserves her strongest hatred for the mother of the next king. Then “The Rose Of Tudor” begins with a powerful instrumental section. This song is about Margaret Beaufort. “Secret ambition and deep desire/So strong her feelings, a holy fire/The rose of Tudor risen from the earth/For the hope of her son at his birth/Margaret Beaufort, she did foresee/For her son Henry on bended knee/For her red rose she did claim/To bring glory to Tudor's name.” “How my sleep is haunted by what might have been,” the narrator says, lamenting not only her son’s death, but the England that would have existed under his rule. That leads to “Yorkist Archer,” a piece that is beautiful and gentle, especially at it begins. This one has a different sort of perspective, told by a man who is an archer and who, though alive after these events, still calls himself a Yorkist at heart. “My father, he too was an archer/In the army of Richard the Third/But died at the Battle of Bosworth.”

The narration now turns to beliefs about Richard after the events of his reign. “At least Bess, the new queen of England, will not speak out against her lost uncle, much as Tudor wishes it/Richard did not harm his nephews when they were sent into the palace in the tower/Nor did he poison his wife in the hope of marrying Bess, toward whom he was never other than a fond uncle.” This narration addresses the image that people still have about Richard, his hunched back and withered arm. “He had true beauty both within and without,” she tells us. Though we have learned from the discovery of Richard’s skeleton that the “crookback” description was not unfounded. That leads to “The Road To Middleham,” an uplifting and joyous instrumental piece. It is the final track listed on the CD case, though there are two more tracks. The first of these is actually a continuation of the previous track, and perhaps wasn’t meant to be a separate track at all, as one goes straight into the other. In the digital version, it is presented as one track. And the final track is also an instrumental piece, though with a different tone as it begins, a more serious tone. It then begins to take on the joy and vibe of the previous track. This final track, as far as I can tell, is not included on the digital version.

CD Track List

  1. Shakespeare’s Richard
  2. Intro Narrative (My Name Is Cecylle)
  3. The Ragged Staff
  4. Tewkesbury Narrative (It Was At Tewkesbury)
  5. Tewkesbury Tale
  6. The Gold Narrative (No King)
  7. The Gold It Feels So Cold
  8. To Fotheringhay Narrative (In 1476)
  9. To Fotheringhay
  10. Confort Narrative (But Richard Was Lord Of The North)
  11. Confort Et Liesse
  12. By Hearsay Narrative (On His Deathbed)
  13. By Hearsay
  14. Royal Progress Narrative (After His Coronation)
  15. Royal Progress
  16. The Court Of King Richard Narrative (There Was Such Celebration)
  17. The Court Of King Richard III
  18. Fortune’s Wheel Narrative (The Wheel Of Fortune)
  19. Fortune’s Wheel
  20. White Surrey Narrative (Richard Faced His Foreign Foes)
  21. White Surrey
  22. Tant Le Desiree Narrative (I Have Longed So Much)
  23. The Boar Lay Slain
  24. Rose Of Tudor Narrative (The Woman I Most Despise)
  25. The Rose Of Tudor
  26. Yorkist Archer Narrative (How My Sleep Is Haunted)
  27. Yorkist Archer
  28. Outro Narrative (Tudor That Vile Faintheart)
  29. The Road To Middleham

This special re-issue of Tant Le Desiree was released on November 1, 2023.