Florence + The Machine, The Band Perry and the Lady of Shalott in Music Videos

Today I thought I’d share a video from Florence + The Machine. My husband actually made me sit down and watch the video because he noticed all the mythological and Pre-Raphaelite references! We first encountered Florence + The Machine while watching the Colbert Report, and our first reaction (other than noticing that she had a great voice), was that she looked like she’d fallen out of a Pre-Raphaelite painting. Apparently this is no coincidence, and you’ll notice that most of her videos contain references to the Pre-Raphaelites, though the video for “Rabbit Heart” is one of the most overt. From the minute you see the water behind her you can tell this is going to end in a send-up of the Lady of Shalott!

For an even heavier dose of the Lady of Shalott, check out The Band Perry’s “If I Die Young”. My daughter actually discovered this one on Vevo the other day!

Someone from the band is clearly a big fan of the Pre-Raphaelites! Of course Lady of Shalott is the most obvious reference (the video actually closes with a shot of Tennyson’s poem), but I thought the scene at :38 (with the mother at the window) was a little evocative of John Everett Millais’ Mariana. It’s a very well done video, and the song is beautiful as well.

Karen Elson’s Pre-Raphaelite Inspired Music Video “The Truth is in the Dirt on the Ground”

Fashion model Karen Elson is making her foray into the music business with her new album The Ghost Who Walks. She recently released the album’s first music video, for the track “The Truth is in the Dirt on the Ground.” The video is chock-full of Pre-Raphaelite references. There are numerous allusions to Pre-Raphaelite paintings here – I was particularly reminded of Waterhouse’s Ophelia (because of the Queen Anne’s Lace) and his Lady of Shalott (of course, parts of it are also quite reminiscent of Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights”). With her vibrant scarlett locks, Elson has long been described as a Pre-Raphaelite beauty – I’m glad to see that she’s embracing the label in her new music video! 

Apparently, the song was inspired by an obituary for Eartha Kitt. I did a little digging around, and it looks like Elson was referring to a quote from the New York Times obituary for Kitt: “I’m a dirt person…I trust the dirt. I don’t trust diamonds and gold.” 

The song is quite catchy, and the sound, which her husband, Jack White of the White Stripes, describes as “folk country gothic” is very appealing. I’ve been humming it ever since I saw the video this morning. 

A special thanks to Grace from The Beautiful Necessity for posting the video on her blog!

Loreena McKennitt’s New Album:”The Wind that Shakes the Barley”

Whenever I want to relax, or if I’m feeling a touch homesick (she may be from Manitoba, but her music will always remind me of the Pacific Northwest), I reach for Loreena McKennitt’s music. Her voice has such a natural beauty and I find it incredibly soothing and familiar – probably because I’ve listened to all of her CD’s a thousand times! There are so many childhood memories I have that are inextricably tied to her music.

There’s something about Autumn that especially reminds me of McKennitt’s music. I can vividly recall listening to The Mask and the Mirror with my mom and sister as we drove to local haunts like Lattin’s Country Cider Mill in Olympia, Washington (Lattin’s is an amazing farm and cider mill in Olympia, and if you are ever in the area, you have to go! They make the best apple cider in the world, something I’m sure my husband never tires of hearing – but seriously, they make amazing cider, and it’s one of the places I cannot wait to take my daughter). I still remember how McKennitt’s music made dark and rainy drives through the back-roads of Western Washington seem romantic and exciting. A trip to the Yelm movie theater was almost like an Arthurian quest! These days, I also find that her albums work perfectly as my “not quite Christmas” music. I’m a Christmas music fanatic, but the Nutcracker in September/October is pushing it – even for me – and I find albums like McKennitt’s To Drive the Cold Winter Away result in a few less raised eyebrows.

Loreena McKennitt is releasing a new album of traditional Celtic folksongs this fall entitled The Wind that Shakes the Barley. The CD will be released in Europe on November 12 and will be available in Canada and the United States on CD, iTunes and vinyl on November 16. You can listen to a preview of the CD on her website, Quinlan Road.

Loreena McKennitt has not released an all-new (non-compilation) album since An Ancient Muse, back in 2006 (which was a great album, by the way). And while I’ve enjoyed the compilation albums, it’s great to hear her arrange some new songs.  Her latest album will be a collection of traditional Celtic songs. Commenting on her choice of traditional music for the new album, McKennitt has said that “every once and again there is a pull to return to one’s own roots or beginnings, with the perspective of time and experience, to feel the familiar things you once loved and love still.” I haven’t heard the full album, but from the preview available on her website, the music sounds lovely. In my opinion, McKennitt’s real genius is arranging beautiful music in a way that shows off her unique voice at it’s very best (no small feat when you consider that her vocal career spans over 25 years), and this album is no exception. I can’t wait to share this one with my daughter!

Rare Millais Sketches Found in Led Zeppelin Record Sleeves

Former Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page is one of the world’s best known collectors of Pre-Raphaelite art. But he nearly lost a handsome stash of sketches by John Everett Millais as the result of what appears to be an auction house mix-up. 

Apparently, four drawings by Millais were found tucked inside Led Zeppelin records that were due to be put up for auction. Interestingly, the records were actually owned by Rick Hobbs, who had worked for the band for a number of years. Originally, the auction house had believed that the sketches were a gift from Page to Hobbs, but the auction house was uncertain enough to withhold the items from the auction. 

Fortunately for art fans, the sketches have been well-preserved within the LP covers, and they are undamaged. Millais made the drawings in 1843 when he was just 14 years old and a student at the Royal Acadamy. Two of the sketches were inspired by the poetry of Robert Burns. One depicts a scene in Venice were a gondolier is singing to a lady from beneath a window, accompanied by a verse from Farewell Thou Stream “The music of thy voice I heard/Nor wist while it enslav’d me!/I saw thine eyes, yet nothing fear’d/Til fears no more had sav’d me!

Amazing that the sketches remained hidden in those LP covers all these years!

Edmonton Opera Presents Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance

Last night my husband and I had the chance to see Edmonton Opera’s presentation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance. We had such a fabulous time! It was the first opera of the season that we’ve been able to attend. We always get season tickets, but we had to give our tickets to Rigoletto to some friends, since the performance was one day after our daughter was born!

This time we were able to make it, thanks to my mom, who stayed home with the baby and entertained her by singing snippets from the production. I discovered this morning that my three month old daughter adores “Modern Major General” — probably because she’s never heard anyone speak that fast before!

I am so glad that the Edmonton Opera chose to stage such a thoroughly entertaining production. I’ve been a fan of Pirates for years, ever since I first saw the 1983 film version starring Kevin Kline in the 1990s. My sister and I adored the movie and watched it time and again on video. But certain numbers lost their lustre in the film version. Of course, songs like “With Catlike Tread” are impossible not to love, whatever their format, but others, like “Hush, hush, not a word!” simply fell a bit flat on the silver screen. Watching Pirates live was a revelation.

First of all, the cast was fabulous. Curt Olds stole the show as Major General Stanley – his sense of comic timing was impeccable and made the production. I was also impressed with Lawrence Wiliford as Frederic and Nikki Einfeld as Mabel.

Gilbert and Sullivan lend themselves particularly well to revival, and their appeal to modern audiences is strong, with humor that easily crosses age and cultural barriers. My husband, who had never seen a Gilbert and Sullivan production before, absolutely loved Pirates. I am so happy to see the Edmonton Opera choosing to showcase this Operetta, and I hope it means there will be many more Gilbert and Sullivan productions in the opera’s future!