The on-line purchase arrived piecemeal, as these things often unfold; a kind of retail lottery with a reveal at the post office. What’s in this parcel? The order included two albums by veteran acoustic outfit Oregon, who have been playing melodic jazz-influenced instrumental music since 1970, way before the term New Age became part marketing strategy, part term of abuse.
Two albums released forty years apart. The structured part wants to hear the earlier one first, 1978’s Moon and Mind; now there’s a title to conjure with. But Lantern, from 2017, arrived first. I could have waited, but didn’t. I wanted to hear the delicate, introspective sound of Ralph Towner’s guitar and the undulating tunes Paul McCandless draws from his selection of wind instruments. The oboe is underrated in modern music.
It is delightful, played with great skill and layered with a patina of experience. Often the oboe—or the soprano sax—dances with the guitar and rhythm section in a way that evokes Baroque gentility (opening piece “Dolomiti Dance” is an example), but there is some gentle grooving too, like “Walk the Walk” by drummer Mark Walker. The jazz feel stronger; you sit up straighter.
Late evening, on the couch, trying to read but tempted to reach for the phone and sink into a pointless game until my eyes water. The CD plays unobtrusively but something insinuates… melody and memory. Me, fifteen maybe, sitting in classroom music singing an ancient Scottish folk song.
The water is wide, I cannot get o’er
Neither have I the wings to fly
Give me a boat that can carry two
And both shall row, my love and I
The room is light, warm-to-hot. Shirtsleeves weather. Sun slashing in from the bank of glass on my left, the rows of tables on the right. Some classmates sing, some mutter, some mouth the words, up the back they don’t even bother to fake it. I sing lustily, passionately. I’m communicating something, but what?
A ship there is and she sails the sea
She’s loaded deep as deep can be
But not so deep as the love I’m in
I know not if I’ll sink or swim
The giddy yet water-logged whirlpool of infatuation. No wonder Tim Buckley’s “Song To The Siren” clutched hard, a few decades later. Who was I singing to? No face appears, nor name-tag heart. But it was certainly unrequited. It was always unrequited.
I leaned my back against an oak
Thinking it to be a trusty tree
But first it bent and then it broke
So did my love prove false to me
Probably some poetic licence there for the young Vinyl Connection. The usual rules are that you need a relationship before falseness has a fulcrum, or so I now understand these matters. But the young, burning and shivering, will manufacture the details, including a phantasmal relationship.
Oh love be handsome and love be kind
Bright as a jewel when first it is new
But love grows old and waxes cold
And fades away like morning dew
Phantoms and love both lose colour, dim to a flickering will-o’-the-wisp murmuring “Then…”
The classroom has no doubt been demolished to make way for a modern educational building. Do teenage shades flutter in the corridors on empty summer nights? And when term resumes, does Music still invite disengaged teens to sing ballads from times past?
I’m too sexy for my car too sexy for my car
Too sexy by far
And I’m too sexy for my hat
Too sexy for my hat what do you think about that
“The Water Is Wide” closes the Oregon album, leaving a lingering sadness. Or maybe it’s a softness. A flame glows, pale gold like a Rembrandt face. Lanterns and shadows.