It’s been a strange old week. I was waking up to the new reality of losing my elderly mother after a long illness only to hear the news of the sad passing of Justin Townes Earle. Justin has been a regular guest during twelve years of the AC and I have witnessed at first hand his talent, good humour as well as the pain of addiction which was still evident even in the short visits he made to us at Pacific Quay. Justin packed a lot of life into his thirty eight years and we’ll pay our own tribute to the music he created on this week’s Another Country.
The contrast could not have been more marked with my mother who had been fortunate to see great-grandchildren being born and attended all her grandchildren’s graduation ceremonies. As a family we were allowed to spend as much time with her in her hospital room as we or she wished. She was cared for by a group of nurses and hospital staff who were the most loving, thoughtful group of people I have ever encountered. They fussed around my elderly mother and treated her as if she were one of their own. In quiet moments when she was asleep I’d tell them how much we appreciated their care and consideration for her and her extended family and they’d explain that they wanted to give her the treatment they’d expect for their own mothers. At times I was moved to tears as much by their consideration and love as I was by the sadness I felt for my mother’s suffering.
We all have ways to deal with extraordinary situations and in our case I found, inevitably, that music managed to fill the gap when words and other actions failed. My mother had really lost the ability to appreciate music as her hearing deteriorated over the last few years. It was often hard for us to be understood and sub titles were required for television viewing. The radio had never been a great friend to her in the way it had always been a companion to my late father. However in the final days, without her hearing-aids in, it seemed that we could sing gently to her at her side and she would respond by joining in the old hymns we both knew from childhood. We sang anything I could remember and to prompt me I would listen to Alan Jackson’s Gospel albums on the way to the hospital and I knew that each of these old classic hymns would be familiar to her. Softly and Tenderly, Blessed Assurance, How Great Thou Art and Amazing Grace were all part of the repertoire. Even with no voice left, my mother’s lips would move to each word; there was no hymn she didn’t know completely.
As I grew up she would sing these hymns to herself in the kitchen and would play them on the piano. She told me hymns were good piano practice and she was right. I loved the chording, the melodies and in later life I’ve loved the simple assurance they bring when everything else seems to be unreliable. So it was that Alan Jackson’s voice has been the voice I’ve needed more than any other. Somehow, even when I’ve not needed the prompt, I’ve turned to the Gospel albums to see me through one more day at the hospital. Interestingly at the same time I’ve been reading Willie Nelson‘s autobiography where he talks of his own love of Gospel Music and how his classic Troublemaker album, where he used the canon of hymns from his own childhood, became the first album he made without the constraints of Music Row. Gospel music eh……sometimes it seems to work in mysterious ways.
On this week’s AC I’ll give you a taste of why I have loved Alan Jackson’s album as well as playing you fine new releases. We’ll also play out a fascinating conversation I had with Kathleen Edwards earlier this week. Kathleen has returned to making music after an eight year gap. I talked to her down the line from her home in Ottawa and she explained about that difficult decision to walk away from music, her coffee shop called ‘Quitters’ and why Maren Morris brought her back to writing and recording. You’ll hear the results from the tracks on her excellent new album, Total Freedom and you can also hear why King Tuts holds a special place in her heart.
It’s a packed show with plenty of new things and old classics to get you through another week. Do join me if you can live this Tuesday night on BBC Radio Scotland FM.