When thinking about Lion’s Blood by Steven Barnes or the Merlin’s Descendants series by Irene Radford their soundtracks always come to mind without fail. I’ve been listening to Insh’Allah for inspiration while writing down my thoughts about Lion’s Blood, which is in the editing phase. Perhaps part of the writer’s block is that the book and its music are so intertwined that I have difficulty separating one from the other. In a sense it also feels right to share the music of Lion’s Blood prior to a review because that’s how I was introduced in 2002 to the rich world Barnes created.
Insh’Allah is a blend of Celtic and Mid-eastern music that sets the tone for the alternate history about slavery, faith, and love in the Islamic New World. Excerpted in the book are “Laddie Are You Working?” while working in the fields; “We Are Bound”, which is a sort of prayer among the slaves during their religious gatherings; “the Mushroom Song” for when poison is brewed; and “Deirdre’s Lament”. Those I first heard were the beautiful heart-wrenching “We Are Bound”, the creepy children’s song “Gruagach”, “Insh’Allah” for when a plantation owner’s son questions his actions and path, and “New Northwest” about seeking a new home and life. Although only asked to write a few Irish slave songs that could be excerpted for Lion’s Blood, Heather Alexander decided to create the sixteen-track album. The music varies from slow melodic songs to more upbeat tunes, including jigs. As usual there’s plenty of fiddling and percussion. In Insh’Allah‘s liner notes, Barnes wrote:
“If you are already a fan, welcome again to the heart of an extraordinary artist. If you are new to Heather, I envy you. I would give much to have never heard these songs that they might chill my spine for the first time. Stop reading. Listen now! The winds of another world are blowing: swords are drawn, bugles blow, lives are lost, freedom gained, hearts broken, an empire born. Can you hear it?”
“Laddie Are Ya Working?”
“the Mushroom Song” covered by Tricky Pixie
Merlin’s Descendants follows a different note, that of Radford’s fantastical historical fiction from the time of King Arthur to the New World’s independence. The thirteen-track album aptly captures its characters and themes, in its liner notes, Radford wrote:
“Music permeates the Merlin’s Descendants series. Music permeates my life. Heather Alexander has been a part of my music collection for many years. Collaborating with her on this album has brought a new dimension to the stories that my paltry words can only hint at.”
Among my favourites are the lively and flirtatious “Maiden of Spring”; the slow, melodic “Familiar’s Promise” about friendship and loyalty between a dog and its human; the fast-paced, percussive “Wild Hunt”; “Blood and Passion” about perception, truth, and unity; and the healing “Sacred Fire” written for a Catholic priest who is torn between beliefs and duty. Done in an olde bardic style of yore, “Priestess of Tryblith” is reminiscent of Alexander’s compositions for Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar series and Andre Norton’s Witchworld in the early nineties. Instruments heard on Merlin’s Descendants include Alexander’s guitar and mandolin, pennywhistle, bodhran, other percussion instruments, and keyboard. The album is earthy, spiritual, and reflective of a time when Beltaine fires brightly burned and people frolicked around maypoles.
“Come My Lady”- closest to “Maiden of Spring”, which has been stuck in my head
“Familiar’s Promise” performed by Alexander James Adams
“Familiar’s Promise” has become a friend’s and my song. It was performed when I took him to his first Alexander James Adams concert and SF/F con, he’s been calling me Half-Cat for years (a play off my name in French) and after he jokingly said it should be my con name it became so, and I tend to be “the strong silent half of what we unify” who “doesn’t always speak but still understands”. Besides it’s beautifully fitting with lyrics such as:
“I will give you my heart if you give me your hand and it never will part while beside you I stand. Lay your hand on my head as the firelight dies and believe what I’ve said for this love never lies”.
Insh’Allah and Merlin’s Descendants are my favourite soundtracks written and performed by the one many refer to as “the Bard”. Aside from loving the music and stories they tell, they resonate and I’ve cherished the moments with both, as I have with a lot of her folk, filk, and Celtic rock music through thirteen years. Samples may be heard at the archival Heatherlands. Merlin’s Descendants was Alexander’s last book soundtrack before she retired in 2006 and named the faerie tale minstrel, Alec Adams, the heir to her legacy.
In the Moon in the Mirror‘s dedication, Radford said Alexander “is the only person who can filk herself and come up with a song that is as good or better than the original two. How many of you can catch a fly?” I couldn’t help but laugh when I surprisingly came across those words two years ago. She had been a dinner topic between Adams, his wife, and I that day so it was very timely.
In the liner notes of Merlin’s Descendants, Alexander wrote:
“I have learned much from her (Radford’s) words. It is a wish and a prayer of mine that humanity will be united with Magic, Music, and the Ministrations of Light. In Faerie Tongue I speak, ‘Let it be so’.”
Indeed, so mote it be.
Likewise I learned a lot from Alexander, from how to play the bodhran and face fears like stage fright (I have yet to jump from a plane) to unexpected answers and truths. She gave more than a lifetime of song for which my gratitude runs deeper than words. The least I can do is continue sharing the Bard’s magic and music.
The following last three song are inspired by skydiving, the fun fly catching song born from two songs Radford referred to, and one of my favourite fiddle tunes. The lighting is poor, but the sound is good.
“Pirate Bill and Squidly” and “Frog of Cambreadth”
“Blue Heron/Cranky Crawdads/Mittens on the Moon”
I posted the pirated tunes for the sake of this rambling because footage of solely Alexander is practically non-existent, but they will self-destruct after a few days. I try to share real videos of music or music posted by their artists, but my old concert recording has yet to be transferred from VHS. Besides, my respect for Alexander and her artistic endeavors cause me to heed such colourful, serious warnings as:
“Faeries will flee at your presence, ravens will poop on your head, and Tryblith will add you to his list of ‘special friends'” and “you will find camels in your bed, sand in your favourite food and two large Zulu warriors will setup camp on your front lawn.”