Two Blake Albums

Martha Redbone's The Garden of Love and Mike Westbrook's The Westbrook Blake

by Carl Bettis

in Sounds

cover of William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience

I recently heard Patti Smith's song "My Blakean Year", and it inspired me to search for musicians interpreting Blake's lyrical poems. Blake created music for some of his work himself, but as far as I know he never wrote those tunes down.

The Garden of Love — Songs of William Blake, Martha Redbone Roots Project

The album on Bandcamp

"A collection of William Blake poems set to the music of Appalachia by singer-songwriter Martha Redbone, produced by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's John McEuen."

Appalachian music wasn't an obvious choice for Blake's lyrics, but it was an inspired one. What is "A Poison Tree" if not a murder ballad, the kind you often run across in folk songs? These mountain tunes can deliver the dark glee of that poem, the bitter irony of "How Sweet I roamed," and the pastoral simplicity of "The Ecchoing Green." The arrangement for Blake's prophetic "Hear the Voice of the Bard" sounds wrong, but eleven lovely tracks and one clunker is a good average. I believe Blake would have enjoyed this album immensely.

The Westbrook Blake - Bright As Fire, Mike Westbrook

The album on Bandcamp

"Settings of the poetry of William Blake, with music by Mike Westbrook, texts selected by Adrian Mitchell Much of the material originally commissioned by the National Theatre for the 1971 production of Adrian Mitchell’s Tyger, directed by John Dexter and Michael Blakemore."

Blake probably would have neither understood nor liked this album, but it totally rocks. Here, Blake's lyrics are set to cerebral jazz and sung by Kate Westbrook and Phil Minton. Perhaps because the pairing of text and tune is so incongruous, it works. (And it's English jazz, so there's that.) Only six tracks, but I don't feel cheated. If you're a fan of Blake and/or Duke Ellington-style jazz, chances are good you'll dig this album.

(NOTE: These aren't paid reviews, and I don't get any money if you click through to Bandcamp.)