June 21: Music for the shortest night

The Living Road

The sun had long gone down before anyone told me what the day was. "Somewhere there are pagans dancing, singing, and celebrating," she said, prefacing her momentary revelation. "Did you know that today was the longest day of the year, the summer solstice?"

"The pagans are probably having lots of sex too," I replied. It was the first thing I could think of. In all honesty, I hadn't noticed the day being that long at all. My friend and I both figured that we would pay close attention to the next day. It would be the second longest day, and that was close enough for us.

Thinking about the summer solstice got me in somewhat of an exotic mood. Maybe it was all the connotations associated with the day, or maybe the extra long day actually did affect me in a subconscious way. Whatever it was, I felt the need to break out of the normal mode.

I turned to my friend, "Hey, remember that sexy Spanish music we heard at the Twisted Branch? Didn't you buy that CD? I'm in the mood to listen to something sexy."

She gave it to me with instructions not to get too sexy with her new disk. I told her I'd try my best.

The artist is a female vocalist who goes by Lhasa. The name of the disk: The Living Road. From the first track I was absolutely captured by the spell of her voice.

I quickly discovered that this was not Spanish, as I had suspected, but French. I was fooled by the fact that a few songs are sung in Spanish. Lhasa sings in English, too. Although the songs are translated in the booklet that comes with the CD, it's not necessary to know what she's saying to understand what the track is about.

Her low, sometimes raspy vocals speak a kind of universal language. I hesitated to read the translation of many of the songs until listening to them multiple times. I didn't want the translation to ruin the mental images I conjured.

Once I finally gathered the courage to read them, I found gems like this on "La Confession": "I am not afraid to say that I betrayed you out of pure laziness and melancholy. Between you and the devil I chose the most comfortable... I'm not afraid to say I cheated. I put my most pure thoughts up for sale. I want to forget this whole idea of truth."

Ah, sooo sweet.

She sings these unexpected words over Algerian tangos and a Riviera waltz, accompanied by piano, strings, a plethora of percussive devices, guitar, bass, clarinets and organs.

Composed by Francois LaLonde and Jean Massicotte, the songs offer precise and rhythmically complex that show deep understanding of Mediterranean music. The soundscapes sit well beneath Lhasa's slow, drawn out phrases and bring energy to her sad song. I can't remember hearing a more pleasant combination of artist and producers this year.

I listened to Lhasa until the sun came up over Monticello. I saw it peaking over the ridge on my fourth full circle around Charlottesville on the 250 bypass. I had missed the longest day, so I challenged myself to see if I could make it all the way through the shortest night. It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. But I had Lhasa's stories of The Living Road to keep me company.

The Living Road<