Music Review: Mayfly EP by Jason Karaban

Hi all!

Though I’d not heard of Jason Karaban before, the three songs on Mayfly resonated with me. Inspired by images of the Civil War, these are haunting, sad songs tinged with regret and loss stripped down to a bare few instruments and melodies.

Karaban was accompanied by Chris Joyner on piano (“No Casualties”) and Lucy Schwartz on backing vocals (“Sullivan Ballou” and “No Casualties”), but “A Far Better Place” is Karaban going solo. But Karaban seems to surround himself with diverse talent frequently. Whether with Joyner or Schwartz, Karaban’s voice has a soft, almost ethereal quality that lends credence to the heady topics of these songs.

This is Karaban’s fourth release, starting with Doomed to Make Choices in 2005, Leftovers in 2006, and then Sobriety Kills in early 2009. On his albums he’s worked with a veritable “who’s who” of guest musicians such as Joyner and Schwartz. Guests have included Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum), David Immerglück (Counting Crows), Ani DiFranco, Ivan Neville (Rolling Stones, Neville Brothers), Glen Phillips (Toad the Wet Sprocket), and many more.

The power of the simple songs of Mayfly is palpable not only in the melodies and performances, but the lyrics. It’s hard to argue with “The seeds of old were strewn across the field and blew away” in “Sullivan Ballou”. The images evoked are those of the bloody remains of battles fought those many years ago. It’s rare to find an artist willing to take a chance on such a sad topic.

It continues with “No Casualties” and Joyner’s stripped down piano playing and someone playing a soft trumpet. Again, not cheerful lyrics, but evocative ones speaking of having no casualties during a retreat, and later losing people as “they drop like flies” during a battle. War is hell and the comeraderie between soldiers fighting on the front lines wavers between cheer and despair from one encounter to the next.

And finally in “A Far Better Place” you hear in the background the echoes of men in war as once again, the despair is tinged with cheer of fallen brothers. The fallen head off to a far better place after fighting – “no disgrace from the shame we do” – again, calling back to the horrific violence of the Civil War where brother fought brother and horrible acts done in the name if one cause or another.

I believe Mayfly is meant to make us consider the costs of war, whether today or yesterday. But beyond that, it’s significant to find an artist expressing his visions and challenge our preconceptions of the purpose of music. In this case, Karaban shows a contemplative, almost cathartic understanding of a complex topic.

If you’re interested in challenging yourself emotionally through music, be sure to check out Mayfly. I know his songs will haunt me for a while.

–Fitz

p.s. Check out Mayfly and some of Jason Karaban’s other CDs, including Sobriety Kills, Doomed to Make Choices, and Leftovers at Amazon.

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Pan’s Labyrinth – Wow

Pan's LabyrinthImage via Wikipedia

Hi all…

I have to say that I’d been looking forward to watching Pan’s Labyrinth since my birthday in May. It’s the Del Toro-directed foreign film that garnered so much great press at the end of last year. And man was it worth it, with one disclaimer…

[rating:4/4]

It’s rated R for a reason folks. This is not a faery tale for your kids. There’s a war on… The Spanish Civil War to be exact… And there are things going on (including more than one very violent scene) that you’re not going to want to explain to the kiddies.

IMDB’s link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0457430/

The movie has a truly magical story centered around a little girl named Ofelia and her mother going to live with her mother’s new husband, a Captain in the Spanish military who is fighting the resistance in a forested area of Spain. Set in 1944, it captures the rustic qualities of a place not quite made modern by the world’s standards of the time. It’s left to the viewer to decide whether Ofelia is escaping the cruel real world that she’d fallen into by literally escaping into a faery tale world OR if it’s all in her fertile imagination.

Film-wise, it was beautiful. The transitions were amazing and seamless. The colors bright where they needed to be and washed out for effect in certain places. The acting was believable from all of the main characters, especially from the little girl who plays the main role of Ofelia. For a young actor, she did an amazing job.

The movie is subtitled, but that didn’t take away from the feel of the story at all.

And I’d comment on the music, but it blended artfully into the background so as to not be noticed.

Doug Jones is another actor in the film who actually played dual roles — as Pan (the Faun) and as the Pale Man. Both were amazing to behold. The makeup and costumes for these characters was as if they had both stepped out of a faery tale into the world — one to teach, the other to scare.

There were places in the story where I could pick out bits of faery lore, such as not to consume faery foods while in the faeries’ domain, or how the “truth” that a faery might reveal might not be the entire truth.

But again — this is not a faery tale for children. This is an adult movie with adult violence and themes.

I give it a whole-hearted 4/4 and wish that it had won MORE awards.

Give it a look — I think you’ll like it!

Thanks and until next time…

–Fitz

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