Midweek Music Break: Hannalee, “Valhalla” and “Never Been to Memphis”

Hannalee: Fidelia, Michael, Anna-Lisa

Seattle’s Hannalee comprises the almost impossibly photogenic threesome of husband-and-wife Michael Harley* and Anna-Lisa Notter, and childhood friend Fidelia Rowe. When you look at any of their group photos — even without having heard their music, or knowing anything more about them — you might think: Wow. I thought I’d heard of most of the San Francisco groups from the ’60s… how’d I miss them?

If you take a gander at some of their other photos, like this one, you may find the San Francisco folk-rockers comparison almost too apt for coincidence.

Looks (as we all know) can be deceiving. But in Hannalee’s case, you might not be far off the mark. Oh, they don’t specialize at all in psychedelia or any such genres; but the sense of the late ’60s is there, all right — the sense of distant possibilities, brought suddenly within reach via music.

It’s folk music, sort of, and that’s how they seem to identify themselves. (Their Bandcamp profile says: “Blending the sounds of traditional folk music with elements of dark, neverland whimsy, Hannalee creates a unique music strange and familiar at once.”) But their three-part harmonies can also verge on something older, even choral. And of course, if they’re singing in an old church (Seattle’s Fremont Abbey) with strings behind them… The song is “Valhalla,” from the first of four seasons-of-the-year EPs (the autumn title, Cucurbita — the pumpkin genus — just released a few months ago):


And here’s how they sound in the studio, also on the Cucurbita EP; the song is “Never Been to Memphis.”

[Below, click Play button to begin Never Been to Memphis. While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — a row of little vertical bars. This clip is 3:28 long.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


The series’ winter release, Brassica, just came out last week.

By the way, I don’t know how they chose the name Hannalee. But The Kingston Trio (among others) recorded a song called “Hanna Lee.” (It was written by a Stan Jones — perhaps the one who penned “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky.”) The words to that song, at least as performed by the Kingstons, go like this:

Your dusty eyes were soft and glowin’ when first I met you, Hanna Lee.
There was no way for me a-knowin’ the sorrow your sweet caress would
bring to me.

High, high, high is the gallows. (Yeah, and it’s long) long as the rope that
waits for me.
High as the gallows. They’ll hang me for your sins, my Hanna Lee.

You shot and killed your cruel husband because you found you loved but me,
And then you lied before the jury and they blamed for your sins, my Hanna Lee.


Down at the jail on hangin’ mornin’, I heard you tell them you had lied.
Your dusty eyes were soft and glowin’ and I saw you hang your head and cry.

I can’t quite wrap my head around the idea that this song and Hannalee’s ethereal look and sound might be connected, but who knows? Musical history, especially of the folk variety, traces some mysterious pathways.

[Hat tip to Simon of Beat Surrender for the intro to Hannalee.]


Is Michael Harley’s last name really Harley? It’s very confusing: Web sites seem split about 50-50 in identifying him as Michael Notter or Michael Harley. At Bandcamp and their own site, he goes by the latter. I tossed a (loaded) coin.

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Midweek Music Break: Shook Twins, “Rose”

[No, I don’t know what the deal is with the egg. Clearly this is either (a) a sisterly in-joke or (b) an object of powerfully mystical significance. Maybe a little of both.]

Simply presented with the lyrics to The Shook Twins’ song “Rose,” absent the music, a discerning reader might figure it as some sort of magical-realist allegory of a girl’s growing up, discovering what it meant to be herself, and casting off convention to leave childhood (and home) behind. The free-flowing, unstructured lines, absence of consistent rhyme and meter, phantasmagorical imagery — it all suggests something crafted in the 1960s by, oh, say, Donovan:

(The Shook Twins)

Rose was born in the country but she dreamt of the sea
She lives with the best friend of a cobbler’s son
Where they take care of their own

She walks freely through the farm missing feathers from her plume
Pushed from the flock she knows so she eats alone
Best friend on her own
And does she know that she has a soul?
And does she know where we all go?

Rose tucks her head in dark feathers to keep from the storm
She sits silent on the front porch watching it all go
And the fire burns
And the garden grows
And the children play
Through the orchard’s moans

One day Rose left her porch and found the water running free
She jumped right in, tucked her feet and took that river to the sea
How does she know where we all go?
And how does she know that she has a soul?

[Lyrics reproduced here courtesy of the Shook Twins.]

And check out that picture at the top of this post. Mirrors, lantern light, floral-print dresses, long straight hair, the egg: more evidence, right? It’s not hard to imagine the Twins as feminist-folkie sorceresses embodying the spirits of Flower Children.

But hold on — what about the music? From the Bio page at their site:

Shook Twins are not your average folk duo. The sisters, Laurie and Katelyn, have some tricks up their sleeves.

You wouldn’t expect a small town girl from North Idaho (Sandpoint) to drop a beatbox in the middle of a song. Katelyn plays the guitar, glockenspiel, mandolin, sings opera into a telephone… Laurie plays wah-wah banjo, bass, ocarina, percussion and loops various melodies and beats to make it sound like more than just two identical twin sisters. Together they sing in twin harmony, which is a whole different experience from non-twin harmony.

Their sound is sculpted from the artists who inspired them most such as: The Beatles, Ani DiFranco, Joni Mitchell, Feist and Bjork.

Oh my. Wait until you hear all this swirled together with those lyrics… and see the Shook Twins in action.

Right. In the Twins’ conception, Rose isn’t a dreamy young woman standing at the end of a jetty with fog swirling around her while elves braid her hair. Rose is a chicken. Not exactly the stuff of conventional spooky-New-Age song, is it? I love the crazy skewed exuberance of that performance, the sense of messing about with a nutty song while stamping it all over with idiosyncratic musical virtuosity. It’s hard not to like artists who wink at themselves with such self-confidence, y’know?

(And yeah: there’s the egg — again.)

They’re still at a fairly early point in their career, as things go, so they’ve got plenty of time to establish just what a typical Shook Twins song might sound like. On the evidence of their Window album, released this past April, the lovely — and yes, haunting — “Shine On” might fall closer to the mark:


[Hat tip once again to Beat Surrender, this time for pointing me to the Twins in the first place. I’ve gotta stop this. People are gonna start thinking of RAMH as some kind of unofficial Beat Surrender annex.]


P.S. In the quotation from the Twins’ Web site, I omitted a phrase from the list of Katelyn’s musical, er, talents: …and bocks like a chicken. Didn’t want to blow the surprise. :)

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Getting Through the Day (and Knowing It)

[Image: xkcd.com #324. The image’s title attribute there says, “Sometimes the best fun looks like boredom.” (Click image to enlarge.)]

From whiskey river:

Questions Before Dark

Day ends, and before sleep
when the sky dies down, consider
your altered state: has this day
changed you? Are the corners
sharper or rounded off? Did you
live with death? Make decisions
that quieted? Find one clear word
that fit? At the sun’s midpoint
did you notice a pitch of absence,
bewilderment that invites
the possible? What did you learn
from things you dropped and picked up
and dropped again? Did you set a straw
parallel to the river, let the flow
carry you downstream?

(Jeanne Lohmann, from The Light of Invisible Bodies)


There is nothing more alone than being in a car at night in the rain. I was in the car. And I was glad of it. Between one point on the map and another point on the map, there was the being alone in the car in the rain. They say you are not you except in terms of relation to other people. If there weren’t any other people there wouldn’t be any you because what you do, which is what you are, only has meaning in relation to other people. That is a very comforting thought when you are in the car in the rain at night alone, for then you aren’t you, and not being you or anything, you can really lie back and get some rest. It is a vacation from being you. There is only the flow of the motor under your foot spinning that frail thread of sound out of its metal gut like a spider, that filament, that nexus, which isn’t really there, between the you which you have just left in one place and the you which you will be when you get to the other place.

(Robert Penn Warren, from All the King’s Men [source])

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