Released in April 2020 during a global pandemic, Some of These Days (Flipside Music) brings a uniquely kind and stern perspective to the past few months of life in the United States. The album is a project by the extraordinary pianist Lara Downes that compiles hymns, spirituals, and songs that demand freedom. Downes is joined on the album by Adam Abeshouse, Alphonso Horne, PUBLIQuartet, The Chapin Sisters, and Toshi Reagon.
The first track of the album opens with the voices of women, singing, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.” These women were recorded in 1939 when they were inmates of the Women’s Dormitory of State Prison Farm in Railford, Florida. The pain that fueled their voices can still be heard in the cries of the Black community in the U.S. today–perhaps our society does not fully look like it did 81 years ago, maybe the prison system is not segregated anymore, but it stills benefits from the mass incarceration of people of color, specifically, Black men. The voices in the track keep repeating this opening line as little raindrops of bitter and sharp piano chords start to accompany them. It feels slightly less lonely, less like the country that we live in refuses to give basic human dignity to those that it has oppressed for centuries. Less like a country that has abandoned the people it exploited for their benefit, and continues to do so. And yes, maybe for a couple of minutes, reality can be distorted, but the truth prevails. This is a country where white supremacy reigns. “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child” will keep coming back, until the very end, when there is nothing left to hear.
Troubled Water, written by Margaret Bonds, is a beautiful ray of sunshine that manages to come through the greyest of clouds with a very closed and bright harmony that is ornamented by quick piano flares. Hold On, also written by Bonds, brings in PUBLIQuartet, and with them, the sound of string instruments that become lamenting voices, that can understand and feel everything that is being sung: “Keep your head on the plow, hold on;” but for how long?
I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free written by Billy Taylor and Nina Simone is an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement, and it is hopeful and joyful, but ultimately heartbreaking. Why has the United States allowed for their people to feel like this? Why has injustice carried on for so long? The disturbingly beautiful aspect about these songs is that they have been around for years. For years they have found themselves in ears that refuse to acknowledge their cries for justice. They remain relevant, despite the passage of time.
My Lord, What a Mornin’, a traditional hymn by H.T. Burleigh, features Alphonso Horne on the trumpet. Both piano and trumpet sing so boldly and with the most certainty that what they are saying is true: “Oh, my Lord, what a mornin’, when the stars begin to fall.” An apocalyptic hymn in nature, it looks forward to the day when Divine Justice will come to this world, erasing with it all suffering and pain for good.
Closing the album is Some of These Days by Florence Price, arranged for solo piano by Downes herself. It is somber, hopeful, and heartfelt–probably because the woman that has given us this album understands and sees all of the things that this country could have been, but decided not to be. Some of These Days is a perfect ending to such a necessary album. It offers a space to reflect on what has been heard, and it can hopefully soften hearts and spark a call to action.
The incredible thing about this album is that it shares pain and beauty and human connection. The musicians are stellar, and the music is sublime, but it makes you question everything as it is today. Why is this compilation of music so relevant now? Why are people still pleading for their lives? Why is it controversial to say that Black Lives Matter? How can our society make things right once and for all? Does living in a “melting pot” mean that all ingredients must assimilate into the largest component?
The album gives some answers. The booklet offers a series of non-profits that are doing good work to make this country a place that can truly embrace every single person. Act! Contribute financially if it is within your means. Volunteer. Be kind, peace- and grace-filled. Change must happen. Life cannot be the same. Lara Downes and her friends have released a piece of justice awareness that our society can truly be thankful for. Some of These Days embodies a call for freedom that has always been there. Maybe we will finally listen.
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