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  • Writer's pictureKurt Keefner

Writings About Music

I have been writing about music for 25 years. I wrote ten essays I called "Musical Odysseys" when I was in my 30s, about 200 album reviews when I was in my 40s, and ten essays for my website when I was in my 50s and 60s. That's a total of about 220 essays and reviews, which is more than I would ever list. So, I thought I would link the newer essays from the website, offer up a small selection of the reviews, and choose two Musical Odysseys. Obviously, this is more than I can reasonably expect anyone to read, but I will put capsule descriptions and you can just read the ones you find appealing.

So, without further ado, we begin with the recent essays from Kurt Keefner, Essayist.

Amazing Meme tells the history of the timeless hymn "Amazing Grace." There is far more to its history than most people realize. In this essay I detail its origins, development, and variations. You might be surprised at how many tunes and styles it has been sung to, and I offer up about a dozen of these "amazing" versions!

Fun Songs About Bad Men is a dialogue between two imaginary music critics on the topic of whether and when it's OK to enjoy music about wicked men. Their disagreement is peppery, and there are a number of songs in it, from "Mack the Knife" to "Stagger Lee."

Call Me Deacon Blues is an analysis of the jazzy song by Steely Dan, and asks the question: Just how much was the Deacon a self-deluded loser? I'm still not sure of the answer, but I know I cried when I wrote this essay!

Foundation Songs is a "think piece" regarding songs about home - staying there, running away from it, and longing for it. The essay includes a discussion of the role of home in people's lives and has links to songs ranging from "Born to Run" to "Country Roads."

Angel With No Name is about the Guardian Angel sonata for solo violin from Heinrich Biber's Mystery Sonatas. The piece is a passacaglia (which I explain in the piece using a song by Ray Charles) from the 1600s. It is astonishing because it sounds like there are two violins being played when there is only one.

The Civil War Re-Imagined in Music discusses modern songs about America's greatest conflict. "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" is included, but so are four others. Also considered is the question of whether is moral to write songs sympathizing with the South.

Sing, Little Bird is a bon-bon about a minor baroque song ("Augellin") by Stefano Landi that is about - you guessed it - a bird who is a flying metaphor for unrequited love. I always have found the different interpretations of it delightful, and I serve up four of them.

Heroes and Shipwrecks: Beethoven and Ayn Rand. My favorite philosopher opined that Beethoven had a malevolent sense of life. I think she missed the boat on this one and the essay compares Beethoven's most famous work to Rand's to see whether they might have comparable senses of life. Two clips from the Fifth Symphony.

The Devil's Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith. This is a review of a one-woman musical about the Empress of the Blues. I delve into the story a bit and consider the question of how "normal" middle-class folks can identify with a "wild" musician. A couples of clips.

The Goddess of Love Makes Heroes of Us All is about a wonderful Bollywood song that has been used a number of times in Hollywood productions. It accompanies a great dance sequence. I include the video along with a translation of the lyrics.


Reviews from The AllMusic Guide

When we resettled to the DC area so my wife could get her MFA, I had to get a new job. I asked myself what I was good at. There were at least two things. The first was taking standardized tests, so I got job teaching and tutoring SAT prep. The second was writing about music, so I got a steady gig with the AllMusic Guide, writing album reviews. I wrote over 200, all world music. Of course, I'm not going to list every one of them here, but I thought I would serve up a few.

The Dubliners: Special Collection. A review of the pioneering Irish band's anthology.

Rebirth Brass Band: We Come to Party Not just for parties but for those amazing funerals in the Big Easy. Great stuff!

Classical Chinese Folk Music is about just what you would think. It's a good instrumental collection and a necessary corrective to the mistaken belief that to Western ears Chinese music is just noise.

Rabih Abou-Khalil: Arabian Waltz. Abou-Khalil is a Lebanese oud (Arabic lute) player who incorporates jazz idioms. This album includes a string quartet, giving rise to a rich sound world.

Cafe Noir: The Waltz King. I was delighted to review this album because I loved it so. It's a little bit Gypsy, a little bit classical, and there's even a little bit of yodeling. Very atmospheric. It streams on Amazon.


In the 1990s I used to regularly post on a listserv called Objectivism-L. I wrote a series of ten essays I called "A Musical Odyssey." I am just going to link two of them here.

The Afro-Celtic Stylings of Laura Love. A bit hillbilly, a bit R&B, all hard to classify. Really engaging music.

A Long Strange Trip Through the Music Collection of Dirk Douglas. This is my most personal music essay. It's about a musician I knew who died too early. I inherited his CD collection and used it as a lens better to understand his personality.


So, there's a selection of my music writing. I'll let you in on a little secret: I'm not a musician. I can't read music. I can sing a little. I just love music and know how to research the things I love. Judge for yourself whether I do a good job.


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