“Have you ever heard this group before? My wife and I go to their concerts every time they’re performing within 300 miles of us.” I had just sat down at the Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem concert when the elderly man to my left spoke up. I explained that I was unfamiliar with Daisy Mayhem, and we began to chat about the group. When the lights dimmed, the audience fell silent, and the four performers walked onstage. In the concert that followed, I discovered that in rare instances I do actually like bluegrass/soul/American folk music.
While I enjoyed many songs in the concert, my favorite piece at the time was the Appalachian song “Singing in the Land.” The style of the song was wistful, for it was about wanting to go to heaven. All four musicians stood around one microphone, and Anand Nayak accompanied on acoustic guitar. Arbo started the singing alone, and the rest of the group began harmonizing. Then, bass player Andrew Kinsey, percussionist Scott Kessel, and Anand Nayak each sang a solo. At one point, Kinsey performed alone on a wind instrument that had a mellow timbre. When the singers sang about heaven, the music was higher in an example of word painting. The song ended peacefully with the guitar fading out right before the last word.
Since the concert, I have gone back and listened to several Daisy Mayhem songs, and my two regulars now vie with “Singing in the Land” for top spot. The first is “I Love This City,” which is a beautiful depiction of how a person can become fond of a city—in this case New Orleans. The song is lovely and resonates with my sentimental affection for my hometown (word of caution: there are occasional curse words in some of the group’s songs, including this one, but it tends to be for dialect purposes). My second Daisy Mayhem top hit is “Roses.” Arbo explained that this song was about a friend of her mother’s who began a rose garden in New York City years ago near one of the churches. The friend was diagnosed with terminal cancer later in life, and when she asked her oncologist whether she should start spending her money, he told her “yes.” So, she went on a cruise in Scandinavia. A European couple on the cruise mentioned that they had visited New York City, and the woman asked them how they liked it. While the husband had loved the city, the wife said that she didn’t really like it—except for this particular rose garden near a church…the very one the friend tended! When the friend returned home, her oncologist told her to stop spending her money after all because her cancer was in remission, and she lived for several years longer. This story combined with the music and lyrics of makes “Roses” a special song.
Many concerts finish with on a rousing note, but Daisy Mayhem closed with a meditative song called “Crossing the Bar.” The lyrics are from a poem by Tennyson, and Arbo explained that her mother-in-law quoted the poem on her deathbed, leading Arbo to write a melody for it. Arbo described the poem as an expression of “conscious dying.” I think this conclusion to the concert represents a lot about what makes the group unique. Their songs are often personal, tender, and haunting. Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem’s music brings out the beauty, character, and joy of everyday life and reminds their audience of the seemingly unimportant moments that make life special. Not only do these songs encourage you to stop and smell the roses, but they also encourage you to enjoy the daisies—humble flowers that have their own kind of beauty too.
Note: I originally wrote parts of this review for a music appreciation class but wanted to share it in an updated form so that perhaps others can enjoy the music too. For those of you who aren’t usually fans of this mix of genres, I encourage you to give it a try because, like me, you might be surprised.