There’s a commonly deployed fairy tale where a person is put under a spell that causes them to fall in love with the next person (or creature) that they meet. The concept is entertaining, but it also suggests a truth in the human psyche; that there are things that can occur within us that ripen our receptivity to romance. It is with some caution then, that we urge you to listen to Spyglass, an album made up entirely of waltzes.
Rodney Miller is in his fourth decade as a recording artist, and has for some time enjoyed residence in the pantheon of contra dance fiddlers. His previous albums are fairly distinct from each other while maintaining a common thread of being comprised of solid dance tunes; well-chosen blends of jigs and reels, and the occasional waltz. It requires both creativity and confidence to produce a recording that does not deviate from ¾ time.
Elvie Miller, his daughter, may have a genetic blessing on her musical abilities, but it still takes considerable effort to make music sound so effortless. One cannot say that she “accompanies” her father on piano and accordion; her playing provides an equal partnership (indeed she is even heard in a 2:1 ratio in several places, multi-tracking both instruments). Her playing exudes a steady strength while frequently venturing into the ethereal.
Rodney has been playing waltzes throughout his career as a dance fiddler, and notes that in recent years dance camps and dance weekends are offering more waltz workshops, requiring the fiddler to have a well stocked repertoire. The New England contra waltzes are more recent than the jigs and reels that comprise the rest of an evening of dancing, and consequently we are more likely to know who composed them. People have often presented Rodney with music for new waltzes, and of course he has heard plenty, and has made several excellent contributions to the repertoire himself. Elvie spent a year traveling in northern Europe collecting (and playing) tunes, so you can imagine that the primary difficulty in making this album must have been narrowing down the list.
The tunes run the gamut of emotional range: the haunting Journey to the Point, the English cottage friendliness of Mary Ann Blades, the soaring majesty of Home to the Valley, the mischievous Valse de Espoir Fanes, and Road to Loch Tay, a piece so profoundly enriching that you might anticipate it on the occasion of leaving this realm for the next. The title tune, Spyglass, is a Rodney/Elvie collaboration: Rodney suggest that its celestial qualities come from having no set melody in the B part of the tune, thus being completely dependent on improvisation.
This album will naturally appeal to fans of Rodney Miller’s numerous recordings, as well as Elvie’s 2003 recording Grapevine (with fiddler Naomi Morse), but we suspect there is a larger audience as well. The jigs and reels that dominate contra dance music can wear on folks who aren’t dancers, but these waltzes – watch out!
Listen to a podcast interview with Rodney Miller which features several musical samplings from Spyglass.