Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Two of a Kind: "Idumae"
This is the first in what will hopefully be a series of posts, each comparing and contrasting two versions of the same song. Here we're dealing with "Idumae" an apocalyptic song of Christian worship written by one Charles Wesley, who wrote literally thousands of hymns in his lifetime (1707-88).

Although Wesley was an Englishman, "Idumae" didn't achieve long-term popularity in British Churches. The song's extraordinary apocalyptic vision found a more receptive religious climate in America. Eventually, it was brought home by the peerless Waterson's.

Their version of "Idumae" appears on the CD of 1965's Frost and Fire, although I think it's one of the bonus tracks recorded in 1977, with Martin Carthy among the line-up. Whatever period it actually comes from, this has to be one of the most extraordinary recordings in the Watersons' back-catalogue. The harmonies are absolutely hair-raising. I've read about the "rough harmony" used by early American Christians but I've never actually heard it put into practice. This is exactly how I always imagined that pioneer devotional music would sound. Voices from the very edge of the Christian world.

Given the song's apocalyptic subject matter and it's connection to the British folk revival, it should come as no surprise that "Idumae" came to the attention of The Artist Formerly Known as David Tibet. In fact, TAFKADT was so taken by Wesley's hymn that he placed no less than eight versions of it on Current 93's epic Black Ships Ate the Sky. Each version was arranged and sung by a different guest artist - notable participants being Shirley Collins and Will Oldham.

All of the versions have their merits (actually, Marc Almond's is a bit much). By far my favourite C93 "Idumae", though, is the one by Clodagh Simonds of '70s acid folkies Mellow Candle. Simonds' rendition is backed by the kind of resonant drones that will be familiar to fans of her truly admirable Fovea Hex project. Really, though, its her effortlessly forceful vocal delivery that blows everything sky high. Very different from the Watersons' version but equally extraordinary.

Both of these recordings need to be heard to be believed, so here they are for your online streaming pleasure.

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