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Dorothy Carter

Waillee Waillee - 2024 Reissue

    The first ever reissue of the work of American composer Dorothy Carter, master of the hammered dulcimer, zither, and other instruments of the hammer chord zither/ psalterium family. A true musical vagabond, Dorothy was born in New York in 1935, though her spiritual pursuit of an expansive musical knowledge would take her to monasteries in Mexico, conservatories in France and London, and the founding of the Central Maine Power Music Company (CMPMC), with new-age/minimalist luminaries such as Constance Demby and Robert Rutman.

    Dorothy Carter was many things - a virtuoso player, storyteller,historian of Celtic and Appalachian folk music, avid lifelong busker, avant-garde musician, and itinerant troubadour, laying a framework for music that existed both within and outside of standard folk idioms - never better represented than on her 1978 masterwork, Waillee Wailee . Underscored by Bob Rutman's cavernous bowing of the steel cello, the richness of Waillee Waillee's sound produces an album unlike any other in her discography. In particular, its two side-ending pieces, "Summer Rhapsody" and "Tree of Life,'' glide with the shimmering filigree of hammered dulcimer and Dorothy Carter's ephemeral voice floating over Rutman's droning buzz of the steel cello. The elements of these two tracks suggest something akin to a transcendental appalachian raga or whirling cosmic folk music, an effortless combination that serves to add additional substance to the remaining tracks on the album.

    The title track is one of her most enduring compositions, often performed in stripped down versions throughout her career, and one of her sole recordings featuring a full band, with the contrapuntal interplay of tremulous flute, vibrating steel cello, bass and drums. Lyrically and tonally, her voice would never sound as stirring and refined as on this, her most outwardly accessible song.

    She counted musical colleagues as diverse as Constance Demby, Einstürzende Neubauten and Laraaji, as well as her lifelong artistic partner and friend Bob Rutman, whose imprint is felt throughout the grooves of this record. The master tapes for this recording were fortuitously discovered in Rutman's Berlin studio, many, many years later. As recounted in Laraaji's contribution to the liner notes, Dorothy was "someone who really influenced my early zither exploration and vocabulary and inspired my shift toward hammered zither performance and recording," after encountering him busking on the sidewalk one day in the 1970s. Later, when living in Berlin in the early 1990s, Dorothy would begin work on manuscripts detailing the history of the dulcimer family and providing extensive sheet music, selected material of which is reproduced in the twelvepage booklet included with this release. Dorothy would find later success touring and performing in the late 90s with the ensemble Mediæval Bæbes, which she led with British musician Katherine Blake, playing a prominent role on their first four albums.

    The recording of Waillee Waillee would mark the end of an era for Dorothy: leaving behind the familiar confines of the northeast, she embarked to New Orleans, settling with her family there. An outsider more so in a city known for its rich musical tradition in jazz and zydeco, Dorothy continued to busk - performing on corners, Mississippi riverboats, and more. She immersed herself in the city such that after suddenly and unexpectedly passing in 2003, the church played "Tree of Life" (this album's final track) at her memorial service, the community revelling in her wondrous life. "Tree of Life" would remain a composition that Dorothy Carter returned to many times throughout her life, appearing in a much more stripped down version on an earlier album, Troubadour . Its deep meaning and significance informed Dorothy's life and ineffable spirituality in ways that provide insight into her music, writings and expression of sound, heard remarkably through her songs and mastery of dulcimer and zither playing.


    1. The Squirrel Is A Funny Thing...
    2. Dulcimer Medley - Robin M'aime
    3. Along The River
    4. Summer Rhapsody
    5. Waillee, Waillee
    6. Celtic Medley
    7. Autumn Song
    8. Tree Of Life

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