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Daisy Mayhem: Celebrating a 'Big Old Life'

Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem's new CD explores themes of joy and hardship.
Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem's new CD explores themes of joy and hardship.

Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem are part of a wave of string bands who blend traditional tunes with contemporary songwriting. Their new CD, Big Old Life, shows that the most uplifting music often comes from the toughest times.

In the liner notes for the new CD, the group thanks friends and family, the record label, and the staff at Connecticut Oncology. In 2004, singer and fiddler Arbo was diagnosed with breast cancer just months after giving birth to her first child. Three years later, she has a clean bill of health, a busy tour schedule, and a CD of songs about seeking light and hope.

Big Old Life is the band's third CD. In the title track, Arbo sings beautifully about embracing life instead of brooding over your circumstances.

Coming through hard times is a classic theme in the gospel and mountain music that Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem tap into. On Big Old Life, their original songs and versions of traditional tunes sound as if they're from the same well. And their covers too: The band plays the Leonard Cohen song "Heart With No Companion" as if it were an old Appalachian hymn.

Daisy Mayhem is, at its core, a string band, driven by fiddle and guitar and upright bass. But rhythmically, the band strays far from the boom-chick of bluegrass and old-time music. Guitarist Anand Nayak plays with a strong blues and ragtime feel. And the drumming of Scott Kessel, Arbo's husband, is steeped in zydeco and R&B. He built his main instrument, known as the Drumship Enterprise, out of tin cans, a cardboard box, and a suitcase.

Big Old Life is not an autobiographical CD. You won't find any obvious references to Arbo's bout with cancer. What you will find is music that's ultimately not about hardship but about celebration—and a feeling of gratitude that's deepened by taking nothing for granted.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers
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