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Week 313: “Big Bird In A Small Cage” by Patrick Watson

Tags: banjo song


Few instruments have been abused in popular music as much as the Banjo.

The poor banjo. Developed by African Americans as a homemade version of traditional African instruments like the kora, the banjo deserved to have a respected place in music history alongside the guitars and harmonicas that laid the groundwork for blues, rock, and folk music.

And then, the movie “Deliverance” happened. And suddenly, irreversibly, the banjo became associated with backwater white folks, instead of the people who created it. A few notes on the banjo became audio shorthand for creepy in-bred mountain people.

A generation later, as the banjo tried to slowly shed its negative image, the astonishingly awful song “Cotton-eyed Joe” came along and made us hate it even more.

These days, the banjo is either ignored in popular music, or seen as something used by obscure indie bands from Portland, more for irony than melody.

The main problem is that people keep trying to thrust the banjo into the spotlight, making it the centerpiece of a song. The banjo’s just not comfortable doing that. It’s been hurt by the spotlight. Be kind to the banjo, and let it hang out in the background of a song. Allow it to exist somewhere between melody and percussion, where it belongs.

That’s why I’m grateful for songs like this one. Restoring the banjo’s reputation, one subtle pluck at a time.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. Watson’s timid voice. Just like in the Cinematic Orchestra’s “To Build A Home,” his half-whispered lyrics sound like a poet reading lines to himself, unaware that anyone might be listening.

2. The title. We’ve all heard the expression, “feeling like a big fish in a small pond.” But feeling like a big bird in a small cage is not only more compelling imagery, it’s a feeling more of us can probably relate to.

3. The banjo. Smiling meekly in the background, like your kindhearted but homely-looking cousin in the background of the family photo. Go get ‘em, banjo.

Recommended listening activity:

Sending an unsolicited email of encouragement to a co-worker who deserves it.

Buy it here.

The post Week 313: “Big Bird In A Small Cage” by Patrick Watson appeared first on Beautiful Song Of The Week.

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Week 313: “Big Bird In A Small Cage” by Patrick Watson


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