Lou Turner’s “Songs for John Venn” and Pukka Three Ginger Herbal Tea

Listening to one of my favorite records of 2020 while sipping on a tea I've never tried up until now.

Lou Turner’s “Songs for John Venn.”
I haven’t been bothered to look this up, but I reckon if you look through playlists of Grand Ole Opry shows, you wouldn’t go more than a week or so without someone singing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” It’s a show so engrained to the culture of country music that when the radio program moved from the Ryman Auditorium to a new Grand Ole Opry house, they cut a six-foot circle of oak from the Ryman stage and placed it front and center at the new location. When the Opry’s owners launched a tv channel, they called it The Circle with the slogan “Get in the Circle.”

It’s a song that I never really thought about the writing of. I’d heard so many versions, by so many people, but I never stopped to question who wrote it. I guess that’s why I was surprised when I finally looked it up yesterday and read it was written by a British woman Ada R. Habershon. It always felt so American and of here, granted the version that became popularized in country music had different verses written by A.P. Carter, the bones of the song and the chorus belong to Habershon and her composer Charles H. Gabriel.

I haven’t spent enough time with enough new albums to really declare a ‘best’ album of 2020, but I can say what albums have been my favorite, it’s only a couple, maybe three or four at most. I’ve been a bad listener this year. One of them is Lou Turner’s “Songs for John Venn,” who Turner describes as “a priest before he decided to be a mathematician instead.”

Turner’s mostly-spoken track that shares a title with Habershon’s hymn feels like a continuing tradition of what A.P. Carter did to Habershon; taking inspiration and showing respect from work from the past and bringing it forward for the here and now, becoming the center circle of a Venn Diagram. 

Other favorites on the album include the Little Jimmy Dickens-referencing ‘King Edward Avenue” (I’m a sucker for anything that quotes “Will The Bird Of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose?” and the opening and closing songs, “Solar Eclipse,” and “Widening Venn Diagram,” songs that sound similar enough that when you get to the end, you can start all over again with a flow that feels like a circle, going around another time, the circle being unbroken if you want it.

Whenever I listen to people like Judee Sill, or Karen Dalton, or Elyse Weinberg I think about what it would’ve been like to know their work to praise them in the time that they were working, rather than a career resurgence decades after they are gone. I think it would be similar to being a Lou Turner fan now.

Lou Turner’s Songs for John Venn is available via Spinster Sounds. Buy it this Friday on Bandcamp Friday when Bandcamp waives their fee to support artists and independent record labels. Her chapbook Shape Note Singing is set to be released this January.

Side A
1. Solar Eclipse 
2. Two Tributaries 
3. King Edward Avenue 
4. Hats On Their Heads 
5. But the Bees 
6. Measuring Tape

Side B
7. Flickering Protagonist 
8. Will the Circle Be Unbroken 
9. Testify 
10. Alarmist Apology
11. Widening Venn Diagram

“Songs for John Venn” gets four-and-a-half out of five stars.

Pukka Three Ginger Herbal Tea

Right now, I think I like the idea of liking tea more than I like tea itself. Like, it seems like a fun thing to be into, and having this letter where one of the focuses is tea, seems like a nice way to try a lot of different types of the stuff. Before wanting to do this, most of my tea intake was just earl grey, or green tea, but I want to open my palate a bit.

It’s…fine. It’s grown on me since my first cup yesterday, but I don’t see it going into the regular rotation. I’ll try to finish off what I have so I’m not wasteful, but it would really have to grow on me for me to get anymore beyond that.

I’m going to go longer on the tea side than the music side in the next letter. I’ll talk to you then.

Pukka Three Ginger Herbal Tea gets three stars out of five.