TITLE: CE MONDE ICI-BAS
ARTIST: DE TEMPS ANTAN
RELEASE DATE: SEPT 19, 2013
De Temps Antan, an energetic trio from Quebec, just released their third CD, which is entitled Ce Monde Ici-Bas. I love their first two CDs, have had their first since it came out in 2008, and have listened to those CD’s countless times. I have been looking forward to their latest release. In the age of the Internet, I could get it onto my computer the very day the band released it in Quebec. I was not disappointed; the last CD (or set of MP3s if you buy them electronically) is as good as the others and I like all three CDs equally well.
De Temps Antan are Éric Beaudry, André Brunet and Pierre-Luc Dupuis who have been exploring traditional tunes from Quebec’s musical past and performing together since 2003. All three sing (in French) and the instrumentation includes fiddle, accordion, harmonica, guitar, bouzouki and a number of other instruments. Many of the vocal tunes are in a call-and-response style. As they explain, this is typical of songs at parties where one person will sing a verse, and the others will sing the last phrase, and the refrain. There are a number of those examples on the CD.Read more...
TITLE: WE’RE NOT LOST
ARTIST: THE SHOW PONIES
LABEL: SHOW PONY PUBLISHING
RELEASE DATE: 2013
When an album is financed entirely by crowdsourcing – as is We’re Not Lost, the newest album by The Show Ponies -- one thing should be apparent: this rootsy, folk-rock group is the real deal, with immediate, widespread appeal.
So immediately appealing, in fact, that they completed this CD within a year of finishing their last album, Here We Are! So tight and dynamic – perfectly harnessing youthful raw energy with polished musicianship – that it’s hard to believe this band has only been together since 2011.
Featuring all-original songs, The Show Ponies have literally galloped into the Americana indie arena with a fast-paced sound, evoking overtones of bluegrass and old time country music, and adding a dynamic, percussive edge. Led by songwriting collaborators Andi Carder (lead vocals and guitar) and Clayton Chaney (lead vocals and bass), the five Ponies also include three classically-trained musicians.Read more...
ARTIST: MOLLY’S REVENGE
LABEL: MOLRI MUSIC
RELEASE DATE: 2013
To paraphrase an old ad, you don’t have to be Irish… or Scottish… to love Celtic music. But if you are among the many who do, then you probably already know: it doesn’t get much better than Molly’s Revenge. With ten widely acclaimed albums already to their credit, the acoustic band has been playing to enthusiastic crowds since 2000, appearing at major folk festivals across the country and around the world.
But their new 11th album, Trio, has two notable differences: First, as the title implies, there are just three of the core members here, not the former four or five. And second, this collection is entirely instrumental.
The result, I should say from the outset, is no less dynamic, exciting, complex and engaging than any of their earlier recordings. In some ways, in fact, the “less is more” principle is at work here, in that you can better hear the musical nuances of each artist. And what amazing artists they are! David Brewer brings his infectious energy and unbridled passion to bear on the highland bagpipes, whistles, and bodhran.Read more...
TITLE: CLOSE TO HOME
ARTIST: VAL MINDEL & EMILY MILLER
RELEASE DATE: 2013
This past summer, mother and daughter singing duo, Val Mindel and Emily Miller, released their second album of early Country music, Close to Home. Mindel and Miller along with Jesse Milnes, fingerpicking extraordinaire and husband to Miller, explore the tight harmonies of the brother duets, the canonic lines of Southern gospel music and the blue note slides of early Bluegrass harmonies paying tribute to the Carter family, Roger Miller, Hank Williams and the Delmore Brothers. Behind each influence and perfectly executed style, however, are poignant memories of their family history, offering the only possible explanation for how such old songs can sound so contemporary and alive.
Both Mindel and her daughter have traveled all over the world performing and educating on early Country harmony singing. Apart from their work together as educators and performers, each has a finger in various Old Time pies. Miller and Milnes play with their Country band the Sweetback Sisters and Mindel plays around the country with different groups such as the California based group, Any Old Time. However, it is in this family setting that the nuances of many years of making music together can be heard.Read more...
ARTIST: MARLA FIBISH and BRUCE VICTOR
LABEL: NOCTAMBULE MUSIC
RELEASE DATE: April 2013
A mood is much more than a just a feeling. In its richest sense it signifies a gateway to a different world with its own scents and hues; its own vistas, characters, and possibilities. This is an album that creates that kind of mood. Noctambule draws us into a world of night journeys, of shadows and sadness, of deep truths and deep feelings, of beauties unseen in daylight, of whispers and dreams, of terror, loss and redemption. Most of the songs here are musical settings of poetry by Robert Service, Theodore Roethke, Pablo Neruda, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Edna St. Vincent Millay. The arrangements have the kind of genius that reflects lives lived fully, souls not unscathed, but with glittering musical imaginations grounded in joyful glorious experience. The playing is simply beautiful, and the interplay between Bruce Victor's moving, deft yet muscular guitar playing and Marla Fibish's always magic mandolin reminds me of watching two strong dancers moving together, creating so much more than the sum of the parts.Read more...
TITLE: SETTING OUT TO SEA
ARTIST: THE ONLIES
RELEASE DATE: 2013
The Onlies are a group of three teenage musicians from Seattle. They just released their first recording, Setting Out to Sea, which is an enjoyable mix of traditional fiddle tunes and their own compositions (including both instrumentals and songs). Traditional tunes are from Scotland, Ireland, Cape Breton, Quebec, and America and those styles are reflected in their own compositions, while their songs have similarities to early Nickel Creek. The band members are Sami Braman, Riley Calcagno, and Leo Shannon, who are sophomores in high school and have played together for most of their lives.
The Onlies have performed a lot of gigs recently, including a tour of the West Coast last month. The tour started with a house concert in Portland, Oregon; then in California: Rio Dell; Berkeley; Cottage Grove and a contra dance in Palo Alto. While in California, the three of them spent a week at Alasdair Fraser’s Valley of the Moon Scottish Fiddling Camp in Santa Cruz. Unusual for many bands, but a really excellent training ground for traditional musicians, The Onlies regularly play square dances in the Seattle area.Read more...
TITLE: WORDS LIKE YOURS
ARTIST: LILY HENLEY
RELEASE DATE: 2013
Lily Henley's EP Words Like Yours is soothing, frenzied, sacred and profane all at once. Electrically imagined but acoustically delivered, one could call it a fusion of Sephardic Ladino melodies and Scotch-Irish fiddling. More accurately stated - it is an expression of a young woman straddling her ancestral cultures, spontaneously manipulating her inborn musical impulses.
Hailing from New York City, the New England Conservatory graduate developed her Scottish fiddling influences in the Boston string band. Following a transitional period, she moved to Tel Aviv where she met Omer Avital, a renowned jazz bassist who had long been drawing inspiration from popular Israeli folk tunes. Henley was moved by how Avital used his Western musical training to elaborate on popular Israeli folk tradition and it wasn't long before she envisioned how the Ladino songs she knew as a child could be coupled with her Celtic and Americana upbringings.Read more...
TITLE: BRIGHT SUNNY SOUTH
ARTIST: SAM AMIDON
LABEL: NONESUCH RECORDS
RELEASE DATE: MAY 22, 2013
On his fourth studio album, urban folk musician Sam Amidon proves that when stripped bare, an old Southern ballad and a modern R&B hit are essentially one and the same. Expanding his repertory menu beyond the usual ballads and hymns to include renditions of popular Country and R&B hits, Bright Sunny South is perhaps his most mature album to date. Produced with longtime friend Thomas Bartlett (a.k.a. Doveman) and famed engineer, Jerry Boys (Vashti Bunyan, Martin Carthy), these eleven understated arrangements relate old stories to new ones and reveal how Amidon synthesizes the sounds of his urban environment through an organic process of folkloric mimicry.
Bright Sunny South - contrary to what the title suggests - explores dark, introspective themes of war, death and unrequited love from poignant perspectives of lost and lonely individuals. The variety of songs and styles achieve cohesiveness through Amidon's claim that the album is an immensely personal one, covering what appears to be the entire spectrum of his musical influences, from Irish fiddle tunes and open fifth Sacred Harp harmonies to free jazz solos and outros. Choosing to revert to the sparseness of his first album, the songs on Bright Sunny South retain the purity and precision of a live performance while still showcasing Amidon's varied musical influences.Read more...
Bulletin: Smithsonian Folkways
Denies Security Leak
Will Release Classic Banjo Tapes
An obscure provision of the Patriot Act has been triggered to force Smithsonian Folkways record company to release 30 major tracks from its secret tapes of vintage banjo music by some of America’s most notorious un-Americans—like Pete Seeger and his late half-brother Mike, who once described his banjo style as “non-violent,” which raised some red flags over at the NSA’s sister agency—the NCA—the National Clawhammer Association.
It is no accident that Smithsonian Folkways—with its long history of promoting Marxist minstrels like Woody Guthrie (who condemned private property in his controversial “patriotic” song This Land Is Your Land), Leadbelly (he of the infamous Bourgeois Blues pointing out that Washington DC was racially segregated), and Mr. Seeger himself, who was an unfriendly witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955, when he hid behind the First Amendment and brazenly told them “You have no right to ask any American these questions”—is caught up in Washington’s latest scandal.
TITLE: HONEY MAN
ARTIST: HEY MAVIS
LABEL: STELLADA MUSIC
RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 2, 2013
One of the most dynamic recordings I’ve heard this year, Honey Man is the second release by Hey Mavis…featuring the marriage of Laurie Michelle Caner’s beautiful alto voice and banjo with husband Eddie Caner’s brilliant, virtuoso violin, fiddle and viola. The result, which they rightly call “Appalachian Americana,” is an intriguing variety of driving rhythms and softer songs – all featuring an exquisite interplay of fiddle and banjo, vocals and harmonies.
I am not exaggerating when I say “exquisite.” Laurie Caner cut her musical teeth in the all-woman rootsy vocal trio, The Rhondas. Her vocal flexibility – and ability to craft authentic-sounding “backwoods” harmony – is immediately apparent. Eddie Caner has over 20 years of world-class performance under his bow, touring the globe, as soloist or sideman, with over 25 major artists, including Smokey Robinson, Page and Plant, and Luciano Pavarotti. But it is the musical interaction between the two of them – an almost visceral excitement – that makes Hey Mavis so special.Read more...
TITLE: ENREGISTRÉ LIVE
LABEL: LES PRODUCTIONS DU MOULIN INC.
RELEASE DATE: June 3, 2013
Invariably, the first thing listeners do after loading in Genticorum and pushing play is to double check the list of artists. That’s because it’s almost impossible to believe that the sound you are hearing comes from just three people. There must be at least several guest musicians, one assumes, to generate the foudroyant smash of melody that begins immediately and never stops. However, we can confirm that there are in fact just three young and virtuosic Québécois musicians who make up this award-winning group: Pascal Gemme; Yann Falquet; and Alexandre de Grosbois-Garand. As if to put any doubts to rest, Genticorum (pronounced “Jawn-ti-core-um”) is releasing Enregistré Live, a live album, and it’s obvious that even without a studio smokescreen Genticorum is still pure magic.
Drawing from a wealth of deep traditional sources, Genticorum highlights the breadth of traditional French-Canadian music: from irresistible knee-bouncing reels to sinuous jigs; from rowdy call-and-response songs to haunting ballads with complex harmonies. Hidden in between the tracks of Enregistré Live (Recorded Live) one can catch snippets of their infectiously warm stage banter (in Québécois French), which is all part of the charm that has garnered them international fame and multiple awards.Read more...
ARTIST: RUN DOWNHILL
LABEL: RUN DOWNHILL MUSIC
RELEASE DATE: 2013
A creative collaboration in the fullest sense of the word, Run Downhill’s second release – Kilbourn - is a unique 5-song video EP. Composed by T.J. Troy, the songs combine incredibly dynamic, rootsy, country rockers (as well as a slow-and-dreamy instrumental) with the words of storyteller/lyricist John Castlerock. There is also a video that mixes live footage of the band with a subtly animated, campy “comic book” based on Castlerock’s story, The Carousel Couple.
To say this EP is one of kind is an understatement.
The five songs are somewhat eclectic – each a hybrid of various genres – from classic country stylings to contemporary indie rock to a lyrical, modern instrumental. But most are punctuated by captivating, upbeat rhythms and lush, tight harmonies. Of course, the engaging rhythms are not surprising, given that composer T.J. Troy is a first-class, professional drummer. On another level, however, the EP is also informed by Castlerock’s storyline in the comic book – a tragic romantic melodrama set in the Old West. Castlerock’s lyrics are a perfect match for Troy’s rhythms, utilizing unusual rhyme schemes and interesting phrasing.Read more...
TITLE: ROOM ENOUGH FOR ALL
ARTIST: BATTLEFIELD BAND
LABEL: TEMPLE RECORDS
RELEASE DATE: April 8 2013
The Battlefield Band recently played on my show the Roadtunes Sessions on KCSB FM 91.9 at UC Santa Barbara and by happy coincidence soon after I was asked to write this, my first ever, review.
The Battlefield Band has a storied history beginning in 1969 and counts as one of the bands that, along with the Tannahill Weavers in Scotland and bands like The Bothy Band and Planxty in Ireland, brought a spirit of innovation to traditional music and thereby brought this regional folk music to a much broader audience. Their latest release, Room Enough for All, continues in that spirit and the current lineup of Michael Katz, Alasdair White, Ewen Henderson, and Sean O’Donnell continue the band’s longstanding tradition of moving “forward with Scotland’s past.”
The recording gets off to a rousing start with Sean singing Bagpipe Music a song penned by Irish poet Louis MacNeice in the 1930s, that at first reminded me of a nonsense song like Bedlam Boys covered by Old Blind Dogs among others, but is in fact about, as MacNeice himself stated, the “cultural decline of the highlands” and the attendant collision between folk culture and the spread of urban culture into the rural north. Like the song In Contempt by Aaron Kramer, also on this record, but very different in presentation, Bagpipe Music takes its place in the long line of Scottish activist songs, that transcend the local and give voice to the universal struggle for justice and dignity as the times are inexorably a changin’Read more...
ARTIST: BRUCE MOLSKY
LABEL: TREE FROG MUSIC
RELEASE DATE: 2013
I am a die-hard Bruce Molsky fan and have a true jones for his fiddling. For him to do wrong, he would have to do something really weird, like an Alvin-and-the-Chipmunks-style Hawaiian slack-key klezmer album. Fortunately, he’s not done that.
If It Ain’t Here When I Get Back is an album of what Bruce Molsky does best: bare-bones simple American folk, with a solo Bruce playing fiddle, banjo, and guitar and occasionally singing. It’s brave music. A musician’s mettle is proven in solo work, and Molsky proves he’s a pro at deceptive simplicity. Not an out-of-tune note, not a missed chord, and acoustically true.
The music is unpretentious and gorgeous, and it satisfies, in the truest sense of the word, that craving for honesty that much popular music lacks. It sounds as though he sat down one afternoon on your front porch and gave you a solo concert.
Molsky starts the album with Wreck Of the Dandenong, an Australian shipwreck tune sung to a fiddle accompaniment.Read more...
A Father and Daughter collaboration
LABEL: LEFT EAR MUSIC (641444108725)
RELEASE DATE: 2012
When someone warms me that a film or song deals with fathers and daughters I usually steer clear. Too emotional for me, given my perhaps overly sentimental connection to my offspring. But I plunged ahead with this album, trusting Judy Hyman (fiddler in the alt-rock/folk band the Horseflies) to leaven sentiment with her usual depth, edgy intelligence and clear musicality. She and her father rewarded my faith richly. This recording is at once sweet, moody, evocative, exciting, and moving. A joyful listening experience, and one which gets the old waltz itch itching.
Judy wrote these tunes largely for friends and family and they work well as a community of pieces, but also retain such individual character. This music isn't folk music, though the violin has the kind of accessible tone and rhythm of good fiddling. The interplay of fiddle and piano brings to my mind images of a couple dancing in the air, each relying on the other to support and inspire the art of the other.Read more...
ARTIST: DANNY KALB AND FRIENDS
TITLE: MOVING IN BLUE
LABEL: SOJOURN RECORDS
RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 2012
Danny Kalb was one of the founders of the Blues Project, a band that referenced blues, jazz, rock, country and “world” music. Al Kooper and Richard Greene were among his bandmates. They peaked early, finding the first split in 1967, but regrouping under the same or similar names throughout the next few years. With member changes from the very first, they eventually spin off/evolve into a group called both Seatrain and Sea Train, and Kalb bowed out to follow his more blues based direction.
The Blues Project allowed Kalb to stretch out on both acoustic and electric guitar, something he still does 50 years on. Following a stroke a few years ago, Kalb regained his health and moved deeply into music than ever. Moving in Blue represents a recent project supplemented with recordings going back into the mid-1990s, with enough tunes to fill out two full CDs. Kalb sings and plays both electric and acoustic guitar. His work is notable not only for its authenticity with the older blues numbers, but also his reckless abandon on the electric guitar. His guitar work is masterful. On electric, his solos rarely go where they are “supposed to go.” His acoustic playing is sensitive where needed, and driven where needed. Kalb contributes a few songs, but a number of blues classics are re-invented.Read more...
TITLE: INFINITE DISTANCE
ARTIST: BIG WIDE ROOM
LABEL: SELF PRODUCED
RELEASE DATE: JANUARY 2013
They’re called Big Wide Room. When accomplished talents collaborate, and when they are individual artists with plenty of awards and recognitions, it’s worthy of taking notice. One had the “Album of the Decade” in the Los Angeles Times; another runs an acclaimed globe-spanning International Songwriters Retreat series; and the third got his start as music director of the New Christy Minstrels, before enjoying individual success.
Together, they’ve just made an album, Infinite Distance. It’s something special. Some of these appealing, evocative songs will get used in film soundtracks.
Plenty of CDs and even more artists court the elusive characterization of “eclectic” (however nebulous that turns out to be) in hopes of crossover airplay and broader exposure to listeners. It’s always a quest for music that resonates across divides of genre and generations; this album achieves that. It’s fresh, as young listeners like, and rich with well-developed melody lines and smart arrangements that more experienced listeners demand. Fans of nu-folk, acoustic renaissance music, and acoustic-based pop will find a gem here, and if radio supports it, music fans will go for it in a big way.Read more...
ARTIST: MARLA FIBISH
TITLE: MARLA FIBISH IRISH MANDOLIN BASICS: TUNES AND TECHNIQUES (DVD)
LABEL: MARLA FIBISH MUSIC
RELEASE DATE: 2012
So you want to learn some Irish mandolin basics, but don’t know where to turn? Irish mandolin traditionalist Marla Fibish, the mandolinist behind the Three Mile Stone and more recently The Morning Star CDs has a great solution. She’s put together an instructional Irish mandolin DVD. Usually you would have venture out to find a local Irish session (still recommended) to pick up these tunes. (It would be helpful to have a basic mandolin/music theory background to understand some of the language she uses.) But lucky for us fledgling Irish mandy players, Marla has given us a leg up by being able to learn some Irish tunes in the comfort of our own home. And I don’t know about the rest of the mandolin learning population, but it sure helps me to learn when I have a visual aid.
The DVD opens with Marla and her trademark Vintage Gibson A Mandolin (early 1920s) playing the tune Humors of Bandon and explaining how the mandolin has only been involved with Irish music in the last 40-50 years…and that it’s still finding its way. This sort of makes you feel like a pioneer. She also talks about how to develop your own “Irish” music ear by listening to different musicians and various instruments used in Irish music to develop a “feel” for this type of music.Read more...
ARTIST: THE SWEET COLLEENS
TITLE: CLOSER TO THE SKY
RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 30, 2012
The Minneapolis band, The Sweet Colleens, composed of five eccentric, humble and multi-talented musicians, has made rich music together since 1999. With each year and each album they evolve deeper into their unique fusion of Celtic-Cajun-Folk-Pop-Rock. Their 4th Studio release, Closer to the Sky, shares stories inspired by life experiences; gives listeners jammin’ grooves to move to and introspective ballads to be moved by.
Whether it’s a fiddle riff, an accordion jam or a bagpipe proclamation, the guys somehow keep their sound old-timey, yet still innovative and fresh throughout the 11 tracks. The album opens energetically, as lead singer Jeremy Greenhouse sings California, about a timeless place with magical air and a magical girl, amidst which the accordion rocks a solo with harmonica compliments. Oh My My My (Look at that Girl) gets funky with its hoedown-meets-sexy-song vibe. The album then turns contemplative with Look at that Moon, as a mellow waltz.Read more...
TITLE: WHITE SWAN
LABEL: HILONESOME MUSIC
RELEASE DATE: MARCH 2013
Once again, Susie Glaze & The Hilonesome Band have surpassed themselves. In their new, fourth album, White Swan, the celebrated newgrass group stretches the boundaries of their folk/bluegrass/mountain music roots to achieve a fusion of sound that is at once traditional and wonderfully fresh.
Exceptional musicianship, years of playing together, and an almost instinctive familiarity with folk roots have allowed the band to create stunning timeless ballads that sound like traditionals...exciting blends of contemporary folk, Americana and mountain music…and Celtic-inspired originals. And running through all these eclectic influences like a clear mountain stream is the pure, clear voice of Susie Glaze. In short, this is one gorgeous album – the “best yet” for a group that has long enjoyed critical acclaim.Read more...
TITLE: MEANWHILE IN AFGHANISTAN
ARTIST: DAVID ROVICS
LABEL: SELF PRODUCED
RELEASE DATE: December 1st, 2012
David Rovics for President
It took Israel six days to defeat a coalition of Egypt, Jordan and Syria in October of 1967 and guarantee its survival; it took Abraham Lincoln four years to defeat the Confederacy and end slavery once and for all; it took FDR and Truman four years to defeat Adolph Hitler and Nazism, the greatest evil the world has ever known.
After more than ten years and counting, America under Bush and Obama are still bogged down in the graveyard of empires, the quagmire of Afghanistan, with another two years to go, and no one is asking why.
Well, almost no one; David Rovics, a one-man musical occupation, places that question front and center in his new album, Meanwhile In Afghanistan—which speaks truth to power, both here and abroad.Read more...
TITLE: WALLOP THE SPOT
ARTIST: PATRICK D'ARCY
LABEL: SELF PRODUCED
RELEASE DATE: AUGUST 15, 2012
Originally from Dublin, Ireland and now resident in Los Angeles for a number of years, Patrick D'Arcy is a player of uilleann pipes, the complex, bellows-blown bagpipes native to Ireland. Initially starting his musical career on guitar and mandolin, D'Arcy was at one a time a member of the fledgling Irish Folk-Punk band Flogging Molly. However as his interest in a more traditional approach to the music gained momentum he left the group to focus more fully on his growing obsession: the uilleann pipes. And obsession it was. As he began to play the pipes more, D'Arcy (whose day job at the time was web design) launched UilleannObsession.com website, which quickly became a one stop shop for information on all things piping and, along with fellow Irish expat Gabriel McKeagney, founded the Southern California Uilleann Piper's Club. Today the club boasts dozens of members and the website has become one of the best resources for both beginning and experienced pipers searching for music, sets of pipes and piping history, anecdotes and lore.Read more...
TITLE: I JUST SEE YOU
LABEL: KABEAUTY MUSIC
RELEASE DATE: 2012
In her second, vintage-flavored, modern-folk album, I Just See You, award-winning singer-songwriter Tracy Newman reinforces what her first album suggested: She is one of the most talented story-song lyricists on the folk scene today.
This is not to overlook the refreshingly upbeat musicality of her songs – the smooth-as-glass harmonies by the Reinforcements (Gene Lippmann and Rebecca Leigh) that recall the heyday of sweet harmony in the ‘30s and ‘40s; the touch of old-time country swing in some wonderful steel guitar, pedal steel, and dobro; or Newman’s own crystal-clear vocals that are so easy on the ears. It is just that what is really remarkable in these 11 original songs are the words. The closer you listen, the better they get.
And you don’t have to “work at” listening, either. Newman has the casual, conversational style of a master wordsmith. Her phrasing never calls attention to itself; her images are never obscure. The words-and-melody all seem to flow effortlessly together. But oh, can these songs pack a punch! They are funny, engaging, touching, relatable, and insightful…some-times all at once.Read more...
ARTIST: BOB DYLAN
LABEL: COLUMBIA RECORDS
RELEASED: SEPTEMBER 11, 2012
Bob Dylan and the Great Tradition
Bob Dylan has just released his 35th studio album, and it’s a corker. With a title that evokes Shakespeare’s final play, are his revels now ended too? Dylan denies this tight connection to his heart, of course, and makes much of the fact that Shakespeare’s play is called The Tempest, whereas his is just the single word. Be that as it may, if this is his swan song, it’s a beautiful way to go out. Not surprisingly, it evokes the blues as perhaps the primary color on his musical palette; it starts off with a train song—Duquesne Whistle—on its final run. Dylan’s great touring band—Tony Garnier, Donnie Herron, Charlie Sexton, Stu Kimball and David Hidalgo—sneaks up on you with a casual abandon, a lilting melody with soft chords, before suddenly hurtling round the bend with George G. Recelli’s drum roll to start the rock & roll journey south. Other than this framework it has little in common with Steve Goodman’s tale of the City of New Orleans also on its final run, since Dylan’s opening song (lyrics co-written with Robert Hunter) is an impassioned love song, like most, but importantly not all, of the songs on the album.Read more...
TITLE: BRIGHT LAND
ARTIST: THE CROOKED JADES
LABEL: JADE NOTE MUSIC
RELEASE DATE: 2012
A mesmerizing mix of primal and “cutting edge” energy, The Crooked Jades’ latest CD, Bright Land, surpasses even their critically acclaimed past six albums – sounding as if it has come straight out of the soul of “some dark holler” in Appalachia. The fact that the band – featuring founders Jeff Kazor and Lisa Berman, along with Rose Sinclair, Karen Celia Heil, Charlie Rose, and other guest artists – began at a kitchen jam in San Francisco in 1994, reflects the serious talent at play here.
Produced by Jeff Kazor, their new release is the result of a collaboration with the Kate Weare Dance Company. A boldly modern choreographer, Weare heard The Crooked Jades at a concert and was entranced by the hypnotic, haunting sound of their old-time music. She approached them with the project – to supply a musical backdrop for her troupe – and they accepted. That, in turn, led the band to reframe their repertoire…creating new arrangements to underscore the poetry, drama and mystery at the heart of each song. The result is a truly timeless recording – at once raw and sophisticated, primitive and experimental in its instrumentation, rhythms and phenomenal harmonies.Read more...
ARTIST: STEPHEN WADE
LABEL: SMITHSONIAN FOLKWAYS
RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 11, 2012
Stephen Wade Paints His Masterpiece
In May, 1979 a 26 year old musician in his hometown of Chicago opened a newly-minted one-man show with the intriguing title: Banjo Dancing, or The 48th Annual Squitters Mountain Song, Dance, Folklore Convention and Banjo Contest…and How I Lost. It was a farrago of traditional banjo tunes and songs, clogging and storytelling from Appalachia to Brooklyn. I happened to be teaching high school there at the time, where I had moved to become the next Steve Goodman or John Prine, and went to see it. It was the greatest night I have ever spent inside of a theatre—and the star, creator and just barely containable ball of energy on stage was Stephen Wade.
Later that year he took the show to Washington, DC at the Arena Stage for a three-week run. Ten years later, when the show closed, Wade was standing on top of the record for the longest-running off-Broadway play in America. Over twenty years later and it is still one of the top five.Read more...
TITLE: EVIE LADIN BAND
ARTIST: EVIE LADIN BAND
LABEL: EVIL DIANE RECORDS
RELEASE DATE: 2012
You don’t often hear words like “traditional,” and “authentic” paired with “innovative” and “unique,” but Evie Ladin has brought them together brilliantly in the self-titled, debut album of the Evie Ladin Band, and the result is truly a high point in new old-time music.
If you are not already familiar with Evie Ladin’s music, don’t let the term “debut” fool you. While the four multi-instrumental band members – Ladin, Keith Terry, Dina Maccabee, and Erik Pearson – have been playing together for three years, they are all seasoned professionals. And the polyrhythmic sound of Ladin’s clawhammer banjo, her clogging, and her beautifully modulated voice, have infused five previous albums with The Stairwell Sisters, as well as the 2010 release of her highly acclaimed solo album, Float Downstream. But in the 13 new old-timey, Appalachian-flavored tracks of Evie Ladin Band, Ladin surpasses herself.Read more...
TITLE: NO HIDING PLACE: OLD SONGS
ARTIST: LARRY HANKS AND DEBORAH ROBINS
LABEL: ZIPPETY WHIPPET MUSIC
RELEASE DATE: 2010
Marilyn Chambers did the X-Rated version; Charlie Rich did the R-Rated adaptation (When We Get Behind Closed Doors); but to enjoy the family friendly PG-Rated version come home to Larry Hanks and Deborah Robins’ new CD, No Hiding Place, an album of quintessential traditional and modern folk songs, including Green Door, a 1957 US hit by Jim Lowe (written by Bob Davie and Marvin J. Moore in 1956), and a hit in the UK as well by three different artists, which inspired the adult film Behind the Green Door.
Sex sells, but one does not expect it to sell records by old-time singer Larry Hanks and his wife Deborah Robins. So let’s just say their tongue-in-cheek and sweetly wholesome version of a fun-song from the nifty fifties filled with double entendres (is it a bar or a bordello?) was not intended to raise my eyebrows. But raise them it did.Read more...
TITLE: ROOM OF WONDERS
ARTIST: JAYME STONE
LABEL: SELF PRODUCED
RELEASE DATE: 2010
This CD is made up of what can truly be considered “world music,” ranging from Irish reels to Norwegian polkas, with many detours along the way. The music is all dance music, or inspired by dance music, or inspired by the kind of music that a band would play at the end of a dance to let everyone know it was time to go home. One of the tunes is based on J. S. Bach’s arrangement of an old set of folk tunes. Other pieces are from Brazilian or Italian influences, and even a very strange Tunisian-based waltz. Each piece is worth listening to on its own, but the recording as a whole takes the listener on a quick tour to lands which might or might not exist outside the boundaries of this recording.
In addition to the relatively common banjo, fiddle, guitar, the recording includes trumpet, trombone, drums and even a nyckelharpa.Read more...
TITLE: COWBOYS ON THE SKYLINE
LABEL: THREE DAMP DUCK MUSIC
RELEASE DATE: 2011
I recently “discovered” the already long discovered, multi-award-winning songwriter and humorist, J.W. McClure, when I was hosting a showcase at the 2011 FAR-West Folk Alliance Conference in Eugene, Oregon. From the minute I heard the first few measures of his popular new cat song, Blue, I knew I was hooked. And my McClure “addiction” has only gotten worse since then.
McClure plays an irresistibly smooth and engaging blues guitar, seasoned with an old-time jazzy sound. Better still, in his third album, Cowboys on the Skyline, this rhythmic, acoustic styling is accentuated by the brilliant multi-instrumentalist, Thaddeus Spae. Spae brings a big 6-string guitarron – played as an upright jazz bass – to 12 of the 14 tracks. In addition, he adds a variety of lead guitar, harmonica, back-up vocals, trombone, banjo and tuba to the album. That’s right, tuba. As I am about to tell you, this album is big fun.Read more...
TITLE: STORY GIRL
ARTIST: THE GOTHARD SISTERS
LABEL: SELF PRODUCED
RELEASE DATE: 2011
The Gothard Sisters are three siblings from Edmonds, WA who perform traditional and contemporary music and dance. Highly skilled musicians and dancers, Greta (25), Willow (23) and Solana (16) have been performing and recording together for much of their lives and this comes through strongly in their music and arranging. Their new album, Story Girl, features many of the ideas and pieces the girls have developed over the last few years of a rigorous touring schedule across the U.S and Canada. All three sisters trained from an early age in the violin and while trio string arrangements are a hallmark of their playing, they are all multi-instrumentalists and singers as well as champion Irish step dancers. Because they come from a background steeped in many influences, the new album doesn’t fall strictly into any one genre but instead features both Irish, Scottish, Americana and Classical ideas intertwined in a number of self-composed tunes along with a few fresh takes of older traditional material.Read more...
TITLE: NO OTHER ROAD
ARTIST: LUCY BILLINGS
LABEL: SASSY TIME RECORDS
RELEASE DATE: JANUARY 2011
Singer/songwriter Lucy Billings’ second folk/Americana CD, No Other Road, provides a wonderful combination of “shine” and substance. From the opening measure, the “shine” – emanating from Billings’ clear inviting voice and a stellar cast of studio musicians – makes the album an instant winner. But it is the substance – the melodic flow and refreshingly honest lyrics – that makes the album enduringly enjoyable. Laced with engaging personal stories, thought-provoking themes, instrumental nuances, and interesting chord progressions, No Other Road never loses its appeal, no matter how many times I listen to it.
Released in January 2011, No Other Road was produced and engineered by multi-instrumentalist/producer, John Jennings (best known for his work with Mary Chapin Carpenter), and it boasts some exquisite arrangements. Jennings has brought together some of the top studio musicians in Americana music to play on these songs. In addition to his own acoustic and electric guitar, piano, bass, and percussion, and Billings’ acoustic guitar, the album features: .Read more...
TITLE: LET THE STORM ROLL IN
ARTIST: CLAUDIA NYGAARD
LABEL: CATTLE PRODUCTIONS
RELEASE DATE: 2011
With her new second album, Let the Storm Roll In, Claudia Nygaard is enjoying one of the most richly deserved success stories on the folk/Americana scene today. After years of honing her craft – performing at over 150 fairs and festivals in 47 states and across Europe, and working as a full-time staff songwriter on Nashville’s Music Row – Nygaard has emerged as an award-winning singer-songwriter whose new album has swept the Americana, Roots, and Folk Charts (actually staying on the Folk Charts for three months now).
Produced by Nygaard in 2011, Let The Storm Roll In provides an excellent showcase for her multiple talents and mastery of several styles. From quiet country/folk story-songs to old-time country roots…from upbeat love-and-heartache songs (delivered by self-described “torch singers in cowboy boots”) to social commentary…from personal ballads to laugh-out-loud humor, Claudia is a consummate storyteller. And her rich, warm voice is well suited for all these styles.Read more...
TITLE: CATCH THE SUNSET
ARTIST: BARB RYMAN
RELEASE DATE: 2011
Listening to Catch the Sunset, the sixth album of Minnesota singer-songwriter, Barb Ryman, I can’t help thinking she really has caught it….in all the ephemeral beauty, the simultaneous sadness and radiance, of every sunset since the dawn of time. This is one profoundly beautiful and beautifully profound CD.
Catch the Sunset is primarily a collection of story songs in the folk tradition, and Barb Ryman is a consummate story-teller. Drawing inspiration from real life (often her own), her songs are laced with detail but never boring; never too long, and never overly dramatic – a quality that allows room for the listener to call up his or her own personal experiences. She sings them all in a high, pure voice that reminds me of the clarity I used to love in early Joan Baez recordings.
From touching songs such as Soldier’s Daughter (about the loss of her father, a navy pilot, when she was four years old)...to incisive political songs like Nursery Rhymes, there is a stunning sincerity in her voice; an unflinching truthfulness and brave vulnerability that immediately command attention.Read more...
LABEL: COLUMBIA MUSIC
RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 4TH, 2011
Dancing on Ol’ Hank’s Grave:
Bocephus Steps on Papa’s Posthumous Album Release
October 4, 2011; the much-anticipated release of The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams, spearheaded by Bob Dylan for Hank William’s estate, had to take a back seat today to more urgent news about Hank Williams, Jr. Bocephus crashed the party by getting booted off of Monday Night Football, where his sun-glasses tough guy persona has reigned supreme since 1989, due to his unfortunate comparing of President Obama to Adolph Hitler in an ESPN interview over the weekend.
So instead of waking up to cheering news that major contemporary artists Alan Jackson, Merle Haggard, Sheryl Crow, Jack White, Levon Helm, Vince Gill and Rodney Crowell, Patty Loveless, Norah Jones, Lucinda Williams, and Bob Dylan had rescued a dozen of Hank Sr.’s lyrics that he had never had time to set to music, and created a masterpiece of a tribute album to the “Shakespeare of Country Music,” all of the attention on AOL’s Huffpost this morning went to his jackass son, who has never been shy about calling attention to himself. After all, as he put it in an old song, it’s a Family Tradition.Read more...
TITLE: SECRET VOICES
ARTIST: ANONYMOUS 4
LABEL: HARMONIA MUNDI
RELEASE DATE: 2011
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the acapella group Anonymous 4. They are team of four singers specializing in, though not always limited to, medieval music. During that time they have released a number of recordings including two collections of music by Hildegard von Bingen, and have been recognized as among the foremost interpreters of the music of this period; but they have also ventured into American gospel and rural folksong (Gloryland with Darol Anger and Mike Marshall). Though they had considered retiring the team in 2004, they have continued touring and recording and they are far from wearing out their welcome. If you are not familiar with their work, their website www.anonymous4.com is well worth a visit. The latest release from Anonymous 4 “Secret Voices: Chant & Polyphony from the Las Huelgas Codex c.1300” is a collection of music from the Cistercian Abbey of Santa Maria la Real de Las Huelgas near Burgos in northern Spain.Read more...
TITLE: THE MORNING STAR
LABEL: MARLA FIBISH MUSIC
RELEASE DATE: 2011
Double strung instruments have not been staples of Irish music for very long, perhaps only becoming popular since the late sixties and early seventies, spread by the likes of Johnny Moynihan, Andy Irvine, Donal Lunny and Alec Finn, but they have become emblematic of the resurgence and ensuing worldwide commercial success of traditional and folk music. Today, bouzoukis, mandolins, and octave mandolins, citterns, blarges, mandolas and mandocellos are found in folk groups across Europe and in the USA. Despite this success it is rare to find a recording that features only such instruments. Jimmy Crowley, Irish balladeer par excellence, and early adopter of the bouzouki, and Marla Fibish, San Francisco Bay Area based mandolin wonder, have released an album that is all double strung, all the time. And it is magnificent. Featuring the Gibson A model mandolin Marla was given by her grandfather, her mandola, and Crowley's bouzouki, mandocello, mandolin, and Dordán (a mighty bouzouki like creature with a deep and powerful bass), this recording captures the power, the rhythmic intensity, the heavenly harmonics and the sheer joy that flows from these instruments, when in the right hands. Marla and Jimmy are old friends, having toured and played together over the course of some years, and shows by this duo are always a delight.Read more...
LABEL: HILONESOME MUSIC
RELEASE DATE: MARCH 2011
Susie Glaze & The Hilonesome Band and the venerable Berkeley venue the Freight and Salvage. Sounds like a good match, and this recording made in July of 2010 proves it.
These folks are known for mixing folk, mountain music and bluegrass with just a smidgen of pop sheen. Susie and the band are high energy talented musicians who make great recordings, and as this recording shows, are also high energy talented live performers.
The set list mixes some songs associated with Susie’s mentor Jean Ritchie, and also originals from band member Rob Carlson. Carlson plays lead guitar, resonator guitar and provides harmony vocals. Glaze plays guitar and mountain dulcimer. Husband Steve Rankin adds mandolin, guitar, harmony vocals and lead vocals on the set closing version of Steve Earle’s Pilgrim. Fred Saunders plays bass and adds harmonies, and Mark Indictor plays fiddle. Banjo player extraordinaire Bill Evans guests on two songs. This is one hot band.Read more...
TITLE: WESTERN COUNTRY
ARTIST: CALEB KLAUDER
LABEL: QUICKSILVER PRODUCTIONS
RELEASE DATE: 2010
If this tangled, modern world has got you down and you yearn for the simpler, good ole’ days, tune into Caleb Klauder for the most authentic reincarnation of Traditional Country, Honky Tonk and Old Time music you’ve ever heard....and a guaranteed, high-energy pick-me-up.
In the course of the past year, Klauder has given us two new CDs that sound as if they were recorded back in the days when albums were made of vinyl and recording artists didn’t have the luxury of overdubs and digital enhancements. In fact, both his albums - Western Country, released in Fall 2010 with his 6-piece country band, and Sud de la Louisiane, released in 2011 as part of the Foghorn Trio (see accompanying review) - were recorded live in the studio. Rich with tight harmonies, honky tonk rhythm and twang, the result is visceral: both albums capture the foot-stompin’ excitement, raw vitality and spontaneous joy of a live band.Read more...
TITLE: SUD DE LA LOUISIANE
ARTIST: THE FOGHORN TRIO
LABEL: QUICKSILVER PRODUCTIONS
RELEASE DATE: 2011
For a slice of bona-fide old-time Americana -- or, as they describe themselves, the kind of “ass-kickin redneck stringband music” you’d expect to hear on some front porch in Appalachia in the 1930s -- there is no better contemporary band than The Foghorn Trio. The Trio is an offshoot of The Foghorn Stringband, which has been together for ten years. Based in Portland, Oregon, with four albums to their credit, the up to 7-member band (depending on availability) has long been one of the brightest stars on the thriving Old Time Music Revival scene in the Northwest.
The Foghorn Trio is a distillation of this stellar group, comprised of founding members Caleb Klauder and Stephen “Sammy” Lind, and the recently-added French Arcadian bassist, Nadine Landry. All three are accomplished multi-instrumentalists and excellent singers in their own right. And they show it off accordingly: Klauder on hard-driving mandolin, fiddle, guitar and vocals….Lind on high-octane fiddle, guitar, banjo and vocals….and Landry on guitar, upright bass, and vocals. The result is pure joy.Read more...
ARTIST: BLAME SALLY
TITLE: SPEEDING TICKET AND A VALENTINE
LABEL: NINTH STREET OPUS
RELEASE DATE: May 2011
Blame Sally is a band based in the San Francisco area. This quartet of talented women singer-songwriters came together in 2000, putting their individual careers on hold to form a group that is far more than the sum of the parts. They perform a passionate and melodic mix of acoustic folk-rock tinged Americana music with rock, Latin and even occasional Celtic flavors.
Monica Pasqual (piano, keys, accordion, melodica, vocals), Renee Harcourt (guitar, bass, banjo, harmonica, vocals), Jeri Jones (guitar, bass, Dobro, mandolin, vocals) and Pamela Delgado (percussion, guitar, vocals) have found an infectious energy together, which combined with their great songs has led them to develop an ever-expanding and intensely devoted audience.
It's rare that a studio album is able to capture the vitality and exuberance of a band that is best known for their dynamic live performances. Too often, the interaction between band and audience doesn't survive the transition to the starkness of the studio. Yet, after a very successful collaboration with Grammy-nominated producer Lee Townsend on their last studio CD, Night of 1000 Stars (2009), Blame Sally opted to self-produce this time, striving to capture the magnetic energy of their live performances on the CD. I'm happy to say that they have succeeded.Read more...
TITLE: NO HIDING PLACE: OLD SONGS
ARTIST: LARRY HANKS AND DEBORAH ROBINS
LABEL: ZIPPETY WHIPPET MUSIC
RELEASE DATE: 2010
During the Bicentennial in 1976 there were a plethora of patriotic gestures on every front, a flag-waving resurgence of national pride after the recent debacle of Watergate and the ignominious end to the Vietnam War. Even the staid National Geographic Society got into the act, deciding to make a simple statement of enduring American values by releasing an album of cowboy songs. So whom did they get to represent the American Cowboy? Not Gene Autry, not Roy Rogers, and not Tex Ritter; they dug deeper than the silver screen, and roped Berkeley cowboy Larry Hanks into their cause.
Good choice; Larry Hanks sturdy, reliable earthy voice captures as well as anyone can the spirit of the American west—when he sang about Billy the Kid you found yourself looking over your shoulder, to make sure the Kid hadn’t snuck up behind you with a drawn six-gun. And when Larry wrapped his deep bass voice and guitar around The Brazos River, you had no trouble dreaming your way back to the anonymous hired hand from whom Irene Castle learned the song in 1921, who recorded it for Vance Randolph.Read more...
ARTIST: ERNEST TROOST
TITLE: ERNEST TROOST LIVE AT MCCABE'S
LABEL: TRAVELIN' SHOES RECORDS
RELEASE DATE: July 2011
The luckiest fans of acoustic music on the night of January 7th, 2011 in Los Angeles were smack dab in the audience of McCabe's Guitar Shop for a concert from one of this country's landmark and pre-eminent songwriters of our generation, the great Ernest Troost. As an opener for Kenny Edwards in 2010, Ernest impressed, and this year yielded up a night unto himself, a very aptly deserved reward. Now in hand as Ernest Troost LIVE at McCabe's, this stellar new CD is the wonderful take-away from that evening's performances of Ernest's brilliant songwriting, amazing guitar work and fabulous accompanying players and singers.
As I previously wrote in these pages, "2009 Kerrville New Folk Winner Ernest Troost's newest album, the aptly titled Resurrection Blues, is a brilliant new piece of songwriting art. Its thirteen Piedmont-blues influenced songs tell stories of passion, lost love and regret-filled lives at a cross-roads, looking for a modern-day answer to 'how did things ever get this far?' and 'when did the darkness fall?'Read more...
TITLE: SOMETHING TO BELIEVE
LABEL: POPPABO MUSIC
RELEASE DATE: 2011
Freebo is best recognized for the decade or more that he recorded and toured with Bonnie Raitt. In fact, Freebo is a genuine folk, rock and blues icon. For more than 30 years, Freebo has played bass and tuba on recordings and toured with some of the great artists of our time: Bonnie Raitt, John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, Crosby Stills & Nash, Maria Muldaur, Ringo Starr, Michelle Shocked, Neil Young, Loudon Wainwright III, Dr. John, and many others. He has also appeared on Saturday Night Live, Midnight Special, Muppets Tonight, and in concert with the legendary Spinal Tap.
When I first met Freebo back in 1997, he had just released his debut solo album, The End Of The Beginning, and was just learning to step into the spotlight as a headliner after decades as a consummate side- man. That CD featured appearances by many of his talented friends including Bonnie Raitt, Paul Barrere, Catfish Hodge, Albert Lee, Sam Clayton and others. That CD has a variety of styles and showed great promise for Freebo's future solo career including some clever song writing, good rock and pop sensibilities developed over decades of working with some of the best artists around, and fine production by Freebo and Michael Jochum.Read more...
TITLE: FANCY THAT! BANJO ARTISTRY OF DAN LEVITT
ARTIST: DAN LEVITT
RELEASE DATE: January 2011
Reprinted from the Songmakers Bard Chord with permission
Forget the banjo jokes. If you’ve ever heard him play live, you know: Dan Levitt can make a banjo sound like nothing you’ve ever heard before. And this gem of a CD captures it all. With his debut CD, Fancy That! Banjo Artistry Of Dan Levitt, “the man with the golden banjo” has produced an amazing treasure trove of beautiful music, both original and traditional. On some of the tracks – if you did not know what you were listening to – you might not even realize it was a banjo!
Levitt achieves this sound with an instrument that is like nothing you’ve ever seen before, either.
A master craftsman as well as a classically trained musician, Dan Levitt worked on this 5-string banjo – on and off – for 25 years. Completed in 2003, it contains approximately 300 pieces of inlay, 800 pieces of marquetry, and numerous intricate carvings. It is, in itself, an incredible work of art.Read more...
Title: All Wood and Doors
Label: Beachwood Recordings
Release Date: 2011
All Wood and Doors by James Lee Stanley and Cliff Eberhardt is one of those CDs that sounds both new and familiar at the same time, and for good reason.
The origins for the new All Wood and Doors collection go back a couple of years to when a mutual friend introduced James Lee to John Densmore of the Doors. John commented that he enjoyed the All Wood And Stones collection that was released back in 2004 by James Lee Stanley and John Batdorf. Densmore offered to participate in the project if James Lee ever did the same type of folk treatment to the Doors songs.
(All Wood and Stones is a collection of Rolling Stones songs that James Lee Stanley and John Batdorf lovingly created in an acoustic, guitar and harmony driven style. Imagine an early 1970s Crosby, Stills & Nash tackling the Rolling Stones catalog. The CD was well received and got great reviews.)Read more...
Title: Backstage at the Resurrection
Artist: James Lee Stanley
Label: Beachwood Recordings
Release Date: 2011
James Lee Stanley has been a staple of the Los Angeles area singer- songwriter scene for more than 40 years, releasing 25 albums since his self-titled debut album in 1973. In spite of the fact that his 1998 album Freelance Human Being was listed by Fi Magazine as one of the top 200 recordings of all time, he remains one of the great undiscovered talents in American pop music.
By "undiscovered," I mostly mean that he hasn't sold quite as many albums as he'd like! For truly he has had a stellar career with early albums on both the RCA and MCA labels and later releases on his own Beachwood Recordings label which has also released albums by other well respected artists such as Laurence Juber, Hamilton Camp and Peter Tork.
For those who have followed James Lee Stanley's career for any length of time, it is obvious that he continues to grow as an artist. His voice seems to get stronger with each release while his composition and arranging skills continue to advance. This has never been more true than with his most recent solo studio releases The Eternal Contradiction (2007) and New Traces of the Old Road (2008). I'm happy to say that his new CD, Backstage At The Resurrection (2011) continues this trend.Read more...
The Music of Contra Dancing
Originally published in No Depression
Contradances viewed from the stage.
I've long thought that contra dance bands would make great performance bands. Actively blending popular traditions from Celtic to Cape Breton, old-time to bluegrass, with hints of Scandinavian and French- Canadian influences, contra dance bands should have laser precision and the ability to turn on a dime. Of course, the problem is that most contra dance bands are used to playing 15 minute long medleys of highly repetitive tunes, so some work has to be done to adapt a contra dance band to a concert stage. Here are three bands that have developed musical styles so tight and compelling that if they're not playing concert venues now, I hope they will soon.
TITLE: SONGS OF THE OPEN ROAD
ARTIST: FUR DIXON AND STEVE WERNER
LABEL: GRASS AND GRAVEL RECORDS
RELEASE DATE: 2011
It seems inevitable that the most talented of songwriters will sooner or later be compelled to do an album of cover songs. This offering by Fur Dixon and Steve Werner is a wonderful testament to the musicians that have inspired them.
The selections — legends Doc & Merle Watson and Woody Guthrie; folk heroes Jim Ringer, Mary McCaslin and the late Blaze Foley; talented local friends Randall Lamb and Dan Janisch — show not only the kinds of songs Fur and Steve like to perform and listen to but those that showcase their considerable talents.
Fur and Steve’s harmonies have always been highlights of their work. The arrangements are tight and the instrumentation just right. Steve’s guitar leads and runs add a pleasing dimension to the vocals, always tastefully applied, never overdone. On Dreary Black Hills and I Cannot Settle Down, Steve adds banjo, I imagine the one that his friends chipped in to buy him for his birthday a couple years ago, The banjo work is subdued and effective.Read more...
TITLE: MILE-HIGH RODEO
ARTIST: JOHANNA DIVINE
LABEL: JOHANNA DIVINE
RELEASE DATE: 2010
Johanna Divine’s Mile-High Rodeo is an instant Americana classic. Just like that! Every song gleans from a different roots music genre and adds what appears to be a Divine touch. She possesses a real knack for melodic hooks, a skill honed, perhaps, from writing jingles for local merchants in Lafayette, Louisiana, her hometown of the past several years. Then there’s the voice; not a seductive Crystal Gayle soprano, nor a lean and stern Tammy Wynette croon, but an up front mid-range that gets the most out of her Knoxville, Tennessee delivery. Divine does not shy away from any style from the Americana catalog. All songs are originals, but you know she’s been around the jukebox of country, swing, jazz, rockabilly, honky-tonk, and torch songs, absorbing a lot of that true grit from the 1930s to the 1960s eras.Read more...
TITLE: AMY HANAIALI’I AND SLACK KEY MASTERS OF HAWAII
LABEL: PETERSON PRODUCTIONS
I took one look at the cover of this CD and concluded that it was a shoe-in for the 2011 Grammy for Best Hawaiian Music Album. After five years of awarding it to compilations of slack key guitar music, the mucky-mucks could enjoy a refreshing twist on their love affair with slack key. Celebrated vocalist, Amy Hanaiali’i, who has lost out to slack key at the Grammies more than once, had teamed up with five masters of the beloved guitar tradition: Cyril Pahinui, Sonny Lim, Dennis Kamakahi, Jeff Peterson, and Chino Montero. It’s a dazzling collaboration and thoroughly enjoyable listening. Did it win the Grammy? No! This year the award for Best Hawaiian album went to a vocalist of more limited gifts than Amy and no hint of slack key guitar on the cover. Go figure! We move on...
Although it was recorded in a studio, Amy Hanaiali’i and Slack Key Masters of Hawaii has the flavor of a live concert. The musicians each get a turn being center stage, accompanying Amy, in some cases singing with her or playing slack key with one another. Not only do they display their gifts as musicians; in some cases, they showcase their own compositions.Read more...
ARTIST: JEFF PETERSON
TITLE: MAUI ON MY MIND
LABEL: PETERSON PRODUCTIONS
The sun had just risen over Mount Haleakala when we mounted our bikes. Encased in a hooded ski jacket provided by the tour service, I could still feel the bite of the icy air, which began to sting my cheeks as we gained speed. But an hour later, the moonscape of the Haleakala crater seemed worlds away and the lush ranch lands of its slopes came into view. I shed my jacket and enjoyed watching horses calmly grazing in the distance. I will never forget this view of verdant Maui.
Slack key guitarist Jeff Peterson pays tribute to the place where he grew up with his Grammy-nominated CD, Maui on My Mind. The son of a paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy), Peterson has distinguished himself as a versatile soloist, sought – after accompanist- working with established talent such as vocalist, Amy Hanaiali’i – and, most exciting of all, as a composer.Read more...
ARTIST: LAWRENCE LEBO
TITLE: DON’T CALL HER LARRY, VOLUME 3: AMERICAN ROOTS
LABEL: ON THE AIR RECORDS
RELEASE DATE: 2010
Hard to define, eclectic, versatile... are the frequent descriptions Lawrence Lebo has received during and after her three volume set of releases, American Roots, which has now been fully realized with the release of last year’s final recording in the series. That’s she not he, hence the Don’t Call Her Larry proclamation and album sub-title.
After exploring Big Band blues of the 1930s and 1940s in volume 1 and then displaying her songwriting and arranging skills via the live album in volume 2, in the concluding recording, that versatility is reconfirmed in a simple yet elegant setting with Ms. Lebo accompanied, for the most part, by bassist Denny Croy (Doug MacLeod, Brian Setzer Orchestra). This is song production de-constructed and built back up for the sake of the singer and the song, i.e., it’s not about Spector’s Wall of Sound.Read more...
ARTIST: SAUSAGE GRINDER
TITLE: DELICIOUS MOMENTS
LABEL: MOOCH PIDDLE RECORDS
RELEASE DATE: 2010
More than Meats the Eye
Sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Yes, they’ve been around for a long, long time. Ian Dury wrote a song about the lifestyle. Eric Bogosian did a one-man show on it. Too many hair bands have worn it on their sleeve or inked it on their ____ (fill in the first thing that comes to mind). But back when hooch, a snort of stardust, and carnal pleasures, were sold under the counter, down the alley, on the wrong side of the tracks, and in the back seat, songs about said vices were sung with a very thin negligee of metaphor and without the help from high definition video accompaniment. Because of strict censorship, there was a thing called imagination (read: dirty mind) which made this music titillate ones cerebellum as it traversed the tenderloin district.
ARTIST: CEDRIC WATSON ET BIJOU CRÈOLE
TITLE: CREOLE MOON
- LIVE FROM BLUE MOON SALOON
LABEL: VALCOUR RECORDS
RELEASE DATE: 2010
The Grammy category for Cajun and Zydeco music is only three years old. A young musician from San Felipe, Texas had his first solo album nominated in 2008 and his second effort made the list in 2009. This year, he’s back again as if it’s as sure a thing as his birthday. At 27 years of age, Cedric Watson, a relative newcomer to the scene, has reached the heights of the recording arts, sharing the charts and accolades with established Cajun and Zydeco giants such as Buckwheat Zydeco, Terrance Simien and Beausoleil.
Ignoring for the most part the trend of other young Zydeco artists to lean heavily, if not exclusively into hip-hop, smooth R & B, and funk, Watson honed his skills by keeping within the guidelines established by the old school legends of Creole and Cajun music.Read more...
ARTIST: DAVID GREELY
TITLE: SUD DU SUD
LABEL: GIVE AND GO RECORDS
RELEASE DATE: 2009
Strings Attached: David Greely -
Me and Denis McGee, and a lot more
You have to know where the party is to find this music. Welcome to our kitchen. Put away your earplugs for awhile. – David Greely
If you take the accordion out of Cajun music and take the Cajun music out of the dance hall, what will you get? Ace fiddler, David Greely, an original member of the Mamou Playboys, lets us in on a secret most Cajun music aficionados know about, but rarely get to hear, at least in recordings or outside of Louisiana. With Sud du Sud (South of South), the fiddle has a life of its own and in a setting such as this, one gets to experience the instrument away from the din of the Fais dodo.
With help from local Louisiana talent: Joel Savoy, Sam Broussard, and Gina Forsyth, to name but a few, we get to sit on the front porch or in the kitchen, and listen to the fiddles carry the melodies and the tune without the backbeat, the accordion, a rub board, or even a triangle, dividing our attention. Only one waltz features his vocals. Greely shares with us his interests and influences by playing relatively obscure but no less compelling songs some re-tuned, others rearranged for fiddle.Read more...
ARTIST: THREE MILE STONE
TITLE: IRISH MUSIC FROM SAN FRANCISCO
LABEL: THREE MILE STONE MUSIC
RELEASE DATE: 2010
Three Mile Stone are three musical compatriots playing and singing sweet, soulful Irish music in the San Francisco Bay Area. Friends for many years, mandolinist Marla Fibish, fiddler Erin Schrader, and guitarist Richard Mandel formalized their musical comradeship as Three Mile Stone several years back, and music lovers are the better for it. There is an easy, trance inducing lilt to everything on this recording, even the driving (and they do drive!) tunes. Lots of love in these notes.
Lots of chops, too. Erin is a rare fiddler of taste and emotional tone with a sense of space and roots in her playing that is quite beguiling. And Richard is her match on guitar, with a lightning right hand and spot on chord choices. He is also a precise and powerful tenor banjo player.Read more...
ARTIST: UNCLE RUTHIE BUELL
TITLE: THE JACARANDA TREE
LABEL: SELF RELEASED
RELEASE DATE: FALL 2010
Full Disclosure: I Love Uncle Ruthie
For obvious reasons, I should not be reviewing Uncle Ruthie's new double CD; full disclosure: we have been friends for twenty-five years, she has cooked noodle kugel for me, I have sung at all of her husbands' memorial services, she has confided in me about each of her boyfriends and assured me that the only reason she was interested in them is because I wasn't available, and I have been a guest on her classic KPFK radio program Halfway Down the Stairs for more times than I can remember-usually losing a nights' sleep to get there at 7:00am to prepare for her 8:00am start time.
Thus, not only is objectivity out of the question; I am not even able to be impartial, or anything less than avowedly pro-all things-Uncle Ruthie, due to the simple fact that I love her.Read more...
TITLE: KEOLA BEAMER AND RAIATEA
LABEL: MOUNTAIN APPLE
RELEASE DATE: MAY 4, 2010
A MAGICAL MUSICAL COMBO
The ‘ukeke is a small, three-stringed Hawaiian instrument made of koa wood, plucked while held in the mouth, which acts as a resonating chamber. Its otherworldly pulsating sound would not bring to mind John Lennon. But in the first 12 beats of Keola Beamer & Raiatea, a lone 'ukeke ushers in the opening notes of Imagine. Played by Moanalani Beamer (Keola Beamer's wife and ensemble member), it keeps solemn time while Keola Beamer and Raiatea Helm perform the song in beautifully intertwined Hawaiian and English. Keola accompanies their vocals in his signature slack key (ki ho 'alu) guitar style and the Spring Wind Quintet enriches the arrangement. Hawaiian chanting (oli) by Charles Ka'upu brings this unique version of Imagine to a close. The effect is of a universal hymn.Read more...
ARTIST: NEIL YOUNG
TITLE: LE NOISE
RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER, 2010
THE JOY OF DISTORTION AND TRUTH
Watch the Love and War YouTube Video
Neil Young is always willing to take things a little further along than the rest of the pack. While many roots artists are still catching up with the Cash/Rubin era of bare-to-the-bone acoustic recordings which began in the 1990s, Young has released Le Noise with the considerable visionary support of Daniel Lanois (even the album's name seems to echo a tribute to the great producer who has recently recovered from a life-threatening motocycle accident) and has given us a singular stripped-down distortion-driven album; lyrical and vulnerable, with studio effects commonly used to shield rather than expose. The success of La Noise hinges on the writer's ability to engage and the artist's willingness to risk, something Young has been doing for decades with sometimes stunning successes and failuresRead more...
ARTIST: SABRINA & CRAIG
TITLE: ONE HOME, ONE HEART
RELEASE DATE: SPRING, 2010
By the time I realized I wasn't listening to a Segovia record, I remembered what a masterful finger-style guitar player Craig Lincoln is. Seconds later, I remembered the beautifully tight harmonies that I have come to expect when Sabrina and Craig sing, and the opening song, Sabrina's Make You Mine demonstrates that wonderfully.
Craig's humor abounds in Little White Lies and the painfully cute Cats & Dogs, while Sabrina's shines in Help Wanted and her car song, Mine All Mine.
The title track is hauntingly melodic and the lyrics parse the Chinese symbol for love. "愛" consists of a heart, inside of "accept," "feel," or "perceive," and it may also be interpreted as a hand offering ones heart to another hand. A very imaginative message as well as a beautiful composition.Read more...
ARTIST: VARIOUS ARTISTS
TITLE: BLACK SABBATH: THE SECRET MUSICAL HISTORY OF BLACK-JEWISH RELATIONS
LABEL: THE IDELSOHN SOCIETY
RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 14, 2010
You haven't experienced the full aesthetic potential of If I Were a Rich Man from Fiddler on the Roof until you have heard The Temptations' rendition of the Broadway favorite. You can dig-a-dig-a-dum this and 14 other recordings of Black artists interpreting Jewish content in Black Sabbath: The Secret Musical History of Black-Jewish Relations, a CD released this September by the Idelsohn Society, an organization dedicated to collecting and preserving precious old recordings with Jewish content and exploring their significance.
This collection, packaged in a handsome mock-book with ample liner notes, can be appreciated on many levels. There are masterful interpretations by luminaries such as Billy Holiday, Alberta Hunter, and Cannonball Adderley. There are songs that stir memories of an era of American history or a state of American race relations that seems long past yet resonates emotionally. Some cuts may even provoke a negative reaction.Read more...
ARTIST: FISHTANK ENSEMBLE
TITLE: WOMAN IN SIN
RELEASE DATE: 2010
The ever chameleonic Fishtank Ensemble have once again added more colors to their palette, spilling over into a pastiche of songs, traditional and new, retaining their own style, but honoring the sources. This is an epic musical variety show except all the performances are performed by four talented musicians and some added guests.
Their third recording, propagated from a group pared down from 2007's Samurai Over Serbia, is Woman in Sin. There's nothing like a live show by Fishtank Ensemble, but if studio production loses some of the visceral of the powerful group's 3D presence, it does allow for insightful listening where one can bear audible witness to the group's attention to detail on each of the twelve tracks, not to mention the wide range in which they can operate.Read more...
RELEASE DATE: 2004
CD Review originally appeared in FolkWorks V4N5 Sep/Oct 2004Â
Fans of the Vermont-based trio Nightingale have had to wait a long time for Three, the band's third CD. It has been eight years since the last recording (Sometimes When the Moon is High; the first CD was entitled The Coming Dawn). Three is worth the wait. Bottom line, here's what you should know about this CD: it is a musical feast, full of thoughtfully crafted medleys, excellently played. Becky Tracy's fiddling is strong and expressive, whether she's singing out a melody, weaving in a harmony or providing a rhythmic riff. In Jeremiah McLane's inspired accordion and piano playing, you can hear evidence of his study of styles such as Quebecois and French music, as well as his masters degree in Contemporary Improvisation. Keith Murphy not only plays superbly on mandolin, guitar, piano, and on his feet (providing foot percussion); he also has a fine singing voice.Read more...
ARTIST: BASSEKOU KOUYATE AND NGONI BA
TITLE: I SPEAK FULA
RELEASE DATE: 2010
Are you happy?" inquires the tall imposing figure of Bassekou Kouyate at a concert earlier this year at the Getty. As if insecure about the effects of his music which should evoke this sense of elation, he repeats this question at the end of every other song. And as the set progresses, you decide, yes, I am happy, regardless of the language barrier and the actual content of each song. The layperson can appreciate the technique and the rolling wave of sound, not to mention the energy radiated by each of the musicians who go from stoic self-conscious performance to playful dancing and contagious smiles. Hints of 60s-era jamming weave in and out of the melodies which retain the griot spiritual sensibility. This is not uncommon in much of Malian music, and especially that of the stringed instrument variety.Read more...
ARTIST: THE UNWANTED
TITLE: SONGS FROM THE ATLANTIC FRINGE
LABEL: COMPASS RECORDS
At any given acoustic jam that might include musicians of old time, Celtic, Appalachian, or any other form that serves up songs of a traditional disposition, you might hear a certain similarity between old ballads, folk blues, lullabies, and church music. There might be a twist in the lyrics that bends an old Irish lament into something akin to an American blues tune or a harmonica melody might remind you of some doleful dirge from a concertina heard in a nameless pub you fell into one night.
Songs from the Atlantic Fringe, a collaborative effort from three musicians, collectively known as The Unwanted, calls attention to this common ground where music has infiltrated one continent and then returned, altered here and there, often colored with regional lyrics or instrumentation.ÂRead more...
ARTIST: PETE SEEGER WITH THE RIVERTOWN KIDS AND FRIENDS
TITLE: TOMORROW'S CHILDREN:
PETE SEEGER WITH THE RIVERTOWN KIDS AND FRIENDS
LABEL: APPLESEED RECORDS
(APR CD 1123)
RELEASE DATE: 2010
When Pete Seeger was charged with Contempt of Congress for not answering House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)'s questions on August 18, 1955, he began a long sojourn as an underground artist, after having headed the most successful pop folk quartet in music history just five years before. That would be The Weavers, which crashed and burned less than one year after soaring to the top of the hit parade in 1950, with their two-sided hit record of Tzena Tzena Tzena and Goodnight Irene. They were blacklisted before the year was out, and had two years worth of bookings cancelled on them overnight.Read more...
ARTIST: VARIOUS ARTISTS
TITLE: SILVER METEOR (A PROGRESSIVE COUNTRY ANTHOLOGY)
LABEL: SIERRA RECORDS SXCD 6032
RELEASE DATE: JUNE 2010
Los Angeles was the home of the invention of country rock in the late 1960s, and for almost a decade this genre flourished and made millions of dollars for the major record companies. The Eagles were probably the most famous of the groups that played country rock, although only their first record and portions of the next few really mined this genre.
The original release of Silver Meteor (on Sierra as well) was back in 1980. It served not only as a great overview of LA country rock music including some now almost forgotten artists, but it also featured the four songs that the late Clarence White recorded for his first solo album. Sadly, this project was not completed since a few weeks after these recordings were done, White was killed by a drunk driver while loading his equipment following a gig in Palmdale.Read more...
ARTIST: PETE SEEGER
TITLE: LIVE IN ‘65
LABEL: APPLESEED RECORDINGS
PETE SEEGER: HALF AS OLD, TWICE AS GOOD
Having just ended a year that saw Pete Seeger's 90th birthday celebrated by rock and folk royalty at the Madison Square Garden, after being awarded his first competitive Grammy for the album Pete Seeger: At 89, it is chastening to be reminded what all the fuss was about with this brand new release of an extraordinary concert that Pete gave 45 years ago on February 20, 1965-recorded live but only now released for the first time.
If you think you have heard the best of Pete Seeger with his Grammy-winning album, or even with the moving and memorable performance at Obama's Inaugural Concert last January 20, think again.Read more...
ARTIST: TOM CORBETT
TITLE: TONIGHT I RIDE
LABEL: ROUNDHOLE RECORDS, 2010
Tom Corbett's new CD, Tonight I Ride, is the kind of fun, quality album that those who have worked with him in the Southern California music scene for many years always knew he was capable of putting together. This is Tom's third solo release and -- with no disrespect meant to his first two efforts -- it is his best album so far.
Tom's mandolin, guitar and harmony vocals have graced the recordings and performances of a numerous assortment of Southern California's folk and bluegrass community. He has been one of the most versatile acoustic artists on the West Coast Americana scene for a number of years now, including a regular stint with John McEuen's String Wizards.Read more...
LABEL: DAVID BREWER/MOLRI MUSIC
RELEASE DATE: JUNE 2010
Inspired is a CD of elegant Scottish music by David Brewer, the piper and whistle player in the Celtic band Molly's Revenge, and Rebecca Lomnicky, a young fiddler from Oregon. "Elegant" or perhaps "stately" seem to be the best words to capture the atmosphere, in particular the fiddle style. It is slower and more refined than old-time or Irish fiddling, but it is not classical music either. If you are not familiar with this genre, this CD is a good introduction. If you are already a fan Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas, Inspired will be an enjoyable addition to your CD collection.Read more...
ARTIST: EVIE LADIN
TITLE: FLOAT DOWNSTREAM
LABEL: YODEL-AY-HEE RECORDS
RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 2010
Evie Ladin, step dancer, banjo player and singer in the Stairwell Sisters has just released her first collection of songs, Float Downstream. From the opening track, I Love My Honey, with its stripped down banjo, rhythm and voice, she shows you where she's from-- "a girl who ran barefoot through muddy festivals, soaking up traditional American music and dance." Although this tune (from fiddler Santford Kelly) and the album have those late night acoustic elements of fire and firewater, its overall sound has a more global, contemporary singer-songwriter blend.Read more...
TITLE: RIVERBOAT SOUL
LABEL: FREE DIRT RECORDS
RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 2010
It's hard not to like Pokey La Farge and the South City Three. For want of a better term, Pokey and the boys play "good time music." If you're old enough to remember the Lovin' Spoonful or the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, then you have some idea of what type of music Pokey plays. Maybe you're a blues fan and know about the Memphis Jug Band. Maybe you're a folk fan and you like The New Lost City Ramblers. You know that Pokey does. But perhaps you don't like upbeat music. Perhaps you can't abide by humor in music, or even just plain silliness. Perhaps you have no fondness for straw hats and spats. If so, then read no more.
Pokey La Farge is a St. Louis based musician, all of twenty six years old.Read more...
TITLE: SAN PATRICIO
LABEL: Blackrock Records
RELEASE DATE: March 2010
The package is so gorgeous it grabs you right away. Big bold southern colors and Latin looking iconography. gives you a warm feeling that this might be a special recording. First off the sparkling harp of Celso Duarte takes you right to Vera Cruz. But wait, there are the Chieftains - with Sonny's Mazurka. So Irish. Will this work? Then Lila Downs hypnotic vocals take command, and the whole thing gels in a most marvelous way, with the pipes, whistle, flute taking decidedly Latin lines, and seemingly having a ball. Then back to the Mazurka in the end, and you realize, this is going to be gooood.Read more...
TITLE: ALI AND TOUMANI
LABEL: WORLD CIRCUIT/NONESUCH
RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY, 2010
It's been four years since cancer took Ali Farka Touré, but the gentleman farmer, Niger River bluesman, and former mayor of Niafunké has left us with one last sonic memento. Ali and Toumani finds the guitarist teaming up again with countryman and kora virtuoso Toumani Diabaté (with whom Ali won a Grammy for In The Heart of the Moon) and a few special guests, including Ali's son Vieux and the late Cuban bassist Cachaito Lopez. (In a sad irony, these were the Buena Vista Social Club sideman's last recording sessions as well.) The album's 11 cuts, recorded over three days in June 2005 at a London studio, manage to be both spontaneous and contemplative, a timeless slice of pan-Malian musicology riven with a laidback acoustic intensity reminiscent of the best back-porch jam sessions (albeit a very well-recorded one).Read more...
TITLE: NATURAL ANGLE
LABEL: COMPASS RECORDS
RELEASE DATE: JANUARY, 2010
Two things hit me from the first, listening to Natural Angle, Grada's latest release on Compass Records. First, this recording just sounds fantastic, and second, these great players have carved out a unique sound amidst the proliferation of fiddle/accordion/flute/guitar.female vocalist Irish bands now showcasing Irish music on the world's stages. Grada's music is rooted and strong, with a sense of humor and it is quite emotionally powerful without losing an truly engaging sense of spontaneity.
Abe's Axe, a set that links a trad tune with one of the band's own composition, leads with David Doocey's lovely focused flying fiddle, then Stephen Doherty comes in with breathy percussive effects on flute that work perfectly, all respect to Jethro Tull, before joining the fiddle in a duet that sounds both traditional and fresh, and, as in the best trad duets, more than the sum of two very good parts.Read more...
ARTIST: CARRIE NEWCOMER
TITLE: BEFORE & AFTER
RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 2010
There's no folk like Quaker folk. On the cover of Carrie Newcomer's new CD, Before & After, she is illustrated in warm sunset colors on a train. The window shows a scene outside; a golden sun and several birds in flight. And there is Carrie, busy writing on a pad of paper with book in hand, her feet relaxed on the seat across from her. It is a serene portrait of an artist at work with her inspirations around her.
And what is inside the album demonstrates a quality equal to the cover art. An artist at work in her element, deepening her art, fine tuning her observations of the ordinary and always with her hand on the pulse of the spiritual cravings of the human soul.Read more...
Artist: CHRIS WHITLEY & JEFF LANG
Title: DISLOCATION BLUES
Label: ABC ROOTS MUSIC 5101155862
Release Date: AUGUST 2006
Chris Whitley pushed the envelope of blues music as far as any performer. His death from lung cancer in November of 2005 at the age of 45 shocked and saddened the blues music world. He was a remarkably proficient artist, reeling from solo projects to inspired collaborations such as Dislocation Blues, where he teamed with noted Australian bluesman Jeff Lang.
Texas born Whitley released his first CD, Living with the Law, in 1991 and released 14 others by the time of his death. Some, like 1998s Dirt Floor, were primarily acoustic recordings, where others used samples, looping and distortion as part of the menu.Read more...
Artist: AMY HANAIALI'I
Title: GENERATION HAWAI'I
Label: MOUNTAIN APPLE
In Generation Hawaii Amy Hanaiali'i' shares the rich cultural heritage passed on from her grandmother's generation to her own. Beginning with the opening song, Napua, the influence of her recently-deceased grandmother, Jenny Napua Hanaiali'i Woodd, permeates the album as it has permeated Amy's life. Beside the liner notes for the song is a picture of a youthful woman with a fresh, engaging smile, and a floral garland crowning her dark hair? The English translation of Amy's Hawaiian lyrics captures the tenderness of the granddaughter-grandmother relationship:
Your petals are indeed delicate
Awakened by the rains of Hina
How I yearn to see youMy blossom that is in eternal rest.
As in the other songs to be found on Generation Hawaii, the melody and instrumental arrangement of Napua intertwine like the thick, fragrant, flowered vines to be found in Hawaii's forests, woven to highlight the strength and sweetness of Amy's voice.Read more...
Artist: Scott Miller & The Commonwealth
Label: SUGAR HILL SUG-CD-4009
Release Date: MARCH 2006
Most consumers are not surprised to see one of those “explicit lyric” stickers on the latest rap or hip hop CD. It’s a little odd to see one on a roots-rock record, but it does bring up the fact that a lot of folk music recordings probably deserve a similar sticker. The people that thought up the idea of putting warning stickers on records need a sticker too, but that’s another story. Scott Miller & The Commonwealth’s lyrics won’t cause you to pass out, and it’s easy to forget about the sticker once you are immersed in the music of Citation, Miller’s newest recording.Read more...
Artist: JEREMY SPENCER
Title: PRECIOUS LITTLE
Label: BLUESTOWN/BLIND PIG BPCD 5106
Release Date: JULY 2006
Most people know of the band Fleetwood Mac as a pop rock group, one of the most popular in the mid and late 1970s. There is another Fleetwood Mac that only shares two of the same members, but left a legacy arguably as strong as the later incarnation, although as an electric blues band with emerging pop overtones.
Fleetwood Mac began in 1967 as somewhat of an offshoot of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, as three of the original four members had been in the recent employ of Mr. Mayall. The former Bluesbreakers, bassist John McVie, drummer Mick Fleetwood and guitarist/vocalist Peter Green, were joined by a 19 year old blues guitarist, pianist and singer named Jeremy Spencer. Spencer had the ability to play American blues legend Elmore James' songs uncannily like James, a somewhat astonishing fact considering that Spencer was a young white Brit. Fleetwood Mac soon added Danny Kirwan as the third guitarist, and the world was their oyster for a short period of time. However, Green began to mentally unravel due to the pressures of rock success, and left the group. They soldered on for another album sans Green, but during a U.S. tour in 1971, Spencer left his hotel to visit a bookstore in Los Angeles, but did not return for that night's concert. It turned out that he had joined a sect called the Children of God, a group with which he remains affiliated to this day. Green was begged back to finish the tour, but the first incarnation of Fleetwood Mac was on the ropes. The personnel changes made by McVie and Fleetwood eventually created the pop supergroup that to many, eclipsed the memory of the first Fleetwood Mac.Read more...
The Poetry of Diana Jones
The sunlight on his pretty face
did turn my head one day
then I was taken by his gentle voice
but he did not look my way
- excerpt from Fever Moon by Diana Jones
(Remembrances of You)
To see her is a picture
To hear her is a tune
To know her is an intemperance
As innocent as June
-excerpt from Further Poems by Emily Dickinson
Artist: JOHN ‘THE YANK' HARRINGTON
Title: A CELTIC CENTURY
Every now and then you find a wonderful little nugget of folk music, an obscure recording of an unknown artist in some tiny shop or on some esoteric website dedicated to the preservation and promotion of folk culture. Or maybe you receive it as a gift.
Such was the case with this 1999 CD, A Celtic Century. On first glance it looked to be nothing more than a charming local musician (in this case local to Butte, Montana), and his shot at immortality by way of a CD recording. It is much more.Read more...
Tom Paxton and Tonto Ride Again
In Concert at McCabe’s - November 23rd, 2013
Tom Paxton may be the daring and resourceful masked songwriter of the plains, but the Lone Ranger doesn’t ride alone. In his most recent concert appearance at McCabe’s last Saturday he was accompanied throughout by LA’s master multi-instrumentalist Fred Sokolow—who played dobro, banjo, guitar and mandolin to add musical depth and texture to Paxton’s deep catalogue of wonderful songs going all the back to 1960, when he came out of Uncle Sam’s Army with his first keeper—The Marvelous Toy, a children’s classic that is now also a beautifully illustrated children’s book.Read more...
DOC’S GUITAR? STRING MADNESS HAS IT
LIVE AT WESTWOOD MUSIC
NOVEMBER 10, 2013
Arthur Rubenstein and a violinist were in Carnegie Hall for 16-year old Jascha Heifitz concert debut when his seatmate took out his handkerchief and wiped his brow. A few minutes later his seatmate took out another handkerchief and wiped his face of the sweat. A few minutes later he asked Rubenstein if he had an extra handkerchief. “It’s getting kind of warm in here, isn’t it?” he asked. “Not for us piano players,” replied Rubenstein.
That’s how I felt in the backroom of Westwood Music yesterday afternoon, for String Madness debut performance at Fred Walecki’s legendary music store—you know—the one that set up Neil Young’s and Joni Mitchell’s guitars, not to mention Ry Cooder’s.
It got awful warm in there, listening to acoustic guitarists Mitch Greenhill and Peter Spelman, and mandolinist Bob Applebaum. They put on a show the likes of which you might hope to see at Carnegie Hall, not your friendly neighborhood guitar hangout.Read more...
JORDIE LANE at HOTEL CAFÉ
October 16, 2013
Folk singer-songwriter, Jordie Lane, performed a set of acoustic ballads last Wednesday at the Hotel Cafe. Nestled back behind the busiest strip of Cahuenga, the dimly lit venue is a cozy refuge from Hollywood bar hoppers. An attraction for high profile, low amplitude performers, it was the perfect setting for an evening of silky fingerpicking and melodic storytelling from one of Australia's rising talents.
Adorned with a vintage Gibson acoustic, a wide-brimmed, felt hat and an exceptional half-beard, Jordie Lane appeared at first to be just another LA hipster. However, no sooner than his Aussie twang talked of Vegemite, kale smoothies and a failed attempt to recreate a Tim Horton sausage McMuffin, preconceptions of his hipster haughtiness vanished.
Recounting his recent Canadian tour in terms of fast-food breakfast stops, he casually described a grueling tour schedule. The 26-year-old continues with an Australian tour next week with Old Time banjo songster Old Man Luedecke, playing on through the New Year and performing 55 shows in nearly 40 cities.Read more...
Dylan From the Cheap Seats:
CONCERT REVIEW AND MORE
Verizon Amphitheatre in Irvine, CA - August 3, 2013
[Editors note: Review delayed in publishing due to vacation and memory lapse ... apologies to Ross who wrote this great review]
Wilco pulled a rabbit out of the hat last night at Bob Dylan’s Americanarama Fest—all five and a half hours of it at the Verizon Amphitheatre in Irvine, CA—formerly the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre before the terminal disease of corporate naming rights turned public jewels into private billboards. Bad idea. The rabbit stole the show.
The rabbit was Nancy Sinatra, the only female performer in the entire concert, and apparently the only one who knew what she wanted to say. Call it the redemption of Sonny Bono. It was Sonny who wrote her (uncredited) opening song—Bang Bang, (My Baby Shot Me Down). It was first a hit for Cher—echoing his parting shot to her years before the divorce—that turned into a parting gift when it hit the charts. Nancy Sinatra, like her old man, knew a good song when she heard one, and made a hit out of it as well.
If you thought of Sonny as only the straight man in the duo, and a cheap Dylan imitator with his best-known song, I Got You Babe, think again. Cher was unquestionably the beauty—and proved by far to be the better singer and entertainer—becoming a superstar on her own—the late great former mayor of Palm Springs—where Old Blue Eyes lived—was the brains of the outfit. He designed their act, and wrote their songs.Read more...
CONCERT REVIEW: SAUSAGE GRINDER
Presented by FolkWorks: September 7, 2013
Had you walked by the Santa Monica History Museum last Saturday night, the tall glass windows would have revealed an unusual sight - four musicians surrounded by guitars, mandolins and banjos (to name a few) and an audience of kazoos playing along to Howard Armstrong's Vine Street Drag. If this didn't entice you to stay, or if you were turned off by the fact that it was, by that point, standing room only, I can say that you missed out on a program of American (and Ukrainian) string band music, performed with all of the integrity of Depression era ramblers and gamblers.
David Bragger (fiddle, banjo, mandolin), Chris Berry (guitar, banjo, vocals), Susan Platz (fiddle, washboard, vocals) and Tim Riley (jug, washboard, bones, jaw harp, harmonica, guitar, mandolin, bagpipes, musical saw… you get the point) comprise the folk phantasmagoria that is Sausage Grinder.Read more...
The Hardest Working Woman in Show Business
Live at McCabe’s - June 28, 2013
If James Brown had a younger sister I think I just saw her. ”Don’t you feel my leg,” sang Maria Muldaur as she brought her Louisiana barrelhouse bonanza of a fifteen song set to an electrifying, teasing, sold-out crowd-pleasing close last night at McCabe’s usually sedate acoustic concert venue—“’cause if you do you’re gonna want to touch my thigh.”
The 10:00pm show was delayed by the crush of her loyal fans to get one more picture, one more autograph, buy one more CD from the 8:00pm show, so by the time Maria Muldaur sailed into David Nichtern’s Midnight at the Oasis during the late show’s final “Big Three” it may well have been midnight at McCabe’s. It would have made for a perfect setting for her hit song from 1973, which she pointed out was forty years and forty albums ago. “You won’t need no camel,” she let the lyric out languorously, “when I take you for a ride.” Ms. Muldaur was personally responsible for a baby boomlet that year, as nine months after her recording burst onto the radio an unusual spike occurred in the number of babies born. “Glad I was able to help,” is her twinkling reply to the now forty and younger fans who think of her as the fertility goddess and tell her she was responsible for their conception. Needless to add, we all sent our camels to bed.Read more...
and the Campbell Brothers
Hot August Night at the Skirball:
Sunset Concert Series
August 22, 2013
I love LA! But not for the reasons Randy Newman does. It has nothing to do with the beach or the blondes or Ventura Blvd or the perfect weather. No, I love LA because where else can you go to our major Jewish cultural institution and wind up at a Christian revival meeting? I kid you not; I know my people, and you could not spit without hitting a landsman at the concert I went to last night—Maria Muldaur and The Campbell Brothers Sacred Steel at The Skirball Center’s Sunset Concert Series—a beautiful outdoor venue snuggled against the rolling hills at the crest of the 405 Freeway gridlock.
Please don’t tell my Rabbi where I was; you see I was supposed to be at another meeting across town at The Steve Allen Theatre—the Daniel Pearl Foundation’s annual Panel Discussion by journalists from countries that have no Jews and don’t recognize Israel—like Bangladesh and Pakistan (where Daniel Pearl was murdered on February 1, 2002)—moderated by—whom else—The Jewish Journal editor Rob Eshelman, where these three young reporters have been interning for a week as a part of their fellowships.Read more...
Tom Rush: Dean of Cambridge Folk Scene
Live at McCabe’s May 17, 2013
Fresh off a 50th Anniversary concert outing at Symphony Hall in Boston, where he held forth in a tailored white suit and all-star supporting cast, Tom Rush downsized it at McCabe’s last Friday night, where I caught the late show in levis and a tank top. For a band he had three guitars, his old D-28 set up for blues, his ancient D-18 for his finger-picking showdown with Merle Travis’ ghost, and his new signature model “Tom Rush Naked Lady” by Canadian online guitar retailer McKenzie and Marr, for his open-tuning masterpieces, on which he played two Joni Mitchell classics that he first introduced: Urge for Going and The Circle Game.
He met Joni Mitchell in Detroit in the early sixties and fell in love with her and her music and started recording her songs even before Judy Collins. Musically speaking it was a match made in heaven—nobody sings a love song better than Tom Rush, or writes one either. His own standard No Regrets has had more arrangements than Beethoven’s 5th, from folk to heavy metal to hip hop.Read more...
Discovering Jordie Lane:
On Being John Hammond For a Day
In Concert at The Mint
May 13, 2013
Who wouldn’t want to be John Hammond for a day? The man who discovered Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen? Well, that’s how I felt last night at The Mint on Pico Blvd just west of Fairfax, where folk singer Jordie Lane, newly arrived from Down Under was giving his American concert debut. He put on a great show and now I also know how it felt to be Robert Shelton at Gerdes Folk City in 1961, whose rave review alerted John Hammond to the new kid in Greenwich Village.
Like Dylan camping out on Dave Van Ronk’s couch when he first blew into town (recounted in Talking New York on his first album) Jordie Lane also had a story to tell: he and his girlfriend (who covered her Suzie Rotolo locks with an impressive headpiece) spent their first night sinking into an inflatable bed that mysteriously developed a hole and started losing air until by morning they were flat up against a hardwood floor. Hard times in LA Town, one could almost hear the song a-birthing.Read more...
Waiting for Sugar Man:
Rodriguez In Concert at the Orpheum Theatre
TUESDAY, April 16, 2013
Last night I had the strangest dream—only it really happened. Something beautiful this way came to downtown Los Angeles. I waited two hours to see Sixto Rodriguez in concert at the Orpheum Theatre, but I didn’t grudge the time; Rodriguez waited forty years. I got there at 7:00pm thinking that’s when the sold out show started, since that was the only time listed on the tickets. Turned out that’s when the doors opened. Then when I got in for the 8:00pm start time there was an unlisted opening act—a very good guitarist and singer-songwriter from Denmark who had the thankless task of warming up the audience. He did a very nice half hour set, and it was another 35 minutes before Rodriguez’s band came out at 9:10pm. The audience greeted the band with a mixture of enthusiasm and frustration.
And then, to a standing ovation, Rodriguez appeared. Like Kirk Gibson in the bottom of the 9th in the 1988 World Series opener at Dodger Stadium, he hobbled up to home plate—with the aid of his two daughters on either side—and proceeded to hit one out of the park.Read more...
Don’t Believe a Word He Says:
The Lone Ranger in Concert at Irvine Barclay Theatre
On Campus at UC Irvine
Sunday, April 14, 2014
A long lone white-haired folk singer ambled onto the stage of the Irvine Barclay Theatre at UC Irvine yesterday with the most farfetched story you ever heard. Like some women claim to have run with wolves, he claimed to have been raised by Woody Guthrie, been dandled on the knee of Leadbelly, stowed away with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and learned the blues from Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee. Don’t believe a word of it; what will he come up with next? That Woody personally taught him the extra verses of This Land Is Your Land? He didn’t even have a band with him; that proves he must be an imposter; nor his multi-generational family—all of whom just happen to be named Guthrie too.
Sure, tell me another.
This long-haired hippie showed up with nothing but a Gibson J-200, a Martin M-38, a strange-looking 12-string that looked like it had been stolen from a Twilight Zone set; and an even stranger-sounding 6-string tuned to open G that he played an instrumental slack-key blues on he claimed to have composed himself.
Who is he kidding? Hey Arlo, somebody is touring this country all by himself, without Shenandoah, or any of your kids and grandkids, claiming to be you. Don’t you have a lawyer? Can’t you put a stop to this? This guy, whoever he is, put on a better show all by himself than I have heard your band do in twenty years.Read more...
A Valentine for Janis Ian:
In Concert at Cal Tech in Pasadena
Saturday, March 23, 2013
“Give me a good guitar and a place to stand,” said Leadbelly, “And I’ll rock this whole town.” The 1960s’ other Janis—Janis Ian—self-described ugly duckling from her greatest song—had two good guitars last night and a place to stand at a sold-out Cal Tech Folk Music Society Concert in Beckman Institute Auditorium, and she rocked my socks off for two full hours. Nothing loud or high up on the db meter, mind you, just exquisite finger-style acoustic guitar playing, gently flowing all over the fingerboard, with graceful chord changes that fused folk, jazz and blues idioms into a seamless whole to accompany her poetic storytelling songs from deep into her matchless catalogue.
In between songs—which tended to reveal the dark moments in a life lived on the ragged edge of hope and despair—she regaled her passionately appreciative audience with hilarious tales from the road—including an improvised story about a tiny mouse that takes over a pirate ship—written on commission for last year’s London Olympic games.Read more...
Willie Nelson’s America
In Concert at Bridges Auditorium
Pomona College, Claremont
February 28, 2013
As long as Texas doesn’t take Willie Nelson, let them secede I say. He had the Lone Star State flag as his lone backdrop at Bridges Auditorium in Claremont (“Land of Trees & PhDs”) tonight—where he was greeted with a standing ovation before he even picked up his guitar named Trigger—after Roy Rogers' horse. “This is my horse, that’s why I call him Trigger,” he said once, and Martin picked it up and put it in the best print ad they ever did. If more music has ever come out of one guitar I have yet to hear it.
He put on one amazing show for the students “of all ages”—who gave him an even longer standing ovation at the end of his show. And then—guess what—he stuck around for another hour plus to sign autographs in front of the stage—everything from albums to T-shirts to cowboy hats to whatever they put in his weather-beaten hands. I have never witnessed anything quite like it from an artist of his stature—Willie is the real deal—he never strikes a false note—in person, in print, on film or on record; you don’t have to ask “what was that song?” It’s in your DNA, from Whiskey River, to Crazy, to Funny How Time Slips Away, to Always On My Mind, to Night Life, to Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground, to On the Road Again. It’s the soundtrack of America for the past fifty years.Read more...
Bonnie Raitt: Laughing the Blues Away
In Concert at Copley Symphony Hall
San Diego, California February 23, 2013
Fresh on the heels of her Grammy win for Slipstream in the Americana category Hall of Fame Folk/Blues/Rock Guitarist Singer-Songwriter Bonnie Raitt brought her airtight band, including bassist James “Hutch” Hutchinson, guitarist George Marinelli, drummer Ricky Fataar and keyboardist Mike Finnigan into San Diego’s premiere concert venue last night and tore the roof off like it was a roadside juke joint on Route 66. For two hours plus she blasted the seams off the walls with her vintage Fender Stratocaster, and then knocked your socks off with tender readings of two Bob Dylan songs on her vintage double pick-guarded Guild acoustic, playing both bottleneck slide and fingerstyle guitar. Bonnie has an impressive pedigree, her father being Broadway star John Raitt, the man who played Curly and introduced Oklahoma to the stage in 1947, two years before she was born.Read more...
Christmas Fights Back:
Rufus and Martha Are Coming to Town
Have Yourself a Merry Little…Holiday—doesn’t quite sound the same—does it? But according to Fox News self-proclaimed “cultural warrior”* Bill O’ Reilly, there is a War on Christmas—especially in Blue states like California.
When is the last time a cashier at Whole Foods has wished you a Merry Christmas at the checkout stand? God forbid you might be Jewish—or Muslim, or Hindu, or Native American, or O’Reilly’s worst nightmare—a Secular Humanist. So as not to offend anybody therefore—except viewers of The O’Reilly Factor—they wish you the politically correct “Happy Holidays!”
Well, fellow Christian Soldiers, Christmas is fighting back. Apparently UCLA hasn’t heard of this latest Fox News obsession and went and invited Rufus and Martha Wainwright to perform their new show Christmas 101 at Royce Hall—not one, but two nights in a row—next Friday and Saturday December 21st and 22nd at 8:00pm.Read more...
Blind Yemen Blues
Yemen Blues in Concert
Royce Hall, UCLA
Thursday, November 15, 2012
Yemen Blues, an Israeli/American band from Yemen, where Jews number fewer than 500 people, a mere remnant of a once thriving population now mostly made up of Sunni Muslims, succeeded in transforming UCLA’s sedate Royce Hall into a rousing folk dance nightclub on the order of a super-size Café Dannsa last night, an amazing accomplishment since most people go to Royce Hall to sit comfortably and listen.
Not Yemen Blues’ audience; with the encouragement of the band audience members consistently jumped up out of their seats and danced down to the front of the stage.
Call it Israeli Woodstock; this nine-piece band had the joint jumpin’ by their second song, and never let up.Read more...
Dead Sea Scrolls Live at Hollywood Bowl
Bob Dylan in Concert—October 26, 2012
Like an Old West Preacher, Bob Dylan came to hold his semi-annual revival meeting at the Hollywood Bowl last night, with ancient texts discovered in the Near East more than half century ago. There were questions, “How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?” There were parables, “God said to Abraham, ‘Kill me a son;’ “Abe said, ‘Man, you must be putting me on…’” There were warnings by the side of the road: “Businessmen they drink my wine/Plowmen dig my earth/None of them along the line/Know what any of it is worth.” And there were signs indicating No Direction Home. And by the way, this Hollywood Bowl was not the one north of Franklin and Highland—it had its own address: Desolation Row.
No, it wasn’t your typical Billy Graham Crusade message, but there was a cross on the hillside, and once you have heard this preacher’s voice, you will never forget it. I was sitting in the bleachers, where the grass is plentiful (I even got a generous hit from the Canadian friends just behind me) and the limousines are few (took a bus, along with hundreds of others from the Westwood Federal Building). Brought my notebook with me, in my special thrift shop purchased Bob Dylan Shoulder Bag, along with an apple, a bag of almonds and a bottle of water—which sailed right through the very vigilant Bowl security guards at the gates. Did not stop for the $16 sushi plate on the trail up to the top of the cheap seats.Read more...
El Rey Theatre, Los Angeles, CA
Oct. 24, 2012
Few back-stories in contemporary music rival that of Staff Benda Bilili, the one-time street players from Kinshasa who have vaulted into the pantheon of the Afropop and world scenes. Fronted by five wheelchair-bound and becrutched polio victims, the inspirational Congolese group was “discovered” in the mid-2000s by a pair of French filmmakers who went on to make a rightfully acclaimed documentary about the band, Benda Bilili, and introduced them to Vincent Kenis of Crammed Discs, known for his ongoing series of Congotronics releases. Their first album, Très Très Fort (“Very very strong”) recorded au naturel in the ramshackle Kinshasa Zoo, came out in 2009 and was followed by a rave-worthy European tour, while the film rocked the Cannes film fest the following year. Staff Benda Bilili was supposed to play a benefit concert for LA’s Grand Performances last September, but visa and other issues forced the cancellation of the show.Read more...
Judy Collins at Walt Disney Concert Hall
The View From the Back Row:
It Ain’t Over Till the Clown Sings:
February 11, 2012, 8:00pm
Joan Baez’s voice was a gift of the Gods; and what the Gods give, they can take away; anyone who heard her recent performance on the PBS special, Music of the Civil Rights Movement, could not have been but disappointed at the difference between that version of We Shall Overcome and her recorded version from her second live album, back in 1964. In one an angel is singing; today she sounds like what she is—veteran of a thousand marches for freedom, and like Muhammad Ali, more than one too many championship performances. Regrettably, it sounds like her fabled voice ran into Joe Frazer.
Judy Collins’ voice did not come from the Gods; it came from a childhood of musical training that included piano and voice lessons. And that training has held her in good stead; at Disney Concert Hall she pulled out her old favorites, from Both Sides Now to Send In the Clowns, and one still hears her early warm soprano caressing every note.Read more...
All Steven Pinker Is Saying Is -
Give Peace a Chance:
The Cal Tech Lecture for the Skeptics’ Society
October 23, 2011
Steven Pinker has documented what John Lennon could only imagine: a world in which war is not nearly as popular as it used to be. The Harvard Psychologist and author of the new book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined(Viking Press, NYC, 2011), came to Cal Tech’s Beckman Auditorium to offer a profoundly contrary view to contemporary beliefs that we live in a more violent and dangerous world than ever before, one in which terrorists hold more cards than enlightened rationalists, one in which violence is ever-present and Thomas Hobbes’ assessment of life in nature has become the hallmark of our post 9/11 century: it is mean, nasty, brutish and short.
In fact, argues Pinker, nothing could be further from the truth. Surveying 5,000 years of recorded history, and pre-history that has become interpretable due to archaeological science, he concludes that we live in a world marked by a measurable decline of violence of every kind: war—both between nations and civil war--genocide, murder, rape, child abuse, spousal abuse, capital punishment, torture and even corporal punishment of children. At the same time that they have declined, they have also become near universally condemned.
“The folk singers’ dream of the 1960s,” he sums up at one point, “has all but been realized,” citing the antiwar songs of Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Phil Ochs, Malvina Reynolds, Arlo Guthrie (whose Alice’s Restaurant is quoted at length) and Country Joe McDonald, not to mention a quirky novel that celebrated its 50th anniversary this year—Catch-22—war is slowly but persistently heading toward the dustbin of history.Read more...
Glen Campbell: True Grit
Live at Club Nokia—October 6, 2011
When Ronald Reagan announced that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s he released a famous handwritten letter to the public, and then rode off into the sunset. Nancy became his public face and voice as they ventured into what their daughter Patty Davis called the long goodbye.
Glen Campbell has made a similar announcement, but John Wayne’s sidekick from True Grit is embarking on a goodbye tour around the track before he takes another look at the sun going down. He was at Club Nokia last night featuring songs from his legendary catalog of hits as well as his new and final studio album Ghost On the Canvas.
In the movie, you will recall, after a long, disgruntled turn as the Duke’s comic foil of a Texas Ranger, Campbell finally wins his spurs by saving Wayne’s life, not once but twice, and the second time, as Wayne pointedly and somberly observes, “after he was dead.” It turns out that Rooster Cogburn is not the only cowboy with true grit; Glen Campbell is made of the same stuff.Read more...
Bob Dylan and a Full Moon
In Concert at the Orange County Fair - July 15, 2011
Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa
In memory of Joel Okida, fellow FolkWorks writer
Driving through Carmageddon to get to Bob Dylan’s sold-out opening night concert at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa at the Orange County Fair I finally found out what the problem was:
They got Charles Darwin trapped out on Highway 5
The judge says to the High Sheriff, ‘I want him dead or alive
Either one, I don’t care’
High water everywhere.
(High Water Everywhere (for Charlie Patton))
Whatever crossed my wandering mind, Bob had it covered. But it wasn’t always immediately clear: At the end of the hour and forty-five minute concert a woman in front of me asked, “What was that song just before All Along the Watchtower?” I looked her in the eye and replied, “Like a Rolling Stone.”
She had been to five or six Dylan shows in the past few years and counted herself a real fan. So it wasn’t her ignorance or innocence showing; it was Dylan’s well-known penchant for rearranging his old songs just past the point of recognition. No matter; that was half the fun of hearing them again—to guess what song you were in the middle of before it passed you by, like catching a fast train before it left the station.Read more...
The Buffalo Springfield Resurrected
Santa BarbarA Bowl June 8, 2011
For this writer, it's been a 44 year journey since I last saw The Buffalo Springfield, or didn't see them I should say. During the summer of 1967 my 12 year-old self stood outside the minor league baseball stadium in Tucson, Arizona as a limousine carrying Neil Young, Richie Furay and Stephen Stills rolled into the venue. I didn't have tickets and only stood outside but marveled at seeing the three musicians appearing exactly as they did on that first album; Neil in long fringe buckskin, Richie all baby-faced with his Beatle '65 hair cut and Stephen like a rodeo cowboy with those long blond sideburns holding a cigarette with his arm leaning on the open window.
This time was different. At the Santa Barbara Bowl on June 8th, 2011, I actually saw them on stage. It was a receptive audience for the band of veteran musicians, all in their mid-sixties now with their own musical legacy well-established. Was it to be a concert of nostalgia? Would it be a time for 'old timers to fondly reminisce? Hardly. The concert and each song was executed with a new found vision and maturity but still just as fresh and alive as nearly a half a century ago. The feeling was playful on stage with Neil dancing and the three forming circles of rhythmic motion conjuring the past into a present day celebration. It was, if anything, the dance of the buffalos; a precious and endangered species. There wasRead more...
Heritage MUSIC Festival
It’s always risky starting a new festival. It’s even more risky doing so during a bad economy. But the folks at the Heritage Museum of Orange County took that gamble, and on Sunday May 22, the roll of the dice paid off.
First of all, the Heritage Museum of OC exists to remind folks about how OC used to be. The Museum provides a great field trip for OC grammar school students, and is also open to the public. The Museum features two historical homes, an orange grove, blacksmith shop, gardens and a “nature area”; an ideal setting for a bluegrass, folk and Americana festival.
The performers included Stephanie Bettman and Luke Halpin, who enthralled the audience with two sets: one for kids and one for kids of all ages. A Wing and A Prayer proved that the stage was sturdy as nearly 20 musicians, including a full brass section, played standards with gusto. The Dennis Roger Reed Band played a rousing set, Rory Cloud did an impressive short solo set and the day ended with the eclectic and captivating Folding Mr. Lincoln.Read more...
The 51st Annual Topanga Banjo-Fiddle
Contest and Folk Festival
If the Circle Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It!
Off a soon-to-be-crowded two-lane road leading into Topanga Canyon, and despite early morning watery skies and crisp winds, Apollo, the Greek God of prophecy and music, begat a sonorous Sunday. Or it was someone like him. If you had a banjo on your knee and you weren’t sleepy, this was the place you were going to: Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills. The crossroads for many grinning pickers, be they young, old, or somewhere in between, is the Topanga Banjo-Fiddle Contest and Folk Festival. This annual event rounds up those who’ve turned off the TV, put down the cellphone and turned to wood and peg, gut and hair, (okay, a little steel and nylon) and let their fingers do the talking. This is not to say that words get in the way. Out on the porch of the Railroad Stage, singers showed off a wide range of vocal styles that might cover a familiar Joni Mitchell tune, a near forgotten sacred harp song, or some gospel harmonies. And in and out of the many jamming circles that indeed jam the movie backdrop western town, the distinct puff and bleat of a harmonica elbowed in between the bowing of a fiddler or a mandolin riff- all hell bent on getting their fair share of the modal pie.Read more...
Arlo Guthrie’s Southern Journey
The “Journey On” Tour Rolls into Royce; April 8, 2011
As every former hippie recalls with fondness, Arlo Guthrie, heir to the best pedigree in American folk music, used to tour in a “red VW microbus.” The very vehicle that took all the garbage out to the city dump on Thanksgiving, 1967 and thus cited for littering by Sheriff Obie. Yes we all know and love Arlo's classic 18 minute and 34 seconds antiwar story song, Alice’s Restaurant.
Fast-forward forty-four years: Arlo and his band, family and friends now tour in not one but two humongous earth-toned tour buses, with a hand-painted sixties surrealist logo for a previous “Lost World Tour” on the side. You could probably stuff a dozen VW microbuses in each one, and still have room left over for Alice’s Restaurant.
Give me the microbus, one six-string guitar, harmonica holder and mouth harp of Arlo’s first record, put it on one side of the scale, and then put the whole kit-and-kaboodle of his current small army of touring mates, vehicles, half dozen guitars and sound equipment on the other side, and watch it fly up and kick the beam.Read more...
Photos by Kathleen Herd Masser
El Celler de Can Roca in northern Spain is said to have the best and most extensive wine list in the world, occupying three books so huge they have to be wheeled to your table on a trolley. San Francisco's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, held annually in Golden Gate Park, is El Celler's musical equivalent. With 80 artists performing on six stages over a three-day run, it's an enormous auditory banquet. And it's free.
Festival founder and funder Warren Hellman calls bluegrass and other forms of Americana artistry "simple tunes played by complicated people." The first festival, 10 years ago, was a birthday gift from Hellman to his wife. The gift keeps on giving.
Highway 10 Revisited:
Bob Dylan and His Band in Concert
At the Citizens Business Bank Arena of Ontario
August, 19, 2010
Big Fish is touring small pond America this summer, and his eight tour buses rolled into Ontario, California last night, in San Bernardino County. His web site, the only place in LA where the concert was advertised, is not so much a web site as a secret society of his acolytes, who follow every move, comment on every set list (all of which he varies from show to show, so that half the mystery is simply what he'll choose to sing on any given night). These are not just acolytes, which has something of a demeaning connotation, but add up to a world wide congregation for this non-preaching preacher, this non-teaching teacher, almost an alternative America waiting in the wings-the side show at the circus, like the small town he came from, Hibbing, Minnesota, in 1941.Read more...
Two Queens, a Prince and an Earle
A Review of Joan Baez and Roger McGuinn
in Concert-a Play in Two Acts
At the Queen Mary Dockside in Long Beach
You know you're at a helluva folk concert when a Rock and Roll Hall-of-Famer is the opening act, but there was Roger McGuinn-lead singer for the Byrds-genially opening for Joan Baez at Harry Bridges Memorial Park in Long Beach, where the magnificent Queen Mary is docked. I thought I was having an out-of-body experience when I heard the first dulcet strains of Bob Dylan's My Back Pages floating through the stratosphere toward me, but I quickly realized it wasn't an unannounced (though the thought had crossed my mind) visitation from Mr. D.Read more...
Finger-Pickin' Good: Roy Book Binder
Live at McCabe's June 25, 2010
Dedicated to Larry Abbott, Vietnam Veteran for Peace; thank you for the tickets!
What would you give for Rev. Gary Davis's phone number? Roy Book Binder stumbled on it by accident when he returned to New York City in 1966 from his volunteer stint in the Navy, and heard an old black blues singer at a small club in Greenwich Village. He fell in love with the blues that night. After the show he asked the singer if he would teach him to play guitar, and was met with something less than enthusiasm. "You can steal it from me," he was told, "but I won't give it to you." Finally, though, his persistence paid off, and two nights later the singer gave him a phone number. Is that really your phone number? Book Binder asked him. "Oh no-I can't teach you-that's Reverend Gary Davis's phone number-he'll teach you for five dollars a lesson.Read more...
TONY McMANUS IN CONCERT, BAKERSFIELD, CA 4/25/10
SCOTTISH GUITAR ACE EXQUISITELY DELIVERS THE GOODS
CD TITLE: MAKER'S MARK
(The Dream Guitar Session)
LABEL: COMPASS RECORDS (COM 4500)
I don't usually drive to Bakersfield for concerts, but was certainly glad I did a couple of Sundays ago. The hillsides along the I-5 ‘grapevine' and Tejon Pass were poppy orange and new grass green, and Tony McManus was playing at a Sunday afternoon house concert. Oh, and I was also promised dinner in addition to a few hours of excellent music - "what's not to like?!"
There are any number of A-list guitar players out there, enough that one should pause before suggesting another name be added to it, but Tony McManus ought to make the cut handily. In two hour-plus sets he exquisitely played pieces from his native Scotland, Ireland, Spain, South Africa and the United States.Read more...
Is This Good For the Jews?
Arlo Brings the Whole
Mishpuka to UCLA
A Review of The Guthrie Family Rides Again-
Live at Royce Hall
April 16, 2010
Billed as "The First Family of Folk Music," my first question is, "Did Pete Seeger die?" Did Peggy? I hadn't heard. This "first family" business is somewhat disconcerting, and immediately calls to mind the Lomaxes (John, Alan and Bess), the Seegers (Pete, Mike, Peggy and her late husband Ewan MacColl, not to mention parents Charles Seeger and Ruth Crawford Seeger), and of course the Carter Family (A.P., Mother Maybelle, Sarah, June and her little known husband, the greatest country/folk singer of the 20th Century, Johnny Cash).Read more...
Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks
By Rex Butters
NoCal city slicker Dan Hicks brought a crackling edition of the Hot Licks to the venerable show room stage at McCabe's. And, he threw the audience a substantial curve ball. Rather than performing his own substantial catalogue of beloved classics, Hicks took the sold out house on an extended history of American Folk Music. Billed on his website as "A Salute to the Folk Years," Professor Hicks read prepared historical contexts and artists' bios as song introductions, usually interjecting wry comments. On one roll call of artists, he mentioned Jean Ritchie and Richie Havens, then pointed out they weren't related.Read more...
TITLE: THE BACH UKE BOOK
AUTHOR: ROB MACKILLOP
PUBLISHER: MEL BAY
RELEASE DATE: 2012
The Bach Uke Book is a surprisingly pleasing book for aficionados of classical music who also play the ukulele. The clean sounds of the Bach pieces arranged in fingerpicking style with some two, three, and four note chords mixed into the melody are at times reminiscent of the sounds of a harpsichord.
While the ukulele is mostly known for its origins as a Hawaiian folk instrument, and prior to that, as a Portuguese folk instrument, the classical pieces in this book will help any musician to become familiar with the whole instrument and to work on tempos and variations within the music.
The pieces range from easy to challenging but are not placed in the book in the order of difficulty nor is their any notation on the piece to indicate the level of difficulty of the piece. It is up to the musician to determine the level of difficulty for themselves. The more challenging pieces, such as “Minuet in F”, “Polonaise in Gm”, and “Sheep May Safely Graze”, include triplets, sixteenth and thirty-second notes and intricate phrasing.Read more...
TITLE: 150 GEMS OF IRISH MUSIC FOR TIN WHISTLE:
WITH SUGGESTED ORNAMENTATION AND PHRASING
AUTHOR: GREY LARSEN
PUBLISHER: MEL BAY PUBLICATIONS
RELEASE DATE: 2013
Grey Larsen’s third instructional book and tune collection for the tin whistle (also known as the pennywhistle) presents a comprehensive explanation of pennywhistle performance in addition to a notated selection of 150 Irish dance tunes with suggested ornamentation. Following a similar organizational structure as his first two books, the first section of 150 Gems of Irish Music for Tin Whistle offers a concise explanation of pennywhistle technique as well as more detailed discussions of ornamentation, phrasing, and tune structure. It is assumes that the reader already has a familiarity with the basics of Western staff notation.
The 150 tunes included within Larsen’s book are divided into three groups based upon whether they are a) perfectly amenable to performance on whistle, b) non-wind in origin, or c) suitable for performance on whistles in keys other than “D,” the most common key for pennywhistles. This is a departure from the majority of tune collections, which are more typically organized by difficulty or tune type. Larsen’s choice to organize tunes in this manner, however, illustrates his commitment to developing a guide specifically for pennywhistle rather than another generic tune collection.
Conveniently included with Larsen’s book are two audio CDs consisting of recordings of all 150 tunes notated in the collection.Read more...
AUTHOR: DONALD COHEN
PUBLISHER: MUSIC SALES AMERICA
RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 2013
My friend Donald Cohen has written a new book about Gypsy Music called Gypsy Voices: Songs from the Romani Soul. It is his third book about music; his earlier books include Fado Português: Songs from the Soul of Portugal and Tango Voices: Songs from the Soul of Buenos Aires and Beyond.
Like the earlier volumes, Gypsy Voices is filled with wonderful photographs, commentary on all 21 songs on the cd that comes with it, lyrics translations, and even sheet music. It’s everything that a music fan could want. It also was a labor of love, involving many difficult choices among the thousands of songs in the Roma diaspora (Macedonia, Russia, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Serbia).
The Roma people have been misunderstood and maligned for centuries, experiencing repression and rejection wherever they went. Yet they have endured. Originally from Northwestern India, they were called “gypsies” because of their dark skin: people thought they came from Egypt. The word “gyped” as in “The salesperson gyped me…” (meaning ripped off) is an example of the negative attitude.Read more...
AUTHOR: FRANK M. YOUNG AND DAVID LASKY
PUBLISHER: ABRAMS COMICARTS
RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 2012
This book is a family biography of the Carter Family, told in graphic novel form. While David Lasky’s art may be a bit cartoony for some, the story itself is fascinating. Each chapter title is taken from the title of a Carter Family song. Like Carter Family songs, the chapters are very short, with over 40 chapters in this book of less than 200 pages. Each chapter, though, gives the reader an insight into some aspect of the lives of the Carters, from patriarch A.P. on down. A.P. Carter was both a performer and a songcatcher. Unlike the more scholarly collectors of songs, he gathered them in order to perform them himself, with the result that the Carter Family sang and recorded a wide variety of short songs gathered from the oral tradition. We will never know how many he heard that he never got around to recording.
A.P. Carter is shown in a light that is not always flattering, but which lets the reader see him as human and very interesting. His strict path of life, even at the cost of alienating his own wife and children, was like watching a train wreck in slow motion. His focus on music and on the survival of his family was so narrow that he missed much of what went on around him. The emotional disconnect between his fierce love of music and his failure to notice the same in his own daughter was heartbreaking.Read more...
AUTHOR: JOHN LABARBERA
PUBLISHER: MEL BAY PUBLICATIONS, INC.
RELEASE DATE: 6/6/2012
Italian Folk Music for Mandolin is a fun and flavorful book, with lots of music carefully presented on the written page and on audio CD. Its forty tunes span a variety of Italian folk music from North to South, Sicily to Sardinia, and also from the thirteenth century to more recent time. Some of the pieces are instrumentals, and some are songs with lyrics. All of the arrangements are for mandolin and guitar and are shown in staff notation and tablature. Many of the pieces have duet mandolin or guitar parts written out, and all have suggestions for accompaniment and short descriptions of their origin and significance. The full forty tunes don’t fit on the one CD, so ten are offered as a free download at the publisher’s website. Oddly, the book doesn’t explain how to do this, but it’s easily done. The page for the book includes a Download Tab with a big red button “Download Extras.” It contains a .zip file so you will need a way to unzip it. It’s a great way to preview the book’s content. The author plays all of the instruments on the included CD, overdubbing the tracks but avoiding for the most part the “canned” feeling one-man bands can generate. The CD makes for good listening, with the playing accurate and clear but still lively and exciting.Read more...
TITLE: THE BALLAD OF TOM DOOLEY
AUTHOR: SHARYN MCCRUMB
PUBLISHER: THOMAS DUNNE BOOKS
RELEASE DATE: 2011
Anyone who listened to folk music during the “Folk Music Scare” of the 1950s and ‘60s probably heard the Kingston Trio version of this song, a bouncy little murder ballad about killing a woman and ending up “hanging from a white oak tree.”
Sharyn McCrumb, longtime mystery writer, has turned her gaze on this murder ballad, taking it back to its historical roots. While many historians and folklorists have examined this case in the past, her perspective as a mystery writer has given her different insights, much like those of the mystery writer in the Castle television show. Thus, a three-minute song becomes a 300-page historical novel. It’s hard to call it a mystery when everyone knows who was executed for the killing, but a mystery it is.
For those of you who only know it from the Kingston Trio version, sanitized and oddly altered in places, the “real” story was that of a young ex-Confederate soldier [Tom Dula, which is pronounced “Dooley,” for the same reason that Pauline is pronounced “Pearlene” in that region]. Tom was accused of murdering a young woman named Laura who was supposedly eloping with him. He and one of his other lovers [a married woman named Ann Melton] were eventually arrested and tried for the murder. He denied the murder, but once he was convicted and sentenced, he wrote a statement to clear the name of Ann Melton. His defense attorney was a famous politician and former soldier as well, a man named Zebulon Vance. After a long trial and longer appeals, Tom was hanged from a fresh built gallows, not a tree. Most of the other details in the song were added for rhyming purposes more than for historical accuracy.Read more...
TITLE: THIS COULD BE BIG
AUTHOR: DON MORRISON
PUBLISHER: DONMO GLOBAL ENTERPRISES
RELEASE DATE: 2010
Is there a reason for a folk music fan from the United States to read Don Morrison’s book about the nitty gritty of the Australian music scene? Yes. Because it’s a good read, although few of us outside of Texans ever had to drive so far to a gig.
Don Morrison has over thirty years of experience in the music business. Although his “day job” is constructing world class resophonic guitars, he’s always been a performer, and as such he’s driven the crappy vans that break down on a regular basis. He’s been lied to and cheated by promoters and club owners. He’s seen talented band members give up and float away. He’s seen success, and he’s seen failure. And through all of this, he’s been able to balance his odd profession with a keen sense of humor, and the ability to turn a good phrase.
In the 1980s, Don ran towards the stardom light in a band called the Bodgies. After conquering their hometown of Adelaide, the boys took to the road, which is Australia can be a long road. Anecdotes about their ancient PA system or dodgy guitars will sound familiar to anyone who had tread on the band road. The burning van may not have happened to all of us, though. After Adelaide, the boys move to the big city of Melbourne. More stories, more touring, more grabbing for the brass ring. The Bodgies worked tremendously hard, played tons of gigs and yet kept having that elusive stardom just out of grasp. They rubbed elbows with the stars, and formulated a “people’s band” devoid of the trappings that most bands demanded. Rather than an exclusive dressing room, they posted a sign allowing full access to anyone.Read more...
TITLE: ODETTA, THE QUEEN OF FOLK
AUTHORS: STEPHEN ALCORN
(Conceived and Illustrated by)
POEM BY SAMANTHA THORNHILL
PUBLISHER: SCHOLASTIC PRESS
RELEASE DATE: 2010
Told in the form of a long poem, this is the life of Odetta, and especially her childhood, which greatly shaped her music. It is aimed at children, although adults can easily appreciate the beauty of the work and the life it describes. Artist Stephen Alcorn, who had previously worked on books about Langston Hughes and other African American poetry and poets, has included pieces portraying Odetta in various ways, ranging from the mischievous to the angelic.
So, who was Odetta, and why should kids care? Odetta Holmes learned about some of the “facts” of American life while a child in Birmingham, Alabama in the 1930s. Jim Crow laws controlled who could drink from what water fountain, or what train car you could ride. By the time her family moved to California, her family had faced the shame and degradation that was an everyday part of being “colored” in the South. In California, she noticed a remarkable thing. Discrimination still existed, but it was not the same, and not part of the law.Read more...
The NY Times Book Review two weeks ago wrote about a new book called Faking It-The Quest For Authenticity in Popular Music (Hugh Barker and Yuval Taylor). I am about halfway through, and want to suggest it as a must read because it has a fascinating focus on the roots of folk music in the South (using John Hurt as an example) and the difficulty in defining folk music, etc. It is a fairly easy read and I think you will be very happy that you purchased or borrowed this book.
Newman, DeCoster & Co.
Bruce S. Newman, Attorney at Law, CPA; Peter J. DeCoster, FCA
THE COEN BROTHERS’ ROCKY ROAD TO GREENWICH VILLAGE
There were two versions of the Folk Revival available to viewers this evening: on PBS a rerun of John Sebastian’s hosting a program called Folk Rewind, with performances by the Kingston Trio, The Highwayman, The Limelighters, Harry Belafonte, Judy Collins and others who made folk music a commercial success in the early 1960s, and on the big screen, the long-awaited premiere of the Coen Brothers “remembrance of things past,” a film homage to the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961, when Bob Dylan hit town in the dead of winter and joined a budding revival that was to move folk music out of the fraternity circuit and into a major cultural force that fueled the civil rights and antiwar movements. Based on a character modeled on Dave Van Ronk, herein called Llewyn Davis, a young, bearded folk singer in love with traditional music who runs into a burgeoning singer-songwriter crowd with whom he is decidedly and humorously out of sync.Read more...
Marilyn…Madness & Me:
An American Classic Premieres
at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood
October 20, 2013
Who Killed Norma Jean is the title of a song by Norman Rosten and Pete Seeger, who saw Rosten’s poem in Life Magazine in 1963 and set it to music. It goes through a dark list of those who had used her in life and now stood to profit from her death—her agents, her fans, the press and the men who exploited her desperate need to be loved. Like Bob Dylan’s scorching anti-boxing protest song Who Killed Davy Moore it shows that there is enough blame to go around. But neither song singles any one out to hold accountable.
Who really killed Norma Jean? A new play has a theory. And however incredible it may seem, I now know how the audience felt on the night of February 10, 1949 at the Morosco Theatre on Broadway for the premiere of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, as they watched a classic being born. I got to see the Sunday matinee closing performance of the world premiere of Marilyn…Madness and Me by Frank V. Furino from an original concept by Didier Bloch and brilliantly directed by Joe Leonardo at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood.
The person driven mad in the play is not, as you might think, Arthur Miller, though he does of course play a prominent part—Monroe’s third husband. Nor is it Joe Dimaggio—her second husband—who sent fresh roses to her crypt every week until he died, and was there for her long after their marriage ended. The mad man is the nondescript narrator, who introduces himself as Tim—starring Adam Meyer—Ms. Monroe’s limousine driver.Read more...
WILLIAM PILGRIM AND THE ALL GROWS UP:
LIVE AT THE ICE HOUSE
The best Americana duo in the country may be one you've never seen. At least, not yet. The regular podcast, Live at the Ice House with William Pilgrim and the All Grows Up is a living document of the growth of two artists from the streets of L.A. and Orange County to the recording studios of Hollywood where in the latest episode with they are joined by The Blind Boys of Alabama including Jimmy Carter-the oldest touring member of the group. The broadcast also brings together social commentator, writer and activist, Kevin Alexander Gray, modern artist-poet, David (Judah 1) Oliver and up and coming singer-songwriter, Josh (Lesedi Lo-Fi) Douglas. Also featured is narrator Exene Cervenka, a poet, writer, activist and musician. She is one of the founding members of L.A.'s own legendary punk band, X. It is a well-paced production directed by photographer, Scott Montgomery.Read more...
Those Were the Days
A Film by Laura Archibald
June 24, 2013 at The Grammy Museum
LA’s own GRAMMY Museum hosted the West Coast Premiere screening of the feel-good movie of the year, Canadian filmmaker Laura Archibald’s documentary Greenwich Village: The Music That Defined a Generation. Are you tired of seeing buildings blown up on screen? Of body counts higher than Hamlet’s last scene, and all in the first five minutes? Of explosions that prove the high tech expertise of digital computer graphics designers who have turned modern films into deafening video games? Perhaps you are ready for a break, for a reintroduction of classic storytelling as an art form, with heroes and heroines whose only weapon is a guitar and a song. I certainly was, and that’s why I enjoyed spending the evening with a gallery of artists who perform on a human scale, and speak straight to the mind and heart.Read more...
Directed by Jacob Hatley
SEE IT NOW: It’s playing at two local Laemmle Theatres this weekend, the Playhouse 7 in Pasadena, in Claremont, at 11:00am and at the Aero in a double bill with The Last Waltz on July 5th.
My voice is not one of the smooth-riding kind, wrote Woody Guthrie, ‘cause I don’t want it to sound smooth; none of the folks I know have got smooth voices, and yet they sing louder, longer and with more guts than any smooth voice I ever heard. I’d rather sound like the ash cans of the early morning, like the cowboys whooping, like the lone wolf barking.
I think of Woody’s description of his own voice every time I hear Levon Helm, for it describes not only its timbre, but the world it expressed as none other in modern music. To me he was the Voice of America, as I wrote in my obituary last year, as surely as was Edward R. Murrow a generation before.
His legion of fans will be delighted to see Jacob Hatley’s new film documentary Ain’t In It For My Health: A Film About Levon Helm.Read more...
Hard Day’s Night: Radio Unnameable
A Documentary Film About Bob Fass and NYC Station WBAI
by Paul Lovelace and Jessica Wolfson
Broadcaster Bob Fass’s favorite four words are: “You’re on the air.” He said it to every listener who called in to his pioneering midnight show Radio Unnameable on WBAI in NYC, which he started in 1963, an amazing amalgam of the loosely scripted and improvisatory format which LA music writer Michael Simmons dubbed radio jazz.
I saw the premiere screening last night at the Arena Cinema on Las Palmas, a fundraiser for the Pacifica Archives housed at sister station KPFK in Los Angeles. Bob Fass attended the show and answered questions after the screening. In New York he is a living legend, a therapist for the entire city over the past half-century, whom sometimes desperate listeners would call in during the wee small hours when—as Fass put it—the night people are cleaning up the effluvia of the day people, and listening to the radio for company.
It’s a wonderful film, an epic story about a heroic life lived on its own terms, without regard for creature comforts, conventional tokens of success, or any sure knowledge that what he was doing had any value whatsoever, apart from the particular listeners who kept him on the phone sometimes for hours at a time.
Take, for example, Mae Brussels, a conspiracy theorist during the mother of all conspiracy theories—the aftermath of the Warren Report on the Kennedy Assassination.Read more...
Dead Man Singing:
Searching for Sugar Man
What if Elvis weren’t the King? What if it were a Chicano folk singer you never heard of? What if Dylan weren’t the Poet Laureate of Rock & Roll? What if it were a Detroit troubadour who inspired the most oppressed people in the third world to hear the Chimes of Freedom flashing? What if Nelson Mandela were not the only hero of the South African freedom movement? What if this same troubadour found himself inexplicably to have inspired a generation of Afrikaners to accept the necessity of ending Apartheid?
Then you’d know how I felt upon coming out of the screening of Director Malik Bendjelloul’s Searching for Sugar Man. To call it a documentary begs the question; for if it is true then it is also one of the more fantastic tales since Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days or Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. But I met three of its disciples—outside the Landmark Theatre on Pico Blvd. Call them Matthew, Mark and Luke; they were so eager to vouch for the authenticity of this fabulous tale they made a believer out of me—an avowed atheist and skeptic.Read more...
Phil Ochs documentary Story
on Democracy Now
A Documentary (2010) by Kenneth Bowser
Abbie Hoffman did it with pills, Jerry Rubin walked into an on-coming car on Wilshire Blvd., and Phil Ochs hung himself on his sister’s bathroom door in Far Rockaway, New York. All founders of the Yippies—the Youth International Party that confronted Mayor Daley and the Democratic Party at the Chicago Convention in 1968 and led to the Trial of the Chicago 7. All dead of suicide. So far as we know there was no suicide pact, but in the aftermath of the long strange trip of the 1960s, a more eerie coincidence would be hard to imagine were it not true.
Fortunately, some of the more eloquent voices of that volcanic decade made it out alive, and continue to bear witness to its courage, commitment and overzealous foibles that make it continually memorable into its half century anniversary this year. Perhaps its most eloquent voice did not, protest folk singer, songwriter, organizer and provocateur Phil Ochs, the subject of filmmaker Kenneth Bowser’s astonishing new documentary, Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune, which, for a week in August, 2010 was shown for an Academy Award qualifying run in New York and Los Angeles. before its official release in the beginning of 2011.
In its opening frames Phil Ochs sings a song that defines his greatness as an artist, both for its musicality and its intense lyricism, While I’m Here:
There’s no place in this world where I’ll belong when I’m gone
And I won’t know the right from the wrong when I’m gone
And you won’t find me singing on this song when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here.Read more...
The Bad Arm:
Confessions of a Dodgy Irish Dancer
Written and performed by Maire Clerkin
Directed by Dan OʼConnor
Tonight is the last chance to catch this comedic dance-driven tale of identity crisis and coming of age as an English-born Irish girl in London.Dancer/ Writer/ Choreographer Maire Clerkinʼs one-woman autobiographical presentation is at times poignant and at times hysterically funny. She is able to channel her younger self at various stages of development and to elucidate the moments when life to her was just not fair. No longer need she hold in her feelings of inequities, she is free to entertain her audiences with them - with each incidence diffused by a humorous moment.Read more...
SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR:
A REVIEW OF I’M NOT THERE
When they made a movie about Woody Guthrie they didn’t think twice—they put in This Land Is Your Land. When they made a movie about Johnny Cash they didn’t think twice—they put in I Walk the Line. When they made a movie about Buddy Holly they didn’t think twice—they put in Peggy Sue. And when they made a movie about Ray Charles they didn’t think twice—they put in Georgia On My Mind. So I’m sure filmmaker Todd Haynes thought twice about leaving Don’t Think Twice out of his new Bob Dylan movie I’m Not There—Read more...
PETE SEEGER: THE LION IN WINTER
A REVIEW OF PETE SEEGER: THE POWER OF SONG
It took six actors to play Bob Dylan, but there is only one Pete Seeger. Now in the winter of his discontent, Pete is the subject of a new documentary directed by Jim Brown (who made the Weaver’s movie, Wasn’t That a Time) and executive produced by Pete’s wife of sixty three years, Toshi Seeger. It’s a love story, a folk musical, and a passionate portrait of Pete Seeger’s America all rolled into one.
Few artists have been at the center of as many storms as Seeger, from the fight against fascism in World War II, to the cold war fight against McCarthyism and the blacklist, the civil rights, anti-war and environmental movements. Even now, the lion in winter, standing out on an icy street corner near his log cabin home in Beacon, New York, with an American flag and a peace sign, forty years after his protest song Bring ‘Em Home fired up the anti-war movement against the Vietnam War, is still singing out against the war in Iraq.Read more...