Friday, February 26, 2010

Heavy Metal Expats from Iraq

I enjoyed this Ben Ratliff article about Iraqi heavy metal band Acrassicauda, now based in the U.S.
The film [Heavy Metal in Baghdad] shows the group’s four musicians playing sporadic gigs through bombings, with temperamental electricity run off gas generators and mortal fear of growing scorned rock ’n’ roll chin beards, to say nothing of singing in public — and in English — about typical metal themes. It outlines social, political and financial obstacles that make, say, Black Sabbath’s scratchy early years, as described in Ozzy Osbourne’s new memoir, seem deluxe.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Anais Mitchell in Storyhill Fest Room

I have been in the Storyhill Fest Room since 11:15 pm, when Red House president Eric Peltoniemi played a set of his beautiful songs, including a brilliant country tune called "Mama Ain't Right." Then came Ray Bonneville, Storyhill and Carrie Elkin, who played some great new songs.

Now I am listening to Anais Mitchell with Jefferson Hamer joining her on electric guitar and lovely high harmonies...

- Cosmic American
- We Build the Wall (from her new folk opera Hadestown, featuring an all-star cast that includes Ani Difranco, Bon Iver and Greg Brown)
- O My Star
- Dying Day
- Out of Pawn
- He Did

Saturday, February 20, 2010

More on the Future of the Music Industry

Damian Kulash Jr. of OK Go, who rocked Urbana-Champaign's Canopy Club last fall in a double bill with Princeton, has an op-ed in the New York Times where he recounts the band's YouTube breakthrough:
MY band is famous for music videos. We direct them ourselves or with the help of friends, we shoot them on shoestring budgets and, like our songs, albums and concerts, we see them as creative works and not as our record company’s marketing tool.

In 2006 we made a video of us dancing on treadmills for our song “Here It Goes Again.” We shot it at my sister’s house without telling EMI, our record company, and posted it on the fledgling YouTube without EMI’s permission. Technically, this put us afoul of our contract, since we need our record company’s approval to distribute copies of the songs that they finance. It also exposed YouTube to all sorts of liability....

As the age of viral video dawned, “Here It Goes Again” was viewed millions, then tens of millions of times. It brought big crowds to our concerts on five continents, and by the time we returned to the studio, 700 shows, one Grammy and nearly three years later, EMI’s ledger had a black number in our column. ...


... EMI disabled the embedding feature. Now we can’t post the YouTube versions of our videos on our own site, nor can our fans post them on theirs. If you want to watch them, you have to do so on YouTube.


The numbers are shocking: When EMI disabled the embedding feature, views of our treadmill video dropped 90 percent, from about 10,000 per day to just over 1,000. Our last royalty statement from the label, which covered six months of streams, shows a whopping $27.77 credit to our account.
The ultimate point of the piece seems to be that bands need record companies because they need start-up capital in order to take the band to the next level but that record companies need to stop shooting bands in the foot by clamping down on marketing techniques like posting videos on YouTube and making them freely available.

It's easy to understand both sides of the problem here: record companies are seeing so much of their product for which they used to get paid now being distributed for free, so they want to hold on to whatever revenue streams they can; on the other hand, if there's so much free stuff out there, how can a band gain attention if it's not giving stuff away for free?

Ultimately, I think that more and more revenue is going to have to come from live shows -- something that cannot be redistributed for free. But if ticket prices are set by the market, can this happen? Clubs will constantly pressure bands for lower cover charges, and going to see a show at a club competes with other possible entertainment expenditures -- like going to a movie, for instance. So can music venues really raise ticket prices all that much?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Thursday Night at the Nashville Room in Memphis

Since I was running the official Red House Records Folk Alliance showcase on Thursday last night, I only caught snippets of the artists' 25-minute sets as I ran in and out of the Nashville Room at the Memphis Marriott Hotel, dealing with cranky sound guys and making sure there was enough Red House swag at our info table. Despite some serious sound issues, it was a great night with a big audience and amazing performances...

7 pm: Duo Storyhill did a great set, mostly of songs from their April release Shade of the Trees.

7:30 pm: Scottish folk legend Archie Fisher wowed the crowd with his beautiful ballads and wry humor. The highlight for me, though, was watching Red House president Eric Peltoniemi and John Gorka watching the performance like eager school kids, totally enamored.

8 pm: Meg Hutchinson was one of the highlights of the evening with Anne Heaton joining her on harmony vocals, singing mostly stuff from her now Billboard-charting new release The Living Side. She also ended with a new song that sounded really nice.

8:30 pm: John Gorka did a typically solid set full of the great songs you'd expect, including songs from the new album So Dark You See and a particularly nice version of "Writing in the Margins."

9 pm: Danny Schmidt performed with the fabulous Carrie Elkin joining him on harmony vocals. He's been doing lots of writing these days now that he's taking a brief respite from his crazy tour schedule so we got to hear a bunch of new songs...awesome!

9:30 pm: Making her first appearance at Folk Alliance, Pieta Brown did a very nice set without her usual sideman Bo Ramsey. A rare treat to see her completely solo. I actually got to catch most of her set so was able to take down her complete setlist...

- Other Way Around
- Frank Stokes
- Faller
- Calling All Angels (an original, not the Jane Siberry song)
- In My Mind I Was Talking to Loretta (after great story about growing up in a suck in Iowa and remembering going with her dad to see Coal Miner's Daughter)
- Remember the Sun (a tribute to Mavis Staples & The Staple Singers)

10 pm: The winner of last year's Folk Alliance Award for Song of the Year, Ray Bonneville was wrapping up the night with a set with Mike Meadows joining him on percussion. Unfortunately, I couldn't catch most of Ray's set as I had to leave Eric in charge as I ran to my room to retrieve my banjo for a showcase I was doing at 10:30 pm with Pieta and Danny Schmidt.

Pieta, Danny and I performed in the round in a lovely showcase room, sponsored by the Americana Agency. There were several great performances including a riveting version of Danny's "This Too Shall Pass," and one of my favorite Pieta songs "Lovin' You Still." I was also thrilled the way everyone joined in so beautifully on my gospel tune "Revival Train."

For more photos of this showcase, click here.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Jorma Wins Folk Alliance Award for Song of the Year

Greetings from Memphis! President Eric Peltoniemi and I arrived in the land of BBQ and blues last night for the International Folk Alliance Conference just in time for the 2010 Folk Alliance Honors & Lifetime Achievements Awards ceremony. We were thrilled that our own Jorma Kaukonen won the Song of the Year award for his cover of the Rev. Gary Davis song "There's a Bright Side Somewhere" from his 2009 release River of Time. We accepted the award on his behalf, and Eric read a beautiful thank-you letter from Jorma. Later in the evening we joined the Market Monkeys crew for a lovely cocktail party where we hung out with John Gorka and some of our favorite DJ's.

Just ran into Meg Hutchinson, who flew in late last night. We were thrilled to let her know that her new album The Living Side just charted this week on the Billboard Folk Chart. We're looking forward to her performance tonight as part of the Red House showcase.

To see photos and other updates from Folk Alliance, check out our new Red House blog.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Afrobeat History Lesson

Vis-a-vis our recent discussion of the Fela! musical here and Chris Blattman's discussion over on his blog, Chris also draws our attention to the following excellent music video:

Christmas in February

Oh my God, there's a video for The Zambonis' "Hockey Monkey"!!!

Music Writer Smackdown

Jon Caramanica, in a recent New York Times piece, juxtaposes Anthony DeCurtis's recent edited volume of Robert Palmer's writings against a similar collection of Robert Hilburn's work (edited by Hilburn himsel). Palmer was at the Times for almost a decade and then at Rolling Stone. Hilburn was at the other Times, the Los Angeles Times for 30 years. The take-home point of the review: Palmer understood music and didn't glorify the musicians he covered; Hilburn has repeatedly gotten swept up in the cult of personality. Caramanica is maybe a little heavy-handed, but I haven't read either book, and honestly know very little about Hilburn as compared to fully respecting Palmer's work.

The choice bit is perhaps this comparison:
Hilburn writes of [John Lennon] reverently in this book, as if he were oracular, unattainable. As a result, Hilburn becomes smitten. By the time he has to write about Lennon on the day of his murder, he’s practically switched teams. “My first thought,” he says of seeing a co-worker in tears, “was ‘Why is she crying? John was my friend.’ ”

... In one essay, [Palmer] recalls admitting to Lennon and Yoko Ono during an interview that he was unfamiliar with much of their solo work: a little too laissez-faire, perhaps, but better that than too reverent.

Albany, New York, 300th Anniversary Song

Recently, we alerted you to an awesome song about Cleveland.

Albany-native and soon-to-be-world-renowned-history-professor Monica Mercado has now called our attention to the following video created for Albany's tercentennial in 1986:


Monday, February 15, 2010

President SBY's New CD

The New York Times has an article about Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's new album, the third one that he has released since he has been in office.

I have to confess to never actually having heard any of SBY's music. Am I letting readers down?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

New Adventures in Indonesian Reggae

On Friday night, a group of folks from Wisma Bahasa, the school where I'm currently studying in Jogjakarta, Indonesia, went out to karaoke. The evening ended with the loss of electricity and our decision to head home for the night, but in the two hours of karaoke that preceded that event, there were a couple of brilliant discoveries.

One of those was the hit song of the late Mbah Surip, "Bangun Tidur," a song about maybe getting up or not in the morning.

The chorus is
Bangun tidur. Tidur lagi.
Bangun lagi. Tidur lagi.
Bangu-u-u-un. Tidur lagi.
which means
Wake up. Sleep again.
Wake up again. Sleep again.
Wake-up. Sleep again.
Catchy, right?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Civil Rights Era Songs at the White House

Jon Pareles has a nice write-up of the In Performance at the White House: A Celebration of Music from the Civil Rights Movement program that took place this week at the White House. (The series is organized by Michelle Obama.)

I love the opening image of Bob Dylan:
Half a dozen legislators sat a few feet away, under the crystal chandeliers of the East Room of the White House, as Bob Dylan sang “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” poker-faced.

“Come senators, congressman, please heed the call,” he rasped. “Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall.” His tone was rough but almost wistful; he had turned his old exhortation into an autumnal waltz. Afterward, he stepped offstage and shook President Obama’s hand.
Also featured on the program were Joan Baez, Bernice Johnson Reagon with the Freedom Singers, Smokey Robinson, Jennifer Hudson, John Mellencamp, Yolanda Adams, Natalie Cole, the Blind Boys of Alabama and the Howard University Choir.

The recording will air tomorrow night on PBS.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Mavis Staples Takes Us There

On Wednesday I joined John Gorka, his wife and my sister at the Dakota Jazz Club in downtown Minneapolis to see our musical hero Mavis Staples in one of the nicest small rooms around. After we bought our tickets, we were delighted to learn that Red House artists The Pines would be opening--a nice but unexpected pairing.

Playing just as a duo, The Pines (pictured here with John Gorka) started with one of their pretty melodic instrumentals, followed by "Heart and Bones," a really awesome bluesy version of "Shine On Moon" and the sweet "Going Home," which really got a great response from the crowd. They ended their short set with a debut of their enthralling cover of the gospel tune "Look Down the Road."

During the break, Dan (the Dakota's fabulous publicist) brought John Gorka and me backstage to say hi to Mavis. This was a thrill of a lifetime for both of us. A few years ago, John actually wrote a song for Mavis called "When You Sing" after meeting her at the Appel Farm Festival. He recorded it on his album Writing in the Margins, and he sent the album to her. She then sent an email back to him about how much she loved it.

When we got backstage, we witnessed her grabbing a hold of The Pines boys to tell them how much she loved their set. Then Dan introduced me to her, and I introduced her to John. She went on and on about how much she loved the song he wrote for her and that it made her blush. We had a nice chat, captured the moment on camera and let her and the band get ready for their set.

And what a set it was--almost an hour and a half of non-stop energy and music. Not bad for a woman of 70! Here's her set:

- Down in Mississippi
- Wade in the Water
- For What It's Worth
- Eyes on the Prize (check out this powerful video set to Mavis' version of this song)
- Too Close to Heaven/On My Way
- This Little Light of Mine
- Waiting For My Child to Come Home (accompanied just by the guitarist, she sung much of this song without the mic--incredible!)
- Will the Circle Be Unbroken? (first song that her dad ever taught her--especially moving with her sister Yvonne Staples performing with her as one of the 3 back-up singers)
- Why? (am I Treated So Bad) (written by Pops Staples after the family went to one of MLK's services and the family met him--Pops said "I like this man's message. If he can preach it, we can sing it.")

"Why?" ended with some crazy soloing by the guitar player when Mavis and her back-up singers left the stage so the band could show off their substantive chops. The band, who tours on their own, features Rick Holstrom on guitar, Jeff Turmes on electric bass and Stephen Hodges on drums. Both Rick and Jeff have solo albums (which they gave me after the show), and all of them have played with an impressive who's who that includes artists such as Tom Waits, Richard Thompson, Elvis Costello and Philip Glass. Possessing a rockabilly sensibility, they played a bunch of dance tunes that faded into "Just a Closer Walk With Thee." While they were finishing up, Mavis and the singers got back on stage to get some of us out of our chairs and dance to The Staple Singers classic "Freedom Highway."

- Freedom Highway
- I'll Take You There (As you'll see in this video taken by Juanjo Buendia, there was ample audience participation, demanded by Mavis--"The Staples have been taking you there for 59 years; now we want you to take us there!")

- We Shall Not Be Moved (started with Mavis telling a moving personal story about refusing to leave a lunch counter during the Civil Rights days and singing this song)
- Down By the Riverside (when she sings it, I believe it)

Afterwards, we joined Red House Records owner Beth Friend, her exchange student Juanjo and Paul & Paula Maccabee and talked about the incredible show we had just seen. John Gorka's wife Laurie said it best: "The only problem is there's no point in going to any more shows now." We, almost all related to the music biz, nodded in agreement.

Juanjo Buendia not only took some great video, but he also captured some of the best images of the evening. Here are some of them...gracias mucho, mi amigo!

Playlist: Womenfolk (January 31 & 24, 2010)

Last Sunday on Womenfolk we welcomed Ann Reed and members of the Twin Cities Women's Choir in to the studio for a live in-studio performance and a conversation about their joint show with Brianna Lane.

The Sunday before we paid tribute to Canadian singer Kate McGarrigle, who died on January 18, 2010. We also played lots of listener requests, including a special set dedicated to a Vikings victory over the New Orleans Saints.

Faithful listener John had been calling every Sunday the Vikings had a game to request a song about the opposing team. Every time I played one of these requests the Vikings won. He told me, "I'm counting on Womenfolk to send us to the Super Bowl!" So on Jan. 24th I came prepared with a whole set of songs about New Orleans the day of the playoff game. Not sure if I over thought it or if I simply lost my mojo, but although the Vikings came close, they could not pull off a win. Not sure if I will try to meddle with the forces today on the show or if I should let the Super Bowl be, but I guess you'll have to tune in at 11 am Central to find out!


WOMENFOLK (January 31, 2010)
Hosted by Ellen Stanley
Fresh Air Community Radio, KFAI 90.3 FM Minneapolis/106.7 FM St. Paul
Sunday 11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
*New Releases
**Womenfolk Theme Song

**Kris Delmhorst - Everything Is Music
album: Strange Conversation; label: Signature Sounds
*Cowboy Junkies - Cold Evening Wind
album: Unreleased; label: Available for free download when you donate to Songs for Haiti
Susan McKeown & Lindsey Horner - Through the Bitter Frost and Snow
album: Through the Bitter Frost and Snow; label: PRIME CD
Ruth Moody - Winter Swells
album: Blue Muse; label: Blue Muse Records
Cheryl Wheeler - Lighting Up the Mighty Mississippi
album: Sylvia Hotel; label: Philo
Lucy Kaplansky - Manhattan Moon
album: Over the Hills; label: Red House
Jerree Small - Mile and Mile
album: Mobius; label: Self
Womenfolk Find: *The Sweetback Sisters - It Don't Show on Me
album: Chicken Ain't Chicken; label: Signature Sounds
Becky Schlegel - Together Again
album: Heartaches; label: Lilly Ray Records
*Anne & Pete Sibley - Pick Up These Chains
album: Coming Home; label: Self
Lucinda Williams - If Wishes Were Horses
album: Little Honey; label: Lost Highway
Elizabeth Mitchell - Who's My Pretty Baby
album: You Are My Little Bird; label: Smithsonian Folkways
*Patty Loveless - (We Are All) Children of Abraham
album: Mountain Soul II; label: Saguard
Behind Women's Calendar: Malinky - Ruaraidh Moris
album: Flower & Iron; label: Greentrax
Mavis Staples - I'll Be Rested
album: We'll Never Turn Back; label: Anti
Encore (members of Twin Cities Women's Choir) - Babethandaza
album: Live in the Studio; label: KFAI
Ann Reed with Encore - Carolyn's Party
album: Live in the Studio; label: KFAI
Encore - I Hope You Dance
album: Live in the Studio; label: KFAI
Brianna Lane - Sending Out the Dove
album: Let You In; label: Self
Alison Rae - Birds
album: Road Trip: American Singer Songwriters; label: Feed Them With Music
*Catherine MacLellan - Flowers on Your Grave
album: Water in the Ground; label: True North
*Ellery - Blame Me
album: Unreleased; label: Available for free download when you donate to Songs for Haiti
*Mindy Smith - What Went Wrong
album: Stupid Love; label: Vanguard
*Rosanne Cash - Motherless Children
album: The List; label: Manhattan Records


WOMENFOLK (January 24, 2010)
Hosted by Ellen Stanley
Fresh Air Community Radio, KFAI 90.3 FM Minneapolis/106.7 FM St. Paul
Sunday 11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
*New Releases
**Womenfolk Theme Song

**Kris Delmhorst - Everything Is Music
album: Strange Conversation; label: Signature Sounds
*Karan Casey & John Doyle - The Little Drummer Girl
album: Exiles Return; label: Compass
*Grada - Abe's Axe
album: Natural Angle; label: Compass
*Sarah Jarosz - Tell Me True
album: Song Up in Her Head; label: Sugar Hill
*Anne & Pete Sibley - Tell Me Darling
album: Coming Home; label: Self
Kate MacKenzie - Carolina
album: Age of Innocence; label: Red House
Alison Krauss & Union Station - Take Me For Longing
album: New Favorite; label: Rounder
Nanci Griffith - Spin on a Red Brick Floor
album: Once in a Very Blue Moon; label: Philo
Womenfolk Find: *The Sweetback Sisters - I Want to be a Real Cowboy Girl
album: Chicken Ain't Chicken; label: Signature Sounds
Emmylou Harris - The Sweetheart of the Rodeo
album: Songs of the West; label: Warner Bros.
*Dawn Landes - Sweetheart of the Rodeo
album: Sweet Heart Rodeo; label: Cooking Vinyl
Judy Collins - City of New Orleans
album: Forever; label: Elektra
The Be Good Tanyas - Lake Pontchartrain
album: Blue Horse; label: Nettwerk
Po' Girl - Bad Luck Day Baby
album: Po' Girl; label: HighTone
Behind Women's Calendar: Malinky - Cows & Cottongrass
album: Flower & Iron; label: Greetrax
Tribute to Kate McGarrigle: Kate & Anna McGarrigle - Porte en Arriere
album: The McGarrigle Hour; label: Hannibal
Kate & Anna McGarrigle - Swimming Song
album: Matapedia; label: querbeservice
Joan Baez (featuring Kate & Anna McGarrigle) - Willie Moore
album: Ring Them Bells; label: Guardian
Rosalie Sorrels (featuring Kate & Anna McGarrigle) - Green Rolling Hills of West Virginia
album: Strangers in Another Country; label: Red House
Martha Wainwright - These Flowers
album: Martha Wainwright; label: Zoe
Linda Ronstadt & Ann Savoy - Opening/Adieu False Heart
album: Adieu False Heart; label: Vanguard
Joy Kills Sorrow - Fall on My Knees
album: Joy Kills Sorrow; label: Self
Robin & Linda Williams - Things I've Learned
album: Radio Songs; label: Red House
*Rosanne Cash - Motherless Children
album: The List; label: Manhattan Records
Julie Miller - Ride the Wind to Me
album: Broken Things; label: HighTone
*Meg Hutchinson - Hard to Change
album: The Living Side; label: Red House
Kate Wolf - Give Yourself to Love
album: Weaver of Visions: The Kate Wolf Anthology; label: Rhino

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Costa Rican Presidential Campaign Ad

Luis Fishman is polling in fourth place ahead of tomorrow's election in Costa Rica. He's running under the slogan "The least bad is better!" In this video, he tries to cater to the all-important pregnant women vote:

(HT: Ben 'No Relation, But I Kind of Hope He Wins' Fishman.)

WKCR London Review of Books Shout-Out

From one WKCR listener to current Moonshine Show host Logan Ledger to me, it has come to our attention that WKCR's programming received a nice shout-out in poet August Kleinzahler's recent diary entry in the London Review of Books.

He talks about cleaning out and selling his childhood home in Fort Lee, New Jersey, after deciding with his sister that his mother can no longer live on her own.

Towards the end of the piece, Kleinzahler writes,
It is a pleasant drive to the nursing home, about 45 minutes west-southwest. There’s a good radio station from Columbia University, WKCR. It does country and bluegrass in that Sunday slot – first-rate.
Thanks, August!

New York City Folk Musician Norris Ill

My father passed along word (from the Folk Alliance mailing list) that New York City old-time musician Norris has fallen ill:
Veteran African American folk singer, banjoist, guitarist, dulcimer player, Norris Bennett, a member of New York's Ebony Hillbillies has recently been hospitalized with heart, kidney, and other problems. For friends who want to visit him or send support, Norris Bennett is in,

Jamaica Hospital Medical Center
8955 134th Street
Richmond Hill NY 11418-2820
Room: # 404B
Phone:# 718-206-6416
I had the pleasure of having the Ebony Hillbillies on the Moonshine Show twice, and during their first appearance, I think, we spoke a bit about Norris's career. It has always been great to watch him pluck away at a mountain dulcimer as he howled out a tune. He is a true original.

My first encounter with Norris was actually a bit embarrassing. He was part of a songwriters circle or at least a session of musicians in the round at the Big Apple Bluegrass Festival one year. (I think it was the Big Apple Bluegrass Festival; it might have been one of the first Sheriff Sessions.) I knew most of the participants except for one on the schedule named Jeff. So I went up to the guy that I thought was Jeff and asked him how I should introduce him. He told me how he has been living in Belgium but was now back in the states, and I said, "Great! Thanks!" And I went up to the microphone and introduced the musicians that I knew and then gave a wham-bam-whiz-bang introduction to "Jeff." And then looked over at the aghast face of Paul Clements and the others, who said, "Matt! This is Norris!" Eeek. Horror. Mortification. Apparently Jeff had failed to show up, and Norris had offered to replace him in the circle.

And then the mistake lived on! During the song swap, Paul Clements at some point referred to someone as "Jeff." I suggested that we take the show on the road...

I'm glad that I got to know Norris well enough after that inauspicious first meeting to be able to say his name correctly and give him his due on the Moonshine Show. And I certainly hope that any friends or acquaintances of his out there reading this will do the same now.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Most Lifetime Grammy Wins Among Living Musicians

Buried deep beyond all of the talk about Beyonce from the Grammy Awards, we learn that
Alison Krauss won her 27th Grammy as a participant in the album “Yo-Yo Ma & Friends: Songs of Joy and Peace,” tying her with Quincy Jones for the most lifetime wins of any living musician.
Wow! Not bad for the little lady from Central Illinois.

Fred Hersch

David Hadju's article from the New York Times Sunday Magazine about Fred Hersch is a pretty amazing portrait of a great jazz pianist who has battled HIV/AIDS and homophobia.

The recounting of the breakthrough moment when he decided to come out of the closet is strong:
One afternoon, Hersch had a rehearsal scheduled with Stan Getz in Hersch’s loft. After Getz rang Hersch’s buzzer, Hersch found himself scooting to his bathroom to hide his boyfriend’s toothbrush. “That’s when I realized, What the hell am I doing?” he recalled. “This is my home. This is my life. I decided I was going to open up about everything and just be myself, and the period of coming out was the beginning of my gaining confidence as a composer. I felt like I had to get it out there while I still had time.”
And the description of fighting back from recent severe health problems (e.g. being in a coma for months) is downright amazing.