Wednesday, July 29, 2009

RIP Sandy Paton (1929 - 2009)

News of Sandy Paton's passing reached my household shortly after his death on Sunday evening.

From the Sing Out news service:
Folk-Legacy Records founder Sandy Paton passed away on Sunday July 26 around 6:30pm. He had been hospitalized the last few days after becoming extremely fatigued. Sandy had been in poor health in recent years, suffering from emphysema which required that he was constantly connected to oxygen. About a month ago, Sandy & Caroline’s grandson died tragically – drowning in a river in Connecticut. Friends have said that Sandy took the loss extremely hard.

Sandy, with his wife Caroline and the late Lee Haggerty, founded Folk-Legacy Records as an independent recording company specializing in traditional and contemporary folk music of the English-speaking world in 1961. Over the 48 years Folk-Legacy has existed, they have produced over 120 recordings with Sandy doing the actual recording and taking cover photographs.

Sandy was a terrific singer in his own right, as well. He and Caroline were designated as the Official Connecticut State Troubadours for 1993-1994.

Sing Out! editor Mark Moss adds: “In a world where meeting your “idols” rarely works out very well, Sandy Paton was an inspiration. His love, dedication and vision for traditional music was unwavering … but he was never strident, pushy or rude about his impressive knowledge. This was a guy who was all about loving the music and wanting to share his love for the songs and singers. And each Folk-Legacy release exuded that passion. Once I “met” my first Folk-Legacy release (the original Golden Ring recording), I was hooked … and am proud to own almost every release from the label. Hardly “hi tech,” but the music Sandy captured, made and shared was the real thing in the truest sense of the words. It was an honor to have known him. My heart was already breaking for the family (after the loss of his grandson Kaelan in June) … I can’t imagine the pain the family is feeling now. A sad, sad day.”

Information about a memorial service is forthcoming.
Sandy and Caroline have been fixtures on my folk music radar ever since I was a small child. At the Old Songs Festival, the Connecticut Family Folk Festival, the Champlain Valley Folk Festival and (for a long time before it just became too far removed from the type of music that they cared about) the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, I can remember walking up to their record booth with my father to shoot the breeze, hear about current recording projects and learn a bit about obscure Child Ballad variants.

I have memories of seeing them on stage at Old Songs and at coffeehouses in Connecticut. Sometime in the late 1990s at Old Songs, Sandy sang a song with the repeated lyric "My Old Man Was a Lot Like Lincoln"; the song stuck in my head, and I waited to hear him sing it again. A few years later -- back at Old Songs, presumably -- he did, and I scribbled down the lyrics to one verse, and then somehow I went back and checked my notebook from that original time at Old Songs and discovered that I had scribbled down the exact same verse.

Perhaps even more than on stage, I remember them during the after-hours song swap in the Dutch Barn at Old Songs, always ready to lead a song but also looking joyfully around the room, ready to hear what others might have to sing.

Another memory that stands out is being with them at a diner following a performance at the Branford Folk Music Society: it was late, and they had a drive ahead of them, but they were going to share a cup of coffee and some conversation with friends. At that diner, Sandy described a scene from E.L. Doctorow's Waterworks, and something clicked in my head about this being a guy who knew about a lot more than just folk music.

In fact, as I've thought about Sandy this week, I've thought less about the music and more about what it was like to interact with him as a person. The word gentle comes to my mind. All of those conversations held from opposite sides of record bins have left me with that impression above all others.

My father will pay tribute to Sandy Paton this Friday night from 10:00 p.m. to Midnight on Profiles in Folk on WSHU-FM.

There also are many memories being shared over at The Mudcat Cafe.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Singer-Songwriter from Idaho Becomes Mother Banjo Fan

Josh Ritter had this to say about Mother Banjo's The Sad and the Found:
I've known Ellen Stanley a long time, but it was only recently that I met Mother Banjo. She has a spare voice that paints great vistas between the notes. Her music is honest, not trying to convince you of anything, sell you on a story or impress you. She simply gives you the space you need for reverie. This is music for looking off into the far distance, and I hope it affects you like it affects me.
(HT: Mother Banjo.)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Playlist: Womenfolk (July 26, 2009)

Lots of firsts on today's edition of Womenfolk--the debut of a new Hazel Dickens tribute, a bluegrass cover of Tom Petty and live music from songwriter Piper Reva. We also gave away passes to Red House Records' BLUES AT THE BARN festival in Red Wing this Saturday, August 1st.


WOMENFOLK (July 26, 2009)
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 / Strange Conversation / Signature Sounds

*Rachel Ries & Anais Mitchell / When You Fall / Country ep / Righteous Babe
*Dayna Kurtz & Mamie Minch / Scars From an Old Love / For the Love of Hazel - Songs for Hazel Dickens / Kismet Records
Linda Thompson / Give Me a Sad Song / Versatile Heart / Rounder

Emmylou Harris / I’ll Go Stepping Too / Roses in the Snow / Warner Bros.
Dolly Parton / I’m Gonna Sleep With One Eye Open / The Grass Is Blue / Sugar Hill

*Dale Ann Bradley / I Won't Back Down / Don't Turn Your Back / Compass

[Womenfolk Find - Featured Artist of the Month]
*Sara Watkins / Will We Go / Sara Watkins / Nonesuch

Cry Cry Cry / Lord I Have Made You a Place / Cry Cry Cry / Razor & Tie
*Carolann Solebello / Home / Glass of Desire / Elizabeth Records
Susan Werner / (Why Is Your) Heaven So Small / The Gospel Truth / Self

Erin McKeown / Get Happy / Sing You Sinners / Nettwerk
Tracy Chapman / Say Hallelujah / Let It Rain / Elektra
Kasey Chambers / We’re All Gonna Die Someday / The Captain / Warner Bros.

[Behind Women’s Calendar]
*Pride of New York / Slan le Maigh / Pride of New York / Compass

*Courtney Yasmineh / Beautiful Lonely / Beautiful Lonely / Self
*Pieta Brown / Bad News / Flight Time / Self
Eliza Gilkyson / Angel and Delilah / Your Town Tonight / Red House

[Live in the Studio: Piper Reva]
Piper Reva / Poet Tree
Piper Reva / The Blizzard and the Matador

Ana Egge / Sitting in the Midday Sun / Lazy Days / Grace/Parkinsong

Shawn Colvin / Set the Prairie on Fire / Fat City / Columbia
Kris Delmhorst / Water Water / Strange Conversation / Signature Sounds
Jerree Small / 60 Words for Water / Mobius / Self

Friday, July 24, 2009

More on Signature Sounds 15th Anniversary

Nick has got his post up over at A Sunday Kind of Love describing the Signature Sounds party up at the Green River Festival that I wrote about recently. Nick goes a bit more in-depth on a couple of the artists -- he's a huge Chris Smither fan -- and has some nice thoughts. Worth checking out.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Infamous Stringdusters on the Road

This is a pretty fun video of what it's like to be a hot, young bluegrass band on the road (and at the zoo):

(HT: Ed Coyle.)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

United Gets Contrite

For those of you who saw Dave Carroll's brilliant "United Breaks Guitars" video that Matt posted, you'll be interested to know that the video (which has, as of now, had 3,407,440 views) has made quite an impression. CNN recently did a story on it, saying that United Airlines was now in conversations with Dave Carroll and will be using the video to train its employees. Of course the biggest victory is all the new fans he's won over in the making of this hilarious video and catchy song. Way to go, Dave!

Playlists: Womenfolk (July 5-19, 2009)

Here are playlists from the last three editions of Womenfolk. Today we played new music, dug out some old favorites and played lots of your requests.  We also celebrated Signature Sounds' 15th Anniversary (scroll down to read about Matt's take on the big celebrations at the Green River Festival) and honored the life and music of Dave Carter, who died seven years ago today. Last week we welcomed Austin, TX songwriter Carrie Elkin into the studio, and the week before was our annual bird-themed special "I'll Fly Away."

If you'd like to hear these recent shows, you can always hear them on the KFAI archives here.


WOMENFOLK (July 19, 2009)
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 / Strange Conversation / Signature Sounds

Beth Amsel / Daylight / A Thousand Miles / Good Egg Music
*Rose Polenzani with Session Americana / You Were Drunk / When the River Meets the Sea / Self

Mavis Staples / Hard Times Come Again No More / Beautiful Dreamer / American Roots Publishing
*The Wailin’ Jennys / Racing With the Sun / Live at Mauch Chunk Opera House / Red House

Judith Edelman / Come July / Drama Queen / Compass

[Womenfolk Find - Featured Artist of the Month]
Nickel Creek (featuring Sara Watkins) / Tomorrow Is a Long Time / Why Should the Fire Die? / Sugar Hill

*Crooked Still / Tell Her to Come Back Home / Still Crooked / Signature Sounds
*Sometimes Why / Aphrodisiaholic / Your Heart is a Glorious Machine / Signature Sounds

Kristin Andreassen / Crayola Doesn’t Make a Color for Your Eyes / Kiss Me Hello / Self
*Missy Raines & The New Hip / Pootie Tang / Inside Out / Compass
Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem / Limo to Memphis / Cocktail Swing / Signature Sounds

*Jaspar Lepak / Find Me a Cowboy / Southside Soul Volume II / Southside Pride

[Behind Women’s Calendar]
Karen Mueller / Norwegian Wood / Clarity / Self
*The Roe Family Singers / Lizabeth Brown / The Earth and All That Is In It / Self

Tracy Grammer & Dave Carter / Ordinary Town / drum hat buddha / Signature Sounds
Tracy Grammer / Winter When He Goes / Flower of Avalon / Signature Sounds

*Dar Williams / Summerday / Promised Land / Razor & Tie
*Sarah Borges & The Broken Shingles / No One Will Ever Love You / The Stars Are Out / Sugar Hill
Pieta Brown / Rollin’ Down the Track / Remember the Sun / Little Indian

Dixie Chicks / Travelin' Soldier / Home / Columbia
Carrie Elkin / Year Before the War / The Jeopardy of Circumstance / Self

The Freight Hoppers / Texas Gals / Where'd you come from, where'd you go? / Rounder

*Fiona Boyes / I Want to Go / Blues Woman / Yellow Dog Records
Molly Maher & Her Disbelievers / Soul of a Man / Balms of Gilead / Self


WOMENFOLK (July 12, 2009)
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 / Strange Conversation / Signature Sounds

Esther Golton / Reasonland / Unfinished Houses / Tiny Cabin Music
*Anjte Duvekot / Dublin Boys / The Near Demise of the Highwire Dancer / Black Wolf

Alison Rae / Birds / Alison Rae / Self
Rosanne Cash / The World Unseen / Black Cadillac / Capitol
Rhiannon / Blackbird / In My Prime / Rhiannon Music

[Womenfolk Find - Featured Artist of the Month]
*Sara Watkins / Long Hot Summer Days / Sara Watkins / Nonesuch

Gillian Welch / Summer Evening / Going Driftless / Red House
Kris Delmhorst /  Summer Breeze / Appetite / Big Bean Music

Becky Schlegel / Early / Heartaches / Lilly Ray

Marcia Ball / Peace, Love & BBQ / Peace, Love & BBQ / Alligator
*Ruthie Foster / Stone Love / The Truth According to Ruthie Foster / Blue Corn
*Diana Rose / Inside the Lines / You’re Enough / Self

[Behind Women’s Calendar]
*Alison Brown / Rocket Summer / The Company You Keep / Compass

Carrie Elkin / Roots & Wings / The Jeopardy of Circumstance / Self

[Live in the Studio: Carrie Elkin]
Carrie Elkin / Instead of Time
Carrie Elkin / Landeth By Sea

Devon Sproule / Old Virginia Block / Keep Your Silver Shined / Waterbug
Kathleen Edwards / Summerlong / Back to Me / Zoe

*The Wailin’ Jennys / Deeper Well / Live at Mauch Chunk Opera House / Red House
*Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson / The Devil’s Inside My Head / Rattlin’ Bones / Sugar Hill

Molly Maher & Her Disbelievers / Tugboat / Balms of Gilead / Self
*Pieta Brown / Birds / Before the Goldrush (The Covers Project): A Project to Benefit Teach for America / A Nest of Eggs


WOMENFOLK: I'll Fly Away (July 5, 2009)
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 / Strange Conversation / Signature Sounds

*Rita Hosking / Come Sunrise / Come Sunrise / Self
Kourtney Heying / I’ll Fly Away / I’ll Fly Away - Country Hymns and Songs of Faith / Sparrow Records

Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard / Pretty Bird / Hazel & Alice / Rounder
The Lonesome Sisters with Rayna Gellert / Follow Me Down / Tin Halo Music
Lui Collins / All the Pretty Birds / Closer / Waterbug

[Womenfolk Find - Featured Artist of the Month]
Nickel Creek (featuring Sara Watkins) / Cuckoo’s Nest / Nickel Creek
Kasey Chambers / Bluebird / Wayward Angel / Warner Bros.

*Rachael Kilgour / Bluebird / Rachael Kilgour / Self
Laura Cortese / Blue Jays / Blow the Candle Out / Self
Erin McKeown / Blackbirds / Distillation / Signature Sounds

Shannon & Matt Heaton / The Blackbird / Blue Skies Above / EatsRecords
Rachel Unthank & The Winterset / Blackbird / The Bairns / Real World
Laurie Lewis / The Blackest Crow / Seeing Things / Rounder

[Behind Women’s Calendar]
Sharon Shannon & the Woodchoppers / The Mighty Sparrow / Live in Galway / The Grapevine Label

Neko Case / Mighty Sparrow / Fox Confessor Brings the Flood / Anti
*Rebecca Pronsky / All the Birds / The Best Game in Town / Self

Jaspar Lepak / Make a Pretty Thing / Make a Pretty Thing / Self
Toshi Reagon / The Coo Coo Bird / The Harry Smith Connection / Smithsonian Folkways
The Be Good Tanyas / The Littlest Birds / Blue Horse / Nettwerk

The Weepies / Little Bird / Hideaway / Nettwerk
Eliza Gilkyson / Rare Bird / Beautiful World / Red House
Emmylou Harris / Little Bird / Stumble Into Grace / Nonesuch
*Jonatha Brooke / Little Bird / The Works / Bad Dog

Emily Smith / Come Home Pretty Bird / Too Long Away / Spit & Polish
Eva Cassidy / Over the Rainbow / Sonbird / Blix Street

Dolly Parton / Eagle When She Flies / Eagle When She Flies / Sony

*The Roe Family Singers / Mockingbird / The Earth and All That Is In It / Self

Seventh Anniversary of Dave Carter's Passing

Speaking of Dave Carter (as I was doing vis-a-vis the Green River Festival), Andrew Calhoun sent our an e-mail today noting that it was the seventh anniversary of Dave Carter's death and offering up this tribute:

I've always particularly liked Erik Balkey's tribute to Dave Carter, "God's Poet Now," which Erik released on a 2003 CD of the same name.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Irish Music at the White House

This is a neat video of Liz Carroll and John Doyle performing at the White House on St. Patrick's Day. President Obama -- sitting to the right of the duo -- pays rapt attention; other members of the crowd maybe not so much.

(HT: John Whelan.)

Green River Festival

Last night, my father headed up to Greenfield, Massachusetts, to attend the Green River Festival. We met up with Nick, Sandro and Sarah -- Sandro's Sarah, not my Sarah, who is in Mozambique. Although it drizzled through most of the evening concert, there was a rather large crowd and people seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves.

The festival was celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Signature Sounds label, and several of my favorite artists were featured, so I was excited for the show.

The evening began with a set from the house band. Directed by the mighty David 'Goody' Goodrich from the electric guitar, the group also featured the great Jim Henry on acoustic guitar and mandolin, Paul Kochanski on bass, Mark Erelli on acoustic guitar and lap steel and -- I think -- Jason Beek on drums. They played "Bloomington," an instrumental from a Peter Mulvey CD, added Tracy Grammer on fiddle for "28th of January." Jim Henry led an instrumental that he wrote for his daugher Ruby, noting that she had opted to go swimming instead of coming to the show, and then they brought out special guest Erin McKeown, who played her classic song "Blackbirds" from her first Signature Sounds CD, Distillation.

Jim Henry accompanied Tracy Grammer for her four-song set -- because there were so many artists, everyone was playing abbreviated sets. She played "Crocodile Man," "Gentle Arms of Eden," "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" (noting that they had brought on a hail storm when they played the song last July at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival) and "The Verdant Mile" (somehow failing to mention the fact that there is a blog (i.e. this one) named after a lyric from the song).

Mark Erelli played a solid set, opening up with "Not Alone" from his most recent CD before jumping back in time to play "Call You Home." He talked about wanting to sign up with Signature Sounds because of his crush on fiddler Rani Arbo (who was still fronting Salamander Crossing at the time). Tracy Grammer came back out to sing Dave Carter's "Cowboy Singer" with Mark. (Mark had taken Dave Carter's place at the 2003 Green River Festival following Dave's death.) And then he closed the set with "Compass & Companion," joined by Kris Delmhorst on harmony vocals.

Caroline Herring opened up her set with a somewhat odd version of "Long Black Veil" that she quickly made up for with a country gothic version of "True Colors." She played her early piece "Wise Woman" and then closed with a song about a Mississippi artist.

Jeffrey Foucault's set was a total rocker. He and the house band blistered through four songs with screaming guitar solos from Goody and Mark Erelli. Despite my shouting out, "Play your hit!" he did not play "Northbound 35."

Like Jeffrey Foucault, Peter Mulvey seemed totally in his element with the rocking house band. (He's worked a lot with Goody over the years.) He opened up with "The Knuckleball Suite," which had some nice build in it from simple acoustic piece to all-out rocker. Then he played "Some People," which (as I detailed here) used to reference Larry Craig. But bringing it up-to-date, it now alludes to Mark Sanford:
Some people go to the synagogue;
Some people go to the church.
Some people go down to Argentina
And end up with their reputations besmirched.
Mulvey apologized to Larry Craig, adding that "the problem with being a hypocrite is that there will always be some other politician there ready to take your place." From his forthcoming record, he played a great tune called "Kids in the Square" and then closed up the set with "Sad, Sad, Sad, Sad and Far Away from Home," bringing up Jeffrey Foucault and Kris Delmhorst to help on the chorus harmonies. (Kris Delmhorst had played a nice solo set, too, at some point, but I was walking around and chowing down on a pulled pork sandwich during it, so I wasn't paying that much attention.)

Given the short sets, the show was actually running ahead of schedule, so there was a brief break. The house band disappeared, and Richard Shindell came out to play a solo acoustic set, opening up with "Get Up Clara" from his latest album, and then performing "Abbie," a dog song that he wrote in Florence a month ago. Shindell's first dog song, it was quite good -- solid drive and typically quality lyrics. When his third song was "There Goes Mavis," Sarah accurately pointed out that it was an all animals set, but "Balloon Man" moved away from that theme. On "Cold Missouri Waters," Richard was a little hesitant on some of the lyrics, but then he wrapped up his set with a solid version of the classic "Transit."

Chris Smither picked out a typically excellent set. The best song in the set was the topical "Surprise, Surprise" about financial crises and economic downturns.

Crooked Still played an extremely solid set, and the crowd was loving them for it -- a lot of people were on their feet for this set. They opened up with a great version of "Harvest Moon" and then a solo-rich treatment of "Hop High." On "The Golden Vanity" and "Undone in Sorrow," cellist Tristan Clarridge's solos were particularly tasteful and inventive -- he really busted out some nice chops. "Did You Sleep Well?" is the song stuck in my head today. They also played "When First Unto This Country," "Tell Her to Come Back Home" and -- after asking 'Is that OK with all you wet people?' -- "Shady Grove" to close out the set. They didn't talk that much -- they kept the energy flowing from one song into the next. They did a very, very nice job.

We skipped out on Eilen Jewell's closing set in favor of some pints of beer in downtown Greenfield.

All in all, it was a solid evening of music. My one complaint was that, for the first half of the concert, when the house band was playing and backing people up, it was a little too loud -- and to the detriment of the sound. It was loud enough that I wanted earplugs, and not having any, I had to make due with wadded up bits of wet napkin. These worked to reduce the nasty distortion that was resulting from the high volume levels: both voices and instruments came through much more clearly.

From the "Who Knew?" Files

I was struck by the concluding paragraph of Steve Smith's review in the New York Times of the Kronos Quartet's Celebrate Brooklyn concert:
Elsewhere, the quartet’s omnivorous appetite was confirmed once again in a set that ranged from the bucolic psychedelia of Sigur Ros’s “Flugufrelsarinn” (“The Fly Freer”) to the distorted catharsis of Michael Gordon’s “Sad Park.” The Mexican alternative-rock band Café Tacuba’s vivid “11/11” closed the show, and a suite from Clint Mansell’s score for the film “Requiem for a Dream” was a generous encore.
Kronos plays Cafe Tacuba? That's awesome! (For a recounting of my first exposure to Cafe Tacuba last November, see here.)

Apparently, however, this should not have come as a surprise to me, since Kronos recorded a piece entitled "12/12" with Cafe Tacuba on their Nuevo album, which I own. Who knew?

At any rate, the Celebrate Brooklyn concert sounds like it was a great one; I wish I could have been there.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Bluegrass in Nashville

Ben draws our attention to this article on bluegrass from the Washington Post.

I like the description of bluegrass that ends the first paragraph: "Americana's most underappreciated genre."

The author, Jedd Ferris, then goes on to describe the Ryman Auditorium and the Station Inn. Then he comes up with a place that I haven't heard of:

About 80 miles southeast of Music City, below the rolling green hills of central Tennessee, is Cumberland Caverns, the second-longest cave in the state, with nearly 30 miles of rocky underground terrain. Last year, Nashville advertising executive Todd Mayo took a family trip to the caverns and hit on an idea as he toured the vast chambers. He now hosts Bluegrass Underground, a series of monthly concerts that take place 333 feet below sea level in the caverns' Volcano Room.


"It's kind of like playing on the moon," Jere Cherryholmes said from the stage during a show by his chart-topping family band, Cherryholmes.
Whoa! How cool!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Gold Rush Cowboy in Virginia

When we weren't repeating Starship songs on the iPod in the car, Ben and I got out and walked around Winchester, Virginia, a bit. We found it to be a fairly charming town.

On the pedestrian mall in the center of town, we encountered Cowboy Hay, who was singing songs and telling tales of the Gold Rush. Although we didn't stay for very long, it was a pleasant performance, and I'm glad that we got to make Cowboy Hay's acquaintance.

More Deciphering Classic 80s Songs

Ben and I took a small roadtrip this weekend from Washington, D.C., across Virginia on U.S. 50 to Morgantown, West Virginia.

En route, we listened to the "Rock 'n' Roll Classics" playlist on my iPod. Despite having some questionable entries -- Sheryl Crow? Sting? -- I have put some gems in there among the 87 songs on the playlist. One of which is the Starship classic "We Built This City."

If you are only casually acquainted with the song, you know the chorus:
We built this city--
We built this city on rock and roll!
But there is a brief transition at the end of every verse to the chorus. And we wanted to figure out what it was.

Maybe you want to take a listen first?

The second line is quite clearly "Listen to the radio." But what the heck is the first line?

Ben's first guess was "Cody plays the bambam," and he argued that a "bambam" was a form of drum. I wasn't really buying this. So we gave it another listen (or six), and it dawned on me that the first word had three syllables and -- aha! -- was "Marconi," referring to Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of the radio. So I was going with "Marconi plays 'La Bamba'; / Listen to the radio." That seemed like a plausible guess.

But when we looked up the lyrics, the Internet told us that the lyric was "Marconi plays the mamba." What? Isn't the Cuban dance known as the "mambo"? What's the "mamba"?

The Internet yielded this suggestion from someone else vexed by this mystery:
According to my Chambers Dictionary, a mamba is a (deadly African) snake. Since Marconi is widely credited as the inventor of radio (and the next line is “Listen to the radio”) this could be a reference to the oscillation of radio waves resembling the movement of a snake and having a similarly dangerous potential for social change — or it could just be a preposterous lyric from a crap song.
Elsewhere on the Internet, a similar theory was proposed:
So what does Marconi playing the mamba mean? Clearly, "Marconi" is referring to the radio itself. The marconi. The device. The radio plays a deadly snake. Listen to it. We built this city. The snake -- the mamba -- is slithering from the speakers. Ready to kill greedy corporations. Ready to squeeze the life out of the police. Ready to free the world of all that is evil, and to leave behind only the youthful idealism that is encompassed by the tenets of rock and roll.
In response to this theory, quite a number of comments have been posted:
The MAMBA in the song is not the snake. It is a musical instrument that plays notes when your hand is near it. Hitler was known to play it during one of the olympics in germany.
The other comments, however, reject that counter-theory and suggest that Hitler was fond of the Theremin.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Cool Covers on the New Dale Ann Disc

Barry Mazor had a brief piece in the Wall Street Journal recently looking at Compass Records and three female bluegrass artists recording for the label: Alison Brown (the founder and co-owner of the label), Missy Raines (with her new band The New Hip) and Dale Ann Bradley.

The article begins with some boilerplate prose typical of "women in bluegrass" articles:

For a long stretch of its history, bluegrass was not a musical genre in which women were encouraged to take leading roles. The imagery, starting with the original Bill Monroe-Earl Scruggs model in the 1940s, was of skillful men calling the shots, singing high and picking really fast, really well.

I guess you have to do that.

Ultimately, I was most excited to learn that Dale Ann Bradley's new disc contains cover versions of Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" and Fleetwood Mac's "Over My Head." (I'm personally excited about the Tom Petty, and I am excited to think that Ben will be excited about the Fleetwood Mac.)

"I Won't Back Down" is from Tom Petty's masterful Full Moon Fever album. Del McCoury previously has taken "Love is a Long Road" from the same album and turned it into a bluegrass barnburner for his classic Cold Hard Facts disc.

I'm looking forward to "American Girl" with a cool banjo riff someday.

(Article HT: my father.)

New Jack Hardy Album Recorded

Ron Mura writes on the Jack Hardy list:

Jack recorded a new album, Rye Grass, last month. It is hoped to be available by the end of this month. Musicians include Mike Laureanno on bass, Abbie Gardner and Laurie MacAllister from Red Molly on dobro and banjo and harmonies, and Morgan and Miranda Hardy on fiddle and harmonies.

The songs are:

Crime of the Century
Rye Grass
Tobacco Shed
If I Were to Lay Me Down
Ask Questions
Now and Then
Little Dove

I'm very excited to hear the contributions from Abbie and Laurie of Red Molly, and Mike Laureanno (pictured here) is always a solid bassist and harmony singer -- I've enjoyed seeing him and Jack perform together on a number of occasions.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

YouTube Revenge #512

(HT: Connecticut Moon Maid.}

The Two Man Rolling Thunder Review?

The Two Man Gentlemen Band have just announced that they will be part of The Bob Dylan Show for three dates this summer. This Friday, they play at Fifth Third Field in Dayton, Ohio, and then on Saturday at Classic Park in Eastlake, Ohio. And then on the last day of July, Bob and the Gentlemen will be playing at the Amphitheater at the Wharf in Orange Beach, Alabama.

All of the shows feature Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp in addition to Bob Dylan and the Gents. The Gentlemen will be playing as a quartet.

I know that Andy Bean likes his minor league ballparks, so I bet that Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp are only part of the thrill. And I bet that Willie would love to guest on a slightly slowed-down version of "When Your Lips are Playing My Kazoo."

Monday, July 6, 2009

Former WKCR DJ Publishes Second Book on the Brain

Amazing Grace, the program that precedes The Moonshine Show on WKCR, has seen a string of unlikely DJs over the years -- including me. The show is devoted to playing African-American gospel and particularly classic quartet-style gospel from the 1940s and 1950s. Needless to say, there are not a whole lot of 18- to 21-year-old Columbia undergraduates who show up at WKCR saying they want to program music like that.

So various DJs get thrown into the role of hosting the show, and many of them become completely hooked on it. Andy Bean from The Two Man Gentlemen Band was the host for several years in the late 90s/early 00s. Dan Lewis, who had been a jazz DJ and now is a Harvard-trained lawyer, hosted the show in the early 00s. And Glover Wright, who started his WKCR career as a country DJ has hosted the program for the past several years.

Shortly after Andy Bean -- Andrew Rudman as he was named at the time -- and before Dan Lewis, there was a Columbia College freshman named Jonah Lehrer who hosted Amazing Grace. Jonah was a terrific host. He really embraced the music, reading up on the performers and relaying his enthusiasm for their stories and their music over the air to the listeners. He did exactly what a WKCR DJ was supposed to do: present the music in a knowledgeable and informative fashion that justified why it was relevant for us to dedicate two hours of programming time each week to 1940s/50s gospel music.

Jonah unfortunately stopped hosting the show after September 11th. The station was off the air for a while, and Jonah drifted on to other activities. I would sometimes see him around campus, but he never came back to host the show.

It seems that he concentrated his energies elsewhere, as he now has published two books on the brain. The first, which came out in September of last year, is called Proust was a Neuroscientist, and it explores the way in which literary talents have presaged scientific discoveries about the brain. As Publishers Weekly writes, "The 25-year-old Columbia graduate draws from his diverse background in lab work, science writing and fine cuisine to explain how Cézanne anticipated breakthroughs in the understanding of human sight, how Walt Whitman intuited the biological basis of thoughts and, in the title essay, how Proust penetrated the mysteries of memory by immersing himself in childhood recollections."

His new book is called How We Decide, and it brings together various findings from behavioral psychology, interacting with some of Malcom Gladwell's books and similar material.