Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Andy Bean Moving Beyond Just Two-Man Music

The latest update from the Two Man Gentlemen Band includes the news that
Andy Bean will be plucking his banjo & guitar along with Lauren Ambrose's No Name Rural Jazz Band Sunday, Nov 15 at Joe's Pub in NYC.
Wow! I had the pleasure of seeing Ms. Ambrose in the Shakespeare in the Park productions of Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet and would so much like to see her making some music with S. Andy Bean -- by which I mean making some music, just for the record.

Lauren Ambrose, I would also like to note, is New Haven, Connecticut, born and bred!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Falcon Ridge Going Back to Three Days

Word just came through the Falcon Ridge newsletter that they're scaling the festival back to just Friday, Saturday and Sunday this year:
FRFF will be returning to a 3 day format, next year's dates are July 23, 24, 25, 2010. The pros and cons have been discussed a good deal on the FR Forum, it's basically a preservation of quality over quantity issue. We've ADDED ON so many things over the years, the whole structure is wobbling a bit. We still plan to open for earlybird camping maybe even on the Weds before but all stages will begin on Friday.
I've enjoyed the four day festivals -- Richard Thompson played on a Thursday night, for instance, so how can I not have fond memories of that fourth day? -- but I also understand why three days makes everything just a little bit easier for the organizers.

I do like the idea of opening the camping up early, too. When I've thought about whether I'll try and arrange my schedule such that I'll be in the Northeast in July, I've thought about Falcon Ridge mostly as an opportunity to hang out and make music with friends, so a Thursday of just doing that would be great.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hot Brazilian Guitar

Wikipedia tells me that he is "widely regarded as the greatest Brazilian guitarist of all times [sic]," so color me embarrassed for not having heard of him before, but my political science colleague Milan Svolik hipped me to Baden Powell last night.

Dig this:

(The red border indicates either my embarrassedness or his hotness -- your call.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Stumbling Upon Bluegrass in the Strangest Places

My gym is located in the Lincoln Square Mall here in Urbana. The Lincoln Square Mall is one of the strangest places that I have ever been -- it looks like a mall, and it sort of even feels like a mall, but there's no one there for the most part, except when there is (sometimes but not always) a sudden influx of people on the weekends. Much like I am not sure if I will ever stop saying, "Wow, it's really flat out here," when driving on I-57, I'm not sure if I will ever say, "Wow, this place is weird," every time I walk into the empty Lincoln Square Mall.

Today as I was leaving the gym, I heard a familiar noise. And I saw in the distance a circle. And lo and behold, there was a bluegrass jam going on -- in front of the empty Lincoln Hotel's mallfront entrance.

I only stayed for two songs, since I had to come home to write lecture notes -- and you can see how that's going -- but there was a good vibe, and I enjoyed what I heard.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

What Do The Swell Season and The Zambonis Have in Common?

As far as I know, they don't share a similar history of dating and then continuing to be in a band together after the break-up. No, they both record their albums in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the ol' Arsenal of Democracy itself!

The Swell Season is the collaboration between Glen Hansard (of The Frames) and Marketa Irglova. They played a couple that falls in love through music in the movie Once, and then they went and fell in love themselves, except it didn't quite work out, but they still make music together!

And according to the article in the New York Times from this past week, they recorded their second CD, Strict Joy, at Tarquin Studios in Bridgeport.

Now, Tarquin Studios is no slacker operation -- Peter Katis has recorded The National, Interpol, Spoon and some other big-time acts there, including my beloved Zambonis. (See my concert review from February here.) And Peter also sometimes plays with the band, too, although his brother Tarquin (the namesake of the studios) is more regular (along with Dave Zamboni, Jon Aley, and the Hockey Monkey, of course).

Will The Swell Season appear on the next edition of The Tarquin Records All Star Holiday Extravaganza? I can only hope. (Although good luck producing anything that tops The Happiest Guys in the World's "I am the Groundhog (And It's My Day!)")

Update: Apparently, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova even attended a Bridgeport Sound Tigers game while they were in the Park City.

(HT: Beth Popp.)

Dr. Ralph on Newgrass Music

For those who missed it, there was an article in the New York Times this week in anticipation of Ralph Stanley's autobiography. My favorite line:
The hippie types didn’t know any better; they really thought they was playing bluegrass. You’d hear a solo on electric banjo and like to murder the man a-playing it.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Christine Lavin and Political Psychology

My Illinois political science colleague Jeff Mondak has written a song with Christine Lavin about the genetic determinants of political behavior. (Jeff has written a number of poems and songs for kids.) In addition to Jeff's contribution of a couple of verses, Christine also consulted with political scientists John Alford and John Hibbing (who with Carolyn Funk published one of the breakthrough articles on the topic, "Are Political Orientations Genetically Transmitted?," in the May 2005 American Political Science Review), and she got Washington Post humorist Gene Weingarten to lend his brain to the endeavor as well.

You can find the result, a song entitled "Hardwired," on Christine's website. The song surrounds a five question test to figure out if you're liberal or conservative. (I'm more conservative than you might think.)

Jeff reports that Christine has been singing it in concert and has been enjoying watching the audience from stage as they take the quiz.

(Since we like keeping track of songs about Pluto here on Sound of Blackbirds, we should note that Jeff also has written a song entitled "Pluto's Not a Planet Anymore.")

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Smithsonian Magazine Article on Jewish Bluegrass

Jen Miller has written a nice piece for Smithsonian Magazine about Jewish bluegrass and old-time musicians.

For several paragraphs, she talks about Jerry Wicentowski:
Bluegrass lyrics celebrate country living, but many of the people singing them are city folk. Jerry Wicentowski grew up in Brooklyn in the 1960s and fell in love with bluegrass during the folk revival. For religious Jews like Wicentowski, there was a rebellious element to being a fan of the music. Bluegrass became his escape. During the week, he studied at an insular yeshiva; on the weekends he played guitar in Washington Square Park.

After earning a Master’s degree in Hebrew and Semitic Studies and then drifting away from Judaism, a series of life events led Wicentowski to return to religion. Eventually, he found himself a man with two strong identities: a Jew and a bluegrass musician. He began to fuse the two. Wicentowski worked on an album with mandolin virtuoso Andy Statman called “Shabbos in Nashville,” which featured Jewish songs in the style of 1950s bluegrass. Later, he founded his own band, Lucky Break. The Minnesota-based quartet bills itself as “uniquely American, uniquely Jewish,” by mixing “the stark beauty of Appalachian music with Shabbat Z’mirot,” or Sabbath songs.
I met Jerry once years ago when I had first taken over the Moonshine Show, and he was playing with Andy Statman and some other folks at a coffeeshop -- I believe -- in Brooklyn. (I couldn't tell you where today. I can tell you that it was the first time I ever saw Andy Statman play live.) We had a nice conversation; he sent me a copy of his CD Lucky Break when it came out, and I spun it a number of times on WKCR.

Jerry was just back in New York for one of his periodic appearances this past weekend. He performed at the Parkside Lounge on Monday night, I know, and I'm sure it was a good show, too.

Miller also talks about New York City favorites Margot Leverett and the Klezmer Mountain Boys in the article.
Historically, [Leverett] says, “Jews and Southern Appalachian people have a lot in common. They’ve been driven out of their homes, have lived hard lives, and have used music for strength.” Leverett’s vibrant blue eyes tear up when she talks about the displacement that poor Southerners experienced in the 1920s, when they were forced to leave their homes and seek out work in the cities. “There’s the same homesickness in Jewish folk songs,” she says.
(HT: Tina Aridas.)

Heavy Metal Tribute Night Coming Up at Le Poisson Rouge

Word has just come over the Internet that Dangerous (the heavy metal Michael Jackson tribute that I raved about here) will be going head-to-head with Tragedy (the heavy metal Bee Gees tribute that I've never seen) with Misstallica (the all-female tribute to Metallica) mopping up afterward at Le Poisson Rouge a week from Saturday night (October 24th).

Details here.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Rush It Over to the Radio Station!

I love the stories from the early days of rock 'n' roll where record producers rush the singles over to the local record station to get them on the air right away. The most famous of these is undoubtedly Sam Phillips taking Elvis Presley's first single "That's All Right" (which, as we all know, had "Blue Moon of Kentucky" on the B-side) over to Dewey Phillips (no relation) at WHBQ, where Dewey Phillips played in 14 times in a row.

In the obituary for country record producer Shelby Singleton, there's a similar story about Jeannie C. Riley's breakthrough hit:
Perhaps [Jerry Kennedy's] most memorable session working with Mr. Singleton, he said, was the one that produced “Harper Valley P.T.A.”

The song, a sendup of small-town hypocrisy written by Tom T. Hall, became a No. 1 pop and country hit for Mr. Singleton’s Plantation label in 1968. It also made Jeanne Carolyn Stephenson, an aspiring singer whose name Mr. Singleton changed to Jeannie C. Riley for the session, an overnight sensation.

“He was so sure that he had something magic with that one that he had an acetate of it made just as soon as the session was over,” said Mr. Kennedy, who played the indelible Dobro guitar part on the record. That evening Mr. Singleton got the music into the hands of Ralph Emery, a tastemaking disc jockey at WSM in Nashville, and by the following morning it was making its way up the charts.
Today, I guess the rush is to get new songs up on YouTube or your own website or maybe a tastemaking blog.

Missed Show: Gavin Friday at Carnegie Hall

The Gavin Friday bash that was held at Carnegie Hall two weeks ago sounds like a total blast. The basic plotline was that Gavin Friday said that he wanted to play Carnegie Hall before he turned 50, and so he was able to sneak in just a few days before his 50th birthday, and he brought along a bunch of friends:
  • U2 rocked out on "King of Trash"

  • Shane MacGowan appeared on stage with a whiskey bottle in hand

  • Lou Reed on guitar, Laurie Anderson on violin and John Zorn on saxophone swung "The Light Pours Out of Me" into "Sweet Jane" -- wait, stop, John Zorn playing saxophone on "Sweet Jane"? Holy schemeeeeezers!

  • Bono singing “The Last Song I’ll Ever Sing"

Roseanne Cash Telling It Like It Was

Roseanne Cash has just released an album called The List based on a list of classic country songs that her father, Johnny Cash, made for her "in an effort to expand [her] teenage taste in music beyond the Beatles."

She sat down with Deborah Solomon for a New York Times interview a few weeks ago, and she didn't pull punches:
Did you have a good relationship with [your father]?

It’s hard to be close to a drug addict when they’re active. He was erratic and withdrawn. But when I was 17, he said, Come with me, and I left the day after I graduated high school, went on the road with him. It was wonderful. He was clean and sober by that time. That’s when he wrote the list for me, on the bus.
I haven't heard the album yet, but Elvis Costello duets on "Heartache by the Numbers"; Bruce Springsteen on "Sea of Heartbreak"; Jeff Tweedy on "Long Black Veil"; and Rufus Wainwright on Merle Haggard's "Silver Wings." Wow! And then Roseanne sings "Girl from the North Country," "Take These Chains from My Heart," "Miss the Mississippi and You," too! Sounds like a winner so far.

Pete Wernick on Steve Martin

From this year's International Bluegrass Music Awards wrap-up:
Pete Wernick introduced [Steve] Martin as “a man who needs an introduction” to the bluegrass community. With a name like “Martin,” Pete observed, he could have been related to Jimmy Martin or Benny Martin—but he wasn’t. “He took the typical bluegrass career path of learning magic tricks, learning to make balloon animals and working at Disneyland,” Wernick said, adding that Martin now refers to his movie producing and acting career as “the lost years,” in an effort to “turn his life to oblivion, poverty and banjo rolls.”

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Piano Stairs

If you turn the stairs into a piano, people will take the stairs!

(HT: Miguel de Figueiredo.}