april 2009

It is now a year exactly since we launched the first edition of TheBluegrassSpecial.com. We are humbled by the support we've received from publicists and others in the music business; we are humbled by the kind words from artists we have profiled in these pages; we are humbled by readership numbers we could not have imagined in our most fevered dreams back then. Thanks to one and all for believing in what we're doing and for seeking us out.

We're especially proud this month to feature the hottest bluegrass band in the land, Dailey & Vincent, on our cover, with our staff photographer, Audrey Harrod, doing her usual fantastic job in capturing these gentlemen in performance at WoodSongs in Lexington, KY. With other features on Raul Malo, Mark O'Connor, Mickey Clark, and Mickey Raphael on Willie Nelson, we're feeling pretty good about the wide range of superb music being spotlighted in this issue.

This being the month of Passover and Easter, we have two special features for our friends of Jewish and Christian faith. Charles S. Weinblatt, author of Jacob's Courage: A Holocaust Love Story, contributes an essay on "The Meaning of Passover" that links Passover and Easter to the greater purpose of humankind to stand forthright against evil in the world, a timely topic for today if ever there was one. And in an excerpt from his book Holidays and Holy Nights, contributing editor Christopher Hill looks at the celebration of Easter as it unfolded in antiquity.

So, again, thanks to one and all! Happy Passover! Happy Easter! Let us all remember the words of Mr. Weinblatt as we observe April's sacred holidays: Humans are not God. But we have the power of choice. We can use it to enslave or to liberate. We can persecute or accept others. This Easter and Passover, let us vow to use our power of choice to fight for mercy, justice and liberty. If the meaning of Passover is spiritual redemption and rebirth, then let us be reborn to stop prejudice. Let us promote tolerance and encourage everyone to value the differences among us. In this way, the spirit of Passover will live on through our progeny. As we enjoy Passover and Easter this spring with our families, let us pause for a moment to ask what each of us can do to eradicate the evil that surrounds us. The rebirth of this spirit is the true meaning of Passover.

By David McGee
Coming off an unprecedented roll in the awards season-13 total between IBMA and SPBGMA—JAMIE DAILEY and DARRIN VINCENT are back at it, out on the road, introducing songs from their second album, Brothers From Different Mothers, and proceeding in accordance with a master plan mapped out by the duo before they even formally teamed up. In this month's cover story, the history of their union is chronicled and the plan for the future revealed-along with the story of both artist's deeply personal investment in their music.

Last month saw the release of MARK O'CONNOR's long-awaited "Americana Symphony," performed by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop. In this second part of an interview that began with our January '09 cover story, O'Connor discusses both the music and the history-his family's and America's-he brings to glorious life in this ambitious work.

NAKED WILLIE: Mickey Raphael 'Unproduces' Some Vintage Willie Nelson songs and Unearths a Classic
It might be the album of the year, this Naked Willie, because, truth be told, it's going to take some kind of effort for another artist to come up with 17 songs of this quality, played with this degree of authority and nuance, and rendered vocally with this magnitude of conviction and subtextual insight. WILLIE NELSON is at the top of his game here, as a writer and singer. Originally released on RCA albums between 1966 and 1970, the songs have taken on new life, thanks to Willie's long-time harmonica man, MICKEY RAPHAEL, "unproducing" the original master tapes by removing the pop embroidery that spruced up the original recordings for popular consumption. Raphael gives us the inside story on how it was done, and re-done.

FEELING 'LUCKY': Raul Malo Gets Deep Inside A New Album Of Original Songs
Tell RAUL MALO that he doesn't seem to have any bad music in him, and you'll get a laugh, a heartfelt thank you, and a word of caution: "You should hear what didn't make it on the album." Would that we could. Lucky One, Malo's new album, and first collection of new songs in seven years, continues unabated one of the most satisfying recording careers of the past two decades, and consolidates the strengths of his previous recordings.

THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD: Mickey Clark Makes An Eloquent Case For Wanderlust On Winding Highways
Photographed exclusively for TheBluegrassSpecial.com by AUDREY HARROD
A recognized and respected name in the folk world, dating back to his early scuffling days in New York's Greenwich Village scene in the mid-'60s, it wasn't until the fall of 2008 that MICKEY CLARK had put together a collection of his songs, new and old, plus a few choice covers that he's made his own, gone into a studio with a dedicated focus and a skilled producer, and laid them down for an album proper. Let it be said that when his moment arrived, Clark seized it with a vengeance. The resulting album, Winding Highways, is one of the most engaging long players of the year, truly a record that came out of nowhere to make its mark by way of graceful, soothing rhythms and literate, wise storytelling emanating from a sprawling zone bounded by the '60s folk revival and today's alternative country and folk scenes.

UP IN SMOKE AT SXSW: Billy Bob Thornton Undermines Surgeon General's Report, ACORN Influence Suspected; New and Familiar Name the Day
By Billy Altman
Contributing Editor BILLY ALTMAN files a report on some of the most interesting roots-oriented music he heard at SXSW, after surviving smoker's rights activist Billy Bob Thornton's cancer-friendly show. You don't want to miss TINY MASTERS OF TODAY. Read on.

The Meaning Of Passover
by Charles S. Weinblatt

The author of Jacob's Courage: A Holocaust Love Story considers the ultimate meaning of Passover-and Easter-in this stirring essay, reprinted from his blog. "As we enjoy Passover and Easter this spring with our families," Weinblatt urges, "let us pause for a moment to ask what each of us can do to eradicate the evil that surrounds us. The rebirth of this spirit is the true meaning of Passover."

Book Excerpt: Holidays and Holy Nights
By Christopher Hill

This month the Christian world celebrates Easter, the occasion marking Jesus Christ's triumph over the cross. In honor of this occasion, we offer our readers an excerpt from Contributing Editor Christopher Hill's book Holidays and Holy Night, in which he examines the origins of the Easter celebration and its relationship to Christmas.

Typical of Bill Gaither's video productions, this warm-hearted reunion of all the past and present members of the respected Gaither Vocal Band gather together in the Gaither Studios in Alexandria, Indiana, to reminiscence about their years together and give it their all for four hours' worth of spiritual testimony in song on two DVDs. There seems to be nothing but good will and fond memories among these men and women, and when it comes to the heart of the matter-the songs and the singing-they're all in peak form. Michael English steals the show with his impassioned singing and personal testimony, but there are plenty of other inspired, exultant performances worth writing home about.

CROSSING OVER: Remembering Louis Bellson
By Billy Altman

A tribute to the legendary drummer LOUIS BELLSON, who passed away in February at the age of 84.

Roots music legend GATEMOUTH BROWN finally get a proper headstone for his grave, and a historical one at that. And Dunce Emeritus JOHN RICH goes stumbling about the land with a large metal bucket lodged firmly over his head.


DAILEY & VINCENT, Brothers From Different Mothers
By Billy Altman

When your debut album makes IBMA history by garnering seven awards, including Emerging Artist of the Year, Vocal Group of the Year and Entertainer of the Year, as well as Album of the Year to boot, you've pretty much got carte blanche to do whatever you want to for a followup. Which only makes Dailey & Vincent's eagerly awaited sophomore release all the more impressive.

BOBBY OSBORNE, Bluegrass and Beyond
Bluegrass and Beyond is a powerful and moving journey through bluegrass legend Bobby Osborne's history, blending old-time gospel soul, hard driving traditional bluegrass, country heartbreakers, poignant reminiscences of the past, and, for good measure, one special showcase for his own impeccable mandolin work when he trades high stepping verses with Duncan's fiddle, Matt Despain's dobro and Dana Cupp's banjo on Osborne's own beloved instrumental, "Hyden."

DOLLY PARTON, 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs
A reissue timed to coincide with the Broadway opening of Dolly Parton's 9 to 5 musical, the original 1988 release came in the midst of Dolly's run at pop stardom, and, typical of those records, teamed her with pop, rock and country musicians. Also typical of those long players, this one, produced by Mike Post, the king of TV show theme songs (Hill Street Blues, the Law & Order franchise, NYPD Blue, The Rockford Files, et al), has some clunky arrangements that hardly serve Dolly well, nor she them, but it also has several moments of prime Dolly writing and singing that make it an interesting artifact of her career at this juncture.

Visiting the Handsome Family's haunting Honey Moon album is a bit like entering a room populated by a chattering class comprised of Edgar Allan Poe, Franz Kafka, William Faulkner, Russ Columbo, Groucho Marx and that guy on the saw who adds so much mystery to the Flatlanders' first album. It feels dark and morbid in there, but to such a degree it becomes almost comical, like a really good carnival fun house ride when you're trundling along in the wobbly car in pitch black surroundings only to be suddenly confronted by the onrushing specter of a behemoth of a bus bearing down on you mercilessly, with blinding lights and blaring horn in disorienting display. Then, right before you're crushed, your car turns sharply and you're out of danger. You never were in any danger, of course, but it was still a cheap thrill, and kind of bracing in its own way. On Honey Moon, Brett (music) and Rennie Sparks (lyrics) explore the deep purple abyss between the fun house car and the onrushing bus. But do they swerve in time to avoid being crushed?

IAN TYSON, Yellowhead to Yellowstone and Other Love Stories
By Billy Altman

Yellowhead To Yellowstone And Other Love Stories echoes with the sound of experience; like the autumnal Alberta weather of his evergreen "Four Strong Winds," the music's good in Ian Tyson's fall.




The vitality of straight-ahead, hard charging, guitar-fueled rock 'n' roll with a blues base and a southern twist is no better demonstrated than on new long players from the Mojo Gurus, by way of Tampa, and Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat, by way of Texas. For those about to rock, they salute you.

Accomplished on multiple instruments (not all of them the stringed variety) and a musical jack-of-all-trades as a producer-musician-composer and head of his own Fields Music, which services original music to media and industrial markets, Dave Fields has kept his solo career on low flame, this being only his third album following his 1998 debut, Field of Vision. But his previous album emerging in 2007, and now a third in early 2009 perhaps indicate a new focus on making his personal statement. If so, the blues couldn't be happier, if that's not an oxymoron. All Wound Up is a solid, in the pocket long playing exploration of various blues styles in configurations both expansive and compact.

GRAHAM WILKINSON, Graham Wilkinson
Usually leading his band The Underground Township, multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Graham Wilkinson cut a bunch of solo acoustic songs in a friend's apartment some time back, and promptly put them away to focus on his other projects. Persuaded by Town Council Publishing president Wayne Dalchau to release the collection on CD, Wilkinson now has something on his hands, namely an immediate claim to being one of his generation's most promising singer-songwriters.

If anyone wants to know what the ideal instructional DVD should contain, Ron Block's A Fresh Look At Bluegrass Banjo is a textbook example of a comprehensive, accessible, smart short course by a master of the art. If something is missing here, one would be hard pressed to say what it is. Block and the folks at AcuTab have covered so many angles of the banjo in and out of a band context, and addressed so many issues of style, tone and execution-and made sure to emphasize the importance of practicing-as to make the title of their effort indisputable. In fact, Block does such a good job connecting the dots between passion and technique that even non-players might want to check out the DVD, if only to gain a greater understanding of what they're actually hearing when a good bluegrass band engages a song fully.

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Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024