february 2009

Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu

We properly pay homage to man of letters John Updike in this issue, but as we were preparing for launch, an interesting story caught our attention. In 1960 Jonathan Schwartz, then a lad but now a long-time New York City disc jockey, holding forth these days on weekends at NPR station WNYC-FM, and as devout a Boston Red Sox fan as he is a Sinatra-phile, sent a letter of praise to Updike on the publication of his New Yorker piece (October 22, 1960) about the last game of the Red Sox' legendary hitter, Ted Williams (a portion of which is excerpted elsewhere in this issue). Updike responded in kind, saying he was vexed by the question of what the Sox could do to beat the dreaded New York Yankees. Finally, Updike revealed, it came to him. Rather than write it down, though, the author enclosed a drawing he had made of his eureka moment. It showed a baseball diamond, believed to be the Sox' Fenway Park home field, with the fearsome Yankees first baseman Bill "Moose" Skowron at bat. Arrayed in the field was the Sox defense—not the legal limit of nine players, though, mind you, but rather 15 players, "plugging every gap," as Schwartz said in relating this story on the air on January 31, the Saturday following Updike's death. "15 players!" Schwartz exclaimed. "Nothing gets through!" Fortunately, Updike lived long enough to see his beloved Sox dismiss the Yankees in the post season, and move on to two World Series triumphs, winning everything with the requisite nonet on the field and at the plate.

COVER STORY: The first installment in our 'Artists On the Verge, 2009' series, spotlighting artists we feel are destined for higher ground this year, features 23-year-old Colorado-based singer-songwriter GABRIELLE LOUISE. A devotee of the fiction of Jonathan Safran Foer and gifted in her own right, Louise's latest self-released album, Cigarettes for Sentiments, produced by bluegrass veteran Gene Libbea, is an impressive showcase of her vocal, instrumental and, especially, literary artistry. "I'm a huge optimistic, sometimes to my detriment, I think," she says with a coy laugh. "But I prefer to see the good in people, I prefer to see the good in the world around me. Because I think you can just choose, and it's certainly a more enjoyable existence if you can constantly choose between love or fear. I think I like to look at things lighter. But I don't think that means that you can't dive in and experience the beautiful side of sorrow either."

'At Last': As All-American As It Gets
by Billy Altman

As Inauguration Day first dances go, "At Last" was certainly an interesting choice. Just its title holds great symbolic meaning, referencing both a change in administrations from Republican to Democratic as well as the historic election of the Unite States' first African-American president. But if you know some of the history of the song itself, its significance grows far deeper and more profound.

'A National Treasure': A Tribute To John Updike
by David McGee

Philip Roth called him 'a national treasure.' We look back on one of the 20th Century's most important authors, praise the life lived, and treasure the gifts it offered to posterity.

A selection of excerpts from Updike's works is included.

George Beverly Shea Celebrates A Centennial-His Centennial: A tribute to the gospel giant on the occasion of his 100th birthday.

Remembering Claude Jeter: 'I Promised My Mother I Would Never Sing Nothing But For The Lord'

The raw power of RON ASHETON by BILLY ALTMAN

Hurly-burly is loose upon this land, but in this case the tumult and commotion in question add up to a grand triumph of modern mainstream country music making.

Wynonna, SING, CHAPTER 1
Sing, Chapter 1 is, in a sense, Wynonna's version of the standards albums others have used to prop up flagging careers; the big difference is she's not some washed up rock star trying to convince us these timeless songs were always close to her heart, even if she never sang anything remotely like them before. No, the fare on Sing, Chapter 1 is right in her wheelhouse, as a singer comfortable with pop, blues, country, gospel and R&B, all of which she's explored over the years, either on record or in concert. Wy being Wy is an unbeatable proposition.

BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet , ALLIGATOR PURSE/Pine Leaf Boys, HOMAGE AU PASSE
Alligator Purse and Homage Au Passe proceed along similar paths, of limning the sources of Cajun and Creole music while adding contemporary colors to the palette, both in new original songs and an inspired selection of covers from beyond the Cajun/Creole axis that are utterly transformed rhythmically and texturally by accordions, fiddles and the distinctive cry and break in the singers' voices.

Nancy Cassidy, RUNAWAY TRAIN
Thirty years into this artistic calling of hers, Nancy Cassidy brings to her captivating new album the richness of living the examined life of a daughter, a wife and a mother.

Common Strings, THE RAIN CAME DOWN
This new band has the instrumental chops enough to impress anyone, but in the end what cuts deepest are songs drawn from identifiable real world situations and commonplace, unending struggles and longings, leaving the best sort of impression of the deep soul of Common Strings.

Crowe Brothers, BROTHERS -N- HARMONY
The word should have gone out so much sooner: the Crowe Brothers' Brothers -N- Harmony is a bluegrass masterpiece, easily as good as or better than anything-really-and that's saying a lot-the genre produced in 2008 (it was released on September 30, 2008). North Carolinians Josh and Wayne Crowe, with production handled by Josh and the brothers' multi-instrumentalist bandmate Steve Thomas, seem to have been teleported to some musical Twilight Zone where it found its songs, energy and ambiance. It should be 1955 now, and this record should have a big, striking cover, the kind of insightful liner notes an uncredited Chick Crumpacker wrote for Elvis's second RCA album, and been issued on a heavy 12-inch vinyl disc reeking of its petroleum base. How do they manage to sound so old and yet so new and fresh at the same time?

Lonesome River Band, NO TURNING BACK
In its 25-year history of making memorable music the Lonesome River Band has arguably never been stronger than it is on the late 2008 release, No Turning Back. If this album doesn't earn a place on a lot of year-end Best Of lists, something's amiss, because few other albums in any genre boast finer singing, songwriting, playing or more conviction than this gem.

John Sebastian & David Grisman, SATISFIED
There are plenty of worthy new albums coming in every week, but sometimes an older, heretofore unappraised recording demands some ink because it's just so good it can't be ignored. That's Satisfied, a sublime duo effort by John Sebastian and David Grisman released on Grisman's Acoustic Disc label in late 2007. This then is an effort to right the great wrong of overlooking Satisfied when it was new, even though TheBluegrassSpecial.com did not exist then. Nevertheless, as Carl Perkins once said, "Did you ever stop to think that when something's right, it's just flat right?" Well, it's flat right to wax effusive over Satisfied, any time.

By Billy Altman
I'm sure everyone is familiar with the term "Everything but the kitchen sink." But on her delightful new CD Hummingbird, Go! (her second album, with an EP squeezed in between the two), Theresa Andersson works the concept not only figuratively, but literally as well. Not only does this album feature such an eclectic array of manipulated instruments and stray percussion objects that it sounds like it came out of a musicmaking utility drawer, but it was actually recorded in Andersson's own kitchen.

ALBUM SPOTLIGHT: Rachel Unthank And The Winterset, THE BAIRNS
By Christopher Hill
Already hailed as the new voice of British folk in their native land (they won the BBC Horizon Award and Mojo magazine's prize for best folk album of the year) the Unthank sisters, Rachel and Becky, and their backup musicians, the Winterset, are a dash of icy Northumbrian water in the face of those whose last memories of British folk are Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span. The last generation's cavalcade of mumming, maypole dancing, neo-pagan, ale and acid-inspired folk-rockers stops here. You will find no jigs and reels on Rachel Unthank and the Winterset's newest album, The Bairns. There are no Child ballads, no Tam Lin, no fairies, no Samhain in the Unthank's Northumberland. The '60s and '70s folk-rockers saw the native British tradition as the door to Merry pagan Olde England. The Unthank sisters would not be at home there. But there is vision here.

Ricky Gene Hall & The Goods, BAM!
Listen, you have to take a guy seriously who funds his musical endeavors by driving a semi packed full of pig feed.

Danny Kalb is back in a big way, demonstrating undiminished vitality on electric and acoustic guitar and, perhaps to the surprise of some, using his weathered, conversational voice to great effect to get at the heart of his collection of original and evergreen tunes. There really isn't any style he tries here that doesn't come across as honest and deeply felt-no preservationist he, but rather a flesh and blood troubadour who feels these songs in his marrow.

Thompson Ward, PORCH FUNK
On their impressive debut album, Mississippi-born and -bred Steve Thompson and Bryan Ward fuse the best elements of Magnolia State groove to horn-infused Memphis and Macon rock 'n' soul, the better to carry the message of carefully crafted lyrics gracefully balancing the playful and the provocative. Both being men of deep faith and unconditional love of family and friends, Thompson and Ward recognize that actions have consequences, so their narratives typically acknowledge this immutable fact. But let's not get too heavy here: Porch Funk goes down easy; it's not didactic-you can take what you want from the messages and TW won't begrudge you your interpretations-it's a downright soul shaking, swamp-infested, righteously gospelized, gutbucket, steamrolling, good humored but serious minded musical juggernaut designed to get the house rockin' and stinkin' with profusely sweating bodies

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Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
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