june 2009

A Personal Note on Wayman Tisdale
In this issue we celebrate-not remember, celebrate-the life of Wayman Tisdale. This was a rare and remarkable man. Whereas his father, the Rev. Louis Tisdale, brought thousands to faith and to better lives through faith, his son Wayman led by example, pursuing an examined life made more bountiful by faith. His pulpit was the basketball court, the recording studio, the concert stage, his home and any public place in which he materialized. When prompted, he was not shy about discussing the role of faith in his life, but really all a person needed was to have him turn that global warming smile of his on you for you to feel, palpably, the inner peace and inexhaustible strength from which he drew when tapping into his belief system. Some find the preternatural calm of the devout unsettling, freaky-and sometimes it is; sometimes darker forces are barely being held at bay (see Jim Jones for more). With Wayman, no such ominous shadows loomed; only the life-affirming properties of a soul content with the gift of love he had been given-to love and to be loved in return-always counting his blessings, always in awe of, and humbled by, the persistence of faith, family and friends. Those who knew him knew this about him: Wayman Tisdale made all of us better for being our friend. Godspeed. -David McGee

We Get Letters..
At last, thanks to Christopher Hill, some sensible, well thought out and well wrought writing about the CD, Astral Weeks Live (March 2009)—and a very proper look at Van's apparent attitude towards the whole project. Gosh, you did that piece so well, it knocks most every other review about it into a cocked hat—or at least, it is a significant addition to the body of writing about it. You address many things that a lot of us have been squinting our eyes at, and I hope it should be obvious to all fans of the original A.W'ks and Van himself (like me, and undoubtedly like Christopher Hill himself) that this is not the start of a backlash; just an artist and his work being properly observed and taken notice of, rather than subscribing to a democracy of shrugged shoulders.

Christopher Hill brings a much needed and very old trusted razor to the table—John of Occam's: I paraphrase, "The simplest answer is the one that often pertains." Or, 'If it 'ain't broke don't fix it."

But this one is called The Kings New Clothes, and it wouldn't be the case if Astral Weeks wasn't such an important recording of 20th Century music.

I've listened to the new album many times now under different conditions as well as to the audience boot of the Albert Hall show 18 April '09, and I tell you what, I hardly know what to think. And there's the rub—with the original A.Wk's you didn't need to think: The Bass and the Space and the Strings and the Voice and Words—everything did the job and took you away.
David Harding, Artist (www.daiharding.com)

COVER STORY: RIDIN' WITH MURPH: TheBluegrassSpecial.com Interview
From Cosmic Cowboy To the Buckaroo of Blue Grass to common-sense conservationist, it's been a long, strange trip for MICHAEL MARTIN MURPHEY. Herein we saddle up and ride with him back through the whole darn thing and up to the present day, discussing everything from the Monkees cutting one of his songs to his full-tilt foray into bluegrass on his rousing new album, Buckaroo Blue Grass, to the dire, ecologically precarious state of the Great Plains and the dark portents for farmers abiding therein.

Photos by Paul Mobley, Text by Katrina Fried, Introduction by Michael Martin Murphey
Exactly what Michael Martin Murphey is talking about in his cover story interview with regard to the multitude of hardships facing the American farmer today is illustrated, literally and figuratively, in a beautiful, stirring new coffee table book from Welcome Books, American Farmer: The Heart of Our Country. Photographer PAUL MOBLEY traveled all throughout the United States, snapping some 30,000 images of farmers in all configurations-alone, couples working together, generations of farming families-in their natural habitats, on the land, and author KATRINA FRIED interviewed Mobley's subjects and shaped their words into succinct, first-person profiles. Mobley's photographs-stark and moving in the craggly, wise faces shown in black and white, majestic and ennobling in the lush color portraits of farmers and their land-and Fried's text constitute a dramatic statement about the people who are the backbone of this country, but struggle on against government policies that threaten their very livelihood. Experiencing American Farmer fully brings to mind a key lyric from Joe Ely's song "All That You Need," his vivid portrait of cotton farmers on the brink of destruction from his brilliant Streets of Sin album, to wit: "The men who make the policies don't give a damn about our needs." To set up this dramatic tale in words and photographs, Michael Martin Murphey penned a heartfelt introduction that gives just due to the men and women whose work literally makes our lives possible. In this TheBluegrassSpecial.com exclusive, we present Murphey's introductory essay, and a chapter excerpt focused on ALICE WIEMARS, a grain, livestock and bee farmer from Texas, who is photographed by Mobley with her "pets" swarming lovingly all over her.

Celebrating WAYMAN TISDALE: The respected jazz bassist and former pro basketball star died suddenly in Tulsa on May 15. We celebrate his life and achievements.

THE GOSPEL SET: Why Do We Exist?
By Charles S. Weinblatt

The author of Jacob's Courage: A Holocaust Love Story returns to the pages of TheBluegrassSpecial.com with some thoughts on the greater purpose of our lives, and the legacy we leave others.

GINA SICILIA: Good Years Comin' On
Gina Sicilia comes from an ethereal point and does to blues and country what few artists know how to do. At 24, she's barely getting started.

CHRISTINE SANTELLI: 'I've been doing this, somebody listen to me. It's worth it, y'know?'
Is there any better time for Christine Santelli?

One of the enduring thrills for any music writer is to stumble upon an album by a virtually unknown, unheralded artist and find it to be at the very least delightful, and in its finest moments transcendent and sublime. So it is with RACHEL BAY JONES's debut, Showfolk, a collection of tunes originally penned for Broadway musicals that she and producer David Truskinoff have recast, seamlessly, in folk, bluegrass and country styles. Jones, a veteran of the stage, will remind some of, alternately, Iris DeMent and Pam Tillis, but how she finds her way into these songs through down-home routes is all her own. For the listener, the end result is a mesmerizing, unforgettable experience. In an exclusive interview with TheBluegrassSpecial.com, Jones explains the genesis of the project, and both she and Truskinoff discuss the creative process that produced the gem called Showfolk.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS by Laura Fissinger
A new column by one of the pioneering female music writers of the '70s who is at the top of her game now. In this first installment of Close Encounters, Ms. Fissinger considers the promising starts of two young, unsigned singer-songwriters, MELISSA FAITH CARTOUN and KINA GRANNIS. Take the ride; it's a good one.

Crossing Over
Remembering WAYNE ALLWINE, the voice of Mickey Mouse and JOAN A. STANTON (JOAN ALEXANDER), the voice of Lois Lane on the Superman radio series.

ALBUM SPOTLIGHT: GEORGE JONES, A Picture Of Me (Without You)/Nothing Ever Hurt (Half As Bad As You) by BILLY ALTMAN


by Christopher Hill

The first cut on Tricks of the Senses is taken from a rehearsal tape ca. 1966. By way of introducing himself and his Incredible String Band partner Mike Heron, Robin Williamson gives their names, and then adds, "We are songwriters and players and prophets from the North; also seers extraordinary by appointment to the wonder of the universe." I guess you'd have to have lived a little bit of the '60s life to understand how this might not sound completely risible. Listen again. There's not a hint of preciousness or acid mysterioso about Robin's comment. It's thrown away. Instead of a petal-strewing fool, he sound like a cheeky 18-year-old Scots elf lord on Adderall. He may be bragging a bit but it hasn't occurred to him to care whether you believe him or not. Or put it this way-Williamson and Heron were talented actors who stayed in character through most of the late '60s.

DOYLE LAWSON & QUICKSILVER, Lonely Street— It figures that Doyle Lawson would kick off his 30th year of recording by teasing us. You cue up Lonely Street and settle back anticipating the traditional barnburning kickoff, only to be waylaid by the sound of chirping birds and a few tentatively plucked notes on the mandolin, all preceding several bars of mournful chording and noting as that bird keeps up his sweet chirping-until, at last, the pace picks up, Darren Beachley enters with a plaintive tenor vocal and the whole Quicksilver ensemble struts into the Bressler Brothers' tribute to the father of bluegrass in "Monroe's Mandolin," fittingly a song in which the singer vows to stay true to "the echo on the wind" of Mr. Bill's legacy. That little impish intro isn't the only surprise Lawson springs on this memorable occasion.

RED STICK RAMBLERS, My Suitcase Is Always Packed— The venerable Red Stick Ramblers keep it geographically circumscribed and musically expansive on the entertaining outing that is My Suitcase Is Always Packed. Working with producers Gary Paczosa and Brandon Bell, the quintet rips and roars when it stays close to its Louisiana home, and gets downright swaggering and bluesy when venturing west across the border into the Texas swing and honky tonk precincts still swinging to Bob Wills, Willie Nelson and Asleep At the Wheel.

DAVID SERBY, Honkytonk And Vine— Somewhere along the way some critic is going to refer to David Serby as "neo-honkytonker..." The one problem with such an assertion, while technically accurate, is its obliviousness to this Southern California artist's extra-terrestrial origins. There's nothing neo- about his third album, Honkytonk and Vine; it's true blue, bred-in-the-bone hard country and honkytonk by one of the most engaging young artists on the boards today. In the same way that Duffy emerged practically untouched by anything recorded after the 1960s, so does David Serby seem to have dropped in from a place where he was insulated from the most annoying trends in country music of the past decade or two.

ENTER THE HAGGIS, Gutter Anthems— Celtic rock emanating from a Canadian base, the music advanced by the quintet calling itself Enter the Haggis bears some slight spiritual kinship to the Pogues' sense of the muck and mire (note the album title) and embraces the rock punch of those wild and crazy Dropkick Murpheys fellows. Those are touchstones, but Enter the Haggis is otherwise its own entity with a singular approach to Celtic music.

JAKE SHIMABUKURO, Live— Unlike some other vaunted, supposed practitioners of the ukulele (read Nellie McKay strumming rudimentary chords to silly songs), Jake Shimabukuro keeps finding new avenues of exploration in the instrument's textural and sonic possibilities, an approach dramatically illustrated by the virtuosity and soul on display in his new assembling of 20 live performances.

In addition to some summer-themed videos, this month we spotlight the remarkable, American Book Award winning poem Scene From the Movie GIANT by TINO VILLANUEVA. A YouTube clip of the scene Villanueva saw when he was only 14 and beginning to understand his sense of himself and his people being treated not merel as outsiders but as intruders in America. We include the establishing poem in the collection, in which Villanueva ruminates on his feelings as the scene in Sarge's diner unfolds and the sting of virulent racism is in his face.

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Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, 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