september 2009

'She Changed the World. Period. End of Story.'

EUNICE KENNEDY SHRIVER, who devoted most of her life to helping people with intellectual disabilities, died on August 11. She was 88 years old. She had been in declining health for several months after suffering a series of strokes. Sister of President John F. Kennedy and Senators Robert F. Kennedy and Edward M. Kennedy, Mrs. Shriver was instrumental in the formation of President Kennedy's Panel on Mental Retardation in 1961, the development of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (now named for her) in 1962, and the 1967 formation of a network of mental retardation research centers at major medical schools in the U.S. In 1968 her foundation helped plan and finance the First International Special Olympics Summer Games, held at Soldier Field in Chicago. Her activism on behalf of those afflicted with intellectual disabilities stemmed from what she regarded as the inadequate treatment available to her institutionalized sister, Rosemary, which spurred her to open a camp for mentally retarded children at her home in Maryland.

The New York Times spoke with a Special Olympian named David Egan, 31, who is afflicted with Down Syndrome. Egan is a swimmer, soccer and basketball player who counted Mrs. Shriver as one of his friends. He works in the mailroom of Booz Allen Hamilton in Tyson's Corner, VA. Egan told Times reporter Richard Sandomir: "Her idea became a worldwide movement. How good is that? For people with disabilities to be on center stage in front of the world. If it wasn't for Eunice, we wouldn't be here."

Where would they be?

"Probably in institutions," Egan said.

As Mrs. Shriver's son Robert put it in an interview with CBS News in 2004: "My mom never ran for office, and she changed the world. Period. End of story."



Thirteen-year-old KATIE REYES, playing for Canada's entry in the Little League World Series, achieved a LLWS first on August 25 when her two-RBI single accounted for the winning runs in Canada's 14-13 win over Germany. In the game, Reyes had three hits, three RBIs and caught the final out at first base. Earlier this summer she hit the game winning home run in the British Columbia provincial championships. Fifteen girls have played in the LLWS since 1984, but Reyes is the first to drive in a winning run. Afterwards, speaking to an Associated Press reporter, Reyes said: "I was excited. I was shaking." Unfortunately, Canada was eliminated in pool play and its season ended. Wait 'til next year!

RADNEY FOSTER Ponders His Miracle Moment

By David McGee

The records are clear: Impervious to mediocrity, Radney Foster labors with multiple afflictions: gifts for compelling melodies, straightforward and deeply personal lyrics, striking arrangements, emotionally resonant vocals and a love of deep country twang and infectious, R&B-influenced rhythms. His music for the heart, the mind and the body is no better showcased than on his ferocious new album, Revival. In Interview, this masterful songwriter revisits the backstory of Revival and of the real-world events in his life that inspired it. Cover photo by KIM SORENSEN.

Inland, Close To The Heart:
Exploring New Territory, Vienna Teng Brings It All Back Home
By David McGee

With Inland Territory, her fourth album, Vienna Teng marshals both the intellect and the heart of her previous three long players and brings her eclectic influences to bear on the soundscape in a seamless mesh of disparate styles-folk, pop, jazz, rock co-mingling with austere, discrete small combo arrangements and bustling, rock-fueled workouts with a dollop of electronic effects and exquisite, Alex Wong-arranged strings throughout. Personal relationships, family conflicts and social issues inform this work, new wrinkles in this smart, thoughtful artist's most compelling music yet.

By David McGee

A new CD compilation, STILL MOVING MOUNTAINS: THE JOURNEY HOME, featuring KATHY MATTEA, THE DEL MCCOURY BAND, BLUE HIGHWAY and local artists from the Coal River Mountain watershed region of West Virginia, seeks to raise awareness with respect to the devastation occurring on a near-daily basis in the Appalachian Mountains as a result of coal mining companies reducing mountaintops to rubble in order to get at the coal underneath. We review the album and in a related feature speak with JEN OSHA, founder of Aurora Lights, an activist group working with other like-minded organizations in the area in a campaign to halt mountaintop removal and promote alternative energy sources such as wind farming, as well as the preservation of the historic natural wonders that are the Appalachians.

By David McGee

When you say "the spirit of Bob Wills lives on" today, the natural inclination of fans of the King of Western Swing is to think, justifiably so, of Grammy-gobbling Asleep At the Wheel and its venerable frontman, Ray Benson. A dutiful steward of the Wills legacy, Benson and his various Wheel aggregates have more than earned the many plaudits and awards bestowed on them through the years. But also out there, less honored and working on a smaller scale-as in a trio instead of a big band format—but being no less diligent about flying the flag for western swing with solid playing, strong original material supplementing beloved standards, along with imaginative arranging and affecting singing, is the Hot Club of Cowtown. Back on record after a five-year hiatus, Cowtowners Elana James and Whit Smith discuss their new album and renewed enthusiasm for carrying on together.

By Ted Gioia

Wherein our critic takes the measure of Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice, and figures the author was once shadowing him. 'Every page has something strange and wonderful—although sometimes just plain strange. I'm not sure what drugs you need to take to come up with this stuff,' Gioia observes, adding, 'This is more than a novel about the beach; it is also—uncharacteristically for this often challenging author—a book you could bring to the beach for an entertaining read amidst the sand and sun. The plot moves with great speed; by page 25, the reader has already enjoyed a dose of sex, murder, drugs and rock-and-roll. But there is plenty more of all of these to come. Before Inherent Vice comes to its wipeout of a conclusion, you will have encountered enough narcotics to keep a Columbian cartel busy for a year, and so many corpses that Thomas Noguchi needs to call a temp agency for backup support.' Read Gioi's absorbing critique, and then read CHAPTER 1 of Inherent Vice on us.

By Michael Sigman

The Music by David McGee
It was always about the music...

The Guitar by JC Costa
And the technology, too!

Seventies provocateurs the Hahavishnu Orchestra is reuniting for a one-night only stand in Atlanta this month. Chief provocateur DARRYL RHODES gives us all the inside dope—perhaps a poor choice of word there—on this must-see, window rattlin', roof shakin', earth quakin' event.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS by Laura Fissinger
In this month's column, exploring why female artists do a better job than male artists when it comes to crafting breakup albums. A look at the good (Amy Speace's The Killer In Me and Judith Edelman's Clear Glass Jar and the unfortunate (Bon Iver's (title) and William Fitzsimmons' (title). Guys, get a clue.

In a month that saw so many good people cross over, we thought it fitting to offer a gospel salute to our departed friends, by none other than the greatest gospel singer of them all, MAHALIA JACKSON, in six vintage performances.

By David McGee

It was once said Ronnie Spector was the queen of hearts of a certain generation. With no disrespect at all for the Ronettes' classic lead voice, a good argument could be made for ELLIE GREENWICH as queen of hearts, because she wrote so many of the songs that comprised the heart of a generational soundtrack.

Honoring the lives and art of WILLY DEVILLE; The Dells'/Flamingos' JOHN E CARTER; VIRGINIA DAVIS, Disney's first star; and Jerry Lewis-lookalike SAMMY PETRTILLO, co-star of one of the worst movies ever made, Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla.

By David McGee
'The North Mississippi Allstars have lost their father, Bob Dylan has lost a 'brother,' rock and roll has lost one of its great cult heroes and Memphis has lost a musical icon with the death of JIM DICKINSON.'

The debate—if you can call it that—on healthcare reform was really spinning out of control last month, and so there are far too many examples of dunce-like behavior by opponents resistant to any change and often propped up by the insurance companies to boot. But when the respected INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY goes off the deep end, you know someone's asleep at the wheel in the newsroom, or there's an agenda being pushed in the executive suites. The publication made a big mistake, though, in trying to use Britain's National Health Service as an example of government-run health care that doesn't work, and no less an authority than Prof. STEPHEN HAWKING was there to set the record straight.

By David McGee

If you weren't in love with Rachel Bay Jones before she sang her first notes on stage at Joe's Pub on August 1, you were well before her set ended. And if you could collect yourself to see things in a more reflective light, you might have realized you were witnessing the dawn of what could be a significant musical career, one built on interpretive singing at its finest—smart, involved, nuanced, personable, always aiming for the heart, of the song and, by extension, of the listener.

thumbnailALBUM SPOTLIGHT: LOST HIGHWAYS by Christopher Hill—While it's easy to see how the concept might have been fleshed out with a little more flair, Lost Highways works as a trunk-full of intriguing curios, some treasures, some junk, all speaking something about that other country where they were created.


THE COALMEN: KIDS WITH SONGS— If you can imagine a band that can really rock, flat-out rock, no BS, in the style of early Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers while also keeping one foot in hard country, and writing original songs with the soul, detail and craft of Radney Foster's personal missives, you would have before you the Coalmen. Kids With Songs has it all, musically, lyrically, vocally and in its sturdy, no-frills arrangements so smartly designed for maximum atmospheric punch while keeping a discrete distance so as to make the vocals, the narratives, the most prominent and memorable feature of the mixes.

HONEY DON'T: HONEY DON'T—Carl Perkins liked to think of his music as being of the "feel good" variety, owing to its propulsive rhythmic thrust and high spirits (sometimes literally, as in being the product of too much alcohol consumed in the Sun studio during sessions); taking its name from a Perkins classic, and advancing a subtle, low-flame rhythmic pulse, Honey Don't will also have you feeling good, not necessarily from the physical energy expended by those in their orbit but rather from being in the company of honest, unpretentious, unself-conscious artists who make a body grateful to be right here in the moment with this band.

BRANDON RICKMAN: YOUNG MAN, OLD SOUL— Let's face it. A young man worrying about turning 30 and lamenting how fast the years have flown by, observing the first fleck of grey in his hair, well, in certain quarters this fellow is not going to engender much sympathy. Say hello to the Lonesome River Band's Brandon Rickman as he presents himself on his first solo outing, Young Man, Old Soul. Having distinguished himself a guitarist and singer with the celebrated LRB, Rickman means to bring his album title to life in a collection of songs that, had they been sequenced in a different order, would have played like a roman à clef, a portrait of the artist coming to grips with adulthood, keenly aware of time's relentless march and what The Honeymooners resident philosopher Ralph Kramden called "the glorious results of a misspent youth," only in this case it's not meant to be funny. This narrative thread is present anyway, in a tale told in flashback, jumping from the present to the past and back, with Rickman as an omniscient narrator blessed with rueful 20/20 hindsight.


OTIS TAYLOR: PENTATONIC WARS AND LOVE SONGS— Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs returns him to the Afro-centric themes of some of his early albums such as When Negroes Walked the Earth (1997) and White African (2001) and features the strongest writing of his career, truly gripping tales centered on various desultory experiences of love, and that don't mean pie-in-the-sky.

DUKE ROBILLARD: STOMP! THE BLUES TONIGHT— After doing so much good guiding other artists' recordings the past couple of years, it's about time Duke Robillard got some props for himself. He could hardly have done more to deserve them than offering Stomp! The Blues Tonight, an exciting, horn-laden, guitar-rich romp through some timeless entries evoking late '40s-early '50s R&B, and adding three original tunes to the mix for a little extra spice. Speaking of extra spice, given the number of tunes here associated with great vocalists on the order of Roy Milton (two tunes in fact-double the pleasure), Wynonie Harris, Lowell Fulson and others, the album wouldn't be what it is without some outstanding singing to go along with the robust playing. Duke delivers on that count, too.

DANI WILDE: HEAL MY BLUES—A native of Wiltshire, England, Dani Wilde sounds like she grew up at various times on Chicago's South Side and in the dark heart of the Mississippi Delta, maybe with a pit stop along the way in Motown. Like a number of outstanding female artists emerging in the blues field in recent years, she's not averse to mixing in with her blues some country ingredients and hard driving rock 'n' roll (one such example of the latter is the furious, unrelenting title track, the second cut on this disc, which features not only a relentlessly rocking rhythm track but a gritty vocal by Wilde made doubly appealing by her unself-conscious squeals at a couple of junctures that arise not by design but by the sheer intensity of her immersion in the moment). She's also a heck of a guitarist, as any number of solo spotlights prove herein, with a lot of Buddy Guy's searing attack in her own elegantly crafted excursions. And, not least of all, Wilde leaves no emotional stone unturned as a singer.


During the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonya Sotomayor the minority members of the Senate Judiciary Committee disgraced themselves on a daily basis, reaching a new low even for them when Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn invoked the Latin caricature of Ricky Ricardo when addressing now-Justice Sotomayor. That's over and done, but we reserve the right to correct the record on DESI ARNAZ, the Cuban-born, bilingual television pioneer/visionary and a musical giant who helped introduce mainstream America to Latin popular music well before audiences watched him belt out "Babalu" on I Love Lucy. We offer a retrospective on Arnaz's momentous life and career, along with some terrific clips of him at his musical best.

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