march 2012

Reality Check I

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Reality Check II


In his March 2012 Rector’s Chronicle, the Reverend Andrew C. Mead, Rector of St. Thomas Church in New York City, made the following appeal in his notes on the 40-day period of Lent. During Lent the Book of Common Prayer specifies certain days be observed by “special acts of discipline and self-denial.” Undefined in that text, these “special acts” have been taken to mean fasting and abstinence.

Though inspired by his thoughts on Easter, Father Mead’s closing comment is a reality check for our time:

The reason why fasting and prayer are connected is that we need to clear space in order to pray. While festive eating and drinking are not known for being conducive to prayer, even less conducive are the various other distractions of contemporary life. Nearly everyone seems wired to electronic devices--phoning, emailing, texting, tweeting, whatever. Hardly a church service goes by without these contraptions making disruptive noise. I cannot think of a better ‘act of discipline and self-denial’ than to fast and abstain from these things, to shut them down in order to have a conversation, a walk, even a meal and, certainly, time to be silent and to pray. Let us break off our bondage to these devices and rediscover the world, the people, and the good Lord, around us. (Photo: Daniella Zalcman)

Anne Akiko Meyers, ‘Ave Maria’ (Bach/Gounod), at the Rubin Museum of Art, New York City, January 30, 2011. From her album Air: The Bach Album.




Personal reminiscences of the great banjo master by three artists who knew him:
*Tim O’Brien
*Rhonda Vincent
*Peter Rowan
(Or, What Does a Banjo Player Have in Common with Homer and Sir Isaac Newton?)
By Ira Gitlin
The noted Washington, D.C.-based musician and teacher looks at the banjo’s historical roots, and where Earl entered the narrative and reshaped it. Much in the way Homer and Sir Isaac Newton reshaped their respective fields.

By Billy Altman

Contributing editor Billy Altman recalls Earl Scruggs being invited to play the first Newport Folk Festival in 1959—without Lester—‘when Scruggs' profile as the face of bluegrass banjo style was significantly heightened’ by this groundbreaking appearance. Ultimately Earl, who went over like gangbusters before the young Newport audience, embraced the folk movement even as Lester, insulted by Mike Seeger not asking him to play the festival too, essential rejected it as anything but a better payday playing in front of college kids. Thus was the partnership of these bluegrass giants undermined by a culture clash.

A concise history of Earl Scruggs’ career and innovations, excerpted from Bill C. Malone’s essential Country Music USA.


contents Interview
By David McGee

‘One of the interesting things about American music is that it has this broader dimension. It kind of speaks about our time right now, looks towards the future by engaging people and reflects and remembers home. It remembers where we came from. Those are the aspects, I think, that really give voice to what Americana is all about.’ So says Mark O’Connor in this interview about his new piano-and-violin album, American Classics, which is in equal measure part of his forthcoming Method Book III course, an exemplar of his dedicated focus on music education, and an emotional tour of this country’s rich and varied musical bloodline.

steep canyon

By David McGee

Following an exciting year with Steve Martin the STEEP CANYON RANGERS return on their own on Nobody Knows You, better than ever, and better known than ever. Checking in with the new ambassadors of bluegrass.

Lisa Mills puts a hurt on Percy Sledge’s ‘Warm and Tender Love’

By David McGee

On her new album, Tempered in Fire, Mississippi-born soul stirrer LISA MILLS sings of lessons heard-earned and true. This from a woman who insists, ‘I’m a romantic at heart.’


By David McGee

Fifty years ago this month BEVERLY KENNEY, on her way to greatness as one of the finest pop-jazz singers of her time, ended her life at age 27 by swallowing a lethal mixture of Seconal and alcohol. Though much of her too-brief life is shrouded in mystery, her recordings, easily available in Japan though largely out of print on these shores, keep finding new fans, and her legend grows. We are reminded of what might have been by way of four newly discovered, remastered cuts omitted from her fabulous 1958 album Sings for Playboys, posted here in remembrance of an artist whose voice cannot be stilled.



domnaGreece: Remembering Domna Samiou
, the Grand Dame of Greek folk music, passed away on March 10, leaving an irreplaceable gap in traditional Greek music and culture. Her life's work was to preserve and promote Greek traditional music, especially the legacies of rural Greece, while simultaneously creating new sounds. With her ethnographic fieldwork she systematically recorded Greek cultural activity in its natural context, and with the videos she produced she was able to document the Greece of yesteryear and preserve it forever.

anne akiko


*A New Triumph For Anne Akiko MyersAir: The Bach Album is #1 out of the box and in critics’ heart.
*Anne Akiko Myers: Perspective and Retrospective—A look at the career of Anne Akiko Myers, as chronicled in interviews with her from 1991, when she was a lass of 20, up to the present day, when she awaits the birth of her second child.



In 1860, 39-year-old obscure French poet CHARLES BEAUDELAIR (above) wrote an adoring letter to composer RICHARD WAGNER, saying:I have always imagined that however used to fame a great artist may be, he cannot be insensible to a sincere compliment, especially when that compliment is like a cry of gratitude; and finally that this cry could acquire a singular kind of value when it came from a Frenchman, which is to say from a man little disposed to be enthusiastic, and born, moreover, in a country where people hardly understand painting and poetry any better than they do music.’ And that’s the first sentence.

doris day

A Doris Day retrospective: excerpts from her April 3 interview with ‘Fresh Air’ host Terry Gross, and a look back at her extraordinary singing and acting career, amply illustrated with photos and videos of Ms. Day doing what she has done so well.


Where’s Woody When We Need Him?
By Jim Hightower

‘In these hard times of tinkle-down economics, we sure could use some of Woody Guthrie’s hard-hitting musical stories and inspired lyrical populism. Where's Woody when we need him? He's right there, inside each of us. To save ourselves and our country, we must all be Woody.’



*MARY MARY LIVES LIFE OUT LOUD ON TV by Bob Marovich—Mary Mary, aka Tina and Erica Campbell, otherwise known for their hit song ‘God in Me,’ are starring in a ten-episode reality series that is ‘a genuine portrayal of the herculean balancing act the women perform every day as they manage multiple demands of career, staff, marriage and children (born and unborn).’ As Tina tells gospel editor Bob Marovich: ‘Hopefully women will be inspired by seeing two real women as sisters, moms and wives trying to balance their career with raising a family.’

rebels*GOSPEL NEWS & NOTES: Ending an absence of more than 30 years, the REBELS QUARTET has re-organized, and will travel on a limited schedule through the Southeast. The newly constituted group includes bass singer RICK FAIR, who is celebrating his 40th year in gospel music by returning to the group with which he began his career.


sappMARVIN SAPP, I Win--Marvin Sapp's ninth solo CD, I Win, could have easily been named for his current single, ‘My Testimony.’ The live recording has the performance elements of a cathartic testimony/lesson from a man who learned from experience that ‘what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.’

praiseVOICES OF PRAISE, I Give My All--What's immediately notable about Voices of Praise is its deliciously sweet harmonies. The blend is bright and fresh-faced, like Forever Jones or the Irish pop group the Corrs. Old-schoolers like me hear something of the folk group the Seekers in the Voices of Praise's crisp tonality. Their harmonies are so tight a thin razor could not fit between the notes.

hairstonJ.J. HAIRSTON & YOUTHFUL PRAISE, After This--It's hard to be more musically energetic than J.J. Hairston & Youthful Praise. Their high-octane, intense and dramatic full-throated singing packs more punch than a container load of Red Bull.


hlmsANDREA HELMS, Moving Forward--Moving Forward is the seven-track debut CD of BET Sunday Best Season 4 first runner-up Andrea Helms. Produced by H. Doobie Powell and released earlier this month, the album is a compilation of the contemporary gospel and P&W songs that carried Helms to the finals of the popular television program.

hurdSTEPHEN HURD, O That Men Would Worship--The album is more than an assembly of songs. It represents Hurd's attempt to encourage more men to embrace the act of worship. ‘My goal,’ Hurd says, ‘is to get men, and especially men of color, to realize that worship is not a feminine sport. I think when men see other men worship, it gives them freedom to worship without feeling emasculated.’

silenceSONGS THAT SING YOU TO SILENCE--This may well be the prettiest and most relaxing CD you hear all year. Designed as a meditative means to bring one to an inner place of worship, the album is the product of a South African quintet that blends jazz, classical and even Portugese-influenced musicianship. Vocalists Carrol Hall and Danellia Daniels grew up as pals in Apartheid-plagued South Africa. They combine their voices with guitar, double bass, piano and drums to do the conjuring.



The great CBS correspondent Mike Wallace, who died on April 7 at age 93 following a long illness, is best remembered for tough, dogged interviews with tyrants, presidents, celebrities and major cultural and political figures of his time. Wallace was also a devoted classical music lover whose daunting portfolio of interviews includes several tête-à-têtes with some of history’s most important classical artists, posing the same tough questions he would to his subjects from other disciplines. Featuring his interviews with VLADIMIR HOROWITZ, MARIA CALLAS and LUCIANO PAVAROTTI.

dossett*LAURELYN DOSSETT: VOTE AGAINST AMENDMENT ONE!The distinguished North Carolina singer-songwriter Laurelyn Dossett is leading a campaign to inspire her fellow NC citizens to vote against an amendment to the State Constitution that would define marriage between a man and a woman as the only legal union recognized in the Tar Heel State. She sent a note explaining her position, and a video of her and some gifted friends (including the Carolina Chocolate Drops’ RHIANNON GIDDENS LAFFAN) singing the Dossett-penned Piedmont-style ballad ‘Vote Against Amendment One.’


brand newBRAND NEW STRINGS, Stay Tuned--Though the latest word from Brand New Strings is but seven songs total clocking in at a bit more than 21 minutes playing time, the quintet’s music is so effervescent and so honestly rendered you feel like you’ve heard more than the disc offers. Which may speak to the substance the songs offer but also says a lot about the depth of singing and playing offered by this slightly reconfigured lineup.

lifeVARIOUS ARTISTS, Life Goes On--Recorded live at the Musicians Against Childhood Cancer festival and featuring the top names in bluegrass and roots music, with all profits going to benefit the treatment of children with life threatening illnesses, this second volume follows in the footsteps of its predecessor, the IBMA’s 2006 Album of the Year, Celebration of Life, and is even more powerful. The album features 39 songs recorded by no less than 139 stellar artists, some with their regular bands, some in configurations singular to this outing. Appropriately, the music brims with life in performances by Michael Cleveland, Josh Williams, the Johnson Mountain Boys, Rhonda Vincent, Tony Rice, Sierra Hull and many others.

raybonMARTY RAYBON, Hand To The Plow--One of contemporary roots music most soulful singers, and an impressive songwriter to boot, Marty Raybon brings faith to the forefront on his powerful new solo album, Hand To The Plow. Despite the big productions on several numbers, the album has an intimate feel about it, thanks to Raybon staying within himself and not getting caught up in the theatrics. The message resonates.


bennettTONY BENNETT, Isn’t It Romantic?--Culled from Bennett’s own Improv label catalogue, Isn’t It Romantic features ten selections from two exceptional summit meetings with pianist Bill Evans (captured on the albums Together Again and the majestic Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album, from 1977 and ’75, respectively) that found both artists at their sensitive, empathetic best. However magical those Bennett-Evans moments, the other five trio and quartet recordings here are special in their own right as well. Yes, it is indeed romantic, as chronicled by a master of the art.

charlesRAY CHARLES, Singular Genius: The Complete ABC Singles—Five discs, 106 songs, the A and B sides of 53 singles; eleven chart topping songs; multiple Grammy winners, attractively packaged and succinctly but thoroughly annotated by the redoubtable Billy Vera. Singular Genius: The Complete ABC Singles ranks with the finest box sets ever released, not only for its thoroughness but, more important, for the portrait it offers in one place of one of the great artists in American history creating, evolving and challenging himself based solely on his belief that good music, however it was presented on disc, would meet public approval.

margolinSTEADY ROLLIN’ BOB MARGOLIN with MIKE SPONZA BAND, Blues Around the WorldA banshee wail of slide guitar explodes out of the left side of the speaker about a split second into Blues Around the World, returns again near the midway point and is further augmented by a blood curdling howl as the band stomps and roars its way through “Lost Again,” a blistering chronicle of a man whose life is deconstructing at every turn. Welcome to the latest, hard-boiled chapter in the ongoing saga of Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin, blues guitarist par excellence who has traveled far musically, spiritually and every other way since breaking in with Muddy Waters’s band back in the ‘70s.

morganfieldMUD MORGANFIELD, Son Of the Seventh Son--Born in Chicago on September 27, 1954, Larry Williams, aka Mud Morganfield, is the eldest son of McKinley Morganfield, aka Muddy Waters, and he’s doing a good job of making up for lost time on this, the followup to his 2008 studio debut, Fall Waters Fall.


Christine Santelli performs ‘Your Name’s Now Up In Lights, from her new solo acoustic album, Dragonfly, available at, and soon to be offered at CD Baby and various online music sites. See our review in the March 2011 issue. For those in or visiting New York City, the PATH Café at 131 Christopher Street features Ms. Santelli hosting and performing an opening set at its Singer-Songwriter night every Wednesday from 7 p.m.-9 p.m. Check her out live--seeing is believing.



In the midst of Easter and the feasts of Passover and Pentecost, we offer these thoughts on a season of renewal.
*UPDIKE & EASTER: SEVEN VOICES ON ‘SEVEN STANZAS’:Reprising a popular feature from our Easter coverage in 2011, this year’s update adds three new perspectives, from lay people and clergy alike, reflecting on their personal experience with John Updike’s famous poem, ‘Seven Stanzas at Easter,’ a work cited by Religion & Ethics Newsweekly’s David E. Anderson as ‘perhaps the most famous Easter poem of the second half of the 20th Century.’ As part of this coverage, KATHLEEN KASTILAHN offers a brief history of the poem’s discovery as an entry in a Religious Arts Festival in 1960 at Clifton Lutheran Church in Marblehead, Mass.
By Charles S. Weinblatt

In this essay, Charles S. Weinblatt, author of the novel Jacob’s Courage: A Holocaust Love Story, introduces non-Jews to some of the timeless themes of th ancient observance of Passover, and to draw at least one parallel with some Christian hopes that come with Easter. He ends with an appeal to all people of good will to realize that the eradication of hatred and injustice is a calling we all can share.

In 1918, at age 41, existential angst visited author SHERWOOD ANDERSON
, and he resigned his copywriter's job at the Taylor Critchfield Co. to devote his full energies to being a writer. He left his position with a flourish, though, sending a forthright letter of resignation to his boss, Bayard Barton, which we reprint here. A year later Anderson published his short story cycle Winesburg, Ohio. Despite mixed critical reception upon publication, and a diminished reputation in the 1930s, in time the book gained enthusiastic adherents for its incisive portrait of small-town life in pre-industrial America. In 1998 Winesburg, Ohio was named by the Modern Library as 24th on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th Century.



A new 35th anniversary five-DVD set offers more, and even better, I, Claudius than ever before. Our two-part report includes:
*Review by CHRISTOPHER MCQUAIN, who concludes ‘I, Claudius, despite being 35 years old and showing some superficial signs of its vintage, is classic television, a series for the ages.’
*The Epic That Never Wasby Robert Keser: the inside story of the ill-fated attempt in 1937 to make a film version of Robert Graves’s novel I, Claudius, starring Charles Laughton as Claudius and Merle Oberon as Messalin, as directed by Josef von Sternberg.

space junk


Close Call: Space Junk Threatens Int’l Space Station
A leftover piece of an old Russian satellite forced six astronauts on the International Space Station to take shelter in a pair of lifeboat-like space capsules on March 24, but, to the crew's relief, zipped harmlessly by the outpost. It was the third time in 12 years that station astronauts took shelter from a close space debris pass. Continuing coverage of this ongoing threat to astronauts on the space station, as well as other satellites orbiting Earth.


By Alex Tiller
Strong Fundamentals Continue in 2012 US Farm Industry:
Farmland is a hot investment now. Our Blogging Farmer explains why.


Continuing our bicentennial salute to Charles Dickens, this month’s issue continues James T. Lightwood’s 1912 study of Charles Dickens and Music with Chapter II: ‘Instrumental Combinations: Violin, Violoncello, Harp, Piano,’ an examination of the various instruments referenced in Dickens’s novels, with the added context of each one’s place (or lack thereof) in Victorian music.


A Great Storm In Utah by John Muir

I have seen many a glorious sunset beneath lifting storm clouds on the mountains, but nothing comparable with this. I felt as if new-arrived in some other far-off world. The mountains, the plains, the sky, all seemed new. Other experiences seemed but to have prepared me for this, as souls are prepared for heaven.


By Jules
Jeremy Tankard and Rachel Vail On The Piggy Bunny DualityPiggy Bunny
is the story of Liam, a piglet who wants to be a bunny, and it all stemmed from a piece in ‘authorstrator’ Jeremy Tankard's portfolio. Author Rachel Vail decided she wanted to eschew writing yet another just-be-yourself tale in children's lit and finds it the most subversive book she's ever written. ‘Though the believe-in-yourself theme has been told in many ways,’ writes Kirkus, ‘Liam holds his own with his quiet determination. Who can resist a piglet who introduces himself with 'Hello, my name is Liam and I'll be your Easter Bunny'?’ Indeed. So, let's get right to it.


By Duncan Strauss
Psst, I Got Rhino Horn:
Almost nonexistent only a few years ago, rhino poaching has grown by leaps and bounds in the past four years. Now lucrative and organized, it’s also become a very dangerous pursuit. Inside author and National Geographic writer PETER GWIN’s dramatic expose in the publication’s March issue.


Bad enough that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints got caught baptizing Holocaust victims (including Anne Frank) posthumously. Now, Indian Country is reporting Native Americans asking some hard questions about a series of Mormon action figures on sale at the website Latter-day Designs. One of those questions: Do these look like descendants of a ruthless Hebrew group, the Lamanites, that migrated to Turtle Island from the middle east in 600 BC and whose dark skin the Book of Mormon identifies as a sign of their wickedness? Or do they just look like Indians? Given the Church’s convoluted history with Native Americans, these new action figures seem a bit more malignant than the “Star Wars” actions figures that inspired their creator.


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After finishing recording his new album, The Three Kings, guitarist Jeff Golub lost the sight in both of his eyes due to collapsed optic nerves. A fund has been set up to help defray his daunting medical expenses. Donations are accepted via PayPal, check or credit card. If you wish to donate, click here:

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