may 2012

Reality Check I


The day after Dick Clark’s death was announced I was driving south out of New York City, headed for Winchester, Virginia, and a weekend at the Shenandoah National Park. Dispensing with the usual CDs I listen to on the road, I decided to check in on Manhattan’s venerable oldies station, WCBS-FM, in hopes it might be playing more ‘60s (and, futilely, maybe even some ‘50s) and less ‘70s and far, far less ‘80s than usual. What I encountered instead--and it held up until the signal faded in Pennsylvania--was a repeat of an old installment of “Dick Clark’s Rock, Roll & Remember” weekly review of new and vintage pop hits, airing as part of the station’s weekend tribute to “The World’s Oldest Teenager.”

I always thought Clark a genial host, and I admired the way he didn’t go through the motions on “Rock, Roll & Remember.” Each song was preceded by some nifty tidbit of insight about the artist (quite often related to the struggles the artist in question had been through in his or her life or career) or a quick synopsis of the song’s history. Clark may have gleaned some of what he read on the air from personal relationships, but he also made good use of a researcher or researchers who provide him with background he used to elevate his show beyond a mere parade of hits. On the particular show I heard, he introduced a Barry White smash by extolling the artist as a devoted father who had raised a wonderful brood of children, adding, “I know, because my kids and his went to the same school and they played together.” And then he talked about White’s distinctive voice and the record he was about to play. “Rock, Roll & Remember” was a pretty cool show, mainly because of Dick Clark.

But Clark never made any secret of a profit incentive being the motivation for everything he did in business, from his music shows to his game shows to his “Rockin’ New Year’s Eve” telecasts. “I’m a fluffmeister,” he famously told one reporter. So he was only in it for the money. Which doesn’t quite square with the energy and intelligence he brought to endeavors such as “Rock, Roll & Remember,” nor does it square with what I most remember him for.

It’s hard to remember a time when rock ‘n’ roll really was an imperiled art form, in its early years, but it was. Especially in the south, preachers inveighed against it from the pulpit, some DJs denounced it on the air and refused to play it, various and sundry groups sponsored record burnings, and most viciously, the KKK/White Citizens Councils sent their minions out to confront certain white artists about the error of their ways in playing “n” music; in Birmingham (“the meanest city in the south outside of Biloxi, Mississippi,” as Theodore H. White wrote in The Making of the President 1960) in 1956, three members of Asa Earl “Forrest” Carter’s North Alabama White Citizens Council leaped onstage and assaulted Nat King Cole as he sang “Little Girl” (Nat never again performed in the south). Some artists stood up to these thugs: in interviews, Elvis never backed down from praising the influence black artists had had on him, especially those in the gospel ranks; Carl Perkins stood his ground on more than one occasion when personally confronted by Klansmen demanding he renounce black artists and their music, although it’s doubtful if any of his antagonists knew Carl had been taught his first guitar chords by a black sharecropper in the cotton fields of Tiptonville, Tennessee; when asked about the dire impact rock ‘n’ roll was having on the youth of America, Fats Domino would smile his gentle smile and say, “Far as I know, music makes people feel good.”


The truth of Fats’s perspective was on display on national TV every week beginning on August 5, 1957, when the ABC network picked up American Bandstand, then a local show out of Philadelphia hosted by an unknown named Dick Clark, and slotted it in at 3:30 (ET) every afternoon. Not only did Clark appear to be every bit the gentleman as Elvis, Carl, Fats and so many others of the first rock ‘n’ roll generation were--and even then he was a source of some of the best marginalia in the rock ‘n’ roll world by way of his introductions and interviews--but he did on national television exactly what he was doing in Philly: bringing black and white young people together in the studio to share good times dancing to the big beat music. It was a huge shot across the bow of the racial prejudice infecting our country, asking not “Can’t we all just get along,” but in effect saying and most certainly showing the generation then coming of age that it was fine and good to get along. The hottest, meanest years of the Civil Rights Movement lay far ahead when American Bandstand made its national debut, and no one (least of all Dick Clark) would cite Dick Clark as a Movement standard bearer, but without fanfare, and his profit incentive notwithstanding, he stood for things this country should be about, from individual enterprise to tolerance and inclusiveness. And he was still doing it on that “Rock, Roll & Remember” show I heard, when he casually commented on his and Barry White’s children sharing school and playdates together. (FYI: A new book by Matthew Delmont, The Nicest Kids in Town: American Bandstand, Rock 'n' Roll, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in 1950s Philadelphia, claims Bandstand “had a host of very underhanded techniques they would use to keep black teens off the show.” Which doesn’t explain the black teens—the black:white ratio is inconsequential, because even one would have meant something--a lot of us saw on the show.)

We could use a few more “fluffmeisters” in the Dick Clark mold even now. And long live rock ‘n’ roll. --David McGee

Reality Check II

Who knew this year marks Kraftwerk’s 40th anniversary? Last I remember was falling into a deep and troubled sleep at the German technocrats’ show at the Beacon Theater in NYC back when “Autobahn” was all the craze…somewhere. And then there was a review of the first Kraftwerk album penned by the great John Mendelsohn, which consisted entirely of instructions on how to change the oil in a car and thus remains the single most insightful comment on Kraftwerk’s music. Now the mainstream music press is genuflecting at the altar of Kraftwerk, hailing the immobile automatons as having some kind of telling influence on funk and techno. Who knew? And who cares? Mostly when I think of Kraftwerk, I feel much as Elaine Benes did when her boss J. Peterman coerced her into having to see The English Patient again. --DM



Cartoon Of The Month


Richard Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" from Die Walkure is featured, along with various other classical and jazz tunes, in Music Land, the 1935 Disney Silly Symphonies animated short which wordlessly comments on the "sea of discord" between classical music and jazz. The princess violin from the sleepy Land of Symphony is chased by a more lively saxophone from the Isle of Jazz. Soon the queen discovers them and locks the sax in the metronome. The sax sends a message to the King in the form of a musical score, which sets guns a-blazing between the armies of the King and Queen. In the heat of battle, though, the King and Queen not only save the sax and violin from drowning but fall in love with each other. Leading to a big double wedding at the end, officiated by a stern cello. Everyone lives in harmony happily ever. Dig the message. More Silly Symphonies are the focus of this month's Video File. Dig the artistry.



Saluting The Masters
By David McGee

Celebrating her tenth anniversary as a recording artist, Alison Balsom picks up where Maurice André left off and approaches new horizons as a classical trumpet soloist. In her first interview with an American publication, the Blonde Bombshell of Classical Music reflects on the path she took to the top and the challenges she faces in staying there. Her mantra: ‘My big passion is music, and playing music as well as I possibly can, to be as good as I can possibly be. And I’m sure that will carry on for the rest of my life.’

maurice andre

By David McGee

Remembering the glory that was Maurice André, a coal miner’s son who became a virtuoso credited with having transformed the trumpet from a workaday cog in the back of the orchestra into a seductive solo instrument. André was to the trumpet what Jean-Pierre Rampal was to the flute or Pablo Casals to the cello: a player whose instrument, long considered a mainstay of the orchestral ark, became, in his hands, the fleet, dazzling tool of a concerto soloist.


By David McGee

Going strong at 90, Toots Thielemans, who put the chromatic harmonica on the jazz map, stands with the musical greats of our time. A birthday tribute is in order.

levon helm

Considering Levon Helm
By Billy Altman

In thinking about Levon Helm’s life and career, it's hard not to be struck by the entire story of the Midnight Ramble and to understand just what it meant to him.


The Great Wild North

As the accordionist and clarinetist jammed together to The Godfather theme in the halls of the conservatory, they knew exactly what they had to do: Start a klezmer band. But what happened was a completely different story. Joined by a whole family of other instruments, SAGAPOOL went from Balkan and Gypsy-inflected impromptu shows on the summer streets of Old Montreal to crafting acoustic original instrumentals as a six-piece band—one so in synch that it’s no surprise when the guitarist jumps up to join the bassist for a thumping four-handed riff. It’s a gang of good friends and relatives sharing long, winding stories (the sagas in Sagapool)—but with stunning chops.


Classical Perspectives

Yuja’s Fantasia: Quite Fantastic
By Janos Gereben

At only 25, YUJA WANG is an old soul, and seemingly in the vanguard for a long, long time. In fact, it has been a dozen years--half her life--that she has been winning international contests and hearts around the world, plus engagements with major orchestras, so she is neither a newcomer nor a member of the ancien régime. She is what she is, one of the finest pianists--and, importantly, musicians--of our time. A review of her new album, her fourth, Fantasia, a varied, capricious collection of miniatures.
*Also: Yuja answers questions about The Dress, the racy, bright orange, form fitting mini-dress she donned for her Hollywood Bowl concert in August 2011 that is still generating headlines for her. And oh yes--we talk music with her as well.

triosenceALBUM SPOTLIGHT: TRIOSENCE, Where Time Stands Still
What a smart choice it was on Triosence’s part to add San Francisco-based pop-jazz vocalist Sara Gazarek to its lineup for this outing. Her voice, bright, warm and with an engaging lightness, has the absolute perfect mix of strength and vulnerability, worldliness and innocence, to convey the complexities—the exultation and the wariness both—of someone ready to love and be loved, even in spite of her fears about its impermanence. She wants it to be, and the message of Where Time Stands Still is that believing in love and being open to its arrival is a stand worth making, even a noble one.


A Charles Dickens Bicentennial Moment
By James T. Lightwood

Continuing our Bicentennial Dickens salute, this month we remain focused on our subject’s relationship to music, both as a musician and as an author, as chronicled in James T. Lightwood’s 1912 study of Charles Dickens And Music. Chapter III references the various and sundry instruments that appear not inconsequentially in Dickens’s works.


DAVID AMRAM premiered his new orchestral suite Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie with the Symphony Silicon Valley Orchestra with two performances on September 29 and October 1, 2007.Amram posted his thoughts on Woody ("lean, wiry and brilliant" the composer recalls), whom he met in 1956, in the course of explaining the origins and evolution of his composition ‘Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie.’


Pleasures Of Music

Bury the Program
By W.J. Turner

I ask any musician who reads these pages to consider the following facts. I would not venture to assert that my instinct for music was secondary to my instinct for words, yet what talent I have is entirely literary. But I do not need any program--and never did need a program--to understand Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, my pleasure in hearing it being purely musical and precisely of the same nature as my pleasure in hearing any one of Beethoven’s quartets. Further, I find the greatest difficulty in even reading the “programs” or literary explanations of pieces of music, and am never helped or in any way enlightened as to the music by them.

The Gospel Set

wilson*Anita Wilson Gives Worship Soul
By Bob Marovich

On the occasion of her debut album Worship Soul being released and rising to the #15 spot on Billboard’s Top Gospel Albums chart, ANITA WILSON sat down for a chat about the long player and her gospel music journey thus far, which is as much a study in good singing as in good industry networking.


*Keeping Up with forever JONES
By Bob Marovich

On April 10, the GRAMMY-nominated and Stellar Award-winning forever JONES released their sophomore CD, Musical Revival (EMI Gospel). Four of the seven-member family band--Dewitt, Kim, Dominique' and Dewitt IV--recently chatted about the album and how they went from the Pacific Northwest to the Billboard charts.


*‘She Just Couldn’t Take Injustice’
Remembering the Life and Legacy of Rev. Addie Wyatt

In the Civil Rights Movement, REV. ADDIE WYATT was a leader, a force, the "power of one." She sang the gospel with Mahalia Jackson, marched from Selma to Montgomery with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and moved in the circles of power for decades. As the first black female international vice president of a major American labor union, she spent her life fighting gender and racial discrimination in the workplace

*Bob Marovich’s Gospel Picks

southern sons of mmphisTHE SOUTHERN SONS OF MEMPHIS, Another Dimension--Live--Anchored by lead vocalist Bob Holloway, the Southern Sons of Memphis, Tennessee have a traditional, funky southern soul sound that evokes the musical richness of their native city. Save for the final two selections, the Another Dimension--Live DVD captures the Memphis quartet in live performance at Brown Missionary Baptist Church in South Haven, Mississippi. What you witness is a serious, no-nonsense singing group that eschews fancy choreography and bench-walking for crisp harmonies and tight musicianship.

forever jonesForever JONES, Musical Revival-- On their second full-length CD, forever JONES--the multi-talented seven-member family band and the most attractive gospel group ever--lives life out loud. Literally. Musical Revival is just as tuneful and worship-driven as the group's debut CD, Get Ready, but more sonically explosive.  The songs have an AC power pop drive that crackles with throbbing electronica and effusive spirit.

john redmonJOHN REDMON & FRIENDS, Faith, Love & Unity, Volume 1-- The compilation traverses gospel, CCM, R&B, and hip hop flavorings of the sacred but, more importantly, is dedicated to focusing more attention on the AIDS and HIV epidemics, especially among African Americans. Phill Wilson, CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, says that African Americans ‘represent half of all new HIV infections, including two-thirds of the new cases among women and 70% of the new cases among adolescents.’

tereaTEREA', It’s Up 2 You-- On her debut CD, It's Up 2 You, singer-songwriter Terea'--known to her fans as the "songbird"--blends techno sounds with hip hop beats and neo-soul vocals. The songs on It's Up 2 You feel intensely personal.


out of fireVARIOUS ARTISTS, Out Of The Fire-- Out of the Fire is a compilation of a dozen independent artists whose sound, notes executive producer Drew Ferelle of FAAB Ink, is best categorized as ‘Kingdom Music.’ That is, the album traverses pop, hip hop, rock, soul and even spoken word ‘fused with gospel messages.’

voices of praiseVOICES OF PRAISE, I Give My All-- Organized in 2000 by Delmark Joseph out of the First Wesleyan Church of Brooklyn, Voices of Praise is now a sextette that represents several different churches and whose members write original songs. I Give My All is the group's new CD. 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.


collieMARK COLLIE, Alive at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary-- Salvaged from the dustbin of history after sitting in the can in the MCA Nashville vaults since 2001, Alive at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, inspired by a certain famous prison album recorded by Collie’s friend and mentor Johnny Cash, captures this underrated singer-songwriter (and actor) on a peak night before a truly captive and highly appreciative audience, accompanied by a stellar band of Reckless Companions.

hasslerCARRIE HASSLER, The Distance--A great singer, pure and simple, Ms. Hassler works her vocal magic in just under half an hour on her new eight-song album, The Distance, a real gem of country and bluegrass art at its finest.


dailey vincentDAILEY & VINCENT, The Gospel Side of Dailey & Vincent-- Considering the power and persuasiveness Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent brought to their 2010 gospel album, Singing From the Heart, it could fairly be said the duo had its work cut out for it in tackling a second gospel outing so soon after the first. Ha! A mere bag of shells, as The Honeymooners’ Ralph Kramden would say. The Gospel Side of Dailey & Vincent is even better than the first gospel album—more intense, more impassioned (a matter of degrees, to be sure, but nevertheless…), more adventurous, more spirited.

rootsMUSIC CITY ROOTS: LIVE FROM THE LOVELESS CAFÉ-- For the past two years roots music fans in and near Nashville have been journeying out to the fabled Loveless Café—more specifically to the Loveless Barn, behind the Café—to hear a well rounded lineup of established and up-and-coming bluegrass, country, folk and what-have-you artists serve up a night of songs and pickin’ every bit as fine as the fried chicken being served in nearby environs. This 11-song sampling from Season 1 bespeaks the originality and vitality of this genre, and also, by sheer unfortunate accident, has a couple of special and very moving movements that will have you holding your breath at the end.

consensusSPECIAL CONSENSUS, Scratch Gravel Road-- In its 37-year history Special Consensus has served as a kind of bluegrass farm team, seasoning musicians such as Josh Williams until they were ready to make their own statements. The SC constant throughout has been founder Greg Cahill, he of the sparkling banjo work and the ensemble vision. Scratch Gravel Road is the band’s 16th recording, and one of its best, enhanced as it is by exceptional picking, heartfelt singing, and strong material from within and outside the band.

Beyond The Blue

bondDEBBIE BOND, Hearts Are Wild-- Backed by an impressive band led by her personal and professional partner Rick Asherson and also including a terrific three-man horn section, Alabama’s Debbie Bond sashays, swaggers and smolders her way through 11 original songs of varying moods and textures plus a lowdown, sultry reading of Aretha Franklin’s “Baby I Love You.” This being a blues album, Ms. Bond naturally investigates the various manifestations of love, but she’s not about strictly bemoaning men who done her wrong.

brittETTA BRITT, Out of the Shadows-- When approaching Etta Britt’s powerful Out of the Shadows album, it’s best you prepare both for a compelling blue-eyed soul-blues experience and for an emotional ride strictly of the emotional roller-coaster variety. Ms. Britt’s husky, sensuous voice is at its expressive best on a fine collection of tunes, some of the best being her original, intensely personal reflections on life passages.

mary flowerMARY FLOWER, Misery Loves Company-- On Misery Loves Company the exceptional roots singer-songwriter-guitarist has returned to more austere settings, sometimes featuring only her expressive fingerpicked or slide acoustic guitar, at other times a lone partner adding interesting textures to a collection of vintage and original blues of a certain downcast nature--the album title is more literal than ironic or self-referential.

mariaTANIA MARIA, Tempo-- It’s been almost five years since we’ve heard new music from the formidable Brazilian vocalist/pianist Tania Maria, but the subdued elegance of Tempo makes those years fall away and reminds us what an invaluable voice she is on the contemporary music scene.


hoodoo man bluesJUNIOR WELLS’ CHICAGO BLUES BAND with BUDDY GUY, Hoodoo Man Blues-- In case anyone missed this when it was reissued this past August, Junior Wells’ classic 1965 album Hoodoo Man Blues belongs in any serious blues collection. Since its release credible critics have proclaimed it one of the best, if not the best, blues album of all time; even if you suggest this or that alternative for the honor, Hoodoo Man Blues is an undisputed classic that both honors the raw, unvarnished blues of Chicago’s South Side and suggest the blues-rock fusion that lay ahead, from Paul Butterfield to Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Video File


Walt Disney and his animators loved classical music, and worked some of the most famous pieces in the genre into cartoons, especially the Silly Symphonies (see above, below Reality Check II). We have a few examples to offer this month.

Christine Santelli’s Video Of The Month


‘I Miss My Baby,’ from her 100 Videos in 100 Days project. Christine’snew solo acoustic album, Dragonfly, is available at, and will soon 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.

Meaningful Matters


Remembering Maurice Sendak

The death of the towering author-illustrator inspired a wealth of tributes from all over the world. We offer an interesting remembrance posted by the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia, an institution with which Mr. Sendak had a long and fruitful relationship, and on whose Board of Trustees he served prior to being named Honorary President of the Board. Included in this tribute is video of Mr. Sendak discussing his only surviving monumental-scale work, the Chertoff mural, which he painted on the wall of his friends’ apartment in New York City in 1961, and which the Rosenbach acquired and restored beginning in 2008.

uranusAWAY OUT THERE: On the ‘Strange Beast’ Uranus, A Light Show Revealed
The first tantalizing views of the icy blue planet Uranus's hard-to-catch light show have been captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. Until now the only views of auroras on Uranus were from the NASA Voyager probe near the planet in 1986.



Alex Tiller’s Blog on Agriculture and Farming

*Does Corn-Based Ethanol Increase Hunger?-- I talk occasionally about corn-based ethanol, and the various issues and controversies surrounding this use of agriculture to produce fuel. The questions aren't simple, and the interplay of economic factors often lead us to counter-intuitive findings.
One such finding--despite the rhetoric of anti-corn ethanol activists, corn-based ethanol doesn't actually drive up food prices or create hunger.
*Farmland Prices, Forecasts Continue Upward Trend--Latest Figures-- Creighton University has released their latest Farmland-Price Index, and as predicted by me and other observers of the farmland market, values have continued on an upward trend, for the 26th consecutive month. Strong consumer demand and continued low interest rates are thought to be fueling the rise.


This month, two writers a half a world apart experience transcendent emotions of connections with nature and a higher power while journeying far from civilization.

By Lazarudo Ruda

‘Humbled by nature's power, whether in the beauty I have just experienced or the wrath that awaits me, I drift in her divine hands throughout every moment in my life.’

By Nishit Rawat

On a journey to the backwaters of Palakkad, the author is overwhelmed by the area’s natural wonders: ‘My senses seemed to melt away into the beauty that surrounded me,’ Mr. Rawat writers. ‘Something inside told me that I was part of this creation, this beauty all around, and that what I saw was part of me too.’


By Jules

This month the 7-Imp spotlight gets turned on a student or debut illustrator, and today I've got the latter. JANE PORTER is a UK-based illustrator, who has a master's in Illustration and Animation from Kingston University--and who spent a long time watching ducks-in-action for this book.


Going To The Dogs
By Duncan Strauss

As the founder of Canine Companions for Independence and a professor of Canine Studies at Bergin University for Canine Studies, BONITA BERGIN is proving naysayers wrong and changing lives for the better. ‘The dog is such an amazing animal,” Ms. Bergin says. ‘If I’ve learned anything in this 37 years, I have learned that the dog has a mind—a really strong, positive, cognitive mind that has a numbers sense, and knows time, and can identify amounts, and has expectations, and are surprised when those expectations aren’t met. ‘


Recent Issues

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Video File





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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