january 2009

Mark O'Connor Brings String Camp To New York City

This summer, July 27-31, marks the New York City inaugural of the Mark O'Connor String Camp. In a statement posted on his website (www.markoconnor.com), the adventurous composer/multi-instrumentalist states:

"After more than 15 years of directing the Mark O'Connor String Camps and Conferences, first in Tennessee, and later in San Diego, I am now expanding this model to serve even more students with a New York String Camp.

"The New York version is taking excellent shape with our event to be held at a beautiful venue, the Ethical Culture Fieldston School & the Society for Ethical Culture right in the heart of Midtown in New York City and just a block from Lincoln Center.

"The String Camp in NYC will reach 150 to 200 students who will experience a week of intensive training and instruction in a multitude of string playing styles from myself, as well as from some of the world's finest performers and teachers, each in their specialty area.

"These areas include Jazz, Celtic, Bluegrass, World Music, Classical, American Classical, Texas Fiddling and Hip-Hop. These are just a few of the many styles and disciplines that each student gets to explore in a no-holds-barred intensive educational environment.

"Students will try out new musical styles and techniques under expert guidance, all the while, playing informally for their peers, hearing performances by their teachers and fellow students in the evenings, and having their daytime experiences put into action—truly a life changing program for many of our students throughout the years!

"We will also include a Teacher's Training program at our NYC camp featuring O'Connor's Method Book I written by Mark O'Connor and nationally know string educator Bob Phillips and published by Alfred Publishing. Both authors will be teaching the program and there will be In Service Credit, and Professional Development Hours for teachers enrolling in the five-day program at the NYC camp."

Registration begins on January 11 at www.markoconnor.com. Tuition will be $600; lodging and food will be the responsibility of each student. Tuition for the Teacher's Training Course is $300. Participation in all five days of the Camp is required of students. YMCA room rates start at $82 per night, single and double occupancy available. The camp is first come first serve and has a capacity for 200 students. Asking for advanced and intermediate students as well as advanced professional students and teachers to participate. Beginning instruction will not be provided. All ages welcome—children and adults as well as professional musicians. Day Camp is offered for local students. Day campers who are at least 15 do not require guardians; students of minor age who will lodge at the YMCA or elsewhere will require a guardian to accompany them throughout the week. Guardian fees are $150.

In our exclusive interview O'Connor discusses the camp program in depth, the expanded roster of top-flight instructors on board to teach at the camp, and the specifics of his Method Book I and II. As always, he has much more on his plate than the camp, including the March debut of his first symphony, the Americana Symphony, with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Marin Alsop. The scope of his activities, and the arc of career, comprise one of the most fascinating odysseys of any contemporary American musician. In this interview, he looks back, looks ahead and outlines an ambitious agenda of projects for 2009.


Delaney Bramlett Dies
As this issue was being prepared for publication, sad news arrived that Delaney Bramlett had died in Los Angeles on December 28, 2008, of complications following gall bladder surgery. He was 69 years old. With his then-wife Bonnie Bramlett, Delaney led Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, a traveling circus of musicians steeped in gospel, blues, country and southern soul that rose to prominence in 1969, when the troupe opened on tour for Blind Faith, until Delaney and Bonnie's personal and professional split in 1973. Leon Russell, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Duane Allman, Rita Coolidge and Dave Mason were the most notable members of the rotating cast of Friends. Delaney produced Clapton's first solo album, and was credited by Clapton with giving him confidence in his own singing voice. Delaney & Bonnie & Friends was anchored by the powerhouse rhythm section of bassist Carl Radle and drummer Jim Keltner, in addition to keyboardist Bobby Whitlock; Radle and Whitlock later joined Clapton in Derek & the Dominoes. Before disbanding in 1973, Delaney & Bonnie scored a couple of memorable hit singles ("Never Ending Song of Love" and a cover of Dave Mason's "Only You Know and I Know") and left behind five terrific albums, starting with Home on Stax Records and including 1971's Motel Shot, equal parts gospel and country classics and original blue-eyed soul gems penned by Delaney, ranking with any of the era's timeless long players. The group's hit singles include "Soul Shake," "Never Ending Song of Love" and "Only You Know & I Know."

"I'm so going to miss him," Bonnie Bramlett said in a statement released by her publicist. "As Delaney wrote in his song: 'It's hard to say good-bye.' All I can hope is that I'll see him in the light."

Delaney Bramlett is survived by his wife, Susan Lanier-Bramlett; his daughter by Bonnie, singer Bekka Bramlett; a brother, John; and two other daughters and a son.

TheBluegrassSpecial.com Interview
'The will to be at the top of my game has only gained with each decade'
by David McGee

TheBluegrassSpecial.com checked in with O'Connor in December to discuss what's on his agenda for 2009. As usual, the artist provided thoughtful, in-depth answers revelatory of the mission he finds himself on, particularly with regard to his ongoing commitment to education via his string camps. O'Connor discusses all this activity and more in the following exclusive interview.

McDaris Leaves Grascals, Helson Leaves Kentucky Thunder To Join Rhonda's Rage; Benson Joins Grascals; Webb Joins Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper; World Keeps Turning

The closing weeks of 2008 saw a raft of changes in the bluegrass world, the biggest being the departure of heralded banjo player Aaron McDaris from two-time International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Entertainers Of the Year The Grascals, after only one album. He's joining up with Rhonda Vincent's band, The Rage, which is also adding guitarist Ben Helson, late of Ricky Skaggs's celebrated Kentucky Thunder aggregate. McDaris and Helson are replacing departing Rage members of seven years' standing, Kenny Ingram and Darrell Webb. Ingram's plans have not been announced, but Webb has signed on with another former Rage member and his band, Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper, with which he made his debut at the Grand Ole Opry on December 26. The Grascals, in turn, have recruited reigning IBMA Banjo Player of the Year Kristin Scott Benson to replace McDaris, making her the first female Grascal.

After a fabulous 2008, a year that found them named IBMA Entertainers of the Year en route to winning an unprecedented seven International Bluegrass Music Awards, Darrin Vincent and Jamie Dailey—Vincent & Dailey in their professional guise—are gearing up for a busy 2009 with a new album due in March, a year's worth of tour dates already booked, and a brand-new instructional tape on harmony singing.

John Fogerty Returns With A Chronicle On DVD,
A New Blue Ridge Rangers On CD

Take heart, you legions of roots rock 'n' roll fans who know there can never be enough John Fogerty music in the world: in 2009 Fogerty will keep on chooglin' with new projects on both DVD and CD

With her high school graduation date within sight, 17-year-old bluegrass mandolin phenom Sierra Hull has answered the question as to what her next move will be by forming a touring band. According to a release from Hull's label, Rounder Records, artist and band will be on the road extensively in '09, playing festivals, clubs and performing arts centers stateside.

CROSSING OVER: Remembering Miriam Makeba, Odetta and Dennis Yost

Bill Gaither and some talented friends—like, say, Marty Stuart, George Jones, Ralph Stanley, a few others—raise a joyful noise in the double-DVD/double-CD set, Country Bluegrass Homecoming.

In the world of brawny baritone country belters, Trace Adkins helps form a ruling triumvirate with his contemporaries Toby Keith and Dierks Bentley. All three have new albums either out (Keith and Adkins) or on the way (Bentley, in February), an unusual celestial convergence that has produced two exemplary long players thus far. Whereas Bentley can go off in a rootsy direction with acoustic instruments and a little bluegrass burst from time to time, Keith and Adkins stick with panoramic, electrified settings, working on a large scale and expressing outsized emotions. These are men with a sure sense of themselves as artists, and they don't play games with their artistry. So X has plenty of thundering, pounding drums and howling guitars supporting Adkins's expressive, rumbling baritone along with the expected dollop of suggestive humor and rocking badonkadonk frivolity. But it has its serious side, too, complete with strings and even a choir, and quiet, reflective moments that allow Adkins to express his sensitivity.

by Billy Altman

The 54 tracks presented here provide a vivid cross-sectional view not only of Hank Williams' music at a very specific time in his life, but also a window into that of country music as a whole in 1951. The range of material is strikingly eclectic, as Williams and his exceptional band the Drifting Cowboys (Don Helms, steel guitar; Jerry Rivers, fiddle; Sammy Pruett, electric guitar; and Cedric Rainwater, bass) ramble through everything from huge original hits ("Hey Good Lookin'," "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and "Cold Cold Heart") and other popular fare (Moon Mullican's "Cherokee Boogie," Roy Acuff's "The Prodigal Son," Lulu Belle and Scotty's "Have I Told you Lately That I Love You") to well-worn Appalachian ballads ("On Top of Old Smoky"), Western classics ("Cool Water"), and, perhaps most significantly, a host of sacred tunes, some of which, like "the Blind Child's Prayer," "Where He Leads Me," and "I Dreamed that the Great Judgment Morning," date back to the 19th century. Many of the religious songs feature vocal trios and quartets with Williams surrounded by the harmonies of his band members, and the deep feeling of intimacy—reminiscent in its own way of Bob Dylan singing with the Band on the Basement Tapes—is unlike anything heard on Williams' MGM recordings.

Even those fervent fans that were suitably impressed by the husband-wife duo of Joey Martin and Rory Feel on the CMT series Can You Duet could not have anticipated a debut album so completely compelling as The Life of a Song.

Earl Scruggs with Family & Friends, THE ULTIMATE COLLECTION: LIVE AT THE RYMAN
Earl Scruggs has had nothing to prove for a long, long time, but every time he's entered a studio or strolled onstage, he strikes his classic quiet pose and astounds every one in sight with the fluidity, the technical mastery and the soulfulness of his playing. He did so again on the night documented on this fine CD, when any questions as to whether age might have tempered his attack were laid to rest for good on the third song, when he tore into the rolling, bending opening bars of his self-penned "Earl's Breakdown," a number that goes lickety-split for three-minutes-plus of breathtaking and breathless soloing.

If anyone is poised for a breakout year in bluegrass in '09 it's Donna Ulisse, who could hardly have helped herself more than she does on the Keith Sewell-produced Walk This Mountain Down. For starters she's got a baker's dozen of finely crafted songs to present her, all of which she either wrote or co-wrote, her main collaborators on the co-writes being Marti Rossi and Rick Stanley. Next, take a look at her backing band: Sewell himself is handling acoustic guitar chores; Andy Leftwich is on fiddle and mandolin; Scott Vestal is on banjo; Byron House on upright bass; and for God's sake, Rob Ickes on dobro. The New York Yankees should be so lucky as to afford a team like this, equivalent as it is of the famed Murderer's Row lineup of pinstripe lore.


"You felt when it was coming: a bright shout of brass, a dusting of strings and the trademark undercurrent-an unrelenting funky beat. Few music catalogs so fully approximated the mood and feel of a changing black America as did Philadelphia International Records. There was the big machine of Motown, to be sure, and the rootsy-ness of Stax, but in its halcyon years there was something inclusive and ecumenical about the Philly sound that, cut to cut-and sometimes within the span of a single song-evoked both the range of influences and the complicated arc of the journey."


The same integrity with which Yank Rachell lived his life informed his music as well. To those who have studied Rachell's technique and approach, and tried to emulate it, or incorporate facets of it into their own style, what he wrought was a thing of beauty. To the casual fan, the soul permeating his performances washed over you in an invigorating rush. Artists who loved Rachell's music and gathered to pay tribute to it on this disc invest their performances with a wealth of heart and feeling, enough, surely, to make Rachell smile from the great beyond. Many of these artists knew him personally, some only knew him by his art, but all sing it like they mean it.

Big Shanty, SOLD OUT
Batten down the hatches, Big Shanty's back in town. What that means is a full-on scorched earth assault of searing, buzzsaw guitars and thundering rhythm section in service to the Big one's rough-hewn vocal declamations.

Kim Richardson, TRUE NORTH
Arkansas native and Memphis resident Kim Richardson is demanding to be heard with True North, her second solo album, a long-awaited followup to 2001's Up Until Now. This is not to suggest a matter of volume-in fact, despite the accompaniment of a small, tight quartet and Richardson's own nimble acoustic guitar work, True North is a remarkably quiet, intimate album-but rather the force of the artist's literate, perceptive songwriting and the deep, human quality of her clear, ringing voice (to some it may be reminiscent of the young Natalie Merchant, at times) and deliciously subtle southern twang. She's tough as nails and delicate as a blooming flower all at once, a woman unafraid of expressing her most vulnerable side but unwilling to be anyone's doormat.

Matthew Stubbs, SOUL BENDER
Considering that the human voice makes no utterance on Matthew Stubbs's Soul Bender, it's remarkable how much singing actually goes on here. Twenty-five-year old Stubbs, now ensconced as the guitarist in Charlie Musselwhite's band, summons from his instrument a multitude of affecting textures that say more than words, and then gives his accompanying horn players ample room to add their own eloquent statements, which they do when the opportunity arises. The result is an all-instrumental album of cinematic proportions and endlessly engaging musical journeys.

Those who find the estimable John Pizzarelli perhaps a bit arch and a whiter shade of white ought to give Andy Scott a whirl. Don't Tempt Fate, his new solo album, is a delightful, relaxed groovy affair of original jazz- and blues-influenced tunes purveyed by musicians comfortable in both modes, with nice acoustic touches dotting the otherwise-electric ambiance. Scott offers a slight bluesy swagger and drawl in his vocal style—Mac Rebbenack and Randy Newman are the most obvious influences here—every bit as natural as his guitar and keyboard playing is fluid.


This may seem a slight package at only nine performances, but the enriching quality of this music more than makes up for the parsimonious quantity herein. A little really does go a long way, even if it leaves you hungering for more. And it always does when it's Alison Krauss's music.


Filmed on April 25, 2005, at the Ford Theater in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Charlie Daniels' gospel celebration found a whole bunch of outstanding musicians offering moving testimonies of faith in song. The gathering, masterfully steered by Charlie, whose singing is strong and authoritative throughout, is a family affair featuring the Scruggses (Earl, Gary and Randy); the Whites (Sheryl, Cheryl and Buck); and the McCourys (Del, Ronnie and Rob, as well as McCoury band members Jason Carter on fiddle and Mike Bub on bass), and Mac Wiseman, who in addition to his famous tenure with the Earl Scruggs Review (also an early home for Charlie), also held forth in an early iteration of the Charlie Daniels Band—so he's family too.

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