january 2011

Reality Check

Melissa Lacewell-Perry on The Rachel Maddow Show, 12/22/2010, discussing how the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell fits into the broader context of civil rights in America

perry“Let me pause in all this excitement about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and say when W.E.B. Dubois told black people to serve in World War I, he said if we served in World War I we would get the right to vote, we would get equal citizenship rights, that all of those things that are bundled with citizenship would come with military service. And they did not. In fact, not only did they not, but lynchings of black men in their military gear became sport between the two world wars. So I want us to remember that right now, in more than 30 states in this country, if you are gay, lesbian or transgendered you could be fired for your identity; that the National Fair Housing Act does not protect against either gender expression or sexual orientation. That you still cannot marry in this country. So yes it’s amazing—it’s amazing! I mean it’s amazing! But it’s still only a limited win, and the work continues. We have to keep fighting and failing, fighting and failing.”

By Jeff Biggers

We here at TheBluegrassSpecial.com, were saddened and outraged by the horrific shooting rampage 22-year-old Jared Lee Laughner embarked on in Tucson on January 8, but as a monthly were not sure how to approach the tragedy, which is still very much unfolding on a daily basis. We found our answer in a column by Arizona native, author and Huffington Post blogger Jeff Biggers. For years Mr. Biggers has been leading the way in covering the horrors of mountaintop removal coal mining and the ravenous profits-before-people policy of outfits such as Massey Energy. Our November 2009 special cover story report on the grassroots movement against mountaintop removal mining, “Coal Field Uprising”, took its title from a report Mr. Biggers filed in The Nation and which was reprinted in that issue. His January 8 Huffington Post reflections, though centered on his feelings about Arizona as one of its concerned residents, speak to the larger issues we hope all Americans are pondering in the wake of the Tucson terror.



By David McGee

In the first installment of our annual Artists On The Verge series we feature JOANNE SHAW TAYLOR, whose sophomore CD, Diamonds In the Dirt, is a solid step forward from her 2008 debut, White Sugar. The British blues lass—she’s but 24—still slings a guitar with the best of ‘em in her Texas-influenced style, but her songwriting has taken a great leap forward in this collection of all original tunes centered on the perils of the lovelorn.

By David McGee

GLENNA BELL has released her fourth album, Perfectly Legal: Songs of Sex, Love and Murder, a long player the Houston-based singer-songwriter hopes will be her breakthrough; no matter what, though, she’s stumping for more respect for the cultural legacy of her east Texas stomping grounds—she was born and raised in the southeastern part of the state, in the area known as the Big Thicket, which includes Port Arthur, from whence sprang Janis Joplin, George Jones and—Ms. Bell is quick to point out—the artist Robert Rauchenberg. As a budding playwright, she was accepted into a class at the University of Houston taught by three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Edward Albee, to whom Perfectly Legal is dedicated. More about that and other matters in our interview.

By Billy Altman

The music world lost one of its true characters last month with the death of Don Van Vliet, better known as CAPTAIN BEEFHEART. Contributing editor BILLY ALTMAN, who befriended in the Captain in 1972 while serving as music editor of the University of Buffalo newspaper The Spectrum, offers a warm, first-person reminiscence of a one-of-a-kind artist.

By Michael Sigman

Roving contributor MICHAEL SIGMAN checks in this month with a tribute of his own to an ailing musician friend, MOOGY KLINGMAN, best known for writing one of Bette Midler’s signature songs, “Friends,” and for being one of the original members of Todd Rundgren’s Utopia. “And now Moogy's sick,” Sigman writes. “What began as bladder cancer has spread to the rest of his body. He's gone through four surgeries and four rounds of chemo. And like so many other dedicated artists who get sick, he needs help defraying his medical and living expenses. To that end, a benefit will be held later this month at The Bitter End in New York City.” More about Moogy’s indomitable attitude and the forthcoming benefit in these pages.

Classical Perspectives


*On her new album, Solatino, GABRIELA MONTERO cuts a swath through 100 years of Latin classical music.

*The gifted Peruvian tenor JUAN DIEGO FLOREZ stretches out on his new album, Santo, a 13-track collection of sacred classics and virtuoso showpieces.

Recreating Charlie Chaplin’s Film Music

chaplinBy Carl Davis
CHARLIE CHAPLIN responded to the arrival of sound by keeping his tramp mute and creating fabulous soundtracks. American-born conductor and composer CARL DAVIS visited London earlier this month to conduct the Philharmonic Orchestra in a screening of Chaplin’s The Gold Rush. Herein he recounts the challenge of reconstructing the master’s original scores. A video clip features rare footage of Chaplin conducting the Abe Lyman Orchestra in 1925, in a session released as a Brunswick single, and another clip of him conducting the score for his 1957 film, A King In New York.

elvis‘YOU SAY I’M WHAT? The Resounding Statement Of The Complete Elvis Presley Masters
By David McGee

A pushback against the baseless charge of ELVIS PRESLEY being a racist and some mainstream media malfeasance in the coverage of the King’s monumental 30-CD box set, The Complete Elvis Presley Masters.


Border Crossings


aviAn interview with Israeli classical mandolin virtuoso (and Grammy nominated this year) AVI AVITAL by his friend and fellow celebrated classical mandolinist (and faculty members at New York’s Mannes College The New School for Music) JOE BRENT on a host of topics ranging from the place of the mandolin in the classical world to the state of music education across the globe.


‘A HISTORY LESSON FOR THE AGES’: There Breathes a Hope: The Legacy of John Work II and His Fisk Jubilee Quartet, 1909-1916—By Bob Marovich


Our gospel editor BOB MAROVICH not only proclaims the Archeophone double-CD set There Breathes a Hope: The Legacy of John Work II and His Fisk Jubilee Quartet, 1909-1916 "the most important historical reissue of 2010," but also "a history lesson for the ages."

Teena Marie: Remembering ‘The Ivory Queen Of Soul’


Soul singer TEENA MARIE (born Mary Christine Brockert, later christened “The Ivory Queen of Soul”), the most successful of the few white artists signed to the Motown label and a protégé of Rick James who proved she could do quite well on her own, thank you, was found dead in her home in Pasadena, CA, on December 26, 2010. Although it was announced she had died of natural causes, the singer’s death came a month after she had suffered a grand mal seizure. She was 54. "Overall my race hasn't been a problem," Ms. Marie once noted. "I'm a black artist with white skin. At the end of the day you have to sing what's in your own soul." Also, we pay tribute to BERNIE WILSON of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, who passed away on December 26, 2010, from undisclosed medical complications at Kresson View Center in Voorhees, NJ.

The Gospel Set

pops staples*In GOSPEL NEWS & NOTES: POP STAPLES Honored With Mississippi Blues Trail Marker; *SONYA ISAACS Is Having a Baby; *Crossing Over: THE CONSOLERS’ SULLIVAN PUGH, 85; *A Gospel Music Shrine Grows In Birmingham; *DAVID MANN Joins Statement of Faith; *Crossing Over: BILLY GRABLE, The Stamps, 82


*Bob Marovich’s Gospel Picks

hurricaneTHE HURRICANE THAT HIT ATLANTA, Rev. Johnny L. Jones—Rev. Johnny L. Jones of Atlanta is not nicknamed "Hurricane" for nothing. This passionate preacher summons the force of a mighty wind when he gets to singing, shouting, or delivering a message. Thanks to Lance Ledbetter and his marvelous Dust-to-Digital enterprise, more than two and a half hours of selections from Rev. Jones' 1,000+ hours of archived tape ministry are available to the public for the first time. The Hurricane That Hit Atlanta is two CDs packed with gospel singing, preaching, moaning, bluesy musicianship, lined-out "Doc Watts" hymns, local radio advertising, members slain by the spirit and congregational singing, the earliest track dating back to 1957.

dulaneyPULLING ME THROUGH, Todd DulaneyAs a background vocalist for Smokie Norful, former professional baseball player Todd Dulaney studied the Stellar Award-winning singer's melismatic runs and adopted some as his own, all the while maintaining a smooth, crooning style distinct from his mentor. Dulaney puts it to the test on his debut CD, Pulling Me Through, for the new Goldstreet Gospel label.

serveSERVE THE LORD, Leanne Faine & Favor The album notes to Serve the Lord proclaim that Leanne Faine "is bringing church back to church music." That she does. On her third solo release, Faine—famed soloist for the Thompson Community Singers and the voice of the choir's popular "The Holy Ghost”—teams with her ensemble Favor to shake the rafters and shout down the glory. What's most striking is that the album is unabashedly traditional and singularly focused. Bucking the trend of offering several varieties of gospel music on one CD, like a Whitman sampler of styles, Serve the Lord starts traditional and stays traditional.


bluegrass boysBIG COUNTRY BLUEGRASS, The Boys In Hats and Ties Fans of Big Country Bluegrass will hardly be surprised by the authority the band displays on The Boys In Hats And Ties, but for those new to this veteran group’s work, a better calling card than this is hard to imagine.


diffieJOE DIFFIE, Homecoming: The Bluegrass AlbumJoe Diffie was so formidable a country artist (five chart topping singles between 1990 and 1995, and 13 Top 5 singles during that timeframe; his label, Columbia, once sent out promotional bumper stickers bearing the sentiment, “It’s Joe Diffie’s world, we just live in it.”) that the number of people who remember him breaking in with the bluegrass band Special Edition doubtless amount to handlful at this juncture. But break in as a bluegrass singer he did, and with Homecoming: The Bluegrass Album he has got back to where he once belonged.

grascalsTHE GRASCALS, The Grascals & Friends: Country Classics With A Bluegrass Spin Available exclusively at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, the Grascals have introduced their own label by inviting some friends over to the studio to get it going on eleven tunes from the country music canon and throw in a new, uplifting original message song (twice), “I Am Strong,” designed to draw attention to the childhood cancer epidemic, penned in part by the formidable Grascals vocalist Jamie Johnson and featuring one of Dolly Parton’s two appearances on this disc.

sawmillLOST & FOUND, Down On Sawmill RoadSomething old, something new. Musicians come and go, Allen Mills persists and gathers new voices around him. Lost & Found keeps rollin’ on. This 14-song collection is a retrospective, a kind of “greatest hits,” if you will, of two decades’ worth of L&S’s soothing harmonies and exemplary musicianship, with its share of humor, insight and reverence in the songs’ narratives. Lost & Found has a lot more music in it, but as a retrospective of where it has been and where it’s at today, Down On Sawmill Road is satisfying indeed. The next chapter will be most welcome.

louvinCHARLIE LOUVIN, The Battle Rages OnAs a Korean War veteran, Charlie Louvin knows about one form of battle; now afflicted with pancreatic cancer, he knows about another form of battle and is right in the middle of it. Battles of a military and personal nature both inform his moving new CD, released this past November, and the subtext of its songs and of Louvin’s life is heroism born of extreme circumstances. This is some good Charlie Louvin here—he wins this battle, and here’s hoping he can prevail in his more personal one as well.

memoriesBOBBY OSBORNE & THE ROCKY TOP X-PRESS, MemoriesSubtitled “Celebrating Bobby’s 60th Anniversary as a Professional Entertainer,” bluegrass legend Bobby Osborne’s new Rural Rhythm CD pretty much explains why he’s been doing his thing at an exceedingly high level for more than a half century. Osborne and his Rocky Top X-Press make what they do as writers, players and singer sound ridiculously effortless, the surest sign of having spent thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of hours devoted to mastering their chosen musical genre—and each and every one of them will tell you they’re only beginning to figure it out.

Beyond The Blue

westJIM BYRNES, Everywhere WestJim Byrnes and producer Steve Dawson reunite again, for a fourth time in fact, on Everywhere West. Surrounded by a mostly acoustic ensemble augmented by a pump organ or Wurlitzer, a potent horn section and Daniel Lapp’s personable fiddling, Byrnes works what amounts to a blues variant on Bruce Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions project, substituting tunes by Lowell Fulsom, Bobby Blue Bland, Jimmy Reed and Robert Johnson (and his own originals) for the Seeger songbook and framing these in arrangements hearkening back to the small R&B combos of the post-WWII period (is it an accident that the setlist includes a Louis Jordan tune, albeit done in the Sheiks’ string band style rather than in Jordan’s jump blues form?).

wellsJUNIOR WELLS & THE ACES, Live in Boston 1966A live recording that captures the late, great Junior Wells in peak form at a pivotal moment in his career, Live in Boston 1966 needs only its powerhouse, gripping performances to recommend it. For this gig at an unidentified Boston night spot, Wells is supported not by any of the Chi-town stalwarts he had been using back in the Windy City, but rather by the Aces, the band he had launched his career with around 1950.


Video File

We salute SAM COOKE and ROGER MILLER, in this the month of both artists’ birth.


‘I Miss My Baby,’ from the artist’s ‘100 Videos in 100 Days’ project



Anything For Billy (But A Pardon)


Outgoing New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson did the right thing in refusing to issue a pardon to BILLY THE KID, saying he would he would not alter the history of a man who spent his life ‘pillaging, ravaging and killing the deserving and the innocent alike.’ For a closer look at the origins of the Kid’s savagery, we turn to “Child Of The Dark Star,” a chapter in The Saga of Billy The Kid, the Kid’s engrossing biography by WALTER NOBLE BURNS. Published in 1926, the Burns book is the only reliable contemporaneous account of the Kid’s life and times, as Burns interviewed many who knew the outlaw in addition to poring over all the available literature and press on the Kid then extant. Burns’s is a straightforward telling of how young William H. Bonney, born in New York City, arrived in New Mexico and set out on his blood-soaked course. Billy’s first killing, as a means of avenging an insult to his mother, occurs herein, and it gets bloodier from there. The most benign story is how Billy Bonney came to be known as Billy the Kid. Fascinating stuff, even the stuff of legend, but not of pardon.

Bud Greenspan: ‘I Find The Goodness In People’


That the mainstream media focuses at all on the human stories of Olympic athletes, rather than the medal chase alone, is a tribute to the lasting influence of one man—filmmaker BUD GREENSPAN, who as a radio reporter filed his first Olympic story from a phone booth at Wembley stadium during the 1948 London Games and was working on a documentary about the 2010 Vancouver Games when he died at his home in New York City on Christmas Day, from complications of Parkinson's disease. A look back at a memorable, important career documenting ‘people first, athletes second.’

A Tribute To Blake Edwards

by Peter Bogdanovich

With the passing of Blake Edwards, one of the very last survivors of the golden age of pictures has gone. Blake’s most vivid characteristic was a wry sense of rebellion, a kind of conspiracy against any form of authority. Lamenting the loss of a great film director, by a film director who knows great when he sees it.


An overview of a remarkable and productive career

How various critics—including ROGER EBERT— remembered Blake Edwards, plus AOL’s ‘Five Facts on the Filmmaker and Husband of Julie Andrews,’ and, from GIL ASAKAWA, on the shame of Mickey Rooney’s Yunioshi character: ‘It was a broad and particularly nasty stereotype captured in a major motion picture featuring a cast of big name stars. It was a statement that said loudly, that this particular stereotype is (was) an acceptable way to portray Asians in America.’

By David McGee

An appreciation of the great film composer whose music was a vital component of 28 Blake Edwards movies, with an emphasis on the early classics that made him a legend—‘Peter Gunn,’ ‘Moon River,’ ‘The Days of Wine and Roses’ and ‘The Pink Panther Theme.’


By Barbara Crosssett

Richard Holbrooke was a problem solver, not a diplomat's diplomat. He never shied away from publicity or the press, making himself a favorite-and frank-background interview subject among journalists. Tough, hyper-energetic and not constrained by niceties, he took on and wore down most adversaries when given a free hand by the State Department—at least until he met Hamid Karzai.


dayIn case anyone has missed the news, this month marks the 60th anniversary of the release of one of the all-time great sci-fi films, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. Faster than you can say “klaatu barado nikto,” we’ve got the scoop in the making of the movie, the cast members, the original HENRY BATES novelette that inspired it, and the BERNARD HERRMANN theremin-rich score that sounds as eerie as ever lo these many years later.



baby‘One Dreamy Author & Illustrator Pairing’: And now we come to that odd time of year, blogging-wise, when I won't necessarily be talking about 2011 titles. I will soon. Fear not. But I'm still not done with some 2010 stragglers I wanted to mention. And There's Going to Be a Baby—the story of a young boy trying to adjust to his sibling's impending arrival by imagining possibilities for the baby's future with his mother, written by John Burningham and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury—is one of them.

The Blogging Farmer: Alex Tiller’s Blog On Agriculture And Farming

blogging farmer“Farmland Valuations”: If a farm is viable and makes money, then that farm was a good investment to the farmer regardless of what the outside world thinks of it. Land values may rise and land values may fall, but the smart farmer will understand that what matters is whether or not the farm can operate and make money going forward. If it can, then the asset was appropriately priced; if it can't, then you paid too much. Farmers are in a better position than investors to understand this because farmers are in it for the long haul, not for a quick buck on a turnover or land flip. You don't need to worry about whether land values are overinflated or not; all you need to worry about is whether the purchase you may or not be making will make sense for your farming operations. “Let Food Be They Medicine”: It's more than just a farm or a garden—it’s a pharmacy. In this day and age when many people in the U.S.A. have their shorts in a knot over the issue of health care—particularly the question of whether or not it should be a human right or a for-profit commodity (which is a whole other topic)—it should be noted that simple diet can go a long way toward preventing a lot of medical ailments. Many of the foods that make up a healthful diet are not all that exotic, either. You're likely to find them in abundance on local farms in your area.

Baseball Heaven


We say goodbye to BOB FELLER, WALT DROPO, PHIL CAVARETTA and RYNE DUREN, outstanding major league baseball players all, with one, Feller, a bonafide legend of the game. Pitchers and catchers begin reporting for spring training on February 13.


Crossing Over


Remembering Barney Miller’s STEVE LANDESBERG (at rear, in the photo of the Barney Miller gang here), and possibly the oldest resident ever of Knoxville, TN, REETA JONES.

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