march 2011

Reality Check

betty-fordAs it happens, this month’s issue is weighted heavily towards stories about and reviews of women doing remarkable things, from the welcome return of Matraca Berg as a solo artist in her own right, to the women of Cultivate 2012 who are banding together to support the efforts of female farmers, to the three outstanding female surfers who are inspiring others of their gender to reach for their dreams, to the gospel singers reviewed in Bob Marovich’s Gospel Picks and the blues, bossa nova and country singers who have exemplary new albums in release. A few days before this issue went online, the world lost one of its most remarkable women of the past century when BETTY FORD, wife of President Gerald R. Ford, passed away at age 93. In an op-ed piece for the New York Times on July 11, Rick Perlstein paid moving homage to the brave Mrs. Ford, observing, in part: “Though she was never an elected official, industry titan or religious leader, few Americans changed people’s lives so dramatically for the better.” He went on to note the instances in which Mrs. Ford has spoken up or spoken out on some verboten issue of her cultural time—breast cancer, sexuality, drug and alcohol addiction—and stripped it of shame, in a humanitarian effort that was truly fearless and from which an untold number of people have benefitted since she raised the subjects in public and with a compassion that in too many public figures seems manufactured, not felt. Betty Ford was a very great lady. Mr. Perlstein explains why at the New York Times website.



By Billy Altman

Long a reliable hit songwriter for top-tier country artists, MATRACA BERG, at 47, has reignited her solo career with an acclaimed new album, The Dreaming Fields. Once content to remain out of the spotlight, she’s experiencing new satisfaction in once again giving voice to her own songs, outside the mainstream boundaries.


By Christopher Hill

Dead now for 43 Julys, BRIAN JONES, probably because he did not outlive the era of the Stones' greatness, is preserved for our examination in that fantastically combustible mixture of European bohemianism with African-American music that blew English pop music around the globe. Was there a whiff of brimstone about him, or was he simply the wonderful golden-haired child born for otherworldly adventure?


By David McGee

When history called, the Big Man answered. A look at the late, great E Street Band saxophonist and a look back at the sax masters from whence he sprang.


By David McGee

The Coasters’ last surviving original member passed away on June 14. Teaming with Billy Guy, Leon Hughes and Bobby Nunn, Carl Gardner brought a new sound to group harmony in the witty, often socially conscious mini-dramas custom-written for the group in its first incarnation as the Robins and in reconstituted form as the Coasters by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who also produced the Robins’/Coasters’ recordings.


By David McGee

Historical footnote no more, Patrice Holloway’s solo recordings, newly available on an import retrospective, Love & Desire: The Patrice Holloway Anthology, reveal an unacknowledged giant of ‘60s and ‘70s soul music. In addition to her unreleased Motown singles, she had a good run with Capitol Records, when the label had amassed a strong R&B/soul lineup but spent most of its promotional efforts on Lou Rawls, making Holloway far from being the only casualty of corporate neglect, and was always on other artists’ first-call list as a backup singer. That’s her supporting Joe Cocker on “With a Little Help From My Friends”; supporting Aretha on “Rock Steady”; harmonizing with Skylard on the one-hit wonder band’s 1972 hit single, “Wildflower”; that’s her songwriter credit on “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”; that’s her, along with an all-star lineup of male and female gospel/soul singers making something magnificent and majestic out of Bob Dylan songs reconfigured gospel style on the incredible Dylan’s Gospel album in 1969. Her most prominent gig was as the first full-time African-American character in a cartoon series—when she supplied the singing voice of Valerie in Josie and the Pussycats.

News & Notes

Soul Rarities Are Focus of New Capitol Digital Collection--In honor of Black Music Month in June, Capitol/EMI released a new digital-only compilation of overlooked soul music gems from some of the genre’s finest artists, some who achieved varying degrees of success and others who made consistently strong records but failed to break through on a national level. Titled The Soul Of Capitol Records: Rare & Well-Done (Vol. 1), the collection, available for download purchase from iTunes, features 20 songs that are noteworthy not only for their quality, but also for their rarity. It’s a paperless, plastic-less essential item. In addition to the new Rare & Well-Done compilation, several classic albums and collections by legendary soul artists have recently been made available for download purchase for the first time by Capitol/EMI.


Fathers and Sons

Seeing former Bluegrass Boys thriving in groups outside of bluegrass gave Bill Monroe a new pride in the legacy he had passed along to them. “If you’ve played music all your life, when you get on up in years you see the things that you’ve done for people and you want to do more for them as you get older,” said Mr. Bill.


By Bob Marovich

In his last years, gospel giant Ira Tucker Sr. of the Dixie Hummingbirds was working on plans for an album of new renditions of classic gospel quartet songs from the music’s golden era. Following his father’s death in 2008, Ira Tucker Jr. took charge of the project and now it has come to pass in the form of Gospel Praise Songs—Powered by Quartets, by the current Dixie Hummingbirds lineup supplemented by a few special guests. In an exclusive interview with Bob Marovich, Tucker Jr. explains how it all came to pass.


Border Crossings


Simone Kopmajer: Elegant Pop-Jazz In The Classic American Style

simoneHailing from a small village in Austria, SIMONE KOPMAJER is not only compiling enthusiastic reviews from critics the world over, she is also proving Rodgers and Hammerstein right about her native land: the hills are indeed alive with music, as evidenced by the growing reputation of this young artist who is making a name for herself not merely singing pop music, but specifically singing pop music associated with, oh, Frank Sinatra, and the Great American Songbook.

By Brian Robins

Sir Colin Davis, conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, has followed his 2009 recording of Haydn’s The Creation with the composer’s companion oratorio, The Seasons. BRIAN ROBINS, one of England’s most distinguished classical music historians and critics, delves into some of the mysteries of each oratorio’s genesis and delivers a fascinating portrait of the birth and development of two of Haydn’s most revered works.


Fiasco In the White House: When Anthony Philip Heinrich Played for President John Tyler
By John Hill Hewitt

Anthony Philip Heinrich--conductor, composer, violinist and pianist and the first full-time American composer—was eager to play for President John Tyler a piece he had written titled ‘Dawning of Music in America.’ John Hill Hewitt, a songwriter, playwright and poet, and piano teacher to the President’s daughter, arranged to introduce the eccentric Heinrich to America’s 14th President, who graciously agreed to hear the composer’s ambitious composition. Heinrich became so engrossed in his playing that he frightened some of those in attendance with his maniacal behavior, leading the President to infuriate the composer by requesting “a good old Virginia reel.” The fiasco in the White House is the subject of John Hill Hewitt’s eyewitness account from that infamous day in 1841.


A new CD retrospective does righ by the late, great TEENA MARIE


The Gospel Set

By Bob Marovich

On her debut album, The Intervention, Macey J. Wright heeds her mother’s advice, and is duly rewarded.



Rejoice & Shout, a new documentary film by Don McGlynn reaches all the way back to 1902, when Virginia’s Dinwiddie Colored Quartet made the first African-American religious recordings, and traces gospel’s history and evolution, tying the history of traditional gospel quartet music to the socio-economic and civil rights struggles of African Americans throughout the 20th Century. ‘If this movie hadn’t come out,’ says Ira Tucker Jr., son of the Dixie Hummingbirds’ late, great lead singer Ira Tucker Sr., “I don’t think this story would ever have been told.”

Gospel’s Lost ‘B’ Sides Reveal Artists’ Civil Rights Consciousness:
A Baylor University professor says a surprisingly large number of lesser-known “B” sides on vintage records of gospel songs championed civil rights, suggesting Christian artists were interested in bettering the here and now as well as proclaiming hope for the hereafter--Kingsmen’s Randy Crawford Battles Staph Infection; Heart Surgery Looming: Randy Crawford, who rejoined the Kingmen quartet in 2010 after having been a member in the early 2000s, has been off the road since mid-June as a result of a staph infection in his heart, which will necessitate heart surgery.--Valarie Walker Joins Heavens Highway: “Although I’m really new to the group, I can already tell God is in the midst,” Walker says. “Heavens Highway has made me feel right at home.”


shawnSHAWN MCLEMORE, One Percent Miracle Any Minute NowThe "One Percent Miracle" in the title of McLemore's latest solo album, his fourth, refers to his July 2010 heart attack, when the doctors gave him a one percent chance of recovery. Not surprisingly, the artist, having recovered, peppers the album with messages of God-given hope in the midst of life's trials.  He affirms that no matter the problem, God can fix it. In fact, "it's already done."

presheaPRESHEA HILLIARD, Live Out Loud--To Preashea Hilliard, "LOL" means Live Out Loud. And loud--in energy, enthusiasm, volume and message--is exactly what her debut project, Live Out Loud, exudes.


selahSELAH, Looking At You Loving Me--Like a Beat poet, Selah, born in Washington, DC, pours out verse like water from a pitcher, consonants and vowels rolling rivers of sound as the music encourages her like an appreciative audience. Throughout this project, Selah's message is that Satan is the enemy--not individual people, situations or races--and that God is the true king.

swinginVARIOUS ARTISTS, Swingin' On The Golden Gate, Vol. 2: A Survey Of Bay Area Gospel--Gospel historian and compiler Opal Nations stays close to home this time, scouring his San Francisco-Oakland stomping grounds for a variety of vintage gospel sounds. The result is Swingin' on the Golden Gate, Volume 2, a two-CD, 53-track compilation featuring 53 different artists.

ascensionJ. SPENCE, Ascension--Inspired by Luke 24, J. Spence has taken his message to the streets to save souls. Not surprisingly, Ascension emphasizes the importance of discipleship and evangelism to, as the artist articulates on "Peculiar," "fulfill the book story."

perryBOBBY PERRY AND RAIN, Conquerors--Bishop Robert C. "Bobby" Perry II is pastor of The Kingdom Church in Boston, and RAIN (Royal Agents Influencing Nations) is his gospel singing group. Conquerors is their sophomore release. RAIN has a tight, professional sound, plenty of fine vocalists from which to choose (in addition to Natalie Wilson, Jason Nelson and Major Johnson-Finley guest) and benefits from fine production and direction.



armandARMAND MARGJEKA, Margo Margo--In the end Margjeka comes off as a true romantic, with some Keatsian insecurities in his weak moments but, also a la the ill-fated Keats, ultimately a believer in love’s power to bring out the best in all who give their souls fully to its cause. Haunting and exhilarating, Margo Margo is one of 2011’s most pleasant surprises, and serves as Margjeka’s well-aimed shot across the cultural bow announcing his intention to be dealt with as an artist.

cuestaCARMEN CUESTA, Mi Bossa Nova/COTY HOGUE, To The West--On first blush new albums by Madrid-born, New York City-dwelling Carmen Cuesta and Montana native Coty Hogue would seem to have little in common. Yet, in Ms. Cuesta’s graceful interpretations of songs celebrating the Bossa Nova music that first inspired her musical endeavors when she was growing up in Spain and in Ms. Hogue’s proud, affecting love letter to the mountain and roots music in which she finds values she knows well from growing up in mountain country herself, the two artists occupy the common ground of being true to their muses.

finndersFINNDERS & YOUNGBERG, FY5--A quintet hailing from Fort Collins, CO, Finnders & Youngberg is making a name for itself in a thriving roots music community with its heady mix of largely original bluegrass, country and old-timey music. This, the group’s second album, ought to give it a leg up on the competition if good writing, solid picking, inspired vocalizing and a near-palpable enthusiasm for this music count for anything.

vintageJOHN REISCHMAN & THE JAYBIRDS, Vintage & Unique--Now celebrating a decade together, the quintet of musicians comprising John Reischman & The Jaybirds demonstrate why familiarity breeds transcendence on this, their fifth album.


Beyond The Blue

chicagoVARIOUS ARTISTS, Chicago Blues: A Living History—The (R)evolution Continues--What worked so beautifully the first time around does so again, with equal power, on Chicago Blues: A Living History--The (R)evolution Continues. Like its predecessor, the new release contains classic songs by several artists who are no longer with us; but check the title again: A Living History. This is about a spirit, a sound, an aesthetic that never dies, and about a couple of generations of younger blues artists who are not only keeping the music vital, but assuring its longevity so that future generations of musicians and fans can keep the flame burning.

pittmanSHAWN PITTMAN, Edge Of the World--You got your rhythm and you got your blues, and when you put them together as powerfully as Shawn Pittman does on his virtual one-man-band album, Edge Of the World, you have something else: a raw, honest, kickass album of guitar-driven get-down music that gets better with each new listen as the sheer force of Pittman’s soulful performances bowls you over with their go-for-broke, nothing to lose spirit.

wayneKENNY ‘BLUES BOSS’ WAYNE, An Old Rock On a Roll--The artist in question is indeed on a roll, as he proves here and elsewhere, but the “old rock” really sounds like he’s getting younger all the time. Cue up this CD and you too might be similarly transported.

LADIES SING THE BLUES: Four powerhouse blues women have surfaced with new albums of considerable merit, depending on how you want your blues served.

sicilia*GINA SICILIA, Can’t Control Myself--Singing of this order is too real for a mainstream music press fixated on the empty posturings of Beyonce and Lady Gaga, but, in keeping with a sentiment advanced with such authority here, you have to believe an artist as gifted as Gina Sicilia will find her place in the sun.

kights*EG KIGHT, Lip ServiceOn her sixth and arguably best-yet amalgamation of blues and southern soul, EG Kight roams through various textures of the blues while remembering that the blues is about life. In staying focused on the things that matter EG Kight has fashioned a memorable, substantive work of art.

taylor*DEMETRIA TAYLOR, Bad GirlDaughter of famed blues guitarist Eddie Taylor, Chicago belter Demetria Taylor takes the occasion of her debut album to honor the blues she grew up with—unlike the other albums featured in this review, hers contains no original songs but rather mines a rich vein of material from the towering Willie Dixon, Magic Sam, Luther Allison, Jimmy Reed, and her brother, Eddie Taylor, Jr. It’s an impressive start.

sowers*DAVINA SOWERS & THE VAGABONDS, Black Cloud--On Black Cloud, the first of her four albums to feature all-original material, Davina Sowers conjures the feel of old New Orleans, playing piano and fronting the Vagabonds, a tight, highly effective quintet.The resulting album is delightful on every level and a real coming of age for Ms. Sowers as an artist.

piecesTHE STEVEN L. SMITH BAND, Pieces--Upstate New York is the stomping grounds for the Steven L. Smith Band, a quintet whose tough-minded, gritty, straight-ahead rock and country comes out of a blue-collar environment and a populist sensibility. Hardly alone in this regard, the Smith Band has something going for it that separates it from other, similar hard-working outfits toiling in the bars and small clubs throughout the land--it has the songwriting of Steven L. Smith going for it, to be precise.

Christine Santelli’s Video Of The Month

‘My Town’--a moving performance of a great new song by this gifted singer-songwriter. For the latest Christine Santelli news and live performance schedule, visit her website. Check her out live--seeing is believing.



Here Comes Summer, Pt. 2

Continuing last month’s opening salvo of our annual retro summer festival, we present a trio of formidable female surfers:


By David McGee

As a teenager girl in the mid-1950s, KATHY KOHNER wanted to be different. So she climbed on a surfboard in Malibu, and surfing has never been the same. An exclusive interview with the woman whose father memorialized her indelibly in pop culture as Gidget.

By Brian L. Gillogly

When Accidental Icon: The Real Gidget Story, writer/director/producer Brian L. Gillogly’s documentary about the life and times of Kathy Kohner Zuckerman, premiered in Australia at the huge Noosa Festival of Surfing, throngs of Gidget fans and acolytes—including seven-time World Champion surfer Layne Beachley—came out to greet their heroine, who made the trip to Down Under to be part of the festivities. It was a festive occasion and one in which Mrs. Zuckerman properly basked in the glow of the phenomenon her teenage self had created. The whole shebang is recounted in this piece by the man whose film made it happen.


Undaunted by illness and emotional upheaval, retired 7-time World Champion surfer LAYNE BEACHLEY of Australia now works to help other girls and women achieve their dreams.


By Katrina Del Mar

A prominent New York City surfer--they do exist--reflects on ‘the indescribable high I hope to chase until I die.’

This month’s surf poetry selections: “Surfing the White Horse of Time” by Shaun William Hayes; “Sound of the Surf (The Surfing Poem)” by Ralph Alonso; and a video of the big wave riders at Newquay set to a recording of Dylan Thomas reading his classic poem, ‘Do not go gentle into that good night.’


Meaningful Matters


Month after month for the nearly two years, our kidslit blogger JULES (Julie Danielson of Smyrna,TN) has been providing with insightful reports on the most interesting authors/illustrators—including some who have yet to be published—in the kidslitosphere. This month, instead of Jules telling us what she’s excited about, she tells us about herself, and that excites us. AARON MEAD, one of the founders of the respected Children’s Books and Reviews, conducted an informative and entertaining interview with Jules for his site and has graciously allowed us to reprint it here. Read on, for all things Jules.

Sustainable Agriculture

This issue marks the start of expanded coverage of sustainable agriculture, with our long-time Blogging Farmer, ALEX TILLER, leading the way. New features include Sustainable Agriculture News & Notes. Also this month: a farmer’s report on how President Obama’s deregulation of GMO crops boosts big agribusiness at the expense of family farmers.


In “Just the Tip of the Iceberg," Blogging Farmer Alex Tiller examines how “the increasing sophistication of American tastes for salads, increasing fuel costs for shipping of produce from traditionally agricultural areas, water issues, and the burgeoning desire of many city dwellers to get their food from close at hand rather than relying on an aging and expensive transportation network” may prove a boon to hydroponic production of lettuce.

How drip irrigation may be a viable solution to help small-plot farmers farm more sustainably, improve their livelihoods and advance global food security; Between 2002 and 2007 the number of women farmers increased by 30 percent. This growing legion of women farmers and activists have banded together on a project called Plate to Politics for purposes of networking and initiating discussions regarding challenges and solutions for women involved in the sustainable food and farming movement.

By Robbie Hanna Anderman

Monsanto, the company responsible for more than fifty uncontrolled or abandoned places where hazardous waste is located, and which has given us Agent Orange, PCBs, DDT, and more, has a friend in the Oval Office as it pursues total control of the world seed market for its genetically modified seeds


By John Burroughs

Naturalist and essayist John Burroughs (April 3, 1837-March 29, 1921) occupies a permanent place in American literature. Though he was a leading literary critic in his day, he was a pioneer in the new school of nature writing and the most popular writer of his period in the field he made his own. Burroughs' legacy of some twenty-five volumes, of which more than a million and a half copies were sold during his lifetime, has had a profound influence on our appreciation of nature. From Burroughs’s 1905 book Ways of Nature, this month’s Nature’s Temple features the author’s preface and Chapter XIII, ‘Reading the Book of Nature,’ on seeing what the natural world is really showing us rather than trying to understand it by humanizing it.


By Christoph Irmscher
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and the tragic death of his beloved wife Fanny

On the afternoon of July 9, 1861, as the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was asleep in his study, his wife Fanny came running in. She was engulfed in flames. Instantly awake, Longfellow grabbed a rug and wrapped it around her to extinguish the fire, injuring himself quite badly in the process. It was too late. Fanny's lower body and torso were so severely burned that she died the next day. In a matter of minutes, Longfellow's life was destroyed, too.


Remembering Peter Falk

By Chris Erskine

‘There was an understated morality to Columbo, an appreciation of truth and steady hard work’

Appreciating ‘an ass-backwards Sherlock Holmes’
By Frazzier Moore

Thanks to Peter Falk's affectionately genuine portrayal, Lt. Columbo established himself for all time as a champion of any viewer who ever felt less than graceful, elegant or well-spoken.

A memorable encounter between the unassuming detective and Frank Sinatra, on national TV.



In The Evening by John Henry Newman

O Lord, support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in thy mercy, grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest and peace at last. Amen.

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