march 2011

Reality Check

melissa'The War on Women's Future'
By Melissa Lacewell-Perry, The Nation
Using small-government, libertarian rhetoric, the Tea Party ushered in a new crop of Republican leaders under the banner of fiscal responsibility. But the aggressive antichoice legislation coming from the new GOP majority in the House makes perfectly clear that belt-tightening deficit reduction is entirely compatible with an older social agenda committed to pushing American women out of the public sphere.

These initiatives are well coordinated and poised to make an enormous impact on women's lives. House Republicans, joined by ten Democrats, passed Mike Pence's bill to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which in addition to pregnancy termination provides basic reproductive healthcare, STD testing, birth control and cancer screenings to millions of American women. The Republican Party has also proposed eliminating more than $1 billion from Head Start's budget. As a result, 157,000 children may go without preschool care.

Meanwhile, the South Dakota legislature has considered a bill justifying homicide in the case of imminent harm to a fetus, a law that critics believe may in effect legalize the murder of abortion providers. Republicans in Arizona have proposed different birth certificates for children born to women who are not US citizens in order to nullify the birthright citizenship established by the Fourteenth Amendment. And Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is poised to eliminate most of the collective bargaining rights of public employees, including nurses, teachers and other pink-collar workers who are disproportionately women.

Read the entire column at The Nation online


Take A Breath Dept.

George Shearing, Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie with a touch of Rodgers-Hart’s ‘It Never Entered My Mind’



Cover Story: The Education Of Sierra Hull
(cover photo by Ted Lehmann)
By David McGee


Nearing graduation from the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Byrdstown, Tennessee’s 19-year-old bluegrass phenom SIERRA HULL is growing up artistically as well with the release of Daybreak, as torchy a bluegrass album as you’re likely to find right now. She’s come a long way, baby. In this, our second cover story and third feature on Ms. Hill in less than three years, the artist takes us inside the making of Daybreak, which features seven of her original songs (her debut, 2008’s Secrets, had two originals, one an instrumental), and as always speaks frankly about where goes from here. Interview
By David McGee

A compelling new album, Land Like a Bird, is but one of several new features in singer-songwriter AMY SPEACE’s life these days. Land Like a Bird, though, marks the moment when Ms. Speace should be regarded among the finest songwriters of her generation, one who can make of her personal trials and triumphs a universal kind of poetry that speaks to truths beyond her singular experience and becomes accessible to anyone who’s been out there trying to understand the games people play. In Interview, she discusses how Land Like a Bird is a continuation and resolution of issues she raised about relationships in her previous, celebrated album, 2009’s The Killer in Me; and what it’s like to break on through to the other side of heartbreak into a positive place where love is back on the table as an option.

hot club

By David McGee

It’s been a long time coming, but the HOT CLUB OF COWTOWN has finally made its Bob Wills tribute album, What Makes Bob Holler, which, true to the Hot Club ethos, mixes familiar fare with some tasty items from deep in the Wills catalogue. WHITT SMITH tells us all about it, and ELANA JAMES adds her two cents’ worth.

monroeA Bill Monroe Centennial Moment

In a single stroke in 1939, BILL MONROE established a signature song and a signature sound on the October 18 night he joined the Grand Ole Opry and waylaid the crowd with a rousing treatment of ‘Muleskinner Blues.’ Thus this month’s installment in our year-long celebration of the Father of Bluegrass’s 100th birthday. In addition, the International Bluegrass Museum in Owensboro, KY, is exhibiting and selling art inspired by Bill Monroe. A couple of samples are featured plus links for readers who want to see more of the art or purchase any of it.

meashaClassical Perspectives

On her new album Night and Dreams, described by one critic as ‘music lit by moonlight,’ MEASHA BRUEGGERGOSMAN ponders nocturnal matters. Following her acclaimed 2007 album, Surprise: Cabaret Songs by Bolcom, Satie and Schoenberg, a collection of cabaret-inspired songs from the 19th and early 20th Century, Ms. Brueggergosman wanted to take a reflective turn this time out. “I have other things to say, and other parts of me I want to share. One of those parts is to make people feel at peace, to make them feel connected to their romanticism, their sensuality, their peace, in a way. So we thought about dreams, night, nocturnal activities, the somnambulistic things. All things that happen at night don’t necessarily concern sleep. Come on. So we wanted to explore all facets of that time of day.”

Border Crossings



Traditional Egyptian Folk Music and the 25 January Revolution: The Tie That Binds

In the wake of the 25 January revolution in Egypt, reached out to the El Mastaba Center for Egyptian Folk Music to find out what role the traditional folk artists of Egypt had played in inspiring and entertaining the protesters as they continued demonstrating against the regime of President Hosni Mubarak, eventually driving him from power. The mainstream media in the United States made frequent references to the protesters being energized by rap and hip-hop, but we stumbled across a video of the popular traditional Egyptian folk group El Tanbura drawing a large crowd to its performance in Tahrir Square, and wondered if there was more going on with traditional music’s relation to the protests than was being reported Stateside. A report from El Mastaba’s Kristina Nelson describes the scene in Tahrir Square and El Mastaba’s role in the rallying the protesters with traditional Egyptian folk music, thanks in part to the efforts of one of the country’s revered folk groups, El Tanbura. And in a statement from the El Mastaba Center proper, penned by founder Zakareya Ibrahim, who is also a founding member of El Tanbura, the Center’s mission in the new Egyptian world is clearly defined.

schubertPleasures of Music
‘Thus Was I Divided Between Love and Sorrow’
By Franz Schubert

A self-analytic tale that is the Austrian composer’s only literary work apart from a few poems, a moving account of how his mother’s death reunited the prodigal son with his father, from whom he had been long estranged. Wrote Schubert: I went forward all the same, slowly and devoutly, eyes lowered upon the gravestone, and before I knew it I was within the circle, whence arose the sweetest melody. Then I felt, compressed as it were into an instant, the full measure of eternal bliss. I saw my father, loving and reconciled. He folded me in his arms and wept. And even more did I.

*More Schubert: ‘A Serenade of The Moment,’ in which Schubert’s first biographer, HEINRICH KREISSLE von HELLBORN, describes the moment of ‘Serenade’’s conception. In ‘Poetry and Music for The Soul,’ MADHURI KATTI offers a sensitive take on ‘the true genius of Schubert,’ specifically his ‘cycle of song woven out of rich poetry.’ And from, a biographical sketch of Schubert in 'The Quintessential Example Of The Romantic Notion Of The Neglected Genius Who Dies In Obscurity.’


By David McGee

When ELVIS PRESLEY returned from his Army service in 1960, some were wondering if he still had it. His first two studio albums, Elvis Is Back! and Something For Everyone, proved a big point: He still had it. Oh, did he have it.

A well-done 15-song overview of the 2006 four-CD box set, Sinatra: Vegas, Best of Vegas offers a similar quarter-century perspective on the Chairman of the Board’s Vegas legacy that, though abridged, still does the job of affirming Sinatra’s musicality and theatricality both.

By David McGee

Four new Legacy retrospectives of producer PHIL SPECTOR’s work at Philles Records in this, the label’s 50th anniversary year, remind us again of the voices of love’s promise and how dreams come true. As the architect of those recordings sits in jail, serving 19-to-life for murdering a young actress, is his violent, abusive behavior towards women over the years (starting with Ronnie Spector) undermining our joy in the music he gave us, even robbing a certain generation of its dreams? A conflicted examination ensues.


By Michael Sigman

Making up for lost time and to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the 8-track, BUCKS BURNETT debuted the world's one and only Eight Track Museum on Valentine's Day. Housed in an office building in Dallas's artsy Deep Ellum district, the museum is, at present, a bit of a fixer-upper. Custom-built shelves on freshly painted white museum-quality walls overflow with thousands of tapes, including the entire Beatles 8-track catalogue. Revolving exhibits of still more tapes populate an adjoining room. Other formats, including the primordial wax cylinder from the 19th Century, are also represented. Roving contributor MICHAEL SIGMAN speaks with Burnett about the whys and wherefores of his 8-track obsession.

The Gospel Set

His new single, “The Promise,” is already making waves, but come May 17 Grammy winning gospel legend ANDRAÉ CROUCH will make an even stronger statement of faith with the release of his 18th album, The Journey. Also: information about ‘The Promise’ Choir Competition now underway.

ERNIE HAASE & SIGNATURE SOUND Honor Cathedrals; Duncan Exits Group, Owens Enters; TREY IVEY Joins LEGACY FIVE; Legendary SONGFELLOWS QUARTET Keeps On Rollin’ With Rick Strickland, Brad Smith Now On Board.

Gospel editor BOB MAROVICH has some amazing gospel albums to recommend this month. Check ‘em out.

manningCONVERTED MIND--THE EARLY RECORDINGS, Bishop Manning and the Manning Family:During a time when gospel music is moving along speedily on the interstate, it is soul-satisfying to hear collections like Converted Mind explore the genre's well-traveled blue highways.

mass...THEN SINGS MY SOUL, Mississippi Mass Choir:Time will tell but ...Then Sings My Soul could well go down in history as the crown jewel in the Mississippi Mass Choir's estimable catalog of gospel gems. This two-disc set was recorded in June, 2009 at First Baptist Church in Jackson, Mississippi. The 200-plus member multicultural choir, which has been "serving God through song" since 1988, is as strong as ever. Its lead singers more than hold their own against the thunderous wall of vocal power--because when Mississippi Mass crescendos, they can drown out a jet plane.

karenSINGING THE HYMNS, Karen Washington and the New Singing Stars: On Singing the Hymns, Karen Washington and the New Singing Stars render timeless hymns, revival songs and gospels such as "Amazing Grace," "Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross," and "Nothing But the Blood." The CD's ten selections are so lodged in the subconscious of Christians throughout the world that you'll find yourself singing along with no need of a hymnbook.

walkerPROJECT: SANCTIFIED--REUNION COMMUNION: A CELEBRATION OF 19TH STREET, Pierre Walker and Various Artists: Gospel music today has a polished, musically complex sensibility in keeping with a world captivated by iPods and enraptured by multi-media praise services and megachurch celebrations. Project: Sanctified reminds us that in the midst of musical evolution, thousands of Old Landmarks in cities large and small sound just like Nineteenth Street. They embrace the future without abandoning the rich, textured intensity of the songs that carried their forebears through.



Detroit blues legend EDDIE KIRKLAND, 87, who played with the likes of John Lee Hooker and Otis Redding and had a productive solo career in his own right, was killed in an automobile accident On February 27 while doing what he did since the 1940s--‘touring the country and playing the blues.’

Since the legendary Cain’s Ballroom opened in 1924, Tulsa, OK, has had a thriving local music scene. Bob Wills, who helped put Cain’s on the music map as a regular between 1935 and 1942, came back to call Tulsa home beginning in 1957. What he found then was a thriving rock ‘n’ roll scene. The Heartbreakers, with Roy Buchanan; the David Gates Band with David Gates and Leon Russell; the Starlighters, with Leon Russell and J.J. Cale, were among the groups that spawned musicians who made an impact on rock ‘n’ roll at large in the late ‘60s and ‘70s. One person who saw this history unfold before him as he drummed for many of the Tulsa bands was HARRELL C. ‘BUDDY’ JONES, who died at age 70 on February 20. Jones later became part of Leon Russell’s management and promotion team, and also co-wrote songs for and produced the Gap Band’s (founded by Tulsa’s Wilson brothers) debut album. Also, we note with sadness the passing of MARY JANE ELDREDGE, mother of The Grascals’ Terry Eldredge.

By David McGee

The great jazz pianist GEORGE SHEARING died of congestive heart failure on February 14, at age 91. Herewith a look back at a storied career that produced timeless music. The master himself referred to his sound as ‘doubly derivative,’ owing to its roots in the Glenn Miller sax section and from the block-chord style of Lionel Hampton’s pianist Milt Buckner. Sure sounds sweet to us.

Remembering John Barry

Born Free. The Lion in Winter. Out of Africa. Dances With Wolves. Twelve of 15 James Bond films, including Goldfinger. Mary, Queen of Scots. Chaplin. Midnight Cowboy. The Cotton Club. Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years. Robin and Marian. What all these movies, and many more, had in common was music by JOHN BARRY, a giant of film composing who won five Academy Awards for his work (two for Born Free, one each for The Lion In Winter, Out of Africa and Dances With Wolves), four Grammy Awards, and in many estimations revolutionized film music through his deep understanding of contemporary as well as classical music and finding common ground between the two in his scores. Felled by a heart attack at his Long Island home on January 30, Mr. Barry, through his towering film music, remains ever present. An appreciation.

A Tribute to Betty Garrett

BETTY GARRETT, who died on February 12 at age 91, was a vivacious Broadway star best known for playing Frank Sinatra's sweetheart in On The Town (1949), in which she engaged Sinatra in two of the most entertaining duets he ever performed, before her career was capsized by the Hollywood blacklist controversy of the early 1950s. She rose above that to continue doing good work on the stage and on television (where a whole new generation embraced her in her role as Edna Babish De Fazion, the singing-and-dancing, five-time divorcee landlady on Laverne & Shirley), and as a teacher of musical comedy at Theatre West, the non-profit theatre she helped found in North Hollywood in 1960. A tribute to her remarkable life--and oh, those moments with Sinatra.


blueBLUE MOON RISING, Strange New World-- The upward arc that has been the career path of East Tennessee’s Blue Moon Rising since its self-released 2001 debut continues unimpeded, and arguably reaches its highest trajectory yet, on the Randy Kohrs-produced Strange New World. Again it is the songs and, mostly, the muscular voice of group founder/leader Chris West setting the pace. Let it be said West has never before imparted as dark a vision of the world as he does this time out, and the sheer relentlessness of that vision is rather breathtaking--uplifting, not so much, but breathtaking, disturbing even, yes indeed.

bluegrassVARIOUS ARTISTS, A Bluegrass Gospel Songbook--A diverse and stirring collection, Rounder’s A Bluegrass Gospel Songbook is a worth successor to the label’s similarly constructed 2003 anthology, White Dove: The Bluegrass Gospel Collection. More so than the earlier title, this entry digs deeper into the Rounder catalogue for some lesser known artists to add to a formidable, fundamental lineup of bluegrass stalwarts.

lawsTHE LAWS, Try Love--Hard to listen to The Laws without comparing them favorably to the first great Canadian husband-wife country-folk-rock duo, Ian & Sylvia. Which is not to suggest John and Michelle are in the same territory yet, but they’re saying something, and they’re getting close. Pay attention now.

smithVALERIE SMITH & LIBERTY PIKE, Blame It On The Bluegrass--The way I see it, anything that gets Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike in front of a microphone, whether in a recording studio or on a concert stage, is a good thing. So to those who might grouse about this tidy Blame It On The Bluegrass album clocking in at slightly less than 20 minutes and containing but six songs, please--be thankful for what you got. It so happens that what Valerie Smith can do with six songs equals what many other artists take a dozen or more to accomplish.

Beyond The Blue

shantyBIG SHANTY, Collection--“Got my own way/and it works just fine.” So growls Big Shanty amid the greasy funk blues of “Stop Pushing Me,” second cut on the first of this two-disc, 19-song overview of his impressive musical endeavors. Well, it has certainly worked out just fine for the big man since he stormed into the blues world with 2004’s World of Trouble and has continued marching on like Sherman to the sea, adopting a strictly scorched earth policy as he goes.

sinCOUSIN HARLEY, It’s A Sin--Fans of Brian Setzer who haven’t discovered Vancouver, Canada’s master of guitar fire and ice Paul Pigat would do themselves proud to pick up It’s a Sin, his latest solo offering, which just happens to offer an assured stylistic mix common to the Setzer canon. But Pigat, recording in his guise as Cousin Harley, is the real deal, not an imitator; he just happens to favor Gretsch guitars and the sonic and soulful properties of rockabilly, straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll and classic pop. In his native land fans know him as fronting a variety of bands, touring incessantly and generally never missing an opportunity to make a musical statement, whether that means backing another artist or taking center stage himself. It’s a Sin is a sheer delight, a guitar tour de force and a soulful, high-spirited workout to boot.

granaGRANÁ LOUISE, Getting’ Kinda Rough--Muhammad Ali used to say he was “knockin’ out all bums.” That pretty much sums up Chicago blues belter Graná Louise’s philosophy on Gettin’ Kinda Rough! And like Ali, the bums Ms. Louise is knockin’ out are all men. As she makes clear in her liner note comments, the artist is less interested in the battle of the sexes than in advancing a female point of view about women’s experiences with men.

tasTAS CRU, Jus’ Deserts--Sandpaper-voiced and barreling through life with infectious zeal, Tas Cru returns for a fourth engagement on disc, proffering 11 new songs imbued with pragmatic wisdom concerning the nitty-gritty issues--like letting it come to you instead of forcing the issue, as he counsels in the medium-cool funk of the album opener, ‘Just Let It Happen.’

Video File


Celebrating JANE RUSSELL in song. Musical clips from her movies.

The Christine Santelli Video Of The Month

From her 100 videos in 100 days project, Christine Santelli performs a solo acoustic version of her song ‘Take a Look,’ from her Any Better Time album.

Meaningful Matters


By Jules

Our books blogger, JULES, this month sits down over breakfast with author/illustrator HYEWON YUM to discuss the latter’s new book, The Twins’ Blanket, which addresses the emotional highs and lows (competition, envy, undeniable bond) of twin-dom. Notes Jules of Ms. Yum’s new literary/artistic effort: ‘She’s continuing her streak of creating books that, in the words of Publishers Weekly, offer us insight into the perceptions of small children.’ Many of Ms. Yum’s striking illustrations--including original sketches for The Twins’ Blanket--are included with the interview. Drop by and stay awhile.

Alex Tiller’s Blog on Agriculture and Farming

This month our blogging farmer ALEX TILLER examines two topics: in ‘They Ain’t Makin’ It No More,’ he offers cautionary advice for anyone looking to profit off productive farmland. The land rush is on, but buyers beware. In ‘The New Call for Frugality--And What It Means to Farmers,’ Tiller takes a look at the positives and negatives of the Farm Bill now under consideration by Congress.

By Michael Sigman

An advance look at DEBORAH VANKIN’s Poseurs, a ‘funny, touching graphic novel about the adventures of three young adults immersed in an L.A. party culture where reality is a relative term.” Vankin, writes our roving contributor MICHAEL SIGMAN, “sees her debut book as, ‘On the surface, a 'party noir' about Hollywood nightlife. At its heart, it's also a story about identity, finding your tribe in life, and self acceptance--the three main characters are all, in their own quirky ways, on a journey of self discovery.’”

*‘The Rendezvous With Fate’ by Walter Noble Burns

In the third part of our Billy the Kid saga--drawn from Walter Noble Burns’s 1920 biography, The Saga of Billy the Kid--the Kid meets his destiny in the dark of Pete Maxwell’s house in old Fort Sumner, when a bullet from the gun of Sheriff Pat Garrett pierces his heart and marks, writes Burns, ‘the end of the long campaign to establish law and order west of the Pecos.’

*In a related piece, ‘The Death of Billy the Kid,’ Deputy JOHN W. POE, who was with Sheriff Garrett at old Fort Sumner the night Garrett fired his fateful shot, pens his first-person account of the events of the night of July 14, 1881.

'The Two And Only Jane Russell'


Buxom, beautiful and talented, silver screen legend JANE RUSSELL died at her home in Santa Monica, CA, of a respiratory-related illness on February 28. She was 89. If ever a woman was at risk of being reduced to her body parts, it was Russell, who was initially subject to a level of objectification as relentless as it was breathtaking. But Russell rose above it all, surviving Howard Hughes, film censors, haughty critics--even a judge who agreed with the censors after Russell’s first film, The Outlaw, was pulled from theaters, saying her breasts ‘hung over the picture like a thunderstorm over a landscape. They were everywhere.’--to win both public and critical acclaim for her film roles opposite Robert Mitchum, Marilyn Monroe and Bob Hope, among others. Offscreen she became a tireless advocate for adoption, helping spur the lobbying effort for the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act. A look back at a most remarkable life.


Saying Goodbye to ‘Uncle Leo’ Len Lesser

As Uncle Leo, one of television comedy’s most memorable characters, as seen on Seinfeld, LEN LESSER became everyone’s favorite overbearing but completely lovable Jewish uncle. Seinfeld marked the high point of the gifted character actor’s remarkable 60-year (which included a terrific bad man’s part with Clint Eastwood in The Outlaw Josey Wales), but Lesser’s own favorite role was as an acting coach at the Canterbury Avenue Elementary School in a low-income San Fernando Valley neighborhood in ALenrleta, CA.


‘I see him rounding the bases. I see him smiling. I feel the joy of his sweet, happy soul.’
Remembering Duke Snider, The Duke of Flatbush

It seems impossible that it could have been, but it was. Once upon a time, a city supported three Major League Baseball franchises in three of its five boroughs, and each of those teams boasted a centerfielder of legendary stature. One of those, the Brooklyn Dodgers’ DUKE SNIDER, passed away on February 27, a death that affected New York like no other, including Mickey Mantle’s. In a New York Times piece, Snider’s teammate Ralph Branca noted: ‘On a team of extraordinary individuals, Duke stood out. He had intelligence, integrity and wit. He played hard, and superbly, day in and day out. His long career is a model of athletic excellence.’

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