Archive for December, 2008

What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?

December 31, 2008

A new year and three new blogs for the blogroll.

Brendan and Jason describe The Rising Storm as “an mp3 blog about fine forgotten albums.” An example? How about Jerry Jeff Walker’s Driftin’ Way of Life? Brendan’s affectionate treatment of this classic is just right. Go read it.

And how can you resist a blog that posts mp3s of Carla Thomas, The Clash, and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan on the same page? Don’t even try! It’s called For The Sake Of The Song, and you’ll find it here.

For all things, dulcimer, check out Carla Maxwell’s Dulcimer Blog, tonight featuring Cyndi Lauper. Really.

New Year’s Eve really isn’t a folk music holiday, I don’t think. The closest I could come was Rufus Wainwright singing What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve. Rufus, of course, is the son of Loudon Wainwright and Kate McGarrigle, and acquires honorary folk credentials thereby. He’s also a hell of a musician. Enjoy the music and have a safe holiday and a happy 2009.


Delaney Bramlett, R. I. P.

December 28, 2008

What can you say about the man who convinced Eric Clapton he could sing, and taught George Harrison how to play slide guitar? Tonight all we can say is “goodbye,” because Delaney Bramlett died yesterday at the age of 69.

Bramlett’s musical influence is incalculable. His recordings (Original Delaney and Bonnie and Motel Shot are great places to start) were influential well beyond their sales figures, and the songs he wrote (Superstar, Let it Rain, Never Ending Song of Love among them) have been covered by dozens of artists.

Delaney was also a friend and mentor to many. Many of those friends have signed his guestbook tonight – the man they describe had gifts that went well beyond his music.

Here are Delaney and Bonnie with some illustrious friends (Eric Clapton, Bobby Whtilock and Dave Mason) with an acoustic Poor Elijah from around 1969.

One Little Kiss and Feleena, Goodbye…..

December 27, 2008

Marty Robbins believed that the phrase “country-and-western music” described not one kind of music, but two, and the western part was decidedly his favorite. Inspired first by his grandfather’s Texas Ranger tales, and later by Gene Autry, he wanted to sing cowboy songs, and El Paso was one of twelve on his 1959 LP, Gunfighter Ballads.

Unlike the traditional ballads that tend to drop us into the middle of a story, Marty starts at the beginning, with as perfect a sentence as ever began a song: “Out in the west Texas town of El Paso, I fell in love with a Mexican girl.” An innocent enough beginning, but we never make it to the “happily ever after” ending: jealousy leads to murder, murder to flight, flight to the inevitable return to the scene of the crime, Rosa’s Cantina. And there, in back of Rosa’s, is where our hero gets the “one little kiss” of this post’s title.

Robbins claimed, in the liner notes to Marty Robbins: Biggest Hits, that he wrote El Paso on a drive that took him through the west Texas town he made famous. “I probably wrote it in less time than the song’s actual length, which is 4:37, ’cause the words were coming so fast. But it was exciting ‘cause I really didn’t know how it was going to end. I kept waiting to get to the end, and finally, when I did, I remembered it ‘cause it was just like a movie. All of this came to me about nine in the evening, and I sang it over and over in the car all night long until I got to Phoenix the next day where I wrote the words down.”

I don’t think I believe Marty when he tells us that he didn’t know how the story would end. It wasn’t going to end with the cowboy kissing Feleena and the kids goodbye as he rode off to herd some cattle, no way. Every word Marty sings, and every note the inimitable Grady Martin plays, lead us to the only end this story can have. Please enjoy.

And The Bells Were Ringing Out For Christmas Day

December 24, 2008

There’s no better Christmas song than Fairytale of New York. Please enjoy the video and have a safe and happy holiday.

Welcome Setting The Woods On Fire Readers!

December 23, 2008

A million thanks to Paul at Setting the Woods On Fire for his gracious post today and thanks to all of you for stopping by – if there’s anything I can do to make you feel more at home just let me know in comments. This blog started out as a companion to a course I was teaching on Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music – the course is over, but the blog endures.

Now that you’re here, stay awhile and browse through the archives – I usually attach a video to each post, and some of them are pretty good. My current favorites are Mrs. Etta Baker and Elizabeth Cotten – but feel free to wander around and discover your own.

Here are the Louvin Brothers – please listen and enjoy a happy holiday season!

New Music From Ol’ Hank

December 22, 2008

1951 was a busy year for Hank Williams. As his biggest hit, Cold, Cold, Heart, climbed the country and pop (as covered by Tony Bennett) charts, he was on the road almost all year, criss-crossing the south with his band, the Drifting Cowboys. Being away from Nashville so much, Hank wasn’t able to do his WSM radio show live every day. Instead, he’d come into the studio and record a week’s worth of shows in a morning’s work, and the station would broadcast them when Hank wasn’t around.

The tapes of those old shows, sponsored by Mother’s Best Flour, were discarded by WSM but finally recovered and restored, after much litigation, by Hank’s estate (Hank Jr. and Hank’s daughter Jett), and the first installment has just been issued by Time-Life Records as Hank Williams: The Unreleased Recordings.

The only downside of the Time-Life package is that they’re making us wait for most of the music – two more sets are scheduled for release in the next three years. But let’s be thankful for what we have: this is undoubtedly the very best of Hank Williams.

The sound is beautifully restored: Joe Palmaccio, who is credited with the restoration and remastering, deserves not only a Grammy, but a MacArthur Grant. We can hear Hank’s voice as if for the first time, warmer and fuller than on the MGM recordings. The shows were originally recorded not on tape, but on acetates, and Colin Escott’s accompanying essay tells us that this method is responsible for the superior sound quality.

But it’s not just the sound that makes this a revelatory set: Hank is friendly and folksy and the Drifting Cowboys are better than ever. The fifty-four songs include many of Hank’s hits, but so much more – more than a dozen gospel numbers, covers of other artists’ hits, a couple of sentimental numbers – not a dud in the bunch.

The package has been beautifully assembled by Time-Life, and includes an introductory note from Jett Williams, an insightful essay and song notes by Colin Escott and pictures that are by themselves almost worth the price of the package.

If you haven’t heard a whole lot of Hank’s music, there’s no better place to start. If you think you’ve heard all of Hank’s music, this is the place to find out you’re mistaken. Either way, you need to hear this.

Here’s a 10-minute clip from a BBC documentary on Hank’s life. It’s kind of chopped up, but stick with it, and whatever you do, don’t miss Hank’s duet with Anita Carter – it’s priceless. Please enjoy.

To Be Continued…

December 16, 2008

Yes, our study group is over, but the beat goes on, and so will our blog. I’ll post less frequently, but I’ll do an occasional essay on someone I’m listening to, keep you up to date on local events, and just generally let you know I’m still around.

I also invite any readers who’d like to become contributors to post a comment – a group blog setup might be just the thing.

Tonight’s video is of Kate and Anna McGarrigle performing Foolish You from their first record, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, released in 1976. They gained fame as songwriters (Heart Like a Wheel) before recording, but seem to me the truest interpreters of their own material. Their followup, Dancer With Bruised Knees, is every bit as good as the first. Listen to both, and then The French Record (the sisters were born in Montreal).

Down and Out

December 15, 2008

Those who decided to wait before paying the group copying fee of $17 made out like the proverbial bandits. Today’s S & P 500 close of 868.57 means that $17 has somehow turned into $16.62, and each of you has turned a quick thirty-eight cent profit. Please consult a qualified professional for advice on the tax consequences of this transaction, and don’t forget to bring the funds tomorrow. Thanks.

Of course, I don’t mean to treat our current economic situation lightly – in the real world, these losses are having serious consequences. It is for just such situations that the blues were invented, and in the video below (music only) Bessie Smith reveals a truth which many of us have already learned: nobody knows you when you’re down and out. Listen and find out why the blues are cathartic: Bessie suffers for all of us. See you tomorrow.


December 13, 2008

Our last meeting is just around the corner, but that doesn’t mean you’ll run out of new music to listen to. Courtesy of the Old Time Herald, here are a couple of absolutely essential sources for anyone interested in traditional, roots or world music.

First, archived broadcasts of the WFMU radio show, Secret Museum of the Air. This show is no longer broadcast, but you can stream about 100 shows  from 2000-2002 directly from the site. Some, but not all of the shows have topics listed, and these are tantalizing indeed: Roots of Uncle Dave, Jewish Rarities, Unusual Instruments, Sea Songs, White Blues, the list goes on and on. WFMU also streams 24/7, and their slogan neatly sums up their philosophy: “You may not need our fetishistic obsession with musical marginalism, but it’s nice to know it’s there.” Obviously my kind of people.

Next up, the Roots Music Listening Room, a compendium of public domain recordings from the 1920s on, including Irish dance music, Mexican folk music, Calypso, Library of Congress recordings, and so much more. All of it is downloadable free, although there’s an informal listening and downloading limit of 35-40 songs a day. Check out the main site, too:, where you can buy CD-R and DVD discs loaded with up to 40 (!) hours worth of music.

I’ll add permanent links for all this stuff in the appropriate categories on the right of the page – please visit and enjoy.

Finally, in the “it’s my blog and I’ll post what I want to” category, here are Richard Thompson and the incomparable Linda Thompson with a 1975 video of A Heart Needs a Home. After posting the Richard Thompson video last week, I realized it would be the grossest negligence to omit Linda, a terribly underappreciated vocalist who has recently started recording again.

Week 12 Music Notes

December 10, 2008

Thanks to everyone who provided us with a song for this final CD. As I said yesterday, I hope each of you will add a comment to this post and tell us all a bit about why you picked the song and what it means to you.

With that in mind, I’ll only write about my own personal contribution and the three songs I tacked on to fill up the disc.

Chimes of Freedom is the third song on side one of Another Side of Bob Dylan, which came out in 1964, the year I turned sixteen. I had a little portable stereo then with a detachable speaker on each side of a turntable. I’d come home, put the speakers on my bed, lie down and put one speaker against each ear. That’s how I listened to this album.

I was a pretty screwed up kid (that’s another study group!) and when Dylan sang this song I truly believed he sang it directly to me. I’m still not convinced I was wrong. I know those chimes of freedom were tolling for me. Here’s the end of the song:

Tolling for the aching ones whose wounds cannot be nursed
For the countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an’ worse
An’ for every hung-up person in the whole wide universe
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.

When Bob Dylan first arrived in New York, way back in January of 1961, someone told him to go to the Cafe Wha? down in Greenwich Village and ask for Fred Neil. Dylan’s first paying gigs in New York were playing harmonica behind Fred Neil for the tourists who came through the cafe during the afternoon. Neil is best known for writing Everybody’s Talking, heard in the movie Midnight Cowboy (sung in the movie by Harry Nilsson), but by this time (around 1969) he had already retired to Coconut Grove, Florida. He lived in Coconut Grove as something of a recluse, working on the Dolphin Project, which he described as “an organization dedicated to stopping the capture, trafficking and exploitation of dolphins worldwide.” Blues on the Ceiling is from his 1965 album Bleecker and McDougal.

Tim Hardin’s story is, as Jeff said yesterday, “a sad, sad, story.” Hardin fought a long battle with heroin – he died (at 39) in 1980 of a methadone overdose but stopped working and writing well before that. He’s best known for If I Were a Carpenter, which has been covered by, among many others, Led Zeppelin, Joan Baez, and Leonard Nimoy. Both Black Sheep Boy and Carpenter appear on Tim Hardin 2. Hearing him sing his best songs almost feels like an invasion of privacy – both lyrics and performance are so nakedly personal.

We’ll see just a little bit of Richard and Mimi Farina in the second half of Festival next week. Theirs is a sad story, too. Richard Farina was a songwriter, novelist, musician and character. Mimi was Joan Baez’s younger sister and she married Richard in 1963, when she was 17 and Richard 26. They recorded two innovative and influential Vanguard LPs and Richard wrote a well-reviewed novel, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me, published in 1966. Richard was killed in a motorcycle crash on the way home from a book signing event, on Mimi’s 21st birthday. Their story is well told in David Hajdu’s recent book Positively 4th Street: The Life and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina and Richard Farina. The CD song is Pack Up Your Sorrows, co-written by Richard Farina and Pauline Marden, Joan and Mimi’s older sister, from their first LP, Celebrations for a Grey Day. The video below, from Pete Seeger’s old Rainbow Quest show, features Richard Farina’s dulcimer playing. Dulcimer player and maker Jerry Rockwell said Farina “changed the possibilities of the instrument forever.” Please enjoy the music.