Making moonshine with Roger Lee “Buck” Nance

 by Glen Herbert “Listen,” says Nance. “It sounds like rain on a roof.” And it really does. Large vats line the room, each filled with a roiling mixture of grain and yeast. The gas being released as bubbles is responsible for the sound and the smell, which is somewhere between beer and bread and turpentine.Continue reading “Making moonshine with Roger Lee “Buck” Nance”

We’re here. Get used to it.

(for CBC Kids) Steve Colbert once said that stay-at-home dads are “against nature’s laws.” Your grandmother probably thinks that, too. The world that we know today is, of course, different than that of yesteryear. People don’t smoke in hospitals, and the moon is no longer a very interesting destination; it’s illegal to strike a dog,Continue reading “We’re here. Get used to it.”

Sam Bush’s, “Storyman”

(Published by Hudson Valley Bluegrass) Sam Bush is such a perennial of Americana music, from first gaining lots of attention with Newgrass Revival, going on to be the King of Telluride, and he’s just kept on going. Through it all, subtle is not something that anyone might readily claim of him, what with his mulletContinue reading “Sam Bush’s, “Storyman””

Arnie Naiman’s, “My Lucky Stars”

Published in Penguin Eggs, Issue #71, Fall 2016 You’ve got to love this album, and I’ll tell you why. Look at the liner notes. Each song lists the people that join Naiman, adding their stuff to his. Chris Coole’s there pretty much on every one. Love that. Naiman is credited on every track, less becauseContinue reading “Arnie Naiman’s, “My Lucky Stars””

Dave Pomfret’s, A Devil’s Urge

I’m forever being impressed with the level, variety, and quality of music coming out of Hamilton. The city doesn’t have the reputation of Cape Breton or Nashville, New Orleans or Muscle Shoals, and one reason might be because there isn’t just one genre of music being produced, but so many. So, too, that the bluesContinue reading “Dave Pomfret’s, A Devil’s Urge”

Martin Harley and Daniel Kimbro, “Live at Southern Ground”

  This isn’t a live album in the way that you think: it’s live in the sense of two musicians playing together, no overdubs or added tracks. There’s less audience noise than you’d expect from a live album, as in none at all. There’s more effect than we’d expect to hear on a live album,Continue reading “Martin Harley and Daniel Kimbro, “Live at Southern Ground””

Joe Ely, “Panhandle Rambler”

  The panhandle of the title is the Texan one, not the Floridian, and the album comprises a something of a tour of the writers and the styles that we associate with the singer/songwriter culture of Texas. All but two of the songs are written by Ely, though they reference many others, including Roy Orbison,Continue reading “Joe Ely, “Panhandle Rambler””

It’s personal

When it comes to alternative education, is it possible to go too far? All advances in education are emblematic of their time, arising out of a specific political context and cultural experience. The education that Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner knew as children, for example, was severe. Classrooms were institutional, teaching was rote, punishments couldContinue reading “It’s personal”

Sierra Hull’s “Weighted Mind”

Innovation has long been an important part of the musical endeavour, and it’s often the first person to happen upon a new idea—rather than the people who refine it—that remains foremost in our minds. That’s certainly true in bluegrass, and Bill Monroe will remain the king of the genre even when a majority of theContinue reading “Sierra Hull’s “Weighted Mind””

“Girl”

Winning Entry, Massey Lectures contest Margaret MacMillan’s 2015 CBC Massey Lectures were about people who have left a mark on their own time, and on ours. Inspired by the lectures, listeners were asked: Who you think will be most remembered fifty years from now? Who will have the greatest impact on our times, and on the future?  We love firsts,Continue reading ““Girl””

The Steep Canyon Rangers, “Radio”

Since they began, there has been a goofy quality to the Steep Canyon Rangers, though in a good way. They were five young people with good hygiene, great senses of humor, and good chops out to have some fun. When they caught the ear of Steve Martin at a party in rural North Carolina—his wifeContinue reading “The Steep Canyon Rangers, “Radio””

The Steeldrivers, “The Muscle Shoals Recordings”

Muscle Shoals, Alabama, is the place that musicians have travelled to when they wanted to change, to sound different. Aretha Franklin went to Muscle Shoals as an unknown pop singer who had recently been released from a recording contract. When she came back, she was Aretha Franklin, the one that we know today. The recordingContinue reading “The Steeldrivers, “The Muscle Shoals Recordings””

Rethinking Appalachia

Phil Jamison Hoedowns, Reels and Frolics: Roots and branches of Southern Appalachian Dance University of Illinois Press  (For Sing Out! magazine) Alex Ross wrote recently in the New Yorker that “when classical-music fans hear that a new Hollywood production has a scene set at the opera or the symphony, they reflexively prepare to cringe. Typically, such scenes giveContinue reading “Rethinking Appalachia”

Alive! In Concert! with Dailey and Vincent!

(for HVBA) It’s hard to be a Dailey and Vincent fan because they can be so unabashedly shameless. Where other bluegrass musicians grew up wanting to be like Bill, or Earl, or Doc, these guys grew up wanting to be the Statler Brothers. When I first saw them live I was turned off pretty muchContinue reading “Alive! In Concert! with Dailey and Vincent!”

The Honey Dewdrops’ “Tangled Country”

(Penguin Eggs, issue #66) The Honey Dewdrops (Laura Wortman and Kagey Parris) have been around for a while now, perhaps flying a bit below the radar. In that time, Laura’s cut her hair, Kagey’s grown his beard, and they’ve otherwise built their skills, their confidence, their attention to detail, and this year might just beContinue reading “The Honey Dewdrops’ “Tangled Country””

Le vent du nord

(For Sing Out! magazine) I suspect that the Quebecois band Le Vent du Nord is unfamiliar to many in the English-speaking world. Which is too bad, because they are exceptionally skilled, exceptionally experienced, and exceptionally entertaining. Since they formed in 2002, the band has been breathing new life into the traditional music of Quebec, oftenContinue reading “Le vent du nord”

Ralph Waldo Emerson on living with intent

by Ralph Waldo Emerson Living with intent may prove to be the coin of the year, bumping mindfulness out of the bestseller lists. Both, of course–and indeed all the other topics under “well-being” at the bookstore–are attempts at answering a question that has long been with us: How do we live better? While popular authors suggest journaling,…

Being there: Norman Blake on a new recording and a long career

(published in Penguin Eggs magazine, issue #65) “It’s kind of a downer if you listen to the words,” says Norman Blake about his new album, titled Wood, Wire and Words. He’s having a bit of fun—he laughed as he said that—and when pressed he admits that it’s just that, throughout his career, he’s been lessContinue reading “Being there: Norman Blake on a new recording and a long career”

Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, “The Travelling Kind”

by Glen Herbert   (For KDHX radio) There’s a scene in the first season of Nashville where Rayna James approaches a young rock producer to make her next album. She’s only written one song toward the project, but nevertheless, she’s more interested in her sound. She gets drunk, cuts a track at the hipster’s studio,Continue reading “Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, “The Travelling Kind””

Classic American Ballads from Smithsonian Folkways

Update: Since I posted the review below, Jeff Place, an archivist at Smithsonian Folkways, was in touch to note that I’m confusing the Library of Congress Collections with those of the Smithsonian. “All the Lomax etc collections are at LOC, I drew from the much smaller Rinzler Archives at the Smithsonian, which is really FolkwaysContinue reading “Classic American Ballads from Smithsonian Folkways”

The universe in stone: An interview with Mark Wilson

(for Patriarch) This is how professor Mark Wilson describes the specimen pictured above: “The platform is the wavy outer layer of a bivalve shell. Attached to it are encrusting organisms (sclerobionts). The long, gorgeous tube is a rugose coral. At its base is a ribbed athyrid brachiopod. Also in this vignette are bryozoans, additional coralsContinue reading “The universe in stone: An interview with Mark Wilson”

The Chrysalids at 60

(for Patriarch) Sixty years ago this year, John Wyndham published a post-apocalyptic thriller about, well, you know, kids with telepathy. Which sounds funny, because as much as that’s true, the book has resonated with readers ever since not because of the telepathy, or the apocalypse — in the book it’s called the tribulation — or for beingContinue reading “The Chrysalids at 60”

Jayme Stone and The Lomax Project

(For Sing Out!) There is a recording of John Hartford in the studio giving direction to the musicians he’s gathered there. Whatever the song they were prepping – it may have been “Madison Tennessee” – he says, “this is not going to be a showstopper. I want to do this like it was ‘Brushy ForkContinue reading “Jayme Stone and The Lomax Project”

Baltic Crossing, The Tune Machine

This disc is an absolute, unbridled joy. Five musicians—two Finns, two Danes and one Brit—use the instruments and music of Scandinavia to, as far as I can tell, have about the best possible time you can ever think of having. A fair amount of traditional music, including jigs, polkas, fiddle tunes—there’s even a Schottische inContinue reading “Baltic Crossing, The Tune Machine”

Interview with Sarah Jarosz

(KDHX) When she was 16, Sarah Jarosz came into the acoustic-music scene seemingly fully formed. She has continued to demand and hold our attention ever since. On her latest album, “Build Me Up from Bones,” Jarosz’s material is less guarded, and therefore more adult, though her writing and her delivery have always been astonishing, and not only becauseContinue reading “Interview with Sarah Jarosz”

Mac Wiseman, Songs from my Mother’s Hand

(For HVBA) This is the first thing that anyone will know about this album, so I’ll get it out of the way: Mac Wiseman is 89 years old. He’s old, even for bluegrass. In pop music terms, he’s ancient. There aren’t any pop musicians that we’ll be listening to when they are 89. Age canContinue reading “Mac Wiseman, Songs from my Mother’s Hand”

Writing about music

“It’s about us. Art doesn’t change, we do.” –Peter Schjeldahl Whenever we think of critical writing about music, from capsule album reviews on up, it’s hard not to recall that quote—apparently it remains a mystery as to who said it first—that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. The suggestion is that the valueContinue reading “Writing about music”

Silent Bear’s “The Green Lion”

I once heard someone saying that, given the ubiquity of 70s ranch-style housing, Frank Lloyd Wright had a lot to answer for. He was the source, and a very affective one, of a revisioning of domestic architecture. And while his prairie homes look as lively and affective today as they did when they were made,Continue reading “Silent Bear’s “The Green Lion””

The Tao of Peter Rowan

If you are a glass-half-empty kind of person, then this new documentary of Peter Rowan, titled The Tao of Peter Rowan, will seem like  a half-empty glass. The photography and sound are at times a bit south of polished, the lighting of some of the shots—such as the interview segments with Ricky Skaggs—could and shouldContinue reading “The Tao of Peter Rowan”

Discovering Peter, Paul, and Mary

(for KDHX) I suspect that there are lots of things that the average person doesn’t know about Peter, Paul, and Mary. We think of them, if we think of them at all, as earnest and goofy, perhaps due to the persona of the most visible of the three these days, Peter Yarrow. On stage heContinue reading “Discovering Peter, Paul, and Mary”

Fleck and Washburn

(for Sing Out!) When I first heard that Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn had married I thought it was a joke, though that was in part because of the source of the news. The “Bluegrass Intelligencer,” a satire web magazine, ran the story under the headline “Strategic marriage will consolidate power within single banjo sovereignty:Continue reading “Fleck and Washburn”

Seamons and Hunter, “Take Yo Time”

(For Sing Out! magazine) For anyone who has learned to play an instrument in the usual way – lessons, scales, exercises, practice, recitals – Joe Seamons can make you feel like you’ve missed something. He grew up in a rural setting in the Pacific Northwest in a log cabin that his parents built. There heContinue reading “Seamons and Hunter, “Take Yo Time””

Interview with Andrew Collins

As a solo artist and founding member of some of Canada’s most celebrated string bands, Andrew Collins is at the centre of a burgeoning Canadian acoustic music scene. His latest recording is A Play on Words. What was it like playing bluegrass in Toronto when you were just starting out? You didn’t have any recordings, the careerContinue reading “Interview with Andrew Collins”

History of McMaster Children’s Hospital

The following is an excerpt from McMaster Children’s Hospital: Celebrating the first 25 years, ISBN 0969743564, 9780969743569. The book was launched on October 16, with copies available through the university stores and select booksellers.  What’s past is prologue The origins of pediatric care in Hamilton by Glen Herbert In his address at the dedication ceremony, Dr. Peter Dent mentionedContinue reading “History of McMaster Children’s Hospital”

House of Horrors

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, October 2014. When we were young, cooties were the height of disgust and fear. Never seen but horrifically imagined, they were the playground equivalent to serial killers. When playing tag, “cooties” added a dimension of engagement that was hard to duplicate. You heard the word and you ran, the onlyContinue reading “House of Horrors”

Jimmy Gaudreau and Moondi Klein, “If I had a Boat”

Bob Snider is a musician you’ve never heard of, though nevertheless he has spent his life in music, playing in the streets of Toronto and in folk clubs across Canada. He’s also written two books on performing and songwriting, and they draw from his long experience reaching audiences. There is a lot of wisdom inContinue reading “Jimmy Gaudreau and Moondi Klein, “If I had a Boat””