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

“It’s kind of a downer if you listen to the words,” says Norman Blake about his new album, 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 less interested in artifice and more interested in tellingContinue 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”

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 prologueThe origins of pediatric care in Hamilton by Glen Herbert In his address at the dedication ceremony, Dr. Peter Dent mentioned thatContinue 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””

The Duhks, “Beyond the Blue”

(KDHX) When the Duhks first came on the scene in 2001 they were, right off the mark, as challenging as they were entertaining, and as infectious as they were affecting. Jessee Havey’s voice was the band in a nutshell: soulful, though not typically so, and able to add depth to material that in other handsContinue reading “The Duhks, “Beyond the Blue””

Michael Cleveland, “On Down the Line”

(KDHX) Sometimes fiddle players can be hard to get a handle on, if only because it’s a kind of music making that we are less familiar with than, say, guitar. On this album as on all the albums Cleveland has made, it may not be obvious why he gets lead billing: he doesn’t sing, orContinue reading “Michael Cleveland, “On Down the Line””

Willie Watson, Folksinger

(Penguin Eggs issue #63) The jacket design of Willie Watson’s “Folk Singer Vol. 1” is pure pre-folk-boom camp: he’s got a pipe, and the presentation is sparse to look like a Lomax field recording from the period. “Vol. 1”(I actually think it’s a feint here, and I’ll be surprised if there is ever a Vol.Continue reading “Willie Watson, Folksinger”

Reading disability

(for CanChild Connect) It’s discouraging to think that, since the Wizard of Oz was released as a feature film, the foremost image in North Americans’ minds of dwarfism has been the lollipop kids. Comical, childish, awkward, short—it wasn’t wrong to cast those roles as the filmmakers did, rather it’s regrettable that no alternate images of achondroplasia haveContinue reading “Reading disability”

Is there such a thing as a perfect album?

(Penguin Eggs issue #63) Is there such a thing as a perfect album? Of course we don’t think of art in those terms, but it’s an interesting thought experiment. There are works of art that feel perfect, such as Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, Greg Foley’s Thank You Bear, two children’s books that areContinue reading “Is there such a thing as a perfect album?”

Williams, Crowe, Lawson, “Standing Tall and Tough”

(for HVBA) In the liner notes to Standing Tall and Tough, Paul Williams notes “How amazing is it that three guys on Medicare can still be onstage performing this great American music called bluegrass?” It’s a comment, at least on the face of it, on the fact that they’re still standing, or some variant of that,Continue reading “Williams, Crowe, Lawson, “Standing Tall and Tough””

Michael Barnett’s “One Song Romance”

Michael Barnett is a fiddler who, while young, has done a lot. He’s a prodigy, more or less, becoming a sought after teacher and session musician at a very young age. He was a member of the David Grisman Sextet, and otherwise has turned the ear of a who’s who of acoustic music. The albumContinue reading “Michael Barnett’s “One Song Romance””

Mike Scott’s, “The Old Country Church”

(HVBA) Mike Scott is one of those guys who has a thousand-watt smile—his album covers look like ads for dental work—and always seem to be selling something. Indeed, what he is selling is himself and his ability to do so is prodigious. There are a lot of great banjo players out there, though of courseContinue reading “Mike Scott’s, “The Old Country Church””

Through this life, part 1

“When I left I had no idea whatsoever, no inkling at all, that anyone else would ever follow me. So when I said goodbye, it was goodbye forever.” That was 1954. Herbert Gerber was 19 years old and had inherited his father’s determination as well as his destination: Canada. It was English speaking, didn’t have a draft.Continue reading “Through this life, part 1”

Larry Sparks’ “Lonesome and Then Some”

One of the great things about bluegrass is that it has a memory. People who played then are celebrated now, and the music that was made then is still relevant now. And people like Larry Sparks provide some proof of that. His first real gig was playing guitar for Ralph Stanley in 1966 after theContinue reading “Larry Sparks’ “Lonesome and Then Some””