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What Makes an Award-Winning Country Instrumental?

February 18, 2008

This year's winner of the Best Country Instrumental Grammy was Brad Paisley - Hot Country, electric guitar playing Brad Paisley. Jim Blum was not impressed and said so during a special segment he did on the Grammys. A couple of listeners called him on his comments (he said judges might have been asleep to pass up The Time Jumpers, Russ Barenberg, The Greencards, and Andy Statman in favor of Paisley) and said that Paisley, one of the most respected instrumentalists in Country, deserved the honor. Jim's answer was that Paisley had the advantage of name recognition.

While that is most certainly true, I think he was also at a disadvantage because this award generally goes to a bluegrass performance (Since 2000, it's gone to Alison Krauss twice, Earl Scruggs & co. twice and Alison Brown & Bela Fleck. Last year, it went to Bryan Sutton & Doc Watson. In 2002, it went to the Dixie Chicks, which is closer to Hot Country, but they still have bluegrass cred). My opinion? The category is Best Country Instrumental, not best traditional country or best bluegrass. Why shouldn't Paisley be honored for excellence if he is genuinely producing stand-out work? NB, I don't have the album and had to listen to the song as a YouTube video made on someone's cell phone, so it's hard to tell. BTW, whoever writes Paisley's news section does a great job and has his/her own comments on the Grammys. And, you have to take any award with a grain of salt. What do you think?

Posted by Ann VerWiebe at 1:59 PM | Comments (7)

Cookin' with New Releases; Here's What's on the Stove. (Read This Before You Order)

February 16, 2008

Beth Neilsen Chapman_Prism.jpg Beth Nielsen Chapman ~ Prism
Imagine for a moment that you're not from here. By "here" I mean Earth. You decide to visit for the first time and because you're curious you ask for an overview of all the world's religions. You're not looking for dissertations, rather, you'd like to sample brief but accurate moments of what these various religions are trying to offer. That is roughly what Beth has provided for us. There are Hindu chants, Tibetan singing bowls and Native American flutes. Cuban, European, and African traditions are represented. While some of the songs may be too rock or pop for you, none of them are dry histories and there are no sermons.

For example, Victor Masondo and No Limits joined Beth for "Masibulele Ku Jesu," a Zulu hymn which they recorded in South Africa. It is positively joyful. Equally thrilling, but completely different is Beth's own gift to us: "This Life That's Lent to You." This song is a wake-up call and a gentle reminder (make that a face slap) that you're on borrowed time. Beth researched, co-produced, wrote, and sang on all songs and often played multiple instruments. This is not like many of her previous albums, and not all of this is folk music, but who cares. This is a monumental effort, comparable to those from Loreena McKennitt. We'll be playing several selections and I suspect you'll notice them as they jump out of your speakers.

Polyjesters_Kitchen Radio.jpg The Polyjesters ~ Kitchen Radio
Listening to brothers Sheldon And Jason Valleau and their talented band brings to mind an old, old song title "Ragged but Right." Except with The Polyjesters, it's "Wacky but Right." These guys use songs with a sense of humor to present extremely skilled violin (Drew Jureka) and guitar leads (Aaron Young). Riders in the Sky does the same sort of thing with cowboy music. The songs swing and cover all sorts of topics, such as insecurity, melancoly, and bad weeks. Yet, they are so fun to listen to. Perhaps that's because we receive a moment of reprise from our confusing lives when we witness someone else's struggles. In other words, these guys could impress you with serious jazz, but to keep you entertained at the same time, they poke fun at themselves. If you find any recording from The Polyjesters you won't be disappointed,

I had the great pleasure of being given a CD from the group to hand-deliver to Dan Hicks, who I was about to see. Dan was very moved that this young quintet from Northern Alberta, who have never seen him, admired what he kicked off 30 years ago.
I'm betting you will too.

Caroline Herring_Lantana.jpg Caroline Herring ~ Lantana
Caroline Herring interrupted her music career for a few years to raise a family. With this album she is arriving as a professional poet who delivers in song. Herring's stories ring of her native Mississippi and her years in Texas but she uses sophisticated city smart dialogue to tell these stories. The clearest example may be "Fair and Tender Ladies."
She borrowed the old song title and delivers a new message and a new melody. Instead of women being painted as delicate, she tells us of three very tough ladies from her home state, a poet, a nun, and an anti-lynching activist. Clever.

"Stone Cold World" was inspired from a trip to Newfoundland as she was surprised by all the rocks and the lack of vegetation. She saw a simliarty to her own life as she was learning how to "exist outside myself." She was trying to learn how to accept big changes and how to sacrifice. She also writes about the woman from South Carolina who drowned her children in a car in the song "Paper Gown." Herring is not hesitant to uncover any story, even the ones most of us avoid. She would make a good reporter, except she has too much music in her. That's our good fortune.

Blue Highway_Through the Window of a Train.jpg Blue Highway ~ Through the Window of a Train
Blue Highway has always been a slick and powerful contemporary bluegrass band. They're just getting better and here's why:

SUBJECT MATTER: This album covers such topics as war, the homeless, and mortality, not normal fodder for bluegrass bands. Familiar topics also surface (trains, lost love, wanderlust) but they are presented with new perspectives. The best one may be "Where Did the Morning Go," as a man suddenly realizes that most of his life is behind him. Hats off to Shawn Lane, who is still young, for capturing this perspective.

ARRANGEMENT: Rather than verse, solo, verse, chorus, almost all the songs feature split breaks, often with 3 and 4 instruments. Tricky intros and endings indicate preparation (...and Doyle Lawson's upbringing).

PERFORMANCE: On "Life of a Traveling man," Rob Ickes jumps on his dobro solo with such passion, that the first notes fooled me into thinking Shawn Lane was starting to cry out another verse. Partly these surprises come from our ear's trained expectations, but mostly they come because of Blue Highway's balance - they all play well, and they feature three dynamic lead singers who all harmonize on the money. Speaking of money, go borrow some and buy this disc.

Posted by Jim Blum at 2:33 PM | Comments (3)

Langerado Kicks Off Festival Season

February 15, 2008

Lord, it's difficult to think about a weekend sleeping in my car and wearing my giant hippie skirt (so big, it doubles for a blanket), but Langerado is determined to put everyone in the festival mood the first week of March in the South Florida Everglades. There are still some second-tier weekend tickets available to see (hello, partial list) Dark Star Orchestra, Brett Dennen, Sam Bush, G. Love and Special Sauce, the Mickey Hart Band, the Beastie Boys, Umphrey's McGee, Railroad Earth, the Avett Brothers, Ben Folds, R.E.M., the Bad Plus, the Disco Biscuits, Martin Sexton, Josh Ritter, Keller Williams, Gov't Mule, Ani DiFranco, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, Of Montreal, The National, and Phil Lesh & Friends. Take a coat - I don't care if it's South Florida.

Posted by Ann VerWiebe at 12:24 PM

Folk Alley Artist Becomes First Lady of France

I'm just posting this story because it's true and rather unexpected. Before marrying French President Nicolas Sarkozy, singer/songwriter and former model Carla Bruni dated (among others, I'm sure) Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton and Donald Trump. Sarkozy's romantic history is equally sensational, but Jim Blum doesn't play his music, so you'll have to read up on Wikipedia. Good luck to the happy couple and here's a video of Carla in action.

Posted by Ann VerWiebe at 10:27 AM | Comments (2)

Download February's Alleycast!

February 11, 2008


On February's Alleycast, we'll listen to music from Malinky's exclusive Live From Folk Alley concert recording, along with our in-studio session with David Wilcox. We hear the Open Mic sounds of Ember, Ashley Brooke Toussant, and Rick Spreitzer. Plus, we'll get a montage of songs featured in our Love and Alt-Love side streams and hear the obscure sounds of Synanthesia - a band that made only one record in 1969. Download the Alleycast today!!

Posted by Chris Boros at 11:24 AM | Comments (2)

Love with Joni Mitchell

From Al:

I defy anyone to come up with a better love song for Valentine’s Day. This is it! If any women told me that she could drink of case of me and would still be on her feet, it would close the deal for me. This song will transcend generations, check out Prince doing this on the Joni Mitchel Tribute LP, or Diana Krall. This is my Valentine vote.

Posted by Ann VerWiebe at 9:30 AM | Comments (2)

The "F" word in Ann Arbor wasn't Folk. Were you there?

February 4, 2008

The recently completed Ann Arbor Folk Festival was a financial success. Both evenings in the 4300 seat Hill Auditorium were sold out. Saturday's concert featured the traveling quartet of Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin, Shawn Colvin and Buddy Miller. It was Friday's concert, however, that drew the controversy. Indie-pop star Ben Folds was there, and there's no question that he helped attract the full house. Several in attendance began to wonder, however, if they were at a Folk Festival or pop-rock concert. I wasn't there, so you'll have to help me if you were. Did Folds crossover enough to fit the bill? What did you think of his tirade dropping the "F-bomb" repeatedly in one of the final songs? Is there a controversy in Ann Arbor or should we feel lucky that The Ark will have financial protection for another year? I'd like your thoughts.

Jim Blum

Posted by Jim Blum at 4:09 PM | Comments (15)

Now that's a love song....

In light of our invitation for song requests for our upcoming Valentine's Day Love and alt-Love sidestreams , I wanted to share a video of two of my all-time favorite artists (John Prine and Iris Dement) performing one of my all-time favorite love songs!



Posted by Linda Fahey at 11:14 AM | Comments (5)

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