Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Who's YOUR hero?

Ellis Paul’s forthcoming album is going to be different from all the others he’s done during his 20+ year career. It has a very definite theme. It is called The Hero in You and he explains the concept this way:

The last decade has been so hard on our national self worth. All the in-fighting, financial misdealings, recession, war, terrorism, and the out and out struggling to get by have taken their toll on all of us.

I spent the last year writing about people who made significant contributions to our culture and in doing so, helped to change the course of our country's future.

From Nelly Bly to Chief Joseph, from Rosa Parks to Ben Franklin, he has written about some of the folks that he admires. His subjects come from all eras and all walks of life including Rachel Carson, Tee Tot, Jackie Robinson, Martha Graham, Einstein, Edison and, of course, Woody Guthrie.

This admirable list got me thinking about who I might want to add. For obvious reasons I might suggest Tesla and Marconi. I’d probably want to honor pioneering folklorists like F.J. Child, Cecil Sharp and Helen Creighton. He has written a song about Jackie Robinson who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball but what about Josh Gibson, perhaps the greatest player never to wear a Major League Uniform. While I’m at, from the world of sports I might add Bill Russell and Jim Thorpe. Woody Guthrie certainly deserves a place on this album but somebody should consider a song about his traveling partner Cisco Houston. And what about Cisco’s friend (and mine) the poet Tom McGrath? Yes, you’ve probably never heard of him, but isn’t that what Google is for?

If I thought about this longer my list of heroes would be endless, but what about you? If you could suggest a hero worthy of a song to Ellis for a future album, who would it be? And why? As it turns out, Ellis will be joining me Live at this Friday here on WUMB and I’ll be able to share your suggestions with him.

- Dave Palmater

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Were you a Dylan fan from the very beginning?

I must admit that I've been a Dylan fan from the very beginning. I mean here was a guy who was saying things that I wanted to say, and he didn't need a whole band to do it. Why, I thought, I could do that. Well, by the time I figured out that I couldn't I was already hooked big time. I bought all the albums, even haunted head shops on Huntington Avenue to buy bootlegs, from "Great White Wonder" on, from the cardboard boxes hidden below the record bins.

Why is this new collection, The Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan, important to an old Dylanite like me? Certainly there have been impressive collections of covers of his music before. Red House Records issued "Nod to Bob" albums on both his 60th and 70th birthdays. In the 90's the Indigo Girls and their Atlanta friends did an album of Dylan songs and for a second volume roped some other folks, like Ellis Paul and Richard Shidell, in to contribute. There's been Blues tributes to Bob and of course the inevitable "Pickin' on Dylan" bluegrass collection. Amazingly there were actually several of those.

What makes this album different is more than just the size, which is impressive with four discs featuring more than 80 artists. What makes it impressive to me is the diversity in styles of the artists represented. Certainly there are some folks you'd expect to be here, like Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Billy Bragg and Jackson Browne. There are artists that will make a Highway 61 Revisited fan smile like Jeff Beck, Marianne Faithful and Paul Rogers (remember Free and Bad Company?). Even Pete Townsend turns in an amazing version of a song Dylan once recorded. Celtic Twilight fans will appreciate a performance of one of Bob's songs by Flogging Molly.

The writers who wear the Dylan influence proudly are here as you might expect: Steve Earle, Michael Franti and Tom Morello. From Jazz (Diana Krall) to ReggAe (Ziggy Marley) to Blues (Taj Mahal) and beyond it's all here. The punk poet PattI Smith contributes and  there's a good sampling of the more intellectual indie bands like My Morning Jacket and Maroon 5. Even the Kronos Quartet contributes and try to listen to Johnny Cash's version of "One Too Many Mornings" without a tear in the eye.

There's also a goodly number of bands that I, being a certain age, never heard of, but  what surprises me most about this collection is the contributions of "main stream" stars. (And you can read that as multi-million selling artists.) Sting, Dave Matthews, Miley Cyrus and even main stream country music favorites like Sugarland.

While Bob Dylan was originally hailed as "the voice of his generation" what this collection makes clear is that his is a voice for all generations, and that his influence has reached into every corner of popular music.

If you already have a copy of the CD, what do you think of it?

If you don't have the CD yet, then for more information on getting your own copy of this landmark collection while supporting WUMB at the same time, click here:

-Dave Palmater

Friday, January 20, 2012

Exclaiming the Excellence of Barnstar!

To quote Shakespeare, “We few, we happy few...” Well, we happy couple of hundred people who got to see the Barnstar! member concert are still humming those tunes – some bluegrass, some not so much – and still smiling at charming quips from the band.

The Snowden Auditorium was chock full of WUMB members singing along, clapping and stomping and sometimes shouting out loud. Barnstar! has just put out its debut CD C’mon! (thanks in large part to an Iguana Fund grant) and is still building an audience so this was the biggest crowd they’ve played to so far. Just wait... those of us who were there may have witnessed history!

As always at WUMB member concerts, members brought guests (I brought my husband Rick and Craig, a pal since 7th grade who was in town), and lots of folks connected with good friends they have made just through their WUMB membership. Patriot Ledger blogger Sue Scheible was among the many who weren’t sure whether she’d like bluegrass, but trusted WUMB to put on only the best. Here’s a link to her review: - complete with a video clip from the show.

Zack Hickman (bassist) formed the band in the organic and typically Boston/Cambridge manner. He hung out at the Cantab lounge bluegrass jams where he met up with Taylor (mandolin) and Jake (fiddle/mandolin) Armerding. They wooed songwriter/guitar slinger Mark Erelli and they were off. You can’t have a bluegrassish band without a banjo and – lucky us! – Charlie Rose came to town via Chicago and Kansas, the cities not the bands. Zing!

Hosting a daily show sharing music on WUMB is a privilege. Hosting a member concert is a thrill! Tune in on February 15 at 6:30pm to hear exactly how the C’mon! CD got its name and listen to some sizzling arrangements of songs from diverse sources, and I mean diverse! Tommy James & the Shondells, Paul Simon, and Dawes, for example. You’ll even witness the invention of a new verb! You’ll find out why anyone who talks or writes about Barnstar! uses so many exclamation points.

-- Marilyn Rea Beyer (!)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The best value for a night out!

In this day and age, who isn't looking for a bargain. Well, you've got one of the best entertainment bargains right in your back yard. For somewhere between $10 and $20 you can get a ticket to your local coffeehouse. You'll have an intimate musical experience because the furthest seat from the stage is just feet away. Add a couple of bucks for coffee or tea and maybe a piece of carrot cake and you're still well below what it might cost you for a night out at the movies. At the end of the evening you can pick up a CD as a souvenir and still not be at the cost of a single ticket for an average mainstream music event. And, I dare say, nine times out of ten, you'll be able to chat with the artist or artists you've just enjoyed. Try that at a Van Halen concert!

Here in New England we are doubly luck. Not only do we have a coffeehouse in practically every second town, but most of them collaborate as a part of the Boston Area Coffeehouse Association, whose website ( allows you to easily locate one near you. If you don't know the location of your nearest coffeehouse, just scan down the list ( until you find one in your neighborhood and then click on the logo to be taken right to that venue's own website. If you have a favorite performer, or are just looking to go a little further a field, try the combined coffeehouse calendar ( where you'll find listing that stretch into the summer and beyond.

Did I mention that parking is usually free. Many are accessible by public transportation, and since the performances begin between 7 and 8, depending on the venue, you won't be up late. Unless, of course, you want to be. I should also mention that the volunteers who run these coffeehouses, and the folks who attend them, are among the nicest, friendliest people, you'd ever want to meet.

Now, what's keeping you? I bet there's a coffeehouse performance near you this weekend. Get out and enjoy!

Friday, January 13, 2012

A drunk chicken stumbling through empty coffee cans

James "Peck" Curtis. A better nickname for a drummer might never be given.

Curtis was the longtime drummer for the "King Biscuit Time" radio program out of KFFA in Helena, Arkansas which began broadcasting in 1941 and was the only area radio station of that time that would play African-American artists. Many blues musicians from the Delta region, who we now think of as iconic figures in the genre, built their audience by performing daily on the half hour-long lunchtime show: Sonny Boy Williamson II (Aleck "Rice" Miller), Robert Lockwood, Pinetop Perkins, and others.

James "Peck" Curtis' playing is unlike anything heard elsewhere. The sound is akin to a drunk chicken stumbling through empty coffee cans. Yet his style is a demonstration of controlled chaos; his attack more like a series of pecks or stabs at the drum kit than straight-struck time-keeping. It's subtle, but serves the music very distinctly - and once you hear it, you'll always know what it is.

At 10 o'clock on "Dark Was the Night" this Saturday night, we'll hear a 15 minute-long 1965 performance of Sonny Boy Williamson II on "King Biscuit Time" with James "Peck" Curtis on drums, including brief dialogue between songs in which Sonny Boy, among other things, gives off-the-cuff verbal instructions to Curtis about the beat of upcoming songs to be played, which the drummer nails handily.

In the meantime, enjoy this recording featuring Curtis behind Houston Stackhouse and Robert Nighthawk in the mid-1960's.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Garnet Rogers - Tales from the Road

He's been on the road as a professional musician for most of his life. First as the lynchpin of his brother Stan's band, then as a soloist racking up untold miles in one or another Volvo station wagon, and now behind the wheel of a mini-van filled with guitars he continues to crisscross the U.S. and his native Canada.

In addition to millions of miles, he's collected nearly as many stories, and now Garnet Rogers is, as time permits, writing down these tales of the road with the idea of sharing them with us in book. He pays us a visit Live at Noon this Friday and, hopefully, in addition to a few songs, I hope I can get him to read us a bit from this work in progress.

-Dave Palmater

Saturday, January 7, 2012

New Year's Resolutions...

We asked some performers and our staff to let us know their New Year’s resolutions. This is what we’ve gotten so far. What is YOUR resolution for the next year?

My new year’s resolution is to be less hard on myself, stop sweating the small stuff and better behold the moment, oust perfectionism. Also, predictably, settle debt and get super healthy. i mean…medium healthy. god, that is really pointless. ugh, this blurb is so imperfect. But it's 2012 so i am okay with that.
~ Antje Duvekot

My New Year's resolution:  I want to learn a dozen tasty gluten-free recipes by heart.  I run on rather specialized fuel, so I want to make it more varied, flavorful, and interesting.
~ Pat Wictor

My New Year's Resolution is to listen more, talk less, increase my activism, decrease my consumption, write more relevant songs, buy local, promote and contribute more to public, non corporate media, and as always, be more loving and tolerant. I could go on but, another of my resolutions is to spend way less time sitting here typing!!!
~ Jonathan Edwards

My resolution this year is to slim down and bulk up. I think the folk community has left over-the-top muscledom to the hard core and hip hop scenes for too long now. I intend to launch some turf wars on the tougher Boston music scenes and feel confident that other folkies will bulk up and join me. I'm looking at you, Lori McKenna. 
~ Alastair Moock

This New Year I resolve to never eat anything bigger than my head. Unless absolutely necessary.
~ Robin Batteau

Synthesizing advice from a wide range of human behavior gurus who caution that over-ambitious resolutions set us up for guilt and failure, I have made but one, simple, achievable New Year's Resolution: Chew more slowly. (I'm kidding, but I meant it!)
~ Marilyn Rea Beyer (WUMB Announcer)

I've resolved that I will continue my at-least-6-times-a-year involvement in my 1-year-old grand-daughter's life (who lives 1,300 miles away) for the next year, no matter what.
~ Grady Moates (WUMB Director of Engineering)

Unfortunately, it’s the same resolution I’ve had for the past twenty years…to lose weight. I have vast hope that this will be the year (hmmm, sounds like the same hope we have for our home-town sports teams)!!
~ Pat Monteith (WUMB General Manager)

Monday, January 2, 2012

2011 - In Memory

We mourn the loss of some of the most talented and esteemed local, national and international musicians over the past year. We’ll miss them all:

·        Hazel Dickens – A pioneer among women in bluegrass music, she was a bluegrass singer and songwriter who not only wrote provocative pro-union and feminist songs, but was a strong advocate for coal miners and the working class.

·        Jack Hardy – A singer-songwriter based in Greenwich Village, who promoted music and musicians through the Fast Folk Music Magazine which is now part of the Smithsonian Folkways collection.

·        Bert Jansch – A Scottish folk musician and founder of the band Pentangle; he was a legendary British folk music guitarist who recorded more than 25 albums and was a leading figure in the British folk music revival of the 60s. He received two Lifetime Achievement Awards at the BBC Folk Awards.

·        Bill Morrissey – A singer-songwriter from New Hampshire who was influenced by country, blues and jazz music, and is best known for dark lyrics and songs about crumbling New England mill towns. Two of his eleven albums were nominated for Grammy awards.

·        Phoebe Snow – A New York City bluesy singer-songwriter, best known for her 1975 song “Poetry Man.” Her first album Phoebe Snow sold over a million copies and featured guest performances by The Persuasions, David Bromberg and Dave Mason.

·        John Lincoln Wright – A New England songwriter who was leader of the 1960s band The Beacon Street Union. He is better known along with his band the Sour Mash Boys, who brought the voice of country music to many greater Boston and Cambridge clubs.