Tuesday, February 28, 2023

The Gibson Brothers - Darkest Hour

The first time we saw the Gibson Brothers perform, as best we can ascertain, was at the 2005 or 2006 Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival, then held at the small municipal park in Weston, VT. For this show, they had a six member band, with Junior Barber coming out of retirement for a guest appearance. We were struck by their wonderful melodies, close harmony, sometimes edgy brotherly byplay, and far ranging repertoire, which had always contained many of their own songs. We became instant fans, and their being in the lineup became one of the criteria we applied for choosing which festivals to attend. 

Gibson Brothers at Jenny Brook - 2006

As we grew in our understanding and appreciation of bluegrass music, we also became aware that they fit into some special niches. Coming from northernmost New York State, they had grown up on a hardscrabble farm in an almost desolate area quite close to the Canadian border. Yet they had become, at quite young ages, masters of the banjo and guitar, and knowledgeable about the southern rural roots where the music emerged. To it, they brought their own fine song writing and wonderful brother harmonies. As they’ve grown as musicians and individuals, they’ve followed their own unique musical skills into places where many bluegrass musicians never venture, while continuing to develop their own unique sound. 

We’ve been listening to the new Gibson Brothers recording “Darkest Hour” for over a month in concert, on CD, and now on an excellent podcast presented by Bluegrass Unlimited and the Bluegrass Hall of Fame & Museum, as well as individual songs used in a variety of interviews.  The recording as well as the Gibson Brothers themselves only grow on us with each hearing, whether live or recorded. Always thought provoking, the two brothers have, in this marvelous album, become mature, seasoned performers, The longing for and glorification of two boys growing up on a marginal farm has been replaced by new perspectives showing their maturity as men and as performers as they move into middle age, It’s filled with reflective songs accompanied by their always heart-grabbing harmonies and musical excellence,

Grounded in reflection and based on the rich Gibson Brothers harmonies, The Darkest Hour is built upon their long-time well-recognized musical excellence, and honed clean and pure by Jerry Douglass’ excellent production, featuring some of Nashville’s brightest lights (Euen McGlocklin, Barry Bales, Alison Krauss), the recording shines like a diamond!

Leigh’s song “One Minute of You: A Song for Annie Gray” is a love song from a father to his daughter, filled with the desire a parent feels to cling to every minute of a child’s growth, knowing the letting go is, in the end, necessary. Eric wrote “I Go Driving” to capture the power of driving alone in the country to regain perspective and recapture the lost beauty of the farmland he grew up in, from the perspective of a lost era. The song is simply heart-rending. The Gibson Brothers manage to capture the richness of a lost past without the maudlin sentimentality found in many other contemporary bluegrass songs. Meanwhile, their music continues to be forward looking and optimistic. 

Simultaneously a bit darker than their earlier work, their natural effervescence and optimism still shines through - courageous and  confident. It’s like reading a novel instead of a book of short stories. The Adirondack songs, written over a period of twenty-five or so years and never collected in a single album, remain grounded in reflection  (The Barn Song, Song of Yesterday, Iron and Diamonds, Safe Passage, Railroad Line), yearning for a lost world. The Darkest Hour, chosen from previously never released songs and several of brand new ones, provides a sense of structure as well reflections on living a meaningful life. This newest recording by The Gibson Brothers continues their record of releasing exciting meaningful bluegrass collections.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Lady Justice: Women, The Law, and The Battle to Save America by Dahlia Lithwick


Lady Justice: Women, The Law, and the Battle to Save America by Dahlia Lithwick tells the stories of ten women who, through years of developing their legal practices, emerged, mostly, during the Trump administration as heroines for the rights of women and minorities, as well as helping to advance the awareness of men about the dangers of any profession being dominated by them. The book shows these advances through Lithwick’s clear understanding that effective legal practice requires not only tough-minded legal argument, but a strong emphasis on sharp storytelling. Through Lithwick’s clear thinking and penetrating narrative, each of the subjects emerges not only as a game changing attorney, but a woman of courage and persistence. 

The book opens with a profile of Pauli Murray, one of the most important and least known pioneers in combining the law and women’s experience in high levels of energy, intelligence, perseverance, and effectiveness. A civil rights activist who earned her law degree at Yale, along with other degrees from first-rate graduate schools across the country, she influenced an entire generation of Black and civil rights attorneys as well as helping mold arguments for the Supreme Court. She later became an Episcopal Priest, influencing that once stodgy denomination. 

Other chapters look at a series of attorneys who wove their influence through persistent effort against social reluctance for change in, often, male-dominated law firms where they experienced professional blockages and sexual harassment. They knew, however, they often could not openly resist without possibly (almost certainly) risking their personal advancement in an historically male-dominated profession. 

Lithwick tells her own story in a chapter called “#MeToo,” in which she describes when, early in her legal career, she became a clerk for a Federal judge who was, among insiders, notorious for his sexual harassment of woman clerks, all of whom felt constrained from outing the judge because of the negative effect it might have upon their own careers. Most, torn between fighting back and fearing the loss of their own legal careers, chose silence. Lithwick eventually left legal practice to become a legal writer covering the Supreme Court and other issues, as well as hosting an informative and entertaining weekly podcast called “Amicus,” available on many platforms. 

Dahlia Lithwick

“Dahlia Lithwick is the senior legal correspondent at Slate and host of Amicus, Slate’s award-winning biweekly podcast about the law.  Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, Harper’s, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, The New Republic, and Commentary, among other places. Lithwick won a 2013 National Magazine Award for her columns on the Affordable Care Act. She was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in October, 2018.”  Penguin, Random House

I found the book to be riveting reading, from a writer who knows that dry academic or legal language doesn’t really do a good job telling stories. Lithwick turns history into the kind of stories that increase understanding while holding onto a reader and simultaneously educting. I purchased the book from Amazon and read it on my Kindle app.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022


New York, The Novel by Edward Rutherfurd is a sprawling historical novel, much in the Michener style, following the lives, fortunes, and a good deal of drama focusing on five fictional families, serving as possible examples of the fortunes, trials, troubles, and triumphs as one of the greatest cities in the world develops from a small island village at the end of a great river through the economic, social, and cultural changes brought by each new group of immigrants coming to the New World and deciding to stay in New York. This seductive, interesting, and  massive (862 pages) novel offers a fictionalized picture of the growth and development of a great metropolis through the eyes of, primarily, five families who helped populate it through the next three hundred years. 

The narrative follows families of Dutch and English early settlers who turned the quiet, agricultural society of the early New York into a bustling city of trade and commerce as English settlers came, and later were joined by other people who had come to Boston, Philadelphia, and the deep South, each bringing changes in attitude as the English lost control of this sprawling piece of ground during the first two hundred or so years. Later immigrants, coming from Ireland, Italy, and Jewish settlements throughout Europe each struggled to survive and ultimately to grow rich and powerful in a city where the real nobility has always been money more than social class. Through the years, each group, represented in the novel by a particular family’s integrates itself into this large, complex city, thrives and rises or falls on its ability to find their own way to success. 

Each major chapter of New York represents a time period in the city’s busy history and is headed by a date. Focusing on the development of New Amsterdam, the British dominance, the Revolutionary War, expansion westward and the canals followed by railroads, and the influence of mass immigration beginning in the late nineteenth century, bringing new flavors and cultural experiences to enrich this ever-growing city. 

As the child of two separate Jewish immigration waves, first in the mid-nineteenth century and later in the early twentieth century married to the daughter of family composed of a marriage between the descendants of early-post Mayflower father and a mother whose parents were both born in Italy, much in this fascinating book was of interest to me. The fact that much of my early life was centered around the upper west side of Manhatten, where my family and my Dad’s family lived, this book was a natural for me. However, anyone interested in a good origin story, or a rather simplified view of a piece of American history providing insight to most Americans, it proved itself to be attractive across many of my interests and understandings. I thoroughly enjoyed this romp through history which manages to stay grounded in the city’s development while wrapping it in believable prototype characters who add character and humanity to the vast sweep of this novel. 

Edward Rutherfurd

Edward Rutherfurd, born in 1948, is a pen name for Francis Edward Wintle who has written nine historical novels using the same strategy of using fictional characters to represent prototypes existing during particular time periods.Rutherford is English, but attended graduate school in the U.S. and has  He has received numerous awards for his writing in the U.S., England, and other countries. 

I read the book in hardcover, which I bought as a remaindered book, but it’s also available as a Kindle book, and in several paperback editions.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Chasing History: A Kid in the Newsroom by Carl Bernstein

For those readers seeking to find new and interesting insights in Watergate or juicy disclosures about Carl Bernstein's work with Bob Woodruff, this book is NOT for you. On the other hand, if you're looking for an engaging narrative about the growth and development of an eager, smart, observant kid who became a first-rate newsman in the environment of Washington, DC, this is the book for you. 

Raised in an observant Jewish family in Washington, Bernstein early discovered that formal education wasn't for him. However, when he discovered the news room of the (late) Washington Star, he found a school that provided him all he needed: skills, insights, structure, friends, and a lifetime career. 

Beginning as a copy boy, a runner who picks up news in progress and moves it from desk to desk, Bernstein moved quickly into taking dictation on the phone from reporters in the field, to filing news himself, to getting bylines for the stories he wrote. In other words, he became a professional newsman while still a teenager. Because he loved prowling Washington neighborhoods, he often found himself on site when interesting things were happening. He was a quick learner and accurate in his descriptions and reporting. 

The mentors he found at The Star, as well as the bad examples he was smart enough to identify and avoid, provided him with the education his infrequent attendance at the University of Maryland never accomplished. After five years of what can best be called an apprenticeship, he left the failing Star to join a colleague at a newspaper in Newark, Nj, a far cry from the excitement of Washington. After working for several other papers, he returned to Washington and has spent most of the rest of his distinguished carrer as a reporter for the Washington Post.\

Carl Bernstein

This is a lively, fun-filled book worth your attention. You'll learn a lot about the news business in a most enjoyable presentation. Highly recommended!

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan: Book Review


Named to The New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year in 2018 as well as short-listed for the prestigious Booker Prize, Washington Black captures the reader quickly dropping onto the island of Barbados on a plantation in 1830. The story is told by Washington Black, a young slave who doesn’t know whether he’s ten or eleven years old. He has no memories he considers worth remembering while he lives on a plantation under the strict and sometimes violent vigil of on older slave woman he knows as Big Kit. Work and frequent beatings in blinding heat are the constants in his life. 

One of the sons of the plantation’s owner, Christopher Wilde, known as Titch, plucks young Wash out of his miserable life to assist him in launching a strange lighter than air vehicle…a doomed to failure venture, which leads to Wash’s being burned almost beyond recognition, and to his escape with Titch to America. There follows a strange, often frightening, journey to escape a slave catcher, and learn to live on his own in America and, later, Canada. Throughout his travels, his skills as a draftsman/artist grow along with his interest in marine life, which turns out to be his greatest skill, beyond survival. At first seeming a little strange, the novel turns into a page turner as Wash continues his search for the meaning of his own existence. 

Author Esi Edugyan, is a Canadian writer educated who studied at the University of Victoria and Johns Hopkins University. She has published three novels and one work of nonfiction. Her works have earned a number of prizes and mentions for major awards in fiction writing. 

Esi Edugyan 

Washington Black captures a reader at the start and retains interest as he struggles to learn who he is as well as where he might fit in as he grows in self-awareness through a series of harrowing and then satisfying growth experiences. Edugyan’s writing has narrative drive along with close observation and character development. I bought the book from ThriftBooks and it is available in all the usual outlets. Highly recommended.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

My American Journey by Colin L. Powell


Colin Powell's journey from being the son of immigrant parents from Jamaica and growing up in a working class environment in Queens, New York, New York stands as a shining example of the possibilities for ambitious, upwardly mobile people. A graduate of Queens College and ROTC, he rose to become the highest ranking officer in the American armed forces as well as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Serving under mostly Republican Presidents (Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush) he maintained, in the best manner of an American soldier a neutral political stance while striving go serve each administration in which he worked with the best advice he could, while leading four often competing military services. His story is filled with wit, wisdom, and insight. Until the end of the book, he expresses no political philosophy. At the end, he outlines a moderate governmental viewpoint, which would be a model for us, today, to seek to follow. He turned down an offer from President Bill Clinton to run as his Vice-Presidential running mate, and refused to run for President after retiring from the Army in favor of going home to his wife a family.

Colin Powell emerges as likable yet determined to create change in the armed services where necessary and to effect American foreign policy where action, often wished for by the men he served under, would have cost American lives for no good purpose than to meet political goals.

My American Journey provides exceptionally interesting insights into our problems today while still relevant and meaning, despite having been published a dozen years ago. Highly recommended