Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Traveler's John Miller Ill - in Need of Help

John Miller

Word has reached us that John Miller, guitar player with the Travelers has been diagnosed with tongue cancer.  John has played with J.D. Crowe, Lonesome River Band, Charlie Sizemore, Valerie Smith and other bands.  He also owns and operates a recording studio and works as a luthier.  As. sadly, so often happens with musicians, John is in need of help from our generous bluegrass community. John begins chemo therapy and radiation treatment soon. Doctors are optimistic about his recovery, but, as might be expected, the future of his voice is problematic. 

Contributions may be sent in his name (be sure to place his name in the memo part of your check) to:

John Miller
c/o Carter National Bank and Trust
370 Arbor Drive
Christiansburg, VA 24073

Eastman Strings has donated an e10D Dreadnaught Guitar to be randomly chosen at the Eastman IBMA booth on Saturday, September 28 in Raleigh, NC. You need not be present to win.

Writer/songwriter David Morris has also told me that Tim Finch, Eastman rep, will shave Dave's head at IBMA if any donor gives or raises $500. Let's make sure Dave has his chance at baldness.

Eastman e10D

The Travelers - Rose in a Spanish Garden - Video

Please dig down to help John Miller and his family in this time of need. 

John Miller

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

To America with Love by A.A. Gill - Book Review

I really wanted to like A.A. Gill's To America with Love (Simon & Schuster, 2013, $25.00, 256 pages, originally published in Great Britain in 2012), but little things kept intruding on my consciousness to lead me first to question its accuracy and then to actually distrust not only the facts but the point of view underlying it. That's a shame, because there's much to the book that deserves admiration or that succeeds in simultaneously entertaining and enlightening. Gill, described as a provocateur, is that indeed. He was born in Edinburgh, but has lived in London for most of his life. He is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. The book seeks to explain America to the British (and by extension to other Europeans) with typical arch British humor and a deeply ironic and satirical voice. His profile in Wikipedia describes him as being dyslexic, hiring readers to read text to him and copy editors to transcribe his badly mis-spelled output. This may mean that while his writing is sometimes inaccurate, so is his listening. If his goal is to provoke, he succeeds in spades. If he also wishes to shed real light on the American character and scene, he needs to do some more thinking and work. Still, this is a sometimes informative and often amusing book worth reading, particularly if one reads from a perspective of sufficient knowledge of America to keep it in context and recognize it for what it actually is.

Gill is a Scotsman, many of whose relatives have emigrated to America and been quite successful in business. Meanwhile, those who stayed behind have kept a scrapbook of cuttings following the adventures of his American cousins. Or at least that's the conceit he structures much of To American with Love around. He says, “I have often thought that Europe's view of America has been formed and deformed by the truth that we are the ones who stayed behind, for all those good, bad, and lazy reasons: for comfort, for conformity and obligation, but mostly I suspect because of habit and fear.” He therefore, semi-accurately describes much of the American experience as one of striving, adventure, freedom, and violence.

In seventeen mostly standalone essays, Gill considers elements of American history, politics, and pop culture, always from the viewpoint of an alien seeking to describe American culture to others who observe it from afar and participate in its world-wide output of music, film, and news through their own national cultural lens. Gill suggests that his Scottish/American heritage gives him a unique perspective for interpreting Americans to Europeans for the betterment of America. Gill is a master of that arch British turn of phrase and use of language which seeks, and usually finds, the perfect nasty words and quick judgments that can cement an impression. He's really good at it, and therein lies the pleasure and danger of this volume.

In a chapter on “Loneliness,” Gill pictures the dead and dying farm towns of middle America, where main streets have been decimated by Wal Marts along the Interstate highways and farm auctions are an every day occurrence, as the essence of middle America rather than seeing it as a systemic failure of our land to manage runaway commercialism and restless capitalism. This is all couched in seductive. beguiling language. But this discussion leads to an exploration of our love of wilderness and open space that results in the establishment of national parks and a national literature giving us Emerson, Thoreau, and Melville as well as Natty Bumpo, Ishmael, Shane, and Jack Reacher. Perhaps Gill's greatest talent it finding connections many of us wouldn't see and pointing them out.

His chapter on “Sex,” the bold title of the it, uses every word many Americans shy away from, at least publicly, to point out to us our puritanical nature. He then explores the American sexual experience through an analysis of the Playboy centerfold throughout the magazines history, always with an emphasis on the changing size and shape of air-brushed breasts. His emphasis, in the end, is upon our confusion, which should be no great insight to anyone growing up here. Meanwhile, he neglects to acknowledge the the emerging awareness of differences in sexuality and our growing accommodations of these differences.

Gill's chapter called “Evolution” uses the 1925 Scopes trial as the lens to look at the collision between our rational, enlightenment based culture and our biblical literalism, which have caused irreconcilable differences in America since the earliest days of the Pilgrims, through the first and second Great Revivals during the nineteenth century and on into the struggle between evolution and creationism, the creature of biblical literalists. He chooses the personalities and character of writer H.L. Mencken, lawyer Clarence Darrow, and politician/orator William Jennings Bryan as the center of this difficult and divisive struggle.

His chapter on Film begins with a thoughtful and interesting analysis of the influence of American film on world culture using D.W. Griffith's racist silent film The Birth of a Nation as his prime example for exploring the nature of film and its evolution in America. The discussion is utterly ruined, however, by the unpardonable racist slur against Barack Obama at chapter's end, using language no longer found in this country. Many other chapters deserve comment, especially “Moonshine” and “Germans,” but you get the idea.

A.A. Gill

Gill comments, “The repression that comes from freedom, freedom that allows titanic success and unimaginable wealth was also the freedpm to fail without let or hindrance. The freedom to be born into failure, the freedom to be cheated, conned, and plowed into failure, to be sucked down and fed with failure, to fail by color and history.” The book ends by asking the question that few Americans ask themselves. “Why has socialism not taken hold in America?” Somehow he seems to neglect to examine the effects of socialism upon his own country. It seems a strange ending to a book entitled To America with Love. Nevertheless, this book provides almost always interesting insight into aspects of American life and culture that we either take for granted or haven't considered. As such, its a valuable and thought provoking exploration written in an engaging, ironic style even while it often sacrifices accuracy for the pyrotechnic effects of language. I received ToAmerica with Love as an electronic galley from the publisher through Edelweiss and read it on my Kindle.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Alan Jackson - The Bluegrass Album - Guest Blogger: Bob Cherry

Cybergrass is the world's seventh website, having made its debut on September 9, 1992. It is, therefore, the first web presence devoted to bluegrass and continues to evolve, develop, and change with the times. It has become an online newspaper.  It functions as a news aggregater, a forum, and a source of music reviews. Bob Cherry is an IT professional who brings extensive and important computer experience to the bluegrass world. He is a past president of the Colorado Bluegrass Society.  Explore the site and get to know Bob Cherry.

We received "Alan Jackson: The Bluegrass Album" from publisher EMI a couple of days ago and listened to it carefully. Both Irene and I thought it was fine bluegrass album, belieing much of the pre-publication bad-mouthing it had received online. When I read Bob's review, I realized he had said all I wanted to say better than I could, so I asked if I could run it as a guest blog. 

Finally, here's a piece of completely unconfirmed speculation.  This first-rate CD is being released on September 24, 2013, which coincides with the IBMA World of Bluegrass in Raleigh, to run from September 24 - 28, 2013. Is there any chance that Jackson will perform at the Wide Open Bluegrass Festival or participate at the World of Bluegrass? Speculation squashed: While this was fun to write, it appears that Jackson will be in Australia during WOB.

Country music's Alan Jackson ventured into the Bluegrass Music arena with his latest project, The Bluegrass Album. This is the first Country to Bluegrass artist to hit the mark and hit it dead center. Jackson is quite the bluegrass songwriter! His songs on the album are what makes this project so unique. Jackson literally nailed it with this release. This is bluegrass done right.

From the opening track, "Long Hard Road," the music, lyrics and sound are what today's bluegrass should sound like and, it does. "Appalachian Mountain Girl" is another Jackson original that confirms he can play solid bluegrass music. Jackson's originals have the heart and soul of bluegrass deep to the core. "Blue Ridge Mountain Song" is another fine example of the storyline ballad style accompanied by solid instrumentation.

By bringing a host of top bluegrass musicians into the mix, Jackson achieved a bluegrass sound. From Adam Steffey's mandolin to Rob Ickes Dobro and Sammy Shelor's banjo the combination rings true to a genre that often is intolerant of deviations. On The Bluegrass Album, the boundaries are definitely stretched but, in a way that even hard-core bluegrass fans will enjoy.

We've heard other attempts of Country stars attempting bluegrass albums so, naturally, I was going to be skeptical going in with this one. While I'm a long-time Alan Jackson fan and a bluegrass fan, I didn't place any bets. Jackson has produced probably the first real bluegrass album by a country music star. This album captures what the essence we call "bluegrass" is all about.

There are the traditionals of bluegrass such as Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky" and "There is a Time" by Rodney Dillard/Mitchell Jayne that carry on the tradition. While Jackson's voice isn't the "High Lonesome" of Monroe, he does justice to these landmarks of bluegrass music.

Alan Jackson

On the slower more traditional country sounds of bluegrass like "Mary" Jackson again puts it all together with tasteful lyrics, tight instrumentals and emotion. Another wonderful story song, "Knew All Along" is handled perfectly by Jackson. Traditional country always had a hook line, frequently with multiple interpretations, and "Ain't Got Trouble Now" is a prime example of that tradition. With a bluegrass influence to traditional country, making it work is easier said than done. Jackson paves new ground to success on a path where others have come up short. Jackson's effort is pleasantly surprising.
Jackson's songwriting artistry is highlighted on The Bluegrass Album. This is one of those rare albums that leaves you hungering for more. The album is scheduled to be released September 24, 2013.

Bob Cherry

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Barry & Kim Wedding in Colechester, CT - July 27, 2013

Mr. & Mrs. Barry Ford

Irene and I were  honored to be invited to the marriage of our friends Kim Cyr and Barry Ford. We have known Kim through bluegrass for some years and Barry through Kim. The event was perhaps the most festive and happy wedding we've ever attended. Planned with deep love and loving attention to detail, it came off without a hitch, reflecting the love Barry and Kim share and the love that washed over them from their children, parents, and friends. The day was filled with joy, laughter, a few happy tears, and celebration.  The pictures are posted here on my blog and in an album on our FB Page "Ted and Irene's Most Excellent Bluegrass Adventure" and shared on our personal Facebook pages. We hope you'll visit there and tag all the photos. At best, this will spread the joy we all felt yesterday far and wide. So...let's go.....

Every person attending an event experiences it differently. I look forward to seeing other people's photos of this wedding.