Johnny Cash: The Life by Robert Hilburn (Little, Brown) $32 679 pages
The steely quaver in Johnny Cash's voice seemed to ring out of the blackest, most-bedeviled corner of the male American psyche. It conveyed the resolute self-assurance of a guy you could count on standing up for the little guy -- if not for showing up for a concert date. But to know the man's life story is to understand all the fault lines cracking the foundation of…Continue
Pioneering black music critic, playwright, essayist, and former Poet Laureate of New Jersey Amiri Baraka died at 79 on Jan. 9 in a Newark hospital. I thank jazz critic, author and educator Howard Mandel for posting a tribute to Baraka on his Facebook page, which prompted this blog post.
Part of Baraka's rhetorical gift was his way of offering incisive insight while often pushing to the edge of provocative (and sometimes offensive) polemics that could undermine his posture as…Continue
Joel and Ethan Coen do a fine job of making us feel the experience of a fictional Greenwich Village folk singer in their new film Inside Llewyn Davis. We feel sorry for this poor schlub who can barely score a bed to sleep in, much less a gig for a meal or two. This is the way it was for Dave Van Ronk and probably many other striving troubadours who believed in the need to get out there and sing something with their guitar in front of a bunch of people who seem to care about…Continue
The Best Roots Music Albums of 2013
I continued to be amazed by the strong quality and artfulness in vernaculars presumed to be mere "folk" musics.
These rankings make some fine distinctions between albums but the points stick, for me. Tedeschi-Trucks’ extraordinary blues-R&B-jazz-rock collective tops the list for all its musical artistry and exuberance, to bolster the high level of lyric writing one expects of today’s roots purveyors. Vocalist…Continue
“Rain on the scarecrow, blood on the plow.” The image from 1985 shows John Mellencamp’s knack for literary horror, 15 years before he began writing a musical with iconic horror writer Stephen King. The song about a dying Heartland farm was one of the singer-songwriter’s first indelible artistic statements.
Some years ago, Mellencamp bought a lake cabin which turned out to be allegedly haunted -- by accidental deaths and restless spirits -- the inspiration for Ghost…Continue
Added by Kevernacular (Kevin Lynch) on October 21, 2013 at 2:00pm — No Comments
I interviewed Bill Monroe -- born 102 years ago today -- between his sets at Summerfest in 1981 for The Milwaukee Journal. He is credited for inventing bluegrass in 1939 when his Bluegrass Boys auditioned at the Grand Old Opry and caused a high, lonesome stir that has never quite died down, rather coming and going through American culture like the wandering…Continue
From a Westerly Cultural Travel Journal, Vol. 3.
MORRISON, CO. -- The scenery on my drive to Colorado diminished as I headed west: the farmland of Northern Illinois and Iowa are verdant but without the rolling sumptuousness of “God's country” in Southwest Wisconsin, which I forsook for a quicker route. Nebraska unfolds as increasingly flat. I didn’t find it boring though, as it put me into an expansive Zen-like mode wherein I tune into the sky more with land as backdrop.…Continue
One brooding afternoon I walked along Dunn’s Marsh in Fitchburg WI when a chilling cry pierced the rustling breeze. It sounded like a call of the wild through time, echoing the ancient history of life cycles. I looked up and saw an array of long, craggy wings floating on air. The majestic creatures descended…Continue
Added by Kevernacular (Kevin Lynch) on June 2, 2013 at 10:00am — No Comments
Notice mountaineer Bills Briggs' ski tracks zig-zagging down from the summit of The Grand Teton, an unprecedented feat he accomplished on June 15, 1971, a few years before I climbed with him. Photo by Virginia Huidekoper.
Do I start by saying that Bob Dylan once backed up Bill Briggs on mandolin -- at a wedding reception performance -- while Bill sang and played banjo? Ah, that's a story for the other side of the summit.
Bill Briggs seemed like pretty much a…Continue
The Flatlanders with Jimmie Vaughn and the Tilt-a-Whirl Band in concert, Northern Lights Theater.
The Flatlanders seem to embody the restless and intricate cultural development called roots music. When they performed last night at Potowatomie Casino in Milwaukee, you could immediately sense the communal and, in this case fraternal, motivation at work. They’re surely brothers in Lone Star spirit, if not blood, having all been born in dusty West Texas as they…Continue
A bit like the Wizard of Oz, avuncular Paul Geremia toils in relative obscurity, as if behind a curtain while mustering his musical wonders. This remains true despite some critics asserting that he's as good as anyone playing country blues. He dwells in the murky corners of the blues history he sheds light on.
Yet Geremia also seems to know which side his humble crust of bread is buttered on. He opened a recent recital at the UW-Milwaukee's MKE Unplugged series with a…Continue
Dicks Pick's Volumes One and Two --The Grateful Dead, released in vinyl limited editions of 2000 in late November 2012.
Many Deadheads will nod knowingly at my comments, but I've never been a true head, who ritualistically followed the Grateful Dead on their pied piper tours. Yet I can imagine doing it, especially after hearing them perform in Columbus, Ohio on the recording from October 31, 1971 from the bootleg series Dick's Picks Volume…Continue
“Cast a cold eye On life, on death. Horseman, pass by!”
W. B Yeats’ chilling epitaph for his own grave has always haunted me, since I first read it. I suspect it might also haunt singer-songwriter Jeffrey Foucault.
Because it is the final statement of modern poetry's greatest bard, I see more in it than simple nihilistic abdication.
Casting a cold eye is a striving to understand life and death as clearly as possible, once sentiment is set aside. It is…Continue
This is a mystery story of sorts, with a twist or two, yet the mystery’s not impossible to solve. The question: Why Rodney Crowell is still emerging from the shadows, even though he ranks among the most esteemed singer-songwriters in Americana music today.
I maintain he’s a singer-songwriter comparable in talent to Steve Earle or Lucinda Williams, or in the conversation with a Townes Van Zandt (a big Crowell influence), even if he isn’t quite as prolific as those during…Continue
I'm rootin' around again today but hey, it's spring right?
Actually Mr. Bill and Ms. Kitty, proprietors of Café Carpe in Fort Atkinson, gone done it again. They have a knack for digging up genuine borderline geniuses for their small corner of the roots music universe, with the creaky stage chair.
Saturday night it was Malcolm Holcombe. Seeing as he's North Carolina-born, he might’ve evoked something of a historical namesake, one of those original “high, lonesome…Continue
Just a brief note about what appears to be a new moniker for me, Kevernacular.
It's actually the byline for my blog Culture Currents (Vernaculars Speak) at www.kevernacular.com , where most of my NoDep blogs originate. You'll find roundaboutly postings on virtually all the arts at CC (VS).
So I figured I'd shore up a little continuity in my online identity. And a tip of the hat to those of you who…Continue
Added by Kevernacular (Kevin Lynch) on November 29, 2012 at 12:00pm — No Comments
The Legacy CD/DVD set We Walk the Line proves that The Man in Black “came around” consistently throughout his career. Now his fellow artists have, and on this night their collective chemistry was something to behold, perhaps a matter of professional pride in the face of peer competition. Time after time, they dug down to a deeper place than you'd imagine. It’s a moving testament to a great American life because Cash embodied integrity, suffering, perseverance, redemption,…Continue
“Coal kills.” Or can it possibly be “clean”?
The presidential candidates debated the issue because coal remains central to our traditional energy production, which now contributes greatly to pollution, damaging of the ozone layer, and the human toll on those who work in the industry.
We know continued reliance on such carbon-based energy will be environmentally devastating. You don't need to be trapped in a suffocating coal mine to feel the heat. As the earth’s ozone…Continue
Duane Allman died 41 years ago today. It reminds me of how long ago I heard something new rising from the South. I'd bought a new album by a group from Macon, Georgia simply titled The Allman Brothers Band. I let the needle down into the vinyl grooves and my speakers burst with roaring blues-rock, vocals dripping with an earthy Southern growl, polyrhythmic drums (yep, two drummers) and searing double guitar work.
The album cover, a sepia-toned group portrait, exuded steamy…Continue