Box Full of Letters from Issue #72
And deeper ruminations…
After I got over the surprise of the unexpected name-check [in Barry Mazor’s feature on King Wilkie, ND #70, July-August 2007], I started thinking about music — hey, not as rare an event as you’d imagine for a nominally retired music critic.
In the flush of the young-‘un neo-trad rage, I can’t count how many times I asked, “How can you play real bluegrass/Irish/old-time/Scottish music when you’re from NYC/Chicago/ Boston/San Francisco?” The answer was, near-inevitably, “No one cares that Gillian Welch came from Malibu.”
All felt adamant that heritage didn’t bar anyone from the traditional music tribe — that Mike Merenda was as integral to the Mammals as the Seeger/Ungar heirs. The musicians I interviewed were diligent students of the genres who hoped to add something to — while staying within — the path.
I’m painting with a broad brush, obviously; not all the neo-trad bands cared as strongly about Staying Within the Tradition. King Wilkie was hardcore, though. They wore the suits! A Man-in-Black gesture of sartorial philosophy!
But they’ve moved on, and they’re not the only ones. The Mammals named their 2006 album Departure. Among my Boston friends, Scottish fiddler Laura Cortese is writing rock songs, and guitarist Flynn Cohen re-embraced contemporary classical. Heck, even No Depression broadened its scope.
So what to make of this progress that doesn’t — contrary to the musicians’ initial projection — hew to genre lines? Something about it gets under my skin. You could chalk it up to young musicians maturing and avoid tortured argument, but tortured argument is why God invented Letters columns.
Maybe the problem lies with a paradox in the original argument. Now, I’m not saying only those who grow up in the tradition can advance it. However, if a band’s members grew up loving Prince, Neil Young, and metal, logically wouldn’t you suspect that what they could add would come from those nontraditional sources?
That’s what King Wilkie said to Barry Mazor.
To ask larger questions, how do you bring something personal to the tradition that stays within the tradition when your personal history lies in pop music? For that matter, how does traditional music simultaneously maintain its integrity and keep from ossifying when every 10-year-old, born in a holler or not, listens to Jay-Z? (Looking at the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival’s familiar marquee names, I’m not so sure the genre’s succeeding in moving forward.)
Frankly it awed me in 2004 that the King Wilkie guys could forsake all other genres for their straight-and-narrow trad bluegrass spouse, but I figured not everyone’s the magpie I am.
In vaguely related news, one of the hottest bands in Boston is a twenty-odd-man metal outfit fronted by wussy indie boys who re-embraced the flying V.
— Danielle Dreilinger
Headline in No Depression: “Stacie Collins: She’s Ready Now” [ND #71, September-October 2007].
Goddamn right. I’ve worked in music for years and the last time I spoke with music critic Peter Cooper it was to ask him when he was gonna make Stacie Collins famous. Because indeed, she’s already a star. Most folks just don’t know it yet. Which is too bad for them.
So once again you guys deliver. Thanks for keeping such finely-tuned ears to the ground. Maybe next time Stacie will be famous enough to rate the cover. Because some of us already know that she’s ready. And that’s a fact.
— Heather Lose
For a father:
“We cherish the gift”
Our Dad, Jimmy Kelly, passed away on July 28. He was 74. It was not totally unexpected, and he had a very peaceful and gentle transition.
While going through his belongings, my brother Rick and I found his very nicely organized collection of No Depression magazines in his downstairs music lair. I had bought him a subscription one year for Christmas, and he obviously renewed it a few times on his own. Dad was a true lover of great music, and he really enjoyed the magazine.
In spite of our profound sadness at his passing, we cherish the gift of music appreciation he instilled in us early on. He was a singer for years, wrote a ton of great classic country tunes, and recorded several sides with steel guitar legend Pete Drake back in the ’60s. The stories he would tell about Nashville in those days…
Thanks for the kind thoughts, and thanks for putting out a magazine that brought him so much pleasure.
— Slim Chance, a.k.a. James Kelly