There’s an old Appalachian saying that goes, “You gotta’ dance with them what brung you.” Add this to the list of things that President Obama doesn’t seem to get.

Who elected him in 2008? Of this there can be little doubt—the Northeast, the Far West, and the Mountain States. So explain to me why the eight-billion-dollar high-speed rail stimulus plan pretty much leaves out the Northeast, one of the few areas in the country where people still actually ride trains.

A glance at the above map from the Federal Railroad Administration shows the snub in dramatic fashion. The Boston-to-New York corridor, the nation’s busiest, is not slated for an upgrade. There are but two lines for California, one in the Northwest, and the middle of the nation is as blank a prairie in a blizzard. We will, however, see stimulus money spent to run high-speed rail through red states such as Oklahoma, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, and South Carolina. You know--the places where anti-government sentiment runs deep and where politicians will howl about wasting taxpayer dollars. Places where Obama has as much chance of winning votes as a polecat running for Miss Congeniality.

This is a real head scratcher. Show me the compelling need for an Oklahoma City to Houston network. And why on earth would Obama waste political capital in the Deep South instead of shoring of his support timbers in New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania? How about an Albany to Harrisburg line? Columbus to Washington? Denver to Chicago? Every day seems to bring more news that Obama is, as his pre-election critics charged, too green and inexperienced to be a strong leader. He naively plays nonpartisan games that have the net effect of appeasing those who will hate him no matter what he does whilst abandoning those who want desperately to love him. Arthur Miller said it best, “Without alienation, there can be no politics.” Elected officials such as Michael Bennet, (CO), Robert Casey (PA), John Kerry (MA), and Charles Schumer (NY) need to remind the president of this. Obama either starts dancing with those what brung him, or he’ll be dateless in 2012.



Live: Crowd Around the Mic
Chocolate Dog Music M001
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A lot of people will wince at this statement, but the musical truth is that bluegrass music has been mired in predictability for quite some time. Other than hybrid pioneers such as Béla Bleck and the Alisons (Brown and Krauss), there’s been too much same old/same old: affected nasal twangs (even if you grew up in Kansas rather than Kentucky), a bit of chipmunk-like harmony, and then cue the mandolin and banjo breakouts. The great irony is that bluegrass music is in the process of being rescued by acts from north of the Mason-Dixon Line: Railroad Earth, Dan Tyminski, Crooked Still…. To this list add Wild Carrot.

Okay, so their Cincinnati base is just over the Mason-Dixon Line, but Wild Carrot (Pam Temple and Spencer Funk) have joined forces with the Roots Band (Brandt Smith and Brenda Wolfersberger) to create something far more fresh and hip than the stale winds blowing from the hollows. There is, first and foremost, the mighty vocal wallop of Pam Temple. When you’ve got a set of pipes as glorious as hers, it would be silly to dress them up in rented garb and she does not. Her Midwestern warmth comes through in every syllable and she’s not afraid to air things out instead of trying to sound like a mountain waif. There is next the fact that Wild Carrot draws from many musical wells, not a set of pre-programmed expectations. “Bits & Pieces” infuses some Latin backswing that Temple picked up from her time in the Peace Corps; “Macpherson’s Lament” fuses a bluegrass arrangement to a Scottish tune,” “I’ve Heard That Song Before” is a reworked Sammy Cahn jazz classic, and “Blackbird” covers the eponymous Beatles’ song.

This twenty-four-track live album covers lots of bases. Wild Carrot’s take on “Pan American Boogie” is like the Andrews Sisters go country, “Hello Hopeville” is a sweet cover of a Michelle Shocked song, “Adieu False Heart” is a Temple/Wolfersberger tour de fource, and “Shut de Do” is a touch of folk gospel. There are moments of whimsy—as in their cover of Guy Clark’s “Homegrown Tomatoes”—and inspirational anthems such as “What Have You Done to Lift Somebody Up.” There are also superb original compositions from the mutli-talented Temple that range in themes from explorations of folk customs (“Blue Bottle Tree”) to a country love song inspired by locusts (“Golden Wings”). And, yes, for traditionalists there are also a few mando and banjo solos, though I personally preferred Brandt Smith’s dobro to these.

This is an album that is simultaneously lovely, clever, and swingy. Above all, it’s not predictable and is easily the most exciting bluegrass album I’ve heard since the last Crooked Still release.—LV

Here the band singing “Waters of Truth.”


Meep! Danvers Principal Courts Court Hearing

Does Beaker have more common sense than the principal at Danvers High?

The challenges facing high school administrators are daunting: teen pregnancy, drug use, rising levels of violence, sinking test scores…. So what does Thomas Murray, the principal at Danvers (MA) High School see as such a problem that he’s on a one-man crusade to stamp out? Why the use of the word “meep,” of course. What could be more pressing?

Yes, you read it correctly. Principal Murray has informed parents that he will potentially suspend any student who uses the word “meep” and, according to the Boston Globe, even forwarded to police emails using the word. It must be really bad, yes? Possibly some code word that awakens a terrorist sleeper cell. Well…not really. Insofar as anyone can tell—and who can since it’s a nonsense syllable?—meep made its way into the American lexicon via the Muppet character named Beaker. It’s the sound he makes before something silly happens. Look up the word online and you’ll find that it’s usually either a synonym for either “ouch” or “oops”—words presumably still okay to use under the Murray Regime. Mostly meep is infinitely malleable and means whatever you want it to mean, which is Murray’s real gripe against it.

When Murray complains that students often use it in a disrespectful way, it’s easy enough to imagine that a group of savvy teens use it to get under Murray’s demonstrably thin skin. How the hell does a guy like this get to be a principal in the first place? Since 1998 Massachusetts has required that all teachers pass an examination before they can be licensed. It may be time to institute one for administrators as well. It would seem a rock bottom criterion that before one becomes a high school principal he should have to demonstrate more common sense than a concrete block. And perhaps some familiarity with the First Amendment.

The Great Danvers Meep Mockery reminds me of my own brush with a high school generalissimo. Back in 1970 I was booted from a high school gym class for wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with a peace symbol logo. (There was no official gym uniform.) Being the young firebrand I was, I contacted the ACLU, which promptly informed the football coach/gym instructor that peace was not an obscenity and was, hence, protected free speech. The coach was a tyrant, but he was no fool; he backed down and wisely ignored it when other students donned the once-forbidden shirt.

This is precisely what Murray should do. He’s setting himself up for a nasty confrontation, to say nothing of making a meeping ass of himself. What would you do if your kid got suspended for saying “meep?” I know what I’d do and I’ll bet I’d find any number of attorneys who’d salivate at the thought of taking such a case. But before it comes to that, Danvers parents ought to rally and push for Murray’s removal. The teenage years are anxious ones and Danvers kids deserve a wiser pilot to guide them through the shoals of modern life.


Pat LaMountain Shows It's Never Too Late

A Few Miles Later
Garden Gate Recordings 1006
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Two things to consider upfront: First, if you know Pat LaMountain’s music solely through her country/folk collaborations with husband Tex, this album will surprise you as it’s cut from different cloth entirely. Second, if the music sounds vaguely retro, it is; A Few Miles Later is stitched together from songs written in the 1980s that were supposed to be recorded in the early 1990s until that thing called life intervened. This release feels, for lack of a better word, trippy—the sort of acid folk that Grace Slick used to dust off in more contemplative moments. LaMountain matches her light voice to ambient instrumentation in evocative ways. On “Summer Rain” her vocals drift in the air and she deftly uses high-end catches as if the drizzle briefly became a downpour. In like fashion, “Boys in the Summer” has a gauzy feel. By way of contrast, “Oh Papa” is honky tonk blues the likes of which Patsy Cline would have tackled, “Good Thing” is infused with pop hooks, and “Bricks” feels like it was plucked from the Depression era.

LaMountain is on the road promoting this album’s release. Can you hold album release parties twenty years after the fact? Why not? This release has an old feel, but it doesn’t come off as dated. To my ear A Few Miles Later arrived just in time.--LV