Live in Louisville
Luz Music
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Some celebs put on cowboy boots because they’re working on their image. When Carrie Rodriguez slips them on it’s because she’s ready to kick serious musical butt. Born in Brooklyn, but sounding all the world like she was sired in Austin, Rodriguez lights up Louisville on her latest record. Armed with a killer fiddle and a mandobird, a solid body mandolin that sounds like a high-toned electric guitar she also has the instrumental chops to back a glorious voice that eats little girls for lunch. Ringing bell-like tones give songs like “Dirty Leather” a dreamy, trippy feel like Richard Thompson from his Fairport Convention days. Then there are bluesy, sassy Texgrass numbers like “I Don’t Want to Play House Anymore,” and achingly lovely songs like “St. Peter’s.” This is a seriously good CD and if you're lukcy you can catch her on her current Acoustic Cafe tour with Ben Solee and Erin McKeown.
Check out Rodriguez's live performance of "50's French Movie" from the new album.



Back in the dark days of the 1950s when Joseph R. McCarthy and Richard Nixon were holding witch hunts in the Senate under the guise of saving America from communists, numerous individuals who came before Congress invoked their Fifth Amendment and refused to testify. For exercising a right guaranteed to every American, these individuals were excoriated by their inquisitors as “Fifth Amendment Communists.” The tail-wags-the-dog media of the day—with the rare exception of courageous individuals such as Edward R. Murrow—dutifully printed those allegations.

Today we see a different scenario playing out, though this time it’s the First Amendment that’s under the microscope. In a less open society, what individuals could say would be strictly circumscribed. One of the prices we pay for freedom is that, on occasion, we must put up with constitutional abuses. Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson have just done more damage to the First than any defendant ever did to the Fifth during the McCarthy era. Americans with a conscience are heartbroken by post-earthquake images in Haiti. The devastation is utter and horrific. As I write this, officials estimate that as many as 50,000 people may have died. To put that in perspective, folks, it’s the equivalent of around eighteen 9/11 incidents. Most Americans get this; that’s why the outpouring of grief and relief has been immediate and enormous.

There are, however, always those willing to exploit even the worst tragedy as an opportunity for self-aggrandizement and because we have this little-old-thing called the First Amendment, they’re free to do so. Enter Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson, the Brown Shirts of the Far Right. Limbaugh’s take on the relief effort? He called it President Obama’s effort to play the role of humanitarian and rebuild sagging support with the “light-skinned and dark-skinned black community in this country.” Al Franken got it right—Limbaugh is a big fat jerk. Maybe it’s time to adjust his meds again.

But Limbaugh is almost a Mother Teresa compared to Robertson, who called the earthquake God’s punishment for the 1791-1803 century Haitian revolution! According the Wrong Reverend Robertson, Haitians made “a pact with the devil” to overthrow the French, and Haiti's subsequent tragic history is God’s wrathful revenge. Did this moron ever take a history course in his life? Insensitivity, boorishness, and flat-out-hatefulness aside, Robertson’s take is a White Man’s Burden view of the world that assumes that French rule was paternal and kind. (Forget the fact that black Haitians were slaves.) Let’s just say that historical evidence isn’t on Robertson's side. From a theological standpoint, one must also wonder if God has been asleep at the wheel for several hundred years if final retribution is only coming now.

Because of the First Amendment, both Limbaugh and Robertson have the right to spout nonsense and hatred. I wonder what they would have said about the Holocaust if they had been reporting back in the 1940s? (Actually, I don’t wonder; I’m pretty sure I know.) The FCC and their respective networks could and should toss their sorry asses off the airwaves, but don’t look for that to happen: controversy sells, no matter how malodorous its stench. (And don’t forget, right-wing moguls own those airwaves.) What can happen, though, is that we can adapt a 1950s tragedy for the 21st century. Let’s call Limbaugh and Robertson “First Amendment Fascists.”


Gods Behaving Badly
By Marie Phillips
Back Bay Books, 2008
ISBN 978-0-316-06763-8

Does God exist? That’s always been the ultimate question. What if the answer is yes, but all the prophets were fakes? What if Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, Zoroaster, and all the rest were a bunch of charlatans and the Greeks got it right? What if Zeus is the Big Cheese and Apollo, Aphrodite, Athena, Demeter, and the entire cast of Olympians were the Real Deal? And what if they are living among us?

That’s the delightful premise of Marie Phillips’s funny novel. Her title reflects something that commentators as old as Aristophanes noted—if the gods are among us, it bodes badly for the human race. If you recall any mythology at all, you’ll remember that the Olympians are not models of virtue; in fact, all human vices—gluttony, lust, jealousy, violence, etc.—are writ large among them. The only thing they like better than messing with humanity is quarreling with each other—bonus points if one of their fights also destroys a few human lives. In Gods Behaving Badly most of the Olympians are living in a filthy ramshackle house in London, their power slowly eroding from centuries of boredom and the fact that no one believes in them anymore. To make ends meet they have day jobs. Aphrodite is a telephone sex worker, Apollo is a TV psychic, Dionysius runs a dive bar, Artemis is a dog walker, Athena is a professor who speaks in MLA-style jargon that no one understands…. Each has a serious personality disorder. Eros (Cupid), for instance, is so desperate to find meaning that he’s trying hard to become a born-again Christian even though he knows Jesus isn’t a deity.

A personal battle between Aphrodite—who has disinterested sex with everyone—and the arrogant Apollo gets out of hand when Aphrodite convinces her son Eros to shoot an arrow into the Sun God’s heart that makes him fall hopelessly in love with a mortal. The object of his affection turns out to be the rumpled Alice who, as the Fates would have it, ends up being the housekeeper to the gods. Among the many problems is that Alice—a whiz at Scrabble, by the way—already has a sort of boyfriend in the mortal form of shy, mousy Neil. To say much more would be to give away too much. Let’s just say the fate of the world and a trip to the Underworld also factor into the plot.

Parts of this book are laugh out loud hysterical. You need not brush up on mythology as Phillips gives you all the reminders you need to put things in context. Her prose is crisp, direct, and clear. It is her first novel and there are certainly times in which she’s trying way too hard to be clever and things come off as sophomoric. She also borrows a bit too obviously. The idea of accessing the Underworld via a hidden subway passage is a blatant steal from the Hogwarts special train in Harry Potter, for instance; and the idea of diminishing deities among us is the central premise of Neal Gaiman’s far superior (and more serious) American Gods. Nonetheless, Gods Behaving Badly is like fast food—it’s quick, it tastes good, and it won’t hurt you as long as you don’t overindulge and try to make this romp into The Satanic Verses.



on a good day…i am
Waterbug 88
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How does one explain a trio like Sons of the Never Wrong? Let’s start with the fact that its name is emblematic of its overall quirkiness. The “sons” are, in fact, two women (Sue Dernel and Deborah Maris Lader) and only one man (Bruce Roper). The offbeat album title—in lower case no less—befits the trio’s sensibilities, which are something akin to what you’d get if you stuck a Beat Poet, a Midwestern folk musician, and a nerd into a blender. Their three-part harmonies are cool, but twisted, a bit like what you’d get if you added a male voice to the McGarrigle sisters. I can’t think of another band that can be, simultaneously, so poignant and so off-kilter. “Head Over Heels,” for instance, is a love song dressed up as an act from a three-ring circus with Fellini-like imagery in the background. Roeper’s voice is, at turns, whimsical and filled with longing. And what on earth does one make of a song titled “Pablo Neruda” that implores us to approach poetry (and life) with Buddha-like deliberation, but also contains lines such as “Badah ba, badah ba?” To be fair, though, being in the moment and embracing life’s small but sublime moments is the major theme of these songs. “I am” opens the album with Roeper replacing self with the things he observes: a tree, heather, a sparrow, a chime, a piece of thread….

Those who know other Sons albums will not be surprised by any of this; the trio has always been a blend of poetry, New Age wonderment, inspired silliness, and mash-up musicianship. The biggest change instrumentally is the studio inclusion of Kairos Quartet, which adds cello, viola, and violin to the mix. Those discovering the Sons for the first time generally have one of two strongly held opinions: they either find them too weird, or they find them a blast of fresh air. Put me in the second camp. Check them out and see if you agree.--LV



Spreefix 001
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The name of this Shetlands-based band is quite a mouthful, but it fits. The Spelemannslag part of the name is Norwegian and refers to a group of musicians dominated by fiddlers that plays traditional music. Given that six of the band’s members wield fiddles and that the vast majority of the repertoire is pulled from the public domain, that moniker is apt. And so is the Fullsceilidh part—with ten musicians strutting their wares, the sound is certainly “full” and robust. Add the fact that this all-instrumental album is aimed at dancers and they’ve got the “celilidh” (pronounced kay’-lee; Scots Gaelic for “dance party”) part covered as well. Shetland is as far north as a Scot can go before hitting Norway; hence the music feels like something brewed in the middle of the North Sea. It also reminds quite a bit of the Shetland-based Fiddlers’ Bid, understandable given that Maurice Henderson is a member of both lineups. Fullsceilidh delights for many reasons, one of which is its lack of pretense. “Plan B,” for instance, is a flying fiddles set with a touch of Gothic whimsy added. Like most of the tracks, it avoids subtlety and sets a furious dance tempo. Most of the tracks are similarly fast-paced with a good-time party feel. We could almost believe that the lads (and one lass, Lois Nicol) were just out for a lark, except they’re way too good. Don’t forget to listen as you kick up your heels; this is an enormously talented lineup.

Watch this YouTube clip in which they tease and then set the dancers afire at the 2009 Shetland Folk Festival, if you can sit still!



Summer to Snowflakes

Urban Campfire 1011
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There’s a lot of instrumentation on Terry Kitchen’s latest CD and, impressively, he plays much of it himself—everything from acoustic and electric guitar to auto harp, harmonica, and melodica. Friends pitch in with keyboards, percussion, horns and harmonies. You’ll hear hints of bossa nova, reggae, New Orleans funereal horns, rock and roll, and guitar-based folk. And, at the end of the day, it is the latter than lingers longest. For all of craft that goes into this record, it feels like folk before it got all flashy.

Like all good folk musicians, Kitchen is one part story teller and one part stump speaker. He conjures moods and images, as he does on “Listening to Summer,” with its evocation of baseball games, insects, breezes, comfort food, and moonlight. From this he slides into “Cherokee Run,” a social commentary that juxtaposes the modern auctioneer’s hammer and the land grabs that disenfranchised Natives more than a century ago. The sentiment to social commentary blend that opens the CD is maintained throughout. Sometimes the social commentary is highly ironic, as in “Last Straight Boy in Ptown” where he wryly writes: “Tonight they’ll all be dressed up and making champagne toasts/I’ll be in the shadows drinking whiskey with Norman Mailer’s ghost.” On occasion he turns nasty, as in his incisive skewering of the American Dream on “Why Do I Hate My Very Nice Life?”

How much one will enjoy this album pretty much rides on one’s personal sentimentality quotient as Kitchen’s wistful songs list pretty heavily in that direction. Is a song about adults pushing Little Leaguers to be stoic (“Be a Man About It”) a moral lesson or a cliché? A song about singing with a kitten in the room (“Audience of One”) cute or trite? They’re probably a bit of both actually, and I prefer his songs with more bite, like “Love You too Soon.” But, as I said, this is a matter of taste, not a critique of Kitchen’s choices. How can I say otherwise when Kitchen rounds off the album with “Snowflakes” and its plea that we, like frozen crystals, should all be “a little different.”