Music

Various Artists: Fresh Faces at Merlefest 2003

Jason MacNeil

Various Artists

Fresh Faces at Merlefest 2003

Label: Merlefest
US Release Date: 2003-06-17
Amazon
iTunes

In 1985, the son of legendary Doc Watson, Eddy Merle Watson, passed away. Trying to find a way to keep his son's memory alive, the elder Watson rounded up a cast of musicians from traditional bluegrass, hillbilly, and "jam" bands to stage the first Merlefest. The result is that Merlefest has become the equivalent of the Appalachian Woodstock. Now in its fifteenth year and with an A-list group of musicians performing each year, Merlefest is celebrating the anniversary with a DVD, VHS, and CD package. The album could have contained musicians such as Patty Loveless, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, and Alison Krauss among others. Instead, the disc is a look towards the future with some of the best up and coming musicians around. Although there are some known musicians like Peter Rowan, most of the record deals with what's on the horizon.

Starting the 20-something tracks is Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver doing "The Hard Game of Love", a slow Bill Monroe-like bluegrass song. Here, Lawson sounds eerily like Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, but that might be shortchanging the band somewhat. Having performed for nearly four decades, Lawson sounds like the real deal as the supporting cast fills out guitars, violin, banjo, and mandolin. Later, they perform "Poor Boy Working Blues" with the same verve. Hot Rize, another longtime and longstanding bluegrass group, gives a decent live rendition of "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning", a blues-based tune that has some fine picking throughout. But their second track, "Radio Boogie", comes off bland and pale compared to the first song. Dale Ann Bradley, who would be compared along with Alison Krauss and, to a lesser extant, Dolly Parton, gives a very good impression on "The Rockin' Chair", a ballad that sounds contemporary without being too slick.

The first cowboy collaboration is Peter Rowan and Don Edwards performing "I'm Going to Leave Old Texas Now" with just a hint of yodel in their voices. An ambling number, Rowan's mandolin playing is deep in the mix but makes the tune move along for nearly six minutes. Most of the album moves into the high-paced bluegrass or the slower ballads that often are found on O Brother Where Art Thou. Kathy Kallick, who sings "Row Us over the Tide", definitely falls into the latter category. Her voice isn't the strongest around however, sounding a bit weak in places. Sally Jones comes off like Judy Collins on "Sipsey" and also on "Love Hurts". The heavy and manic bluegrass picking on "Hay in the Barn", courtesy of Pine Mountain Railroad, is a great example of another traditional toe-tapping bluegrass tune.

Unfortunately, the one huge drawback to this collection is the poor way in which the track listing moves. It resembles a bad homemade cassette tape, as the running order of the artists on the first half, with the exception of Peter Rowan and Don Edwards, is identical to the second. Either more artists or variety could have been used or the songs could have been doubled-up, but this seems to diminish the overall effort. It's hard not to appreciate this music, though. Lynn Morris does a great job on the highly paced "Scraps from Your Table". The Red Stick Ramblers throw some needed color into the record with the swinging "Nagasaki", a tune the Squirrel Nut Zippers should have recorded at some point.

One refreshing surprise is the a cappella version of "The Gospel Train" by Mountain Heart. Taking everything down to its bare essentials, even the harmonica solo is sparse as one of the members gives it a great lonesome sound. Nearly as lonesome sounding is Kathy Kallick on "Waterbound", a Carter Family influenced song that the listener can imagine, visualizing all the performers around one microphone. Polecat Creek's "Before" harks back to way before the genre became popular or as "mainstream" as it is now. Overall, though, Merlefest is a good portrait of what takes places over four grand days in late April.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image