And the never ending battle with technology continues… I have been voting in the annual VILLAGE VOICE “Pazz & Jop” critics’ poll since the late 1980’s. I suspect one of the reasons I’m still included is that my choices are very different from those of the majority–  different views should at least be represented. But as many organizations/businesses/government agencies have now gone (mostly) digital, so has the VOICE. Participants in the poll are sent an e-mail message with an ID number and a link to a special form to fill out with our choices. Well, no technology is perfect and I have had trouble with the Voice’s process ever since they moved to this electronic system. Needless to say, my entries were not included in the 2015 poll results.  I sent them several e-mail messages and received no replies. Par for the course, I guess.

So anyway, since I did go to the trouble of composing a “Ten best of 2015” list, I present it to you here.  Feel free to respond with your own lists as “comments.”

Here we go:

Various Artists: Joy of Living A Tribute To Ewan MacColl (Compass) — Top folk performers recorded a selection of songs by the legendary songwriter and singer.

The Demon Barbers: Disco At The Tavern (self released) — One of the best English folk-rock bands currently active.

Merry Hell: The Ghost In Our House And Other Stories (Mrs. Casey Music)– The elegance of Steeleye Span combined with a rough, punky edge.

Wolfscote: Turn The Glass (Plain Records) — Semi acoustic English folk with lovely harmonies.

Kedem Ensemble: La Yave De Mi Kaze (CPL- Music)– Middle eastern folk with outstanding female vocalist.

Sultans of String With Anwar Khurshid: Subcontinental Drift (self released)– Instrumental “world music” with many influences.

Ray Cooper: Palace Of Tears (Westpark)– Former Oysterband bassist proves to be a superb song writer and vocalist.

Melisande: Les Metamorphoses (self released)– Wonderful electric folk band from Quebec.

Newpoli: Nun Te Vuta (Beartones)– From Italy? No– Massachusetts!  Sure sounds like they’re from Italy though…

Dustbowl Revival: With A Lampshade On (Signature Sounds)–  Sparky neo-vaudeville band from Los Angeles! See them live!!

So there are you are– in no particular order– my ten faves for this year. What will 2016 bring?– I’m looking forward to forthcoming releases by Afro Celt Sound System, Serpentyne, The Owl Service, The Coral,  The El Mansouris, Fay Hield, Mavis Staples, and more.  I believe there will be a new Allan Toussaint CD, recorded before he passed and I read somewhere about a new box set devoted to the band LOVE.  Lots to be excited about!!

 

Hello all: Best wishes to everyone for 2016! Yes– there will be a list of the best gigs I attended in 2015, but first, some additional comments about music and how technology has affected my relationship with it.

As most of you probably know by now, music is my main passion in life.  I’ve been writing about it since 1975, and I enjoy almost all kinds, with a few exceptions (avant garde jazz/heavy metal.hard rock,  hip-hop with no band behind the MC’s), right wing country music). My favorites are British folk/folk-rock, “world music, British pop like The Zombies, New Orleans Mardi Gras music/r&b, and various other sorts of “roots” music.  I used to be able to pretty much keep up with everything, by reading magazines, attending gigs, and talking with people. But I can no longer do that– information about artists new and old is coming from so many new sources: e-mail, Facebook friends and groups, web sites, Facebook pages… For example, just now I checked out a band’s Facebook group because they’d been mentioned in a Facebook thread I’d been following. I looked at their page, which showed a poster of a gig that band (Gilded Thieves) was doing with another band Tankus The Henge. I looked up Tankus, watched a video from a link on their FB page, and “liked” them too.  It is now clear that I could spend all day with exercises like that.  And as much as I might like to do so, it is not physically possible– I think my eyes would give out from the over-use at the very least.  I now have to face the frustrating fact that I will miss out on some performers I might really like. I cannot attend every show or listen to every CD even in my favorite genres. That there is such an “embarrassment of riches” is wonderful,  but no living person can absorb it all.

“And now back to our regularly scheduled program.”

GIGS OF THE YEAR

In a class by itself was the 2015 edition of TD SUNFEST, held at Victoria Park, in downtown London, Ontario.  SUNFEST is a four day event and is free to the public. It emphasizes what is generally called “world music,” but there is also folk, blues, and jazz.  What was remarkable to me was how this event can be contrasted to so much of the trouble plaguing our planet right now.  People from different countries, regions, and traditions all gathered together with no strife or violence. People from countries that ordinarily would find it difficult to meet in a non pressured way, communicated easily at SUNFEST.  I will never forget telling a Cuban musician that I was glad President Obama took steps to officially “recognize” Cuba. I speak no Spanish, the musician spoke no English. But his manger, a native Cuban now living in Montreal, interpreted for us. I felt like I was performing “citizen diplomacy.” What an incredible experience!

TD SUNFEST is held every July. For more information, and updates on the 2016 edition, go to: http://www.sunfest.on.ca  TD SUNFEST also has a Facebook page. The organization which produces SUNFEST also runs a concert series in London during the fall and winter seasons.

Besides SUNFEST, I attended a number of excellent shows last year. In no particular order, here we go:

Rhiannon Giddens and band.  Singer and violinist Rhiannon Giddens is a founding member of the remarkable Carolina Chocolate Drops who are still active, but she now also tours and records under her own name.  At the concert I attended, she presented an incredible variety of material, including a Gaelic song. The band was an expanded version of the current Drops line-up– an upright bassist and drummer were added.  The chemistry between everyone was great , and there is no question that Ms. Giddens is now a major “folk” star. (Lincoln Theater, Washington, DC).

Al Kooper. Yes– the legendary vocalist, band leader, song writer, keyboardist, and story teller.  At 72, Kooper’s still got it– he played material from throughout his long career (Blues Project, Blood, Sweat, & Tears, “Super Session,” solo work) and kept us thoroughly entertained for about two hours.  I would absolutely go to see him again. (The Mansion On O Street, Washington, DC).

Steeleye Span.  English folk-rock band Steeleye Span celebrated 45 years of almost continuous service last year. They even came over to the United States for a short tour. This was almost a completely new line-up– the two veterans were founding member Maddy Prior and drummer Liam Genocky.  Everyone else was new. But that did not matter. The assembled company put on a great show and I was glad to be there. (The Birchmere, Alexandria, Virginia).

The Zombies. Here is a perfect case of good things happening to those who wait. English pop band The Zombies originally broke up years ago.  They had several hits, and produced one masterpiece of an album: Odessey & Oracle (now available in several versions).  At this concert, the current touring line-up presented a set of current material. All good. But the special treat of this was a live presentation of “Odessey & Oracle” with all surviving members of the original line-up: Rod Argent, Colin Blunstone, Chris White and Hugh Grundy.  Everyone was in great form. and I’m wondering if White and Grundy have re-discovered the urge to tour. Whether or not they do, the current regular touring line up: Founding members Colin Blunstone (vocals) and Rod Argent (vocals, keyboards) joined by Tom Toomey (guitar), Jim Rodford (bass), and Steve Rodford (drums) has done a fantastic show every time I’ve seen them.  One can even say that Argent and Blunstone are better now than when they were younger.  If  The Zombies come anywhere near you, do not miss them!  (Lincoln theater, Washington, DC).

Quetzal. This is a wonderful Mexican- American folk-rock band. Their new album will be released this year on Smithsonian/Folkways.  (Museum of The American Indian, Washington, DC).

Dom Flemons/Dustbowl Revival.  What a fantastic double bill this was! Flemons, an original member of The Carolina Chocolate Drops, now performs under his own name with a trio.  Flemons calls himself an “American Songster,” a title which fits him perfectly, as his sets include blues, ragtime, folk, and even rock’n’roll. Flemons is a consummate entertainer, and knows the history of American music intimately.  Dustbowl Revival hails from Los Angeles, and the best label I can come up with for them is neo-vaudeville. They’ve clearly been listening to lots of old 78’s,  but are not interested in just producing exact copies of vintage recordings. They definitely bring a contemporary spirit to their  rootsy music.  The two acts complemented each other well to create a very special experience. (The Hamilton, Washington, DC).

The Washington, DC Brazilian scene. Over the past several years, I have discovered that the Washington, DC area hosts a vibrant Brazilian scene.  There are venues that regularly feature live Brazilian music.  Performers such as  Cissa Paz, Rose Moraes, and DC Choro can be found at Bossa (18th St), The Grill From Ipanema (Columbia Road), Rumba Cafe (18th St) and elsewhere. Paz just released her first CD– for details on that, and upcoming gigs, go to: http://www.cissapaz.com

That’s it for now. My typing finger is exhausted. See you again soon.

Peace– Ken.

 

 

 

Last July I found paradise– well, some thing very close to it. TD SUNFEST is a four day event held every July in London, Ontario, featuring “world’ music, folk, blues, and jazz. It’s free to the public, and is held in Victoria Park, right in downtown London.
I attended the 2015 edition of TD SUNFEST and had a fantastic time. There were bands from Belgium, Cuba, England, Scotland, Wales, and several Canadian provinces. Since the event is held over a four day period (Thursday-Sunday) and there are four days, every artist has at least two time slots, which means that attendees have a really good chance of catching every artist they want to see. (and even seeing some them twice if one so chooses).
I caught around fifteen different acts, and enjoyed them all– it’s impossible to pick  favorites. But I will say, don’t miss any of these if you get an opportunity to see them: Saltarello (Medieval/world/folk/electronics), Calan (Welsh folk ) Breabach (Scots folk) , Nation Beat (Brazil meets New Orleans meets surf -rock), Five Alarm Funk (humor with a wild dance party!– think Was Not Was or Funkadelic), Sousou & Maher Cissoko (Sweden meets Senegal!), Spiro (English chamber folk),  Afro-Cuban All Stars (brassy Cuban big band).

Along with the music, there is a plethora of food trucks and craft vendors on site.

I must credit the TD SUNFEST  organizers and their entire staff for creating such a special event, where people from many different cultures, traditions, and locations could meet freely. I felt like an unofficial diplomat when I met a brilliant keyboardist from Cuba– he spoke no English and I spoke no Spanish.  But his manager (well, his group’s manager), a native Cuban now living in Montreal, Quebec, acted as an interpreter. I told the keyboardist that I supported President Obama’s action to officially recognize Cuba. I will never forget that experience.

For more information on TD SUNFEST, and the concert series that that the Sunfest organization also sponsors, go to the TD SUNFEST web site: http://www.sunfest.on.ca

FAIRPORT’S CROPREDY CONVENTION– FIRST ACTS ANNOUNCED!

The 2016 edition of Fairport Convention’s annual festival will be held in the usual spot– a field near the village of Cropredy, Oxfordshire, England August 11-13.  Among the first acts announced to be appearing are: Gryphon, Ralph McTell, Steeleye Span, Hayseed Dixie, and The Bootleg Beatles.  For more information and festival updates, go to Fairport Convention’s web site and click on the “Festival” link.  http://www.fairportconvention.com

 

 

 

 

 

Hello everyone– I’m off on a little trip to London, Ontario for SUNFEST http://www.sunfest.on.ca — it’s a world music and jazz festival, held every July at Victoria Park in downtown London. They’ve got a great line-up this year, including Sousou & Maher Cissoko (Sweden/Senegal),  La Chiva Gantiva (Belgium/Colombia), Nation Beat (Brazil/U.S.), Spiro (England), Breabach (Scotland), Saltarello (Canada), Calan (Wales), and Ventanas (Canada) (among others). SUNFEST is a four day event with five stages– giving attendees at least two opportunities to catch a performance by each artist.
This will be my first trip to SUNFEST and I’m really looking forward to it. Full report when I get back.

 

Hello everyone– today’s topic is my continuing mixed relationship with technology.  I had (sort of) attained equilibrium with it around five or six years ago–  I was comfortable sending and receiving e-mail, and had just started posting on Facebook.  Physical CD’s, books, and magazines still dominated.  The internet hadn’t exploded to the condition it occupies now, with so much information and so many choices being offered, and many businesses and government agencies now seem  to prefer that all transactions take place “on line.”

So– the expansion of choices can be good, opening up many more worlds for all of us to explore.  Information on almost any topic imaginable is available almost immediately. But I’ll tell you now– whatever your interest is, it’s very hard to keep up with everything… even in a relatively small field like British folk/folk-rock.  So many new artists have emerged in recent years, that I cannot possibly investigate all of them. Information about performers comes from print magazines, web sites, e-mail messages, Facebook posts, Facebook suggested links, and on and on.  When there were only print magazines to look at, that served as a kind of filter.  Now, the only thing I can be sure of is that I can’t possibly hear every band that I’d like and that I will have to choose which ones to research (and hope I don’t miss out on something truly remarkable).

Another part of this whole thing is the apparently rapid switch from physical CD’s to digital distribution of music via “downloads,” MP3’s” and/or “streaming” services.  I’m ok with looking at “Youtube” videos and/or listening to excerpts of songs to see if I want to attend a performance or contact someone for a review copy of a CD. But I absolutely prefer physical CD’s to those other options. I write about a lot of music from other countries, and that CD may be the only physical connection I will ever have with artists who don’t tour  the United States. I may never get to attend a performance or meet those artists in person. I enjoy looking at the cover graphics and reading booklet notes. Of course, for review purposes, it’s great to have credits right there on the CD package so that I don’t have to look at multiple screens (windows?) while working on reviews.  And I really do take pride in my CD collection, which includes releases from around the world.

I know– haven’t been here in a long time… the mundane personal stuff continues to be abundant and constantly annoying, and after dealing with that, it’s hard to find enough energy to do much else. But one must try– and so here I am with fantastic news.

Legendary English folk-rock band Steeleye Span will be coming to the United States for their first  visit since 2009. There have been some comings and goings in the past few years; long time violinist Peter Knight left and is now leading an acoustic trio: Peter Knight’s Gigspanner. Knight has been replaced by young fiddler Jessie-Mary Smart. New lad on vocals and guitar is Julian Littman. The familiar faces include Maddy Prior (vocals), Rick Kemp (bass), Liam Genocky (drums) and Pete Zorn (various).

 

Steeleye Span’s most recent CD is Wintersmith  (Park Records UK) , a collaboration with noted fantasy author Sir Terry Pratchett.  Having listened to that CD several times, I can tell you that the group has lost none of its spark or intensity.

 

And now– what you really need to know: here are the U.S. tour dates: July 15- Seattle, WA (Triple Door), July 16- San Francisco, CA (GAMH), July 18- Evanston, IL (Space), Schenectady, NY (Music Haven Series), July 21- Alexandria, VA (The Birchmere), July 22- Sellersville, PA (Sellersville Theater), July 23- New York, NY (BB King’s), July 24- Somerville, MA (Johnny D’s).

Hope everyone can make a gig!!

I’ve actually attended many great shows over the past year or so, and recommend catching performances by any of these artists if they come anywhere near your area: Rhiannon Giddens (the outstanding vocalist with Carolina Chocolate Drops who is now also touring and recording under her own name), Zvuloon Dub System (an incredible reggae band from Tel Aviv , Israel), Dom Flemons (blues/country/folk revivalist), Mogollar (psychedelic folk-rock from Turkey), Rodrigo Leao(gifted keyboardist/composer from Portugal– founding member of the band Madredeus), Nation Beat (where Brazil meets the Ventures– I kid you not– seen them several times), Nomadic Massive (a multi-ethnic hip hop band from Montreal, Quebec). 

Friday night I attended the first screening of Romantic Warriors III Canterbury Tales, a documentary about the distinctive progressive rock scene which developed in Canterbury, England. Among the bands featured are Caravan, Soft Machine, Hatfield & The North, and National Health. There is plenty of archival performance footage, and there are interview clips with many of the musicians who were involved with the aforementioned bands. As you can tell from the title, this particular film is the third entry in a planned series devoted to the history, evolution, and influence of progressive rock. For more information, go to: http://www.progdocs.com 

OK– that’s it for this installment. I hope all is well with everyone and I’ll see you next time.

Peace– Ken.

 

 

 

 

 

Between a plethora of personal problems and the awful world wide news, it’s been a helluva year so far. So this installment will be a bit more personal (and political)–bear with me.

It’s hard to concentrate on writing when the mundane problems of life get so overwhelming and uncertain. On top of that, the world wide news continues to be awful. The peace of mind required for listening to and commenting on music is just hard to come by. So it occurred to me that I’ve got to get this other stuff out. So here we go.

I had to spend several months dealing with the far too complicated health care system in this country and state. My income got low enough that I now qualified for Medicaid. That’s good, but the catch is that Medicaid is a state run program which means that all of your actual providers must be physically located in the state where you live. I had been seeing a primary care physician in Washington, DC for 20 years but I presently live in Maryland– so I had to look for a new doctor– one that accepted Medicaid patients. The actual search process wasn’t hard, but it was a nuisance, and building up trust with a new doctor will take time.

I also got sick several times, the part time evening job has become more uncertain and difficult, and life in general just seems to be more complicated. So many choices, coupled with unending, unceasing, rapid, numerous changes in technology. As a semi-Luddite who STILL does not own any “hand held” devices, coping with all that is difficult.

OK– so much for the more or less personal stuff. Now to the international/national situation. There is the always nightmarish middle east situation, which is red hot right now. Then we’ve got the Ebola scare, the death of Robin Williams, and Vladimir Putin’s continuing support for Arctic area resource drilling and use of the melting seas for shipping. I am upset about all of these things.  How do we stop Mr. Putin and his plans, when, to some extent, he’s just following the bad example set by the United States? And poor Robin Williams– a brilliant talent — perhaps he was, as someone else suggested, just too sensitive for this world. I imagine that the pressures and choices relating to his career played a large part in what happened– agents, managers, film and television companies all needing decisions. I have heard that Williams also had financial problems.  Williams probably felt overwhelmed and without choice. And the world is now a much sadder place. RIP Robin Williams.

Whew!!  On a lighter note…

Although I did not get to England(or even Canada) this year, I have been fortunate to attend a lot of great gigs right here in the Washington, DC area.  The first shout-out is to the wonderful “Millenium Stage” program at the The Kennedy Center. Free one hour shows every day of the year, starting at 6 PM.  The variety is incredible- here’s a list of some of the artists I saw there this year: Footworks Percussive Dance Ensemble (Appalachian fusion folk dance ) , The Bombay Royale (Bollywood band from Australia), Nomadic Massive (international hip hop band from Montreal, Quebec), Kotobel (art/prog band from Spain), Carlos Nunez (bagpiper from Galicia, Spain), Peacherine Ragtime Society Orchestra (just what it says– and they’re amazing!), and Ezekiel’s Wheels (klezmer band from Boston, MA).

Other venues I frequent include Artisphere (Arlington, Va) and Tropicalia (Washington, DC). Both feature world music frequently– I’ve seen great shows at both places.

Those three venues are the spots I hit most often– all are convenient to public transit stops, and since I do not drive, that is important.

For details on upcoming events at these three locations, go to:

http://www.kennedy-center.org/millenium

http://www.artisphere.com

http://www.tropicaliadc.com

There are other places I get to less frequently, that are also worth checking out, if you live in the Washington, DC area or are planning a visit: The Birchmere, Sixth & I Synagogue, IOTA, Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club, 9:30 Club, Strathmore, Institute of Musical Traditions, and The Black Cat.

That’s it for this installment. I look forward to your comments. See you again soon!

Peace– Ken.

 

 

Test entry  http://www.singout.org

http://www.singout.org

On February 16, the State Theatre in Falls Church, Virginia hosted the 28th annual WAMMIES show/party . What are the WAMMIES you ask? Well, they’re sort of like the GRAMMIES, only for the Washington, DC area. Awards are presented, and there are live performances. Lots of hanging out and schmoozing too… The whole thing is produced by the Washington Area Music Association, an organization that supports and promotes Washington, DC area music.

I had not attended the WAMMIES in some time, and was really impressed by the diversity not only of the acts on stage, but of the folks in the audience, most of whom, I dare say were musicians.  Almost every genre one can think of was represented in that crowd: rock, go-go, country, folk, bluegrass, world, classical, big band, reggae, hip hop, — and– folks from these seemingly disparate areas of music were all talking and grooving together– I wish there more events where that happened.

Among the acts who did brief live sets, I was most impressed by the Bumper Jacksons (neo-ragtime/jug band/blues), Black Masala (bluesy eastern European jazz/funk brass band– with an accordion!), Black Alley (contemporary r&b with an outstanding lead vocalist) and Rosa Lamoreaux (classically trained singer who did a wonderful early jazz/blues  piece).

I was also pleased to see that The Jewels, Washington, DC’s own all female “doo-wop” group, were awarded a spot in the Washington Area Music Association Hall of Fame. I’ve seen them perform several times, they’re great!!

For more information on the WAMMIES and the Washington Area Music Association, go to: http://www.wamadc.com

See you again soon!

 

The URL for Strathmore’s web site is: http://www.strathmore.org Sorry about the typo.

Ken’s Interests