|For 17 years, I've been the host of Down Yonder, a celebration of bluegrass and old-time music in all its forms, from the classic high lonesome sound of Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, and the Stanley Brothers to the modern sounds of contemporary artists. As the title of a Monroe instrumental tells us, "you must come hither to go yonder."|
I am just one of the many people who was fortunate enough to know Larry Weir and to have my musical life shaped by his love of the singer-songwriter’s art, a love he manifested so eloquently on his radio show. Like anyone who knew Larry or listened to his show, I could go on and on about what a superb person he was and how much his life and his radio show meant to me. But I won’t. Instead, I’ll just let this sign above the Pony Espesso in Alton, Ill., testify to the reach and impact of Larry’s life. Good show, Larry.
These CDs (all released in 2009) represent ten of my favorites from last year, ones I like a lot. Ranking them would be silly so, as much as I enjoy doing silly things sometimes, here I chose to list them in alphabetical order by artist.
- Bearfoot, Doors and Windows (Compass) ~ When I first heard this Alaskan quintet’s previous release (Follow Me) last year, it was a revelation. This year’s release, Doors and Windows, is even better. For me, along with The Greencards, Bearfoot is helping filling the musical void left by the breakup of Nickel Creek. Must-hear: “Don’t Let Me Down”
- Big Medicine, Pine to Pine (Yodel-Ay-Hee) ~ Old-time music played with deep passion and impeccable precision, Pine to Pine is a gem. While Big Medicine’s versions of standard tunes are first-rate, it is their originals that elevates this release above those of other string bands. Big Medicine, it’s just what the doctor ordered. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) Must-hear: “Red Rocking Chair”
- Dailey & Vincent, Brothers From Different Mothers (Rounder) ~ Their second release continued the momentum from last year’s debut, Dailey & Vincent.I’m a sucker for the “close harmony” singing style popularized by The Louvin Brothers and others. Today, no one does it better than Dailey & Vincent. Must-hear: “Winter’s Come and Gone”
- Del McCoury Band, Family Circle (McCoury Music) ~ When it comes to the classic five-piece bluegrass lineup of fiddle, banjo, mandolin, rhythm guitar, and bass, the McCourys are “it.” They know exactly what each songs needs and how to bring it out. They play bluegrass that is deep in tradition and yet fresh. Must-hear: “Sweet Appalachia”
- Dixie Bee-Liners, Susanville (Pinecastle) ~ Last year’s Ripe established the Dixie Bee Liners as a band to watch. This year’s Susansville rewarded those who paid attention to them. A concept album, a rare thing in bluegrass circles, and one that works, an even rarer commodity. Must-hear: “Susanville”
- Gibson Brothers, Ring The Bell (Compass) ~ Track for track, this release is perhaps their strongest since Bona Fide. The arrangements are rock solid, the performances are precise, and the singing … oh, the singing! The Gibson Brothers are running neck-and-neck with Dailey & Vincent in the Close Harmony Singing Sweepstakes. Must-hear: “Ring The Bell”
See the rest of the list after the jump. Read more
If you’ve spent any time listening to KDHX (I assume you have), you know there are a lot of great programs on the schedule. As far as adjectives go, “great” has probably been devalued through overuse. It’s no longer enough to call something “good.” In these days of vocabaulary deflation, it’s either “great” or nothing at all. You can define “a great program” as you choose. For me, I like programs where the host consistently plays compelling songs in interesting combinations, mixing musical elements (styles, rhythms, tones, etc.) the way artists mix colors to create a painting that is a whole — and wholly satisfying. I realize that description is so broad as to be almost useless. Surely every program host on KDHX does just that, or tries to, during his or her alloted timeslot. Still, some seem to have ”the knack”: they just seem to do it better than others.
That said, taste is a very personal thing. Based on my musical biases, I am predisposed to like some programs more than others based solely on the types of music played on them. For example, I (like many, I am sure) am a great fan of John Wendland’s Memphis to Manchester and Steve Pick’s Sound Salvation. Both programs and the men who host them are easy and obvious examples of my formula for “a great program”: compelling tunes played in interesting combinations. (In this respect, John and Steve are the poster boys for “What’s Best About Community Radio,” and I hereby suggest they immediately form a band called The Poster Boys.) I could cite a dozen other examples as, no doubt, could you.
But when I reflect on the KDHX program schedule (something I do occasionally, but not too often; it’s not good to dwell), I am constantly impressed by the distinct charm of The Musical Merry-Go-Round hosted by Grandpa Paul Stark. A long-time fan of his Ska’s The Limit, I was surprised when I first heard he was moving to Saturday mornings to present a family radio show, one that played childern’s music for grown-ups and vice versa. While I do not tune in every Saturday morning to hear what Grandpa Paul is spinning on The Musical Merry-Go-Round, whenever I do listen, I am always impressed by the care he puts into each show. His visits with the woman from the St. Louis Public Library (I’ve misplaced her name) to discuss children’s books are always pitched just right — always both fun and informative, never just “cute.” And his interviews with his musical guests combine surprise and delight. (Did anyone else hear the harp duo that plays Metallica tunes?!) Many program hosts boast they play things you can’t hear anywhere else on the radio, and that’s generally true. But Grandpa Paul does more than just that. Through his program, he succeeds in creating a hipper Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, a place where parents and their kids can hang out together. That’s not just a radio show: that’s an achievement.
I just saw on the KDHX site’s home page that the Boulder Acoustic Society will be his guests on January 2nd — an excellent way to start the new year. I remember when their CD first showed up on the station’s New Release shelf. I had not heard of them before, much less heard their music. While they’re jazzier than what I usually play on Down Yonder – that’s an observation, not a criticism — the music was good, so I gave them a few spins. I did not know that they were coming to St. Louis, but Grandpa Paul did, and he had the foresight to get them to drop by KDHX on their way through town.
If you’re already hip to what Grandpa Paul is doing on The Musical Merry-Go-Round, you know what I’m talking about. If not, I encourage you to check it out when it airs live on Saturday mornings or listen to the archived shows on its KDHX page. And if you enjoy what you hear of the Boulder Acoustic Society, you can catch them live when they perform at the Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center, 3301 Lemp, on Friday, January 8th. Tell ‘em Grandpa Paul sent you.