Comments? Suggestions? Requests? Use the Paper and Pen Open Page!

Have requests?  Comments?  Suggestions?  Now you can post them here on the new Paper and Pen page.  To comment on the Pen and Paper page, go to that page (click on the Pen and Paper menu heading, below the picture of the studio at top), scroll down to the end of the Comments, and add yours.  Newest comments are always at the bottom.

You can, of course, also post relevant comments under any individual post./CL

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2018 Joe Val Festival: IIIrd Tyme Out, David Davis, and more!

JVF2018Just a few miles west on Route 9 from our home on the river in Saxonville, at the junction with the Mass Pike, is the hotel our kids used to call ‘The Castle’, the Sheraton in Framingham.  And fortunately for me, every Presidents’ Day Weekend in February, the Castle is taken over by hordes of pickers and singers from all over the country, drawn by the music and camaraderie of The Joe Val Bluegrass Festival.

The rooms at the hotel are in such demand that when they go on sale in early November, they sell out in three minutes.  But there are other hotels nearby, and of course it’s easy to get to from anywhere in the region.  This year marks the 33rd anniversary of the Festival, sponsored by the Boston Bluegrass Union, in honor of Joe Val and his all-too-brief celebrity as the most exciting singer of bluegrass-style country music ever to come out of New England.  From the BBU:

Some of the bands that will be coming for Joe Val in 2018 include Hot Rize, The Gibson Brothers, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, Special Consensus, David Davis & the Warrior River Boys, Terry Baucom & The Dukes of Drive, Eddie & Martha Adcock, Town Mountain, the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, Too Blue, Foghorn String Band, Red Wine, Mile Twelve, and The Reunion Band!

Join the Boston Bluegrass Union and celebrate the legacy of the late Joe Val with three big days of indoor bluegrass at the Sheraton Framingham Hotel.

We have a great lineup of national and regional talent, expanded workshops, Kid’s Academy, music vendors, and round-the-clock jamming. Our 2006 event won the coveted “Event of the Year” award from the International Bluegrass Music Association.

The BBU web page with all the stage schedules is HERE.  And HERE‘s all the ticket information.

I’m especially looking forward to seeing some favorites that I’ve missed in the last few years, like Russell Moore and IIIrd Time Out, and David Davis and the Warrior River Boys.  Here’s David Davis and the WRB with “The Milwaukee Blues”:

See you there too! /CL

[Edited 1Feb18 for better wording.]




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Becky Buller Live on January 20th!

Becky Buller-TweenEarthAndSky_smThat’s right, fiddler and singer Becky Buller and her hot-pickin’ band will be at the former National Heritage Museum (now the unmemorably-named Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library) this Saturday, January 20th, sponsored of course by the Boston Bluegrass Union.  Here’s their announcement:

If you’re a fan of acoustic music, particularly bluegrass, and you haven’t heard of fiddler Becky Buller, there’s a good chance you’ve heard some of her songs. Becky’s compositions have been recorded by Ricky Skaggs(“Music To My Ears”), Rhonda Vincent (“Fishers of Men”), Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver (“Be Living”), Josh Williams (“You Love Me Today”), and Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out (“Cottontown”, “My Angeline”, “Rest My Weary Feet”).

Becky Buller took home three IBMA awards in 2015: Emerging Artist Of The Year, Songwriter Of The Year, and Recorded Event Of The Year for the song “Southern Flavor”.   SPBGMA chose Becky as a 2016 Songwriter Of The Year nominee.  The IAMA chose Becky’s song “Nothin’ To You” as 1st Runner Up for their 2016 Country/Bluegrass Song Of The Year.

Then in 2016 Becky Buller was named both IBMA Fiddle Player of the Year and IBMA Female Vocalist the Year!

When Becky tours she is backed by The Becky Buller Band  –  Daniel Boner (guitar), Nate Lee(mandolin), Daniel Hardin (bass), and Ned Luberecki (banjo).

And yes, I’m happy to announce that Becky and at least some of the band will be squeezing into WHRB’s Studio BC, for a surprise visit to Hillbilly at Harvard, between 11:00 AM and 12:00 noon tomorrow!

I saw The Becky Buller Band (click for her website) at the Joe Val Festival last year, and was mightily impressed. Originally from St. James, Minnesota, she is an ebullient lady and bandleader, and a genuine triple threat musician, as fiddler, singer, and songwriter.  You’ll get a great taste of all three at the show Saturday evening.  She’ll have her terrific 2014 album, ‘Tween Earth and Sky for sale, too.

Opening for the Becky Buller Band will be long-time Boston stalwarts, True Life Bluegrass:

Founded in 1985 (at the first Joe Val Day), True Life Bluegrass has been dedicated to traditional bluegrass and gospel, with emphasis on lots of straight-ahead picking and excellent harmony singing.  The band consists of Boston-based bluegrass veterans such as Steve Watt (banjo & mandolin), Ellen Hays (guitar), Eric Levenson (bass), Tony Watt (mandolin & guitar), Michael Bean (Dobro), and Laura Orshaw (fiddle).


National Heritage Museum
(Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library)
33 Marrett Road, Lexington, MA
7:30pm (box office opens at 6:30pm)
$27 for Members
$29 for Non-Members

For advance tickets to BBU Events, click HERE

PS For more on The Becky Buller Band (and photos!) see HERE.  /CL

UPDATE 26Jan18: Hope you all got a chance to hear Becky and three bandmates (minus Dwayne Anderson and bass, not named above, who stayed back at the hotel for fear of our small studio—though as it turned out, I moved my CD/record cart out, and he has a skinny bass, so we could have fit him in) in Studio BC, all on one mic.  People tell me it sounded mighty good, and I certainly had a fine time squeezing out of the way during songs, and bantering with Becky, Professor Dan, Ned and Nate (‘the human adverb’, as Becky calls him—’Nate Lee’, get it?).

The Becky Buller Band put on quite a show for the BBU and audience at the Museum Saturday night, too. Becky and band are not (yet) household names, and many told me that hearing them on the radio encouraged them to come out and see her live.  They were all delighted.  Becky closed out the show with a stunning encore version of her own gospel song, ‘I Serve a God (Who Can raise the Dead)’.  It was really quite something, especially at the end of a night of energetic performance.  I don’t have a video of it but here they are (with a different singer on the left) at the AFBA Bluegrass Festival in Windgap, PA, back in August 6th of last year:


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Rare Stanley Brothers Radio Transcription—You Can Help Save It!

Yesterday, this note arrived from audio engineer Frank Cunningham:

Hi Lynn, your listeners might find this interesting:

Photo copyright © The Birthplace of Country Music Museum.

Bristol, VA/Tenn. (January 10, 2018) – A rare transcription disc containing a live broadcast performance of The Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys on the former WCYB Radio Farm and Fun Time show has been listed among the Virginia Association of Museums (VAM) Top 10 Endangered Artifacts. Over time, the degradation of the fragile, lacquer disc recording has made it unplayable and its content unaccessible. A public vote will determine if the rare recording can be restored through grant funds from VAM, so the museum is asking for your help in securing enough votes to help them win $5,000 to preserve this valuable piece of American music history.

Frank continues:
Anyone who wants to vote, and one vote per day per device is permitted, may do so until January 24th, through this link:

I am not a disinterested party here because if the disk wins the vote, it is likely that I would do the digitization using the IRENE system at Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover. It cannot be “restored” but IRENE can play it optically.
I’ve seen photos of the disk. Both sides are partially delaminated, but it ain’t hopeless yet. Most of the grooves are intact and the biggest loose chunks can be pushed back into line closely enough that the rest can be done in software. There are 9 tracks altogether on two sides, the longest being ~3min. Only the music was recorded—this is not an “air-check” of the whole show.

(& Hoppy New Year)


Today is the 17th, so there is just one week until the 24th.  So go HERE and vote by typing in your email address; you’ll get a confirmation email, with a link that will record your vote.
Ralph and Carter Stanley, when they were first starting out in the late 1940s, got a coveted slot to perform live on WCYB’s mid-day ‘Farm and Fun Time’ program.  It had a great deal to do with their success, enabling them to get bookings in the towns where WCYB’s Bristol-based signal reached.
Rebel Records released an album of two complete 1949 Stanley Brothers ‘The Farm and Fun Time’ shows called Stanley Brothers on WCYB Bristol in 1988, so we do have some documentation of that period.  The image above shows four tracks on the currently unplayable transcription are not on that album.  I’ll update when I hear about the other side.
The transcription disc is at The Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol.  Their page about the transcription is HERE. You can cast your vote on that page as well.  /CL
UPDATE 18Jan: Here are closeups of the two labels.  Doesn’t look like any of these are on the Rebel album.  Note on S2 someone has noted ‘Trio’, ‘Quartet’, ‘pee wee’ (that would be Pee Wee Lambert, who played mandolin and often sang Monroe-style leads):
2017.4.1 Side A label - from donor_sm

From the Birthplace of Country Music Museum collection
Donated by Glen Harlow via Dean Casey
Photo by Glen Harlow

2017.4.1 Side B label - from donor_sm

From the Birthplace of Country Music Museum collection
Donated by Glen Harlow via Dean Casey
Photo by Glen Harlow

UPDATE 11Feb18: Steve Bartlett on the Paper and Pen page reports:

Re: The voting for a grant to restore the Stanley Brothers Radio transcription . This item received the most votes and a $5,000 grant for the project.

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We’re Having a White Christmas!

And a houseful of kids, with Daughter Sarah visiting with her family (three boys) from Virginia, and Number Two Son Nathan and his crew (two boys, three girls) staying here while the house they bought in Dedham is undergoing remedial renovation.  Here some of the kids are looking at the snowbirds under the feeder:


The older ones ventured out in the storm, which is tapering off as I write:


Merry Christmas to all.  Hope you enjoyed the 2017 edition of the Hillbilly at Harvard Christmas Extravaganza Saturday morning, which of course we closed with The Stanley Brothers singing “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem.”  That was the impetus a few years ago for the blog post on the history of the song, our most-visited post to date.  So in recognition of the song’s enduring popularity, here’s Rhonda Vincent:

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Ruth Rappaport & Ben Wetherbee at the Burren, Friday 15Dec17, 7-9 PM!

If you were listening this past Saturday (the 9th), you’d have heard Ruth Rappaport and son Ben Wetherbee tearin’ up Studio BC with some fine fiddle tunes and songs.  It was a lot of fun, and since they were nice enough to come down and entertain this weary DJ, I thought I should give them a little more billing here on the blog.  Here’s the info from the Country Callendar page:

Ruth Rappaport and Ben Wetherbee will be playing a show at The Burren’s back room on Friday, December 15, from 7:00-9:00 p.m. Raucous old-time fiddling and heartfelt songs by a mother-and-son duo. 247 Elm Street, Davis Square, Somerville. For more info. call (617) 776-6896 or go to

Here they are from YouTube, playing the Lee Highway Blues:

Go by and tell ’em you heard them on Hillbilly at Harvard! /CL

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Here’s The Opry Broadcast Schedule for 2017-2018

Met Calendar picThe Metropolitan Opera broadcast season begins December 2nd.  This year there are seven Saturdays starting earlier than 1:00 PM.  In all cases we subtract about 15 minutes from the Met starting time for David Elliott‘s Prelude to the Met.  Fans of grand opera (as it used to be called) should also remember to tune in to David’s enthralling Post-Met Vocal Program following each broadcast from Lincoln Center.

December 2
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

December 9
THE MAGIC FLUTE (Mozart) — Abridged English-language version
12:30 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:15

December 16
NORMA (Bellini) — New production
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

December 23
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

December 30
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

January 6
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

January 13
12:30 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:15

January 20
THAIS (Massenet)
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

January 27
TOSCA (Puccini) — New production
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

February 3
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

February 10
L’ELISIR D’AMORE (Donizetti)
12:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 11:45

February 17
11:30 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 11:15

February 24
LA BOHEME (Puccini)
12:30 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:15

March 3
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

March 10
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

March 17
ELEKTRA (R. Strauss)
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

March 24
TURANDOT (Puccini)
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

March 31
COSI FAN TUTTE (Mozart) — New production
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

April 7
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

April 14
12:30 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:15

April 21
THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL (Adés) — New production/ Met premiere (18Nov17)
12:30 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:15

April 28
CENDRILLON (Massenet) — New production/ Met premier
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

May 5
12:30 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:15

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Lee Ann Womack—Beautiful Singing, Strange Production

(Hits and Misses 7)

LeeAnnWomackLee Ann Womack (ATO Records, 2017)

Back in 2014, Suzy Bogguss released an album of Merle Haggard songs, called Lucky. It was for the most part delightful, as Suzy’s crystalline voice always is, but to my ear marred by odd musical accompaniments created, I assume, by her producer-husband Doug Crider.

It’s happened again. Lee Ann Womack has a stunning new album, with some powerful new songs, and—weird production. Lee Ann has a husband, too, named Frank Liddell. He’s an ACM Album of the Year producer, so he knows his stuff. Maybe producing his wife means experimenting with new wrinkles in sound. But are they helping the songs?

And there are some standout songs. “The Lonely, the Lonesome, and the Gone” is one. Co-written by Jay Knowles and Adam Wright, it calls you right to the heart of country music:

Nobody writes goodbye notes
And takes off to God-on-knows on trains anymore
And to tell you the truth I don’t really
See much use in walking the floor. . .

leading to

The only way this heartache
Is like an old Hank Williams song
Is the lonely, the lonesome, and the gone.

For Lee Ann it becomes a plaintive, longing, melancholy reflection, ending with

He never sang about
Watching a Camry pulling out
Of a crowded apartment parking lot . .

It’s a beautiful song, but if you listen behind Lee Ann, you’ll hear interruptive bursts and discordant bleats where they don’t belong. It’s followed by Harlan Howard’s “He Called Me Baby,” where Lee Ann is attempting to wax lyrical, but the band is chugging along in a quasi-blues rhythm that has little to do with the lyric, and then a chorus jumps in to finish her off.

Adam Wright’s “End of the End of the World,” another excellent lyric, has a more supportive acoustic musical framework to start, but then the song is dragged down with a distractingly heavy rhythm.

My other favorite song on the album, written by Adam Wright, Waylon Payne, and Lee Ann herself, is a heart-tugger called “Mama Lost Her Smile,” making the point that

You don’t take pictures of the bad times
We only wanna remember all the sunshine
We don’t live in pictures this is real life
And they’re about as different as black and white

The song begins with a quiet piano introduction and proceeds tastefully, but somewhere along the piano and percussion seems to yield mid-range distortion. Is it deliberate? I listened both with speakers and headphones, and still hear it. The experience is quite distracting from Lee Ann Womack’s delicate, moving vocal.

Too often the instrumental shenanigans seem to bear little relation to the vocals. The upbeat “(Nobody Home on a) Sunday” devolves into psychodelic rock guitars and chorus. The blues “All the Trouble” does play on Lee Ann’s tumultuous vocal, but with its sound effects and gimmicks, is simply overproduced. “Hollywood” features odd little guitar figures, followed by a strange, long coda with chorus.

Some exceptions to my complaint about the production: “Someone Else’s Heartache,” and “Long Black Veil,” both of which elevate Lee Ann to the front and support her with gentle solo acoustic guitar. Her version of the Lefty Frizzell (Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin) classic is slower than Lefty’s, with the “Vei-l-l-l” drawn out, but it’s masterful—though it is odd to hear a woman sing what is a definitive male part. Then there’s her too-short reprise of George Jones’s early “Take the Devil Out of Me,” which preserves the flavor of the original while letting Lee Ann surpass the young master at his own game.

But hey, I’m really happy to hear Lee Ann Womack sing. It would have been nice to have Frank Liddell spend more more time showcasing her voice, and less time fooling around with quasi-jazzy-whatever backgrounds. But if you’re looking for good, well-written country songs, beautifully performed by one of the premier singers of the genre, you’ll want this album.  Here’s Lee Ann with “Mama Lost Her Smile’:

Vocals: Major HIT. Production: Mostly MISS. /CL

Posted in Country News, Hits and Misses, Songwriting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Don Williams, 1939–2017

DonWlms-HitsI have been remiss in not acknowledging the life and work of Don Williams, who died in September. Don had literally dozens of hits on the country charts in the 1970s and early ’80s, many of which crossed over onto the pop charts, all the more remarkable for their spare, simple production (in contradistinction to the lush ‘countrypolitan’ heritage of Nashville in the ’60s).

One is tempted to wonder if the political turmoil of the 1960s had something to do with the success of the ‘Gentle Giant’, as he was labeled, and his laid-back balladry and sentimentality. But then the ’60s were also notable for the ‘Folk Boom’ and the soft sounds of folk-derived popular music, and in fact that’s where Don Williams got his start: he was part of a trio called The Poco Seco Singers, with Lofton Cline and Susan Taylor:

The trio made records for Columbia, two of which – I Can Make It With You and Look What You’ve Done – became top 40 pop hits in the US.  But the group failed to build on that success and returned to playing in noisy dance halls and bars, which were anathema to Williams. He said later that “I swore I’d never paint myself into that corner again”, and the trio disbanded in 1971. (Dave Laing, The Guardian)

Don Williams ended up in Nashville, where he was signed as a writer by Allen Reynolds for Cowboy Jack’s publishing company. I would guess that it was Allen Reyolds (and likely Don himself) who was responsible for the tasteful, laconic style of production that illuminated Don’s gentle voice without overwhelming it, placing the emphasis on the lyrics, which Bill Friskics-Warren of The New York Times describes as “plain-spoken material extolling the virtues of romantic commitment.” He continues,

Singing in a warm, undulating baritone, [Don Williams] made marital fidelity not just appealing but sexy — as exciting, in its way, as the themes of cheating and running around that defined the classic honky-tonk music of the 1950s and ’60s. . .

“I Believe in You,” a gently cantering ballad in a similarly intimate vein written by Roger Cook and Sam Hogin, spent two weeks at the top of the country chart and crossed over to the pop Top 40 in 1980. In the song’s chorus, after cataloging a series of ephemera in which he professed little or no faith, Mr. Williams, with unabashed sincerity, sang:

But I believe in love

I believe in babies

I believe in Mom and Dad

And I believe in you.

His unfussy aesthetic — at once simple and, in its elemental way, profound — would go on to influence, among others, the country singer-songwriters Alan Jackson, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Brad Paisley and Kathy Mattea.

Dave Laing in The Guardian adds,

He once described his music as “intensely simple”, but while his love songs were charming and often sentimental and his warm baritone voice was compared to that of [Jim] Reeves, he also found admirers among the rock music fraternity: both Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend recorded versions of his songs. . .

And, quoted by Kristin M. Hall in The Washington Post,

“Don Williams offered calm, beauty, and a sense of wistful peace that is in short supply these days,” Kyle Young, chief executive of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, said in a statement. “Everyone who makes country music with grace, intelligence, and ageless intent will do so while standing on the shoulders of this gentle giant.”

Don Williams was not an exciting performer. It was said that he did not really enjoy the roadwork that consumes so many country singers. I remember hearing from someone who had heard Don sing live (it might have been John Lincoln Wright), that he was meticulous at reproducing the style and sound of his records in concert, to the point that you could close your eyes and hear no difference. But the songs he chose, and the sincerity of his voice, still captivated listeners, both on record and live. Here he is only a few years ago, in 2013, singing “I Believe in You,” sounding appealingly just like the Don Williams of 1980:


Posted in Country History, Country News | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

September 11, 2001


By National Park Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Years rush by.  Memory recedes.  I’ve always remembered the anniversary of that terrible day, but this year I was preoccupied with the Saturday off the week before, the spider bite, Don Williams’s and John Cooke’s deaths, Number Two Son Nathan’s family coming over to spend a week or two while the house they just purchased undergoes repair, and other ongoing minutia.

Which of course is as it should be, but I regret for the first Saturday-close-to-the-anniversary not playing Alan Jackson’s memorable lament, “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?”  Maybe next week, but now in recompense:

It was not the beginning of The Long War against the Islamists, but the day it broke into our national consciousness in an awful way.  Just remember: it’s not over.  /CL

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The Annual Fall Football Chopping Block

Harvard AthleticsEvery fall Harvard Football cuts into some Hillbilly shows.  The Pre-Game Show is usually a half-hour before game time (except for the Yale game, which is an hour).  This year HAH will be curtailed at 11:30 AM for a record five times (why? maybe more games are being televised).  For late risers and those of you in earlier time zones, remember that you can record HAH and listen whenever you like.  That goes for all of you, of course; see HERE.

Football Airtimes 2017

* Sat 16Sep:  at Rhode Island—Pre-game 12:30 pm, game 1:00 pm
(HAH ends at 12:30)

* Sat 23Sep:  vs. Brown—Pre-game 11:30 pm, game 12 noon.
(HAH ends at 11:30)

* Sat 30Sep:  at Georgetown—Pre-game 1:30 pm, game 2:00 pm
(No effect on HAH)

* Sat 7Oct:  at Cornell —Pre-game at 1:00 pm, game at 1:30 pm
(No effect on HAH)

* Sat 14Oct:  vs. Lafayette—Pre-game at 11:30 am, game at 12 noon
(HAH ends at 11:30)

* Fri 20Oct:  vs. Princeton—Night Game: Pre-game at 7:00 pm, game at 7:30 pm
(No effect on HAH)

* Sat 28Oct:  vs. Dartmouth—Pre-game at 11:30 am, game at 12 noon
(HAH ends at 11:30)

* Sat 4Nov:  at Columbia—Pre-game at 12:30 pm, game at 1:00 pm
(HAH ends at 12:30 pm)

* Sat 11Nov:  vs. Penn—Pre-game at 11:30 pm, game at 12 noon
(HAH ends at 11:30 pm)

* Sat 18Nov:  at Yale—(133rd playing of The Game)
Pre-game (1 hour long) starts at 11:30 am, game at 12:30 pm
(HAH ends at 11:30)

Posted in Administrivia, Program Notes, Radio Talk | Tagged | 2 Comments