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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My Favorite Album of 2014. . . Was Released in 2010!

But I just discovered Richard Brandenburg this past fall.  I was listening to an album I got from a California artist named David Thom at the IBMA World of Bluegrass in Raleigh, a good album, which I enjoyed, but nothing surprising, until I came to a song called “My Way of Saying Goodbye.”  It was, on the face of it, a modest tale about chance encounter at a fireworks display, but it was a song that grabbed you by the collar and made you pay attention as it plumbed the depths of a lost love:

At the end of the summer I saw her
At the midway of the fair;
Stood on the hill for the fireworks;
She didn’t see me there.

For a moment she looked like a stranger,
Strolling so happy and free.
At the edge of her eyes was a remnant of pain
I knew had been caused by me. . .

Well, I was thinking of posting the whole lyric, but it’s not just a poem but a song, and it needs the soft, plaintive melody that harks back to a thousand old songs.  So you have to listen to find out what happens—or doesn’t.

I’ve found very little about Richard Brandenburg.  He lives in California, wears a cowboy hat sometimes, writes songs, and performs, his own and (judging from a couple of YouTube videos) old country songs.  The only recording I’ve found is this album from 2010 called Flickering Dreams.  He’s tied into the bluegrass community in California, and Kathy Kallick (guitar, vocals), Tony Marcus (fiddle), John Reischman (mandolin), and Matt Dudman (bass) join him on some of the songs.  Kathy produced the album.

Flickering Dreams is, to my ear, a country album, though the melodies remind me of old mountain bluegrass.  Richard sounds like a somewhat weary Lefty Frizell, with maybe a hint of Carter Stanley.  But Flickering Dreams is really a songwriter’s album; it’s the words that matter:

. . . if you don’t love me, I can’t change your heart,
And if you don’t want me, not much I can do;
Once together, forever apart,
Now I mean no part of nothin’ to you.
(“No Part of Nothing”)

They’re mostly about lost loves, old memories, and present regrets.  But there are familiar themes from old country songs, as in “Ashes and Dust,” where he returns to the old homestead:

. . . On the far side of this darkening valley,
Where the dogwood flowers cover the ground,
All the laughter and tears of my poor family’s years,
Fall and fade without making a sound.
(“Ashes and Dust”)

Transience becomes a repeated theme, as in “Mayflies”: “All that seems real, fast fades away.”  Even the rare upbeat “The Wave of the Past” is full of regret for home in Texas, as the singer haunts honky-tonks that play the “San Antonio Rose.”  A traditional-sounding bluegrass number that could have come right from the Stanleys in the ’60s, still bears an unmistakable Brandenburg melancholy:

I pretend to myself that your memory don’t haunt me,
I pretend to the world that I’m not constantly blue;
The best hours of my life were believing you want me,
I can’t bear to know it’ll never be true.
(“This Letter I Write”)

Indeed, a reflective sadness is the dominant mood of Richard Brandenburg’s writing.  Even the ostensibly comical “That Ain’t Gonna Happen Anymore” is tinged with regret:

Well I’m pretty sure I heard the stuff you had to say to me;
I oughta know, I used to hear you with great frequency.
But babe, we can’t make nothin’ better in the used-to-be
By shouting through the door—
That ain’t gonna happen anymore.

And it all comes back to another lost love.  In “If You Speak of Me” the singer imagines. . .

Some night, half-lit in the neon of some little bar,
You might hear some old song that reminds you of me.
Someone might think you look lonely, and ask if you are,
And you might turn and start talking, about what used to be. . .

He sings of riding “the trail” together, then “you rode off alone.”  So eventually, the song comes back to the bar,

And I wonder if you’ll speak of me well,
When the world you’re describing has faded away,
And become just some story you tell
In a dim little room to a stranger at the end of the day.

There’s more.  There’s a genuine train song, with yodeling (“Loving the Train”), but it too begins “We parted that night at the depot. . .”  It’s a sad song about “The train and that lonesome old whistle,” and the memories they bring.  But I guess it ends on a happy note, at least for train fans:

I get weary of the lonesome old whistle,
But I’ll never stop lovin’ the train.

I started this post a few months ago, and then put it aside.  I’ve been playing songs from Flickering Dreams on HAH for a while, but I knew that to write more I’d have to sit down and listen to the album all the way through.  You really have to pay attention to get the flavor of the writing, but the the way these songs draw you in can be emotionally draining; one at a time is enough.  That’s awfully high praise from a jaded old country DJ, who runs through new albums scrawling an X or a check by each song before moving on.


I was curious about the melodies, which seem so hauntingly familiar, yet somehow original.  In an interview with Rick Jamison, who hosts a blog called On Songwriting, Richard Brandenburg describes how the melody works itself into the song:

When you write an original song, which tends to come first: the lyrics or the music?
Well, they arrive at around the same time, though the words are usually first through the door.

Some evocative combination of words will resonate in my thoughts or feelings, and the potential song will have presented itself. I acknowledge it, I write something down, and from that point on it will clamor for my attention, waking or sleeping.

I have a couple of notebooks books full of such clamoring, unfinished songs with a few lines, or verses, or a chorus. And all with melodies; I can hardly write down words without hearing some sort of tune. I have no pages of lyrics waiting for a melody. It’s not mysterious at all. A melody will just emerge from how a spoken phrase sounds. It will change as the words do, and evolve through repetition, as the song develops. . .

As for the traditional feel of the songs, here’s a little more:

Your songwriting is evocative of an earlier, simpler time rooted in early country, folk and honky-tonk styles. Tell me more about that.
What I write evokes earlier styles because it’s not fundamentally different from them. I do listen primarily to “traditional” stuff, and respond in pretty much the same language, which has gone in and out of style commercially, but apart from a few idioms, not really changed. . .

Finally, for you songwriters out there:

What are the top three songwriting tips you would offer to aspiring songwriters?
1. Don’t pay too much attention to tips offered by people who write songs.

2. No, you won’t remember it: write it down.

3. Harlan Howard already wrote it.

The whole interview is HERE.  You can get a copy of  Flickering Dreams from CDBaby, HERE.


PS Here’s “Mayflies,” on KPFA:

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HA’ppenings: Wisewater Live on HAH, April 18th

I had never heard of Wisewater until I received an email from Kate Lee about promoting their upcoming area gigs on WHRB.  Kate described Wisewater as a “Nashville, TN-based contemporary folk trio”, at which point I was ready to turn the page (if there were pages in emails).  But then she went on,

The band consists of myself on vocals and fiddle, Harvard alum, Forrest O’Connor, on vocals and mandolin, and also Harvard alum, Jim Shirey, on guitar.  Wisewater has appeared several times this year on the Grand Ole Opry, and we’ve performed with artists like Emmylou Harris, Mary Gauthier, and Ricky Skaggs.  Forrest, son of legendary fiddler Mark O’Connor, is the Tennessee State mandolin champion.  I have performed on the CMA Shows for several years, and I’ve backed up artists such as Rod Stewart, Lady Antebellum, and Sara Evans on violin.

So I responded with a positive maybe—

Hillbilly at Harvard is not a folk show, but I hear some country in a couple of songs on your website (and in your resumes, of course!).  Let’s see how country you can get!

—to which Kate said,

How would Saturday April 18th in the morning sound? We could be in Cambridge then. And yes, country is definitely part of our sound.  A lot of the songs we do are ones I’ve cowritten with Pat Alger, a writer who has written country hits for Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Kathy Mattea, etc.

Which was good enough for me.  I don’t know Pat Alger personally, but he’s a colleague of our friend Jim Rooney, wrote “Small Town Saturday Night” for Hal Ketchum, and many other country songs.  From what I’ve heard, Wisewater is certainly straddling a wide divide between the folkie/Americana and the country/bluegrass worlds (see the videos on their website, here).  They’ll be visiting this Saturday between 10 AM and noon, so let’s see how far we can push them over to the country side. /CL

Wisewater has three local appearances; check ’em out!

• Thursday, April 16, 8 PM: At The Center for the Arts in Natick (14 Summer St.), opening for Suzy Bogguss (!)

• Sunday, April 19, 5 PM: At Club Passim in Cambridge (47 Palmer St.).

• Friday, April 25, 8:30 PM: At the Paradise Cafe in Dedham (565 High St.).

You can get tickets and more information from their website.

Here’s a live-performance sample, “Black Creek” (complete with a lot of audience noise):

UPDATE: Had a lot of fun chatting with the three members of Wisewater (not ‘Stillwater’, as I found myself calling them), and enjoyed their music.  Jim, as I hope you heard, arrived sans guitar (inadvertently), but made his presence invaluable by finding the Wisewater CD that I had misplaced in another jewel box.

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Flash! HAH Listeners Drive Stanley Book Sales!

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HA’pennings: Another BBU Jam’n Weekend April 10-12 at The Colonial Inn

From the BBU website:

Jam’n Coming Your Way!
The Boston Bluegrass Union is pleased to present
Spring Jam’n Weekend 2015
April 10-12, 2015
at the historic Colonial Inn in Concord,MA.
Jam all weekend long or attend instructor-led jams and free workshops (with your paid registration).

The Spring Jam’n Weekend will be dedicated to bluegrass!

All jammers welcome at any level, from beginner to advanced. You can pick around the clock within the beautiful historic spaces of the Colonial Inn. The Spring Jam’n Weekend will begin Friday at 5 pm with 24-hour jamming through Sunday at 1 pm.

There will also be workshops in banjo, fiddle, mandolin, singing, etc. for different levels and instructor-led Directed Slow Jams for beginners.

Click here to purchase a ticket and reserve your spot.

More on the Boston Bluegrass Union website.

PS HAH favorite Dale Ann Bradley coming April 25th.  More soon!  /CL

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Under the Weather. . .

Weather 2015-04-03 at 9.24.57 PM

From Intellicast

Alas, I am sidelined with yet another bout of what I suppose is ‘the common cold’, except it seems remarkably uncommon to me.  I am a terrible patient.  They say, treat a cold and you’ll get better in a week; don’t treat it, and you’ll get better in seven days.  Well, as I write, it’s Day Five, and I’m giving in and staying home.  Last October, I was struck with one of these malaises, but came in anyway, because I had been out for two weeks traveling to Raleigh and Virginia.  That was the most unpleasant show I can remember.  Not this time!

So no Country Calendar, but I’ll put a few more events on the blog: tell your friends and neighbors to join me here.

And yes, the radar map is right: it’s going to rain tomorrow.  The weather always comes from the West—except when it doesn’t.  That’s all the forecast you need. /CL

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Oh Rats! I Forgot The Gibsons!

Back on logo-banner-2014Wednesday (18Mar) I got an email from Ken Irwin at Rounder reminding me that The Gibson Brothers are appearing at Johnny D’s on this coming Wednesday, the 25th.  But I neglected to print it out, so it didn’t make it into the Country Calendar folder, and in the hurly-burly of Saturday’s show, I completely forgot to mention this rare chance to hear the Gibsons in a small club. /CL

Here’s the announcement:

The Gibson Brothers To Perform At Johnny D’s on March 25
New Album Brotherhood  Released on February 24

On Wednesday, March 25, 2015, at 7:30 PM, acclaimed bluegrass band the Gibson Brothers will appear in concert at Johnny D’s, located at 17 Holland Street (Davis Square), Somerville, MA. Tickets are priced at $35.00, and are available from the venue’s website: Twisted Pine, a Boston-based bluegrass quintet, will open the show.

The Gibsons’ acclaimed new album, Brotherhood,  a loving homage to the brother duos that have inspired them since childhood, was released on February 24, 2015.
For Brotherhood, Eric and Leigh chose fifteen songs from country, bluegrass, and early rock ‘n’ roll brother acts, including some that will be familiar to most listeners, such as Phil and Don Everly; Charlie and Ira Louvin; Jim and Jesse McReynoldsGibsons-Brotherhood; and Carter and Ralph Stanley. The album also features covers of songs recorded by some lesser-known acts, including the Blue Sky Boys, the Church Brothers, and the York Brothers.

The material is familiar, yet in some ways, Brotherhood is an album of firsts. It’s the Gibson Brothers’ first album on Rounder Records, and their first covers project.

The band, which is led by guitarist Leigh Gibson and banjo player Eric Gibson, also includes longtime band members Mike Barber (bass) and Clayton Campbell (fiddle), and award-winning mandolin player and vocalist Jesse Brock, who joined the group in 2012.

“Suffice to say, if you had to choose to hear only one bluegrass band perform live in your entire life (and what a sad choice that would be — only one!), then this would be the band.” —No Depression

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HA’pennings: Michelle Canning Live on the 14th


Click on image for larger version.

Michelle Canning will be in the HAH studio this Saturday, the 14th.  Michelle is an award-winning banjo player and singer, leader of the band Michelle Canning and Rough Edges.  But there’s nothing rough about their edges.  From their bio:

A traditional five-piece band, Rough Edges includes Dan Bui, a graduate of Berklee College of Music, on mandolin, Cosmo Cavicchio, a past member of the Concord River Valley Boys, on up-right bass, T. Shaun Batho, formerly the band leader of Acoustic Blue, on guitar, and Conor Smith of the Boston-based bluegrass band Three Tall Pines on fiddle.

Michelle will be previewing an annual benefit concert she and the band do for the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, at the Chelmsford Elks Hall, 200 Littleton Rd, on Saturday, March 21st.  She has a new album out, and we might be able to hear a couple of songs on it, too.

For tickets to the “A Night on the Edge” concert, go here.  /CL

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Help for “Internet Radio” Listeners: Here’s the URL

WHRwhrb_logoB has a new and improved website, HERE.  Check out all the new features!

The address hasn’t changed, but apparently it affected “Internet Radio” users.  Yesterday a listener called to say she could access WHRB’s Internet stream and HAH on her computer, but not “On my Internet Radio.”  I guess there has been a change in the necessary URL (Internet address) you need to enter.  So for anyone using some kind of Internet Radio, here is the URL you should use:

Anyone accessing HAH via the stream can of course just click the Listen icon on the new Web page.  Be aware that, because of insane royalty requirements for stations streaming music on the Internet (but not for broadcasting, which royalties remain reasonable), there are a limited number of slots available, so get in early!  /CL

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The Empty Chair

"The Empty Chair"Back in August I came across a Guinness ad.  I don’t remember where I encountered it; maybe from the MacResource Forum, where people often post Internet flotsam and jetsam. Anyway, just today a friend who finally figured out how to access her Gmail account got the email I sent round at the time to friends and family, and reminded me of it.

The video was beautifully done, but it went way beyond a clever advert.  This was a statement of human connection, and beyond this, of our obligation to those who serve in our stead, in dangerous and distant parts of the world: “We sleep peaceably in our beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on our behalf” [quotation attributed to George Orwell by Washington Times writer Richard Grenier in 1993, but apparently a paraphrase—see here.]

Here’s the video:

Accompanying the video is this note:

The Empty Chair Guinness Commercial salutes those who serve and while they might be out of sight they are not out of mind. If you are ever looking for an easy way to pay respect to someone that serves in the military or community just buy them a beer or pay for their meal in a restaurant. They will be very grateful for your kind gesture and recognition of their service.

I think the melody in the background is the old hymn, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” Might be a similar one, but that’s what it sounds like to me. Here is a version Iris Dement recorded for the remake of the movie “True Grit,” which remake was a desecration of the original John Wayne classic, but ignore that. Just listen to Iris (that’s not her image on the video, by the way):

Iris-LifelineIris also recorded the song on a wonderful all-gospel album called Lifeline, here. /CL

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Thanks to the Boston Bluegrass Union . . .

. . . For another terrific Joe Val Festival!  And to think they managed to pull it off amidst a foot of snowfall Saturday night and Sunday morning, deterring attendees and sending some home Saturday for fear of being stranded.  But the bands were there (see previous post, here), mostly.  And the festival was in a hotel, where lucky fans were already ensconced, taking up lobbies and hallways with convivial jamming, and as it turned out, the roads by early Sunday were clear.  Whether overall attendance was down I don’t know, but it was not noticeable.

It never ceases to amaze me how many Festival attendees spend their time jamming—which is why they come, of course, but there’s an awful lot of Main Stage music that they miss.  Then, I missed all of the Showcase Stage acts, and a lot of other activity, so I guess that’s why it’s a Festival and not just a concert.

I did get downstairs Friday afternoon to see Rhonda Vincent, at the top of the bluegrass elite these days, gently lead a jam session with about 20 players.  As one person turned to me and said, “You won’t see this at a rock concert.”


Copyright © L. E. Joiner

Unfortunately, I had to leave before her 11 PM set on the Main Stage.  But we got a chance to chat, and she remembered appearing on Hillbilly at Harvard, which pleased me, as it was too many years ago.  Kathy Kallick remembered, too, though it must have been 14 years. Her California band, she said, complained about getting up to do a morning radio appearance, but were told by the gentleman who was shepherding them around, “This is an important show.”

Everyone has his own favorite moments at an event like this.  For me there was Danny Paisley and his hot traditional band playing one great song after another.  Danny had a cold, but carried on splendidly, with great good humor, like the trouper he is.  Then there was a perfectly luminous set by Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands.  I confess that, while I’ve played Laurie’s music for many years, I have perhaps taken it for granted.  Maybe it’s that the records don’t quite do her justice.  There’s something about a live performance, even from the middle of the auditorium, that can bring an artist into focus.  It just seemed to be a special moment.  I saw Jim Rooney after Laurie’s set, and he clearly felt it, too: “That alone was worth the price of admission,” he said; there might have been a tear in his eye.

Laurie came back with Kathy Kallick on Sunday for a wonderful set of songs from their Vern and Ray project: Laurie and Kathy Sing the Songs of Vern and Ray.  It was a great treat to hear these ladies resurrecting these (mostly) familiar songs they learned decades ago from Vern Williams and Ralaurie_kathyy Park, with their own stamp but completely true to the spirit of those two great Arkansans who brought real mountain music to California.  The album is terrific, a rich feast—go buy and savor it.

The one headline band that didn’t make it to the Festival, “snowed out” I assume because Logan Airport was closed, was The Del McCoury Band.  I was looking forward to seeing Del, but Dudley Connell and The Seldom Scene stepped into the breach to close out Sunday afternoon with an impromptu but marvelously entertaining succession of guests still at the Festival, like members of Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen, The Southern Grass, and others—Laurie and Tom Rozum even did a “palette-cleansing” mini-set of old-time songs.

It never fails to amaze me how the all-volunteer staff of the Boston Bluegrass Union manage to pull off such a large and complex event, that to the audience seems to go off without a hitch.  Of course there were probably hitches we didn’t know about.  When you see Stan or Gerry or Sheila heading off determindly with a cell phone at an ear, you figure something must be up.  But whatever it is, we innocents and bluegrass fans never learn.  /CL

PS Friday, 20Feb15: I planned to feature Laurie and Kathy’s Vern & Ray album tomorrow, along with others I acquired at the Festival, but alas I’ve been bitten by a nasty bug which leaves me coughing painfully, and hoarse.  So we’ll have to run some Generic Hours.  I’ll try to update the Calendar here on the blog tomorrow.

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