Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Guthrie Family Rides Again concert coming to Ottawa and Montreal; Arlo Guthrie – Tales of ’69; Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion – Folksong

The Guthrie Family Rides Again concert tour is coming to Ottawa (October 28) and Montreal (October 29) with Arlo Guthrie, his children and grandchildren.

Arlo, son of the legendary Woody Guthrie, has become a folk legend in his own right over the past four decades. He’s a brilliant performer and a longtime friend of Folk Roots/Folk Branches. His last concert in Montreal – December 6, 1996 – was a Folk Roots/Folk Branches presentation and he was a guest on the show twice, in 1998 and 2004, in interviews recorded during the Ottawa Folk Festival. I’ve laughed harder listening to Arlo tell stories than I ever have listening to any standup comedian.

Joining Arlo for this concert are his son, Abe Guthrie, who played keyboards with Arlo at the 1996 concert; his daughter, Cathy Guthrie, whose duo Folk Uke – with Willie Nelson’s daughter Amy – has been heard on Folk Roots/Folk Branches; his daughter and son-in-law, Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion, who I booked at the Champlain Valley Folk Festival back in 2001 and who have also been guests on Folk Roots/Folk Branches; his daughter, Annie Guthrie; and a bunch of fourth generation Guthries – Woody’s great-grandchildren.

I expect amazing, memorable concerts.

The Ottawa concert, a fundraiser for the Ottawa Folk Festival, is Wednesday, October 28, 8:00 pm, at the Dominion Chalmers United Church, 355 Cooper Street. Call the Ottawa Folk Festival at 613-230-8234 for tickets.

The Montreal concert is Thursday, October 29, at the Outremont Theatre, 1248 Bernard West. Call Hello Darlin’ Productions at 514-524-9225 for tickets.

Arlo and Sarah Lee and Johnny have recently released concert recordings.

Tales of ‘69
Rising Son

In the summer of 1969, just before performing at Woodstock, and just before the release of the movie version of Alice’s Restaurant, an Arlo Guthrie concert was recorded and the tapes sat in Arlo’s archives for nearly 40 years. It’s a trip back to a trippy time – there are multiple instances of the word ‘groovy’ – that will be best appreciated by people my age and older who have some memory of the culture and politics and appreciate early Arlo albums like Alice’s Restaurant, Arlo, Running Down the Road and Washington County.

Some of the material is familiar. “The Unbelievable Motorcycle Tale” is a shaggy dog version of “The Motorcycle Song”; “Coming Into Los Angeles” was a Woodstock hit; and “You Would Just Drop By” later surfaced on Washington County, my favourite of Arlo’s early albums.

Then there’s a version of “Alice’s Restaurant” unlike any I’ve ever heard before that has nothing to do with picking up the garbage or sitting on the Group W bench. This version, apparently one of three that Arlo was doing back in the day, involves rainbow-coloured roaches, American, Russian and Chinese scientists and politicians and everyone getting bombed. It’s hilarious, but like I mentioned, best appreciated by those who’ll understand the cultural and political references. You kind of need to know who people like Lyndon and Hubert were.

There are also three of Arlo’s songs from that era – “If Ever I Should See the Mountain,” “Road to Everywhere” and “Hurry to Me” – that have never been released before and that have a kind of folk-raga feel to them.

Rte. 8

Folksong is a two-disc package documenting a concert that Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion did at the Tales from the Tavern concert series in Santa Ynez, California in 2008. The first disc is an audio CD and the second is a DVD with all but one of the CD’s songs and three that aren’t on the CD.

Sarah Lee and Johnny showed a lot of promise when I brought them to the Champlain Valley Folk Festival eight years ago. In the years since, they’ve matured as songwriters and have learned to blend their voices in beautiful harmonies. Sarah Lee has also inherited her father and grandfather’s storytelling talents and is utterly charming introing “Exit 49” with a with an Arlo-worthy monologue.

All but the title track were written by Sarah Lee and/or Johnny. “Folksong” is a set of Woody's lyrics, circa 1950, from the Woody Guthrie Archives in which they explain to each other how to write a folksong. In a moment best appreciated on the DVD, their young daughter, Olivia, joins them on stage to sing the chorus.

--Mike Regenstreif

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

This week in Folk Roots/Folk Branches history (September 29-October 5)

Folk Roots/Folk Branches with Mike Regenstreif was a Thursday tradition on CKUT in Montreal for nearly 14 years from February 3, 1994 until August 30, 2007. Folk Roots/Folk Branches continued as occasional features on CKUT and is now also a blog. Here’s the fifth instalment of “This week in Folk Roots/Folk Branches,” a weekly look back continuing through next August at some of the most notable guests, features and moments in Folk Roots/Folk Branches history.

September 29, 1994: Show theme- Songs of the Old West: Real and Mythological.
October 5, 1995: Extended feature- Dave Van Ronk.
October 1, 1998: Guest- Arlo Guthrie.
September 30, 1999: Guest- Bill Morrissey.
October 4, 2001: Guest- Guy Clark.
October 3, 2002: Guest- Michele Greene.
September 30, 2004: Guests- Kevin House, Arlo Guthrie.
September 29, 2005: Guests- Dave Clarke & Ellen Shizgal of Steel Rail.
October 4, 2007 (Folk Roots/Folk Branches feature): Songs of Kris Kristofferson.

Pictured: Arlo Guthrie, guest on FR/FB this week in 1998 and 2004, and me backstage at his Folk Roots/Folk Branches concert that I produced at the Concordia Concert Hall on December 6, 1996.

--Mike Regenstreif

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

This week in Folk Roots/Folk Branches history (September 22-28)

Folk Roots/Folk Branches with Mike Regenstreif was a Thursday tradition on CKUT in Montreal for nearly 14 years from February 3, 1994 until August 30, 2007. Folk Roots/Folk Branches continued as occasional features on CKUT and is now also a blog. Here’s the fourth instalment of “This week in Folk Roots/Folk Branches,” a weekly look back continuing through next August at some of the most notable guests, features and moments in Folk Roots/Folk Branches history.

September 22, 1994: Extended feature- Nancy White.
September 26, 1996: Show theme- A tribute to Woody Guthrie.
September 24, 1998: Extended feature- Robert Johnson.
September 23, 1999: Guest- Martin Grosswendt.
September 26, 2002: Guests- Jack Nissenson & Stephanie Beneteau.
September 23, 2004: Leonard Cohen Special with guests Judy Collins and Perla Batalla.
September 22, 2005: Show theme- The folk roots of Bob Dylan.
September 28, 2006: Guest- Eve Goldberg.
September 27, 2007 (Folk Roots/Folk Branches feature): Songs inspired by the devastation of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina.
September 25, 2008 (Folk Roots/Folk Branches feature): Songs of Son House.

--Mike Regenstreif

Monday, September 21, 2009

Woody Guthrie -- My Dusty Road

My Dusty Road

In 1944, in a six-day recording marathon while home from the merchant marine, Woody Guthrie recorded about 250 songs, some solo and lots with backup from fellow folksinger and merchant marine buddy Cisco Houston and Sonny Terry, the great blues harmonica player. They recorded Woody’s songs as well as traditional folksongs in his repertoire and songs he picked up from various sources like the Carter Family or the Delmore Brothers.

Because of a contract dispute between Moe Asch and a business partner named Bob Harris, many of the recordings have been issued and reissued many times on Asch’s Folkways Records and later on Smithsonian Folkways, as well as Harris’ Stinson label and a multitude of other labels over the years who have licensed the Stinson recordings. Back in the early years of CD reissues, I reviewed a bunch of Stinson albums, including ones with a lot of Guthrie material, in Sing Out! Magazine.

Several years ago, some pristine Stinson masters from those sessions were discovered and they allow us to hear Woody with an unprecedented sound quality. This 4-CD set presents 54 songs from those sessions, including six tracks that have never been released before. Although I’ve been listening to previous releases of most of this material for most of my life, listening to this set is almost like hearing Woody and these songs for the first time.

The four CDs are programmed thematically.

The first disc, Woody’s “Greatest” Hits, includes many of Woody’s best known classics including such essential songs as “This Land is Your Land,” “Pretty Boy Floyd,” “The Sinking of the Reuben James,” “Jesus Christ” and “Hard Travelin’.” There is also a previously unreleased original called “Bad Repetation.”

The second disc, Woody’s Roots, is filled with traditional folksongs like “Stackolee” and “John Henry”; Carter Family songs like “Worried Man Blues” and “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone”; and cowboy songs like “Chisholm Trail” and Woody’s definitive version of “Buffalo Skinners.”

The third disc, Woody the Agitator, includes many of Woody’s union songs like “Gonna Roll the Union On” and “Union Burying Ground”; anti-discrimination songs like “Hangknot, Slipknot” and “Harriet Tubman’s Ballad,” a tribute to the great conductor of the Underground Railroad; and Second World War rallying songs like “Tear the Fascists Down” and “When the Yanks Go Marching In.” The set includes the previously-unreleased “You Can Hear My Whistle Blow,” inspired by Woody and Cisco’s wartime service in the merchant marine.

The final disc, Woody, Cisco and Sonny, features the three combining on a set of traditional songs, country instrumentals and hoedown tunes. There are three previously unreleased tracks in this set including, “Guitar Rag,” the infectious instrumental usually known as “Steel Guitar Rag,” but here featuring Woody and Cisco banging their guitars and Sonny blowing hard on his harp,” “Brown’s Ferry Blues,” a great old Delmore Brothers song from the 1930s, and “Sonn’s Flight,” a harmonica tune with Sonny front and centre.

My Dusty Road is a vitally important Woody Guthrie collection.

A personal note: The centrality of Sonny Terry to these recordings reminds me that Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee were the first people I ever got to know who also knew Woody. I had become fascinated with Woody and when I was 15 or 16, in 1969 or ’70, they were playing a four- or five-night gig at the Back Door in Montreal. On the first or second night I told them I was interested in hearing about Woody and they sat with me several times that week talking about Woody and themselves in the 1940s. Unfortunately, when I produced some concerts for them in 1977, they would no longer sit in the same room together, except on stage.

--Mike Regenstreif

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Susan McKeown & Lorin Sklamberg -- Saints & Tzadiks

Saints & Tzadiks
World Village

(This review is from the September 21, 2009 issue of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin.)

I recently wrote about superb collaboration between trumpeter Frank London and singer Lorin Sklamberg – both of the Klezmatics – on Tsuker-zis, an album of Chasidic religious songs. Here is another superb collaboration of Sklamberg’s, this time with the sublime Irish Celtic singer Susan McKeown.

This is not the first time the pair has worked together. Several years ago, when the Klezmatics recorded Wonder Wheel, their Grammy Award-winning settings of Woody Guthrie’s Jewish-themed songs, McKeown sang duets with Sklamberg on several songs that called for a woman’s voice.

On Saints & Tzadiks, Sklamberg and McKeown take Jewish folksongs in Yiddish and Irish folksongs in Gaelic or English and mix them together, seamlessly singing in the language of their own and each other’s cultural heritage, occasionally mixing the languages into the same song – all to stunning results on each of the dozen selections. The CD booklet, by the way, places English translations next to the Yiddish and Gaelic lyrics so that not understanding either language is no hindrance to enjoying the album.

Some of these songs, like “My Little Belly,” a hypochondriac’s litany of woes sung in Yiddish, the bilingual Yiddish-English version of “The Rattlin’ Bog,” or “The Hag with the Money,” sung in Gaelic, are a lot of fun. Other’s, like “Buenos Aires,” about Jewish girls from Warsaw being sold into white slavery during the First World War, or “The Dark Slender Boy,” sung by Sklamberg in English and McKeown in Gaelic, are beautiful and poignant.

The album’s masterpiece is a song called “Prayer for the Dead,” which weaves together verses from “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye” with a Yiddish lament for dead soldiers dating from the First World War, and a dirge dating from a millennium ago that is partly in Latin and partly in Irish Gaelic, forming a universal prayer for all who have been lost to war and for a world without such killing and dying.

Saints and Tzadiks is one of the finest albums of the year.

--Mike Regenstreif

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mary Travers 1936-2009

I’m sad to report that Mary Travers passed away tonight at age 72. She’d been battling leukemia for several years.

Mary, of course, was one-third of Peter, Paul and Mary with Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey. Of all the folk-boom groups, Peter, Paul and Mary were the most enduring and the one that I’ve always continued listening to.

I didn’t really know Mary very well. Noel introduced us backstage at a concert in Montreal in the early-1980s and I met her a few more times in later years. She was always very gracious.

--Mike Regenstreif

Here’s a message from Peter Yarrow:

"Surrounded by love with a spirit of quiet, grateful, celebration amongst many friends who had gathered to be with her, Mary chose to leave us a few minutes before 7:30 pm, this evening.

She was in no pain and was able to understand and respond to spoken words even up to some time late in the afternoon, just a few hours before her pasing.

I was able to convey the thoughts, messages of appreciation and love, from many of you who contacted me.

It was an honor and a blessing to have been with Mary in this last, powerful chapter in her life. She was Mary to a "T" until the end, nodding yesterday when asked if she wanted to go shopping with the girls at the Mall, gently (but clearly) slapping away the arm of a nurse who didn't stop doing something to Mary when she asked her not to (all this with her eyes unopened). I could sense her delight when I came to sit with her, massage her fingers as I always did on tour, and tell her all the things worth saying to express my love, for quite a long period of time during the day.

She was a giant of a person, in spirit and heart, till the end. Missing her has only just begun.

Love to you all,


Buffy Sainte-Marie is coming to Montreal

Buffy Sainte-Marie is returning to Montreal as part of POP Montreal on Friday, October 2, 8:00 pm (doors open at 7:00), at Eglise St. Jean Baptiste, 309 Rachel East. Call Hello Darlin’ Productions at 514-524-9225 to reserve tickets.

Here’s a Montreal Gazette review I wrote about a 2001 Buffy Sainte-Marie concert at the Spectrum.

Buffy still moves fans

By Mike Regenstreif
Montreal Gazette – June 22, 2001

Buffy Sainte-Marie has covered a lot of musical ground over the past four decades. From her first days in the folk coffee houses of the early-1960s to accepting an Oscar for writing Up Where We Belong from An Officer and a Gentleman.

Along the way she's done long stints with Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street and been one of the most prolific figures in aboriginal culture.

All of those facets of Sainte-Marie's career were on display last night at the Spectrum as she performed the closing concert of Montreal's First Peoples' Festival.

Yesterday was National Aboriginal Day in Canada, but as Sainte-Marie joked early on, "every day is Aboriginal Day for some of us."

Alternating between acoustic guitar and electric keyboard, Sainte-Marie spent the evening moving from folk music to rockers, from love songs to kid songs, to socially conscious pieces that reflected her long years of activism in native causes in Canada and the United States.

As a veteran performer, Sainte-Marie knew how to pace the concert, drawing the audience in with crowd pleasing hits like Up Where We Belong and Until Its Time For You To Go and then moving them with songs like Floyd Westerman's Relocation Blues, a gripping and emotional song about the abuse suffered by native children in residential schools.

Sainte-Marie also did a much lighter song about kids, the delightful That's What Little Kids Do, from her Sesame Street days.

Another moving moment in the concert came when Sainte-Marie talked about the innocence of the early-'60s, of trading songs with other young, socially-aware songwriters like Phil Ochs and Peter LaFarge before she launched into a compelling version of Universal Soldier.

Although the song reflects a youthful idealism, it also seems as valid today as it did 35 years ago.

In addition to the familiar songs, Sainte-Marie also performed some new material, including the beautiful This Love Goes On, which, she explained, was a song that takes her back to her own Cree community in Saskatchewan.

A couple of Sainte-Marie's songs, including the hook-filled toe-tapper, He's an Indian Cowboy in the Rodeo, and Darling Don't Cry When I Leave the USA, effectively incorporated Pow Wow chants and drum rhythms.

Sainte-Marie also pleased the crowd when she put down her guitar and played the traditional Cripple Creek on the one-stringed mouth bow, a primitive but compelling instrument whose sound she controlled with the force of her breathing.

--Mike Regenstreif

This week in Folk Roots/Folk Branches history (September 15-21)

Folk Roots/Folk Branches with Mike Regenstreif was a Thursday tradition on CKUT in Montreal for nearly 14 years from February 3, 1994 until August 30, 2007. Folk Roots/Folk Branches continued as occasional features on CKUT and is now also a blog. Here’s the third instalment of “This week in Folk Roots/Folk Branches,” a weekly look back continuing through next August at some of the most notable guests, features and moments in Folk Roots/Folk Branches history.

September 21, 1995: Extended feature- “Summer’s almost gone, winter’s comin’ on.”
September 18, 1997: Show theme- The Anthology of American Folk Music.
September 17, 1998: Guest- Jeff Warschauer.
September 16, 1999: Guest- Tom Mitchell.
September 21, 2000: Guests- Last Forever (Dick Connette & Sonya Cohen).
September 20, 2001: Guest- Jesse Winchester.
September 21, 2006: Guest- Angela Desveaux.
September 13, 2007 (Folk Roots/Folk Branches feature): Guest- Michael Jerome Browne.

Pictured: Tom Mitchell and me at the 1999 Champlain Valley Folk Festival where the interview heard on September 16, 1999 was recorded.

--Mike Regenstreif

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Tom Russell -- Blood and Candle Smoke

Blood and Candle Smoke
Shout! Factory

OK, I know I’ve said it before –- like in the essay I wrote last year for The Tom Russell Anthology: Veteran’s Day booklet -- but it bears repeating: I think Tom Russell is the finest singer-songwriter of my generation; the generation 10 to 15 years younger than Bob Dylan, that walked in his footsteps through the streets of Greenwich Village, that went back and listened to the same music from old weird America that he listened to, and that went to the University of Staying-up-all-night-on-Dave-Van-Ronk’s-couch. I’ve thought that about Tom Russell for the better part of 25 years and I’m as convinced of that now, as I keep listening to Blood and Candle Smoke, a state-of-the-art album, as I’ve ever been.

From the dawn of his career, Tom has always delivered a set of superbly-crafted songs on each of his albums. On many of them, he’s also delivered carefully constructed arrangements that color the songs beautifully. In terms of the songwriting craftsmanship, these 12 songs stand with Tom’s best while the arrangements –- featuring backing from members of Calexico and several others, including the sublime harmonies of Gretchen Peters -– and production values take his studio work to their highest heights yet.

In 1969, the Vietnam War raged on, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon, and half a million people showed up for a three-day music festival in the Catskills. While all that was going on, the young Tom Russell, armed with his newly-minted degree in criminology, went on a teaching assignment in Nigeria. That sets the scene for the Calexico rhythms and mariachi trumpet that pulls us into this album and never lets go as we hear Tom remember those days in a hard place “East of Woodstock, West of Vietnam.

Other killer songs tell us about the Santa Ana winds, those hot, dry winds that set the golden mansions of paradise on fire every year, or about what it’s like to stare down the barrel of a gun in desperate places ranging from African warzones to depressing lumber camp bars in Canada.

The song “Nina Simone” references the great blues-jazz-folk singer but it’s not about Nina Simone per se. It’s about finding what you need in a voice that understands. Maybe for Tom in a bar in San Cristóbal, it was the voice of Nina Simone on the juke box. I know I’ve heard Nina Simone cut through to my soul when she sings about being “lost in the rain in Juarez” in a way I think Dylan would appreciate. Sometimes my “Nina Simones” have been Rosalie Sorrels or Billie Holiday or a dozen other singers who understand.

And “The Most Dangerous Woman in America” isn’t just about Mother Jones, the great labor organizer. It’s also about the sons or grandsons or great-grandsons of the miners she organized a century ago who still live marginal lives that can lead them into violence.

“Guadalupe” is one of those very rare songs that that reveals new layers of understanding with every hearing. I’m not necessarily talking about new layers of understanding of what Tom may have been getting at about himself when he wrote it. I’m talking about we, the listeners, hearing and understanding our own truths and about our own quests through the filter of Tom’s words. There are some Leonard Cohen songs that work like that.

In my essay for The Tom Russell Anthology: Veteran’s Day booklet I talked about some of the songs Tom’s written over the years about the ending of love relationships and predicted at the end that, with Tom having found a new bride, we’d hear a different kind of love song from him. The beautiful “Finding You,” written for Nadine, fulfills that prediction.

Sonically, it’s easy just to get caught up in the southwestern creativity of these arrangements. Every note played by every musician adds something to the magic of Blood and Candle Smoke. But still, for me, a Tom Russell album comes back to the songs – and like I can’t stop saying, I think he’s the finest singer-songwriter of my generation.

Blood and Candle Smoke will be released on September 15.

--Mike Regenstreif

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

This week in Folk Roots/Folk Branches history (September 8-14)

Folk Roots/Folk Branches with Mike Regenstreif was a Thursday tradition on CKUT in Montreal for nearly 14 years from February 3, 1994 until August 30, 2007. Folk Roots/Folk Branches continued as occasional features on CKUT and is now also a blog. Here’s the second instalment of “This week in Folk Roots/Folk Branches,” a weekly look back continuing through next August at some of the most notable guests, features and moments in Folk Roots/Folk Branches history.

September 14, 1995: Show theme- A tribute to the first 10 years of Red House Records.
September 12, 1996: Guests- Kate & Anna McGarrigle.
September 10, 1998: Guests- Hart Rouge; Martin Simpson.
September 9, 1999: Guest- Michael Jerling.
September 14, 2000: Guest- Jimmy LaFave.
September 13, 2001: Songs of hope, contemplation and catharsis.
September 9, 2004: Guest- Judy Collins.
September 8, 2005: Guests- Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion.
September 13, 2007 (Folk Roots/Folk Branches feature): Guest- Ray Bonneville.

Pictured: Ray Bonneville and me during a workshop I hosted at the 2009 Ottawa Folk Festival.

--Mike Regenstreif

Monday, September 7, 2009

Little Princess: Tim Sparks Plays Naftule Brandwein

Tim Sparks
Little Princess: Tim Sparks Plays Naftule Brandwein

(This review was published in the September 7, 2009 issue of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin.)

Naftule Brandwein, who came to America in 1908 and became known as the “King of the Klezmer Clarinet,” was, arguably, the greatest of the first generation klezmer musicians in the New World. His 78 RPM recordings, now reissued on CD, have provided inspiration and tunes to countless klezmer revival bands in recent years.

This set of 10 Brandwein pieces is the fourth excursion into Jewish music by Tim Sparks, a highly innovative guitarist from Minnesota best known for his recordings of folk, jazz and blues. Working with bassist Greg Cohen –- known for his work with Tom Waits –- and Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista, Sparks has done a superb job of reimagining music composed for the clarinet as finger-style guitar pieces.

Owing to the origin of the music, and certainly to the contributions of the percussionist, there’s an Eastern Europe-meets-South America groove to many of these tunes. These are not traditional klezmer interpretations, but it is a fine album of Jewish music that will have great appeal to lovers of sublime acoustic guitar playing.

--Mike Regenstreif

Beyond the Pale -- Postcards

Beyond the Pale

(This review was published in the September 7, 2009 issue of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin.)

Postcards is the third CD by Beyond the Pale, the Toronto-based klezmer band led by mandolinist Eric Stein, the artistic director of Ashkenaz, Toronto’s biennial festival of Yiddish
and Jewish culture.

In addition to Stein, Beyond the Pale also features two violinists, Bogdan Djukic and Aleksander Gajic, both of whom were established classical musicians in their native Yugoslavia; accordionist Milos Popovic, who also began his career in Yugoslavia; clarinetist Martin van de Ven, a former member of the Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band; and bassist Bret Higgins.

While most of the album is instrumental, Israeli vocalist Vira Lozinsky joins them for three songs including “An Old Legend,” which combines a traditional Romanian tune with new Yiddish lyrics in a swinging arrangement that features Stein on cimbalom, a type of hammered dulcimer.

Whether playing up tempo toe-tappers like “Magura,” or slower, contemplative pieces like “Meditation,” a Chassidic nign, Beyond the Pale’s creative arrangements never fail to

Half of the tunes were written by members of the band and they reflect the various musical backgrounds of the composers. Stein’s “Split Decision” has a throbbing Eastern European, almost classical, groove that variously brings each of the various musicians to the fore for riveting solos. “Back to the Beginning” is in an intense piece characterized by shifting moods that was written by Gajic during the NATO bombing campaign in Belgrade in 1999.

--Mike Regenstreif

Frank London & Lorin Sklamberg -- Tsuker-zis


Frank London & Lorin Sklamberg

(This review was published in the September 7, 2009 issue of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin.)

Frank London – who plays trumpet, alto horn, flugelhorn and harmonium – and singer-accordionist Lorin Sklamberg have been mainstays of the Klezmatics, one of the most essential bands of the klezmer revival, since the group’s inception more than two decades ago.

London and Sklamberg are both musically active in groups and collaborations beyond the Klezmatics and this is the third in a series of the pair’s collaborations on religious songs they’ve adapted from various Chassidic traditions. The first, Nigunim, focused on wordless melodies, while the second, The Zmiros Project, with keyboardist Rob Schwimmer, was Sabbath songs. Tsuker-zis adapts songs and prayers associated with specific holidays and festivals including Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Passover and Chanukah.

London and Sklamberg use a remarkably diverse musical palette in these adaptations. You can hear the influence of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis in London’s playing on their deeply contemplative version of “Our Parent, Our Sovereign (Ovinu Malkeynu),” from the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur liturgies. A joyous Passover song with an impossibly long title, “Mighty, Blessed, Great, Prominent, Glorious, Ancient, Meritorious, Righteous, Pure, Unique, Powerful, Learned, King, Enlightened, Exalted, Brave, Redeemer, Just, Holy, Merciful, Almighty, Omnipotent is Our God,” has a klezmer-meets-ska arrangement with noisy, but somehow suitable, electronic effects.

In the best folk music tradition, these songs combine something that seems very familiar with something that is somehow wonderfully weird.

Special credit also needs to be given to the superb musicians -– guitarist Knox Chandler, Armenian oud virtuoso Ara Dinkjian and Indian percussionist Deep Singh –- who join London and Sklamberg on this recording.

--Mike Regenstreif

Sunday, September 6, 2009

CKUT Bluegrass & Country hours

Sunday September 6, 2009 – 7:00-9:00 pm

I made a rare return to live radio to guest-host the Bluegrass Ramblings and Country Classics hours on CKUT (90.3 FM in Montreal).

This program is available as a podcast (for two months) for streaming or downloading at

The program begins four seconds into the download.

Hello, Stranger (Compass)
CHARLIE HADEN featuring THE HADEN TRIPLETS- Single Girl, Married Girl
Charlie Haden Family & Friends: Rambling Boy (Decca)
STEVE MARTIN- Hoedown at Alice’s
The Crow (Rounder)

Loudon Wainwright III performs Thursday, October 1, 8:00 pm, at the Ukrainian Federation, 5213 Hutchison, during Pop Montreal. Call Hello Darlin’ Productions at 514-524-9225 for info or tickets.

High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project (2nd Story)
High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project (2nd Story)
High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project (2nd Story)
LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III- Awful Hungry Hash House
High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project (2nd Story)

Peggy Seeger opens this season’s Wintergreen Concert Series on Friday, September 11, 8:00 pm, at Petit Campus, 57 Prince Arthur East. Call Hello Darlin’ Productions at 514-524-9225 to reserve tickets.

PEGGY SEEGER- Jenny’s Gone Away
Heading for Home (Appleseed)
PEGGY SEEGER- Poor Ellen Smith
Love Call Me Home (Appleseed)
PEGGY SEEGER- Little Birdie
Bring Me Home (Appleseed)

DIANA JONES- Better Times will Come
Better Times Will Come (Proper American)
TIM SPARKS- I’ll Fly Away
Sidewalk Blues (ToneWood)
JOEL MABUS- Charlie Birger
No Worries Now (Fossil)

Shearwater (Shearwater)
2nd Avenue Square Dance (Traditional Crossroads)

GADZUKES!- Sugar Moon
New & Used (Gadzukes)
Buena Vista (Red House)

WOODY GUTHRIE- Philadelphia Lawyer
My Dusty Road: Woody’s “Greatest Hits (Rounder)
WOODY GUTHRIE- Worried Man Blues
My Dusty Road: Woody’s Roots (Rounder)
WOODY GUTHRIE- You Can Hear My Whistle Blow
My Dusty Road: Woody the Agitator (Rounder)
My Dusty Road: Woody, Cisco and Sonny (Rounder)

TOM RUSSELL- Nina Simone
Blood and Candle Smoke (Shout! Factory)
JAMES TALLEY- World of Broken Hearts
Heartsong (Cimarron)
JAMES TALLEY- Give My Love to Marie
Journey – The Second Voyage (Cimarron)
TOM RUSSELL- The Most Dangerous Woman in America
Blood and Candle Smoke (Shout! Factory)

GUY CLARK- The Guitar
Somedays the Song Writes You (Dualtone)
The Loving Kind (Rounder)
Love Filling Station (Appleseed)

Viper of Melody (Bloodshot)
WATERMELON SLIM- Truck Drivin’ Songs
Escape from the Chicken Coop (NorthernBlues)

Friday, September 4, 2009

I’ll be live on CKUT on Sunday from 7-9 pm

I’ll be back on CKUT on Sunday guest-hosting the bluegrass/country block from 7-9 pm. The show will include segments on High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project by Loudon Wainwright III; Peggy Seeger; and My Dusty Road, the newly-released Woody Guthrie collection. There’ll also be great new music from Tom Russell, James Talley, Guy Clark and others.

You can listen live at or download the podcast version for two months after the show. I’ll post the podcast link and playlist after the show on Sunday night.

--Mike Regenstreif

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

This week in Folk Roots/Folk Branches history (September 1-7)

Folk Roots/Folk Branches with Mike Regenstreif was a Thursday tradition on CKUT in Montreal for nearly 14 years from February 3, 1994 until August 30, 2007. Folk Roots/Folk Branches continued as occasional features on CKUT and is now also a blog. Here’s the first instalment of “This week in Folk Roots/Folk Branches,” a weekly look back over the course of the next year at some of the most notable guests, features and moments in Folk Roots/Folk Branches history.

September 1, 1994: Extended feature- Doc Watson.
September 7, 1995: Extended feature- Kate Wolf.
September 4, 1997: Guest- Stephen Fearing.
September 3, 1998: Guest- Chuck Baker.
September 2, 1999: Guest- Mary McCaslin.
September 7, 2000: Guest- Odetta.
September 1, 2005: Guest- Utah Phillips.

Pictured: Utah Phillips and me at the 2005 Champlain Valley Folk Festival in Vermont. We had just recorded the interview to be heard the following September 1 and were about to go on stage together for a songwriters’ workshop I was hosting and Utah was participating in.

--Mike Regenstreif

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Loudon Wainwright III -- High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project

High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project
2nd Story Sound Records

I’ve known Loudon Wainwright III for a long time. I first met – and heard him –when he was married to my friend Kate McGarrigle in the early-to-mid-1970s. After the marriage broke up, I’d occasionally see him at Kate’s when he’d come up to Montreal to see Rufus and Martha (who both sing on this album) and booked him a time or two for concerts at the Golem when he’d come to town for those visits. In 2000, we sat down and did an extensive interview on Folk Roots/Folk Branches.

Like many others, I first heard Charlie Poole songs as done by the likes of Doc Watson, the New Lost City Ramblers and the Holy Modal Rounders; and by Poole himself on Harry Smith’s monumental Anthology of American Folk Music.

All that to say, I really had no idea –- until I saw some videos about this project that producer Dick Connette posted on Facebook -– that Loudon had an affinity for the music of –- or the character that was -– Charlie Poole, one of the early stars of country music, and a somewhat tragic figure who died in 1931 at just 39. But maybe I should have figured on the Wainwright-Poole connection. In his notes, Dick talks about “the humor, the clarity, the simplicity, the wise guy attitude, and, occasionally, an unapologetic emotional sincerity.” Dick could have used those words to describe the Loudon Wainwright that I’ve known for more than 35 years, but he was actually talking about what attracted Loudon to Poole.

This project, a tribute to Poole, is unlike anything Loudon has ever done before. About two-thirds of the 30 tracks on this beautifully packaged 2-CD set are songs Poole recorded back in the 1920s. The rest are new songs written by Loudon and/or Dick about Poole, or from a perspective he might have had.

The album opens with Loudon-as-Charlie singing the title song, “High Wide & Handsome.” At least I think he’s singing as Charlie as he strums the banjo in a solo performance. This is a song that also seems somewhat autobiographical.

From there, Loudon sings gets deep into the Poole repertoire with six creatively arranged numbers including “Took My Gal Out Walking” and “I’m the Man Who Rode the Mule Around the World,” and then a couple of Dick’s songs: “Old Ballyhoo,” a kind of dyslexic folksong, and “Little Waterloo,” which Dick adapted from Poole’s recording of “Leaving Home.” (I really like the way Dick takes old folksongs and makes them into something that is simultaneously new and old. He did a lot of that on two Last Forever albums with Sonya Cohen that I really like.)

The album continues like that: more Poole songs or songs written by Dick and/or Loudon. They’re all quite wonderful and varied in their arrangements and choice of back-up musicians and singers. Some of my other favourite songs include “The Deal,” a great version of Poole’s biggest hit, aka “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down,” which features some hot mandolin picking by Chris Thile; a jazzy take on “Moving Day” featuring great harmonies by the Roches; and a bluegrass-meets-jugband-and-jazz version of W.C. Handy’s “Ramblin’ Blues.”

There are also three terrific tracks in which Loudon retreats from the spotlight. “The Great Reaping Day” is an a cappella gospel song featuring lead vocals from Montreal’s own Chaim Tannenbaum along with Loudon, David Roche, Lucy Wainwright Roche, Maggie Roche and Suzzy Roche supplying sublime harmonies. “The Man in the Moon,” co-written by Loudon and Dick, has Maggie Roche singing as Poole’s wife, and “Ragtime Annie” is an instrumental that’s left to the virtuoso chops of fiddler Dana Lyn, mandolinist Chris Thile and guitarist Rob Moose. As well, Loudon and daughter, Lucy Wainwright Roche, do a lovely duet on "Beautiful," a gospel song that Poole performed but never recorded.

This is an exceptionally well done project. Kudos to Loudon, Dick and all of their collaborators.

Note: Loudon Wainwright III performs Thursday, October 1, 8:00 pm, at the Ukrainian Federation, 5213 Hutchison, during Pop Montreal. Call Hello Darlin’ Productions at 514-524-9225 for info or tickets.

--Mike Regenstreif