OKeh Records Revived

Posted January 11th, 2013 at 10:34 pm (UTC+0)
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The historic  OKeh record label — which famously recorded Louis Armstrong in his prime, among other jazz and blues greats — is being revived by Sony Masterworks. It won’t be a retro enterprise, but rather an effort to celebrate jazz (and jazz-related idioms) as world music.

What artists should the label be seeking out? What are your suggestions?

John Fullbright

Posted January 11th, 2013 at 8:17 pm (UTC+0)

By Katherine Cole

Today, legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie  is probably the most famous export from Okemah, Oklahoma. But don’t be surprised if one day soon 24-year-old  Grammy nominee John Fullbright’s name is also synonymous with that city.

John Fullbright (photo by Vicki Farmer)

It’s rare that an artist receives a Grammy nomination for their first release—but what about an artist who isn’t on a major label? Even rarer.  And a self funded project? Rarer still.  But that’s just what’s happened to John Fullbright. His Kickstarter funded first studio release, “From The Ground Up,” is up for the Best Americana Album Grammy.

When the 55th Annual Grammy Awards are handed out in Los Angeles on February 10th, Fullbright will be facing some tough competition. His project has been nominated alongside longtime star Bonnie Raitt’s “Slipstream, The Avett Brothers “The Carpenter, ” Mumford & Sons ” Babel  and the self titled debut from The Lumineers,  also nominated for the Best New Artist award.

John Fullbright grew up in a house full of music. In a recent interview, he told me that his parents had a diverse record collection and he listened to all kinds of music as a child. John started playing the piano at the age of five or six and later added the guitar.  On this record, he plays much of the guitar and organ parts and all of the harmonica and piano.
One of the standout tracks on “From The Ground Up” is “Gawd Above.” John says he wrote this one looking at the world through God’s eyes. It’s full of wit and power.

John Fullbright is not a household name (YET!), but don’t take that to mean that he’s unknown.  “From The Ground Up” was near the top of many critics 2012 Top Ten Album of the Year lists.  A busy touring schedule keeps John on the road through across the US and Europe,  playing in a mix of small clubs and huge arenas. I have a feeling the days that we’ll be seeing John Fullbright in a small pub are nearing an end, so grab the opportunity if you can! And if you can’t…there are lots of great videos available on his site and elsewhere.

Host of VOA's Roots and Branches, and world traveler extraordinaire! When I'm not listening to music, I'm probably talking about it or thinking about the next band I'm going to see. Or my next interview! Join me every week for the best in folk, bluegrass and all other forms of American roots music!

A Day To Remember

Posted January 11th, 2013 at 4:11 pm (UTC+0)
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by Ray McDonald

Tuesday of this week — January 8, 2013 — presented a convergence of three very different but significant events.

First, it was the  day that would have been Elvis Presley’s 78th birthday. “The King,” as he was known, was born in Tupelo, Mississippi on January 8, 1935, and moved to Memphis, Tennessee at age 13. He died at age 42 on August 16, 1977.  As they do every year, fans from all over the world gathered at his Graceland mansion Tuesday. Hundreds of Elvis devotees watched as 13-year-old Isabella Scott cut a birthday cake on the Graceland lawn. Isabella heads an Internet-based Elvis fan club with more than two-thousand members. In case you couldn’t make it, here’s a video of the celebration at Graceland.



January 8, 2013 also marked the 45th anniversary of one of pop music’s greatest songs. “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” was to be the beginning of a new phase of Otis Redding’s career. Instead, it became a memorial to his  genius. Otis, one of the most popular soul singers of his era,  had introduced himself to a new audience at the June, 1967 Monterey Pop Festival in California. The seeds for this song were planted as he relaxed on a houseboat that summer in Sausalito, a town in the San Francisco Bay area. Otis recorded the song in Memphis in November, 1967, adding overdubs on December 8. Two days later, he died in an airplane crash in Wisconsin. His record company rushed to release the single on January 8, 1968. The disc  featured Otis whistling at the end, which had only been meant as a placeholder. He had intended to add lyrics at a later date. “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” became his first number one pop hit, sold four million copies, and entered the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998. I was eight years old when I first heard it. It mesmerized me, and continues to haunt me to this day.



Finally, last Tuesday brought an out-of-nowhere surprise: David Bowie was back. The Rock Hall of Famer – who’s sold an estimated 140 million albums – virtually dropped from sight following his last live performance in 2006. On Tuesday, which also happened to be his 66th birthday, Bowie released “Where Are We Now?,” a wistful look back at his mid-70s sojourn in Berlin. Recorded in secret with his long-time collaborator Tony Visconti, it’s the lead single from his forthcoming album “The Next Day,” due in March. It already tops the iTunes album charts in 17 countries with advance orders.


Grammy Contender Kurt Elling Taps The Brill Building Sound

Posted January 10th, 2013 at 8:01 pm (UTC+0)
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By Doug Levine

It’s a new year and with it comes a slew of awards shows.  Now is it just me or are they doling out more and more trophies and plaques these days?  This month alone brings four major awards, mostly for film and television.   Of course, the Grammy Awards is still “music’s biggest night” of the year, with a star-studded production hosted by LL Cool J on February 10 in the works.   One of the jazz nominees to keep an eye on is singer Kurt Elling.

Another Grammy for Kurt Elling? (Concord Jazz)

Kurt Elling is no stranger to the Grammy Awards.  He’s been nominated a dozen times in the Best Jazz Vocal Album category, winning in 2009 for “Dedicated To You: Kurt Elling Sings The Music of Coltrane and Hartman.”   He’s a strong contender with his latest album, “1619 Broadway – The Brill Building Project.”

Some of the greatest tunes in pop history were composed at The Brill Building, a Manhattan landmark located just a few blocks north of Times Square.  In the early days it rivaled nearby Tin Pan Alley as a magnet for music publishers attracted to the low rent offered during the Depression.  Later, composers pursuing publishers moved in, and soon, there were songwriters, managers, producers and promoters on nearly every floor, making records and cutting deals.  Over the years, 1619 Broadway became a second home to Johnny Mercer, Neil Diamond, Leiber & Stoller, Laura Nyro and Carole King.  Burt Bacharach and Hal David composed “The Look of Love” there.  In this clip, Kurt Elling explains there’s no mistaking The Brill Building Sound.

Elling, a transplanted New Yorker originally from Chicago,  steered clear of the so-called “New York” songwriters: George and Ira Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart and Cole Porter.  He says, “I wanted to reach out for something different and the vast collection of songs coming out of the Brill Building seemed like a gold mine.”

One of those songs is Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me,” revived by countless pop, jazz and R&B stars, including Mr. Elling on his Grammy-nominated release “1619 Broadway – The Brill Building Project.”

Musical Brain Boost

Posted January 10th, 2013 at 6:18 pm (UTC+0)
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By Eric Felten

A new study published in Frontiers in Psychology has found that children who take up a musical instrument develop better language skills.

Which raises the question: Why does music build cognitive power? The researchers have a theory:

“Playing music requires continued monitoring of meaningful chunks of information… these chunks entail clusters of notes that are combined into meaningful melodic gestures and phrases.”

In other words, music is a language — with its own syntax and vocabularies. Work at learning it and you enhance your ability at other languages as well.

And The Winner Is…

Posted January 7th, 2013 at 5:41 pm (UTC+0)

by Ray McDonald

If you listened to music in 2012, you had a lot of company. Nielsen SoundScan and Nielsen BDS, the leading data information systems in the United States entertainment industry, just came out with their year-end sales figures. According to Nielsen’s David Bakula,  “Overall music purchases surpassed 1.65 billion units in 2012, up 3.1 percent versus the previous record high set in 2011.” Digital music is the primary sales driver, with album downloads up 14.1 percent, and digital tracks rising by 5.1 percent. For those among us who prefer something we can actually hold, well, the news is mixed: despite a drop of 12.8 percent, physical product such as compact discs is still the dominant album format.

So, who are the artists driving all these music sales? For the second consecutive year, Adele had the best-selling album in the United States.  Her blockbuster sophomore set  “21” finished 2012 with 4.41 million sales, after moving 5.82 million copies in 2011. It’s the first champion to repeat since SoundScan began tracking music sales in 1991. Last year, “21” also became the 21st album of the SoundScan era to top 10 million sales.



When Adele wasn’t setting fire to the charts, Taylor Swift took control. With songs riffing on her soap opera love life, Swift’s  fourth album “Red” sold more than 3.1 million copies in its first 10 weeks. This was the fourth time Taylor placed an album among the top three sellers of the year.

British boy band One Direction had both the 3rd and 5th best-selling albums of the year. Their debut album “Up All Night” sold 1.62 million copies and their second effort “Take Me Home,” sold 1.34 million copies. Folk-rockers Mumford & Sons finished fourth, as “Babel” sold 1.46 million copies. Interestingly, four of the year’s top five U-S album acts are British – a phenomenon I first addressed here.

Like your music in smaller doses? Here again, you’re in good company. Consumers downloaded a record 1.33 billion songs last year, up five percent from 2011’s 1.27 billion. Reigning atop the list is Australian singer-songwriter Gotye, who recorded his eccentric smash “Somebody That I Used To Know” in his parents’ house. It’s sold 6.8 million downloads. Helping move the merchandise was his eye-catching video, complete with an appearance from fellow vocalist Kimbra. To date, it’s attracted 363 million views on YouTube.



Hot on Gotye’s heels was Carly Rae Jepsen, a former “Canadian Idol” contestant who moved 6.47 million copies of “Call Me Maybe.”

Whether we watched videos on our mobile phones or snuggled up with a classic CD, we brought music into our lives on a grand scale in 2012…here’s hoping the new year brings even more highlights.



Patti Page, the Singing Rage

Posted January 4th, 2013 at 11:01 pm (UTC+0)

By Katherine Cole

Most of the obituaries for singer Patti Page, who died January 1st at 85,  included that famous nickname — one I vaguely remember from when I was very young. Very, very young. As I learned more about Ms. Page, it became obvious that her pet name was a fitting one.   Can you think of a better way to describe a woman who sold more than 100 million records and ranked as the number one female singer of the 1950’s?

Interestingly, her biggest hit was a happy accident. Patti had gone into the studio to sing a Christmas song, “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus” . She  needed a tune, any old song, to put on the “B” side of the single (back in those days, an artist often went in just to sing two “sides”–one was the supposed hit and the other was recorded simply because something was needed on the “B” or “flip” side of the 45 rpm record). Someone liked the sound of “Tennessee Waltz” and the rest, as they say, is history. “Tennessee Waltz”  went on to sell more than ten million copies and is considered to be the first true crossover music hit. It spent months on the pop, country and rhythm and blues charts.

“Tennessee Waltz” was so popular that it became one of the two official songs of that southern U.S. state. In an interview with the New York Times, Ms. Page said she wasn’t sure what made it so beloved. “There’s a simplicity about it. Someone introduces their boyfriend to someone else, and now he’s no longer her boyfriend. It’s just a sad love song.”
Ms. Page recorded four number one hits in the ’50s and her success lasted well into the 1960’s. Her last hit was the Oscar-nominated “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte,” recorded for the Bette Davis movie of the same name.

Of course you can’t talk about Patti Page without at least one mention of “Doggie In The Window.” The novelty tune was a huge hit, but with its repeated barking sounds and silly lyrics, the song has been cited by many critics as an example of all that was wrong with pop music in the early 1950’s. While it is true that “Doggie” did little for Page’s artistic reputation, there is no denying that it is among her best-known songs. (Or that after watching this video it will probably be playing on repeat in your head for the next 24 hours. Viewer discretion is advised)

Patti Page is also credited as the first artist to use the recording technique known as vocal overdubbing. She pioneered the concept in 1947, when she sang a duet with herself on the hit “Confess.” Again, this success was somewhat unintentional. In a 1990 interview, Page explained that it all came down to money. “Because we had to pay for all the studio time, musicians and I had not sold any records or made any money. So, my manager (and) partner got the idea for me to do the echo on ‘Confess’ and so that’s how that came about.”

“Confess” was enough of a hit that Mercury was convinced to let Page try full four-part harmony by overdubbing on “With My Eyes Wide Open I’m Dreaming.” The label for that record reads: “Vocals by Patti Page, Patti Page, Patti Page and Patti Page.”

Patti Page will be receiving a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award next month. Interestingly, she is the second of this years recipients to die since the award announcements were made last month. World music legend Ravi Shankar died the day after the the news was released.
For more on Patti Page and to hear my radio feature about her, click here.

Host of VOA's Roots and Branches, and world traveler extraordinaire! When I'm not listening to music, I'm probably talking about it or thinking about the next band I'm going to see. Or my next interview! Join me every week for the best in folk, bluegrass and all other forms of American roots music!

Remembering Mike Auldridge

Posted January 2nd, 2013 at 11:04 pm (UTC+0)

By Katherine Cole
In my last post, I talked about what a great year 2012 had been for roots music. But it was a tough one, too.  Levon Helm, Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson were among the household names that passed away. The list of sidemen (and women) lost included NRBQ‘s legendary drummer Tom Ardolino last January and Mike Auldridge just last Saturday. Mike was a founding member of the bluegrass band the Seldom Scene (and later Chesapeake) and master of the six string resophonic guitar, or dobro.  This loss hit me especially hard as Mike was a longtime friend.
Like me, Mike called Washington, DC home. It was a treat to see him playing at local clubs. The first time I saw him was with the Scene, probably a few years before this performance on Canadian TV.

The name of the band, Seldom Scene, was an inside joke — a play on the phrase “seldom seen.” While the group did play around town regularly, they rarely toured — each of the members had a full time day job. Mike worked as a graphic artist, drawing the ads in several Washington, DC newspapers. He sketched me once, the result was an extremely flattering cartoon drawing of me sitting at a club listening to a band. It hung on a bulletin board in my office until being torn a few years ago by the guys moving me from one office to another at VOA. That’s the closest I’ve ever come to saying a “bad word” on the job!

Chesapeake was Mike’s full time job after leaving the papers and the Scene. This version of Rider comes from a 1998 Chesapeake show at a club just a few miles from the VOA studios called The Birchmere. Regular listeners to my show Roots and Branches have heard of it because the musicians who come to visit often talk about the place. But you may not have heard of Chesapeake, a band truly before its time. If only they’d formed in 2012 instead of 1994 I think they’d be up there with Mumford and Sons and the other neo-folk-bluegrass-country-rock bands at the top of the Americana and Bluegrass charts.

I’m not going to use this space to write another obituary for Mike Auldridge, I’ll leave it to the New York Times to talk about his elegant playing style, and the Washington Post to explain his place in music history.

I’ll just share a bit about Mike Auldridge, the guy. He loved cars, old ones especially.  Fast ones most of all.  And then there was his impeccable taste in clothes.  He was the only guy I knew who could  show up on Friday to a weekend-long bluegrass festival in snow white jacket, and — after three days of rain and mud — leave with it looking just as pristine on Sunday.  Never a hair out of place. He even ironed creases on his jeans.

My friend and fellow broadcaster Katy Daley was a friend of Mike’s for many years —she was the first person I called after I heard he’d passed away. We told stories for about an hour and I hung up feeling…well, not happier, but a bit better.   Later, she shared this picture with me. In Katy’s words: “Here’s a picture I took of those famous creases when Mike last visited me at the station. His brother, Dave, was obsessed with well-ironed jeans, too. I remember once when Mike was going to buy a new iron the two of them debated the merits and shortcomings of each brand and model of irons for about an hour. There should have been a Mike Auldridge signature model iron!”

Mike Auldridge and his ever creased jeans. (photo by Katy Daley)

We miss you Mike!

Host of VOA's Roots and Branches, and world traveler extraordinaire! When I'm not listening to music, I'm probably talking about it or thinking about the next band I'm going to see. Or my next interview! Join me every week for the best in folk, bluegrass and all other forms of American roots music!

Jazz Pianist Hiromi’s Move & Voice

Posted December 31st, 2012 at 8:37 pm (UTC+0)
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By Diaa Bekheet


Sunset (AP)

Music sometimes prompts you to recall specific events. For example, listening to the formidable Japanese pianist and composer Hiromi Uehara reminds me of a live sunset portrait, with the sun dipping down below the horizon as glimmers of orange light reflect off the sea. That’s the scene I saw while strolling one evening a few years ago in Myrtle Beach, North Carolina. At the time I was listening to “Joy” from Hiromi’s album, Another Mind.


The song also brings to mind images of Myrtle Beach nightlife.  At some of the awesome live music venues on the beach, you can hear local indie artists and jazz amateurs play great oldies like, Duke Ellington‘s “Take the A Train”, Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable”, and Michel Lagrand’s “The Last Time I Saw Paris”.



Hiromi’s album, Move

Hiromi’s modern jazz music is outstanding, I absolutely love it. It’s what I often want to listen to because it kicks my mood up a notch. Her songs combine many styles that include a mix of contemporary, jazz fusion, post-bop, and a little bit of classical music. Hiromi’s latest release, Move/Trio Project, features bass guitarist Anthony Jackson who played with Paul Simon and Chick Corea, and drummer Simon Phillips who performed with The Who, David Gilmour, and Jack Bruce.

A mesmerizing instrumentalist in her own right, Hiromi is writing music for Move, too. “There’s so much more to their [the trio] playing. As a composer, I really wanted to write the songs especially for them, and I wanted to extract the unique beauty of their playing,” she explains.


Hiromi’s album, Voice

In 2011, Hiromi released a trio recording titled Voice, showcasing nine songs that express a range of human emotions without the aid of a single lyric.  “When I play music, I realize that it really filters emotions,” Hiromi says in her official bio. “I called this album Voice because I believe that people’s real voices are expressed in their emotions. It’s not something that you really say. It’s more something that you have in your heart. Maybe it’s something you haven’t said yet. Maybe you’re never going to say it. But it’s your true voice. Instrumental music is very similar. We don’t have any words or any lyrics to go with it. It’s the true voice that we don’t really put into words, but we feel it when it’s real.”

Voice closes with a unique version of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8Pathetique,” with Anthony Jackson on bass, and Simon Phillips on drums giving it a decidedly jazzy taste, although Hiromi’s piano touches make it feel very much like a film soundtrack.

I’d like to end this post with a duet by Hiromi and jazz piano legend Chick Corea. I’ll bet you will really enjoy their brilliant interplay and communication on this song by Corea titled “Concierto de Aranjuez/Spain”.

Diaa Bekheet
Diaa Bekheet has worked for a host of media outlets, including Radio Cairo in English, ETV News, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) and the Associated Press. He joined VOA in Feb. 1989 as an International Broadcaster, hosting a variety of popular news and entertainment shows such as Newshour, Radio Ride Across America, Business Week, and Jazz Club USA. He has interviewed a number of Jazz celebrities, including the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, Ramsey Lewis, Wayne Shorter, and George Benson. Diaa is currently an editor for our main English site, VOAnews.com.

2012 Roots Roundup…

Posted December 28th, 2012 at 4:17 pm (UTC+0)
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By Katherine Cole

This was a great year for fans of American roots music—so many fabulous releases from bands and solo artists new and old. Alabama Shakes is one of those new bands. 18 months ago, they were having a hard time selling out 500 seat clubs.   Now, they’ve got three Grammy nominations and “Hold On” is Rolling Stone magazine’s Song Of The Year.

The Alabama Shakes beat out songs from Taylor Swift, Bob Dylan, Kanye West, Frank Ocean and others to win the top spot on Rolling Stone’s year end list. But that’s not their only impressive feat of 2012. This year, Alabama Shakes opened for bands including the Drive-By Truckers, Jack White and Robert Plant, and sold out shows in the US, Europe, the UK, Australia and South America.  When you add in those three Grammy nominations ( Best Rock Performance for Hold On, Best New Artist and Best Recording Package for their debut CD “Boys & Girls”), it all adds up to a great year for a band that didn’t even release their first full length album until April of this year!

It was also an incredible year for The Lumineers.

Friends had been telling me about The Lumineers for a few months before I saw them at South By Southwest in March.  I really wanted to like the group, but I was afraid it was going to be a difficult show—-instead of seeing the band in  a club or a concert hall, I was going to catch a set in a convention center ballroom. Which means I’d be hearing The Lumineers  for the first time in a big, boxy room with concrete walls, floors and ceilings and lots of people standing around talking. But in spite of those obstacles, it was a great set! I loved The Lumineers. And I wasn’t alone—by the middle of the year, everyone was talking about them and The Lumineers were everywhere, including all the big summer festivals like High Sierra and ACL.
The Lumineers wrap up 2012 with two Grammy nominations and a Gold record. The official video for “Ho Hey” is a hit, too. So far, it has more than 20 million official Youtube views.

But it wasn’t just the first timers who were releasing brilliant folk, americana and bluegrass albums this year. There were new albums from Darrell Scott, Gretchen Peters, Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, and Bonnie Raitt, just to name five. And on the bluegrass side,  Special Consensus gave us some fine new music, as did The Boxcars and the Steep Canyon Rangers. Mumford and Sons came back in a big way, earning six Grammy nominations for their second album, “Babel.” It sold 600-thousand copies in its first week, proving the British band was no one hit wonder. And the boys also proved they weren’t too big to still have fun, showing up to lend their voices, and picking prowess to a track on dobro wizard Jerry Douglas’ new one, “Traveler.” Jerry told me that when Paul Simon found out they’d gone into the studio to record this version of his song “The Boxer” Paul wanted in on the fun! So he added a couple of guitar parts, some bells and vocals to the mix.  The result is absolute magic. But don’t take my word for it, listen and decide for yourself!

And no discussion of 2012 Roots music could be complete without a mention of 24-year old John Fullbright. Unlike the two bands I mentioned already, John’s critically acclaimed (and Grammy nominated) debut “From The Ground Up” was a totally independent release. By that I mean that he put it out himself, without the help of a record label, large OR small. He also raised the money to record the album himself via the fan funding site Kickstarter.  I’ll tell you more about John next week —right now, just take a look at him in concert.

Do you have a favorite track of 2012? Maybe a favorite visitor to the Roots studio? I’m thinking of putting together a show featuring some of our best live performances and I’d hate to leave out the one you liked best…..

Host of VOA's Roots and Branches, and world traveler extraordinaire! When I'm not listening to music, I'm probably talking about it or thinking about the next band I'm going to see. Or my next interview! Join me every week for the best in folk, bluegrass and all other forms of American roots music!



VOA’s music bloggers bring you info about all kinds of music. Katherine Cole will keep you up-to-date on the world of Bluegrass and Americana music while Ray McDonald rocks the Pop charts and artists. Diaa Bekheet  jams with you on Jazz.  Visit us often. Your comments are welcome.



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