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A Dragonslayer From Paris, Texas

What a great story! There's an old joke told in the Arts about a young musician who stops a person on the streets of New York City to ask "Can you telll me please, how do I get to Carnegie Hall?" And the person replies, "Practice, practice, practice." That is the story of Jay Hunter Morris.

Morris grew up in Paris, Texas singing gospel and country western music. It wasn't until later in his life that he discovered opera and was intrigued enough to begin exploring that style of singing. He found a voice instructor who was willing to help start him on the path, and now years later after having served as an understudy for the role, Jay Hunter Morris is starring as Siegried in a production of Wagner's Gotterdammerung, the last opera of
Wagner's 4 opera Ring Cycle, at the New York Metropolitan Opera. It's one of the most demanding roles in the opera world, and the tale of how Jay Hunter Morris found his way to the stage of The Met is worth a listen. So if you have 6 minutes or so to spare, sit back and enjoy this wonderful and charming interview with NPR's Scott Simon and the unassuming dragonslayer from Paris, Texas, Jay Hunter Morris.


Like An Old Friend

Some things just stick with you, you know?

And sometimes old memories of things long past colour your perceptions of the hear and now so much so that the hear and now has a hard time measuring up. I say 'hear and now' because many years ago this recording of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons left an aural mark on me that never faded. This CD is a re-release of an old 1970's era LP that was a pivotal musical experience for me as a young teen, an actual turning point in my life really, and I am beyond thrilled to now have it again in my hands!   Read More...

Thank You Very Much!

It's my favorite time of the year! I love the whole fall into winter turn of the seasons, and I especially love the holiday season. I think maybe having my birthday so close to Christmas must have made it just that much more special to me growing up. And I love the music and all the fun and sappy Christmas movies and specials too. I didn't know it then, but when I was 10 I discovered what was to become my favorite one of all. It was 1970 and I saw that year the made for TV musical production of Scrooge.... Read More...

Pete Fountain "The Blues"

When I was in Jr. High my big sister came home with a Pete Fountain album called "The Blues". It was right around the time I was obsessed with Tolkien's The Hobbit, and as I read and re-read that book, this album was playing and playing, and playing again, over and over. To this day I can't hear a song from Pete Fountain's "The Blues" without seeing in my mind's eye Thorin Oakenshield & Company riding their ponies in the rain, cloak hoods pulled up against the wet wind with little Bilbo Baggins bopping along in tow. I kid you not. It's Hobbit music to me... Read More...

The Play Of Daniel, The Play Of Herod

So this year I have treated myself to a Birthday/Christmas present (some might even say an extravagant one) a hard to find set of recordings of The Play Of Daniel and The Play Of Herod that I’ve had my eyes on for several years. Now I know early music is not everyone’s cup of tea, but for me it has always held a special sense of wonder and fascination. Noah Greenberg and New York Pro Musica are credited with reawakening in America an interest in early music performance, and their recreations of these two Medieval musical dramas... Read More...

Olde Music

Okay, so after writing about some new favorite music, I thought I’d add a little bit about some old favorite music, old in that I’ve been listening to it for some 26 years now, and old also because it’s period music, in this case madrigals. Most of my good friends know that my musical tastes are all over the map. When you drop by my house or hop in my truck you never know what you’re going to hear coming out of my stereo. Well, when I was in high school I spent a couple of years singing in the high school madrigal group. I liked it. And then my good friend Dave McCausland introduced me to the annual Madrigal DInner at Western Illinois University, and that was it...

Sunny Side Up! Paolo's Back In The Saddle Again.

Last fall my friend V in the Netherlands introduced me to Paolo Nutini. She’d pent her summer out on the beach listening to his first CD “The Streets.” It was really good stuff, Maynard. Well, after a bit of a layoff, Paolo has now released his second recording “Sunny Side Up,” and all I can say is REALLY good stuff, Maynard! I love this CD already, and I’ve only just started listening to it. Paolo is a young Scottish bloke from Glasgow, but he sings far beyond his years and with a musical sense that puts him in a very special class of singers. Here are a few choice selections from his sophmore effort. Listen and enjoy, and then run out to your neighborhood music store and buy this one. It’s a keeper. Thanks, V!

Growing Up Beside You    Pencil Full Of Lead
No Other Way                   High Hopes
Chamber Music


Reading Stories For A Friend

My friend V up in The Netherlands has become a big Charles de Lint fan over the winter. He’s a very inventive writer from Ottawa, Ontario and a longtime favorite of mine. For the past few months V and I have been reading books together and talking about them, and it’s been a lot of fun. We’ve read some good stuff. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell I think was our first, a wonderful cross of sorts between a bit of Harry Potter magical humor and a Jane Austen book of manners and social intrigue. I loved it. And we’ve read Cloud Of Sparrows and The Shadow Of The Wind, both of which were excellent and a lot of fun. The Shadow of The Wind in particular I liked because it felt a bit like something Victor Borges or Umberto Ecco might have penned, but with a good dash of Jane Eyre added to it. Real Gothic Romance fun! We just finished de Lint’s Moonheart, and V also read two more of de Lint’s short story collections, Dreams Underfoot and The Ivory And Horn. But there was one Charles de Lint book V wanted to read that she couldn’t find over there anywhere, not even online, Moonlight & Vines....

It's A Dog's Life

Remember my good friend Leah? She's the composer who has been spending the past several years writing musicals with her colleague Sean. I really love Leah's music, and she and Sean (lyricist) just seem to work very well together. Their second show is a great example. Sean wanted to write something as a tribute to his best friend Jack, Jack The Dog, who put in a lot of time at rehearsals over the years for many different shows in many different cities. The result was A Dog's Life, a very sweet show that came straight from the heart...

Eye On The Skyline: Jeremiah Johnson

Sometimes a fella just gets lucky. Plain and simple. Jeremiah Johnson has been a favorite film of mine for nearly as long as I can remember liking films. It came out in 1972 when I was 11 years old going on 12. At the time it was like no other movie I had seen or heard of. There was very little dialogue, and what little there was sounded stiff and oddly formal, it was a formalized style of speaking that was new to my young ears, and yet with those very few words to underscore the adventures and experiences told of in the tale, the movie captured my heart and it fired my imagination. In many ways it helped to shape my life for years to come. It was a call to the road, a call to Adventure, a call to a place where a fella, if he could learn to watch his top knot and keep his eye on the skyline, might be able to start over if he needed to, make a go of it in a new life. It was powerful stuff.

The Dresser: A Haunting Theme

A haunting musical theme from a haunting film, The Dresser, starring Tom Courtney and Albert Finney. It's King Lear, a tale of unrequited love, familiar stories coming to an unhappy end, a tragedy within a tragedy within a tragedy. I remember seeing this movie in a theater in Austin, TX when it first came out. I walked outside when it was over and was amazed to see the sun still shining in the sky. It is a powerful film, and James Horner's music stayed with me for days afterwards. His score for the film Glory I think is my favorite complete work of his, but this music is something else all together.


A True Story

Here's a small gem that has aged quite well in the 30-some odd years since Cat Stevens gave it to the world.


Songs Of The Sea

Gordon Bok has been singing songs about the Maine Coast for many, many years now. It's a traditional way of life along the coast, working the sea and always respecting the ultimate power and inevitability of the forces of Nature. Many of his songs tell stories that have come from generations of families living that seafaring life. As one reviewer put it, "The music of Maine folk singer Bok is like a universe unto itself, a roughhewn land filled with hardscrabble people, rascals in high places, and a natural world that is both cruel and kind, deadly and nurturing. Gordon Bok sings of drunken fisherman, the last dreams of drowning men, and the gentle sound of neighbors helping neighbors. Some of the songs are happy and even sweet, and some of them are not, much as Life itself."

Here is a very small sample of the vast collection of music that Gordon and his many musical friends have kept alive and flourishing for us over the years. Just point your nose into the wind, give these tunes a listen, and see if you can't taste the salt in the air.

Saben The Woodfitter
Banks Of Newfoundland
I'se The By
Living On The River
The Sea Wife
How Can I Keep From Singing
Peter Kagan And The Wind
Little Fishy


Merry Christmas from Sufjan Stevens

Today I received this wonderful surprise from my friend June in Philadelphia. We're both big Sufjan Stevens fans, and June found this little holiday nugget and sent it my way!


Lo How A Rose E'er Blooming
The Worst Christmas Ever
The Friendly Beasts
Holy, Holy, Holy

It's a box set of five extended play CD's released by Sufjan over the past five years.

All together there are 42 songs, about two hours' worth of quirky and yet touching Christmas carols that bring a certain wistfulness and quiet joy to the season.

Thank you, June. And Merry Christmas!

Say Hello To Joanna Newsom

I LIKE her. I've been listening to her latest release Ys, and have decided I need to try to share her with some of you. Granted, her music is not going to be to everyone's taste, but I think if you give it a chance you just might be surprised how it grows on you and how you end up responding to it. And if not, well, at least you will have broadened your horizons a bit. And that's a Good Thing. Here's a review from last year, and a video clip as well.

Three Cheers For Pooh! Happy

Today I found a treasure on eBay, Three Cheers For Pooh. I first ran across this recording somewhere back around 1982 or so in a library in West Lafayette, Indiana. It's a collection of songs based on A.A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh poems, and it tickled my fancy to no end. In the 1920's Harold Fraser-Simson set many of Milne's Pooh poems to music, and in 1981 Robert Tear and Philip Ledger decided to record several of these songs as formal recital pieces in the traditional classical music style. The end result can only be described as charming, and I fell in love with what I heard. Read More...

La Planéte Sauvage

Winner of the Grand Prix Award at the Cannes FIlm Festival in 1973, La Planéte Sauvage was an animated surrealist comment on the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia. It was originally released to DVD in France with a beautiful video transfer and the original French soundtrack with no options for subtitles. When it was finally released on DVD in the U.S. as The Fantastic Planet, Anchor Bay did a fairly shoddy job of transferring the video and then compounded that crime by embedding English subtitles into the video so that a viewer had the choice of watching the film in French with English subtitles or in English with (yes) English subtitles. Go figure. Anyways, I was looking for a small video project to mess around with, so I got ahold of a French release DVD, captured the vibrant video from that disc, and then added to it the English audio track from the U.S. release DVD.

Here's a
short snippet from the final project.

Randy Newman and Humor That Hurts

These days most people know Randy Newman for his Academy award winning cheery, lovely, and sometimes wistful soundtracks to cartoons such as Toy Story and Monsters, Inc. and nostalgic movies such as Seabiscuit. But Randy has been writing music for many, many years now, and one shouldn't be fooled by his nice guy, child friendly, cartoon persona. His gentle and loving humor can quickly turn into biting sarcasm, and his music often drips with a harsh and sometimes brutal social commentary that has rarely (if ever) been matched in American pop music. Just ask the good citizens of Cleveland, Ohio...

Over The Rainbow

Heart Upon Demand by John Gorka

The Judy Garland show was a one season TV marvel back in 1963-64. The show didn't last, but many of the amazing performances did. The
complete season is available on DVD along with several multi-episode discs and two compilation discs. The Judy Garland Show: Legends captures two wonderful solo performances by a very young Barbra Streisand and one magical duet between Barbra and Judy. It's almost as if the torch is being passed from one generation of performers to another. Judy was a Legend. If you're any kind of a fan of the Broadway showtune/cabaret style of singing, you should check out some of these DVD's. They're keepers.


Everybody Loves Muffins

My sister sent this link to me this morning, and it was just too much fun not to pass along. Nothing like muffins on a weekend morning. Enjoy!
But watch out for Vendetta, she
makes things..... Happy

Muffin Films ..................... and ................... Making Fiends

Garrison Keillor and The Prairie Home Companion

I first ran across the Prairie Home Companion radio show back around 1982 or so, and I quickly became a devoted listener spending 2 hours of many a Saturday afternoon doing chores around the house with the radio on so I could listen to the latest news from Lake Wobegone "where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average." And for many years later when I was not quite so glued to my radio on Saturday afternoons I would still, countless number of times, find myself sitting in the car in a parking lot somewhere not quite ready to get out because I had stumbled across Garrison and his latest update from Lake Wobegone, and Life took a short break while I listened to that voice and his meandering and yet so funny and insightful tales of small town midwestern life. Read More...

Salsa time!

My friend Lill Ann is a dancing maniac. Swing is her thing. Yes, Lill Ann is a Swing Baby. Not Astrid Marie though, Astrid Marie is a Salsa Queen! Well, AM, I realize the CD I sent to you is more Samba than Salsa. I thought that since you had just returned from Rio, The Land of Samba, you might enjoy it, but I know you are a Salsa Queen, and so here is something I thought you might be interested in reading.

Seminal Latin Label's Music Resurrected
The founders of Fania Records didn't set out to change the course of Latin music, but that's just what they did. Fania signed artists such as Celia Cruz, Ruben Blades and Ray Barretto, who would eventually usher in the golden age of salsa. Read More...

Another Favorite

As one reviewer said, "The voice of an angel and the guitar of The Devil."

Your Train
A Witness To Joy
I'm Watching My Heart
A Pound of Prevention
Pablo's Lights


That last quote is priceless...

Skating Scandal Made Into Opera

MEDFORD, Mass. -- When Tufts music student Abigail Al-Doory sought inspiration for her opera, she looked not to Wagner's "Ring" cycle but to the Olympic rings, where themes like power, envy and greed are plentiful.

In "
Tonya and Nancy: The Opera," Al-Doory provides 18 movements on the scandal that turned the once-dainty sport of figure skating into a soap opera of whacking, wailing and time spent in jail. Read More...

I've Got A Little List!

Speaking of musical treasures, back in April of 1960, The Bell Telephone Hour broadcasted a wacky rendition of Gilbert & Sullivan's The Mikado. The production featured The Bell Telephone Orchestra and the wonderful Norman Luboff Choir, and it starred Robert Rounseville as Nanki-Pooh, Dennis King as The Mikado, Stanley Holloway as the oh so dry Pooh-Bah, Barbara Meister as Yum-Yum, and Sharon Randall as Pitti-Sin.

And tossed into this mix of excellent musicians was Groucho Marx as the hapless Ko-Ko. Yes, Groucho. The result was a wonderfully charming slice of Americana, though I'm not quite sure if Gilbert & Sullivan would have been flattered or flabergasted! But whichever it may have been, for your listening pleasure, here are a few samples from this brave endeavor from the era of live television.
Oh, modified rapture! Happy

We Are Gentlemen Of Japan

Behold The Lord High Executioner/
I've Got A Little List

What I'll Never Do

The Execution

The Flowers In Spring

There's Beauty In The Bellow Of A Blast

For He's Gone And Married Yum-Yum


The Dead

One of my favorite movies is the last film John Huston directed before he died. It's called The Dead, and it's based on a James Joyce short story of the same title. It was the last story in his collection Dubliners published in 1914.

The Poem Old Parkinson The Lass Of Aughrim Snow Is Falling

The Dead
By Roger Ebert, December 18, 1987

"Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age." Read More...

Brokeback To The Future

My friend Doug sent me this link. It's a testament to the art of trailer editing, and it's a hoot to boot. Check it out. I think you'll laugh once or twice.

Brokeback To The Future


Unni Wilhelmsen

Unni Wilhelmsen is a new favorite of mine. My Norwegian buddy, Lill Ann, sent me a few songs a while back and I really liked them, so I went looking for her CD’s, but they’re a bit hard to find here in the States.

I did find one used copy of To Whom It May Concern on Amazon which I grabbed. And then I was very pleased to find Hurricane’s Eye on the iTunes Music Store, a nice surprise, but that was it. My streak of good luck ended there. Well, here’s a couple of Unni numbers for you to listen to and see what you think.

I Won't Go Near You Again
Hurricane's Eye

Can't Stop
Lack Of Logic
Everyone's Honesty


Echo And Shadow

Every so often I hear something on the radio that stops me in my tracks. This one did it to me. It's from a collection of performance pieces by Chicago poets and musicians. The CD is called ReVerse.

The piece is
Echo And Shadow by Li-Young Yee.