Thursday, October 30, 2008

By the Banks of the River...

Young ghosts and ghouls will be making the rounds from door to door tonight seeking sweet rewards for their frightful efforts. Once again, it is time for telling ghost stories around a flickering campfire or visiting the local mega-plex to be scarred senseless by Hollywood's latest slasher movie sequel.

When our children were young my wife would accompany the little goblins on their quest for sugary treasure on Halloween, while I remained at home to dole out the candy. I would keep the lights low while the eerie pipe organ of Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D minor" played on the stereo, loud enough at times, to rattle the windows.

Tales of ghastly deeds and horrific stories abound in music. Most of the murder ballads of the Appalachian region were based on true events. Tragic stories of love gone horribly wrong are a common theme in these songs.

Many of the murder ballads found in the United States, although based on local events, can trace their roots to the ballads and broadsides of Ireland and England. "Knoxville Girl" is a direct descendant of the 19th century Irish ballad "The Wexford Girl", which may have been based on a 17th century English broadside "The Cruel Miller", sometimes known as "The Bloody Miller".

The sad tale of "Omie Wise" is the true story of Naomi Wise and her murder at the hands of Jonathan Lewis around 1807 or 1808 in Randolph County, North Carolina. Jonathon Lewis was to marry the well-off Hettie Elliott of Asheville when he learned that young Ms. Wise, whom he "visited" as he travelled between Randolph County and Asheville, was pregnant.

"(Down on the)Banks of the Ohio" is another 19th century American murder ballad. Similar in theme to another song from the same period, "Pretty Polly", both songs tell the sad tale of a villain named Willie who is driven to murder when his love rejects his marriage proposal as they walk along the banks of the river.

Many of these songs of love-come-to-a-tragic-end were very popular for decades after the crimes they tell of, and have become American standards played by many performers to this day. Perhaps it is the gruesomeness of the crimes that continue to hold our interest. Just like the campfire ghost stories and bloody slasher movies, these murder ballads stir a darker side of our collective psyche.

Louvin Brothers - Knoxville Girl.mp3
From: Tragic Songs of Life, originally released 1956.
Buy it at

G. B. Grayson - Ommie Wise.mp3
First recorded in Atlanta, Georgia, 1927 by G. B. Grayson.
From: Anthology of American Folk Music.
Buy it at Smithsonian Folkways

Blue Sky Boys - Down On The Banks Of The Ohio .mp3
Available on a magnificent 5-CD set entitled The Sunny Side Of Life, that contains all of this legendary brother duet's recordings for the Bluebird and Victor labels from 1936 through 1950.
Buy it at County Sales

Bill & Belle Reed - Old Lady and the Devil.mp3
A little more light-hearted than the first two and not really a murder ballad, but could explain the extraordinary number of murder ballads.
Also From: Anthology of American Folk Music.
Buy it at Smithsonian Folkways

Sunday, October 26, 2008

New Release in the Works by
Goodtimes Goodtimes

Because of the trouble caused by the recent trojan attack on the server here, I've really fallen behind in posting new releases that have arrived at the Bus. I will be trying to catch up over the next few weeks.

Photo: Kate Chapple

I got a note from Franc Cinelli of Goodtimes Goodtimes several weeks ago. He wants everyone to know he is working on a new album and starting a new tour. He's sent along a couple of songs from his upcoming CD to share with the riders on the Bus.

Goodtimes Goodtimes last album, Glue, was a wonderful debut release from this talented singer/songwriter. (Original Old Blue Bus review of Glue here.) From the samples that I've heard, Goodtimes Goodtimes next release will surely be worth the wait.

Goodtimes Goodtimes - Eloise

Goodtimes Goodtimes - Get Ready

Artist: Goodtimes Goodtimes
Upcoming album untitled yet.
Artist Website:
CDs and downloads of Glue available at:

Thursday, October 23, 2008

New Release: The Zydepunks - Finisterre

From the beginning, the bend in the mighty Mississippi river known as New Orleans has been a place of trade and inter-cultural exchange. The Zydepunks take this intermingling of cultures to an extreme. The Zydepunks are "New Orleans' favorite Cajun Irish Breton Klezmer Slavic Zydeco Punk band."

Eve Venema and Juan Kuffner met while street-performing in the French Quarter with a clown on a unicycle and a white rapper supposedly on the run from the FBI. Originally from Ecuador, Juan Kuffner (accordion, accordion bass, fiddle, vocals) was able to speak four languages by the time he was 12 years old. Eve Venema (accordion, fiddle, vocals) spent seven years as a street performer in Europe, earning her living playing accordion music from around the globe. The current make-up of the band includes Kuffner and Venema joined by fellow traditional ethnic folk musician, Denise Bonis (fiddle), and a rhythm section at home in any punk rock or heavy metal band, Joe Lilly (drums, vocals) and Scott Beelman (bass) to form the unique blend of international folk-punk known as Zydepunk.

The Zydepunks play Cajun, Zydeco, Irish, Scottish, Klezmer, Romanian, Russian, Quebecois, German, Breton, French, and original music with a blend of classically-trained musicianship and untethered, frenzied abandon. Wild folk dances fronted by accordion and fiddle and backed by relentless drums and bass are the high-energy folk-punk of Zydepunk. Languages are as varied as the music with English, French, German, Spanish, Yiddish, and Portuguese to suit the gypsy melodies.

Other musicians featured on the album include a who's who of the Louisiana music scene: bassist Alan LaFleur (from the Grammy-nominated Lost Bayou Ramblers), cellist Helen Gillet (Wazozo), violinist Matt Rhody (New Orleans Jazz Vipers/Hot Club of New Orleans), guitarist Stix duh Clown (My Graveyard Jaw), singer Meschiya Lake (Loose Marbles), violinist Frank Scully, and cellist Aubrey Freeman (Why Are We Building Such a Big Ship) all made valuable contributions to the album.

No two songs on Finisterre sound the alike. Each is a powerhouse of high energy dance music. Echoes of New Orleans' tumultuous times appear in "Long Story Short" and "Song For Mike", both dedicated to Michael Frey, a friend to the band murdered in 2006. "Dear Molly" was written while the band was evacuated in North Carolina as a song of longing and dispossession. "Por la orilla del mar" combines traditional Ecuadorian song with Slavic melodies in a story of a man being forced to leave his home to search for a new life - a story about immigrants from South of the border and Louisiana's own recent, sad story.

Zydepunks - When My Ship Sails Away.mp3

Zydepunks - Angel Whiskey.mp3

Zydepunks - Dear Molly.mp3

Artist: The Zydepunks
Ttile: Finisterre
Release Date: 21 October 2008
Artist Website:
Label: Nine Mile Records
Label Website:
Purchase or Download at:
Louisiana Music Factory
Soon to be available at CD Baby and other online outlets. Check back at for additional online stores.
Or purchase from your local independent record store.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Mad Tea Party - "Baby It's Time To Vote"

photo by Sandlin Gaither

Ashville, North Carolina's Mad Tea Party is the out-of-the-ordinary combination of a fresh blend of musical styles and under-appreciated instruments. Ami Worthen (vocals, ukulele, guitar) and Jason Krekel (vocals, guitar, fiddle, foot drums) conspire to creat the upbeat music they describe as a blend of Uke-abilly, Retro-Pop, and Rock 'n' Roll.

With less than one month to go before Election Day, Asheville's Mad Tea Party are making their 2004 tune "Baby, It's Time To Vote" available for free download.

Mad Tea Party - Baby It's Time To Vote

Artist: Mad Tea Party
Artist Website:
Ami Worthen's blog: Ukulele Rockstar
Label: Nine Mile Records
Label Website:

Mad Tea Party's CDs are available at: or your local independent record store.
But the best way to purchase CDs is directly from Ami and Jason at a Mad Tea Party concert.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

New Release: Luke Powers - Texasee

"Somewhere between Spicewood TX and Franklin TN lies the mythical state of
Texasee" proclaims Luke Powers. Musically, Texasee lies somewhere between Austin and Nashville, down some dusty road.

Once again Luke Powers has crafted a CD of story songs meant to provoke thought and wonder at alternative possibilities. Those alternative possibilities are central to the unique vision of our world as seen by Luke Powers. Of Luke's previous release, Picture Book, I wrote:
"During the day, Luke Powers is an English Professor at Tennessee State University with a Ph.D. in English from Vanderbilt and a M.A. in folklore from UNC-Chapel Hill (where he was a Morehead Scholar.) When not shaping young minds Luke writes. He writes fiction and poetry, and he writes songs, strong, concise, and sometimes haunting songs, full of vivid imagery and a touch of whimsy."
(Original review of Picture Book here.)

In the state of Texasee "Billy the Kid Rides Again", this time we find the fabled outlaw oddly at home in postmodern America and at odds with the law for riding a horse without a license. Elvis' long, sad decline is chronicled from the point of view of his dead twin brother in "Aron Presley." "Paul is Dead" explores the urban legend alleging Paul McCartney died in 1966 and was replaced by a look-and-sound-alike.

As with his previous outing, Picture Book, Luke Powers is backed by some top-notch musicians. Texasee was co-produced and recorded by Tommy Spurlock (Rick Danko, David Olney and The Band) who also provides the album's idiosyncratic steel guitar. AMA Instrumentalist of the Year, Kenny Vaughan on guitar, Jamie Oldaker on drums, and John Davis (Superdrag) on vocal, bass and guitars round out the sound. Suzi Ragsdale provided stunning vocals.

"I'm tired of all these warbly, navel-gazing 'Americana' songs," Luke says, "I wanted to take a more Sam Peckinpah approach."

Luke Powers - Tops of the Trees.mp3
"As high as anyone needs to be." - Luke Powers

Artist: Luke Powers
Ttile: Texasee
Artist Website:
Purchase or Download at: CD Baby

Monday, October 20, 2008

New Release: Mary Z. Cox - Florida Banjo

Florida Banjo is the latest CD from one of our favorite old-time banjo players. Mary Z. Cox has introduced the art of pre-Scruggs style banjo to an entire generation. Through her workshops and classes she has unleashed a vibrant community of old-time banjo and dulcimer players on a musical world that had all but forgotten the beauty of clawhammer style banjo. As usual, Mary has also provided tabulature for the songs on Florida Banjo available as a book for aspiring banjo players.

The fifteen songs on Florida Banjo not only showcase one of the most amazing practitioners of old-time banjo, but some other mighty fine musicians as well. As expected, Mary's husband Bob Cox adds his delightful flat-picked guitar. The sounds of Bob's guitar and Mary's banjo intertwine so effortlessly, as only a duet with decades of musical intimacy can. Other guest artists adding to this thoroughly enjoyable album are Kerry Blech, Jim Crozier, Lo Gordon and Ellen Sheppard.

Mary Z. Cox was interviewed by Larry Wines for his syndicated radio and television show "Tied to the Tracks." The show has yet to air, but the interview is available online (video here.) Be sure to watch all five segments, each featuring a wonderful performance by Mary Z. Cox, often accompanied by Bob Cox.

For those of you that already own Mary Z. Cox's CDs, Florida Banjo is a must-have, as I don't know of anyone who owns only one Mary Z. Cox CD. All six of Mary Z. Cox's CDs are cherished treasures in my own collection. Those of you not yet initiated, give a listen to the track below and watch the video above. Then follow one of the links below to start your collection.

Mary Z. Cox - Wind That Shakes the Barley.mp3
beautifully performed on her custom Deering GDL Banjo.

Artist: Mary Z. Cox
Ttile: Florida Banjo
Artist Website:
Mary's blog: A Secret Life of Banjo
CDs and downloads available at:
CD Baby
County Sales
Elderly Instruments
or your local independent record store.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


I'm happy to report that the restoration of my infected hard drive was (nearly) a complete success. I haven't done a complete inventory yet, but it appears that only a small number of audio files were lost. Fortunately, the ones I have found so far that were unrecoverable were made from records in my personal collection and can be duplicated.

All of my photographs and personal files were recovered as well. On the down side, all of the emails I have received in the past month are lost as well as my address book. Those can be recreated. If you had sent me an email and have not received a reply, please resend. I apologize for any inconvenience.

Many thanks to the riders on the Bus for your warm wishes and support. Special thanks go to my son, Zac, who gave up the past few Saturdays to come down to the house and help out the old man. There is an advantage to having a son who is head of cyber-security at a major credit card/banking company!

Cumberland Mountain Boys - I'm Going Down to Have Myself a Ball.mp3