Dom Flemons performed the cowboy traditional “Goodbye Old Paint” as a disconsolate field holler that called to mind the slave anthems turned gospel songs I used to hear from my auntie’s record player on cold Sunday mornings. Songs like this have a way of unfolding in a layered harmony, with simple verse structures that become more and more beautiful with each repetition, like the petals of a flower unfolding in concentric rings. I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat, feeling something in me melt. Legend has it that a black cowhand named Charley Willis taught this song to another black cowboy named Jess Morris, who registered the composition with the Library of Congress by mail in the early 1940s (John Lomax would make an audio recording of Morris’s performance in 1942). 

In Flemons’s sure hands, the lonesome chorale became broad and bracing. In the silence after each call he lofted into the theater, the notes would echo and rain down on all of our ears. By the time all of the performers gathered for an all-star sing-along of “Home on the Range,” I was, despite myself, near tears. For me it was a call back to my earliest memories. When I was a very small child I used to wander around the house, holding a plastic horse and singing that song to myself, turning its winding melody over and over in my head.”

Read more here.


The American Songster Enchanted the Audience


I think of Dom as an ethnomusicologist; his knowledge of African-American music and its history is encyclopedic. He obviously enjoys imparting that to his audiences and I believe we come enjoys learning that rich history.

Dom had recorded an album of Black cowboy songs that will be released early next year and he treated us to a number of songs that will appear on the album. There is a rich history of Black cowboys and I look forward to getting that album!

Dom is a multi-instrumentalist and began the show playing the bones. He is a master of the bones and it was an excellent way to begin the show. There were many people in the audience who had never seen Dom perform and the bones completely enthralled them.

Read more here.

Paste Magazine: 10 of the Best Tom Waits Covers

Tom Waits  is not an easy artist to cover, but he sure is a popular one for others to try to interpret. Best known for his gravelly voice, dramatic persona and very peculiar style of poetic storytelling, his theatrics have created a certain distance between his fame and his actual self. As a prime example, he sings in “Tango Till They’re Sore,” “I’ll tell you all my secrets, but I lie about my past.”

It’s these details paired with such disconnect that makes Waits’ work seem so personal, yet so universal. No one can copy that voice of his, but it creates an opportunity for other artists to showcase his words and tone in their own ways. As a result, here are 10 of the best covers of Tom Waits songs.

Carolina Chocolate Drops, “Trampled Rose”

The Carolina Chocolate Drops offer a much faster take on this tune, turning a mumbled lament into a song out of the folk tradition. The fiddle brings a jaunty anxiety to the tune and the banjo notes are a sharp addition. Singer Dom Flemons’ voice is stark and clear, as he holds notes forcefully, but in a controlled manner. The cover maintains the same devotion to an ambiguous loss that Waits conveys, but when Flemons sings, “what I’ve done to you, I’ve done to me,” it is a more declarative statement.

Read more here.

PBS: Shake ‘Em On Down: Fred McDowell Documentary

Shake ’em On Down’ is the story of Fred McDowell, the godfather of the North Mississippi style of blues. Through interviews and never-before-seen footage of Fred McDowell and other blues legends, the film tells the story of a Mississippi sharecropper who went on to influence the music of the Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt, RL Burnside, Taj Mahal and the North Mississipp All Stars.

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Great Smoky Mountains Association Earns Prestigious National Awards


Great Smoky Mountains Association, a long-time, education partner of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, earned multiple top honors recently for projects unveiled during 2016, the National Park Service’s Centennial celebration year. Presented annually by the Public Lands Alliance during their convention, the awards honor individuals, organizations, publications, products, programs and services that embody leading-edge achievements in the preservation of public lands and the enrichment of visitors.

“Pictures for a Park,” a large-format book highlighting early photographers who helped persuade the public and Congress to create Great Smoky Mountains National Park, received PLA’s prestigious Publication of the Year award. Written by Rose Houk and designed by Lisa Horstman, the book includes the work of such Smoky Mountain luminaries as Jim Thompson, George Masa, Laura Thornburgh, and Dutch Roth. Great Smoky Mountains Association developed the book in conjunction with the NPS Centennial, making it available in hard cover and paperback.

“These early photographers worked hard for their images,” said Steve Kemp, GSMA’s interpretive products and services director. “They were tramping through the backcountry, often without benefit of trails, hauling massive cameras, tripods, and glass plates. We were all happy to finally give these talented photographers the credit they deserve for the quality of their craft and their success at making the dream of a national park in the Great Smoky Mountains come true.”

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Sun Records Season 1 Episode 1: Memphis Filming Locations and Recap

Sun Records premiered on CMT last week (Feb. 23, 2017). If you haven’t yet, read my introduction post to this eight-part series. You can also watch full episodes on (though you’ll have to sit through a lot of ads) or buy it on Amazon.

Here’s a quick recap of the first episode “706 Union”, then a list of Memphis filming locations you can spot while you watch. I’ve seen the whole show, but the spoilers that follow are just for the first episode. This review is rated PG.

Sun Records Season 1, Episode 1 Recap
In this episode, we meet many of our key characters. Elvis croons sadly while his dad complains about his sissy hair grease. Sam Phillips goes to a juke joint in Brownsville because He Loves Real Music™ and for some reason drags his annoyed wife and scared kid along. They meet wacky DJ Dewey Phillips, who is probably my favorite character. They become pals and Dewey tells him about this dude called B.B. King.

Sam goes up to his studio aka Memphis Recording Service/Sun Studio and we meet his assistant, Mary. He’s got big dreams, but Mary is still putting the place together and all folks want him to record is boring old yickety yack country stuff and funerals.

We meet Johnny Cash on his family’s decrepit farm in Arkansas. His dad is super mean and super racist, so Johnny says forget it and joins the Air Force.  Read more here.