Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Meating Room by T. Frank Muir - Book Review

The Meating Room: A DCI Gilchrist Investigation by T. Frank Muir (Academy Chicago Publishers, 2017, 366 pages, $10.39/9.87) is the fifth in a series of police procedurals set in St. Andrews, Scotland, featuring Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Andy Gilchrist. These stories always seem to take place on the dark, cold, winter heaths surrounding the ancient city of St. Andrews, where the fabled Old Course, the most hallowed place in golf, is merely a part of the map while the gritty nature of Scottish criminal existence if foregrounded. The crimes are gruesome, the police officials and on-the-ground grunts are working people with their own problems, flaws, and strengths, the plots complex, and the story-telling superb.

On a chilly morning along the seaside, Maggie Ferguson, out walking her dog, discovers a car sitting on the heath with its motor running and a hose running from the exhaust pipe through the driver's side window. A second look reveals a neatly dressed man in the front seat, apparently dead. In due course, DCI Gilchrist, accompanied by fellow officer, DS Jessie Strange, arrives. After a cursory inspection, awaiting further detailed inspection by the SOCO's, they begin to suspect the death is not a result of a simple suicide. (One of the problems raised by British police procedurals is the abundance of acronyms involved in police rankings. For those interested in decoding them, here's a link. Be warned – there are 271 of them:

As the somewhat convoluted plot emerges, it appears that the body is one Brian McCormack, who, along with his partner Thomas Magner, owns an apparently prosperous holding company. In the early stages of the investigation, McCormack's wife and children are found at home, dead in their beds, with the wife gruesomely dissected. Instinct points towards Magner,but he is well covered with a seemingly unbreakable alibi. Nevertheless, as the police look further, more suspicious deaths are uncovered and unusual relationships emerge.

Muir's novels operate on three levels. The crime is at the forefront, but vying for attention are the complex personal lives of Andy Gilchrist, Jessie Strange, and other members of the St. Andrews investigative team. They all spend significant amounts of time in local pubs, where they consume a good deal of alcohol and interact. Andy's secret lover is the police pathologist, while Jessie tries to avoid the advances of a former boss in a different jurisdiction. Political and bureaucratic issues form the third leg of Muir's stories. The personal costs of a career in police work are always present, and well represented as issues confounding the investigations. Meanwhile, Andy Gilchrist emerges as a canny, insightful, and often impulsively action oriented officer whose instincts often overcome his good sense. As the solution to the crime approaches, the situation becomes more dangerous, tense, and driving. Muir is a master at building tension with the three strands running parallel to each other, wherein lies much of the intense interest and delight in reading his novels.

T. Frank Muir

Born in Glasgow, Frank Muir was plagued from a young age with the urge to see more of the world than the rain sodden slopes of the Campsie Fells. Thirty-plus years of living and working overseas helped him appreciate the raw beauty of his home country. Now a dual US/UK citizen, Frank makes his home in the outskirts of Glasgow, Scotland, from where he visits St. Andrews regularly to research in the town’s many pubs and restaurants. (From Soho Press Web site)

With The Meating Room: A DCI Gilchrist Investigation (Academy Chicago Publishers, 2017, 366 pages, $10.39/9.87). T. Frank Muir has produced the most persuasive and thought provoking of his DCI Gilchrist books. Gilchrist has become deeper and more human, always struggling with his own problems with women, his children, and alcohol while providing nurture and instruction to his subordinates. I received the book as an Advanced Readers Copy through Edelweiss: Above the Treeline. I read it on my Kindle app.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Drive Time Bluegrass at Lorraine's Coffee Shop & Music

Lorraine's Coffee House & Music, located at 101 Timber Pointe Lane in Garner, NC, just a few miles south of Raleigh, NC offers live music in a wholesome, smoke-free environment four evenings a week. In a day when live music venues are becoming fewer and fewer, this bluegrass band leader and regional business executive has provided a venue for showcasing young up-and-coming regional bands as well as more well-known regional and national bands with a place to play week-day drive through gigs. The food is simple and tasty, the environment friendly, and the music interesting running from bluegrass to Americana, jazz, and folk music. When you're in Raleigh, it's worth looking at the schedule to see if anything's coming up you might enjoy. 

Drive Time Bluegrass Band - Many a Mile

Drive Time Bluegrass Band

Drive Time Bluegrass consists of five young bluegrass pickers, some with considerable experience, others newer to stage, if not so new to jamming and the music. Drive time presented a solid two hours of bluegrass on Friday night, consisting mostly of well-known bluegrass tunes ranging from the early days  to more contemporary bands they've heard and admired. The selections gave plenty of respect to The Lonesome River Band, IIIrd Tyme Out, Jimmie Martin, and the Stanley Brothers, among others. People who enjoy traditional and neo-traditional bluegrass music with strong picking from promising bands couldn't help enjoying themselves. 

Tyler Jackson

Bailey Coe

Grayson Tuttle & Austyn Howell

Austin Koerner

With four voices, the band showed strong vocal versatility and instrumental skill. There's always a question with a young band how much they want to work and how much time and energy they wish to put into building both their repertoire and their bookings. This band bears watching. We had a good evening with them and the friends and family who showed up to support them.

Jessica & Ronnie Jackson and Friend

Drive Time Bluegrass Band - Honey, You Don't Know My Mind

Friday, April 14, 2017

Everybody Had an Ocean by William McKeen - Book Review

Everybody Had an Ocean: Music and Mayhem in 1960's Lost Angeles by William McKeen (Chicago Review Press, 2017, 423 pages, $26.99/14.57) frames the music world of Los Angeles during the 1960's within The Beach Boys who, in many ways helped define West Coast Music, and Charles Manson, the murderous psychopath, whose murder spree at the end of the decade helped awaken the entire world to the destructive qualities represented by sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll when they happen in conjunction. This lengthy, name-filled, and often confusing book profiles most of the seminal performers, producers, and record company executives who fed off each other in a decade dominated by the movement from the placid 1950's through a period rife with a foreign war, multiple assassinations, dangerous sex, extensive drug use, campus riots, and sublime music taking the world from the comfort of Frank Sinatra through the riotous hippie era to a new awakening partially prompted by the brutal, senseless killings.

Perhaps the most effective components of this long and extensively annotated account are the profiles of artists as they develop and emerge in Los Angeles or move there to be a part of the increasingly dominant Rock 'n' Roll scene. Native Californians like the Wilson Family, who comprised most of the Beach Boys, as well as Jan & Dean, and others grew up in the sunny, laid back world of Hollywood dominated by the wave-filled ocean, hot rods, and lubricious, willing girls. Musicians developing across the continent were attracted to this burgeoning musical mish-mash. In the burgeoning world of California rock during the late fifties and early sixties, a number of songs, titles, bands emerge that raise memories for a teen of that era. Sadly, the names of record producers and labels seem to dominate, creating a confusing, at least for me, world of change whose only constant seems to be the successful combining of southern black and western white middle class surfer/car fanatic together to produce music for a new and different kind of music consumer. Names that become legendary, like Phil Spector and Herb Alpert almost drown in the proliferation of producers and wannabee labels.

The importance of the Wrecking Crew, a rather loosely defined collection of Los Angeles session musicians whose virtuoso musicianship helped define the sound of many Southern California bands is rightly emphasized throughout the book. These mostly anonymous musicians not only helped create the recordings, they taught the band members in groups like the Beach Boys and The Monkeys how to play their instruments well enough for road concerts while performing, usually without credit, on the recordings. For a wonderful profile, take a look at the documentary film The Wrecking Crew.

As long as Everybody Had an Ocean sticks to California, the Beach Boys, and the Wrecking Crew it does a fine job. But when McKeen seeks to place this large enough scene into a still larger context, his book loses focus and clarity. It's hard to keep a coherent narrative running straight ahead while jumping into the south, Cleveland, New York, race, the British Invasion, and more. Keeping focus within the larger context muddies the important role of the California scene. Couple this with the author's need to throw in the gratuitous anatomical reference and the book becomes trivialized. McKeen's language is gritty, scatological, and physical. For him, size matters, whether it's male or female. Much of his sexual imagery is particularly explicit. McKeen, insists on providing details about human superstructure, saying, for example, that Charlie Chaplin, “was a small man with a penis attached.”

Many of the profiles of artists are what stick in my mind. Joni Mitchel, Brian Wilson, Sam Cooke, Phil Spector, The Mamas and the Papas, and other seminal (oops!) groups were valuable. The story of how an off hand comment by singer Billy Ward in Cleveland struck a nerve with disc jockey Allen Freed, creating the name Rock and Roll is priceless. But the ocean is too big and deep to fill in this outline. The mixing of California beach and car culture with Black southern blues influenced (dominated) by the British Invasion has too many threads. The rather long story of the “kidnapping” of Frank Sinatra, Jr., seems extraneous, taking the narrative off focus, even though Jan Berry, an important character in the book, was involved.

William McKeen

William McKeen is the author of nine books and the editor of four more. His most recent books are Everybody Had an Ocean (2017), Too Old to Die Young (2015), Homegrown in Florida (2012), Mile Marker Zero (2011), Outlaw Journalist (2008), Highway 61 (2003), Rock and Roll is Here to Stay (2000) and Literary Journalism: A Reader (2000).

McKeen teaches at Boston University, where he chairs the Department of Journalism and serves as associate dean of the College of Communication. He teaches literary journalism, history of journalism, reporting, feature writing and history of rock’n’roll. He's widely published in both the popular and scholarly world.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in history and his master’s degree in journalism from Indiana University and his Ph.D. in higher education administration from the University of Oklahoma. He taught at Western Kentucky University 1977-1982, the University of Oklahoma 1982-1986 and the University of Florida, 1986-2010.

He has seven children and lives in Cohasset, Massachusetts. (edited from the author profile on

Everybody Had an Ocean: Music and Mayhem in 1960's Lost Angeles by William McKeen (Chicago Review Press, 2017, 423 pages, $26.99/14.57) is a too comprehensive and ambitious account of the Los Angeles music world to maintain coherence throughout. Nevertheless, it provides cultural guideposts for those who did not live through the era. For those seeking greater depth, I'd suggest reading specific books on the bands, the politics, and the issues of this important period. The book is extensively annotated and provides a very useful reading list. Listening to the music through one of the streaming services would prove helpful, too. Snarkily sexual, anatomical, and functional references seek to make the language sixtyish, or something hip, but left me, at least, simply turned off. So, who's the audience? It certainly can't be adults, not with the language silliness McKeen indulges in. And it can't be teenagers, either, because they'd miss many of the references and may not care about sixties rock and beach music anyway. He seems to me to be reaching out to Millenials rather than people who lived through the sixties, who might be interested in putting it all into perspective, now that they're sixty-somethings and people who still read books. I received the book from the publisher as an electronic Advanced Readers Copy through Edelweiss: Above the Treeline and read it on my Kindle app.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Big Lick Bluegrass Festival 2017 - Review

The fourteenth annual Big Lick Bluegrass Festival ran at the Hinson in the spacious fields behind the Hinson Auction House in Oakboro, NC from April 7 - 9 this year. As the first outdoor festival of the North Carolina festival season, Big Lick can often be a bit chilly. But this year's chill could not freeze out the enthusiasm of the enthusiastic crowd which showed up to enjoy the finest lineup promoter Jeff Branch has put together yet. By assiduously recruiting sponsors and carefully building his event, Branch continues to make his festival an increasingly attractive choice to attend, regardless of the weather risk. Attendees were rewarded this year with a Saturday that turned out to be a climatic and artistic triumph!

Promoter Jeff Branch & his mother Joan Branch
Photo by Sandy Haley

Located in the country-side just beyond the far reaches of nearby Charlotte's suburban sprawl, Big Lick retains its country feel and informal quality. As usual, we like to arrive early to settle in, get our bearings, and enjoy watching as the rest of the regional bluegrass community, augmented by visitors from as far away as Vermont, rolls in.

By Thursday evening, the assembling audience is ready to hear some music. Despite the chill, six bands including some old favorites from the surrounding community and a delightful band from Davidson College showed up to entertain.

The Cold Didn't Seem To Affect the Parrot

The Catawba Riverkings

The surprise band of the weekend was the Catawba Riverkings, recently assembled at Davidson College. The band competed last month at RenoFest, achieving third place in the prestigious band contest. We look forward to seeing this promising band in the future.

The Horse Barn

Wood Family Tradition

The Wood Family Tradition is a third generation family band following in the footsteps of family patriarch Al Wood, who performed with his Smoky Mountain Boys, and now fronted by his son, Mike. Wilkesboro's Eric Ellis, one of North Carolina's finest Scruggs style banjoists, played with the band this weekend. Singer Mackenzie Wood shows that marrying into a bluegrass family helps add to the family band's quality.

Mike Wood

Jason Wood

Bobby Wood

Mackenzie Wood

Eric Ellis

Photographer Deb Miller at Work

Bethel University

The Bethel University Bluegrass Band returned to Big Lick for the fourth time this year. Located in McKenzie, TN, the college sponsors the unique Renaissance program, a fine arts division of great breadth. This band has shown consistent and impressive improvement over the past couple of years. It shows the benefits of performance and practice as well as effective recruitment by Director of Renaissance Bluegrass Stephen Mougin. Since the band's personnel changes each year, we were pleased to note its improvement as well as some new recruits. It's not difficult to imagine that in the near future some major bluegrass bands will be populated with graduates of this program. We've known guitarist Noah Williams since he was attending Pete Wernick's Jam Camp at Merlefest six or eight years ago. My apologies to Jake Riggins on bass for missing his photo.

James Heathcock

Aaron Holman

Sophie Chambers & Kelly Smith

Noah Williams

Mary Lagrone

Lagrone, Heathcock, Williams

 John Atwater

The Spinney Brothers

The Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia's gift to bluegrass, the Spinney Brothers were the host band at this year's Big Lick, making four performances. Their blend of traditional bluegrass and country music is pleasing to the ear, at the merch table they are personable and approachable, and they are popular at Big Lick. 

Rick Spinney

Allan Spinney

Gary Dalrymple

Terry Poirier

The Spinney Brothers

Deeper Shade of Blue 

A Deeper Shade of Blue is truly a local band for this festival, although, as their history has paralleled that of Big Lick, they have become a regional band reaching towards national status as the number and quality of their appearances continues to widen. They maintain a traditional bluegrass sound while selecting songs by well-known bluegrass writers that are not often heard performed by other bands. They also write from within the band. Instrumentally and vocally they are strong. They convey their skill and conviction with every number. 

Troy Pope

Jason Fraley

Jim Fraley

Frank Poindexter

Scott Burgess

The Real Jason Fraley

Vamping in the Green Room
Skip Cherryholmes & Brad Hudson


Sideline is a perfect example of a group of fine musicians getting together for a few off-season gigs that quickly moves into the national spotlight because it's sound and the vibe are so clearly in the pocket. Though the band has had two important additions to the original band in Brad Hudson on Dobro and Troy Boone on mandolin and tenor vocals, other members who began this band have remained the same. Despite the fact that the experience of core members easily exceeds fifty years in the business, experienced musicians in important bands, Sideline should be a strong candidate for IBMA Emerging Band of the Year.

Steve Dilling

Jason Moore

Skip Cherryholmes

Nathan Aldridge

Brad Hudson

Troy Boone

Brad Hudson & Skip Cherryholmes

Three Amigos
Dilling, Moore, Boone

Bluegrass Essentials
Emcee - Sherry Boyd

Sound by BlueRidge Sound
Tim Echols

Jeffrey Keyes

Junior Sisk & Rambler's Choice

Junior Sisk is one of the major influences in bluegrass music keeping traditional music alive, both with older songs and new one with a traditional sound. He specializes in "she done him wrong" songs many of which include little smirk built in. His band, all of whom have been with him now for several years, has the advantage of having developed a tight, crisp sound fitting the genre to perfection. Junior was named the 2013 IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year. 

Junior Sisk

Jason Davis

Jonathan Dillon

Kameron Keller

Jamie Harper

Junior Sisk

Flatt Lonesome

Flatt Lonesome has been on a fast track to success since shortly after making one of their earliest festival appearances at the Newell Lodge Bluegrass Festival in the midst of a live oak grove in south Georgia, only a few miles north of their home in Callahan, FL. They have been propelled by their fine sibling harmonies with twins Charli and Buddy Robertson and their older sister Kelsi Robertson Harrigil along with increasingly fine instrumental work of the three principles along with Paul Harrigil on banjo, Mike Stockton on Dobro, and Dominic Illingworth on bass. Only six years from their stage debut at SPBGMA in Nashville, the band has been propelled by their own hard work, effective publicity, strong support from promoter Darrell Adkins (Musicians Against Childhood Cancer) and on-air showcases on Sirius/Xm radio. With this live, festival performance, they also showed improved pace and showmanship to go along with their improving social skills with their audience at the merch table and around the grounds. In 2016 Flatt Lonesome took home IBMA awards for Song of the Year and Album of the Year In 2014 they were named Emerging Artist of the Year, This young band has shown itself capable of hard work and continued growth. They have a promising future. 

Kelsi Robertson Harigill

Buddy Robertson

Charli Robertson

Paul Harigill

Michael Stockton

Dominic Illingworth

The Malpass Brothers

The Malpass Brothers, their mouths full of eastern Carolina cornmush accents and their souls filled with country music they are too  young to have known when it was being produced provide the change-of-pace sound of classic country music from the 1920's to the 1970's, filling a yearning among bluegrass fans for a form of music they feel has gone off, leaving them behind. They have honed their act with the sound of performers warmly remembered and frequently covered by bluegrass bands with less accuracy than they manage. Brothers Christopher and Taylor Malpass sound and look like they come from an almost forgotten and well-loved era of what's now called "classic country." Backed by an exceptional band, when they take the stage, few, if any, bluegrass fans object to their being plugged in or having drums on the stage. They just sit back and enjoy the show, as they should. 

Christopher Malpass

Taylor (Tater Bug) Malpass

Chris Malpass

Dennis Daniels

Johnny Ridge

 Clyde Mattox

Saturday at Big Lick proved to be a lovely day, warm during the day and cool, but not too chilly, well into the evening. Promoter Jeff Branch was rewarded by a large day-crowd. The festival, lovingly and carefully built with an always improving lineup proved again, good lineups and respect for the audience's good taste yield good results for smart and discriminating promoters. We continued heading north on Sunday morning with a good feeling about the enjoyable festival.