Hardly Strictly


Perfect, sweet Bay Area fall weather for Hardly Strictly... as usual, there is no possible way to see everything: when informed via text about Gillian & Dave joining Robyn Hitchcock on Candyman, I thought, arg, another one gets away! Until last night at the Fillmore when I got to see it from the second row. Bliss! Gillian wore a beautiful new pair of caramel-colored boots with her name in cream mirror-image script. (Image pinched from the Indiana Daily Student)

Happy Birthday Gillian! Thank you Warren!

faithful as can be

Been a while since we had a nice salad. This one comes to you courtesy of a fierce cilantro jones that seized me last week. First I found this yummy chicken biryani recipe via gojee & was “as faithful as can be—for me”* to the recipe, which meant I used mild peppers instead of hot, & about twice, maybe thrice, as much as cilantro. That jones, you know.

I liked the raita so much that I wanted to put it on everything. Salad dressing? Of course. Blueberries & cilantro are a cool-as-a-cucumber match made in summer heaven, so there you go:

Cilantro Loves Blueberries Salad

feeds 2 serious salad-eaters, 4 normal folks

Little gems &/or other mild green lettuces, a few large handfuls

Blueberries, a large handful

A small splash of olive oil

Avocado slices

Raita (adapted from the biryani recipe above):

1 C cucumber peeled, seeded and finely chopped

1/2 C plain yogurt

2–3 T cilantro minced

2 T mint minced

1/2 t cumin seeds

1/2 t salt

fresh ground black pepper to taste

(You will have a lot of leftover raita!)

Wash & dry the lettuces & blueberries & throw em in a bowl. Dollop a couple of generous spoonfuls of raita on top, followed by a small bloop of olive oil. Toss well. Plate with sliced avocados on the side.

*I’ve always loved this song. You notice they never actually resolve the problem? Heh. Quote is at 0:39.


Listening: Girl Talk. I just wish this spiffy visual breakdown included dates for all the sources, because I strongly suspect I’m getting a remedial crash course on all that happened in pop music for the past quarter century while I was busy listening to the likes of Cachao & Gillian Welch.

Reading: Ingratitude: The Debt-Bound Daughter in Asian American Literature by erin Khuê Ninh. Everybody should read this. (Especially if you’re suffering any form of Tiger Mom Fatigue. Don’t know about you, but the Fatigue hit me pretty much the first moment I heard of her.)

Drinking: variations on carrot juice

Eating: Peas! Peas! Peas! How about a simple recipe?

Cheesy Peasy

(serves 1)

2 slices Alvarado bread

medium sharp cheddar

about 2 pods’ worth of English (shelling) peas

Cover one slice of bread with cheese. Dot peas all over. Put the other slice of bread on top & hold it together carefully (no escaping peas!) as you place the sandwich in a sandwich grill or press of your choice (we use a George we found on the street). Grill til cheese is melty. Yay, cheesy peasy!

(Edited to add picture)

Pop lyric diagrams

Coming to Shadowshop soon (early next week, I guesstimate): grammatical sentence diagrams of pop lyrics!

Long-time readers of this blog may recall me as Dr. Diagram, diagramming lyrics to order at the Art Health Fair at the Oakland Museum in 2003, or Roadside Elixir at the Headlands in 2004. Well, if you missed those opportunities, you can still truck on down to SFMOMA & get yer rock & roll mitts on a hand-drawn diagram—for just $12! Choose from classics like “Freebird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd (pictured above), “Last Dance” by Donna Summer or “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin!

I couldn’t resist sneaking a Dead tune in there too…

Following is the little blurb that’s tucked in with each diagram, except here, you get links with that:

Mere days into 6th grade, I found myself sitting on the gym floor in a circle of girls, who began passing around a David Cassidy LP so that each of us could kiss his picture on the cover. I was the new girl in this school; no way could I afford not to kiss it with as much enthusiasm as I could fake (not much at all—I was soon relegated to the nerd clique, if you could call it that). So began my adolescent crash-course in pop music, which gave me my generational & cultural identity (just as it has done & continues to do for decades of 6th-grade girls). Around the same time I also learned how to diagram sentences; this methodical, visual organization of language so elegantly revealed grammar’s structure that I loved it even then. (How’s that for nerd cred?!)

As an artist, I’m always looking at the under-the-radar stuff of culture, the things that we know without knowing that we know them—what is given, hidden in plain sight. The grammatical structure of our language is of course all-pervasive, yet usually invisible. Pop music can function similarly, as a library of cultural fragments that we accumulate, consciously or subconsciously, throughout our lives. I started diagramming lyrics around 2000; later I diagrammed collaboratively in public, asking participants to recall lyrics from songs that were formative or meaningful to them. Sometimes people misremembered lyrics, so these diagrams may reflect the inaccuracy of pop memory. I also can’t guarantee grammatical correctness, although I tried my best with much help from A Workbook of Sentence Diagramming, self-published by Eugene R. Moutoux, 2002; & my brother’s old copy of Prentice-Hall Grammar and Composition: Level 6, 1982.

Thanks also to: Donna Ozawa, for inviting me to diagram at the Oakland Museum Art Health Fair (2003); Claudia Tennyson, for inviting me to diagram at the Headlands open house (2004); Becky Pringle, my 6th grade English teacher; & Janice Kleeman, for teaching me the history of rock & roll & the aesthetics of pop.


One wet winter afternoon sometime in the early 90s, I was driving up Ashby on my way home from work, dark gray clouds hastening the early dusk. I felt tired, & likely as not had a touch of my usual SAD, exacerbated by that bad habit I used to have of nibbling on peanut m&ms at my desk after lunch. Plus I never used to get any exercise in the winter. So it makes sense, the overall crappy weariness I remember.

And then I heard this song on the radio:

I thought I had never heard anything so tender & beautiful before. My Spanish (then as well as now, sadly) barely qualifies as rudimentary, so I had no way of knowing that they were singing about a drop of dew, but the simplicity & clarity of the song really did feel just as refreshing as a dewdrop. Suddenly the gray clouds were beautiful with subtle colors. The damp weather felt lush, clean & vital. I noticed the green trees in the hills.

I rushed home (no cellphones then!), called the studio number at KPFA (of course) & the DJ (I wish I could remember who it was) told me: Silvio Rodríguez. So I had his name, & the name of the song, but for some reason wasn’t able to track it down (no web!) until Donna brought home an old cache of LPs she had been storing somewhere, & there was my song on the sixth side of Tríptico. I wish I could tell you that I fell in love with the whole thing, but the truth is I was a little put off by all those drippy 70s arrangements. Nothing else could touch “La Gota de Rocío”, with its spare beauty & the clear-as-a-bell voice of Anabel Lopez. I put it on a mixtape (no CD burners!) & almost forgot about the rest of the album.

So. Here we are in 2010 & about a month ago Donna finds out that Silvio is coming to the US for the first time in 30 years. 30 years! Ticket prices be damned, this is the chance of a lifetime! So I ran down to the Paramount box office & scored us a pair in the second-cheapest balcony section. (I am all about avoiding nasty service charges as often as possible. Whether it’s an expensive show or not.)

What can I say? There was so much love in the room, it was mayhem of the best kind. People were beside themselves, hollering & waving Cuban flags, singing along, giving deafening ovations at every opportunity. Even before Silvio came out, when 3 of his bandmembers were playing the opening instrumental, I felt like I might cry, but pretty soon we were simply weeping.

I didn’t know what to expect from Silvio; people get older & their voices sometimes lose a little, or a lot, in the process. Or they get tired of singing their hits decade after decade & they start to sound like they’re covering themselves. (It can be worth it anyway in some cases: the one time we got to see James Brown, we were disappointed that it was more like James Brown doing James Brown, but it was still James Brown!) No: Silvio’s voice is still one of the most tender, warm & authentic voices I have ever had the pleasure to hear. I can’t help using the word “tender” over & over to describe his music, because that is what you feel from him: love, tenderness, idealism, hope.

Like the proverbial hand in a glove, this wonderful voice is perfectly matched with the kind of songs he writes: elemental, primary, what people mean when they say “classic”: so many of his songs sound as if they have always existed. As if each song lived whole somewhere inside music, waiting for the right moment to be born. (Gillian Welch, too, has a line on that particular kind of magic.)

The fine, fine band (tres, guitar, acoustic bass, flute & clarinet, understated drums & percussion) & sensitive arrangements fulfilled the promise of those beautiful songs that I knew were hidden under the syrupy overproduction of Tríptico: I felt like I could hear everything clearly because they played even old songs in a way that made sense to my contemporary ears.

Yet still there was that timeless quality. My Spanish didn’t allow me to understand the lyrics in any literal sense, so I can only tell you that he sang of earth & sky, of butterflies, heart, death, rain, of memory, of dreams & of angels, Martin Luther King & Violeta Parra. Stars, moon, time… a drop of dew.

We never wanted him to leave. I lost count of the encores. Even after they lowered the curtain, most of the house kept chanting & cheering & clapping, until finally we floated on little clouds of joy out to the sidewalk, where we all stood around smiling at each other, not quite ready to go home.

to keep always at hand

How many times have you heard “Guantanamera” in your life? Ten thousand? A million? I thought I knew what that song was, until I saw this:

No kidding, we had rented Soul Power & when I couldn’t stop watching this outtake over & over, I knew I had to buy a copy to keep always at hand for moments of depression, discouragement, outrage, whatever may happen to plague me & make me forget about the existence of pure joy & musical magic. Celia’s embodiment of time is so deep here. Time, & a buncha other important stuff.

It’s like I never heard the song before.

There’s some other good shit on the disc too, like, you know, James Brown….

Happy Year of the Tiger!


I got shut out of this show for dragging my feet on the buying of tickets, but that’s ok cause a week later they played for free(!), outside(!) at Cal & I didn’t have to cross any big water for that.

Eating: brown rice, pinto beans (from a can, even), the first Hass avocado, Bariani olive oil, Maldon salt. Feels like cheating: you aren’t really cooking but it tastes so good, you can’t imagine eating anything better. Unless you’re steaming Dungeness, which also doesn’t feel like cooking. Ditto the first artichokes (boiled) & the first asparagus (roasted). I like this theme.

Rearranging: furniture. (Lest you think I’ve gone all lazy, with those non-cooking meals & all.)

Smelling: plum blossoms!

Gazing in wonder: the tulip magnolias are stunning right now. No picture can do justice. Go out & look, if you haven’t already.


Thinking & writing: about how that last decade kicked my fucking ass, but I did some kicking right back too

Eating: Taco Grill’s pozole de pollo (thank you, Peggy)

Re-reading after many years: Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, Mitchell translation (thank you, Shahara)

Drinking: sencha (thank you, Birgit)

Knitting: wristwarmers that match the sencha

Listening: Furthur (thank you, Bobby & Phil)

Swimming: as always

Trying: not to get sick

Happy New Year, blog readers!

steady rotation


Michael’s blackberry honey on Alvarado sprouted whole wheat. Every once in a great while, & I mean like every several years, a perfect jar of honey & a certain mood of mine align to give me a whole loaf’s worth of incredibly satisfying bread & honey. The honey varies but the bread is always Alvarado. This time the honey is dark brown, partly crystallized between liquid & solid, & yes, it does taste like blackberries. I don’t see Michael anywhere on the web—figures, for a guy with hand-written labels. You can get his honey at the Berkeley Bowl, & his last name is Huber, which may or may not mean that he is a direct descendant of François Huber, the father of beekeeping. That would be too neat. I mean that both ways.

Dave Rawlings Machine “Bells of Harlem”, off the new album. Steady rotation. “Ruby” is pretty damn awesome too.

Toe-up socks! How can you not knit in this weather?!

43 is the new 80

More love!

At the Women’s Building tonight, Sherman Alexie (looking spiffy in cufflinks) tried to explain to the young people in the room what they’re missing in their lives. Citing Joan Jett’s remark that there is no anticipation anymore, he delivered a long, evocative rumination on the beauty of not knowing what you were going to hear when you so carefully placed that fresh vinyl on the turntable for the first time.

Then he laughed at himself for sounding so old: “That’s how fast things are moving now… 43 is the new 80!”

Dude! How true is that?! I sometimes forget that part of what makes me love Sherman so much (aside from his obvious greatness) is that I totally lock in with his pop cultural perspective because he & I are the same age.

Folks who hang out with me, consider yourself warned. You can look forward to me saying “43 is the new 80” for some time to come. At least until I turn 44, heh.


Gillian Welch & David Rawlings at the Fillmore: More than worth the backache from standing all night long. That hallowed room is really not for creaky old bodies, but 10 feet from the stage with the flawless crystal sound, Gil & Dave working their magic, breathing & creating as one organism, it’s so good, it feels like love.

Warren pears: Almost not of this world—but they are of this world, they come from the ground, they grow on trees & aren’t we lucky beyond belief? It seems like insanity to eat any other fruit right now. (I am insane, though, & cannot refuse the last of the melons & stone fruits.)

Gourmet magazine: A different kind of love, more material & mundane perhaps, but no less real. I grew up ogling those centerfolds every month, year after yummy year. I refuse to say RIP! Will someone come in & rescue it somehow? Am I in denial?


Sorry to be gone so long. Sometimes I just don’t have much to say. Been doing some hard work pretty much sums it up. Not the kind that pays in dollars (well, there was a wee bit of that), but still I needed a bit of vacation afterward.

Herewith, the Art of the Staycation:

NO computers! We bent this rule only to look up information about Approved Staycation Activities: ferry schedules, concert ticket availability, maps to get to labyrinths, that sort of thing. Remember to turn the computer OFF when you’ve completed your mission, otherwise you’ll find yourself checking email after you get home from the delicious concert. Ask me how I know. Talk about a buzzkill.

Set specific starting & ending times for the staycation. We said ours would start at 7pm on Monday night. Ring a bell & leave the house to go out to dinner!

When you come back from dinner, walk around the house saying things like:

“Look at the nice place we’re staying!”

“I’m so glad I brought ALL of our books!”

“Hey, they sure have a nicely stocked kitchen for us!”

“Isn’t this bed comfy?”

In other words, really work the fantasy. If you are a couple & have usual sides of the bed you each sleep on, switch sides!

Themes are helpful. Our theme was labyrinths.

Sibley’s Mazzariello Labyrinth

If you go, note that they have changed things a little bit in the preserve & the labyrinth is now at marker #2, not #4.

Use alternate modes of transportation—all the less-efficient, more-expensive ways of getting about that you wouldn’t use in your normal life. We took the ferry & cable car(!) to get to the labyrinth at Grace Cathedral, stopping for some clam chowder & oysters on the way.

I didn’t get a photo of the labyrinth. When we were done walking it, we realized that we had like 10 minutes to make the last ferry, so in true staycation spirit, we grabbed a cab(!) & made it to the dock with just a minute to spare. It was dusk & the full moon was rising as we crossed the bay. (Sorry no moon photos. You had to be there.)

Next day, the labyrinth with the spectacular view at Land’s End...

... followed by The Infamous Stringdusters. Deep Elem Blues! Those boys tore it up. I want to see them again.

Even though our staycation officially ended when eyes opened this morning, we couldn’t resist capping it off with Charlie Haden at Yoshi’s SF tonight.

So decadent! Yet all still incredibly cheap compared to flying (or even driving) someplace where you have to pay for a room. I highly recommend it. Bay Area folks, there’s a reason why all those people come here from all over the dang world for their vacations! Go out & enjoy it!

Stumptown Printers

I’ve been burning a lot of CDs lately, which forced me to deal, really deal, with a problem that has been plaguing me for a while now: what the hell to put them in. Let’s face it, jewel cases shatter if you look at em wrong, & who wants to be responsible for more little plastic bits in the landfill? Those little paper envelopes get lost on the shelf or accumulate in disorganized stacks. For a while I was folding my own; these satisfied the DIY itch nicely, but over time they start to look kinda wrinkled & unkempt.

What to do, what to do? I wanted sensibly designed, reasonably cheap, recycled paperboard. At first there seemed to be only one game in town as far as recycled goes, but sleeves do not solve the spineless disorganization problem, plus I wasn’t crazy about having an open side. My tenacious googling finally struck gold: Stumptown Printers sells blank Arigato Paks, shipped flat. You can rubberstamp, print, embellish to your heart’s content, or just write on the spine, fold it up & be done with it.

Problem solved! Plus, you get to support a groovy cooperative letterpress shop. What could be better? (Well, if they sold them through a retail outlet in my neighborhood, that would be perfection itself, wouldn’t it?)

P.S. You can fit up to 3 CDs in one of these! I just cut squares of paper to layer between the CDs, & they all sit snugly in there together.

Neko Case


Let us now praise the mighty force of nature that is Neko Case! Thrill over her insanely fabulous Knight of Swords album cover: is the resemblance not striking?

(Thanks to Learning the Tarot for this particular image.)

In Tarot, the Swords are the suit of air, & indeed Middle Cyclone feels like some serious wind. I have been playing this thing incessantly since laying hands upon it, & sometimes I could swear I feel my hair blowing back even when all the windows in the studio are shut. It’s not news that the girl has lungs & knows how to use them, but wow, how does she keep cranking out amazing album after amazing album? Despite all the air, Neko herself is a rock-solid dependable Virgo, which only goes partway toward explaining why I love her so.

Let me count the ways:

1) The feeling of enormous spaciousness she creates, which has stayed with me as an unflagging overall impression ever since I heard the first few notes of the Furnace Room Lullaby CD. It’s not just the heavy reverb, either.

2) The old-skool, uncompromising defense of her copyright. No Creative Commons for Neko, no way. Don’t get me wrong, I think there can be a lot of good in all that newfangled sharing, but Neko’s hard line speaks to my heart, as in the Canadian Amp liner notes: “THIS IS WHAT WE DO FOR A LIVING. WE HAVE KIDS, BILLS, AND RENT TOO. THANK YOU.” The current liner notes take a more threatening tone, & I love her for it.

3) The constant experimentation & fun & joy & excellence… I never claimed to be a music writer, & enough bytes abound from keyboards more polished than mine. I’ll just say my world would not be complete without her music arriving in fresh batches regularly the way it does, which brings me to

4) The professionalism & consistency. I am in awe of how she runs her operation. How she shows up all the fucking time. No weird drug habit, no moody off nights. No parched, thirsty deserts of endless time between albums. As much as I love Neko, there are musicians who sing more directly to my own soul, & of course they are the ones who dole out an album maybe every 5 years if you’re lucky, maybe because they’re too busy enjoying themselves (yeah, Gil & Dave, I’m looking at you), or maybe because it’s just too hard (I can’t really pretend to know, but Freakwater comes to mind), or maybe it’s just my own natural sympathy for my kin, the unprolific artists of the world. How lucky that we can rely upon people like Neko (& Sherman Alexie, who is going to bankrupt me with his prodigious output) to keep us all going!

5) You know I am a sucker for a really good Bob Dylan cover, & Neko’s “Buckets of Rain” just about breaks my heart. In the best possible way.

I could go on, but I’ll leave it at this: I don’t think it’s any coincidence that I’ve started making souffles just during this last little stretch of Middle Cycloned time. What food could be airier? It’s like eating clouds. Too bad they always collapse before I think to grab the camera. Put on some brand-new Neko, whip up some egg whites of your own, & then you won’t need my pictures anyway.


I’ve been busy lately! Coupla weekends ago I had a quintessentially East Bay foodie day with The Witch. First we went to a chicken workshop (yes we have urban chicken fantasies!) at EcoHouse, where I got no good photos of the chickens, but this friendly duck came to investigate my camera:

After that, we dropped by the People’s Grocery garden party, where we ate an embarrassment of padrón peppers & admired this lovely kiwi vine:

Then I felt kinda crappy for a week & didn’t do anything interesting. I think maybe I successfully fought off a full-blown cold.

Once recovered, I had to come up with a goodbye card for the incomparable Steve Woodall, who is leaving (wah!) to run the Columbia Center for Book & Paper Arts after nurturing our own San Francisco Center for the Book from its very beginning. I have always been in awe of Steve’s big, big heart. He is one of the kindest people you could ever hope to meet, & somehow manages to keep tons of stuff running smoothly with the most easygoing manner… I just don’t know how a person becomes like that. If I’m lucky maybe I’ll get to be a little more like him in my next life.

Anyway, you can imagine the pressure was on since I knew that about a hundred killer book artists were all making cards for Steve too. None of this running out to buy a card & scrawling something in it with a ballpoint pen for this crowd, no way. Not when John DeMerritt is making one of his famous boxes to put all the cards in. I was so distracted by the card situation that I forgot all about bringing food to the party until like half an hour before I had to leave. Doh! The fridge looked pretty bare & I thought I’d have to run out & buy something on the way, but you know, that’s not how I like to do things if I can help it. I spent too many years of my life as the person who brought chips & salsa to potlucks. (Although for the record, let me say at least it was always Casa Sanchez. I did have standards.)

Here is Mother of Invention Salad. We have fuyu persimmons on the tree right now, so I grabbed two of those, plus an apple & half a head of some speckly chicory (sorry I can’t remember the name of it—you could use radicchio or anything similar). Mandolined the fruit, squeezed some lemon juice over it. Sliced the chicory; the tops of the leaves were too soft to do on the mandoline, so I did that with a knife & then hit the mandoline when I got closer to the stem end. Tossed it all with red wine mustard vinaigrette (thanks again, Orangette!) & then thought it needed some green, so I ran out into the garden & pinched off some pineapple sage for garnish. Done!

Of course, when I got to the party it turned out everybody else had brought chips & salsa, bread & cheese, & wine. Occupational hazard of the book arts: no way in hell do you have time for anything else. Now I remember why I always used to do the Casa Sanchez thing… & why I don’t edition books anymore!

Next night, it was the reception for Road Trip at San Jose Museum of Art. I hadn’t seen the show yet so was quite eager to find out how it looked. I have to say I’m pleased as punch to be in this show. Curator Kristen Evangelista did a fabulous job; how often do you go to a big group show like that & really enjoy most of the stuff in it?!

It was a fun opening too. Five Dollar Suit was playing bluegrass, & the food was thematic, reaching its conceptual peak with these teeny tiny chicken fried steaks, sandwiched in biscuits with gravy, here modeled by the talented, hardworking hands of Noah Lang & Donna Ozawa.

on eating in other folks’ cultures

I feel a bit of guilt, now that the matzo shortage appears so grim. Even though I bought my 2 boxes before I heard about the situation, well, a shiksa like me can eat leavened or unleavened bread whenever, so probably my matzo shoulda gone to some Jew who at this moment is experiencing major angst over the lack thereof. But it’s too late for that.

We can only hope that emergency matzo gets flown in here before matzo riots break out!

Meanwhile, here is some leavened goodness I enjoyed over the weekend at the Cal powwow.

How to eat an Indian taco: the problem is that you have many many unsecured food bits mounded up on an unstable base (aka thin paper plate balanced on your knees). You are eating in a confined space (very little elbow room) with barely adequate plastic utensils, & you don’t want to be the uncouth non-Indian dropping aforementioned food bits—or worse, flinging the entire thing—upon your Indian (or non-Indian) seatmates. Plus, the distraction of adorable teeny tiny 4-year-old jingle dress dancers.

The temptation is to slice it like a pizza & pick up the wedges with your hand. Do not try this. The motion caused by sawing away with that little plastic knife will cause an avalanche of food bits to tumble off the edges of the plate & onto your lap, the floor, & all surrounding Indians & non-Indians. Also, fry bread is very elastic; when you inevitably lose patience with the pathetic progress of the knife you will try tearing the bread, which could easily result in the flinging action I mentioned earlier.

So. Here is the method I have developed. Pry your eyes away from the cute mighty mites long enough to take your wee fork & eat some of the bits off the top. Eat the hill shape down into a flatter, more spread out & stable arrangement of the bits, preferably so that the puffy edges of the fry bread function to hold things in the relatively sunken middle.

(Note that even with all your best efforts, those stray food bits dangling precariously over the edge will fall to their doom. It’s not about perfection here; it’s about minimizing the damage.)

Now you can try the knife, but be patient & saw all the way through to the bottom. No tugging! For controlled tearing, start with the edge & tear inward toward the middle, rolling the edge in so that the bits get trapped between layers of fry bread. This gets easier as the bread soaks up some liquid from the tomatoes & beans.

I know, nobody likes soggy fry bread, but guess what? You don’t have to eat that part. By the time you’ve eaten all the yummy crispy edges & everything on top, you’ll be too full for that soggy middle anyway. Relax with your comfortably full stomach, watch the dancers, & soak up the drums. Ho!

I’m sick. I have that disgusting wretched cold. All those Meyer lemons I was planning to make lemon meringue pie with? They go straight into hot water with honey & garlic for my miserable throat. Meanwhile, whenever I am not asleep or moping around in a foggy stupor, I’ve been surfing the type blogs (don’t ask me why), which eventually led me to this endlessly amusing timewaster P22 Music Text Composition Generator. Check it out, they have many instrument choices, including some of my favorites: banjo, accordion, bagpipe… the acoustic bass doesn’t sound very convincing though. Anyway it’s much more suited to my current condition than trying to appreciate the fine differences between various Garamonds.

Oh my gawd the Carolina Chocolate Drops! You know sometimes when you go see a band based on nothing more than a hunch, & then you turn out to be so right? I had torn out an article about these folks waay back when, buried it in a scary giant pile on my desk, then unearthed it just a couple weeks ago during major excavation of my desk. (You can actually see the desktop now! It’s blue.) Article in hand, I found the website & listened to a song, which I liked enough to then see where they were playing. Serendipity called; they were coming to Cafe Du Nord in just a few days.

So, there we were, with pumpkin soup & a big spinach salad, hard pear cider & no particular expectations. The opening duo was pleasant enough, obviously locals with friends in the audience. So far, so good. They finished playing & we finished our food. Then the Drops got on stage & gave us that sneaky stringband trick of a sweet, moderate-paced preamble before dramatically kicking it up to superhighspeed, large & in fucking charge, authoritative, sinus-clearing, hair-raising, fierce playing. Wow! The temperature of the place shot up about 10 degrees. I was instantly in love. & it didn’t stop. They got everthang: showpersonmanship, talent, brains, dedication, humor, analysis, energy, & looks & youth (oh yeah, I did say energy) to boot. If I wasn’t so thrilled just to be in the same room with them I’d go ahead & be jealous. The wacky Dom Flemons plays any & every instrument he feels like, including bones, jug & guitar, & just when you think he’s shown you everything he’s got, throws some throat-singing into the mix too. Rhiannon Giddens does everything too, including Charleston & clogging—barefoot! Justin Robinson may seem like “the quiet one” in comparison but is a mean player & singer himself & a fully worthy, equal member of the trio.

Everybody loved them. Toward the end of one song, someone in the audience moaned, “Don’t let it end!” When they were done with us we made them come back for two encores, then stampeded up to the CD table with fistfuls of cash, crying out, give us one of everything! They graciously signed their CDs for us & we went home with joyously rearranged brain cells. Do I need to say it? Go see them! They’re everything you never knew you wanted in an African American oldtime stringband. If you think you don’t like oldtime, well, they’ll make a convert outta you.