Rock News: Music's high and low notes

By JOHN SWENSON, United Press International  |  May 6, 2003 at 3:00 AM
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While racing fans converged on the Kentucky Derby this weekend, music fans cashed in on Pete Francis. Francis played to a packed house at Jillian's in Louisville, Ky., as part of the weekend's festivities. On the bill with Uncle Cracker and G-Love, Francis brought the crowd to its feet playing songs from his upcoming major label debut

"Untold," (June 17) with highlights including an acoustic performance of "Coal Miner" and a rave-up show-closing rendition of "One Train," the new album's first single. Long-time friends from Pete's days touring with Dispatch, after the show Pete and G-Love grabbed their guitars and headed back to the bus to swap songs and play until the early hours of the morning.


Two new titles in Bluebird's "When The Sun Goes Down" reissue series will be released May 6. "Poor Man's Heaven: Blues and Tales of The Great Depression" is an eye-opening multi-artist collection of country, blues, jazz and pop songs from and about the decade-long economic slump that began with the stock market crash of Oct. 29, 1929. "Take This Hammer" compiles the complete RCA Victor recordings of the legendary folk-blues singer and guitarist Leadbelly (Huddie Ledbetter).

"Poor Man's Heaven: Blues and Tales of The Great Depression" compiles 24 songs recorded by as many different artists in the period from 1929 to 1940. The themes of hard times and fervent hope bind together remarkably diverse performances by artists as famous as Eddie Cantor ("Eddie Cantor's Tips On The Stock Market") and Sonny Boy Williamson ("Welfare Store Blues"), as obscure as Julia Gerity ("Sittin' On A Rubbish Can") and Wilmoth Houdini ("Poor But Ambitious").

"Poor Man's Heaven" includes the original versions of two songs later recorded by Ry Cooder: Blind Alfred Reed's "How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?" (1929) and Fiddlin' John Carson's "Taxes on the Farmer Feeds Us All" (1934). The E.Y. Harburg/Jay Gorney classic "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?", heard here in a 1932 recording by Leo Reisman & His Orchestra, vocal by Milton Douglas, later was covered by Dave Brubeck, Judy Collins, Tom Jones, Abbey Lincoln and Luciano Pavarotti, among other singers.

"Take This Hammer" collects 26 tracks recorded by Leadbelly in July 1940, divided between solo performances and collaborations with the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet.


When The Skatalites played St. Petersburg, Russia, in 2001, the band was surprised by the international response. One pair of Russian musicians traveled more than 8,000 miles by train from Vladavirstock, playing their own brand of Russian acoustic reggae along the way to help pay their travel expenses. Latin American fans have been known to journey to Europe to catch a glimpse of the founders of ska, who rarely play South America, which is having a ska renaissance of its own. Japan is ska mad, too, where tribute band The Skaflames have a solid following and have shared the stage with the ska forefathers. On a recent Skatalites tour in Japan, one young Japanese woman arrived with saxophone in hand, songs memorized, ready to play along. By the end of this year's tour, the Skatalites will have performed on every continent. Celebrating international unity, World Village Records (Harmonia Mundi) releases "From Paris With Love" May 13. The album was recorded in Paris and named after the skaliciously adapted film theme, "From Russia with Love."


Nickel Creek, Speech, David Grisman Quartet, Kaki King, Baka Beyond, Kusun Ensemble and Donna the Buffalo are among the billed for "Floydfest." The most successful first-year festival to hit the Appalachian mountains of Virginia will be back for an encore this summer, when cultures collide Aug. 15-17 at the 80-acre site off the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway in Floyd County. "Floydfest" is a non-profit, vehemently non-commercial grassroots event focusing on cultural preservation by showcasing diverse musical genres from around the world. This year's event also will remember its friend, Babatunde Olatunji, who recently passed away, not long after taking an active role in helping bring African Showboyz from the northern bush of Ghana to the festival for their first visit to United States.

"This is really about cultural survival and awareness," says festival co-founder Kris Hodges. "Without its roots, the tree falls over."


Songwriter Joe Henry has a new album, "Tiny Voices," due out Sept. 9 through Anti-Records. The self-produced album features a dozen new self-penned tracks taking the listener through sonically captivating tales hinting of love, loss, arson, molestation, death and surrender. Sample song titles include: "Animal Skin," "Sold," "Dirty Magazine," "Loves You Madly" and "Flesh & Blood," which also is found on Solomon Burke's Grammy Award-winning album "Don't Give Up On Me," which also was produced by Henry.

"I find it incredibly liberating at this point in my career to clean the slate and rethink how I work," he said. "And Anti- is the biggest piece of the equation. I was signed based on a body of work, not my most recent demos. And you have to admit, I'm in very flattering company."

Henry joins a roster that includes Nick Cave, Grammy winners Tom Waits and Daniel Lanois, Merle Haggard and Emmy Award winning comedian/actor Eddie Izzard.

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