Author: DJB

Saturday Music: Quarantine Essentials

Eleven years ago I posted a short series on More to Come entitled Five Albums for a Desert Island. It was a way to expand on a Facebook challenge at the time to list your five favorite albums. And while the original posts sound slightly dated, they nonetheless stand up pretty well in describing five albums that have shaped my musical interests. I thought about these albums again in this time of global quarantine. If I had to choose only five albums to have on my live-stream for a long period of sheltering-in-place, how would these do? Well, I think I could more than live with these five…I’d still very much enjoy them! Yes, I would miss not having Nickel Creek‘s self-titled 2000 album to enjoy. (Click the link to read the recent NPR article about the album: “How Nickel Creek made Americana the new Indie Rock.”) And I love The Best of John Hiatt. Nonetheless, with the original five I would not only survive, but would thrive. I’ll encourage you to go back and read the …

Widening the Circle of We

A friend recently raised concerns about the increase in messages when discussing the COVID-19 pandemic using an “us-vs-them” frame. His point was that in this day and age, public health emergencies should not be cast as fights between tribes. Yet, that type of framing began almost immediately after the outbreak, when some labeled COVID-19 as the Chinese virus. The attempt to separate us into groups as we consider and respond to the coronavirus has since increased in countless ways, against multiple targets. Us-vs-them framing is dangerous. It is tribal in nature and uses fear to inflame prejudices, driving hostility and hate. Such reactionary framing, legal- and social-policy writer Stephen L. Carter noted in another context, is “designed to bypass the rational faculties of its targets.” Framing conversations and thinking as us-vs-them reduces the number of people we feel responsible for or connected to. It contracts the circle of “we,” usually by highlighting how others are different from our “tribe” and therefore not worthy of our support or concern. I sometimes write about topics that I need to …

Saturday Music: Hawktail

Hawktail — composed of fiddler Brittany Haas, bassist Paul Kowert, guitarist Jordan Tice, and mandolinist Dominick Leslie — plays some of the most beautiful, complex yet accessible music from the American contemporary acoustic music scene you’ll ever want to hear. After beginning life as a trio, this band’s first album, Unless, was released in 2018, and earlier this year their second offering, entitled Formations, hit the streets. Both are excellent, but in Formations the band really hits its stride. Kowert and Haas are probably the two best-known members of Hawktail, although Tice and Leslie more than carry their musical weight. Kowert is the bassist for The Punch Brothers (with mandolinist Chris Thile, guitarist Chris Eldridge, banjoist Noam Pikelny and violinist Gabe Witcher). A graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, Kowert has also played with David Grisman Quintet (DGQ) alum Mike Marshall and David Rawlings. Haas began touring with DGQ alum Darol Anger’s Republic of Strings at the age of fourteen and at seventeen released her debut, self-titled solo album. Haas continued to tour and record while simultaneously earning …

Finding Our Way

Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt’s powerful 2019 book Biased has been where I turned over the past week when I had wanted to read more than New Yorker cartoons or internet comment boards. And it has been worth the investment of time. As an African American scientist helping to teach and train groups as disparate as the Oakland Police Department, prisoners in the San Quentin penitentiary, and Silicon Valley tech companies, Dr. Eberhardt is helping us understand the way that prejudice hides below the surface of polite society yet shapes so much of what we see, think, and do. She calls on the latest neuroscience to track how our brains develop, react, and think. Then she lays out stories and studies that establish the pervasiveness of unconscious bias, even in those of us who work to fight tendencies toward prejudice. The widely-hailed book looks at bias against a range of individuals and communities, yet Dr. Eberhardt speaks most often about our prejudice towards African Americans. “In this country,” she writes, “blacks have become a reminder of the racial …

Stiff-Necked

  Last week I was reading the Daily Office.* (Hint to the non-liturgical: the Daily Office is not an e-newsletter about the five best ways to work from home.) There, as part of the tale of the Jews wandering for years in the desert, we find the Lord telling Moses to lead his people to the Promised Land. After saying he would send an angel ahead to drive out their enemies, God Almighty throws this rather peculiar curve ball: “Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, or I would consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” Whew! It’s pretty bad when even God can’t stand to be around you! Think about how you would feel if the CEO told your manager to have your team complete some task, but then threw in, “But I’m not going to be there with you, because I’ll lose my cool just being around you stiff-necked people!” Stiff-necked is a term I heard my Grandmother use. …

Saturday Music: Eric Skye

Making my way through the most recent issue of the Fretboard Journal (FJ #45*), I came across sixteen splendid pages on fingerstyle guitarist Eric Skye. The photos of a beautiful twelve-fret 00-sized Santa Cruz guitar were sumptuous, and I was soon to learn that this was the company’s signature 00-Skye guitar. Likewise, the writing catches you right from the beginning, with a story — and quip — about using a wedding band as a slide. (“It’s why I got married, man!”) Skye was new to me, but the Portland, Oregon-based acoustic guitarist certainly has a devoted following, and not just from Richard Hoover and the folks at Santa Cruz Guitars. He has a very broad minded approach to music, which he explains came in part from a classical guitar teacher who turned him on to blues and jazz as well. As his website notes, while often billed as an acoustic jazz guitarist, “Skye actually occupies a unique niche between traditional acoustic music, modal jazz, folk, and blues. With a technical approach that is somewhat informed by …

American Patriots

Today — May 8, 2020 — is the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe (or V-E) Day, when the allies accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. World War II was a time when the countries of the world came together to combat bigotry, racism, fascism and hatred. I had a father, uncles, and aunts who volunteered to serve, one of whom was at Normandy on D-Day. Many men and women made the ultimate sacrifice in those years. Yet all went to war because of what happened when xenophobia and demagoguery supplanted real leadership. Last month we passed the 155th anniversary of the surrender of Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army on April 9, 1865. The victory, while complete on the battlefield, was not capable of eradicating 250 years of racism. So we all soldier on for a better, more just world. Abraham Lincoln said it best when he spoke of the reasons for the Civil War — and our unfinished task as Americans — at the dedication of the Union cemetery at Gettysburg: …