Category Archives: Wavelength/Popular Music

Wavelength Blog—1/31/10

The snowstorm that blessed Harrisonburg this weekend prevented me traveling to the studio to produce a new Wavelength episode.  As it turns out, I will also be absent from the studio February 6 and February 13.  Since I won’t be producing a new show until February 20, I don’t expect to produce a new Wavelength blog entry before then.

Wavelength Blog—1/24/10

Yesterday on “Wavelength” I continued the approach I have been taking the past few weeks—playing two songs each from selected favorite albums.  Here’s today’s playlist.

Let me recommend five of the records I featured on the show.

Sam Cooke—Night Beat.  About a year before he was shot to death, Sam Cooke was reaching the peak of his powers.  Prior to that time, his albums were simply collections of singles.  With “Night Beat” he put together a coherent long playing record, the only one he created in his all-too-short life.  It can be heard on Lala here.  And here is the All-Music Guide review.

Mavis Staples—We’ll Never Turn Back.  I named Mavis Staples’ record “We’ll Never Turn Back” the Wavelength record of the year in 2007.  It’s a wonderful tribute to the American Civil Rights movement, recovering some powerful justice songs.  And, Mavis can bring it!  It can be heard on Lala here.  And here is the All-Music Guide review.

John Trudell—AKA Grafitti Man.  Several years ago, I watched a moving documentary on the Native American social activist John Trudell.  The film ends with treatment of Trudell’s poetry/music.  I decided to check it out and discovered this record, that was released in 1993.  It’s kind of a version of rap, with mostly spoken voice and a lot of driving instrumentation.  Trudell minces few words in his critique of empire and his call for liberation.  It can be heard on Rhapsody here.  And here is the All-Music Guide review.

Ray Wylie Hubbard—A: Enlightenment B: Endarkenment (Hint: There Is No C) (Dig).  Ray Wylie has become a senior figure in the Texas music scene, but his energy has yet to be diminished, as seen in this brand new (January 2010) record.  It ranks among his best.  As one reviewer states: “His songs possess the tenderness of a poet, the empathy of a historian, and the raw nerve of a card shark.”  It can be heard on Lala here.  And here is the All-Music Guide review.

Bruce Cockburn—Live.  I’ve long been a Bruce Cockburn fan; I love his combination of progressive politics and religious faith.  And he’s a fine writer and great guitarist.  In fact, it was back in April 1989 that I saw him in concert.  He was in the midst of a very long tour at that point—the music from that tour is captured on this fine live record.  It can be heard on Lala here.  And here is the All-Music Guide review.

Wavelength Blog—1/17/10

Yesterday’s Wavelength, like the previous couple, ended up being an eclectic show where I simply grabbed a bagful of albums on my way out the door to the station and played two songs from each record.  Like the others, this show turned out pretty well because they are such great records.  I hope to put together some thematic shows before long (several are in the works), but they do take more time.  Here’s the playlist.

Let me recommend five of the records I featured on the show.

(1) Blaze Foley, Cold Cold World

Blaze Foley was a true Texas character, a hard-drinking, hard-living, itinerant songwriter who died violently about twenty years ago, but whose music lives on.  Here’s a long, fascinating article—the account that alerted me to Blaze’s life and music: No Depression

This record, “Cold Cold World,” was released after Blaze’s death. It was produced with a great deal of added instrumentation by the great Gurf Morlix.  It is hard to find, but it can be heard on Napster: Blaze Foley and the Beaver Valley Boys, “Cold, Cold World” (Napster)

(2) Gillian Welch, Revival

Gillian Welch is indeed one of our favorites, post-modern old time Appalachian music.  She has not recorded a great deal, but all of her records are quite good.  Perhaps her best is this first one.  Here’s the All-Music Guide review.

The record may be heard here: Gillian Welch, “Revival” (Lala)

(3) Richard and Linda Thompson, Shoot Out the Lights

Maybe 15 years ago or so I was reading one of those lists of the greatest rock and roll records of all time.  It was populated with the usual suspects except near the top was a record by artists I had never heard of—Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out the Lights.  My curiosity piqued, I did what I could to learn more about it.  I tracked down the record on vinyl and discovered that it deserved its accolades.  It’s still not widely known, but it should be.  Here’s the All-Music Guide review.

The record may be heard here: Richard and Linda Thompson, “Shoot Out the Lights” (Rhapsody)

(4) Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, Always Say Please & Thank You

Not long after I first started to produce this radio show, I was stopped on the sidewalk by my friend Steve Cessna who said he liked the show and that I might enjoy his brother’s band.  Steve kindly loaned me a couple of CDs, and he was certainly right.  Slim’s second record, “Always Say Please and Thank You,” remains my favorite.  Here’s the All-Music Guide review.

The record may be heard here: Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, “Always Say Please and Thank You” (Lala)

(5) The Walkabouts. Satisfied Mind

The Walkabouts are a fascinating band.  They’ve been around since the early 1980s, operating out of Seattle as part of the fertile contemporary rock scene of that great city.  They have been hugely popular in Europe and record for the fine German label, Glitterhouse.  But they have never been that well known in the states.  Too bad.  Their many records are all good, and have quite a bit of variety.  My favorite is “Satisfied Mind,” which is kind of alt-county (in that sense quite a bit different from their others). Here’s the All-Music Guide review.

Unfortunately, “Satisfied Mind” is not currently listenable on-line as near as I can tell (except for 30-second samples at Amazon—follow the “Satisfied Mind” link above). Here is the Walkabouts page on Lala that provides access to many of their other records.

Wavelength Blog—1/3/10

My blogging on popular music connected with my radio show “Wavelength” (Saturdays from 3:00 to 6:00 pm Eastern; 91.7fm and online at has been nonexistent since July 2008.  A New Year’s resolution (or maybe “New Decade’s resolution”) is to get going on this again.  I will keep my sights low in hopes of making it sustainable.  Basically I will, once a week hopefully, offer a bit of commentary and some links related to my most recent show.

If you have any comments, reactions, or suggestions, please share them!

Yesterday’s was one of those shows where I just grab a bunch of CDs as I head to the radio station and see what finds its way on the air.  Here is the playlist.  It worked well to play two songs each of a number of albums.

Let me draw your attention to five of the albums I featured that I especially like.

Lyle Lovett. Step Inside This House.  This record, released back in 1998, is unusual for Lovett in being all covers.  He is in great voice; the songs I featured on the show were both written by Townes Van Zandt and quite beautifully rendered.  Here’s the All-Music Guide review and to listen to it on-line go to Lala here.

Patty Loveless. Mountain Soul II. Patty Loveless is a bit mainstream for Wavelength, but she has released several more traditional records in recent years that I really like.  Mountain Soul came out in 2001 and was terrific.  So is this follow-up, released in 2009.  All-Music Guide’s review is here and to listen to it on Lala go here.

Townes Van Zandt. In Pain. According to many serious listeners of Townes Van Zandt’s music, his best recordings are those from concerts rather than in the studio.  His early record, Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas often is mentioned as his best ever (listen to it on Lala).  In Pain was recorded while he was on tour in Europe not long before his 1996 death.  He sounds pretty good and the songs are some of his best.  The title accurately conveys the tone of the music.  All-Music Guide’s review is here, but In Pain does not appear to be available on Lala.

Eliza Gilkyson. Beautiful World. One of the great singer-songwriters in American music, Eliza Gilkyson is too little known.  This 2009 record is one of her strongest.  She sings potent songs of politics and love.  All-Music Guide’s review is here and to listen to it on Lala go here.

Jimmy LaFave. Trail.  I recently discovered this Texan with a beautiful voice and heart-oriented sensibility.  Trail is a two-CD live record from fairly early in LaFave’s career (1998).  He sings a number of Bob Dylan songs, several other sensitive covers, and his own compositions (about half the songs).  The Dylan covers are terrific—they sound like Jimmy LaFave songs, not Bob Dylan knock-offs.  All-Music Guide’s review is here and to listen to it on Lala go here.


The Wavelength show on July 12 did not follow a particular theme. The play list is here. I played songs from newer records–at least records newer to my collection. I simply grabbed about 50 CDs from my pile of records that have been added to my library in the past several months.

I really enjoyed this show. I think it is a great example of how much great Wavelength-type music there is out there, and that it just keeps on coming.

I want to mention five CDs in particular that I played from and think are worth paying attention to.

Blaze Foley, Live at the Austin Outhouse. This record may be heard on line here.

Linda Ronstadt and Ann Savoy, Adieu False Heart. This record may be heard on line here.

Mary Gauthier. Between Daylight and Dark. Six of the ten cuts from this record (including “Thanksgiving,” the song I played on the show) may be listened to here.

John Trudell, AKA Grafitti Man. This record may be listened to on line here.

James McMurtry, Just Us Kids. This record may be heard on line here.

Wavelength 7/5/08

The theme for the July 5 Wavelength was “Songs for Texas.” Here is the playlist. I had fun pulling together the songs for this show.

I recently upgraded to a new iMac desktop computer with a lot of space on the hard drive. I am in the process of putting my entire CD collection on the computer which will make it much easier to search for songs for the show. I scanned through the titles of all the songs (I have about 26,000 songs now and will end up with probably about 40,000 when every thing is transferred) and found about 120 that seemed to have something to do with Texas.

From that initial group, I selected probably 35 or so songs that I knew for sure I wanted to play. I eliminated a number of duplicate versions and for a few artists I whittled down the possibilities to three songs each (due to government regulations concerning radio programs streamed on the internet, I can only play three songs from any one artist during the show). There were several songs that I wasn’t sure would work, so I listened to those and eliminated some that way. Eventually, I narrowed things down to 53 songs that I would take to the radio station.

I didn’t have a clear plan beyond playing as many of these 53 song as I could (I ended up playing 40, meaning 13 great songs were left out). There were a few people I ended up not playing that I should have (such as Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, and Hayes Carll). But I was pretty happy with how the show turned out.

I ended up playing three songs each by Guy Clark and Terry Allen (plus a fourth song that Allen wrote that Robert Earl Keen played), and two songs each by Emmylou Harris, Robert Earl Keen, and Ray Wylie Hubbard. So I thought I would mention recommended albums from each of these artists.

Terry Allen, as characterized by All Music Guide, writes “words [that] aim to question and confront hard day-to-day realities, rather than offer conservative clichés or maudlin comforts to shield listeners from those very day-to-day realities. He does so with a humor and irreverence that will also find little sympathy in Nashville or Middle America.” His most highly regarded record is 1995’s Lubbock (On Everything). The songs from this record I played include the hilarious “The Great Joe Bob (A Regional Tragedy)” about a star football player gone bad, “The Wolfman of Del Rio,” kind of a tribute to Wolfman Jack’s early career but more a coming of age story about two young people who kind of find each other, and “Flatland Farmer” about real country music linked with life on the land.

Guy Clark is a contemporary of Terry Allen’s. Like Allen, Clark also grew up in west Texas. However, while Allen stayed there (in Lubbock), Clark relocated first to Los Angeles (that didn’t last long; his leaving L.A. was memorialized in his classic song “L.A. Freeway”), then to Houston. Clark has produced a long series of great, low-key, thoughtful records, but has never surpassed his first release, Old No. 1. Virtually every song on this record, first released in 1975, has become a classic–such as “Coat from the Cold,” “L.A. Freeway,” “Desperados Waiting for a Train,” and–the song played on this show–“Texas – 1947.”

Ray Wylie Hubbard, who first gained notice as the writer of the drunken anthem “Up Against the Wall, Red-Neck Mother” in the 1970s, has made a name for himself in recent years as an extraordinarily thoughtful (and still funny) singer-songwriter. My favorite Ray Wylie record is his 2005 album, Delirium Tremolos. One of my favorite songs on this record, “Dallas After Midnight,” captures Ray Wylie’s sensibilities as well as anything he has done–kind of wild, reflective, portraying life in Texas at its grittiest.

I first learned of Robert Earl Keen’s music in the early 1990s when a friend of mind happened to hear Robert Earl’s song, “Corpus Christi Bay” on the radio. My friend told me this was one of those rare songs that you fall in love with the very first time you hear it and don’t expect ever to fall out of love with. On that recommendation, I purchased the CD that song was on, A Bigger Piece of Sky, and liked the entire record on first listen. “Corpus Christi Bay” immediately became my favorite of all the good songs on Robert Earl’s record. He has recorded many fine songs and records since then, but this song still remains my favorite. It’s a catchy song with a great story that combines humor and penetrating insight.

Emmylou Harris needs no introduction. She remains one of the greatest of Wavelength-type recording artists. I don’t think I can name a definitively favorite Emmylou record, but 1995’s Wrecking Ball is certainly near the top of the list.

Wavelength 6/28/08

The theme for the June 28, 2008, Wavelength show was “Songs for Kathleen.” My wife Kathleen’s birthday is coming up soon, so I asked her to pick artists to feature for the show. The playlist may be found here.

Kathleen has been a big encouragement in my producing these shows. She is always asking for more blues, so I began the show with an hour of various types of blues. This ranged from Blind Willie Johnson to Koko Taylor to Muddy Waters to Ruth Brown, among others.

I played two cuts each from two of Kathleen special favorites, Bettye Lavette and Ray Charles. Bettye Lavette is a classic rhythm and blues singer who began recording in the 1960s and never quite made it big despite loads of talent. She has made a comeback in recent years and now records for the wonderful Anti label (along with Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Neko Case, et al). Her most recent, very fine, record, is Scene of the Crime. It may be heard in its entirety here.

Ray Charles needs no introduction, of course. My favorite collection of his best is “Ray Charles – Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 [DCC]” and His Greatest Hits, Vol. 2.

For the second hour I featured several songs from four of Kathleen’s favorite rock acts–three of which we have been fortunate enough to see in concert. Our favorite Tom Waits record is Mule Variations. The last song on this record is one that Kathleen often talked about using as a benediction in our church service (it hasn’t happened yet, though).

Slim Cessna’s Auto Club have produced several lively, even slightly crazed records of country/punk/rock/gospel. Their most recent record may be their best: Cipher.

For Alejandro Escovedo, I especially recommend A Man Under the Influence and for Patti Smith Gone Again.


I produce a radio program that airs every Saturday from 3:00pm to 6:00pm on WEMC, 91.7FM in Harrisonburg, VA.  This show features music at the intersection of country, folk, rock and roll, blues, and gospel. 

Most Saturdays I follow a general theme; though sometimes I just play random great music. Some of my themes have been sad songs, love songs, songs about California, anti-war songs, songs about vehicles, and songs written by my favorites song-writers such as Tom Waits, Kris Kristofferson, Richard Thompson, and Leonard Cohen.

Each week I plan to write a short blog discussing the show and linking to a view of the featured albums.

The shows streams on-line and may be heard every Saturday at 3pm Eastern time here. Playlists may be viewed here.



Wavelength 5/31/08

Here is the playlist for the May 31 Wavelength show.

This show featured songs by three of my favorite songwriters, Johnny Cash, Van Morrison, and Bruce Springsteen. Because of the legal restrictions I could only play three songs by each of these. The rest were covers by other people.

Quite a few came from some of the numerous tribute albums that have been put together for all three artists. One of my favorite tribute records for all artists is a pretty obscure one. Vanthology: A Tribute to Van Morrison, released by Evidence Music in 2003. It features numerous classic soul singers whose careers date back to the 1960s including Little Milton, William Bell, Freddie Scott, Bettye Lavette, and Dan Penn–as well as several younger but similar artists. I played Scott’s “Brown-Eyed Girl” and Lavette’s sizzling “Real Real Gone.” This recording is the first of Lavette’s I had heard. I since have become a big fan and have been delighted at the attention she has received for two recent albums.

I have also greatly enjoyed the 2 CD Springsteen tribute, One Step Up/Two Steps Back: The Songs of Bruce Springsteen, from 1997 on The Right Stuff label. This album includes a number of Springsteen’s like-minded peers such as Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers, Dave Alvin, John Hiatt, Richie Havens, and David Bowie. On the show I featured Syd Straw’s take on “Meeting Across the River” and Kurt Neumann of the BoDean’s on “Atlantic City.” As well, I played a great version by Ben E. King of Bruce’s early song, “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy).”

A few of my other favorite covers from the show include Patty Griffin on Springsteen’s “Stolen Car,” Linda Ronstadt’s “I Still Miss Someone,” a much-covered Cash song, the Waterboy’s extended jam on Morrison’s “Sweet Thing,” Richard Shindell’s intense version of Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” that gets to the heart of that song beyond the bombast of Bruce’s original version, Patti Smith’s classic version of Springsteen’s “Because the Night,” John Lee Hooker’s Grammy-award winning duet with Morrison on the latter’s “The Healing Game,” Solomon Burke’s exquisite “Fast Train,” a song Morrison wrote for him, and Billy Don Burns’ heart-rending take on Cash’s “Give My Love to Rose.”

I did play one song each from my favorite albums of the featured songwriters.

When I was a teen-ager, I was not a big country music fan. But I had a friend who was, and he insisted I listen to Johnny Cash. At Folsom Prisonhit hard the first time I heard it and still does now 40 years later. And “Folsom Prison Blues” is the best imaginable opener to the show.

I discovered Bruce Springsteen when I was still mainly listening to folk music when he released his classic acoustic record, Nebraska. He followed Nebraska up with one of the greatest rock and roll records ever, Born in the U.S.A.. This record made a rock and roll fan again. The song i chose, though, “My Hometown” would have been at home on Nebraska. So I guess I still prefer the mellower Springsteen, especially when he tells such a powerful story.

I was somewhat familiar with Van Morrison’s music going back to “Brown-Eyed Girl” in the mid-1960s. However, I never really listened to Van until the late 1980s when I experienced some difficult times. A friend loaned me Poetic Champions Compose and the test, as they say, is history. I fell in love with Van Morrison’s music and until very recently when I believe he has been overtaken by Tom Waits, he was my favorite. I played “I Forgot Love Existed” from this record on the show. It may have been the most healing of the several healing songs on Poetic Champion’s Compose for me twenty years ago–and it still touches the soul.

Springsteen’s Born in the USA may be heard in its entirety here.

Cash’s At Folsom Prison is here.