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Eat Arkansas

Boulevard Bistro nearing completion

A first look inside the new Boulevard Bistro, along with a sneak peek at the Heights restaurant's fresh new dinner menu.

Thirty-four years of Readers Choice

Check out all of the Arkansas Times Readers Choice award winners in our Best Overall and Best New categories since 1981. And don't forget to vote in this year's poll. The first round closes soon.

Table Mesa presents a fresh fusion menu

A fusion menu makes this writer skeptical. Can Table Mesa tacos put a smile on Michael's picky face?

Dining Review

Arkansas Fresh makes Bryant a destination

January 29, 2015
Arkansas Fresh makes Bryant a destination
Bakery Cafe a standout. /more/

Dining Search

A&E Feature

The 2015 Musicians Showcase begins

January 29, 2015
The 2015 Musicians Showcase begins
Secondhand Cannons, Open Fields, Redefined Reflection and Consumers battle in round one. /more/

To-Do List

Shovels and Rope at Revolution

January 29, 2015
Shovels and Rope at Revolution
Also, Maxwell Blade at The Joint, Romero Lubambo and Peter Martin at South on Main, Alvin Youngblood Hart at White Water Tavern, the Whirling Dervishes of Rumi at the Albert Pike Memorial Temple and Randall Goosby and the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra at the Maumelle Performing Arts Center. /more/

Columnists

Max Brantley

AsaCare and more good news

The best part so far of the Republican takeover of Arkansas government is Gov. Asa Hutchinson. /more/

Ernest Dumas

Like Huckabee, Hutchinson pro-health

One fine day in 1999, Gov. Mike Huckabee, with his earnest but sometimes zany public health director at his side, announced that before he left office he intended to see that everyone in Arkansas had health insurance. /more/

Gene Lyons

Blowing up the Super Bowl

Finally, a reason to pay attention to the Super Bowl, America's most stultifying TV sporting event. /more/

Movie Reviews

A strange failure

January 29, 2015
A strange failure
'Mortdecai' flops. /more/

Pearls About Swine

In the middle with Mike

January 29, 2015
In the middle with Mike
Yes, yes, tacking a "Blame Mike Anderson" headline on last week's Pearls was incendiary but don't read too much into it. There wasn't any shameless advocacy for firing the guy. I don't want that, but calling his methods into question isn't out of bounds. /more/

Blog Roll

Arkansas Blog

Hourly news and comment

Rock Candy

The guide to Arkansas entertainment

Eat Arkansas

For food lovers

Eye Candy

On art in Arkansas

Street Jazz

A view from Northwest Arkansas

Arkansas Blog

Friday, January 30, 2015 - 06:52:00

Annals of regulation: Jeremy Hutchinson's anticompetitive booze bill

click to enlarge unnamed-1.jpg

The Arkansas Legislature rarely works on Friday during the early going and this week is no different. No meetings. But not to worry, under tough new ethics rules in the House and Senate, members may still claim per diem expense reimbursement for today — $150 for those living farthest away.

It's only fair, right, to reward these honest toilers.

PS — I rolled out my new Big Swill logo today, which normally appears with the rundown of daily free feeds and drinks by the lobby. You won't see many on Fridays because — duh — no legislators in town. House rules on setting up the "scheduled activities" at which legislative committees may get free dinners and drinks at pricey Little Rock restaurants urge no dinners on Thursday night. See, only a few hard partyers hang around on Thursday night. Most go home. The parking lot outside the Capitao Hill Building, home to most favored legislators at below-market rent courtesy of the secretary of state, was virtually empty last night at 9 p.m.

Speaking of  swilling, of the alcoholic variety

I noted yesterday Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson's bill SB 151.  I wondered about it.

It requires a permit fee of $25,000 — yes, $25,000 — for an APPLICATION to sell wine, spirits or malt liquor. It authorizes a refund of $21,000 for a successful applicant and $23,000 for an unsuccessful applicant. You pay $2,000 just to apply and fail. The current law requires a $2,000 fee and a refund of $1,000 to failed applicants.

It doesn't take a genius to see yet another anti-competitive piece of legislation by another self-professed small government Republican. 

Nathan Chaney, an Arkadelphia lawyer who worked in the effort to open Clark County to alcohol sales, corresponded with Hutchinson about it.

I messaged Jeremy and asked about it. He says it’s to prevent family members, business partners, and friends from stacking the application process. He says it is gaming the system, $25,000 may be too high, and he is considering amendments.

I was the lawyer for Clark County going wet in 2010 and Columbia County in 2014. The Columbia County folks are pretty upset about this bill.

It seems to me that requiring such a large fee will decrease the total number of applicants, thus increasing the chances one of the bigger players gets the permit anyway. Any little guy who would have applied with a low fee, which would have diluted the “family and friends” applications, can’t swing it now. Contrast that with most liquor store owners I know, who wouldn’t have too much trouble raising the funds necessary to apply for new permits for family and friends.

Of course, you need working capital to outfit and stock a new liquor store, but I suspect it’s far easier to get a bank loan WITH a permit rather than FOR a permit.

Gaming the system to help the "haves" and penalizing the "have nots"? It is neither the first nor last example we are likely to see. I noted a Republican call the other day for a reduction in state regulatory boards dominated by the industries that are regulated. Couldn't agree more. He will soon run hard up against the fact of life that these boards weren't created in the public interest but in the interest of the regulated. One side of that equation has lobbyists. One does not.

I do have an additional question for Hutchinson. Does he have any paying legal clients who are in the alcoholic beverage sales business in, say, Saline County, which has just opened the door to a land rush of alcohol permits when it voted wet in November. Saline happens to be part of his district.

Hutchinson worked on at least two pieces of legislation in 2013 that had direct impact on his clients, a furniture store and medical clinic. He also labored hard to beat a tort reform amendment — a particular project of a powerful lawyer, John Goodson, who's hired Hutchinson for unspecified legal duties from time to time. Who better to understand the needs of a member of the public than a lawyer/legislator who works for said member of the public.


 

Friday, January 30, 2015 - 06:32:00

Arkansas Ethics: When an election ad is not an election ad

click to enlarge NO FOUL: Ethics Commission during deliberation of complaint over ads supporting Leslie Rutledge's election. - FOX 16
  • Fox 16
  • NO FOUL: Ethics Commission during deliberation of complaint over ads supporting Leslie Rutledge's election.

I've already lamented the Arkansas Ethics Commission's decision that $300,000 or more in TV ad spending featuring Leslie Rutledge, a candidate for attorney general, was not sufficiently explicit to be viewed as a campaign contribution.

Ethics Commission Director Graham Sloan did say to me in casual conversation that he could see how a "lay person" might interpret spending by a Republican political group on ads featuring Rutledge an ad meant to help elect her.

Who else are ads directed at, but "lay persons"? Voters in other words.

Little Rock lawyer Matt Campbell, who filed the complain, received the formal notification of the 4-0 vote to dismiss his complaint. It sets out in detail the reasoning by which the Commission exonerate Rutledges admitted coordination with the Republican group on the ad. It gives you no hope for greater Ethics Commission oversight of ethics laws in Arkansas under Amendment 94.

The ad did not pass the plain sight test. With ample room in changing U.S. Supreme Court law to to declare a quacking duck a duck, the Ethics Commission declined to do so. In the process, it opened the door for more of this sham by outside groups for favored candidates.

Campbell summarized the outcome on Facebook last night:

Got the decision letter from the Arkansas Ethics Commission this afternoon. Apparently, the commissioners felt that *someone* could see an ad where Leslie Rutledge, identified as a candidate for AG, talks about what she would do if elected AG, then tells people to call a number owned by her AG campaign, as something other than an ad encouraging people to vote for her for the office of AG.

No, seriously. That was their "reasoning."

Rutledge and the group whose dark money backed her merely argued that this was protected 1st Amendment expression. Campaign contribution limits and other efforts to promote transparency in elections are rapidly falling under Citizens United and citizens commissions afraid to say what their own eyes should tell them. Rutledge got $300,000 in a direct TV ad buy featuring her. The limits on giving are $2,000. We don't even know who gave the $300,000. The Ethics Commission said this is perfectly fine.

Be afraid of what's to come.

Here's the full opinion.

Discussion on Campbell's Facebook mentions a slim possibility of judicial review. A better course of action is to fix the law. That would seem unlikey at a Republican legislature, because it would seem a repudiation of tactics of a Republican candidate. But as Rutledge's lawyer, Kevin Crass noted, this similar tactic has been used in other states by Democratic candidates backed by dark money groups. Good government is not always a partisan exercise. It's just good government. If the "Ethics" Commission can't do it, maybe the people can.

 

Friday, January 30, 2015 - 06:09:00

State Police arrest two in Arkandelphia store slaying

click to enlarge BEING SOUGHT: State Police are seeking tips to find this man.
  • BEING SOUGHT: State Police are seeking tips to find this man.


State Police have arrested two Pine Bluff men as suspects in the robbery and slaying of an Arkadelphia store clerk early Sunday morning. A third suspect is being sought.

Christopher Brown 24, of Arkadelphia was fatally shot at 4:43 a.m. Sunday at Jordan's Kwick Stop Shell.

James L. Gray Jr., 36, and Laron Edward Williams, 27, have been charged with capital murder and robbery. They were arrested in Pine Bluff.

State Police are seeking a third suspect and distributed the photo above to encourage tips.


 

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Thursday, January 29, 2015 - 14:25:00

Psych of the South: Calvin Leavy's 'Cummins Prison Farm'


Harold Ott is the founder and primary researcher of Psych of the South, a record label dedicated to unearthing rare Arkansas pop history.

I interviewed Billy Cole in 2011 while researching a song of his titled “Fouke Monster,” a wacky hard rock tune about the Bigfoot sightings in Fouke, Ark. in the early 70s. During the interview, Cole spoke about “Cummins Prison Farm” by Calvin Leavy, which became a Top 40 r&b hit in 1970. Although there's been a lot of misleading and contradictory information surrounding the song, including the approximately 17 people who have tried taking credit for writing and producing it, Cole is listed as the principal songwriter, and he wanted to reveal the story behind it from his perspective.

Cole told me that he was hanging out with a musician friend named B.B. Turner, who lived in the Dixie Addition in North Little Rock, a predominately black neighborhood, in 1968. Turner asked Cole to come with him to confront a guy who owed him $20 at a pool hall on Washington Avenue. When they got there, Turner spotted the guy and the situation quickly became heated. Then, an elderly black man stepped in and asked what all the fighting was about, pointing out that killing each other for $20 was a horrible mistake. He pulled out a few ones and some loose change and gave it to Turner, telling him that if he’d come back every four or five days, he’d give him what he had and soon enough he’d have his $20 back. This broke the tension and Turner agreed.

click to enlarge Billy Cole
  • Billy Cole

As they were beginning to leave, the elderly man called out to Cole, who went over to the man and sat down. He asked Cole if he was the guy who wrote songs. The man said that Cole needed to write a song about his life. He was born in Missouri and moved to Arkansas, his father was a preacher and a good man. He wound up with no money and got in a little trouble with the law and was sent to Cummins without much of a trial. He tried talking to the wardens, but their only reply was: “There’s a lot of good men on that hill.” Turner took Cole to his grandmother’s house in Dixie, they sat down with two guitars and Cole rhymed the old man’s story. Within ten minutes the song was finished.

Around 1969, Calvin “Slim” Leavy, who was born in Scott, Ark. and moved to Fresno, Calif. in the 60s, returned home and took a regular gig at Club 70, a nightclub in North Little Rock on highway 70. The club’s owner, Mr. Penny, wanted to help Leavy find some other gigs in town, so he agreed to pay for a recording session. Mr. Penny called Cole and asked if he could help them cut a record. He was a regular at E&M recording studio in Little Rock on Markham and agreed to help out.

click to enlarge Calvin Leavy
  • Calvin Leavy

Another regular at the studio was a young guitarist named Robert Tanner. Cole asked for Tanner’s help to put together a band since only Calvin and his older brother Hosea would be coming to record. Tanner called his friend, Ted Seibs, to play Hammond B3 organ. Tanner then called Maurice Haygood, a black drummer and former band mate from The Groovin’ Kind, one of the first integrated bands in central Arkansas in the mid 1960s. Everyone assembled at the studio and Cole played a demo recording of “Cummins Prison Farm.” Leavy was drawn to the song since two of his brothers, Blackey and Manley, were imprisoned there.

I spoke with Tanner and Seibs, who confirmed the legend that the song was cut in one take. Hosea was on bass, Seibs on organ, Haygood on drums, Calvin played rhythm guitar and lead vocal, and Tanner played the searing lead guitar part. 

Earl Fox, the owner of E&M recording studio, told me that a copy of the master tape was made for Leavy. This dub was taken to the r&b radio station just a few doors down from the studio named KALO. The tape was played on the air and started generating a buzz, but there wasn’t a record pressed yet. Fox said that the dub of the session was used by Calvin Brown, Leavy's manager, to make a 45 of the song and released on Brown's label, Soul Beat Records, located in Stuttgart in 1969. After selling several thousand copies, the record was picked up from Brown by Shelby Singleton, a legendary record producer in Nashville, and released on his Blue Fox label, which skyrocketed the record to a nationwide blues hit in 1970.

click to enlarge Calvin Leavy
  • Calvin Leavy

Cole told me that when the song rose to popularity, he got a check for the royalties and took it to the pool hall and found the old man whose story inspired the song. Cole said he remembered him and they went to the bank, cashed the check, and Cole gave the old man half the money. When the second check arrived six months later, Cole went back to the pool hall, but the old man had passed away.

The story of "Cummins Prison Farm" took a tragic turn in 1992 when Calvin Leavy was convicted under the newly passed “drug kingpin” law in Arkansas. According to the report, Leavy paid an undercover cop for information about upcoming raids. Leavy’s punishment was harsh, receiving a life sentence plus twenty five years to Cummins Prison under the controversial new law, in which he was the first person convicted. Leavy was later moved to a treatment facility for diabetes and fought his conviction. His sentence was reduced to 75 years by Gov. Huckabee, but Gov. Beebe denied his request for clemency.

Leavy died at Jefferson Hospital in Pine Bluff in 2010 while in custody. He would have been up for parole one year later. Billy Cole died on September 1, 2012. This article is dedicated to them both.
click to enlarge Billy Cole in 2011
  • Billy Cole in 2011

 

Thursday, January 29, 2015 - 12:28:00

New music from Lo Thraxx, The Uh Huhs, Rodney CoLe, Sea Nanners and more

click to enlarge Lo Thraxx
  • Lo Thraxx

1. Lo Thraxx - "Bust It"
Lo Thraxx has a new mixtape called "Sharkansas" coming out someday soon. I'm sure it's only a matter of time. On the other hand, maybe not — he's been advertising this thing forever. He's released other whole mixtapes in the interim. It's becoming the Little Rock "Detox." As long he keeps making singles like this one, though, I doubt anyone minds. 

2. Rodney CoLe - "V I C E S"
Here's a new one from Rodney CoLe, who also should have another new full-length on the way if I remember correctly. This is great, and not only because of that "Chonkyfire" hair metal guitar or the beat that sounds like a video game explosion.  

3. The Uh Huhs - "Creepin Away"
The Uh Huhs are a new four-piece garage rock band from Little Rock. This is an 8-track demo they put online last month, a song about having trouble getting out of their heads / beds. 

4. Yung Kirito - "Just Breathe"
Blunt Mobb's Yung Kirito used to go by Rino El Camino (and apparently still does when he makes beats), but he's reinventing himself in 2015. This is a track from his forthcoming album, something he released a few days ago along with an EP he recorded with a young producer named BandoKen. If everyone in Little Rock was this prolific and imaginative we'd have the best music scene in the South. 

5. Sea Nanners - Tiny Desk Concert
Here's Little Rock's Sea Nanners playing music at a desk, their entry in NPR's Tiny Desk Concert Contest. If they win, they get to perform at a much nicer desk, in Washington D.C., a desk that last year featured the likes of Cat Stevens and T-Pain

 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015 - 16:39:00

A Q&A with Aaron Sarlo of Duckstronaut

click to enlarge Duckstronaut_-_Press_pic_3.JPG

With a name like Duckstronaut your brain may not want to take this band seriously but when you sink your ears into their debut album, "Tabanid Camisade," you'll quickly get over it. This Little Rock four-piece has the rhythmic attack of The Talking Heads, hooks and dynamics reminiscent of The Pixies, and the biting wit and humor of Primus or Frank Zappa. The album plays like a lingering dreamscape in a post-apocalyptic world. They have originality and honesty. All this in an ether-soaked, drug toxic oblivion of numbness that teeters on the brink of being too scary (Have you ever just almost fallen out of your chair and then caught yourself at the last minute? It’s like that). This debut album may be one of the most original statements I've heard from anywhere around these parts. The band features Aaron Sarlo on vocals, guitar and dulcimer, Bryan Baker on drums, Matt Rakes on bass and Adrian Brigman on washboard, sound effects, and samples called Soundywhositz™.

Full disclosure: I’ve been friends with Aaron since about 1991 when I worked at Vino’s and first saw him in a band called The Lemmings. We eventually founded Techno-Squid Eats Parliament in 1992. I remember the first time at his house in Little Rock when I saw the same dulcimer he now plays in Duckstronaut on his bed in his room along with a mandolin and an acoustic guitar. It’s weird that Aaron has never actually played dulcimer in any of his bands until now. It’s something you should witness live because it’s so original, surreal, and beautiful. I believe it’s the only time I’ve seen a dulcimer played in a full on alternative rock band other than maybe Bobby Bare, Jr.

Their album release party is this Saturday, Jan. 31 at the White Water Tavern with Collin vs. Adam and Sea Nanners.

Here’s my Q&A with Sarlo:

Please tell us a little bit about Duckstronaut.

Duckstronaut is a showcase for Adrian Brigman, whose electric washboard is mesmerizing, Matt Rakes, a ridiculously talented bass player, and Bryan Baker, a juggernaut of drumming. I am on there, as well, but this project has definitely become a stage for those three dudes’ immense talent. I am very proud to be playing with them. When I was mixing with Jason Tedford (of Wolfman Recording Studios), I kept saying, “In this section, turn the guitars down, and turn the other guys up, up, up. This isn’t a guitar album.” And, it’s not. Tabanid Camisade may have originated from my songs and demos, but I really like to let my bandmates play what they want in the rehearsal room, and while we’re writing and assembling songs. It would be arrogant of me to impose my vision of their instruments on them, so I don’t. As a result, this record far surpasses my hopes and expectations for it.

What in the world does the album title "Tabanid Camisade" mean?

It’s a little nod to our friend, T.C. Edwards. We were throwing around titles with his initials, and Bryan suggested “Tabanid Camisade.” (I had to look those words up.) Tabanid is a horse fly. Camisade is a type of shirt worn by a soldier who plans to attack at dawn. When I pictured a teeny horse fly in an adorable, little shirt, about to go fight a revolution, I was on board. And, if you can, please include the album cover art by Kat Murray. She did an awesome job with a design, using an idea also suggested by Bryan.

click to enlarge Duckstronaut-TabanidCamisade-cover.jpg

I love a lot of the lyrics on this album. Would you like to elaborate on your writing approach?

The lyrics reflect my anger with a world without a savior, and my anger at being forced to be a leader because there is no savior. "Please Be The One" is, indeed, a focal point for this theme. One line, actually. I keep singing “Please be The One,” over and over again. Then, at the end, I specifically use the phrase, “I just want to climb up in your arms again.” I deliberately chose “climb” as my verb because it suggests comparative smallness, as though I want to climb into the arms of a parent. You can’t “climb” into the arms of someone/something smaller than you. This parent is a God, any god, that I want to simply exist!

Savior is a warning to a duplicitous person, as is Minds. Maybe not a “person,” per se, but an entity. I usually reserve my hatreds for corporations, and Minds is aimed at an entity who thinks the world is theirs to destroy. There are lots of allusions to fighting in these songs, and the whole album is a sort of generalized treatise on the emotional tolls of standing up and fighting for one’s own beliefs. It’s angry and some of the instrumentation (particularly at the end of I Remember When) borders on genuinely frightening, beautiful, but frightening.

I am currently writing a slew of lyrics for different songs and projects, and the Duckstronaut record is kind of a generalized template for this. I get very specific in some of the newer songs I’m writing, but on this record I wanted to be very general in tone.

You juggle a lot of music projects and co-host KABF’s Shoog Radio. Are there any projects you’d like to mention at this time?

The Dangerous Idiots is the busiest band and the project with the longest reach. I have approximately six albums of material scheduled for release in 2015, spread amongst several different projects. Many of these songs came about from a period of intensive songwriting for me. I had periods of time where I’d write two or three songs per day. I still have tons of songs left and ideas still pour out of me. I plan on recording and releasing most of them, and I’ll do it with The Dangerous Idiots, as Aaron Sarlo, and with Duckstronaut and Weedhorse, or whatever. I’m also hosting the 2015 Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase Finals on Friday, March 6 on behalf of KABF’s Shoog Radio.

What about the electric dulcimer on the Duckstronaut record?

I got that instrument many years ago, and it just sat in my closet until my wife said, “Why don’t you get that out and play it in one of your bands?” I really, really like writing and playing outside my comfort zone. So, I had a pick-up put in it, and I run it through my amp and it sounds like a liquid dream. I get tons of compliments about it. Will Boyd told me after a Duckstronaut Vino’s show, “Y’all sounded great, but that thing…” [points to the dulcimer] …”is beautiful.”

I’ve always wondered what originally lead you to becoming a musician. Would you like to touch on that?

It was forced on me when my elementary school band teacher tested the whole school’s student body for good candidates for their band program. They (and I) discovered, in front of the whole school, that I had perfect pitch. They gave me a French Horn and told me I was in band. I hated it and played shitty just so they’d drop me, which they did. Years later, I got a guitar, taught myself, and started writing songs. I released my first album when I was 16, “Phische.”

 

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Arkansas public defenders stretched thin

January 29, 2015
Arkansas public defenders stretched thin
The public defender system in Arkansas is stretched to the point of breaking. Will it take a federal lawsuit to get the state to pony up for more attorneys? /more/

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Introducing AsaCare

January 29, 2015
Introducing AsaCare
The new GOP governor proposes saving the private option, with an eye toward future reforms. /more/

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