Friday, January 9, 2015

Staff Picks: Llama wranglers, 80's Bob Dylan, bongo prodigies and more

Posted By , , , and on Fri, Jan 9, 2015 at 2:36 PM

click to enlarge Bobbye Hall
  • Bobbye Hall

Arkansas Times Recommends is a weekly series in which Times staff members (or whoever happens to be around at the time) highlight things we've been enjoying this week.

How had I never heard of Bobbye Hall before NPR profiled her this morning? A drumming prodigy from Detroit, Hall became an uncredited session percussionist for Motown when she was 11. A Motown producer found her at a sock-hop. She played tag with "Little" Stevie Wonder in the studio. There are several pictures of her from this era here.

Later, she moved to LA, where she became a "first-call" session percussionist. That's her on Janis Joplin's "Me and Bobby McGee"; Bill Withers "Ain't No Sunshine," "Lean on Me" and "Grandma's Hands"; Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall"; James Taylor's "Shower the People," Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Saturday Night Special"; Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)"; Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers "Don't Come Around Here No More," and the Incredible Bongo Band's "Bongo Rock." She also toured with Bob Dylan. (He entertained her with card tricks, according to Wikipedia).

Hall, now known as Mz. Bobbye Hall (or MBH) thanks to a long-ago introduction by Carole King, come across as gentle and charming in the NPR piece and in this short documentary, where she wears violet-tinted sunglasses and a feather earring as she's interviewed on what appears to be the top of a mountain. I want to hear, read and see more about her. — Lindsey Millar

Before Josh Kilmer-Purcell was a reality television llama wrangler and goat farmer, he was a New York ad executive by day and a vodka-soaked drag queen with living goldfish boobs named Aqua by night. Kilmer-Purcell's memoir of those times, "I Am Not Myself These Days," details his relationship with "Jack," a high-end prostitute who slowly succumbs to crack addiction, destroying everyone and everything around in the quest for the next high. Despite that bleak synopsis, the book is full of wry humor, tender moments, and unbreakable optimism. There are certain books I go back and read every couple of years, and this honest account of k-holes, crackheads, and dance clubs plastered with glitter is just as good to me now as it was the first time I read it — and it makes Kilmer-Purcell's eventual marriage to Brent Ridge (who costars in "The Fabulous Beekman Boys" show) that much greater a success story. — Michael Roberts

click to enlarge dylan.jpg

Like many lovers of rock and roll I live in a continual state of conflict over the much maligned music Bob Dylan released in the 1980s. I feel like I’m supposed to like it solely because it is so universally disliked, and because it is Bob Dylan. And that if I craft at least an ironic appreciation of it that is inspired purely by others’ distaste, naturally I will embrace it with sincerity down the line. Like a married couple who find themselves in love for the first time, years into their marriage. But that hasn’t happened yet. Perhaps in recognition of this conflict in many fans of Dylan, but probably out of love for the tunes themselves, the folks at ATO Records have released "A Tribute to Bob Dylan in the 80s: Volume One." I recommend this. I recommend it deeply. Chiefly because it does what many tribute records fail to do, which is two fold: breath new life into old songs and make it clear how awesome the songs were in the first place. A few highlights are the tracks from Built to Spill, Ivan & Alyosha, Elvis Perkins, Blitzen Trapper and Yellowbirds. All this plus the greatest illustration of Bob Dylan I’ve ever seen on the cover, by the great Craig Drake, recalling the great Patrick Nagel. — Bryan Moats

Even though I used to get razzed mercilessly by Mike Trimble (who lived next door) for listening to Irish music, which he said all sounds alike, an opinion he used to demonstrate by singing a few bars, I think the way folk lyrics and tunes evolve as they travel through time and geography — the way “The Unfortunate Rake” (about a man dying of syphilis) became “St. James Infirmary” and “The Streets of Laredo,” for example — is endlessly fascinating. So I was thrilled when Christmas brought the book “Wayfaring Strangers, The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia,” by Fiona Ritchie (“Thistle and Shamrock”) and Doug Orr (founder of the Swannonoa Gathering Workshops), with musician and folk history contributors. It follows the “carrying stream” of balladry from Languedoc to the Scots-Irish broadsheet and over the Atlantic to the hollows of the Appalachians and beyond, and notes the influences of African, Cherokee and German that make the songs this side of the pond particularly American. The book has a little archeology thrown in — about ancient instruments — and other tributaries of related information on “songcatcher” preservationists and such, and comes with a CD of 20 songs by Dolly Parton, Dougie MacLean, Cara Dillon, John Doyle, Pete Seeger, Sheila Kay Adams, Jean Ritchie, Doc Watson and others and including, of course, “Barbara Allen.” The book is published by the University of North Carolina Press, $39.95 for the cloth, $34.99 for the ebook. — Leslie Newell Peacock

click to enlarge looming.jpg

Last year I saw the writer Lawrence Wright speak at a book festival in Nashville. He was funny, and a great storyteller — he talked about discussing Scientology with Jimmy Carter and getting a haircut from the Reverend Will D. Campbell. He said that on 9/11, while many people were remarking that the World Trade Center attacks looked "like a movie," Wright himself was thinking that they looked eerily like his movie, "The Siege," a 1998 film he wrote about terrorists attacks in New York City starring Denzel Washington and Bruce Willis.

He decided to write about 9/11 almost immediately and spent the next 6 years working on "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11," a book I finally finished two nights ago. To research it, he got a job mentoring young reporters in Saudi Arabia and began interviewing anyone who had any connection at all to Al Qaeda or Islamism. He befriended Bin Laden's brother-in-law, and took driving lessons from the Egyptian jihadist Yasser al-Sirri. Eventually, he'd interview over 600 people. I haven't read his follow-up, "Going Clear," yet, but I've only heard good things. — Will Stephenson

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