Monday, November 29, 2021

I really didn't set out to make a racist children's record.........


The kids featured on the cover of Frank Migliorelli & The Dirt Napper’s potentially racist children’s record, “We’re Not Kiddin’ Around”-Rob Steen, Illustrator

The Association of Library Services For Children (ALSC) thinks my children’s record, “We’re Not Kiddin’ Around”, contains potentially racist material…I just want to clarify a few things……

The album cover for “We’re Not Kiddin’ Around” (

Recently I was surprised the American Library Association’s Association of Library Services For Children ( informed me that my children’s record promoted some potentially racist and offensive concepts noting a few of the books that we sing about on our new record “We’re Not Kiddin’ Around”.

I had submitted a number of banner ads to run on their website, and responded to their initial inquiry into possibly writing a blog post for them. Weeks after submitting the materials, I received this response from their Membership and Marketing Specialist, Ms. Elizabeth (Elly) Serrano:

Hi Frank,
Thank you for considering ALSC for these ad placements and for a proposed guest blog piece on children’s books and music. While the idea of how music can enrich a reading experience would appeal to our members, we do have concerns with book titles on the website’s homepage,, which are not in alignment with our values of equity, diversity, and inclusion. Additionally, the proposed guest blog post summary we received could be interpreted as an advertisement of the website and services, which also does not align with our Blog Policy.
Considering these points, we’re unable to move forward with the ads and guest blog post at this time.
Thank you again for considering ALSC.
Elizabeth (Elly) Serrano
Membership and Marketing Specialist
Association for Library Service to Children 
225 N Michigan Avenue
Suite 1300
Chicago, IL 60601
A Division of the American Library Association

When I inquired what specifically they found offensive or out of bounds I was told:

“The Five Chinese Brothers in addition to Monkey Lost due to potential concerns of anthropomorphic images of monkeys in children’s literature.”

Needless to say I was somewhat surprised-especially since it appears that Elly didn’t seem to make it past the homepage of the album’s website to look at the book titles (which features a pretty great illustration of a diverse group of excited kids reading books by the fantastic Rob Steen!) or listen to the music. If she would have dug deeper, I think she possibly might have had a different opinion.

I do understand the need to be careful about the books, media and messages that we present to young people, but it wasn’t my intention at all to promote any sort of potentially racist context/content or offensive messaging. It was actually quite the opposite, and I submitted the project to the organization knowing that American Library Association’s code of ethics is an important cornerstone in the integrity of the public library system. Here’s what I found on their website-

“We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.” 
“We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources.”

As someone who has worked in the public library system, I feel that libraries should perhaps be less about filtering/censoring and more about access. Librarians are supposed to provide access and awareness to a variety of ideas, materials, and ideas, and help us navigate and understand them.

So since the ALSC has cast their decision on “We’re Not Kiddin’ Around” I felt the need to clarify and explain my position on this project and these books to educators and children’s librarians who may not know about this project, and might be open to hearing about it. Plus, if you want, you can have a free copy of the music (read to the end for more about this offer.)…

Let’s start with “Monkey Lost” -

by Ed Heck, a book he wrote and dedicated to his two young sons. Internationally known, with a wry sense of humor and a playful, endearing visual style, Ed created a book that celebrates children’s imaginations, and the way they find solace, creativity and understanding through storytelling. It’s a story that illustrate children’s innate ability as storytellers, and is a book that encourages creative thinking, brainstorming, and sharing ideas.

Elizabeth (Elly) Serrano stated they objected to the book because of “potential concerns of anthropomorphic images of monkeys in children’s literature.”

When a boy loses his precious plush-toy monkey, his classmates rally around him and try to and help him find the lost monkey. In a rollicking ramble, all the children begin to think about all the crazy places the mischievous monkey may have gone- to the movies, to the zoo, to the park. All sounds like some pretty racist stuff to me. A bunch of kids trying to figure out where an imaginary monkey is. Yup, and that monkey on a surfboard, that will certainly whip that group of second graders into a full-on cross-burning.

It is a story about a lost stuffed animal. 

It is a story about using your imagination. 

When I’ve read this story to young people I often ask them where else the monkey could go? What else could the monkey be doing? I don’t think there has ever been a time where a child raised their hand and suggested that the monkey should be lynched. 

Seriously- are we now censoring all monkeys, elephants, ants, spiders, coyotes -all animals that have places in multi-cultural literature and are anthropomorphized across countless books? I guess so- so that could free up some shelf space on the bookshelves. Before you throw them out, please send me any animal books that the great Jerry Pinkney illustrated- he was masterful. 

By the way, Ed Heck, the book’s author recorded a sweet video with me where he teaches kids to draw a monkey like the character in the book. Its a great activity and I encourage you to sit down with a 6 or 7 year old and give it a shot. Here’s the link ( and I bet you’ll see a kid create something fun, and you’ll see a kid who is proud of making something with a pencil and a piece of paper. Thank God I didn’t ask him to teach kids how to draw Pepe the Frog. Maybe I’ll save that for the next record. (Just kidding!!) ;-)

My sister, who is a creative nursery school teacher, actually plays a real life version of hide and seek with a sock monkey after reading the book to her class. It’s really pretty amusing.

Ms. Serrano’s concern about “potential concerns of anthropomorphic images of monkeys in children’s literature” reminded me of some of the articles and analyses of the “Curious George” tizzy over the years. The analogy to slavery, the promotion of white supremacy, colonialism et al………I actually find it more interesting to read the story to kids and see them raise their own concerns about a story or character and turn it into a discussion. 

I encourage you to read this post by Sachi Feris — a brilliant educator from Brooklyn:

Her post about how she handled the book with her daughter is a lesson for all of us. She understood how her daughter was processing the story, and generated an engaging, genuine discussion around the story. In addition, she managed to bring the story into “playtime”-extending the opportunity for her daughter to discuss and learn further from the book.

Discuss and learn. Important concepts and skills I’d hope that we should creatively apply to both the teaching and learning process. If we carelessly censor material that could potentially be challenging, we limit the opportunity for meaningful discussions to happen, and it completely goes against the fundamental mission of a library to provide access and awareness to published materials.

Now, the next objection, I can understand, to a point. I know that this next book has been a concern to many people over the years, so I thought I would just let folks know why I wrote a song about the book-
The Five Chinese Brothers.

I knew I was taking a risk including this book in the project, but if you look at the website- you will see exactly what my process and justification was for its inclusion. Plus I think it is a pretty good tune, and Soozie Tyrell kicks some butt on the fiddle solo. 

I specifically state on the website that “People have shunned this book for its illustrations. This is actually based on an old Chinese folk tale, and to me, it’s all about super powers and helping each other out.”

I read this book as a child. I remember being enthralled with the super-powers that these five brothers had- the ability to stretch and change your shape, the ability to withstand fire, the ability to hold one’s breath, swallow the sea and be impenetrable to swords and axes….It was a story of superheroes — who were brothers- who helped each other out. Pretty inspirational. I wonder if Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were influenced by this story in their youth when they created The Fantastic Four?

In the early eighties I worked at The Door- a multi-faceted youth center in New York City, where I was part of an educational research program on exploring teaching and learning with a collection of Apple IIe computers. One of the activities we created for the kids was to create a series of urban folktales about superheroes in ancient New York City- drawing on comic books, kid’s stories, and ancient myths we created our own collection mythological characters that had superpowers and unique talents- and we used a range of stories to help brainstorm and inspire ideas. Yes, we used The Five Chines Brothers, and the more traditional “Seven Chinese Brothers” as part of the lesson.

There’s an excellent essay by Selma G. Lanes in a book that specifically addresses the concerns raised by some academics and the ALSC. I encourage you to find a copy of the book Through The Looking Glass- which was published in 2004 by David R. Godine, (Publisher/Boston) 

Lanes completely refutes the calls by an academic to ban the book because of its alleged racist drawings and stereotypes. I encourage you to read the entire piece “A Case For The Five Chinese Brothers”, but I’ll include the following excerpts below. When I read this piece a number of years ago when working on a library design project, I found it inspirational-so I returned to the essay when I received the ALSC’s response to “We’re Not Kiddin’ Around”-

Lanes wrote:
“…as it happens, I was fond of The Five Chinese Brothers as a child, and I would be willing to swear on a stack of fortune cookies that the book did nothing but encourage positive thought in me about the Chinese and the future from which they spring. 
Far from finding the five brother’s yellow skin “bilious” I always thought of artist art Wiese’s faces as being the color of sunshine or butter, cheerful and highly appealing. And if Mr. Wiese’s heroes are rendered in a broad cartoon style, well, why not? This approach has been used by many a successful children’s book artists from Peter Newell to Jack Kent without the intention of demeaning the subjects thus rendered. It is, in fact, a style particularly well-suited to the folktale, a genre which deals in broad truths We are not concerned with he names, ages or specific physical features of the characters in a Grimm fairy tale any more than we are in Bishop’s confection.
The fact of the brothers’ being exact look-alike is the great joke of the book- not a racial joke on the Chinese, but a specific joke on the judge and townspeople in the town. The great charm of the story, of course, is that the upon a time there were Five Chines Brothers, and they all looked exactly alike.”

I’m not denying that some people find the artwork in this book offensive. I totally understand that. But if you are going to cite “We’re Not Kiddin’ Around” on the grounds of potential racial issues, I think we should take a broader look at some other books and media on many bookshelves and apply the same sweeping criteria of censorship.

I wonder how many computer centers in public libraries across the country have books and video games on their shelves and hard drives with Mario from Nintendo on them???? A slight Italian stereotype maybe?

A quick search through some online catalogs from various libraries across the country not only produced images of Mario, but also DVDs that featured Mr.Magoo- a character with a rather stereotypical Chinese bus boy who was integral to the humor and jokes woven into the episodes. And we should also note that the humor of the main character was centered around the mishaps and mayhem created by a person with a visual impairment. I’m not sure where we draw the lines on sensitivity, stereotypes and offensive humor, but I think we need to apply the same standards across our bookshelves and media bins.

A few items found in the NYPL online catalog………

As an exercise, I looked at each one of the songs and books I included on “We’re Not Kiddin’ Around” and applied blanket generalizations to each of the selections. The results of this exercise was shocking to me. As innocent, naive, good-intentioned and unaware as I was, the bottom line conclusion I came to is that Frank Migliorelli (and The Dirtnappers and their special guests) is promoting oppression, racism, bullying, and all kinds of other mind wrecking mayhem on the youth of America… Let’s take a look at each of the books-

Where the Wild Things Are-A blatant demonstration of colonialism/imperialism practices. Could be perceived as a “how to” manual for conquering other cultures. Very dangerous. 

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel- Worker exploitation and a steam shovel that is obviously burning tons of fossil fuels. Off the shelf, now!

Monkey Lost-Issues noted above.

5 Chinese Brothers-Ditto

Harry The Dirty Dog-Hmmmm, that dirty dog could symbolize blackface, everything needs to be “white”. Pitch it.

Flat Stanley-Be careful, there’s bullying and shaming in this book, some sort of mocking of a handicap or disability. Pull it off the shelf.

Own and Mzee- Animal exploitation and captivity-can’t really say too much about zoos in some circles, so we better put it on the pile, even though Oprah liked it.

Go Dog Go- More anthropomorphism, not to mention a few possible costumes that might be perceived as culturally insensitive….better toss it.

Wow. I swear I honestly didn’t mean any of this to happen!

But the real problem is……

Our inability to take chances to think and teach critically. We’ve been talking about critical thinking for years, at least as long as I’ve been involved in education and developing educational media a products for kids. Unfortunately, we’re all guilty of not truly challenging the status quo.

As educators, we are so afraid of offending, saying the wrong thing, using the wrong words, showing the wrong images, we’ve become afraid of taking chances, challenging our students, and teaching from multiple perspectives. On the internet, people are so loudly trying to promote what they think is correct, we’ve stopped listening, evaluating and discussing. This is a struggle we’ve had on our hands for years, and in my own personal and professional journey as a designer, an educator, and a director of educational programs. We have to do better.

I look to libraries and librarians as educators and institutions who help guide us to resources to adopt, evaluate and understand things from multiple perspectives. We need those professionals who guide us to materials that help us learn to discuss, understand different view points, help us organize and study our past so we can look to the future with new ideas and create solutions. This can’t come from censorship or creating blanket criteria that stifles the opportunity to evaluate perspectives. Access and awareness helps promote discourse, discussion, and demonstration. Creating opportunities that allow multiple perspectives and opinions to be heard, evaluated and adapted is the amazing service that we all expect and benefit from our public library system.

So…in conclusion, 

It really wasn’t about the record. I’m sad that the ALSC didn’t like it, but I honestly don’t think the project was evaluated according to the American Library Association’s code of ethics. It was obvious that the Membership and Marketing Specialist gave We’re Not Kiddin’ Around” a cursory glance, saw something that was potentially an “issue” and dismissed it the entire project. Unfortunately, they seemed to miss that the idea behind this project was to inspire reading, create awareness of some great stories, promote local libraries and bookstores, inspire caregivers and children………and to have some fun.

In conclusion, I’d just like to make the following offer- If you are a children’s librarian or K-8 teacher and want a copy of the record, email me at and I’ll send you a copy of the CD (if you still use CDs) or a link to free downloads of the files. Also, if you visit and think you might have an idea for the “Activities” section of the website, please feel free to send them on! I’d love to hear from some creative educators and share your ideas!

I’ll be doing a few gigs here and there, as the pandemic allows. If you happen to be in the bar, show me your ALSC membership card, and I’ll buy you a beer. I might even play the song “5 Chinese Brothers” and dedicate it to you. Hopefully, you might sing along.

Returning once more to Selma Lane’s counter critique of the The Five Chinese Brothers she writes, 

“By all means, let’s avoid using any picture book that might give offense, but let’s also avoid blanket condemnations. It’s just possible that one man’s stereotype may be another’s broadening experience.” 

A very important point, indeed. I’ll leave you with that. 

Thanks for reading, and please visit and share the songs on a playlist on Spotify. You can even leave “The Five Chinese Brothers” and “My Monkey Got Lost” off your playlist if they make you feel uncomfortable. I don’t mind- enjoy! And keep reading to kids.


Frank Migliorelli is a songwriter, designer, a former college professor at Tisch School of the Arts and Steinhardt School of Education (NYU), and former Director of Digital Experience at The New York Public Library. He’s actually designed a number of children’s libraries, and currently is working on developing a cooperative farm that focuses on food security and feeding people who need food. If you are a children’s librarian or teacher and want a free copy of “We’re Not Kiddin’ Around” feel free to reach out to him and he’ll send you one. He doesn’t bite, and he’s not a racist.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

It's about that time of the new year, my top music picks from 2018....

Yea, I don't write to this blog all that much, but this entry is pretty much a top record choices from last year. As a rule, I always wait a month in to give myself a chance to look back, do some thinking, and some re-listening. Easy pickins' this year-by far hands down, Alejandro Escovedo was my fave, and the rest are in no particular order, just good stuff I've heard and really liked. There are a few standard favorites who can do no wrong in my book, but there are a few curve balls for you also....
When it came down to looking back, I realized I didn't probably listen to as much music as I normally do...been in the studio a good chunk of the year working on a new record with The Dirt Nappers, but overall, and looking back there were a bunch of good things that caught my ear.

I've also compiled a Spotify list of some songs- feel free to follow me and check it out-

Here we go:

Favorite/Best Of The Year:
Alejandro Escovedo-The Crossing
Alejandro Escovedo: The Crossing « American Songwriter
Timely, passionate and raw, this is a beautiful work of art, both musically, and in the design of the CD. Alejandro teamed up with Don Antonio, an Italian musician and his band and recorded a truly stunning piece of music here. There's an in-your-face-gut-punching delivery that Escovedo does SO well- one that echoes the desperation of people looking for asylum, looking for a new home, and willing to do anything they can to attain that. The stories of those who made it and continue to struggle and fight are here too, and given the current debacle of our current compassionless response to the immigration needs at the southern boarder, and the global refugee crisis, these song have an extra resonance and weight to them. The delivery of some of the songs is heart-wrenching- "Footsteps in the Shadows", "Texas is My Mother"- capture the desperation and the pound in your chest fear of being on the run. The punk-edged flavors of "Fury and Fire", and "Outlaw For You" get equally tempered by beautiful ballads like "Something Blue" and "Silver City". Not a bad note. Plenty of story. And a record that makes you think, feel, and wonder how we got so fucked up as human beings. Best line- "Come to think of it, the border crossed me, I  didn't cross it. And if you really want to think about it, you're the wetback- coming across the Atlantic." Well said, well delivered. This guy is at the top of his game. Someone needs to turn this into a stage production.

Other Top Picks In No Particular Random Order

Richard Thompson - 13 Rivers-
Richard Thompson Announces New Album '13 Rivers': Hear 2 ...
RT is back. After a few records that were somewhat meandering, -good, but not his best-, this new record leaps out of the speakers and reminds you why this guy's name is always on the guitar player's top guitar players of all time list. Back to a rock and roll vibe, with that traditional feel, Thompson is like cask strength bourbon- biting, smooth, and you just can't stop drinking it.

David Ford-Animal Spirits-
All events - The Joiners, Southampton
David Ford is one of the most under appreciated songwriters, performers and singers out there today. I'm not even sure if anyone played this record on American radio. Honestly, this reminds me a bit of a Tom Waits record- maybe a touch of Rain Dogs- but with Ford's unique sonic quality and sensibility. How can such a nice guy write such edgy tunes? A hard to find CD, but stream this record on Spotify. Again and again.

Ry Cooder-The Prodigal Son
Ry Cooder - The Prodigal Son
 - Like Thompson, The Prodigal Son is a return to form for Cooder. I never miss a release, but the last few records haven't been for everyone. Ry teams up with son Joaquin, and the groove, feel and funk is there. Yea Terry Evans and Bobby King are there-God bless them. Yea Ry's playing is top notch. And yea, this album should be played loud. Kinda reminds me of Ry's "Get Rhythm"/"Borderline" releases a bit. The title track is a keeper, and the subtle delivery of "Living on Straight Street" is the definition of "laying back" but still delivering the soul......

Candi Staton - Unstoppable- 
Pop-Neuerscheinungen: Tanz den Apokalypsenporno! | ZEIT ONLINE
I wanna look that damn good in a leather outfit when I'm 79 years old. I know I won't be singing anywhere near this woman for sure. I'm a big fan of Mavis, but I'm sorry, Candi did a bit of schooling here -and she's sounding pretty damn amazing. Her past couple of records have been great, and while this one runs the risk of getting a bit preachy and syrupy, her delivery of the opening track, her heartfelt delivery of "What's So Funny...." and the overall energy of this record earned top marks in my book......glad this woman is unstoppable.

The Reverend Shawn Amos - Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down-
Review: The Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down
Producer Shawn Amos's blues persona gives us a pretty interesting album. Some deep songs that wrestle with this country's race problems, some great production, and I love this guy's voice. This album also has a cover of Nick Lowe's tune- so good to see Nick able to generate a few royalty checks. In addition to Amos's own tunes, this record also has a killer version of the Bowie classic - "Jean Genie" - totally worth the price of admission alone.

Amy Helm - This Too Shall Light- 
Amy Helm: This Too Shall Light « American Songwriter
The title cut is hypnotic. The recording is impeccable. Helm sings with soul, sweetness and command. If I had to name a #2, this would be it. She also has an amazing ability to reinterpret songs- her version of "Mandolin Wind" is stunning. The Milk Carton Kids' "Michigan" gets totally owned by Helm. Years ago, Carlene Carter melted my heart. This year, Amy Helm stole it.

Sunflower Bean - Twentytwo In Blue-
Sunflower Bean – “Crisis Fest” | indieBrew.Net
Maybe it reminds me a bit of a Bangles album, maybe because the songs are hooky as hell, or maybe the extra bonus of some really great guitar playing caught my ear. A seriously fun powerpoprockandroll record capturing millennial angst without sounding like some weepy ass emo throwback album.

Jim James - Uniform Distortion-
My Morning Jacket’s Jim James announces solo album ...
James is in fine vocal form here, singing like only he can-and damn, what a wall of sound this record has......Big, booming, thick and fuzzy, but all wrapped around great songs. If you don't agree that "Throwback" is a great hook, go find a drawer at the local morgue.

Kim Ritchey-Edgeland-
Kim Richey Set To Release First New Album In Five Years ...
My favorite "songwriter" album of the year. She edged out Grant Lee Phillips by a hair. I don't have any of her other albums, but this one is a pretty good introduction to a brilliant songwriter. Straight ahead lyrics capturing everyday life ("Red Line"), getting old ("Chase Wild Horses"), and the best "I told you so-" song ("Pin A Rose"-one of my favorite songs of the year) are just a few of this collection's highlights.

Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore - Downey To Lubbock-
Dave Alvin + Jimmie Dale Gilmore Bio Page | Shore Fire Media
Dave Alvin has the thickest, ballsiest guitar tone I've heard since SRV. He roars, but roars with control, authority and in perfect harmony with Jimmie Dale, that you can feel and hear the camaraderie these two guys shared making this album. Chock full of great songs, "The Gardens" is a powerful standout.

Three random singles I didn't mind hearing over and over:
"Wide Awake"- by Parquet Courts- a bunch of knuckleheads from Brooklyn.
"Cheers"-Anderson.Paak collab with Q-Tip. The best hip-hop has to offer. This guy is great.
"Mr. Tillman"-Father John Misty-Warren Zevon couldn't have written a better ode to drunkeness.
(and of course, "She Moves Like A Mystery"-thrown in there for good measure!)

That's it.....I would say that is a pretty solid year in music. Go out and buy some music for yourself. You'll be glad you did. So will a musician.


Monday, July 16, 2018

A Few Memories, Sights and Sounds of Scotland -a real special place.

We tried to document a number of places we hit on our recent jaunt to Scotland on Instagram, but we figured we'd recap a few photo highlights and videos here.

Edinburgh, as we headed over to The Royal Mile Tavern for our first show, we stopped to take a picture that looks like an album cover.

The Royal Mile Tavern is right on the main drag, The Royal Mile, with numerous bars, music and food....basically an all day party. After we heard that the tavern had a reputation for serving great haggis, we went for it. Highly recommended.

Just a travel tip, when in Edinburgh, stop at The Southern Cross Cafe- 
--really friendly joint, great coffee, food and desserts. I think we ate there four times in three days.

Here’s our trusty tour bus….we never really knew what kind of car it was. and I’m sure once the car rental place in Edinburgh drops a new clutch in it, it will be fine…..and that burning smell will fade.

The Coach and Horses Tavern in Dumfries was your classic local pub. Heather tended a solid bar and kept the beers flowing all night- great crowd and one of the best collection of local band flyers plastered all over the walls. Great place to steal a band name.   Also, the men’s room was plastered with Beatles sheet music over the trough urinal. Kinda gave new meaning to the song “Yellow Submarine” and “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide- ‘cept for Me and My Monkey”

Mohr84 was located up in the hills- the foothills before you got the the classic Scottish Highlands. Our tour manager hooked us up with some very beautiful accommodations…..very spoiled little rock stars……these guys look like they are posing for a U2 cover band shot....

Our last night of playing music on this little journey was in a beautiful village called Moniave, which is about 15 miles outside of Dumfries. Just a classic town, with a fantastic pub/inn known as The Craigdarroch Hotel....Here's a few shots of us playing-sorry about the lame sound, we just propped an Ipad up on the piano.....Such a great place that Moniave, I left my heart in that town.

After we returned the PA to the rental company, and returned “Stinky”  the tour bus to Hertz, we spent the Sunday afternoon wandering around Edinburgh…..The city was a bit of a buzz because the Stones had played a killer show the night before, and Jagger was supposedly staying down the street from us, thought there never was an actual sighting. It was another beautiful day, and we wandered into this pub-Sandy Bells, where an amazing group of musicians were just sitting around playing. This looked like a scene out of the Waterboys retirement video, but we sat there for forty minutes or so just drinking beer and listening. Just a great bunch of players………and a great way to cap off a week in Scotland.

Here are some of the sights and sounds from the back room.

Thanks to the Kerr family for your amazing hospitality, thank you to The Royal Mile Tavern, Mhor84, The Coaches and Horses, and The Craigdarroch Hotel for having us, and thank you to everyone who came out and listened- we'll be back!

Saturday, January 6, 2018

A drinker's guide to the best music of top 10 for your ears, along with appropriate pairings.

So much music, so little time…this year’s list feels a bit incomplete- there are so many records still on “my list” that I haven't gotten to yet-but I’ll let the year fade and draw the line, because I have to start tracking 2018…..But for now in no particular order, except for my "fave" mentioned below, here are  what I think are the best releases of the year (2017)….along with some drink suggestions for you.....just because!

To make it even easier, feel free to check out the Spotify playlist that features selections from each pick-

My fave for the year:
Product Details

Hurray for the Riff Raff- “The Navigator”-This is the record I kept coming back to to again and again this year. Spanning a host of musical genres, some great recording, and and a wealth of songwriting and story telling make for my favorite album of the year. Alynda Segarra’s songwriting captures a new kind of Americana- traditional sounds with a Latino infused beat that weaves a story that is more relevant now than ever before. The album has a sense of struggle, fight and hope to it- and it is a welcomed experience to track through a true “album”- a themed collection of songs with a story.
Put this one on, open a good rioja and take it in like a good book or movie.

Product Details

Ibibio Sound Machine-“Uyai”-My biggest live regret of the year was not catching these guys in NYC this past summer. This album erupts with a sense of energy and emotion that is impossible to ignore. The groove, the sonic composition, and the performance is impeccable- harkening back to blend of Fela meets Talking Heads. Cue a flashback to “Remain In Light”- If you only buy one “world music” record this year, this is the one. Killer cuts- “Give Me a Reason” and “The Pot is On Fire”…but the whole record sways. Go for it.
Could possibly pair this with a serious rum, or if the temperature on the dance floor is right, an ice cold beer.

  The Nashville Sound

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - “The Nashville Sound”- This guy writes great stuff. This record is on everyone’s top 10 lists. I usually try not to pay attention to the popular flow, but you can’t deny great.  “If We Were Vampires” is an achingly beautiful song.  My favorite song of the year.
Rye…straight up with this one.

Graveyard Whistling.jpg

Old 97s “Graveyard Whistling”-This album grew on me with every listen. And it did take a few listens to truly get it. At first glance, the album seemed to lack a certain amount of dynamics or diversity, but after a few spins, and starting to really listen to the lyrics, this album is gem. “Jesus Loves You” is the best ode to a bible thumping babe since Billy Joel had Virginia Callahan down on her knees. Rhett Miller’s allegiance to whisky, girls and guitars is unparalleled-But the balance of recklessness and human fallibility is given equal weight across the album.
Suggested pairing: This record and your favorite bourbon. Heaven.

14 Steps to Harlem

Garland Jeffreys-“14 Steps to Harlem”- I think I’ve been listening to this guy since I was 13 years old. So much a part of the New York FM radio scene in the early 70s, Jeffreys has persisted over the decades cranking out stellar music without fail, and unfortunately, often outside of the popular public eye. This album, the third of a resurgence of releases over the past few years, shows us a guy who hasn’t slowed down as a writer or a certified burn-you-down soul singer. His voice is as warm and crisp as ever, and how he keeps that falsetto cranking is a mystery- but it is there in all it’s Frankie Lymon greatness. The originals are "Jeffreys the Storyteller" at his finest- the timbre, tempo and delivery of the title track alone captures the energy of the day to day family struggle and the warmth and importance of family strength that thematically and consistently appears in his music. Of note, the album also contains two covers, also high points in the collection. “Waiting For My Man” is a rocking tribute to his fallen buddy Lou Reed, and the amazing, tender and fragile rendering of the Beatles “Help” evokes a sense of longing and loss of another good friend. All good stuff here, and let’s see what this guy puts out next.
Barolo with some homemade pasta for this musical meal with one of my rock and roll heroes.

Dan Auerbach Waiting on a Song.jpg

Dan Auerbach “Waiting On A Song”- the perfect mix of an old box of 45s and an overwhelming dose of Nick Lowe sensibility. Pure pop for a new century with a completely retro nod to that 70s decade. Could have been a song collection for the next Traveling Willburry’s album. The album cover alone evokes a bargain-bin find at Woolworths for 99 cents. Drop the needle on this one, and enjoy this flirtatious romp that sounds great on a killer sound system, but would sound equally great on an AM radio in ‘68 Rambler. Not sure how he does this….but Auerbach is one busy guy. Glad he takes a break every once in a while from producing, the Black Keys, and The Arcs to drop a solo album.
Not a mixed drink guy, but I could see this pairing well with a G&T, or even better, a bottle of Vino Verde.

Emily Duff-“Maybe In The Morning”- Duff is a tough, gum chewing cowgirl from Long Island who now calls NYC home. Met her through the monthly songwriter showcase I host, and she showed up and ripped the place apart. Recorded down at Muscle Shoals, this record is steeped in country licks, soulful backbeat and a storytelling sensibility that simply cannot be beat. As edgy and tough as she can be, you can’t help miss the warm soulful vulnerability of tune like “Don’t Do Me Dirty” or the cinematic weave of “Alabama”, which has this subtle, amazing coming of age sensibility to it. Buy this record, and if you don’t like it, send it to me and I’ll give you your money back. Then I’ll give it to someone with taste.
Six-pack of Pabst, nice and cold, never will taste better.

A Deeper Understanding.jpg

The War on Drugs-“A Deeper Understanding” “Lush” is a word often associated with this recording-and it is indeed that. In some ways, and I might be going out on a dangerous limb here, I hear a tad of “Roxy” in this release. Just a tad. Not sure what has captured my ear on this one- I know it is on most top-10 charts, and rightfully so, but there is something just so listenable about this record that keeps me playing it over and over. Great lyrics, great composition and the fact they had the balls to release an 11 minute song on Record Store day all warrants recognition and praise. It is a beautiful sound, textured and rich, but amazingly catchy.
Definitely a red….Sonoma or Napa. Something stoic. A cabernet.

Don Bryant -“Don't Give up on Love”- On par with Willam Bell’s grammy-winning masterpiece from last year. This guy effortlessly melts the microphone. You think you know soul singing? Ann Peebles’ other half, this guy writes and sings a record that oozes Memphis at its finest. Killer cover of the classic “A Nickel and a Nail”, plenty of Bryant penned tunes, and a few other nods from the vault, this album sounds like it could’ve been recorded 30 years ago. Great horns, great rhythm section, and vocals that have been too long between records. When someone says, "they don't make music like that anymore....." give them this record. My other live show regret from this year, not catching Mr. Bryant with Bonnie Raitt this year. Hopefully he’ll be back, but in the meantime, we got this collection to savor…..
with a fine brandy or cognac and a cigarette or two…..or if that’s too harsh, pop a cork on some champagne- that will work well, sipped slowly.

Spoon-“Hot Thoughts”- Haven’t been disappointed by these guys in years. Consistently writing great tunes and managing to capture the energy of band that loves playing together. There’s elements of albums past- hints of “Transference” & “They Want My Soul”-but not in a repetitive way. This has been one of my favorite rock bands in the past 10 years or so, and they keep rolling. “Do I Have to Talk You Into It” is one to crank up to “tear up the lease” volume level, along with the title track.
Tequila….On the rocks, squeeze of lime. Tall glass. With a refill.

All these, plus the Dirt Nappers "Bass, Drums, Guitars & Organs" makes for a pretty good year. Get drunk on some new music this year.  Cheers!

Monday, October 16, 2017

On The Deuce- This song should be that HBO's show theme song

Although I haven’t been catching all the episodes,  HBO’s latest series “The Deuce” has done a great job in triggering some memories. Some of us actually sit around and swap stories, romantically looking back at the old Times Square/42nd Street area with a fondness for the grit, smut and drugs that used to permeate the concrete. It wasn’t Kansas, and definitely not Disneyland, and I remember being offered a wad of cocaine in a phone booth once, grabbing a $5 dinner at Brew and Burger with an all you can drink side mug of beer (usually you got thrown out after 7 or 8 mugs) and getting the best movie value a quarter could buy.

But I never heard the nickname “The Deuce” until 1989.

In ’89, I had the insane idea of starting an independent record label with a buddy of mine, Gene Campanelli, and the first record we produced was a collection of New York City based blues and R&B artists. We really had no idea what we were getting into, but we made a few good print pieces that made us look like we had more than two nickels to rub together, and we convinced a bunch of local artist to work with us. It was a crazy time in New York for blues and r&b- there were clubs all over town- Dan Lynch’s, Delta 88, Mondo Cane and Mondo Perso, Terra Blues, Tramps, The Lone Star, and Manny’s Car Wash to name a few…There was actually a “scene” happening- and any night of the week you could crawl out and check out The Chris Carter Band with the amazing Frankie Paris, Pat Cisarano, John Paris, Diane Scanlon, The Holmes Brothers, The Belmont Brothers, and more. There was even the early and rough version of Blues Traveler playing at Mondo, and Joan Osborne was just cracking her pipes at Dan Lynch’s jam (we actually turned her down for that first record….but that’s another story).

When pulling together the roster for that first record, I happened to get introduced to Crispin Cioe -sax player for the baddest band on the scene- The Uptown Horns- I had always been a fan of Crispin’s playing since he played with Carolyn Mas in the late 70s and early 80s- and the Uptowns had become a powerful fixture in the NY r&b scene. With Crispin on alto sax, the remaining lineup included Arno Hecht on tenor, Bob Funk, trombone, and “Hollywood” Paul Litteral on trumpet.

In addition to being a very successful horn section for other artists (most notably, the J.Geils Band), The Uptown Horns Review was their own musical collective of players from the scene that regularly took the stage at The Lone Star, Tramps or any other place that can handle a large 8 to 12 piece band. The performances were classic R&B revues- with people in the band coming forward and doing songs, and then the band backing up a parade of “guest artists”- which could range from anyone from Bo Diddly Jr. to David Johansen, to Soozie Tyrell dropping by to do a few songs. The shows were magical, fun, and totally captured the spirit of a full blown R&B house party-

So when Crispin said the Horns would be cool with doing two tracks for the new record, we were thrilled- they were our headliner, our big gun that totally gave our project weight and validity. The record was to focus on original tunes-and the Horns had an instrumental called “52 Pick Up” and a song that paid homage to the Times Square neighborhood, “On The Deuce”.

The original "Third Rail Screamin'" CD cover -

With the interest in that NYC legendary neighborhood rekindled, I figured I’d share the tune with you, and give a bit of background on who actually played on the session. Reading the liner notes a while ago, I had forgotten what a powerhouse line up that band and session turned out to be- from the guys behind the recording console, to the background singers-it was an amazing track.

“On The Deuce” opens up with an audio snippet of ambient background- the Horns went to Times Square with a field recorder, with the intention of capturing some to the sounds of the neighborhood to weave into the track. I remember them coming back to the studio pleased as all get out with the results of the field trip. Some of the snippets you hear on the track include a bit of a three card monty game, and a random couple arguing about their rent payments and of course, the constant din of traffic, horns and sirens passing through the space.

We had tapped Steve Burgh to oversee & produce the recording session- he owned Baby Monster Studio- a somewhat worn and weathered but totally solid studio up a creaky set of wooden stairs in a building on 14th Street. Burgh was a interesting cat- it turns out he was friends with David Bromberg, Steve Goodman and John Prine, and had a hand in co-writing Goodman’s classic tune “Old Fashioned”. His engineer was a young Canadian guy- Gil Arbarbanel……who now lives back in Montreal and is involved in the finance world.
After we ordered the contractual obligatory pizza from Arturo’s, we got down to recording.

The Players
The Horns were hot to showcase their vocal protoge- a young soul singer from Nashville named Ben Houston. Armed with good looks and a classic smooth soul vocal range, Houston totally shines on the track, especially on the outro-vamp, where he ad-libs and fades off down the block.

Drums were handled by the amazing Tyrone “Crusher” Green. I had seen him play around town with so many different bands and loved his feel. When Crusher was on the throne, band just sounded better- it was only later on that I found out that this was the guy responsible for the drum track on Wilson Pickett’s “Land of a Thousand Dances”. Loose but in the pocket, Crusher was masterful at giving “On The Deuce” an amazing sauntering feel.

Tony Garnier - who has been playing bass and traveling with some guy named Bob Dylan since 1989 was around for the session.

Charlie Giordano- on piano and organ. He had come off a stint as keyboard player for Pat Benatar and these days plays with the E Street Band. Yea, that E Street Band.

Guitar duties were in the hands of Danny Draher- one of the UH Revue regulars and another of Buster’s crew, Draher is still out there slinging the guitar and playing with more people than I can list here….

Background vocals were instrumental in defining the Horn’s vision on this song. At the time, there were three women who sang under the name of “BMW” Emily Bindiger, Sherryl Marshall and Leslie Wagner. Ms. Sherryl Marshall- who went on to a successful career as a Banshee of Blue with David Johansen, even showed up on a Dirt Napper album or two. She’s even played the famous Green Growler as part of my monthly singer-songwriter showcase!

Fred Walcott played percussion. Another veteran of Buster’s band, Fred was the go to percussion guy in NYC and beyond- playing with people like Son Seals, Shameka Copeland and rock and roll legend, Dion.

This track still kicks butt today. I think they should use it as theme music for the series, so if anyone knows the music director of “The Deuce”, send them my way.

It was fun tracking down all these players- and thanks to Crispin for letting me post the track up here.

The Horns are still out there. Shortly after recording this song, they got tapped to tour with The Rolling Stones on the Steel Wheels Tour. You can still catch Arno playing with Dion, and Crispin keeps busy with his own band and acting as music director for a number of Kennedy Center shows. In addition, he performs regularly with one of the greatest rock and roll singers of all time, Ms. Darlene Love (If you haven't seen the movie "20 Feet From Stardom", do so).
Check out his site here for more:

And definitely pick up a copy of the 1994 release from The Uptown Horns-   It’s good for your soul.

And now, sit back and listen to “On The Deuce”

“On The Deuce”- The Uptown Horns

In the evening-steam is rising
Hot and sticky-on the street
Anything you can fantasize-Is a thing that you can realize
Is all bought and sold-If you got the gold
It’s just that simple - It’s just that cold

Well the lights are bright on Broadway-Never know what you can find
In the city there’s salvation-it’s enough to blow your mind
On the Deuce

Three card monty-for the wet behind the ears
Dealers hustling -with a smile that’s so sincere
Painted ladies who are old beyond their years
They’ll take you round the corner-set you up and disappear

Anything you can fantasize-Is a thing that you can realize
Is all bought and sold-If you got the gold
It’s just that simple - It’s just that cold

Well the lights are bright on Broadway-Never know what you can find
In the city there’s salvation-it’s enough to blow your mind
On the Deuce

Now they tell me there’s some stories-but it’s the same one every night
So many different faces  -but the price is always right-

Anything you can fantasize-Is a thing that you can realize
Is all bought and sold-If you got the gold
It’s just that simple - It’s just that cold

Well they say this place is changing-gonna tear these buildings down
It doesn’t matter where you go there’s a Deuce in every town
On the Deuce

Friday, January 6, 2017

The 2016 Bakers Dozen

Ok, so I blew one of my 2016 resolutions last year---to keep an active, monthly music blog…Nice idea, but just didn’t keep up. Not going to make the same declaration, but since I’m almost done with a new recording, which should be out out in the next month or so, I figure I’ll jump start this process again.

So now that 2016 is gone, I can publish my “Best of” list. I usually wait until the first week in January just in case someone drops a great, phenomenal record the night of Dec. 31, before midnight. Nothing caught my ear, since New Year’s Eve, so here goes. Usual drill, I’ll give you my absolute favorite, and then in no particular order a loose approximate top musical dozen IMHO for 2016. This was a good year-lots of great stuff-my fave:

Peter Wolf-“A Cure For Loneliness” - Just a real simple, rootsy album, with great feel, and great songs. Everyone of this guy’s solo discs have been strong, and this one is no exception. I’ve always been a fan of the Geils band, even in its ultra commercial success mode, and part of that admiration was the relentless commitment and energy that Wolf brought to the mix. You hear that on the this record-this guy is singing from the heart, he’s laughing, he’s got the blues, and he can toss out a full blown rocker. I caught him at the Bowery Ballroom this past February. Best concert I saw all year. Hands down. Maybe someday I can make a record this good-but I doubt it.

Other records I couldn’t stop playing this year:

Sturgill Simpson- “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” - Yea I know it’s nominated for album of the year. but even the Grammys get it right once in a while. This album is like a beautiful painting. Aching tunes, rich musical texture, and stellar musicianship. And a great Nirvana cover.

Yarn- “This is the Year”- From Tennessee, then Brooklyn, then back down south, if you have a chance to catch Yarn live, do it. They’ve been kicking around for a while, and have a number of records out. This is the first one I’ve picked up, and I love it. Low key, great country flavored tunes-just bar room solid. These guys tell great stories and make them real easy to listen to. One of my favorite songs of the year- “Sweet Dolly”- the band’s ode to Ms. Parton. Just an honest, innocent remembrance of falling in love with her when she appeared on the Tonight Show. How can you go wrong when a tune makes you smile?

Cymbals Eat Guitars- “Pretty Years”- All I really know about this band is that they allegedly come from Staten Island, and this is their fourth release. This is no country album. A fair share of distortion, guitars and overdriven production across all the tracks, but good tunes. There’s something in this mix that reminds me of the Clash….not sure if its in the guitars or the Strummer/Simonon/Jones flavored vocals. “Wish” is my favorite song of the year-play it loud.

Alejandro Escovedo -“Burn Something Beautiful” -Escovedo is just a badass. Simple tunes, telling stories, with guitars. His past few records have been stellar, and this one doesn’t miss. Lot’s of NYC tribute references here- somebody spent some time on the lower east side at one point, but he also writes a killer love tune. AE gut-punches you on the opening track with massive guitar chords- but somehow, like with so many of his other albums, he puts across songs with both energy and sensitivity that is sustained tune after tune. If there’s one singer-songwriter who can plug in and roll a little louder than the rest, its this guy.

Bombino-“Azel"- This guitarist from Niger is amazing. I can’t remember anyone taking on a Stratocaster in such a unique style since the first Dire Straits album. But Bombino is no Knopfler wanna be. Totally in command of the grove, the melody and passion, he and the band just push it from the get go, and even if you can’t understand the lyrics, it just doesn’t matter. Afraid “world music” is too granola for you? This ain’t finger cymbals, pan flutes and twangy sticks. Read this guy’s bio on Wikipedia and you’ll learn where this music comes from. This is a guy who has risked his life to play music and you hear it in the album. Check the live archive at for a live recording of this guy. Then buy this record.

Kyle Craft-“Dolls of Highland” - The first time I heard this guy I immediate bought the disc. Still trying to figure it all out. There’s a well orchestrated recklessness that jumps out of this dude. It’s  like Meatloaf meets T-Rex meets the Kinks, without the distortion. Unique vocals, unique writing, almost theatrical in a way, and maybe too over the top for some people, but I liked it. “Berlin” is a great tune about a stripper…..Another KEXP live performance worth watching...

Anderson.Paak-“Malibu”—The best thing I’ve heard out of the hiphop world since The Roots released “How I Got Over”. Anytime a hip hop artist throws it down with a real drum kit, that is worth a listen. And this isn’t just rap- it oozes serious funk, soul and r&b and real lyrics. Kinda gives me hope for the genre.

William Bell- “This is Where I Live” Seventy-seven year old singer with a voice like soul butter bourbon. Can make you cry. Why mess with a good thing? This guy is a treasure, did it back in the 60’s, and is still doing it…-

Eli Paperboy Reed- “My Way Home”- Reverend Eli sets up church in a garage. Raw energy. Great tunes. Sounds like it was recorded in 1966. Grit and soul saving rock n’ roll. Best reverb I’ve heard in years. Lock up your daughters, pass the hat…this ain’t yo’ mamma’s preacher.

Okerville River-“Away”- Will Sheff is a sneaky guy. He kinda made us think this band was through with “The Silver Gymnasium”. Then this record dropped out of nowhere. This takes a listen or two to catch the nuance of this album- it comes across real quiet, but he is writing his ass off, and it just grows and grows on you. Remember when a song could make you throw your fist up in the air?- Sheff is kinda reminiscing about that, but he also delivers it. Hopefully not their last effort, but if this is it, its a great way to go out.

The Jayhawks-“Paging Mr. Proust”- I do like it better when Mark Olson is in the band, but Gary Louris manages to pull this off. “Quiet Corners & Empty Places” is pure Jayhawks ear-candy fair, totally worming its way into your head. There are catchy hooks across the whole recording-sometimes a bit Byrd-like, but you also hear a band playing rough around the edges a bit….sorta like Wilco occasionally does. But the songs are good, and I listened to this one enough this year to have it round out the list. It’s a little different than some of those really clean, slick Jayhawk classics, but it still does it for me.

That’s it. Naturally looking forward to the next year unfolding. And of course, the new Dirt Napper record should set a pretty high bar for everyone across the joint. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned.- fm 1/5/17