Criticism
The Amish Atheist Print E-mail

kenneth copp amish atheist(The Truth Seeker October 1, 2021)

In the long history of free thought and the millions who’ve come into the light of reason, there are a few examples of men and women who have retained the best parts of their religious past and their secular present. One such is Kenneth Copp, the “star” of the new film short, Amish Atheist, an affecting portrait of a cultural Christian reborn in a freethinker’s body. Copp, a Maine woodworker, was raised in a Pentecostal church; under his parents’ tutelage, he practiced the carnival sideshow of “speaking in tongues.”

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I'm Going to Build a Heaven of My Own: The Harry Smith B-Sides Print E-mail

HS b sides(Los Angeles Review of Books April 18, 2021)

American folk music evolves as a shared expression, primarily among musicians: the repertoire passes among — and is altered by — performers in a sort of musical communion. Chronicling the multifarious history of folk music are a few iconic books and records: Carl Sandburg’s The American Songbag (1927), which features transcriptions of the nation’s best-loved tunes; Ruth Crawford Seeger’s smart arrangements in the John and Alan Lomax volume Our Singing Country (1941); and Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, released in 1952 by Folkways Records.

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A Plurality of Traditions: Anthony Davis and the Social Justice Opera Print E-mail

central park five(Los Angeles Review of Books October 17, 2020)

Anthony Davis, winner of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his opera The Central Park Five, is a composer with a great future behind him. Five is his eighth opera, and during those labors, spanning four decades, he’s found the time and talent to write orchestral pieces and music for plays, to record solo piano albums, to gig widely, and to make records with his group, Episteme. Under the microscope, Davis, who is 68 and a professor at the University of California at San Diego, reveals a rare strain of the American composer’s DNA, a synthesis of the diasporic music of African descendants and the uncompromising voice of contemporary opera.

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Review: Fluid States by Heidi Czerwiec Print E-mail

Czerwiec cover(River Teeth Blog August 2, 2019)

Shapes Shifted, Senses Altered, Values Freely Wheeled

There may be no more startling way to bait readers into an essay than this: “Is there a word for the unsettling sensation of sitting down on an unexpectedly warm toilet seat, because someone used it just before you and sat there for a good long while? Maybe something in German?” The author titles it: “FREUDENSCHANDE: PRIV(AC)Y,” translated as “joyful-shame.” Using more of these “made-up” German compounds as section titles, she goes on to compare the “bowel mover” in the “public privy” to the commodious confessions of the personal nonfictionist, the emotional “shitshow” so many memoirists and essayists insist readers have to sit with. All this “warmth sharing” breaks “the illusion of privacy” and invites us into the shape-shifting, sense-altering, fearlessly original prose of Heidi Czerwiec.

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Review: Making Violence Holy Jo Scott-Coe's MASS, a Dialogue with Renee D'Aoust Print E-mail

Mass(River Teeth Online December 03, 2018)

Note: D’Aoust and Larson reflect on the structure, style, and meaning of Scott-Coe’s research-based prose meditation on the mass murderer Charles Whitman. The ex-Marine sniper killed his mother and wife as well as more than a dozen people from the University of Texas Tower in Austin on August 1, 1966. But there’s a companion story—that of an alcoholic Catholic priest whose friendship with the killer (he married Whitman and his wife) is also core to the tale. The priesthood creates a secretive brotherhood that hides male violence, especially against women, from public scrutiny, while it sanctions the same in the patriarchy.

TL: First, I’d like to orient our readers with a little bit about Scott-Coe. She is the author of Teacher at Point Blank and the essay “Listening to Kathy,” has taught at Riverside Community College for many years, and advises the literary annual, Muse. I have much to say about Mass, which is provocative and challenging because of its unusual style and its inescapable implications about the Catholic church whose all-male hierarchy continues to hide deviant laity and sexual crimes within its ranks.

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Review: Sing Out! Peggy Seeger''s "First Time Ever: A Memoir" Print E-mail

Peggy Seeger(Another Chicago Magazine October 23, 2018)

Among the most artful duos to lift their voices in the cause and community of folk music are the singers Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl. They fell in love in 1956—she, twenty-one, newly arrived in London from Maryland to play the five-string banjo on a television show; he a songwriter, actor, and communist, English-born of Scottish parents, twice her age (and married), whose balladry (“Dirty Old Town,” “My Old Man“) had helped ignite the British Folk Revival, ablaze in cellar club, busking corner, and studio single-takes.

Their voices were set—MacColl, the tufted wobble of an English dockworker, Seeger, the wren-like lilt of an Appalachian schoolgirl. Together, though, their alloy is like bronze. Listen to them synchronize melody and rhythm on the “Ballad of Accounting.” It’s an anthemic tune about taking ethical stock of one’s life, questions of moral pungency few bother with any more:

               Did you stand there in the traces and let ‘em feed you lies?
               Did you trail along behind them wearing blinkers on your eyes?
               Did you kiss the foot that kicked you, did you thank them for their scorn?
               Did you ask for their forgiveness for the act of being born?

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Review: Death & a Return to Wholeness: Joe Garrison's "The Broken Jar" Print E-mail

22426581 368017880304136 934533691096048969 o(San Diego Troubadour November 1, 2017)

Few composers push so many musical moods onto their listeners—shifting from ecstatic to brooding on a dime—as much as San Diego’s Joe Garrison does. He interrupts his pieces with silence only to shock them awake with sonic surprise. His unconventionality is twin-engined: sound’s nature to vanish before us and music’s design to take us somewhere. We do get somewhere but Garrison stops regularly for coffee like a night-driving trucker. He loves studying the territory’s map, momentarily pondering the road he went down—and then, shifting gears, heading off in a new direction.

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