If you must buy, buy local!

Howdy Friends! 
It's that time of year again so may I direct your attention to the many fine releases we have available here at Mark Rubin Industries

Even if you don't do business with us, we implore you to seek out and support your local, community owned businesses when making your buying decisions this gift giving season. 
Thanks and Happy Holidays!


Great Romanian Accordionist playing "Live"

Here's a little introduction to Lăutari accordionists.We'll start with probably the most famous and influential,Fărâmiţă Lambru. He had a great singing career as well, but it was accordion that first made him famous. "Melodii lautaresti"
And this short Sirba:

And here's a cameo in a Romanian film:

Here he's probably just playing along to a track, but no matter, its "live" of a sort:

I'm sorry to make you suffer a whole minute of Zamfir on the pan pipes (which he rocks BTW) so that you can see the great Vasile Pandelescu at work :

Really and truly I've been checking out Viorel Fundament a lot lately, so dig :

Here's a more modern approach to the music from two of the hottest Young Bloods on the scene,
Ionică Minuneand Marian Mexicanu :

Here's Emil Kroitor, ex-Moldova now living in Tel Aviv. He has been described to me by every Moldovar lautari I've encountered as the greatest of them all. He collected and in some cases composed the vast majority of tunes that are played by lautari today.

Just found this cat, and he can really throw down in the rustic school. Mighty!:

This still remains one of my favorite performances, entirely give it's circumstances! :


RIP : Gil Scott Heron. Great American Poet.

Here's our musical setting of the great Gil Scott Heron poem "Whitey on the Moon."

From the Atomic Duo's performance at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington DC, May 16, 2011.


Don Walser - Just Me and My Old Guitar - Just Released

Produced by Mark Rubin (Bad Livers, Atomic Duo) and mixed and mastered by Gurf Morlix, this is the only recording of Don just by himself, singing his songs and telling the true life stories of the times and characters that made up his lyrics.

In 2004, Don's hands started to cramp and go numb on his gigs and it became apparent that they were soon going to gave up on him completely to where could no long even strum his guitar. So, with a intern pal (Jake Zuckerman) we set up a field recording session in his living room with a handful of microphones and a now obsolete recording format and just let the tape roll. Don lived inside of his songs and they became real to him every time he sang them, and we felt it was important to document the man and his stories in as natural and unvarnished a manner. The pain of his singular Gospel composition the "Crucifixion," the youthful joy in knocking over "Pappy's Simmon's Privy," and the heart breaking recounting of his early life with his bride Patricia ("Times Were Never Easy,') so painful a memory he couldn't get through a take without breaking down and crying.

For many years, these tapes sat in a box under my bed. It took a long time for me to even bring myself to listen to them. A few record labels contacted me about releasing it, but the contracts I was offered were jokes; I give them Don's music and they take his publishing rights all for releasing a CD. Don't think the big guy would have swung at that pitch, so back under the bed they went.

But with the urging of his friends and family, especially long time admirer Gurf Morlix, we are pleased to share that day with you all. Simply intended to be anything but a little souvenir to his fans and a peek into the life of the "Pavarotti of the Plains," and "God's Own Yodeler." We hope you will find as much joy in listening as we did that day sipping lemonade in his front room in South Austin.

Photo courtesy Al Walser. Cover design Jeff Brosch.


The Objectives of Objectivism

I'm not normally pointing out political opinion blogs, the world of culture and the cultural arts are my usual balliwick, but this recent essay really struck a chord with me.

Stranger still it was penned by Michael Gerson, a former GW Bush speechwriter and senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, who's conservative bonafides are iron-clad and not the guy I'd be apt to agree with. But here he is, distilling for me just what it was about Ayn Rand's philosophies that troubled me so. I couldn't put a finger on it, but Objectivism and the fast-paced trend to resurrect it, just seemed plain wrong. But when debated on the point, and you'd be surprised how many normally sensible people have fallen into the Galt cult, I would get flustered and inarticulate. I literally couldn't believe anyone would support such an obviously selfish and self loathing philosophy.

Hooray however for Mr. Gerson, who has so simply and plainly encapsulated the crux of my distress. In this opinion peice for the Washington Post, he likens Rand's fantasies of the worthy elite as boring as and and as predictable as a petulant teenager's adolescence. He further summarizes Objectivism's "principles," in his words, "on the back of a napkin."

He notes:
"Reason is everything. Religion is a fraud. Selfishness is a virtue. Altruism is a crime against human excellence. Self-sacrifice is weakness. Weakness is contemptible.

“The Objectivist ethics, in essence,” said Rand, “hold that man exists for his own sake, that the pursuit of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose, that he must not sacrifice himself to others, nor sacrifice others to himself.”

Gerson is, like myself, bewildered at the promotion of Rand's ideas especially given her hatred of the Everyman (the little guy that Reagan claimed to champion,) and of the religious, who she thought were idiots.

He concludes:
"Conservatives have been generally suspicious of all ideologies, preferring long practice and moral tradition to Utopian schemes of left or right. And Rand is nothing if not Utopian. In “Atlas Shrugged,” she refers to her libertarian valley of the blessed as Atlantis.

It is an attractive place, which does not exist, and those who seek it drown."

I'll drink to that.


Atomic Duo @ Folk Alliance Conference, 2011

The Atomic Duo, aka my old pal Silas and I, traveled north to Memphis to attend the Folk Alliance Conference. Our goal was to come meet some folks, pun intended, and see if anybody else likes what we do as much as we do.

As it turns out, lots of folks do! Had a wonderful meeting with Si Kahn, who has been an inspiration for many years, and picked up quite a few pointers from him. Saw lots of truly amazing and talented acts; Jerron Paxton, Two Man Gentleman Band, Betse Ellis and every single band who performed at the Steam Powered Preservation Society's informal showcases, (follow the link to hear two live tunes from us.) Got quite a bit of jamming in with friends old and new. And saw soooo much good music being made by genuinely nice people that it puts to lie the tired yarn that "there's no good music today."

Here's a few little highlights:

First up, from a "Rooted Traditions" showcase hosted by roots guitar maestro Andy Cohen, we were asked to perform only tunes by our "masters." We chose Gil Scott Herron (w/ our jugband rendition of "Whitey On The Moon") and this lovely little Scott Joplin gem, "Scott Joplin's New Rag."

And here's the first tune from our formal showcase, the world debut of Silas' new composition "Trickle Down."

Here's the lyrics (all rights reserved, c Silas Lowe.):

My mother raised me up alone
working three jobs at a time
Barely made enough each week
to put away a dime
So I don’t want to hear about
the wealthy’s pain and woes
Cause they ain’t trickled nothing down
to help the working poor

They talk about trickle down
but I ain’t seen a drop
They say they worked the hardest
for all the things they got
But they don’t know the pain to raise a
failing dust bowl crop
It’s time things started flowing
from the bottom to the top

They trickled all the money
to banks in Switzerland
They trickled all our children
to fight Afghanistan
They trickled all the good jobs
down to Mexico
But they ain’t trickled nothing down
to help the working poor

They talk about trickle down
but I ain’t seen a drop
They say they worked the hardest
for all the things they got
They ain’t lived a lifetime pushing
round a dusty mop
It’s time things started flowing
from the bottom to the top

The pressure sure is building
and something’s gonna crash
the credit cards are all maxed out
and no one uses cash
Things had best start changing soon
cause the bottoms gonna blow
and they won’t like what boils up
from the starving poor

They talk about trickle down
but I ain’t seen a drop
They say they worked the hardest
for all the things they got
But they don’t hungry child whose
crying just won’t stop
It’s time things started flowing
from the bottom to the top


78 RPMs, Lots of them, and I'd like you to have them.

It really is true, the best things in life are not in fact things at all. And as I cycle through new chapters in my own story, I note that the values I held as a younger person don't seem to apply too well to the life I wish to live now. "A Time for all Seasons," I think the great poets like to say and there was a time when I valued having possession of lots of things. Recently, however I've run into lots of folks who share the same obsessions that I used to occupy a lot of my time with and the recognition has been startling. At some point the person disappears and only the frightenly obtuse "collection" or "archive" (or let's speak frankly, a "hoard") of things takes over. That said, I'd like to announce that I am divesting myself of the 78rpm platters that I have amassed over the years.

The reason why I collected them in the first place was that that's where a lot of the "good stuff" lived. Distribution of re-issued music was sketchy and in many cases non-existant. If you wanted to hear real honest to goodness Western Swing, you weren't gonna find it on the radio or even in a modern acts recordings, you were going to have to do the work and find the music and then struggle to listen to it. My old roomate Mark Hays sat me down one day and played me 4 different version of a Bob Wills 78, all with different lyrics and lead breaks, it was revelatory and set me off on a nearly 20 year path of collection.

It many ways it was my "adult "version of how I consumed music during the American Hardcore Punk rock movement, the similarities were many. You had to be proactive to find good music, and collecting 78s for me was the natural progression to buying Necros 45's from a mail order catalog in the back of a 'zine, or a Bad Brains cassette from a little independent label you never heard of. All of this was in the pre-Internet and pre-digital age, a study in musical archeology and it prepared me well for my life bent over on my knees in antiques store across the US and Canada while Bad Livers were at their touring zenith.

But then I started meeting the fetishists. We all know who they are, guys to whom the possession of the platter is FAR more important that the information contained in it. Those to whom "rarity" was more important than "quality." They can sit for hours and tell you every detail of every little obscure recording label and all the artists on them, in many casing even taking to expertly mimicking these recordings, mistakes, false starts and all. It's actually very impressive this track that so many collectors I know find themselves on. They extend it to their lives and even professions, becoming living Re-Enactors for a a period of history (that frankly I think is best left forgotten, other than the wonderful art that was created at that time.)

But more and more I see that as a trap, a "death trip" as we used to call it in Bad Livers and the weight both allegorically and actually is a burden I no longer wish to carry. The truth is that the vast majority of music I possess now, and the format it arrives in to me is frankly less than meaningless as that is simply how my personal relationship with music has developed, I could listen to it all and die an old man by the time I got back to the start. I'm sitting here now with a hard drive loaded with 15 gigs of Moldovan and Romanian music that I suspect will take a decade to properly digest.

These records brought me lots of pleasure and joy in my life and I will forever cherish not only the music contained in them, but in the places in which I found them and the journeys made to locate them. That I will have always. So cut to the chase, big boy.

If you would like them, I would be pleased for you to have them. I do not wish to sell them, but I will offer them, all of them, to anyone who would like them. All I ask in return, is that you leave me something that was meaningful to you; maybe a book, a work of art, home made cookies, whatever. I'll even accept nothing at but your thanks, if that's all you have to give. I even have a couple play back machines which I would let go as well, even a lovely Cherrywood RCA Victor console, which my TV lives upon currently, which I'd sell for mighty cheap.

Y'all know how to get me and I hope to have everything divested by Carnival time, so I can enter the Mardi Gras season with a little less baggage.

Cheers and much love to you all.

(PS: no shipping, gotta come by in person, ok? )


Personal confusion over the term "Folk."

(I wrote this essay in January or 2011. Not sure why I didn't publish, but whatever, here ya go:)

I was recalling when I was a last minute replacement speaker on a panel at the Folk Alliance
conference was held in Austin in 2006. The panel was called "What is Folk" and it was the opening session. When it came around to my turn after hearing all the music professionals; artists, presenters, writers and a DJ, my definition was greeted with quite a bit less enthusiasm as I had hoped.

Brian Marshall at the Houston Polish Fest

I proffered the opinion that the definition of "folk music" was music played by people who didn't want to be left out of the party going on. Music of community functions and families traditions. Its a voice of a living culture, often times filtered and some times entirely drowned out by the consumerist narrative. It's a concept my pal Tex-Polish fiddler Brian Marshall laid on me years ago, and ultimately it's as good a definition as I have yet encountered: "I didn't want to be left out of the fun, so I joined in."
There was an audible and awkward silence amongst the assembled. From the best I can gather, this description didn't sit too well with many "performing songwriters" in attendance, who I have since come to find hold a much different opinion from a vastly different world view. What I came to find that day was that we are talking about two very different narratives and concepts that today share the same public moniker. Confusion and hurt feelings can mount up quite a bit when you realize that you use the same term to describe different things, especially when they exist at such odds with one another.

From my possibly limited experience, a "folk" artist is in fact a cultural craftsman who's only attachment to music is serving a function of his/her culture as a whole, music only being a slight fraction of the equation; language, faith, dance, cuisine are all intertwined and carried along by music which is definitely not the myopic focus. It appears that the narrative a great many people who describe themselves as "Folk" artists as if "Folk" was simply a slot they hope to fill in a record shop, or a radio format. For short hand we can use the brilliant parody film "A Mighty Wind" as an example of this perspective.

The "Folk singer" in the consumer narrative is in many respects no different that a Pop singer, save for their setting and instrumentation which appears to "acoustic." Ironically it is

always a guitar made to look like an acoustic model, but in fact must be plugged in electronically to function, much the same way that the "folk" aspects of the presentation (costume, instrumentation, etc.)  is simply a conceit to give the visual image of "traditional" folk craftsmen. Often time what you in fact encounter in this milieu is a pop songwriter who is not yet financially prosperous to field a rock band onstage, and uses the "folk" niche to simply mark time until they can climb the ladder of the music business and "make it big." They embark on a commercial career and if they don't make their dreams come true, they eventually stop and go back to whatever "Plan B" they have in their back pocket, no harm no foul back into the warm comfy waters of the dominant narrative. 

Conversely, the traditional folk musician is way too busy living a life inside a culture, and just happens to play music and most likely will for all of their lives, whether or not they are every examined outside of their community. They couldn't care less in most cases. I learned this by shepherding tradition bearer fiddlers up from Texas to the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes. Rather than help curate and teach with the instructors, I spent most of my time out of class sitting on the porches of our housing trying to explain the motivations of the our students to the confused fiddlers. "Um, again tell me why it is these people want to know this music? Are they Catholic? Do they play dances where they'll need to learn this stuff?" Time and time again we encountered students who desperately wanted to learn a new tune, but seemed entirely uninterested, oft even hostile to the suggestion, that the fiddle tune went with a dance, which went with a party which went with a Church that went with pirogi's and vodka that went with conservative political values, etc... It got ugly on more than one occasion, as these misunderstandings tend to get. In the search for "authenticity," you must take the baby with the bathwater however, weather or not it suits your personal views. The people who taught me Bluegrass in Oklahoma were oft times Klansmen, but that didn't stop me from enjoining in a jam session. You take what you find and do the best you can with it.

In my most jaundiced moments I've felt that when you scratch a "Folk" performer, you tend  to find someone who has either wittingly (or unwittingly) rejected their own culture's narratives and traditions only to then cleave to a some bubbling proto-culture that doesn't challenge their personal values and shares their world view to fill the void. The Jam band scene, bluegrass clubs and the communities that spring up around Festivals are good examples of this expression for culture and traditions. And to be sure, over time this eventually creates it's own "culture," of a sort. For many, it becomes how the define themselves every day and contributes their self image. Far be it for me to rain on anybodies parade. As I go further down this track, I get a lot my forgiving and compassionate for what I find distasteful. I do draw a line pretty clearly however.

It's my feeling that all too often we encounter what are essentially crude burlesques of other peoples cultures. Really no different from a Coon Show in intent, uniformly populated by by the advantaged playfully adopting only the music of the disadvantaged without any understanding or even interest in what makes the music that way in the first place. George Carlin famously noted about why white men had no right in his opinion to play blues "not because its about what are the right notes to play. Its WHY those are the right notes." Time and again it seems and the participants of such imitation versions cheerfully identify themselves as dilettantes, which not a pejorative to the dominant consumer culture with its impenetrable bubble of privilege. As I know from experience, if you presented working traditional musician to this tribe, they uniformly recoil in terror. Possibly recognizing that deep down they actually do not much care for the culture from which the music was born and is a part of, they're far more interested in supporting fellow dilettantes, keeping the savage at arms length.  Danny Barnes' essay on "I know why you're not into music" points out that there's "plenty of music for people who hate music, books for people who hate books, etc." I realize for a great many people my own band Bad Livers fulfilled this same role. While we were trying to get people to check out Stanley Bros. or Don Stover, time and again the kids said they liked us better than the people who inspired us. I recall an interview with Jerry Garcia bemoaning his fans not ever picking up on the great American songbook they were simply trying to expose to a new audience, relating only instead to his clumsy renditions. Could drive a sensitive person to heroin, no?

Danny also told me years ago in reference to the explosion of "we started as a punk band but now we're traditional C &W" bands that overran Austin in the late 80's:

 "All these cats are all hot to play "country music," but none of 'em would dare go out into the country have to deal with the people who like country music. They do alright with the hipsters in town, but I'd like to see them deal with the drunks at the Satin Sabre in LaGrange for instance.

Truthfully, all they ever really did was create a self referential "scene" where out-of-work musicians play for other out-of-work musicians and the waitresses who support them. I should know, as I've participated tangentially performing in the local "blues" and "country" clubs that African American and blue collar WASP's can scarcely be found.  If anyone describes a "scene," this is most likely what they are talking about; a fully inward looking proto-culture, with it's own customs and code of conduct. "Scenes." Like "Rock-a-Billy," or "jazz" or whatever self imposed social club a group of people tend to create for themselves. And it's important to note that if you gather any group together long enough, and they share enough of a world view and "viola'!" you have a safely contained, consumer manufactured proto-culture, no less as genuine as any other. The Juggalos come to mind, as do other cult-like followers of bands and even habitual music festival attendees. No less authentic, truly, they are however more akin to GMO and hydroponic vegetables removed from Mother Earth and natural world.

To further confuse the matter, there have been periods of American history where authentic culture as also been "popular" and thus
commercially successful. Flatt and Scruggs were chart toppers in the wake the "Bonnie and Clyde" soundtrack and Beverly Hillbillies. Ever since "Bluegrass" music, the musical innovation of a single artist, has waxed and waned in the American public consciousness between a vocational and avocational pursuit . 

There was the sweet yet brief moment when Jewish "klezmer" music was elevated by
violinist Itzak Perelman's single album and subsequent tour, which was forgotten as easily as it came on the radar, dashing the aspirations of a whole generation of artists who thought they had finally broke through to be counted as a American culture and not simply a marginalized corner of an even more marginalized community. Any folk musician likes to be appreciated and "hitting the big time" (whatever that means to every individual) is certainly understandable and even laudable, especially when it exposes the musicians greater culture in hopes of not just financial, but hopefully some measure of acceptance by the dominant narrative. But then again, they may only dress you up in Klan outfit when you sing your signature song....

I had this whole conversation with a fellow who's been trying to force fit an instrument from one tradition into another tradition's dance music for decades now with only an embarrassing admixture to show for it. As a "folkie,"and lets be honest here we are talking about people with white skin who speak English almost entirely, he's fully empowered by his wealth and his privilege to see culture as a smorgasbord; where he can pick and choose what elements suit his personal musical vision. How could he see it any way really, having had only consumerism and advertising as a cultural legacy? It is often argued that it's just these sort of people that propel traditions forward and there is indeed some truth in that line of thinking.

However, the important
element, missing in this performers thesis,  is how does this change come to a tradition? From within a community with its own internal standards? Is there a community of like minded, language, custom and faith connected people who within their own experience accepted change from within? Or is it the outlander who imposes their concept onto a culture he stumbles across, or is the natural curiosity of the tradition bearer feuling the innovation? The steel guitar entered French speaking "Cajun" music many years ago, as did the accordion before it, naturally and from internal experimentation. Same for the arrival of the Greek bouzouki in Ireland and the button accordion to the Spanish speaking south west US. Revolutionary as their introductions may have been, they arose as a reaction of a community well versed in their own traditions and as a community welcome to internal innovations. I'm a traditionalist personally, but even I must accept the adoption of American instrumentation in Yiddish music and I foresee a lexicon of authentic Yiddish guitar in my lifetime. That's a conversation from inside our community, and thus is nobodies business but ours.

Done their homework
My pal Henry Sapoznik has a litmus test for who's coming from inside the music and who haven't done their homework. It's really easy: walk up to a band playing "klezmer-punk" or "klezmer-jazz" or some other clumsy fusion, hold a Colt 1911 .45 up against the band leaders temple and say "Play me an old fashioned Yiddish Bulgar, one my zayde would recognize." 9 times out of 10, sadly, the test doesn't end well. But within communities there are indeed master musicians who have imbibed the totality of their own cultures, assuming a collective voice and then and only then are capable of making truly revolutionary music that would in fact speak to the aspirations of a people while propelling them forward. 

To reach back to the opening paragraph, there was an earnest young Folk singer who responded to my definition at that Folk Alliance panel with the plea, "But I'm a white middle class American, raised without attachment to any of the heritages that make up my family's story. What am I to do with your definition then?" That knocked me back on my heels. I didn't have an answer for him, nor did I have one. Maybe I'm lucky that my identity was clearly identified for me so early on that I possibly don't even possess the tools to understand why folks don't see it my way. Just as I can't understand why they treat culture and it's byproducts as nothing more than a commodity. I'll allow further that I may be the only human on the face of the Earth that these issues seem to bother, and I'll be working to let it bother me less, seeing as I am in the great minority in these views. 

Rolf & Beate Sieker
But even my thesis falls apart in the complexities of everyday life it seems. There's a really great banjo player living in Texas named Rolf Sieker. When I say really good, I mean you have maybe heard different, but you won't hear better. I met Rolf in 1991 when he drove down from Hamburg to see Bad Livers play in a club in what formerly housed the Gestapo HQ in Berlin. Many years later we reconnected when he moved to the US, naturalized and set out to play bluegrass professionally with his wife Beate as the Seiker Band. (Check 'em out, I love them.) Rolf is so good, playing American music from the inside, not like a tourist but with real old school feel, I had to ask a) why did he play banjo and b) why not German music? I'm not going to bore you with the details, because Rolf's story should be his own, but he really couldn't enjoin with his family's long tradition of music making. Rolf told me that his father, and his father before him were all Bards from the Thurnigen Forest, singing songs passed down generation to generation, accompanied upon the Waldzither. 

But by 1933 the National Socialists had co-opted these songs and traditions and had perverted them for their own purposes. After the war, simply whistling the melodies was an indication that you preferred the Third Reich. Papa put his instrument under the bed and never sang those songs again. But Rolf was lucky. His mother listened to Armed Forced Radio and became (like many post war Germans strangely) a HUGE Johnny Cash fan. In hopes of hearing the Man in Black, Momma Sieker kept the radio on, and that's when Flatt & Scruggs came blaring through the ether. Young Sieker was entranced, so much so that he eventually founded arguably Germany's only decent Bluegrass band, going on to tour with Bill Monroe (even sleeping in the same bed, but like I said Rolf should tell these tales himself!) Brutally disconnected from his own traditions, he cleaved to this foreign one and made it fully his own, following his passions from Hamburg to Nashville and eventually Texas today. Is it any coincidence that his father's instrument, has five courses and is tuned to an open G chord? I think not.

To close, let me share this one anecdote from my childhood. My family was very close with a group of young Native American artists who were engaged in complete re-examination about what was "Native" art? They took all the tools of classical western art and focused it back onto their own cultural narrative in a bold and exciting new way, unbound by what outsiders considered "traditional." My family would host shows form them when the non-Native owed galleries pronounced their output at "not Indian" enough. They established themselves by word of mouth and hard work driving all over the country showing their canvases to whoever would look at them. The "Indian" Art  world came around to accept them finally, we would go to their showings quite a bit, sometimes all the way out to Santa Fe the big art fair. I saw my buddy Ben Harjo Jr. setting up a few new prints.
Ben Harjo, Jr. at work
I was struck with one, a figure of a woman enveloped in a swarm of yellow honey bees. I knew that Ben's art almost always related to a story of a legend. He said "It's a story about a spirit who wants to visit the world, so she becomes a beautiful woman. But men come upon her and rape her. Confused and angry, she turns herself into a swarm of bees and kills the men. It's a story about medicine and women and how you should always honor them." "But Ben, " I inquired, "what is medicine. I hear you talk about it all the time, but what is it?" He gave me a big smile, patted me on the head and said "Oh, this is our medicine, it is not meant for you. You have your own medicine, with your people. Go and study that."

What am I getting at? All I recommend is that when you enter some ones home, you try and do like your parents taught you to and be respectful. Every human on Earth has their own medicine. Go and study yours. It could very well be staring you in the face right now. You may be surprised what treasures you will find.


Oh, I guess I should make a pitch for Hank Bradley's ground breaking essay on this very subject called "Counterfeiting, Stealing, and Cultural Plundering: a manual for applied ethnomusicologists with 12 tunes for fiddle composed by the author" 1989. Available from the author. It was very helpful me in understanding motivations when I was just starting out searching and engaging in cultures other than my own.