This recording, and the folks who spawned it, are the kind of glittering diamonds in the rough that you will never, EVER find on your top-40, same-five-songs-every-half-hour corporate-owned radio station. You will never find it at Cocoanuts or Strawberries, let alone Wal-"Resistance is Futile, Prepare to Be Assimilated"-Mart. Most likely you'll find it, as I did, on a folding table in the parking lot of the local food co-op, where most all important movements get started.
If you aren't familiar with radio free brattleboro's story (yes, all lower-case), you may know of a local radio station in your area with a similar plight. The full story, with up-to-the- minute developments, you can find by clicking on the link to their web page. Semi-briefly, radio free brattleboro is a 10-watt station that has been broadcasting for five years out of Brattleboro, Vermont. Its members, which number between 50 and 70, pay dues to keep the station afloat, and their programing is an eclectic mix of all kinds of music, from goth to big-band jazz, as well as live in-studio performances, poetry readings, interviews with local (and sometimes national) political, literary, or musical luminaries, and a free-wheeling range of way-left-of-center commentary. It's a radio station with its finger firmly on the pulse of the neighborhood - which is a good thing, because their signal doesn't reach beyond Main Street (although you can hear them anywhere in the world from the live stream on their web page).
The one rub is, they have never been licensed by the Federal Communications Commission, which didn't seem to bother anyone until the summer of 2003, when the FCC received two complaints that rfb was interfering with the frequency of a National Public Radio station in Amherst, Massachusetts (many miles away). The FCC has threatened to shut down rfb; the station has countered that the FCC's regulations, which favor corporate controlled radio over small indie stations, are unconstitutional. In fact, when two FCC agents visited the station on June 24, 2003, with the intention of shutting off their transmitter, the deejay on-duty locked them out and broadcast the entire confrontation live on the air. On February 18, 2004, the FCC filed a civil suit against rfb; in turn, rfb took their cause to the March 2 town meeting ballot, where townspeople voted 1,519 to 780 in favor of a non-binding resolution that gives rfb authority to broadcast.
So radio free, the CD, was produced partly as a fund-raiser for the station, and mainly as a way to share with its listeners some of the excellent live music it has broadcast recently. And an eclectic mix it is, featuring an array of both local and national performers that is remarkable for such a small station. The cd starts with a stretch of singer-songwriters, as the Smiley Bob Project sets the populist tone with the eponymous song "Radio Free," a pointed and impassioned paean to the joys of homegrown radio: "Being tuned into your neighbors is what small-town living is all about."
The station scores big with the presence of Greg Brown, Darryl Purpose, and Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett of Little Feat. But the high points of the opening segment are Louise Taylor's chunky rhythms on Call My Name; and local performer Bethanie, with Phil Bloch on fiddle, singing her jaunty words of wisdom on Water Run Deep and Wide.
From here, things go deep and wide indeed, on the experimental, spacy, whatever-you're- smokin-I-want-some-too portion of the recording. Derrik Jordan weaves a rich musical tapestry of melody and counterpoint with his cello and a loop program. John Hughes sings a winsome traditional song from Gambia, accompanying himself on a harp called the kora. The California Guitar Trio improvise a tender and meditative piece, the kind of baroque-sounding music that J.S. Bach might have composed had he recorded for Windham Hill. Euphony Groove gets intensely righteous with a far-ranging mix of world instruments. The set culminates with two local bands: the Ill Wind Ensemble, which gets a funky groove going with such instruments as a spaghetti colander, a north Indian sarangi, and an empty beer bottle; and Brattleboro's premier psychedelic troubadours, Elevator Tribe, which improvises on various percussion instruments while a radio-tuned to their program-plays in the background. Serious black-light-poster action here; and again, only from a progressive, independent station, owing nothing to the corporate monolith, could you hear music so spontaneous and adventuresome.
After this the mood swings back toward melodies and harmonies, with a last batch of bands and singer-songwriters. One standout is Gordon Stone and Michael Daves, playing some sly, jazzy bluegrass, accompanied by the ever-ready Phil Bloch on fiddle. And the crowning piece is the concluding number: The Mammals' gentle, soulful rendition of the Pete Seeger tune Quite Early Morning, sounding for all the world like the Weavers themselves (and, since Tao Rodriguez-Seeger is a grandson, they come by it honestly). The last lines of the song-"Through all this world of joy and sorrow / We still can have singing tomorrow"-as defiant as it is hopeful, could be the slogan for radio free brattleboro itself.
When you buy this fascinating, fun, and uplifting cd, you aren't just supporting a local radio station-you're supporting democracy, the Bill of Rights, and the dignity of the people.
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