is one of the finest pickers in the midwest"
compositions sound just the right notes of conspiracy and comedy"
-The Capital Times
is a sprite, joyous pianist"
|LOOK WEEKEND WISCONSIN
Wisconsin State Journal 1991 December 20
Tune in to local musicians
for holiday gift-giving ideas
|By John Kovalic
In the push and shove of the Christmas rush, it's
hard to figure out what to give the dedicated follower of fashionable music
on your list.
Want a hint? Try a little of the local brew.
It's no secret that Madison boasts some of the finest
bands in the land. And sure, they may not be signed to Sony
Records, but who cares? At least you can catch them at the Club
De Wash from time to time. (Try running that acid - or bleached blond
- test past Madonna).
Which doesn't mean that you can't catch a quality
CD or six when you want to throw some Mad Town tunes on the old Magnavox.
Doug Brown "Shades of Brown"
If you take Chick Corea's Acoustik Band and pump
some life into it, you'd come up with something along the lines of "Shades of Brown", Doug Brown's jazz trio release. Brown is a sprite, joyous pianist,
as well as a talented songwriter. Both skills are in
evidence on "Germanation", a post-bop bouncer that hits on every
note. Take the song, compare it to Corea's "Terminal Baggage Claim",
and you'll see just how much Brown has going for him.
Two of those things are his band members, Jeff Eckels
and drummer Hartmut Weithe. (One of these days, a local CD will arrive
without Eckels on bass - which would be a shame, since he's as versatile
and engaging as they come.)
Weithe, Brown's collaborator, seldom uses power
to make his points, but prefers to stay in the background as Brown and
Eckels swap leads. The effect is deceiving, as his cool sophistication
is central to the album's allure.
Apparently, Eckels was suffering from a "horrid"
cold during the sessions, as evidenced by a background cough caught
during the song "Monkee". It doesn't get any more live than
agile and melodically inventive than, say,
Winston or Philip Aaberg"
Davis, City Notes
ON ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Pair of Aces
Two folkies release strong solo work
| Ken Lonnquist and Doug Brown have new solo albums
out, and they've decided to celebrate with a live show at 3 p.m. on Sunday,
Dec. 15, at the First Unitarian Society. I tracked them both down
to talk about their works.
Although Doug Brown is best known as the composer
and music director at American Players Theatre and as a member of the string-swing
group Harmonious Wail, he's also developed into an adept pianist in the
folk-jazz mode of Vince Guaraldi. His first piano album is Shades
of Brown, which he recorded in two days in a home studio in Cross
Shades of Brown is a surprisingly accomplished work
by someone who admits that he only started to take his jazz piano playing
seriously five years ago.
| More agile and melodically inventive
than, say, George Winston or Philip Aaberg, Brown focuses on his strong
suit - composing - and doesn't worry that his technique is not going
to wow the Bill Evans or Oscar Peterson crowd. He particularly
loves what he calls "the angular irregularities and rock-solid simplicities"
of Thelonious Monk, an affection that clearly shows up in his writing.
"My record is a composer's interpretation of his own creations,"
says Brown. "I'm striving for a personal approach. I want to
clarify the compositional intent rather than show off or try to impress
1988 April 25 Wisconsin State Journal
Folk Fare Just Fine
|by Michael St. John
Sunday night was a fine night for folk duos at the
Barrymore Theater on the city's near east side, but it wasn't planned that
The concert's first segment could hardly have come
The talented twosome of Ken Lonnquist (longtime
local player and host of WORT radio's "Breakfast Special"), and Doug Brown
(former music director for American Players Theater), was slated to be
the opening act for new age folkies Metamora and proved to be an immediate
hit with the crowd of about 200 that spanned four generations.
|Finely honed tunes about the seasons and northern Wisconsin touched
on the best of influences like Jethro Tull and Gordon Lightfoot for
starters. Lonnquist's lead vocals were superb. Harmonies
and lead guitar work from Brown were of equal merit, regularly straying
confidently from safe intervals to establish his own distinct territory.
Humor was blended in liberally throughout the set,
which featured material from Lonnquist's in-the-works LP.
Credit must also be given to a crisp and clean sound
mix engineered by moonlighting Rousers frontman Frank Furillo.
to crystal-clear production and wonderful
from multi-instrumentalist Doug Brown,
Sci-Fi Hi-Fi] is one musical trip your kids are gonna want to take again
The Capital Times/ The Wisconsin State Journal.
1998 Dec. 10
New CD is a treat for contra dancers
|by Natasha Kassulke
It's the contra dance (New England-style folk dance)
that really drives The Last Gaspe's music.
In fact, on its new CD, "Good to the Last Gasp",
the Madison group reels through 15 dance songs from jigs to waltzes
to old ragtime swingers.
What strikes the listener from the start about the
CD, however, is how smoothly The Last Gaspe blends traditional fiddle
music (the CD opens with Irish fiddling and takes dancers through New England
and Scotland on "Cuckoo's Nest/Fireside Reel? Dick Gossip's") with creative
swing and jazz styles.
Throughout the CD, instruments fade in and out effortlessly,
never obstructing the flow or surprising the dancers.
The ease of the transitions is to be expected, though, given
that the group has hosted a monthly contra dance in Madison since 1988.
And the CD's title? It makes total
sense. I'm tired just listening to the 74-minute energetic
mix of American, Canadian and Irish tunes (especially "Contrazz/Old
Joe"). I'd guess that if you kept moving to it, you really
would be, as the name implies, gasping for air.
|The only breathers on the CD are the two waltzes.
The four-minute "Two Rivers" is sweet and gentle,
one of my favorites on the CD. It features piano dramatically playing
off the other instruments. It was composed by Boston Guitarist Larry
Unger while camping on the shore of Lake Michigan near Two Rivers.
"Waltz for a Winter Day" is the second slow number.
It is simpler and more pouty. Not surprising since it was written
on a gloomy Wisconsin day.
The CD was recorded by Buzz Kemper and Steve Gotcher
of Audio for the Arts at UW-Madison's Old Music Hall. Doug Brown,
a jazz musician, produced the CD.
Other band members include guitarist John
Kraniak, bassist Kevin Clark, pianist Amy McFarland, fiddler Maria Terres
and multi-instrumentalist (tenor banjo, penny whistle, fiddle, brushes,
alto saxophone) Paul Biere.
The CD is being played on Wisconsin Public Radio show's "Simply
Folk" and the band will be holding a dance at Grace Episcopal Church, 116
W. Washington Ave. at 8 p.m.
Dirty Linen#75 - May'98
Harmonious Wail Plugs into their Audience
Madison, Wisconsin, acoustic quartet Harmonious Wail
knows how to work a crowd. Their irrepressible blend of Hot Club of France
style acoustic jazz, Eastern European Gypsy swing, American jazz standards,
and contemporary folk tunes has won them loyal audiences in regions as
diverse as Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Germany, where they recorded their
latest CD, Live at the Zelt Musik Festival. After they finished a rousing
set that closed out the 1997 Fox Valley Festival, they sat down to discuss
why and how they do what they do. The story starts with founder/mandolin
player Sims Delaney-Potthoff. "The mandolin, Django, and Jethro - that's
what got me into it. Jethro Burns playing jazz on the mandolin, and Django
Reinhardt playing gypsy swing. It's the way I want to play the mandonlin
and the band I want to play the mandolin in. It just made sense to have
a Django kind of rhythm section. I'm married to one of the best vocalists
in the world, so the vocal thing made sense.
The group's lead vocalist, Maggie Delaney-Potthoff, joined the band
serendipitously. "Harmonious Wail is the first band I sang with professionally,
I started out part time - I'd just sit in from time to time. One of the
times I was singing part time we were opening either for Asleep at the
Wheel or Newgrass Revival. Doug Brown (Brown, the group's guitarist) was
in the audience and he wasn't in the band yet, either. He said, "you have
to be full time in this band." Sims and I looked at each other and said,
"we can't afford it." And Doug said "you can't afford to not have her in
Sims explained that Maggie was required to be in essence an instrumentalist
as much as a singer. "Our violin player got a job with the symphony, and
our calendars weren't jiving. I looked at Maggie and said "can you learn
those lines?" We would write little bebop lines that we would play in unison.
She buckled down and learned the lines and it worked out great." Maggie's
sinuous onstage moves and percussion, which she plays on a cardboard box,
are other highlights of the group's stage show. "I'm a dancer, so I just
picked up on these expressions and moved with the music. I'm totally self
Brown joined about the same time as Maggie. "The other guitarist quit.
Sims and Maggie and I had known each other for a long time. I had worked
in theater - the American Players Theater - and I was looking for something
different to do that involved more music and fewer meetings. Sims gave
me a bunch of Django records, and I still haven't learned a damn thing
from them. I played a little bit of fiddle and banjo - I've studied the
violin, 14 years of pretty serious classical violin lessons. I also play
the piano, so I hadn't really focused on the guitar as much as this group
demands. The first couple of years were a real challenge - I developed
tendonitis in my right arm. The repetoire at that time consisted about
90% of up tempo tunes, and we've moderated that, maybe in part because
my arm couldn't take it. I've been in the band going on six years. I'm
still learning every time we get up on stage."
[Says Sims], "It's not a competition that we have to play better than
anybody else. The whole focus of what we do is to play as well as you play,
and connect. We're talking in musical notes, so it is imperative that each
of us intensely listens to the others. That's one thing about playing in
this band that is so great. The surge of energy is undeniable for us."
Each member of the band experiences this energetic connection differently.
For Henry Boehm, "It's like a boost. Like a cup of coffee in the morning.
If I'm at a gig with a flat audience, I don't feel real excited myself,
and I probably don't play as well. If people are into it, all of the sudden
there's this focus, and you feel more inclined to engage and play your
Maggie Delaney-Potthoff characterized it simply: "It's like there's
a party going on inside me."
Sims Delaney-Potthoff said, "When everything's right there's an elusive
thing where the instrument is playing me. It's like late at night with
a glass of single malt scotch and your favorite CD."
According to Doug Brown, "For me, when that connection gets made, it's
very calming. There are always distractions that get in the way of the
music, and in the way of delving more deeply into the music and being creative
with the music. When the audience is being supportive, you get this permission
to just do the best you can, to focus on it and enjoy it. When you don't
feel that, it's easy to get into self-doubt and focus on the things that
are going wrong. Sometimes it's a whole audience, sometimes it's one or
two people who are really into what you're doing, but performing without
that is really hard."
of their flights of fancy (Brown's Airborne, for example), are enough to
put the entire disk on the Recommended List without any second-guesses"
Harmonious Wail Bufflehead Recordings
If you are desperately in need of a daily dose of levity (plus excellent
musicianship) and don't quite know where to turn, Harmonious Wail's debut
release will, in all probability, provide you with exactly what you need.
This highly eclectic (and extremely sophisticated) group sites the following
influences in the liners: Lester Young, Thelonious Monk, Stuff Smith, Django
Reinhardt, Benny Goodman, Fats Waller, Mel Torme, Ted Nugent and the Amboy
Dukes and Jethro Burns (of Homer and Jethro fame), but it would be safe
to add the following: Western Swing (as epitomized in Bob Wills and the
Texas Playboys), greats of the blues and bluegrass, Hawaiian style and
slack-key guitar, Count Basie's 30s and 40s bands, Stephane Grappelli,
a lot of bop and post bop players and so on, ad infinitum. But if you think
that this band produces a sad and indeterminate stylistic mish-mosh - well
it ain't so at all. A tzimmes, yes, no denying it - but it's quite an aural
feast that Harmonious Wail has prepared for you, so be prepared to enjoy.
For those of you who normally shy away from string-jazz ensembles: this
is one of the best albums I've heard all year. Also displayed are some
incredible pickin' talent -guitarist Doug Brown and leader/mandolinist
Sims Delany-Potthoff could hold their own in just about any company, and
some of their flights of fancy (Brown's Airborne, for example), are enough
to put the entire disk on the Recommended List without any second-guesses.
A super plus is the wry, ironic (but never cynical) sense of humor that
infuses everything this ensemble presents on Airborne. The instrumental
invention on cuts like Melodie de Crouton and the title title cut are bound
to have you laughing from sheer delight - the rollicking atmosphere created
by the spontaneous combustion of urbanity and silliness is found on each
and every track.
Gutsy vocalist Maggie Delany-Potthoff is really good. She's equally
at home doing stratospheric scatting on some tough-to-sing compositions
and working Why Don't You Do Right for all it's worth. (One senses that
the man who done her wrong is really missing out on something). Clarinetist
Gibbs plays sparingly - and thus, all the more effectively; and violinist
Vriesacker does indeed sound like Stuff Smith reincarnated (Heady stuff...no
pun intended!) And finally honors should be given to the three part close
harmony vocals at which Brown and the Delaney-Potthoffs excel. This is
an unqualified rave. I'll stop right here and leave it to you to discover
the joys of Airborne for yourselves.
- Ellen Collison
The Continuum April 1997
You have to hear this band. String swing, retro
bop, nonelectric - whatever. After a few measures of Harmonious Wail, all
the labels start to fall off like last month's post-it notes. Imagine Dan
Hicks, Bill Monroe, Django Reinhardt and maybe Benny Goodman ... with the
Andrews Sisters. Like I said, you have to hear this band.
The quartet, based in Madison, WI is vocalist
Maggie Delaney-Potthoff, her equally hyphenated mandolinist husband Sims,
guitarist Doug Brown and bassist Henry Boehm. Sims D-P and Brown, who pick
with the best of them, also contribute close-harmony vocals, which is where
the Andrew Sisters come in. Now in it's tenth year, the Wail has played
the Shawano Folk Festival and the W.C.Handy Blues and BBQ Festival, the
Belfast Folk Festival and the Cork Jazz Festival.
You have to hear this singer. Maggie's voice
spills out with a smooth sheen and rich color, billowing satin ribbons
of sound that you want to wrap around you and hug to your skin. It's a
voice that can do anything, too, boozey-bluesy to positively crystalline.
The Wail's latest CD, recorded live at Freiburg, Germany's Zelt Music
Festival, ranges from "Swing that Thing" (by Joel Mabus) and Nat King Cole's
jumpin' "Straighten Up and Fly Right" to "Swing Slow," a languid original
by guitarist Brown, showcasing Maggie's versatility.
Not to slight the Wail's instrumentals. They're
as tight as those Andrew Sisters harmonies and as virtuosic as Maggie's
lead work. There's plenty of picking-to-die-for in this band, plus a bit
of looniness to everything they do that will have you grinning your face
off while you're body-bopping in your seat. Like I said, you have to hear
- Jan C. Kempthorne-Snow
handles an acoustic guitar like a master.
jazzy style is characterized by
& Acoustic Music Exchange
A review for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Cheryl Scott
You'll be smiling from the moment this CD starts
to play. The swinging beat is infectious, and the overall feel is that
of a bunch of friends who truly enjoy playing music together.
Harmonious Wail is truly a team effort. Almost a dozen musicians appear
on "Airborne," and the songwriting credits are spread around. The hub of
this wild wheel is a talented trio made up of Sims and Maggie Delaney-Potthoff
and Doug Brown. The title song is a refreshing, airy melody [Brown] lays
down for the others to flit about like butterflies; each adding his or
her own particular bit of color. Maggie Delaney-Potthoff is gifted with
a voice that may be well trained but sounds completely natural and relaxed.
The musicianship of Harmonious Wail cannot be denied.
Whether it's Sims on the mandolin or Jon Vriesacker on violin, their techniques
are so polished as to be completely transparent. What shines through is
a sincere love of the acoustic swing-jazz they're playing so well. You
can tell they've been together some time, long enough to develop an effortless
and seamless integration. These musicians have reached the point where
they can simply get down and enjoy what they're doing. Brown handles an
acoustic guitar like a master. His jazzy style is characterized by amazing
finger-picking skill. The recording engineer knew how to let this come
through, and since the band themselves were co-producers they were there
to make sure it did.
There is a comfortable sort of quirkiness about
this CD, much like the sense of humor that imbues any gathering of good
friends. It is strangely reminiscent of Frank Zappa's celebrated and just-as-jazzy
Mothers of Invention, though of a more friendly and less cynical sort.
On songs like "5 Guys Named Moe" and "Dat Dere", that quirkiness seems good-natured
and inoffensive. On "The Last Days of Pompeii" it's even sophisticated,
more like that of Technical Difficulties. Even the more serious songs,
like the bluesy "Why Don't You Do Right" and "I Knew it Was Love," have
an undertone of basic contentment with life in general. Finally, you gotta'
dig the Wail's fun rendition of Fats Waller's "Sin to Tell a Lie."
As a matter of fact, if this CD doesn't set your
toe to tapping and a smile on your face, you should probably get medication.
This review is copyrighted by Three Rivers Folklife Society, 1995.
It may be reprinted with prior written permission and attribution.