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  • Cedric Watson grew up near Houston. His family’s Louisiana roots inspired him to move to Lafayette to learn Creole French. Cedric is a fine accordionist and fiddler, singer and song maker, a freethinking philosopher of life and music. He and the band will play La-La, zydeco, blues and soul. Allons avec Cedric Watson et Bijou Creole.
  • Singer Allison Russell is a native of Montreal with what she calls “Grenadian Canadian” roots of Afro-Caribbean and Scottish ancestry. You may know her recent recordings with Our Native Daughters and the Birds of Chicago. Or back when with Po’ Girl. Now, in a first solo recording, Outside Child, Russell addresses family abuse in her youth, her ways of coping, followed by escape to the road: Vancouver, San Francisco, Chicago. Those early life experiences led Allison years later to make new, compelling songs, expressing freedom from trauma, to love and hope for better times. She lives now with fellow musician JT Nero and their young daughter in Nashville, but Allison Russell began the journey’s narrative in her beloved Montreal.
  • Aurora Nealand was recently praised as one of the top ten soprano saxophonists in America by Downbeat Magazine. She grew up in an eccentric family on the California coast and then Colorado, listening to Stravinsky, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Joan Baez and the Pixies. Her mom was a gardener who played classical piano, her dad an archivist who went to rock band practice between jobs. She received musical training at Oberlin College and Jacques Lecoq School of Physical Theatre in Paris, all before embarking on a bike trip across the US to chronicle the dreams of rural America. In 2004 Aurora ended up in New Orleans, where she learned to play traditional jazz in the streets. Now she leads her band, the Royal Roses, and sometimes has the persona of Rory Danger. Aurora attributes the interest in a broad range of styles to her travels and nontraditional upbringing.
  • This is American Routes with a live session of serious guitar slingers. Our revered guitar agitators of today are onstage in performance and conversation, recorded live at the National Folk Festival in Salisbury, MD 2019. The players include Mississippi blues guitarist Eddie Cotton, Dieselbilly electric guitarist Bill Kirchen, Nashville Dobro übermensch Jerry Douglas, and house painter and guitar picker Steve Lewis. Bill Kirchen plays a style of guitar music he calls “Dieselbilly,” inspired by the sound and soundtrack image of 18-wheelers and truckers tastes on the road. He’s also known from his time as a Lost Planet Airman with Commander Cody. I asked Bill how he got into country music.
  • This week on American Routes Shortcuts, we bask in the summer heat and listen to our favorite versions of the George Gershwin classic, “Summertime,” from the 1934 opera Porgy and Bess.
  • This summer, more than ever, the challenge is to be and stay cool. So we’re all about songs and sounds as ways to chill out. We asked musicians, critics and producers just what it means to be cool. Chicago pianist Ramsey Lewis had a huge hit with a song about cool people, “The ‘In’ Crowd," back in 1965. He's also known for adapting tunes like "A Hard Day's Night” and "Dancing in the Street" into hip jazz instrumentals. Now also a radio host, Ramsey Lewis told us he made his own brand of jazz by blending the blues he heard on the Chicago streets with gospel music from home.
  • Though the late Chuck Berry wouldn’t fit under the currently popular definition of singer/songwriter, he has provided us with the quintessential images of America in his songs. Growing up, Chuck Berry changed my view of music with his words about downhome people seeking love and glory in big cities and small towns across the country, all backed up by that riveting guitar, poised perfectly between country and blues. He created a roadmap for early rock and roll, duck walking across concert stages and TV screens. We spoke to Chuck Berry nearly twenty years ago. He told us about his first performance as a kid in St. Louis.
  • We’re live at Marigny Studios with Little Freddie King, an old school bluesman from McComb, Mississippi who lives in New Orleans’ 9th Ward. Little Freddie is a great teller of tales. During the session, we talked about his comings and goings in music, and I asked about the story behind his homemade first guitar.
  • Who was Harry Smith? The short answer about the 20th century polymath and hustler might be divined in his legendary Anthology of American Folk Music from 1952, an LP collection of mostly Southern US folk music on 78rpm records. The Anthology established a cult of listening and influenced popular and folk revival artists from John Sebastian and the New Lost City Ramblers to rockers like Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead and Beck. In addition to music recording and wide ranging research into tribal and other cultures, Harry Smith was a painter on canvas and on film. He was a profound thinker and worker in the American vernacular.
  • This is American Routes, following the roots of doo-wop music into rock and roll as part of the life of singer and songmaker Dion DiMucci. Dion was born into a Bronx, New York Italian family in 1939. His father was in vaudeville. Dion gained notoriety as a singer with an appearance on American Bandstand. Back in the neighborhood, he made street music called doo-wop. I asked Dion how an immigrants’ son from the Bronx was able to channel the Southern music of his youth into doo-wop and rock and roll.