Billy Bragg on the American roots of British music

It was great to hear Billy Bragg on Fresh Air this week. Some of us in Kansas City were lucky to hear much of this story earlier this year when he spent a few days at the Folk Alliance International conference. In one appearance he talked about the pivot point in the mid-1950s when a skiffle player named Lonnie Donergan began covering Lead Belly's "Rock Island Line." Without that, Bragg said, there'd be no Beatles, no Led Zeppelin, etc. Bragg elaborates on all this in a new book, which he told me about back then at a reception. I was excited to hear about it, and now that the book, Roots, Radicals, and Rockers, has just been published, I hope to get to it soon.

Here's a link to that the Fresh Air interview:

And here's a video I shot at Folk Aliiance of Bragg playing one of his better known tunes:

What's that wine in your glass?

Doug Frost is a bona fide treasure in the wine world. As a Master of Wine and a Master Sommelier -- that's an extremely rare combination of achievements -- he's got highly developed senses and a brilliant way of teaching the intricacies and boosting the pleasures of this life-affirming liquid. On Monday he joined the Gang of Pour group of Kansas City somms and restaurateurs (and somewhat educated observer-participants such as me) for a session on blind tasting. In blind tastings, of course, wine bottles remain in brown paper bags or otherwise hidden and tasters try to figure out what's in the glass. It ain't easy, but Doug has a way of making it logical and breaking it down to the elements that help you learn your way.

The Gang of Pour sessions now meet every two weeks at the lovely Ca Va bubbles spot in Westport and are open to KC bar professionals. This one was illuminating, exhilarating and rather difficult. Future sessions, led by a variety of wine pros, promise to be equally enjoyable.

Doug follows a consistent procedure, tied to the grid sheets used in sommelier certification exams. So we go through a fairly specific list of wine characteristics (color, hue, intensity, aromas, tastes, structural qualities) in order to get to a logical place in identifying each wine. Describe the floral and vegetal notes. Is this a warm climate wine or a cool climate wine? And why? How do you describe the levels of acid, tannin, and alcohol -- low, moderate, moderate-plus or high?

Doug spent a good part of the first hour of the session walking through each incremental step as it applied to a certain white wine. Then my classmates (about 20 of us) and I blasted through five more wines -- a second white and four reds -- having about four minutes each to make our IDs. For the record, I was mostly humbled, though I felt fairly good about some of my sensory responses, especially in analyzing structure. In the end, I did nail two of the six wines: an Australian Shiraz and a New World Pinot Noir (it was from New Zealand, but I couldn't get past New World, though probably would have landed on Oregon instead).

I've been learning from Doug for more than 20 years. He is not only incredibly on top of everything, he's got a great sense of humor, he's brutally frank, and he's totally committed to making wine drinking both fun and rewarding.

And now a word from POTUS 2


On a recent visit to the Massachusetts Historical Society, an archivist brought out numerous items for inspection. One highlight was this letter from President John Adams to his wife, Abigail, in 1800, after a few days of living in the White House. Many people know its famous contents, because an excerpt has long appeared on the White House dining room mantel. It goes like this: “I pray Heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this House, and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men rule under this roof.” If only he knew. — in Boston, Massachusetts.