This Week In Zoe News #2: UK Tour Starts and More Reviews and We Hear The Baez Album

(I think I will make this a regular feature, for a while at least, and aim for Fri or Sat publication.)

Last week was more exciting given the start of the Whistle Down the Wind publicity effort (an interview in Rolling Stone certainly helps!), but Stuff Still Happened!

First, the UK tour has started in earnest. Zoe and Tom have three gigs this week: one Wednesday night in Nottingham (Tom’s old stomping grounds), one Thursday night in West Yorkshire, and one tonight in Cheshire. They are all (late night) day trips, so I do get to see her, but dinner and bedtime are lonesome.

Second, we got early access to the whole of Whistle Down the Wind yesterday morning (thanks Joan and Joan’s manager). We, of course, immediately listened to The President Sang Amazing Grace and it is quite good though interestingly different. More when it’s publicly available.

Third, there’s more reviews and such for Small Brown Birds and a bit of Whistle Down the Wind chatter.

Small Brown Birds

Review by Dai Jeffries on (Folking also has her tour press release.)

Originally from Philadelphia, singer, songwriter, guitarist and much-praised clawhammer banjo-player Zoe Mulford now lives (sometimes) in Manchester.


I have to confess that Small Brown Birds is my first contact with Zoe Mulford and now, by happy coincidence, I can look forward to hearing her live in a week or so. It could be destiny.

148th (out of 197) on The Roots Music Report‘s Top Contemporary Folk Album Chart for 2017 (no idea what the methodology is)

“Zoe Mulford, Transatlantic Singer – Songwriter on “The President Sang Amazing Grace” ­— the story behind the emergence of a future classic” from the Swan Report, which doesn’t have permalinks for individual items (like so many sites and even some CMSs…I’m looking at you HostBaby). This is a reasonably accurate account of how “The President Sang” came into being. At some point, I’ll write up the challenges of recording it. I quote extensively, but read the whole thing.

Curiously, it would take more than a year to fully learn what else I missed that Sunday morning in November 2016. Oblivious to me, during the festival ending singalong came a song that I would later learn was written and premiered during the weekend of NERFA 2016, the hook for which came to the songwriter’s mind as she walked into the hotel to check-in for the conference. As I was saying farewells in the lobby, the final song circle was happening, and some time during that song circle, the song “The President Sang Amazing Grace” from Zoe Mulford was presented.

Zoe was included in the roster of artists invited to perform at a showcase at radio station WPKN in Bridgeport Conn, on Friday, November 10. The event took on the name WPKN NERFA Guerrilla Showcase 2017. Other performers that afternoon would include Austin & Elliott, The Belle Hollows, The Black Feathers, Lisa Bastoni, Michael Braunfeld, Brad Cole, Caroline Cotter, Dave Curley, Eric Lee, Barry Oreck, Robinson Treacher, and Dan Weber with guest Folk DJs Graham Dean WRPI, Troy, N.Y. and Ron Olesko, WFDU, Teaneck, N.J., in the broadcast booth. One of the many highlights was the performance of “The President Sang Amazing Grace,” with members of the roster impromptly invited to sing “Amazing Grace” at the end. What resulted was the power of the song punctuated by the beautiful simplicity of the background voices of Robert Phaneuf (The Belle Hollows), Caroline Cotter, Jeremy Johnson (The Belle Hollows), Dan Weber, Michael Braunfeld, and Rachel Johnson (The Belle Hollows). It was a magic moment in radio made possible at the intersection of luck and generosity — lucky that these artists were available — and the generosity of a folk artist to share her small allotted time of ten minutes with her colleagues and the listening audience. This gesture is common in the world of folk music. It is pleasing, generous, and optimistic. It is the sum of the whole that is made possible with the selfless generosity of each without the requirement of spotlight. It is a quality that should be carried through all walks of life

• A mini review (no item level link…boo!)

• A short review (also no item level link…sigh) by Mike Ainscoe.

For anyone not in the know, Zoe Mulford is an American songwriter living in the North of England. Known and held in high esteem for her clawhammer banjo style and guitar playing, she has a quality which has had some reaching for the Joan Baez comparison. One she won’t scoff at for sure. [Ed: Clearly written before the news of Baez’s cover…this cracked me up]


Small Brown Birds is an album whose  aim is to search for the joy in the midst of hard times. Sound like a familiar theme? Without wanting to wade even tentatively into any politically deep and treacherous waters, it’s a commendable idea and boy do we need some happiness in our lives as the world wobbles on its unstable axis. Wintery themes are addressed with compassion and honesty, travelling a road that brings hope as the Winter turns towards Spring.

Zoe’s fifth album finds her crossing the music of Appalachia and the good old American Songbook with the good old British Isles traditions. And The Beatles. Not an unpleasant surprise at all [Ed: this is very British praise] to hear her banjo skills applied to McCartney’s Blackbird. She also addresses the topical –The President Sang Amazing Grace, her touching story of the 2015 AME church shooting and President Obama’s eulogy for the slain. Possibly due to the content and the sympathetic take, a song that emerges as a highlight, maybe THE highlight, of the set.

• Zoe’s performance video of “President” has 4,457 views. The album track video (not available in the UK) has 2,127 views. Not bad! The biggest month of views was Oct (when Baez was touring) at 1,247. Then Jan 2017 (when I first posted it) at 763. But third is this very—not yet over—January at 537. I’ll be interested to see if there are other notable bumps.

• An Italian site compiling anti-war songs has a page about “President”.

Whistle Down the Wind

• Number 7 of the “Most Anticipated Albums of 2018” (at The Top Tens).

• A discussion of her changed voice on the title track.

The most striking thing about the song is just how deep Baez’s voice has gotten. Okay, it’s still not as deep or as weathered as Waits’, but the high-pitched throttle of her early years is gone.

• An article about the album from someone who’s only heard the prelease track (same for the prior item).

• The prelease title track video has 14,844 views.


Corbyn and the Referendum

This still crops up and I think reasonably so: Did Corbyn whiff the referendum and thus bear some responsibility for the ongoing Brexit disaster? I’ve certainly been thinking so and his post referendum performance on Brexit hasn’t made me happier. But I was presented on Facebook with some claims to support that Corbyn did an adequate job. I won’t mention the poster’s name as they surely wouldn’t want me to. I also won’t claim that this is typical, because I have no idea if it is. It was interesting to me and it pointed me to some data worth peeking at.

First claim:

Corbyn made 123 speeches during the referendum, but got 6% of the media coverage, even Farage got more. Source: LSE report on the matter

Table of referendum candidates ordered by number of times they appeared in media items during the campagin. Cameron is #1 wth 499, Farage is #4 with 182, and Corbyn is #7 with 123

(This poster was very insistent that everything be cited, but failed to provide a link. Sigh. And it’s proving hard to track down. I doubt LSE produced it. What I find at LSE are blog posts referencing Loughborough reports, or blog posts about their reports. Those posts have tables formatted similar to the above, but I’ve not yet found the right one. Sigh.

Yay! Found it! It’s from report 5. Whew!)

The first thing to notice is that the commenter garbled the table. It’s not “123 speeches but ‘only’ 6% of the coverage” (which, they went on to say is less than Farage) but “123 (that is 6% of all) media appearances”. (This confused me!) Since they later claimed that “123 is plenty” but that the coverage of those speeches was wrong clearly this is not a mere slip. The table header is not at all clear.

It also seems to be a talking point:

The very first post placed on the page when it was launched yesterday asks the question: “Did Jeremy Corbyn fail to campaign during the EU referendum ?”

In making the argument that the answer to the above question is no, the site makes a bold claim that Corbyn “gave 122 speeches in the course of the campaign”.

The article goes on to debunk that claim (“media appearances” is really “any sort of coverage”). Unfortunately, the “Corbyn Facts” website seems dead so it’s a bit of a PITA to track down.

This doesn’t refute the pro-Corbyn case, of course. It could be that Corbyn did everything right, but the media shut him out. To resolve this we need direct data about his campaigning, which is a bit elusive. (There’s this report that he did ten rallies for the referendum, but 15 for his leadership campaign. If true, that’s pretty suggestive.

Of course, more appearances doesn’t ensure success for the Remain campaign. There seems to be some evidence that both Corbyn and Cameron were more likely to make people vote Leave.

Hmm. So I have to at least provisionally weaken my belief that “but for Corbyn, Remain would have won” and thus some of my antipathy. (He earned a good chunk of that antipathy with his post referendum moves, but that’s a different story.)

It will be challenging for me to manage the right set of beliefs (i.e., proportionate to the evidence), given how dreadful the outcome and how my affective structure evolved post-referendum. (Confirmation bias is exacerbated by emotional stuff…so once Corbyn got mingled with losing the referendum my natural inclination is to look for confirming evidence and discount disconfirming evidence.) The evidence give to be my the pro-Corbyn person was, in that presentation, garbled at best, but degarbling it was useful.

Thus my intellectual grouchiness helped rather than hurt my epistemic state. I suspect this is not always, or even typically, the case.

Intellectual Grouchiness

From at least 7th grade, I’ve had a strong streak of intellectual grouchiness (to use what is perhaps a slightly too benign term). Over my live I tend to be…vigorous…in my criticism (both positive and negative) and…creative…with the language I use to express that criticism.

I trace this to 7th grade because there was a notable shift there. I had been tracked “dumb” for sixth grade so was in the “section” with all the kids with scholastic and behavioural problem. (Several of the other kids were 1-3 years older than me because they’d been held back.) There was considerable stigma being in that section and intrasection stigma for being interested in classes. (I made friends but a lot of it was fraught.)

I was retracked in 7th grade which was helpful, but it was like transferring to a different school. Nigh everyone had settled circles of friends. So I ended up with the lone outsider who was frightfully bright but angry all the time, to say the least. I assimilated and in a few months was called into the counsellor’s office to discuss why in a couple of months I’d gone from sweet and polite to wildly sarcastic.

I pointed out the obvious and, well, nothing happened.

(Note that this was probably a hugely destructive relationship. The verbal abuse I was picking up was substantially directed at me. For years. My best friend was routinely mean to me esp about my intellectual capabilities.)

In addition to that I’ve a taste for the polemic. Being right is cool. Destroying bad arguments is a rush. Bad arguments are painful. Etc.

(I will at some point discuss my exposure to the Sellarsian school of intellectual meanness.)

This preface to reflecting on two recent posts, on Zombie Economics and on Federalism and the ACA. Both these posts are critical, the latter more than the former. John Quiggan came into the comments to complain about my lack of charity and the fact that I “don’t explain what I don’t like about” his book. (I think I am reasonably charitable and I think I do explain what I don’t like. But go read the comments.) The meanest word I use is “howler”. You could read that I thought John was hiding unfavourable data but that was not intended.

For the latter, well, I degenerate toward the end. I was commenting while reading and got ticked off. I don’t think it’s wildly inaccurate, but it wouldn’t be fun to read as an author and challenging to take away a useful message though I think my criticism is good. Of course, even phrased nicely, the message “rewrite this from scratch; stop making wild claims; show your work” isn’t going to be easy to take.

It’s easier to blog about things I don’t like when I let myself go. Actually a lot of things would be easier if I could let my acid tongue wag freely. (It wouldn’t always be going but having that available helps.)

But it’s not good, I’m pretty sure. It can be useful to people sometimes, but I don’t think of it as a generally ok move. The problem is that I’m still not as un self conscious otherwise which makes things harder.

But I will strive!

That federalism paper is still pretty bad.

Your Common Knowledge Is Probably Wrong

There are all sorts of beliefs we have that are (easily) knowably wrong. We believe them because we “just picked it up” (esp as children), but also things we are formally taught that got stale (or was the consensus but was subsequently proved wrong). This is very common in politics esp about exciting, yet, contentious events like elections. There is a lot of effort at sense making near the event but assembling strong evidence is difficult. My favourite personal example is the belief I held for decades that Perot was  spoiler for Bush against Clinton (more precisely, that Bush would have won, ceteris paribus, except for Perot…feel free to weaken as you see fit). But, my understanding of this paper supports that Perot did not spoil against Bush.

But there’s all sorts of beliefs which persist. I don’t bundle up like many people and so if it’s cold out and I’m wearing shorts, people will warn me about my increased risk of getting a cold. (No. Cold weather seasons are correlated with more colds but almost certainly in a way that affects bundlers and non bundlers alike.)

A few years back I picked up a bio textbook just to browse. I was pretty good at biology back in high school and that image persisted. Whoa, was I waaaaay out of date. Just the dominance of cladistic theory in taxonomy is a huge and fundamental move. (I didn’t know what a clade was! It’s fair to say that I was a total ignoramous about biology in spite of my history and self perception.)

Societies make it bar to update our common knowledge. Essentially, the burden is on us. Ideally, public schools would offer free refresher courses for life designed in light of what we were taught before.

As it stands, it’s up to us. There are more freely available resources than ever (from Wikipedia to eTextbooks and videos and online course syllabuses) but sorting the junk from the junk is daunting.

Check out this list of medical myths. One of my favourites is 5: cold weather (or being cold, getting wet, etc) can give you a cold. I find it particularly amusing since key plot twists of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility turn on it but also because I am a person who, by most people’s estimation, underdresses for the weather. I have be told with vehemence that I was going to get deathly ill because I was wearing shorts and it was cold.

The mutated version I generally encounter is that being cold weakens the immune system. As I have an autoimmune disease, my reaction is generally “Good”.

Their 10, eating late a night causes weight gain, may not be as false as they think. There’s recent evidence that time restrict feeding skewed earlier in the day increases weight loss. Which just shows that being open to revision, rather than “getting it right” is the key virtue.

2018 MLK Day

I finally dug out of our boxes my old paperback copy of Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? bought back before they reprinted it. (I had a chance at a signed first edition but didn’t have $6000 to spare at the time…or now.)

It’s a great title and one very apt for our current age.

Alas, I have a busy work day today and I’m recovering from a corneal erosion so not reading too well, but I hope to get through a good bit of it. It’s a wonderful book and a good antidote to the “Teddy Bear MLK” that we’ll see a lot of conservatives trotting out this year, the 50th anniversary of his assassination. But here are some quotes from WDWGFH:

A final challenge that we face as a result of our great dilemma is to be ever mindful of enlarging the whole society and giving it a new sense of values as we seek to solve our particular problems. As we work to get rid of the economic strangulation that we face  as a result of poverty, we must not overlook the fact that millions of Puerto Ricans, Mexican Americans, Indians, and Appalachian whites are also poverty-stricken. Any serious war against poverty must include them. (pg. 138)

The sentiment is right, but it’s hard to see, in the Age of Trump, how to use this commonality to build solidarity.

And just to show that he’s not always right, there’s this quote:

In addition to the development of genuinely independent and representative political leaders, we shall have to master the art of political alliances. Negroes should be the natural allies of many white reform and independent political groups, yet they are more commonly organized by old-line machine politicians. We will have to learn to refuse crumbs from the big city machines and steadfastly demand a fair share of  the loaf. When the machine politicians demur, we must be prepared to act in unity and throw our support to such independent parties or reform wings of the major parties as are prepared to take our demands seriously and fight for them vigorously.

Ok, he’s not quite wrong, esp for his time. In today’s age of polarization, there aren’t any useful independent parties, so reform wings it is.

And finally, evidence of his radicalism:

I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective—the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.

It’s well worth a read. It will make you regret ever more that he was not here through the latter half of the 20th centuries to act, to think, and to write.

Music Monday: Vow to Vowels

I stumbled on this song ages ago (maybe from a jwz mixtape? all I found was Vowels by the Capital Cities which has the immortal line, “There’s a freight train of emotion stuck in my lungs”), but then lost it. For soooo long. At some point googling most variants of “vowel song” became hopeless with all the kid edusongs out there. But then I did a weirder search (that I can’t remember!) and found it!

I’m most interested in the video (since I’ve been working on one), though the song is catchy enough. There’s something odd about the singer’s voice (esp on the chorus) that I can’t place.

I like chalk sidewalk art. There should be more.

2018 Holiday Baking Tally

Time to reflect how much holiday baking/sweet making I did and shared. I have two signature items: burnt caramel fruitcake and salted vanilla caramels. That I bake fruitcake is a surprise to me after loathing it most of my life, but this Dan Lepard recipe is truly extraordinary. The caramel plus prunes and nuts form an excellent flavour foundation and, really, what follows is all accent (I like putting some dried kiwi). Each batch makes two loaves and I did two batches.

Our canonical Xmas gift is a box of salted caramels:

I usually have one straight side collapsible mold in each country but I strategically brought my UK mold so we could speed up processing. Good thing I did! For some reason I decided to pack the boxes extra full so we were only getting three boxes out of a batch of 64 one inch caramels. Zoe was a wrapping machine, which helped a lot. I did for get my good candy thermometer (with the temp alarum) but the normal one was fine. I need to find tune the temperature a bit. This recipe has a narrow range between skimpy and hard.

I used new salt. Instead of table salt I had this flaky sea salt which I think makes it really easy to over salt. No complaints yet.

I, of course, did some pizzelle (not as many as usual). Two new items were giant salted, olive oil, walnut, chocolate chip cookies and snowflake mince pies. Both were hits. The olive oil and walnuts interact in a really nice way.

Things missing this year: panattone (boo!), bruti, and tamarind ginger cookies, plus exotic caramels. I’d love to get back to making plum pate de fruit.

These got starved in favour of making cookies for the music video. Coming soon! By, next year, maybe! Sneak peeks: