Monday, June 18, 2007

More Reasons To Be Enamored Of Emmylou

Emmylou Harris was the most recent guest on "Talking Animals," and I remain so excited about the conversation with her, I still have a spring in my step.

Of course, given the caliber of guests we're fortunate enough to have visit with us on the show, I'm pretty darn excited during (and after) speaking with all of 'em. It's just that Emmylou is the first guest since we launched the "Talking Animals" Blog, so this is the first opportunity I've had to blog about a guest.

But, really, it's more than that. Over a career spanning more than three decades--during which she's collected 12 Grammys and demonstrated a real affinity for collaboration, for example, recently recording an album with Mark Knopfler, "All The Roadrunning" and singing with Conor Oberst on three songs of Bright Eyes' "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning"--she's established herself as a singular artist with a generous spirit.

So given that she's long projected a kind and generous attitude, perhaps it should be far from surprising that she's a lifelong animal advocate, from growing up in a house full of animals and animal lovers (her Dad was studying to be a veterinarian until World War II and other factors derailed him from that track) to now, at 60(!), when her own Nashville house is full of animals--and that she operates a small foster care shelter for dogs, Bonaparte's Retreat, at that house.

Or that the dogs she brings into Bonaparte's Retreat are ones who, for one reason or another, are otherwise prime candidates to be euthanized.

Or that she's lobbied for an anti-tethering (i.e., chaining a dog) ordinance.

Or that she's just as likely to talk about the importance of animal adoption and spay/neuter as about her latest music project.

Or that she's taped animal-oriented public service announcements.

Or that she's organized &/or performed benefit concerts for various animal welfare organizations.

Or in discussing some of these things in our conversation on "Talking Animals," that she spoke eloquently with deep expertise and authority--this ain't a celebrity diletante. She truly understands the issues, and has not only been in the trenches of working with local and national organizations on adoption (and other matters), but took it a step further by rolling up her sleeves and getting her hands by converting her back yard into a foster care shelter, saving countless dogs over the years from being put to death.

All this, with her gentle manner and humanity underscored by a speaking voice that's nearly as sweet, inviting and distinctive as her singing voice. Indeed, after the show, a friend e-mailed, saying, in part, "her voice and delivery are so soothing to my ears...She seems like a real gem of a human being."

Exactly. Which is why it was a huge treat--and enormously exciting--to have this conversation with Emmylou.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Yeah, But How Do I Listen To Those Nellie Shows?

In the wake of my post about Nellie McKay, a number of people have wondered how they might hear the two editions of "Talking Animals" that featured interviews with Nellie.

OK, that's a thick slice of baloney--no one's inquired, and the only folks asking are the voices in my head. But I have a nice relationship with those voices, and always try to answer their questions.

And it's pretty simple to do so here: Nellie first chatted with us on the program that aired April 5, 2004 and returned for more conversation in the show that aired November 9, 2005 (our debut on WMNF, for those scoring at home). Moreover, every show we've ever broadcast--next week, "Talking Animals" celebrates its four year anniversary overall, for those still scoring at home --is archived on the program website:

Plus, an increasing number of our shows--including the more recent Nellie one--are now available as podcasts on iTunes and other podcatchers.

Yet another reason to visit the program website is that it provides links that whisk you to the "Talking Animals" podcast, and makes it super-easy to subscribe to the monthly podcast. With any luck, this answers, for the moment, all questions posed by the voices in my head.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

A Nod To Nellie...

I'm a huge fan of Nellie McKay for all kinds of reasons--almost none having to do with her being a guest twice on "Talking Animals" (or saying incredibly kind things to me about the program; more on that later, perhaps)--and she somehow keeps providing more reasons to deepen my admiration for her.

Like her review of a new book on Doris Day, which ran in Sunday's edition of The New York Times--at least the second substantial book review Nellie has written for "the paper of record."

Let's back up a bit.

My first exposure to Nellie McKay was catching her on "Letterman" singing "The Dog Song"(early 2004?), and it was hard not to feel instantly enchanted. This was some days before she'd released her double-disc debut, "Get Away From Me," a winsome, wildly-impressive collection that went on to be named one of the 15 best albums of 2004 in the Village Voice poll of 800 critics nationwide.

Not bad.

Presented initially as the work of a 19-year-old before some suggestions surfaced that Nellie or someone in her camp had shaved a few years off her actual age--then and now, I ask: who cares?--it turned out she wasn't merely a musical wunderkind, but was also something of a precocious animal activist, including writing protest songs like "Columbia Is Bleeding," about the animal experimentation at Columbia University.

Not long after the release of "Get Away From Me," Nellie joined me on "Talking Animals" and proved to be a terrific guest--in our conversation as well as fielding listener questions--and things went at least that well a year and a half later, when she rejoined me on the show.

That second visit was on the eve of releasing her second album, "Pretty Little Head"--or so it seemed; in the wake of a dispute with her record company that led to her severing ties with that company, the album release was delayed about a year--and as she was preparing to make her Broadway debut as Polly Peachum in "Threepenny Opera," alongside Alan Cumming & Edie Falco.

Again, not bad.

This is obviously a very bright, immensely gifted woman--and then last March, as if she needed to do anything to underline that impression, Nellie published a book review (of Karen Schoemer's "Great Pretenders: My Strange Love Affair With '50s Pop Music") in The New York Times. It was a wonderful piece--probing, smart, incisive, and certainly didn't pull any punches.

She did it again Sunday, weighing in on "Considering Doris Day," a new examination of the life & career of the singer, actress and animal advocate--a major influence on Nellie--authored by Tom Santopietro.

The review is notable for both its sweep and depth--to those of us pretty familiar with Nellie and her work, it's a given that she's steeped in all things Day, but Nellie writes here with a knowledge and authority, an acute understanding and fierce intelligence that's downright preternatural for someone who, no matter how you slice it, is still in her 20s.

To note out that she's wise--or gifted--beyond her years is, at this point, woefully obvious, akin to suggesting things aren't going well in Iraq.

And she can certainly teach an old dog new tricks: At one point in the review, she chides Santopietro for repeatedly referring to Doris Day as an "animal lover," a term she finds both a misnomer and condescending, at least when applied to someone like Day, who's responsible for so many seismic shifts in the animal welfare landscape.

When I read the review, I was in the middle of preparing an announcement for "Talking Animals" that referred to a forthcoming guest as an "animal lover."

I changed it.