See a Specialty Movie in a Theater This Month and Help Save the Industry

Let’s Try to Break the Death Spiral of Declining Information About and Interest In Indie and Art Films


(From film A Thousand and One)

Upon leaving his position after 23 years as co-chief film critic for The New York Times, A.O. Scott recently took stock of the state of current movies and the theaters showing them. He was especially addressing “specialty” or “indie” / “art house” movies and the more personal, neighborhood-oriented theaters and other alternative (to megaplexes) venues that screen them:

“The current apocalypse is that streaming and Covid anxiety are conspiring to kill off moviegoing as we have known it, leaving a handful of I.P.-driven blockbusters and horror movies to keep theaters in business while we mostly sit at home bingeing docuseries, dystopias and the occasional art-film guilt trip. Am I worried? Of course I’m worried. The cultural space in which the movies I care most about have flourished seems to be shrinking. The audience necessary to sustain original and ambitious work is narcotized by algorithms or distracted by doomscrolling. The state of the movies is very bad.”

Then he quickly added, “The movies themselves—enough of them, as always—are pretty good.”

That’s the conundrum Cincinnati film fans are forced to confront: the downward spiral of fewer places showing non-mainstream movies, which leads to smaller audiences for these works, which leads to less media coverage of those genres, resulting in even less knowledge of and interest in new specialty movies coming to theaters, museums, and other venues across the region. Perhaps a monthly preview of such films showing in Cincinnati can start to break that cycle.

Why? Because it’s needed. Specialty and indie movies have sizeable followings here and elsewhere but too often tend to slip in and out of theatrical screenings without much notice. At least, without the kind of notice that benefits Marvel and DC adaptations, endless sequels, and cleverly titled action and horror movies (looking at you, Cocaine Bear). Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with such mass-appeal movies, incidentally. But some excellent “smaller” films continue to get overlooked.

Here’s a look at April highlights across Cincinnati and the region. A caveat: Things can always change in terms of a theater’s plans, so it’s wise to check websites before attending any of these screenings.

“A Thousand and One”

A Thousand and One

[Watch the trailer. Showing at Esquire Theatre in Clifton, AMC NewportCinemark Oakley StationShowcase Cinema de Luxe SpringfieldAMC West Chester, and Regal Deerfield Town Center.]

If it seems antithetical to my stated purpose to highlight a film playing the plexes, A Thousand and One is a quintessential specialty film. Its distributor, Focus Features, primarily handles those types of movies, and the Esquire is where this title would play even if it wasn’t opening elsewhere simultaneously. The wider release is an indication of everyone’s belief that this film is a big deal.

I was fortunate to see a stream of the film, from up-and-coming director/screenwriter A.V. Rockwell, as part of January’s Sundance Film Festival, where it won the top Grand Jury Prize for dramatic films. Not only did it deserve that honor, but it also deserves serious Oscar consideration for best film and for Teyana Taylor’s terrific performance as a woman trying to help her young child (and herself) negotiate the unfriendly, uncaring streets of New York to find some security and renewed hope. Rockwell brings great empathy and toughness to this story, and she also offers some surprising and engrossing plot twists sure to make those who see A Thousand and One talk about it afterward.

“One Fine Morning”

One Fine Morning

[Watch the trailer. Showing at Mariemont Theatre, Mariemont.]

The highly regarded French director Mia Hansen-Løve recently made the English and Swedish language Bergman’s Island, in which a couple trying to write seek refuge on the Swedish island of Fårö, once the home of the late Ingmar Bergman, a master of international cinema. For One Fine Morning, she’s returned to her French roots with a challenging yet romantically steaming store of a single mom—raising a daughter and caring for an ailing father—who nevertheless has time for an affair with a married man. Says Charles Hutchinson of The Seattle Times: “When we then all look back on our lives, with these moments of strife and serenity molded together, it is this latest vision from Hansen-Løve that provides yet another glimpse of what it is that we would see.”

High Noon

[Screens at 7 p.m. April 10 at Esquire Theatre.]

Noted Cincinnati film historian Joe Horine has developed a good following for his “deep dive” screenings of classic movies, where he adds his critical insights into each title’s effectiveness and impact. Audience members offer their observations and question his, resulting in a rewarding event for anyone who sees film as art. With the 1952 western High Noon, he’ll have much material for discussion. Not only did Gary Cooper win an Oscar for his portrayal of a small town’s marshal trying desperately to get citizens to help him resist a man who wants to kill him, but the film now is considered an allegorical protest against the McCarthyism of the day—when few would defend Hollywood figures unfairly smeared as communists by right-wing politicians.

“Little Richard: I Am Everything”

Little Richard: I Am Everything

[Watch the trailer. Screens at 7 p.m. April 11 at Cinemark OakleyRegal Deerfield Town Center, and Milford 16.)

As has been often said, the male pioneers of rock and roll—the founding fathers—were all wildly colorful characters: Elvis, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and especially Little Richard. His string of gloriously upbeat, ecstatically revved-up 1950s hits like “Tutti Frutti,” “Good Golly, Miss Molly,” and “Long Tall Sally” just may stand the test of time as well as Shakespeare’s best work. This new documentary by Lisa Cortés has fabulous footage of him in action in his prime and later. (Richard Penniman died in 2020 at age 87.) It also has a provocative premise: Little Richard established the queer roots of rock & roll, even if he could fight against his gayness and his own secular music by seeking refuge in religion.

Laurel and Hardy silent short films with organ accompaniment

[Screens at 7 p.m. April 13 at Music Hall Ballroom, Over the Rhine.]

Laurel and Hardy

Laurel and Hardy, one of the best comedian teams ever, made films from 1921 to 1951 but have remained popular ever since their careers together came to an end. In fact, there was a lovely, beautifully acted biopic about them in 2018, starring Steve Coogan as Stan Oliver and John C. Reilly as Oliver Hardy. On April 13, Friends of Music Hall is presenting five of Laurel and Hardy’s silent shorts from the 1920s with live accompaniment on its Mighty Wurlitzer organ—an attraction in its own right—by Clark Wilson. And film historian Joe Horine will lead a Q&A when the films and music are finished.

Smoking Causes Coughing

[Watch the trailer. Screens at 7 p.m. April 14 at Garfield Theatre, downtown.]

Just the other day my wife was asking me whatever happened to the nutty director who made that film about a tire—yes, a lone tire—that terrorizes everyone who gets near to it (Rubber). As it so happens, French director Quentin Dupieux is back with Smoking Causes Coughing, which sounds as oddball as his earlier film. There are superheroes in bizarre spandex outfits, some very strange talking animals, and a robot that blithely walks off a pier into a lake as a superhero bursts out laughing. Cincinnati World Cinema says on its website the film has a wood chipper scene that makes Fargo’s look tame, and John Waters has called this one of his favorite movies of the year … or so the film’s trailer boasts. Given the extreme put-on nature of Dupieux’s work, it’ll probably generate laughs and controversy.

What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears?

[Watch the trailer. Screens at 7:30 p.m. April 17 at Woodward Theater, Over-the-Rhine.]

“What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears?”

Rock & Roll is filled with mysteries about why some amazing artists failed to have hits and others were mediocre talents yet wildly successful. But the mystery of Blood, Sweat & Tears is especially bewildering. How could this creative, nine-piece jazz-rock band have the Grammys’ 1969 album of the year, which spawned three Top 10 singles, yet soon be considered so square its career was essentially over? This new documentary’s director, John Scheinfeld (The U.S. vs. John Lennon), posits that the downfall started when the band went on a U.S. State Department tour of Soviet bloc countries in Eastern Europe. American youth did not want their rock heroes cooperating with the administration of then-President Richard Nixon, hated for his refusal to end American involvement in the Vietnam War. Will this film solve a long-lasting rock mystery and spur a Blood, Sweat & Tears revival?

No Bears

[Watch the trailer. Screens at 7 p.m. April 19 at Garfield Theatre.]

A 2022 film slowly getting a U.S. release city by city, No Bears is from the lauded Iranian director Jafar Panahi. Actually, he isn’t all that lauded by the Iranian government; he’s faced criticism and even jailtime for his searching, questioning, and personal films. This one, about a director trying to make a film despite government concern, has been hailed as a masterpiece by The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday, who also calls it “a commentary on movie making on a par with Day for Night.” (The latter is a 1973 masterpiece by Francois Truffaut.)

Dosed: The Trip of a Lifetime

[Watch the trailer. Screens at 1 p.m. on April 23 at Mariemont Theatre and April 24 & 27 at Esquire Theatre.]

Canadian directors Nicholas Meyers and Tyler Chandler have now made two documentaries exploring the growing use of psychedelics to help those facing death from cancer ease their anxiety and come to terms with what they’ve achieved in life. In Dosed: The Trip of a Lifetime, released in 2022, the subject they profile is a mother of four seeking peace and wisdom from magic mushrooms.

Art Films galore

“Art film” is most often used to describe a genre of narrative movies, usually made for a small budget and using subtitles, that aim to provoke rather than pander to our preconceived notions. And we need more of them! But there’s another kind of art movie that seems to be getting increasingly popular: visits to major worldwide art museums and their special exhibitions, or documentaries about artists.

Quite a few are appearing this month across the region, although Cincinnati’s activity seems subdued while Louisville’s Speed Art Museum—which has a relatively new cinema with its own curator—really stands out. Here are some to check out, in order of screening dates:

Cezanne: Portraits of a Life
April 7–9 at Speed Art Museum

Vermeer: The Greatest Exhibition
April 15–16 & 19 at Speed Museum; also at 7 p.m. April 18 at Mariemont Theatre

Master of Light
April 16 at Speed Art Museum. The film’s subject, George Anthony Morton, is a contemporary classical painter who spent 10 years in prison on a drug charge and now devotes himself to art.

April 21–23 at Speed Art Museum. This is a dramatic depiction of the life of Hilma af Klint, now recognized as a pioneer of abstract art. The director is Lasse Hallstrom, a Swede who’s made such movies as My Life As a DogCider House Rules, and Chocolat.

Film + Orchestra: A New Concert Experience


CSO Creative Partner Matthias Pintscher conducts the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra for CSO Proof: Sun Dogs, October 2022. Credit: Charlie Balcom

At a Cincinnati Pops concert in late December 2022, Justin and Amanda Eckstein of Bridgetown were sitting at the middle of a center row in the packed gallery section of Music Hall’s Springer Auditorium with a superb view of all the multi-media activity before them. A huge, suspended movie screen was showing Star Wars: The Force Awakens while the Orchestra on the stage below was playing the film’s rousing, exciting score with flair and in sync with the cinematic action.

When the movie’s involving narrative was over and the extensive credits began to scroll on the screen, the young couple didn’t leave. Neither, unusually, did most others in the sold-out concert hall. They were waiting to applaud the Orchestra when the credits ended. “Usually people never sit through the end credits of a movie,” Justin said. “But they absolutely do here.”

Conductor Keitaro Harada and his wife Yuri Kurashima pose with members of Ohio Garrison of the 501st Legion (Credit: Charlie Balcom)

One reason is that the night’s guest conductor, Keitaro Harada, had earlier told the crowd, which included many young adults and parents with children in tow, to sit patiently so they could heartily applaud the credit for the film’s esteemed composer, John Williams. And they did! But they also stayed seated even after that, until the Orchestra ceased playing. Then the crowd erupted with the biggest cheering and clapping of the night. The Pops was anything but, excuse the term, “second fiddle” to the movie.

“The live music aspect adds so much to it,” Justin said. “There’s so much to see.”

Told later about that comment, Harada—an Associate Conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from 2015 to 2019 and current Music and Artistic Director of the Savannah Philharmonic—wasn’t surprised. “I think everyone has different reasons for attending, but the common denominator is they want to hear their orchestra play live to a film they love,” he said. “You can’t get that in the movie theater and you can’t get that in your house, no matter how great your sound system is. It’s so different hearing a great orchestra play in front of you. That’s what the draw is.”

The Force Awakens was a smashingly successful example of the Pops’ ongoing presentation of what’s been called “film with live orchestra” locally and “movies in concert” by a website that’s been tracking such events worldwide since 2010. This season, in the months before The Force Awakens, the Pops also presented Disney’s revered 1991 animated Beauty and the Beast in concert. Among the movies in concert that the Pops has previously presented have been Return of the JediThe Empire Strikes BackCocoHome AloneHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s StoneHarry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and West Side Story (the 1961 film).

The next similar Pops presentation will take place March 10–12, when concertgoers can see Black Panther, 2018’s smash hit from Disney and Marvel Studios, while the Orchestra performs the film’s Academy Award-winning score by Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson. Damon Gupton, Pops Principal Guest Conductor, is scheduled to conduct this concert.

“There are so many amazing composers out there, and he’s one for sure,” said Cincinnati Pops Conductor John Morris Russell of Black Panther’s Göransson. “So much of the score is based on African drumming. Göransson collaborated with one of the great masters of African percussive arts, Massamba Diop, to record this fantastic score.”

African drum virtuoso Massamba Diop will join the Pops for its Marvel’s Black Panther Film
with Orchestra performances March 10–12.

In a thrilling move, Diop, a virtuoso of the tama, a Senegalese talking drum, will be performing with the Pops for the Black Panther screenings.

As Russell explains it, pairing movies with live orchestral music goes back to the silent era, but has really taken off in recent years due to John Williams. “Williams’ music is so brilliantly crafted to make the most of the drama inherent in an orchestra,” he said. “So it’s been very exciting to see how this whole genre of concerts has blossomed.’’

Williams, a prolific film composer for decades and still active at age 91 (he wrote the score for Steven Spielberg’s recent The Fabelmans), became widely celebrated in the 1970s and early 1980s for his rousing scores for the first Star Wars movies. Among his many accomplishments, he has continued to pen music for not only Star Wars films, but also other box office hit film series such as Harry Potter and Indiana Jones.

Williams also served as principal conductor for the Boston Pops from 1980 to 1993, where he was an early adopter of playing film scores and showing film clips. As Cary O’Dell wrote on a 2022 Library of Congress blog celebrating Williams’ first Star Wars score in 1977, “Williams’s 14-year tenure in Boston was seminal in bringing the best of the film-music repertoire to the concert hall.”

Film distributors now have special digital “prints” with the recorded scores removed. Some of those distributors then send technicians on-site to aid an orchestra’s technicians with a presentation. And orchestra conductors receive special monitors that help them keep track of a score’s cues, measures and tempos. (They can also use audio click tracks.) As a result, film scores not originally meant to be performed live from start to finish now have worldwide bookings, just like the biggest classical music soloists.

Audience members dressed up in their finest Beauty and the Beast costumes, September 2022 (Credit: Tyler Secor)

“There’s so much responsibility in keeping the orchestra together, making sure they sound great and then coordinating with the film at the same time,” Russell said of an orchestra conductor’s responsibilities at a film with live orchestra concert. “You’re always on high alert. It’s kind of ironic because, although this is very complicated to conduct, if you do your job exceedingly well with utmost accuracy and upmost artistry, no one notices what you’re doing.”

The audience, however, may indeed notice how well the film they’re watching looks and its dialogue and special effects sound. That’s important, and the CSO has invested in equipment to make the best impression possible. The orchestra rents two projectors (one is for emergency back-up) and a screen for each film engagement. Depending on the aspect ratio of the film, the screen is either 17-by-30 feet or 15-by-35 feet. Speakers are installed on the sides of the stage, under the balcony, and also on the balcony and gallery levels. “Currently, we do not have a permanently installed screen or projector for our film concerts because renting always ensures we have the most up-to-date technology for these films,” said Director of Operations Laura Bordner Adams.

The pairing of film with live orchestra in Cincinnati isn’t just a Pops thing. Back in 1991, Jesús López Cobos conducted the CSO during a performance at Riverbend, where the Orchestra performed Sergei Prokofiev’s score for Sergei Eisenstein’s 1938 Alexander Nevsky while the film was shown without its recorded score.

Film posters created for CSO Proof: Sun Dogs

And, last October, the CSO offered three nights of a daring experiment known as Sun Dogs—part of the Orchestra’s risk-taking CSO Proof programming. Working with Minnesota’s Liquid Music, the Orchestra commissioned several respected, artful filmmakers to work with contemporary composers on three short, adventurous films with music. As the films were projected at Springer Auditorium, the Orchestra under conductor Matthias Pintscher played the composed music. The American director Josephine Decker (Shirley) worked with co-composers Arooj Aftab and Daniel Wohl on Rise, Again; composer Rafiq Bhatia collaborated with Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Memoria) for On Blue; and French/Senegalese filmmaker Mati Diop (Atlantics) and her collaborator, French filmmaker/publisher Manon Lutanie, worked with composer Devonté Hynes on Naked Blue.

“Anything that extends the realm of possibilities that we have is very welcome,” said Pintscher, who holds the position of CSO Creative Partner with the Orchestra. “These are times of innovation, so naturally it’s a requirement that institutions like a symphonic orchestra have a response to that. I think it’s an exciting, beautiful challenge. It keeps us on our toes, keeps us moving forward, keeps our minds fresh and makes us think. I think that’s a most crucial requirement of this art form.”


The Cincinnati novelty inventor, who died last month at age 96, built a serious business around making people laugh.


 Steven Rosen


September 20, 2021


Ihad the opportunity to write two Cincinnati Magazine stories in recent years about local novelty inventor Don Poynter, who died on August 13 at age 96, and to amass several taped interviews with him in the process. By starting his career in the early 1950s, he explained to me, he was in the right place at the right time. “World War II was over, and people had money and were feeling good. They wanted to laugh and have fun.”

Poynter’s most celebrated novelties were jokey. You sometimes laughed at the cleverness of his idea and the way it seized upon the pop culture of the moment. Other times you smirked at its naughtiness or weirdness, especially if you idolized Playboy or MAD magazines in the 1950s and early 1960s. Most famous was his Jayne Mansfield Hot Water Bottle, which was the subject of one of my stories and was all the more impressive because the “bombshell” Hollywood actress actively collaborated on and promoted the novelty item with Poynter in 1957.

You’ll see some of his creations in a special display that the Cincinnati Museum Center is aiming to have up next week, from a collection donated to the museum by Poynter’s family (the subject of my 2019 story).

But there was another side to his work. Poynter had a keen interest in media and electronics—gadgetry, maybe—that sometimes led to visionary work that rose above novelty. During our interviews, he told me about how proud he was of one invention in 1967, the Mighty Tiny toy record player.

He deserved that pride of ownership. Considering that one of his more famous novelties was the Little Black Box (that did nothing)—if you switched it on, a hand came out and turned itself off—Mighty Tiny really did something special. Billed as the “world’s smallest record player,” it played tiny records containing music composed and recorded just for it. The record player sold for only $2.98 and included three Mighty Tiny records. The players were manufactured in Japan and distributed by the Ohio Art toy company, which also sold Etch A Sketch.

I was meaning to write another story about this forgotten product with Poynter’s active involvement, but mortality intervened. I think it should be better known—someday, maybe, Cincinnati might be recognized as the Mighty Tiny’s birthplace.

Don Poynter

“Records at that time were very big,” Poynter said in one of our interviews to explain his inspiration for Mighty Tiny. (By “big” he meant popular rather than physically large.) “So how can I look at something, change it in some way, and make it interesting or funny and also make it salable?”

He thought of the gadget as something for young children, not the millions of Boomer teenagers buying rock and roll records in the mid- to late 1960s. “Children a lot of times are impatient,” he said. “They put a record on for 15 seconds, then put another on. It isn’t just the sound [of the music] for them, it’s the idea of putting it on, taking it off, putting on another. It’s a toy for children.”

You can find pictures and even YouTube videos of the product online. Among lovers and collectors of toys, records, and all manner of audio-producing devices, Mighty Tiny has acquired a following for both its oddness and its charm. The freeform New Jersey radio station WFMU-FM has a website page devoted to it on its “Internet museum of Flexi/cardboard/oddity records” section. There you can succumb to the allure of the photo on Mighty Tiny’s packaging: A smiling young girl holds one of its tiny black records between her thumb and first two fingers.

Other images in this online “museum” show the Mighty Tiny speaker box in the plastic lid’s top, the needle on the underside when the lid is raised, and the AA battery slot just below the white plastic turntable. This case is dark green; there were other colors.

An online site that sells collectibles, Worth Point, lists the dimensions of the player as (in inches) 4¾ x 2¾ x 2¼, with individual records having a 2¼-inch diameter. Poynter said the diameter is 2 and 3/8 inches. And Michael Cumella of the WFMU museum page told me the discs are some kind of hard plastic rather than vinyl, as they don’t flex or bend.

Cumella calls the overall product “lo-fi,” and online videos show how hard it is to get the specially made records to play well on Mighty Tiny. Motor-activated when the lid was closed, it didn’t have controls for volume or tone arm movement. (Actually, it didn’t have a tone arm.) History’s Dumpster website reports the system played records at up to 100 rpm (revolutions per minute), even though Poynter told me he aimed for 78 rpm, a popular speed for children’s records in the 1960s.

But whatever the player’s performance flaws, Poynter went all out to create suitable music for the tiny records it played. That was an amazing endeavor, considering how short each recording had to be—Poynter said about 15 seconds; a blog on the Como Audio website pegged it at 20 seconds.

Poynter had an important ally in the making of Mighty Tiny records. When he attended Western Hills High School, fellow students included Andy and Dick Williams—two of the four singing Williams Brothers, who performed on WLW radio around the same time that Poynter was in the cast of the Father Flanagan Boy’s Town radio show. With shared interests, Poynter and the brothers became friends. While Andy Williams had long been one of America’s favorite crooners by 1967, brother Dick was also having a productive career, if not as highly visible. A singer and also a choral director, he was willing to work on the creation of 15-second records.

“I called Dick to have him do all the arranging,” Poynter said. “We went to Dallas and hired about 10 or 12 musicians. I went through an entrepreneur there. Dick did all the compositions and had everything ready so they’d be able to reproduce it. When I called the entrepreneur, I said we were going to do 39 records. He thought that’d be a week or two weeks on each record. We did it all in two days, because they’re only 15 seconds.”

The records stand out for their variety and for their eye-catching cover art. They were like the picture sleeves on the 45 rpm records so popular with rock-loving teens, only smaller. As one online commenter said, “The thing that amazes me the most about this whole thing is the quality of the artwork that appeared on the sleeves of the tiny records!”

Before I describe some, I must caution that I don’t own any so I’m dependent on images from websites that seem reputable because they sell the records to collectors. The originals were sold in thematically grouped four-packs, with each pack priced at 49 cents. It’s a bit tricky looking for original Mighty Tiny Records, because I also found a nicely done tribute/parody of a four-pack the indie rock band Darling Pet Munkee issued on Record Store Day 2014. So I have to assume there are others online.

But among what appear to be actual Mighty Tiny releases with striking covers are:

  • “Tiger Shake” by the Longhairs, featuring a photo of a young woman in a tiger-patterned bathing suit with a tail, wearing tiger ears and crouching a bit with hands extended as if dancing.
  • “Sax in a Hurry” by Moody Monk, featuring a gold saxophone that appears to be self-propelled into kinetic, blurry motion against a black backdrop, while the “artist’s” name appears in bright yellow.
  • “Coney Island Pop Pop” features a close-up of two smiling boys enjoying a ride on a carousel horse.
  • “Pussy Cat Looks Up to Go-Go” by the Mad Men, featuring a curious cat looking upward against a reddish background while the modish white lettering spells out the title and turns one side of the U in “up” into an arrow pointing upward. Very hip.

The categories for the four-packs include Rock ‘n Roll and Popular, Foreign Music, Latin Music, Calypso & Island Music, Country & Western, Marches & Novelties, Dixieland & Jazz, and others. Among catchy song titles are “Square Dance Hootenanny” by the City Slickers; “Shaking Shadows” by Amy Wilson and her guitar; “Hot Cha, Cha, Cha” by Miquel & Carlos; and “Trinidad Calypso” by Mondo and His Steel Drum Band. Keep in mind each recording lasted 15 seconds or less.

“We made every jacket as if it was a for the real thing, beautiful jackets,” Poynter said. “I would write and think of all these titles. We tried to cover every category. I had to go through thousands of pictures to find out which I could use and still have a semblance of what the title was. The music used was free of copyrights.”

Poynter told me a total of 39 individual records were made. There might be more, but it’s frustrating searching for “Mighty Tiny Records” online because the search also pulls up such selections as Tiny Bradshaw (who recorded the classic “Train Kept A-Rollin” for Cincinnati’s King Records), Big Tiny Little, and Tiny Tim, as well as Don Ho’s “Tiny Bubbles.”

Mighty Tiny was successful in Poynter’s estimation. He said he sold 300,000 players in Canada and probably another 300,000 in the U.S. He offered accessories and even a larger console model. Mighty Tiny also inspired competition. In 1972, Cincinnati’s Kenner Products came out with Close ‘N Play.

Looking at Mighty Tiny from a macro perspective, Poynter’s toy was introduced at a time when there was a lot of experimentation with audio recordings and the ways to hear them and appreciate their visual beauty. There were others pursuing the general idea that the future of records was in making them smaller; Poynter maybe took it to an extreme.

Both and have information about a fascinating experiment called Hip Pocket Records, which were thin-vinyl flexi discs manufactured from 1967 to 1969 by the Philco company. The idea was to create records so portable they could be carried in your hip pocket—perfect for teens with an active lifestyle. These 4-inch-wide records came in attractive picture sleeves, contained two Top-40 hit songs, and sold for 69 cents. The discs could be played at 45 rpm. Among the artists who issued Hip Pocket Records were Otis Redding, Neil Diamond, Young Rascals, the Doors, and Cincinnati’s Isley Brothers. Philco also sold a record player for the discs.

But Hip Pocket Records had competition—the Americom Corporation sold the similar Pocket Disks in vending machines for 50 cents. (They were also available in stores.) On the website, writer Masanori Yokono chronicles what was this format’s prize attraction—through an arrangement with Capitol/Apple records, it offered three two-sided discs that featured hit singles by The Beatles. Information about Pocket Discs varies a bit online depending on the source, but says “Hey Jude” had to be edited from its 7:11-minute playing time to under 3½ minutes, because that was all the time a Pocket Disk could hold. (One is at with a $400 price tag.)

But these small discs at the time were no match for albums featuring the new progressive rock, nor for the emerging market of 8-track tapes and soon-to-come cassettes.

Amazingly, Hip Pocket records have just staged a return in a manner of fashion. Going on the market earlier this week were four new Hip-Pocket Discs from Norton Records, a Brooklyn-based company devoted to wild rock and roll, R&B, and rockabilly. Its warehouse/distribution center is in an old Cleveland mansion known as Franklin Castle.

These releases—two by the French group Grys-Grys and two by the Real Kids—look much like the compact Hip Pocket Records of the 1960s with their colorful, sleek cardboard jackets displaying appealing photos of the artists and boldly artful graphics and fonts. But there’s a big difference. These new Hip-Pocket Discs (the term is trademarked) are actually full-length CDs masquerading as small (5-inch diameter) vinyl records. Minus the jewel boxes and record trays, they seek to hide their CD-ness. In its way, Norton is trying to make out-of-fashion CDs hip again.

This step was taken out of necessity, says Miriam Linna at Norton Records. “Right now, largely because of COVID and also other reasons, there’s a backlog for people able to manufacture vinyl,” she explains. “I had a recent project, a [vinyl] album by a group of young French guys, that I was about to sell out. I went back to the factory to try to get more copies, and they said in 12 months. I couldn’t wait.”

So she released a Hip-Pocket version of the Grys-Grys album that was selling out in vinyl and also issued the group’s earlier debut record, which previously had only been available on vinyl in France.

As an avid collector, Linna was aware of the original Hip Pocket Records. “I’ve always liked the format and concept,” she says. “For me, as a goofball who loves every format of recorded product in history, I thought this was fun thing to do. They look so cool.”

Meanwhile, the spirit of Mighty Tiny also lives on, as interest in small-sized vinyl records and their comparably compact players continues. Urban Outfitters sells a Teeny Tiny Record Player with three mini records for $12.95, and there are a variety of mildly larger turntables that play normal vinyl records. There is a market for ways to mix retro culture with modern technology and portability.

Poynter would be pleased about these developments. “These things are only novelties,” he told me of his creations. “Novelties by their very name are new. If it lasts any length of time, it’s a miracle.”

By that standard, Mighty Tiny is an ongoing miracle.

Singer Martha High Keeps Alive the Legacy of James Brown and Cincinnati’s King Records

“I feel that Mr. Brown was like a father to me,” High says.

By Steven Rosen/Cincinnati CityBeat on Thu, Sep 8, 2022 at 5:02 am

Photo: provided by Ropeadope Records

Should there come a time in the not-too-distant future when Cincinnati’s King Records studio has been restored as a historic site, Martha High wants to be at the opening ceremony.

“All you have to do is make a call and I’ll come running,” she tells CityBeat during a Zoom interview from her fiancé’s home in the Netherlands.

You may be thinking, “That’s nice, but who is Martha High?

That’s understandable. Although High was born in Virginia and raised in Washington, D.C., she’s better known in Europe than the United States But High is perhaps the strongest active link to the Original Funky Divas associated with James Brown, arguably King’s most successful recording artist. These women performed as lead vocalists, background singers or both during Brown’s exciting stage shows, which also featured superb performances from the band and Brown’s own virtuosic singing and dancing. High joined Brown’s retinue in 1966 and stayed with him for 32 years, with only a few breaks.

Their work together included Brown’s massive hits for King, his funk classics on the Polydor label and his final hits on Scotti Brothers Records, including “Living in America.”

Brown died in 2006 at age 73. After his death, High sang lead female vocals for the touring Original James Brown Band and performed with Brown’s saxophonist Maceo Parker before starting a career in Europe as a headlining singer rooted in soul and funk. She’s still going strong at age 77.

One thing that might help her American profile is the Sept. 2 U.S. release of Soul Brother Where Art Thou? Vol. 2 on the Ropeadope label. High is the credited artist and sings lead on super-hot versions of seven Brown songs, accompanied by stalwarts and standouts from his band with background vocals from the Bittersweets. Selections include “It’s Too Funky in Here,” “There It Is,” “Prisoner of Love” and “Get It Together.”

Greg Hester produced these and other tracks shortly after Brown’s death and released the first volume of Soul Brother Where Art Thou under his own name in 2015. High did not sing on the earlier album.

High views Soul Brother Where Art Thou? Vol. 2 as her tribute to a great artist.

“I feel that Mr. Brown was like a father to me,” she says. “A father, brother, friend, mentor and my boss. He created music that can never be forgotten.”

High became a professional singer in the early 1960s, when she joined the Jewels, a Washington, D.C.-based “girl group” of the day. Recording for Dimension Records, which had been created to showcase songs written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, the Jewels had a regional hit in 1964 with a song by other writers, “Opportunity.” Touring behind the record, the group met Brown and signed up as singers in his touring show.

Brown had a reputation for being a very bossy boss — a taskmaster who could micromanage the singers and players working for him.

“He was a hard man to work for,” High explains. “Shoes had to be shined, nails had to be right, your hair, everything. We found ourselves dressing the way he wanted us. As ladies, we couldn’t wear jeans on the show. But that didn’t bother me because I felt I was on a higher level now that I’m with James Brown.”

Brown’s control even extended to telling her to change her surname to High (it previously was Harvin). And while she had not been a lead vocalist with the Jewels, Brown said he wanted her to take the female lead for him occasionally.

“A little after that was when the other girls from the Jewels decided they wanted to go home,” High says. “But I wasn’t ready. I was thrilled to travel and see other places. We went everywhere; we even had a chance to go to Paris with him.” (While with Brown, the group did release one single on King and another on the King-affiliated Federal label.)

Still, High primarily saw herself as a background singer. So when the archival James Brown’s Original Funky Divas came out in 1998, it was a surprise — maybe even a revelation — that the album ended with her duet with Brown on “Summertime.” The standout track had debuted on his 1977 ecology-themed Mutha’s Nature.

The pair’s funk version of George Gershwin’s 1934 classic starts with Brown intoning, “You’re my beautiful sister and I love you.” High replies, “I’ve been with you a long time and you’ve seen me grow up and become who I am.” The vocals that follow are tremendously moving.

High recalls that around the time of the recording, she also traveled with Brown as a hairstylist; he wanted one with him at all times, even in the studio when recording “Summertime.” High mimics Brown’s gravelly voice when explaining the duet’s origins. “‘Come into the booth; I want you to do the song with me.’ I said, ‘Mr. Brown, I don’t know “Summertime.’” He says, ‘Everybody knows “Summertime.” Come on.’ And we did the song — I was not expecting that.”

High moved to France in 2004 and lived there for much of the aughts. Eventually, she moved back to the United States to take care of her parents, who are now deceased. But then she moved to Spain in 2017 to resume work in Europe. She came back to Augusta, Georgia, when the pandemic stopped the touring business, but she’s been busy again now that tours have resumed. Next year, once she marries a Dutch man she first met during her years with Brown, she’ll settle into their home outside Amsterdam. It will be her third marriage; she has a daughter and two sons are deceased.

High is full of energy and excitement about her future, personally and professionally. She hopes it includes a U.S. tour as a headliner with a band of Brown alumni.

“I really hope so,” she says. “I’m praying that I will get the chance to tour in the States and perform with some of the original guys who know Mr. Brown’s music.”

“I don’t want his music to ever not be known. I would like the people to know the history of Mr. Brown and where he came from. It was what I was raised up with. I have my own style, and pray to God I was able to find my own way and my own sound, but I still love to do Mr. Brown’s music.”

(Purchase Martha High’s Soul Brother Where Art Thou? Vol. 2 and watch for upcoming tour dates at

Brian Eno Faces Our Impending Doom

Assessing the legendary producer’s first vocal album in 17 years

  Steven Rosen/ Rock & Roll Globe

Brian Eno (Image: Verve Records)

In a famous interview, Talking Heads’ bassist Tina Weymouth talked in 1981 about how the band’s guiding light, David Byrne, had become infatuated with the musical interests of Brian Eno.

The band’s Eno-produced art-rock album, Remain in Light, had been a recent creative breakthrough and Byrne and Eno had gone on to release My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, for which they taped and repurposed the radio sermonizing of preachers.

“They’re like two 14-year-old boys making an impression on each other,” Weymouth said. Her take, at the time, came off like she was knocking the two for being immature boys. But with time, it sounds increasingly endearing. As she saw it, they were letting their enthusiasm for music, and for life, run rampant. Ah, sweet youth!

Artist: Brian Eno


Label: Verve

★★★★ (4/5 stars) 

That was decades ago. Now, Brian Eno has a new album, FOREVERANDEVERNOMORE (or FOREVERANDEVERNOMORE). It’s his first in six years and marks his return to making a record with songs that substantially feature his voice. (The last was 2005’s Another Day on Earth.) He produces and writes or co-writes everything here, quite an achievement. Oh, if only he could now somehow still be the life-enthused 14-year-old boy that Weymouth once imagined. Not for our sake, or for the quality of his art. But for his happiness. Alas, he now knows too much.

FOREVERANDEVERNOMORE is, first of all, a masterful and mature creative statement from Eno, one that should be heard and considered by an audience. He has explained in press notes that the album’s genesis is a 2021 concert that he and brother Roger gave at the Acropolis in Greece, while wildfires were burning outside the city. “I thought, here we are at the birthplace of Western civilization probably witnessing the end of it,” he said. (For that performance, he had written two songs that are included here — “There Were Bells” and “Garden of Stars.”)

Brian Eno FOREVERANDEVERNOMORE, Opal/Verve Music Group 2022

That was not a lightning-bolt revelation for him. He’s long been concerned with how we can preserve and acknowledge the importance of earth and our place on it. In the mid-2000s, I attended a talk he gave in Los Angeles about the Clock of the Long Now, a project to build and store a clock at a place where it could safely, securely keep time for 10,000 years. And more recently, he’s participated in a Serpentine Galleries project called Back to Earth that prompts visual artists (Eno is one) to address climate change. 

On this album, Eno comes off as a seer. He knows where we’re going, and it’s not good, and he can express his haunting visions in a sometimes-cryptically poetic — maybe even mystically religious — way. 

Here’s an example, from “There Were Bells.” It begins with birds chirping and eventually Eno’s voice, surprisingly high and inviting, enters with such vulnerable clarity and sincerity that you can imagine him a choir boy. But could a choir sing these words? 

There were bells above that rang the whole day through
And the sky was shot with light and gazing blue
Early days up with the sun, all the days turn into one
All the sirens beckoning the groove

There were horns as loud as war that tore apart the sky
There were storms and floods of blood of human life
Never mind, my love, let’s wait for the dawn
Fly back to tell us there is a haven showing night

There were those who ran away
There were those who had to stay
Let me in to your way, the segue

It’s abstract enough to make you work at its meaning, but the overall vibe is clear enough to make you shudder. While his words beckon, and sometimes beg for deciphering, his melodies carefully walk a tightrope between solemn melancholy and expansive uplift.

Yet, throughout the record, you can also be awed by the beauty of the music. There are so many gorgeous touches!  “Garden of Stars” has droning strings, short stabs of electronic pings and has a clangorously climactic passage that’s a bit like the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” On “These Small Voices” (co-written with Jon Hopkins) Clodagh Simonds offers some dramatic, declarative singing that could be something from a Kurt Weill composition. 

“We Let It In” starts with some noticeable breathing and Darla Eno, his daughter and co-writer, intoning the occasional words “deep” and “sun” while a female voice sometimes also beguiles the listener with tuneful wordless singing. But Eno’s words demand attention — I imagine the “it” to be the arriving doom of global warming, but I’m not sure: 

The soul of it is running gay
With open arms through golden fields
And even though the corn is high
And sometimes harsh against the heels

We open to the blinding sky
And let it in, and let it in

With open hearts through burning fields
The soul of it in gorgeous flame
The whole of it in gorgeous flame

But at other times his voice falls into a very resonate, lower-register solemnity that is sorrowful but gripping, like Nick Cave on his great song “Hollywood,” which with its compassionate solemnity could fit in easily here. 

VIDEO: Brian Eno “There Were Bells”

His pristine production, arrangements and use of sound can be modernist, but there is also his use of classically minimalist, trance-inducing droning. And his voice can also be digitally manipulated to give him an echoing effect. Were he ever to perform this live on tour, I’d expect to see the show in a museum, symphony orchestra hall, or at the Rothko Chapel. Overall, this is an album of art-songs by an assured composer.

I hope it achieves some measure of popularity. The world could use his contribution to spur the rising awareness over climate change. And it’s a grave message that he brings message. While he loves earth’s beauty, he worries that he — we — won’t be seeing it for long. Unless…

Steven Rosen

Steven Rosen is a Cincinnati-based writer whose music stories have appeared in The New York Times, Boston Globe, American Songwriter, Paste, Denver Post, Elmore, Blurt, Rock’s Back Pages and other print and online publications. He has worked as an arts writer and critic for Denver Post and as Arts & Entertainment Editor for Cincinnati CityBeat. He has published a fanzine called One Shot: The Magazine of One-Hit Wonders and founded National One Hit Wonder Day (it’s on his birthday, September 25). He is excited about contributing to Rock & Roll Globe.

Radical Architect Comes Home to University of Cincinnati

Cincinnati CityBeat

By Steven Rosen on Wed, May 6, 2009 at 2:06 pm

(Michael Reynolds; still from Garbage Warrior film, 2007

University of Cincinnati and good architecture have long gone together, both because of the College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning’s (DAAP) graduate and undergraduate programs and the “signature” architects who have designed new campus buildings

But one of the strongest connections between UC and architecture, especially in this age of sustainability, is Michael Reynolds. A 1969 DAAP graduate, he immediately became an advocate of using recyclable materials (quite often trash) in new-home construction. Reynolds came back to DAAP to speak and show slides for Earth Day two weeks ago.

His interests have led him far off the grid. He has designed sustainable, radical-looking “earthship” homes near Taos, N.M. Solar-powered and built with old bottles, tires and other environmentally friendly material, using recycled water for multiple household uses, they were visionary. He has become environmentalism’s Buckminster Fuller.

But at first he was ahead of his time. Many people saw the homes (and Reynolds) as leftovers of the hippie commune movement, which was especially strong in northern New Mexico. He had a history of scraps with legal and bureaucratic authorities, which wanted his homes connected to utility hookups and treated like subdivisions. He even gave up his architect license at one point in a dispute.

But the new emphasis on sustainability has slowly been turning Reynolds into, as Wikipedia calls him, “the graying prophet of the green movement.” He is the subject of a recent documentary, Garbage Warrior. He’s still going strong in Taos, where he’s developing an earthshiphome community with local governmental cooperation. His earthships have become attractions — eco-tourists rent them out for a night.

And his influence is branching out. He’s been called upon to build his homes for the needy in post-tsunami Indonesia and in Jamaica. They can be constructed quickly, from available material by local unskilled workers aided by Reynolds’ own dedicated crew. Devotees have built earthships elsewhere, including Scotland and even in Philo, Ohio, near Zanesville.

He also raised some good, thoughtful points. The tires are used for structural rather than aesthetic reasons — packed with dirt, they become a powerful “rammed-earth” foundation that is then covered with adobe. Non-structural walls, however, use glass and plastic bottles for the beauty of the material. It’s especially important to find a reuse for plastic bottles, which are rapidly covering the planet, he says. Reynolds also said he’s hoping Habitat for Humanity, which quickly builds homes for the needy, would look at more ways to use “green” architecture.

He was funniest when recalling his experiments with one home’s faulty solar-powered toilet that left a “primordial stew” of muck. He solved the problem by setting the goop afire, which inadvertently caused a house blaze that brought the fire department. Solar toilets need more research to be practical, he said.

It’d be great if UC would consider Reynolds for an honorary degree or, even better, to design campus housing — maybe involving students and local residents with the construction process. But hold the solar toilets, at least for now.

The Delines: Two If By Sea

Willy Vlautin and Amy Boone overcome the odds to create their best album with The Sea Drift

  Steven Rosen, Rock and Roll Globe

The Delines 2022 (Image: The Delines)

Willy Vlautin has become an increasingly celebrated novelist since his first book, The Motel Life, was published in 2006.

His territory is dramatically gripping, sometimes tough but also tender stories about those struggling to adapt to the modern, changing American west. His work has won accolades from such acclaimed peers as Richard Russo (Mohawk), Daniel Woodrell (Winter’s Bone) and detective fiction virtuoso George Pelecanos. Two of Vlautin’s novels — Motel Life and 2010’s Lean on Pete — have been adapted for films. 

AUDIO: Willy Vlautin reads Little Joe

This would seem to mean Vlautin has successfully left his original career choice–music–behind him to become an author. From 1994-2016, he was the singer, songwriter and guitarist for the Portland, Ore.-based Richmond Fontaine. 

That band’s music, with its influences of pedal-steel driven Americana/alt-country and punk, was heralded by those who saw them on tours and/or bought their records. And Vlautin’s lyrics, which often mirrored his novels’ concerns and settings, won attention, too. 

But there were just never enough fans in the United States for success as a recording and touring band. “In Richmond Fontaine, we lost a lot of people money over the years,” Vlautin says now, in a phone interview from his home in Portland. 

But, in truth, he has not given up on music. Far from it. Just this month [February], his newer band, the Delines, released their third studio album since 2014, The Sea Drift. These songs, which he wrote, are as finely crafted as short stories, and conjure noirish images of lovers, losers and strivers adrift along the towns of Gulf Coast Texas. (There is an actual Texas town called Seadrift.) The band is a quintet that augments its studio sound with session players. This record features, besides traditional rock instrumentation, prominent keyboards, trumpet, saxophone and strings. 

The Delines The Sea Drift, New West Records 2022

And its vocalist is not Vlautin, but rather the remarkable Amy Boone. Her singing has a wistful country-soul presence, a jazzy clarity that convinces with a lived-and-learned honesty that calls to mind Bobbie Gentry or the Sammi Smith of “Help Me Make it Through the Night” fame. Boone had been in Austin’s Damnations before touring with Richmond Fontaine and then agreed to become a key part of this new band. 

Vlautin acknowledges there is an overlap of subject matter between his novels and songs. The atmosphere of The Sea Drift’s 11 songs (two are instrumentals not composed by Vlautin) is usually ruminative and downbeat, moody in their balladic or midtempo pacing. (There are exceptions; “Kid Codeine” has a jaunty, celebratory feel.) The lyrics are cinematic in the way they conjure specific times and mysterious places. The opener, “Little Earl,” maps out the terrain immediately and seductively:

Little Earl’s brother is bleeding in the backseat

It’s been twenty miles and he can’t stop crying

Passing the houses on stilts on Holly Beach

The A/C don’t work and Earl’s sick in the Gulf Coast heat

But the Delines are more than a musical adjunct of the worldview delineated in Vlautin’s novels. And Boone is the reason. 

“Although it is the same world, I’m now trying to write for Amy,” Vlautin says. “Generally, when I write for Amy, I just listen to her. She’s really fun to talk to, she’s really cool, and I just take mental notes when I listen to the things she’s interested in. Then I try to write more romantic than I probably would for myself. But I do stick in tragedy in the more story-oriented vein, from the kind of beat-up world that I’m from. But she’s from that world, too.”

In that world, love and romance are possible — sometimes, Vlautin’s characters cry out for it. But it don’t come easy. The woman whose viewpoint frames the starkly ominous “Surfers in Twilight,” and whose story is given voice by Boone, discovers that to stand by her man she must risk confrontation with the cops:

Flashing lights, flashing lights

As my man walks toward me

Patrol cars stop, police rush out and

Throw my man against a wall

In a seaside town with tourists all around

My man handcuffed on the sidewalk street

Vlautin is particularly proud of the standout “Hold Me Slow,” an achingly gorgeous song that lets Boone convey a woman optimistic about love amid life’s hardships, but nonetheless nervous about it:  

Open up a bottle and I’ll close the shades

Put on something that sways and

Kiss my neck that way

But go slow, I’ve been so tired and alone

I want you here but you gotta know

Hold me slow.

“She (Boone) said, ‘Can you write me a romantic one?” Vlautin says. “If she can get behind it, I write stories wrapped around those ideas I think would make sense to her.”

Willy Vlautin and Amy Boone (Image: The Delines)

Boone should clearly be able to authoritatively interpret a song in which a woman — anyone, really — has been through a lot, which happens often on The Sea Drift. In 2016, while still living in Austin (she has since moved to Portland), she was the victim of a horrific, freakish auto-pedestrian accident. Richmond Fontaine was doing a last tour when the members got the news. 

“Her life just completely stopped for almost three years,” Vlautin says. “She was walking on a sidewalk and a lady got her foot caught on the accelerator, driving with a cast. And (the car) ran Amy into a lava rock wall. It was brutal. The broken bones I think she recovered from fairly quickly, but there were a lot of skin grafts, a lot of surgeries. The whole time, you’re just worried about her and hoping she gets her life back. 

“We’re all friends, and we all care about her so much that the band didn’t mean anything compared to her being able to walk again,” he continues. “And if she decided she never wanted to play music again, that would have been great as long as she could walk and get her life back. 

“It was big struggle for her,” Vlautin says. “But the second she could use a walker kind of cane, she flew up to Portland and finished The Imperial. (Much of that album, released in 2019 as the Delines’ second, had been recorded before the accident.)

“So when we got her back, we did a tour and she was using a cane and having trouble going up stairs,” he recalls. “But she’s seriously tough and wanted to keep going. So we were all obviously excited she wanted to keep playing. And now she’s walking. I think you can hear on The Sea Drift her voice has changed a little bit and has aged a bit and is a little wearier, but it also has a confidence to it that I don’t think she’s had before.”

The Delines’ other members also help the band and The Sea Drift achieve their evocative sound. Two, bassist Freddy Trujillo and percussionist Sean Oldham, were in Richmond Fontaine. Keyboardist and trumpeter Cory Gray also handled many of the beautiful string and horn arrangements that provide so much color to these songs, which at times recall the way such arrangements could lift classic “road” songs like Jimmy Webb’s “Galveston” and “Wichita Lineman” and Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa” and “Do You Know the Way to San Jose.” (The album’s producer, John Morgan Askew, handled string arrangements on three songs.)

Gray also supplied two instrumentals, both of which feature the kind of strong, slow, pristine and somewhat mournful trumpet playing that recalls Chet Baker. When Vlautin heard one, he named it “Lynette’s Lament.” It’s a reference to the main character in his most recent novel, 2021’s The Night Always Comes. In that book, Lynette—still-young but approaching 30 —is desperate to find money to buy the rundown Portland home she rents with her mother and developmentally disabled brother before the city’s galloping gentrification raises its price beyond her means. 

“I asked Cory to write a couple trumpet instrumentals for the record, and he came in with this song,” Vlautin says. “When he was finished playing it, I said that’s music for Lynette, that’s her song. I had never really heard music in this book, and now I finally did.” So Vlautin named it.

“After that, he and I started writing all these songs out of the world of that book,” Vlautin reveals. “There’s a soundtrack that we haven’t put out yet, all inspired by that one song, ‘Lynette’s Lament.’ I found my way into the music of her world through that song of his.”

The Delines’ exposure to American audiences has been limited. The band has yet to extensively tour the U.S., though it has done much performing in Europe, where Richmond Fontaine had been better welcomed than in this country. After postponing some February dates due to the Omicron variant of COVID-19, the Delines will do two album release events in Portland and then begin a 22-date European tour in Oslo, Norway, on April 19. Why is no U.S. tour planned so far? 

“One reason is we toured to varying degrees of failure in the U.S. for years — her with the Damnations and me with Richmond Fontaine,” Vlautin says. “Everyone in the  band loves touring Europe. But when you say tour the U.S., no one wants to get in a van. So we kind of just follow where we’re wanted and where everyone wants to go. 

“We will be touring more, COVID permitting, but for shorter times just for her health,” he continues. “I don’t think we’re going to become this road dog band, but we will hopefully get a more normal touring cycle, I think. But we’re not going to be this big touring band, that’s for sure.”

VIDEO: The Delines “Little Earl”

Steven Rosen

Steven Rosen is a Cincinnati-based writer whose music stories have appeared in The New York Times, Boston Globe, American Songwriter, Paste, Denver Post, Elmore, Blurt, Rock’s Back Pages and other print and online publications. He has worked as an arts writer and critic for Denver Post and as Arts & Entertainment Editor for Cincinnati CityBeat. He has published a fanzine called One Shot: The Magazine of One-Hit Wonders and founded National One Hit Wonder Day (it’s on his birthday, September 25). He is excited about contributing to Rock & Roll Globe.

Don Poynter Built a Novelty Empire as One of Cincinnati’s First Makers

By Steven Rosen/Cincinnati Magazine/June 14, 2019

(Note: September 3, 2021: R.I.P. Don Poynter, who died Aug. 13 at age 96. In 2019, I went with him to the Cincinnati Museum Center to view the collection of his novelty inventions that his family had recently donated. — SR)

THE rising generation of makers knows that success will be a long haul of finding affordable supplies and workspaces, selling at artisan markets and small stores, and building business through word-of-mouth and promotion. But there’s also this to look forward to: Maybe, when they reach old age, they can visit the Cincinnati Museum Center and see their work preserved as part of the city’s manufacturing heritage.

That recently happened to Don Poynter, a spry and good-humored 94-year-old who now lives at Seasons retirement community in Kenwood. From the 1940s into the 2000s, he dreamed up and created humorous, sometimes slightly naughty, occasionally downright bizarre novelty items. Poynter Products had several home bases, most notably a Gest Street warehouse in the West End, and employed as many as 30 people in packaging, assembly, shipping, and national sales. Parts were often imported from overseas, and some specialized manufacturing was contracted out. Poynter himself sold directly to national retailers, including catalog companies.

In 2017, the Museum Center accepted a donation of items from his family, so Poynter recently came to its Geier Collections and Research Center to see them. Registrar Matthew Manninen set out objects with names like Arnold Plumber’s Putter, Jayne Mansfield Hot Water Bottle, Talking Toilet, Mighty Tiny Records, Crooked Dice, and Golfer’s Dream: Hole in One Golf Ball. “That’s just a hole in a golf ball,” Poynter says of the last one, laughing. “A stupid gift.”

Capitalizing on the 1960s TV series The Addams Family, he created The Thing mechanical coin box in which a hand emerged from inside to grab and pull back a coin. It sold 14 million units, he says.

As a child growing up in Westwood—where his father was a portrait painter and photographer—Poynter showed an early propensity for making things. He started creating novelty items in earnest in the 1950s, at a time when Kenner Products made Cincinnati a center for toy manufacturing and Hugh Hefner and others were jazzing up American popular culture. “World War II was over, and people had money and were feeling good,” Poynter says. “They wanted to laugh and have fun.”

At the Geier Center, Poynter inspects his breakthrough novelty item: whiskey-flavored toothpaste. The museum has two different tubes, bourbon and scotch. (He also made a rye version.) While lovingly looking them over, Poynter recalls how he got a $10,000 loan to produce the product from a University of Cincinnati fraternity brother who worked at his father’s bank. “A couple days later, his father asked, ‘What does Poynter want with $10,000? Is he buying a house?’ He says, ‘No, he’s making whiskey-flavored toothpaste.’”

“I’ve had a fascinating life,” he tells Manninen before departing.

The Museum Center will debut a Made in Cincinnati Gallery in 2021 to celebrate notable local manufacturers such as Crosley, Cincinnati Milling Machine (Milacron), and Procter & Gamble as well as smaller companies like Poynter Products. Some objects might also be featured in its new Transportation Gallery next spring.

Judge’s response to Beatles lives on in Internet age

Steven Rosen/Cincinnati Enquirer/Aug. 25, 2014

The Esquire, Mariemont and Kenwood theaters are using a very strange video clip to promote upcoming sing-along screenings of “A Hard Day’s Night” celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ invasion of the U.S.

Shown as a coming-attraction preview, it was related to the Beatles’ historic concert at Cincinnati Gardens on Aug. 27, 1964 – 50 years ago Wednesday. But it wasn’t footage of that sold-out show, or of the Fab Four’s whirlwind one-day visit here. Instead it was of an unidentified and well-dressed middle-aged man, standing in front of the Great Seal of Ohio and beside an American flag, decrying the effect of the Beatles on Cincinnati teens – especially girls.

By turns lecturing, pleading and foreboding, he bemoans the event: “These girls went into a coma,” he objects. “They ranted, they fainted. Their eyes were glassy. Some pulled their hair out. Some tore their dresses. They threw notes of a very undesirable nature on stage. Some girls after the performance kissed the stage. Some kissed the very seats in which the Beatles had sat.”

And then he makes this strange analogy: “I believe a dictionary definition of a Beatle is a bug. Of course, bug also means being crazy. I don’t think the Beatles are bugs … (but) I think the parents are bugs to let their children go to a production of this kind…”

And he beseeches his intended audience – presumably parents of teenagers – to not let anything like this happen again. “I think we can all agree the show was not good. Why must we have it?”

The clip, since showing up on YouTube and social media sites a couple years ago, has developed a cult following and elicits lots of comments.

“A friend posted that video on Facebook one day and I couldn’t get over it,” explained Kathy Parsanko, public relations/events director for the two theaters, via email. “This footage shows how upsetting Beatlemania was to some adults. It was such a different era. This video was history in the making.”

The full clip – it’s almost four minutes and is black-and-white – doesn’t identify the speaker. But it is Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Benjamin Schwartz, who held that post from 1957 until his retirement in 1974 and was known for speaking out about problems facing youth. Some of his actions were controversial, but he was also a respected community leader during his tenure. (He died in 1982 at age 78.)

On the YouTube channel AcmeStreamingdotcom, the footage is identified as having been shot on Aug. 28, one day after the concert. And on Aug. 29, the Wilmington (Ohio) News-Journal reported that Schwartz warned about the Beatles at a speech there that same day:

“He also expressed amazement how most parents would refuse to be seen at a burlesque show but freely permit their daughters, ‘the mothers of tomorrow,’ to see the Beatles which, he claims has a considerably worse effect,” the paper reported.

Yet until its emergence in recent years on the Internet, Schwartz’s filmed anti-Beatles tirade was virtually unknown. Enquirer clips (and a Newsdex search) turned up nothing about it at the time.

So there are as many questions as answers about why Schwartz filmed it, but it appears that a defunct Denver company called Barbre Productions was trailing the Beatles 1964 U.S. tour, possibly for a planned (and unauthorized) documentary.

The project turned out badly, according to the book “Way Beyond Compare: The Beatles’ Recorded Legacy Volume One – 1957-1965” by John C. Winn. He tells how the Beatles became fed up with Barbre at the Sept. 12 Jacksonville concert, and their press officer told the crowd the group wouldn’t perform unless its team left. “The bluff worked and the crowd began chanting, ‘Out! Out!'” Winn writes.

A Brooklyn-based company called Historic Films, which licenses commercial use of old footage, acquired the Schwartz clip and other footage about 20 years ago, said Joe Lauro, its president. He said he got it from Haagermaan Productions, but did not provide information about the latter. But other sources, too, somehow have found the old footage. This writer saw some on a collectors-oriented video titled On Tour With the Beatles from LA to Philadelphia: The USA Tour Part Three – 1964 Volume 18.

Historic Films’ website promotes its Schwartz footage this way: “Ohio circuit court judge stands in front of Ohio state seal, says that the Beatles are not bugs but the parents of their fans are! Hilarious! Anti-Beatles.”

Neil Signer disagrees – strongly – that what his grandfather said 50 years ago is “hilarious” today. He doesn’t think it should be used to promote events. After he watched it for the first time (this writer sent him a link), he said this in a follow-up phone interview from Florida, where he lives:

“(This) negates all the good he did for the community,” he said. “It’s who he was at the time but you have to remember what else he did. He was a juvenile judge and was about family values and ethics and morals. As a kid, he and I had a favorite saying. He would start the phrase ‘It’s nice to be great’ and I would finish, ‘It’s greater to be nice.’ That was one of his basic beliefs.”

Among the other Cincinnati Beatles-related footage are interviews with a custodian at Cincinnati Gardens, amused employees of Hill’s Barber Shop at Swifton Shopping Center (about the Beatles’ “moptop”-style haircuts), and a University of Cincinnati psychologist named Howard Lyman who good-naturedly, patiently explained that the Beatles posed no threat to society.

Deceased since 1997, he was the father of David Lyman, a Cincinnati arts critic/writer who today covers theater and dance for The Enquirer. David had no idea the footage existed until contacted.

“It’s nice to hear him be so incredibly reasonable,” David said. “I was proud of his comments. When the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan, I watched with my mother, not my dad – he wasn’t a music guy. So it was good to hear him be so reassuring that every generation has moments that seem unreasonable to their elders, but that they will still find their way into adulthood.”

If you go

What: A Hard Day’s Night sing-along screenings

When: Thursday at the Esquire, 10:30 p.m. Friday at the Kenwood and 5 p.m. Aug. 31 at the Mariemont.

Also: Prizes for the best 1960s costumes before each show

Tickets: $10, at box offices and

Justin Sullivan’s Army of One

Justin Sullivan’s Army Of One

The West Yorkshire folk-punk great and New Model Army frontman emerges from the pandemic with a brilliant new solo album Rock and Roll Globe Steven Rosen 

Justin Sullivan (Art: Ron Hart)

Perhaps it will become a new genre of popular music — albums made in isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. If so, Justin Sullivan’s new solo record Surrounded should deserve to be considered among the best. It’s available digitally on May 28; vinyl and CD formats follow on July 23.

Sullivan is best known as the singer and most visible member of Great Britain’s New Model Army, a band from the West Yorkshire city of Bradford that for decades has been playing music influenced by forceful hard rock, impassioned punk and post-punk and lyrically searching, even tender, singer-songwriter folk.

Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.

Over that time span, one that has seen the band’s musical direction and concerns evolve while their idealistic aura holds firm, they have built a devoted audience in the U.K. and throughout Europe. But while there are fans in the U.S. —indeed, fairly large numbers of them in the bigger and more music-conscious cities — New Model Army has never made much impact on these shores.

The year 2020 was scheduled to be a big one for New Model Army, with a major tour in celebration of their 40th anniversary. (The line-up has changed over the years; as of the last album — 2019’s From Here — it also included Ceri Monger on bass, Michael Dean on drums, Dean White on keyboards and guitar, and Marshall Gill on guitar.)

That triumphant-tour plan changed quickly, however, when COVID-19 struck. The touring world shut down. “I remember at the beginning of lockdown, when I was just here on my own in my little flat and talking to somebody on the phone, they said, ‘you’ll probably make a solo album,’” Sullivan told the Rock and Roll Globe, during a Zoom chat. “I said, ‘No, I’ve got no interest in doing that.’ But I just found myself on this sofa with a guitar and started writing, and then things snowballed.”

Surrounded overall has a quiet, breathtaking beauty — like being alone outside, watching the sky and seeing your place up there. The lyrics are often literary but still personal; their striking imagery giving the songs an afterlife. Sullivan is a rugged, naturalistic singer whose low voice can shift from spoken-word monologue to expressive and compassionate — but still slightly rugged — tunefulness. He sounds tough and sensitive, a rare combination. He also has a gift for melody, capable of finding just the right chord change or strong bridge to add satisfying uplift to a ballad. 

This is a long album with 16 titles, but individual songs rarely drag. The songs can be rueful yet hopeful, beautiful to hear but still unsettling. The standout like that is “Clean Horizon,” reminiscent of Nick Cave.

Sullivan keeps notebooks to record ideas for songs, usually for New Model Army. “This time it wasn’t a band album, just me with guitar going, ‘I like that chord and this melody …yeah, yeah, yeah. Now what’s it about?’ ” he says of the writing process. 

That led to perusing notebooks for his ideas. But besides that, there’s also some looking through his own past on Surrounded. For instance, the song “Ride” recalls a hitchhiking trip with a companion, seeking refuge from a rainstorm:

“Sat there shivering

just watching the rain

I was so in love with all that romantic stuff

an aching whole inside

all my life I’ve been a fool

what a ride, what a ride.”

“In 1975, when I was kid, I left home at 18 and went to work on the underground in London collecting tickets and sweeping platforms,” Sullivan recalls. “I saved up a bit of money and headed off to North America and spent months hitchhiking, which is where that song comes from. 

“And I remember the time very well. It was just after the end of Vietnam and after the whole wave of civil rights movement assassinations and the hippy thing, and everybody in America was going…” (Here Sullivan exhales pronouncedly.) “I remember an atmosphere very well of exhaustion. A time of absolute exhaustion. 

Justin Sullivan Surrounded, Attack Attack Records 2021

“I’m 65, man,” he continues. “You do get to the point of looking back on your life and you have stories to tell. But I didn’t want to tell only my own story; there are lots about other people, too. But yes, this is much more autobiographical than most things I’ve done.”

As an example of how he draws from other sources, there’s the eerily compelling short song, “Riptides”:

“In the swimming currents of the morphine

the room fills with ice up to the ceiling

the crystals forming as you’re watching

and return the words you don’t remember

that love is an ocean with riptides

will carry you away to deep water

you thought they were strong but they are stronger

and it will taste like karma.”

As I listened, I thought maybe it was a reference to an addict, someone who had run out of luck trying to get high. But the morphine reference made me wonder — it’s not so much a drug people use for psychological release as much as it’s for easing pain in a hospital setting. Sullivan is giving us a glimpse of something sinister, but what is it? The answer shows how his mind works.

“A friend of mine told me this story of the time he was in the hospital when he was very ill and filled with morphine and had this vision. Then I started talking about ‘love is an ocean with riptides.’ ” He chuckles a bit here. “Yeah, that’s playing into some personal stories.”

Sullivan long has had a restlessly searching side and an interest in nature’s mysteriousness that compares to, say, British environmental artists Andy Goldsworthy and Richard Long. He can also relate observations about nature with more personal quests and experiences. “Never Arriving,” from New Model Army’s From Here, is an excellent example; so, too, is one of the band’s most powerful songs, “Green and Gray” from 1989’s Thunder and Consolation.

VIDEO: New Model Army “Green and Grey” Live 1996

It’s there, too, in Surrounded. In the title song, he confesses that:

“We have come so very far to find what we are seeking

it only lasts a moment, but what a moment it has been

as the snow flies from the farthest reach of Eden

we’re surrounded by all the light that I will ever see.”

“That’s always my obsession going,” Sullivan explains of this interest. “There’s nothing better than that sense of ongoing. I’ve never been very interested in arriving. Arriving is a little death, isn’t it? It’s the setting off that’s the interesting bit.”

This album’s arrangements, while subtle, give the songs sonic depth that adds to their pleasure. Sullivan had made an earlier solo album — 2003’s Navigating by the Stars — which had what he describes as “big arrangements.” Pre-pandemic, he had occasionally done well-received solo shows, just himself with guitar, and people suggested a new solo record should sound have the same kind of bare, essential sound. 

“When I first started on this, I didn’t have any thoughts about it,” he says. “I just recorded me singing a song with a guitar. But I got bored with that very quickly. So I sent the songs I recorded to various musicians and they sent me their ideas back. From that, I cobbled together some basic arrangements, still keeping it basically singer-songwriter with guitar, but with some other instrumentation. So I was receiving these contributions through  email all last year.”

Subsequently, Sullivan took his tracks to Lee Smith, a producer for the last three New Metal Army albums, to use the received musical contributions in a way that still made the album sound predominately acoustic-based.

The primary contributors are John Thorne on bass, Tom Moth of Florence and the Machine (and brother of New Model Army’s Monger) on harp, and string arrangements from composers Tobias Unterberg, Henning Nugel and Shir-Ran Yinon. All male backing vocals are by Sullivan; female are from a Bradford duo. Sullivan multi-tracked those supporting vocals. “I love the sound of them,” he offers. “I don’t think there’s anything better than people singing, really. Looking back, I should have done it more.”

As I write this, it seems like there might be a return to touring in the offing. For Sullivan, that means starting work on the next New Model Army album and planning for live shows.

“I have a possible solo tour in Germany in June,” Sullivan says. “I’m sure I’ll end up doing some solo shows of some kind through the autumn in some countries, depending on COVID. Will I make it to America? Probably not. What am I doing next year? Don’t know. When will the band be back in action? Don’t know.” (New Model Army’s website does list some upcoming band shows.)

New Model Army has, at least overseas, become a model for how to have a long career in Rock and Roll without being, as Sullivan puts it, “a worldwide famous band.” 

As he explains, “We’ve got enough of a fan base and we’ve carried them with us. They’re prepared to go with us to wherever we go now. That’s a fantastic privilege, where we can do what we want when we want in the way we want and not be stuck in some kind of circus. Lucky us.”

But what about the U.S.? New Model Army has toured here before, but it’s been more than a decade. (According to, their last U.S. visit occurred at Brooklyn’s Bell House in 2010. It was a two-night stand that was the only U.S. part of a “tour” that had them playing weekends at major European cities to celebrate their 30th anniversary.

“The difficult thing is that if you’re a European band, there are two ways to ‘break’ America,” Sullivan explains. “One is to tour, tour, tour, tour, tour, tour. It’s a big country and you get in a van and drive, month after month after month. Or, number two, you have so much commercial potential that you’ve got this massive weight of money behind you to help you. 

“We don’t have number two and never did,” he says. “So the alternative is to get out and drive. But you also have to bear in mind there are only a certain number of cities in the U.S. where we’ve got a big enough audience to pay for the expense of bringing a band in. So we could strip the band down to three pieces and drive and drive and drive. The problem with that is that we’re old. And also, we need to write songs for the next album. 

“We did spend quite a lot of money, time, effort and emotional energy trying to do that (have a U.S. breakthrough) back in the day,” he acknowledges. “And eventually we said that at the end of day we were going to break the band on this. Cause so many British bands have broken themselves trying to do America.

“So is it worth it,” he asks, rhetorically. “No. Should we go to America every now and again and play to people that love the band? Yes, we should and we will hopefully be there at some point.”

But touring America himself, behind his new and excellent solo album Surrounded, might be a possibility. “Solo would be much easier,” he declares. “So the chances of me turning up in America with a guitar and playing some small places? That’s quite likely, I hope.”

Steven Rosen

Steven Rosen is a Cincinnati-based writer whose music stories have appeared in The New York Times, Boston Globe, American Songwriter, Paste, Denver Post, Elmore, Blurt, Rock’s Back Pages and other print and online publications. He has worked as an arts writer and critic for Denver Post and as Arts & Entertainment Editor for Cincinnati CityBeat. He has published a fanzine called One Shot: The Magazine of One-Hit Wonders and founded National One Hit Wonder Day (it’s on his birthday, September 25). He is excited about contributing to Rock & Roll Globe.