This article first appeared in the May 2011 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.
Thorn of Plenty
Blackthorn Pub and Grill’s (750 N. Jefferson St.) sexy marketing photo – a close-up image of the backside of a lass wearing a short plaid skirt – is misleading. Friendly female (and male) bartenders are conservatively clad, and no one dances sultry jigs on top of the long, lacquered wood bar. (Go to Water Street’s Coyote Ugly Saloon if that’s your thing.) Blackthorn’s gig is modern Irish pub, not Celtic cheese. Cozy dark wooden booths sit next to floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on Jefferson Street. Patrons can choose either live traditional Irish music or one of several flat-screens for entertainment. The tap selection includes obligatory Guinness, Harp and Smithwick’s. The bar is big but comfortable, and the Reuben sandwich is decent. Blackthorn is a nice bookend to the Cathedral Square bar scene, even without the scantily clad girl. If she was there, I didn’t see her. (Dan Murphy)
Shake Your Boogie, Milwaukee-based Reverend Raven’s fourth album of Chicago-inspired jump blues, proves that covers can work better than original material. The release offers songs by household names like Sonny Boy Williamson and lesser-known greats such as St. Louis Jimmy Oden. There’s even two from Appleton mandolin-slinger Gerry Hundt. But this live recording – featuring Raven’s throaty grumble and his band’s supple grooves, boogies and shuffles – is far from a history lesson. And the songs chosen are revelatory gems, especially the contribution from Little Milton, who gives the ultimate blues moan: “If you don’t believe I’m leaving, just count the days I’m gone.” Inspired interpretation and experience (Raven’s been at it since the early ’70s) leave an album as good as white-boy blues in the 2010s can get. (Todd Lazarski)
How does a tribe of Native Americans remain a sovereign nation within our borders after two centuries of government efforts (some underhanded) to make them disperse and disappear? The 50-page academic primer in the 355 pages of A Nation Within a Nation (Wisconsin Historical Society Press) might be drier than a January cough. What follows, though, is anything but. Here are evocative essays, interviews and personal histories in which the Wisconsin Oneidas tell their own stories. They take impersonal history and give it a heartbeat, dismantling complex treaties, lawsuits and bureaucratic bungling with accounts of everyday circumstance and emotion. You can’t help reading between the lines of these dignified writings to sense an unbreakable spirit banding the Oneida together. That determination has led them to emerge from tough times as a vital and politically savvy nation. (Douglas Armstrong)
“Rum” and “on the rocks” just don’t usually go together. But after sampling Roaring Dan’s Rum, the latest concoction by the savvy makers of spirits at Milwaukee’s Great Lakes Distillery, I find the stuff tastes just fine by itself. The slightly sweet maple flavor – courtesy of Wisconsin maple syrup added in the distillation process – can get lost in a mixer (although it works well with hot tea). The rum isn’t as sweet as sugary spiced rums and not as harsh as standard varieties. Plus, it comes in a cool bottle with a resealable cap (like the old Grolsch beer bottles). The name pays homage to Roaring Dan Seavey, apparently the only man arrested for piracy on the Great Lakes. I’m not usually a rum drinker, but I pop open the bottle and pour another short tumbler. I limit myself to just one more. I’d rather not transform into “Roaring Dan” Murphy. (Dan Murphy)
In 1930, Marc Chagall was commissioned by the famous Parisian gallery dealer Ambroise Vollard to create a suite of etchings based on the Old Testament. Chagall finished 66 images before World War II hit. He returned to the task after the war and finished all 105 plates by 1956. The Haggerty Museum of Art is lending its set of these prints to Jewish Museum Milwaukee (1360 N. Prospect Ave.) for a small but piquant exhibition through June 6. The stunning Chagall tapestry of the Prophet Jeremiah (right), which Milwaukee’s Jewish Federation commissioned from Chagall in the 1970s, enhances the show. This huge woven tapestry’s tactile, bold beauty pairs well with the more intimate etchings, which also weave and cross-hatch tiny lines to orchestrate metaphoric, musical leaps between darks and lights. The protean feat – of hanging on to one’s faith while severely challenged by earthly injustice – is the thematic thread in Chagall’s work. (Debra Brehmer)