Roots Song of the Week: Blue Moon Marquee- Lonesome Ghosts   Leave a comment

blue moonAlberta ‘gypsy blues’ duo Blue Moon Marquee recently released their second album entitled Lonesome Ghosts. Previously recording under the A.W. Cardinal banner, the duo is comprised of Cardinal (guitar and lead vocals) and Jasmine Colette, who handles bass and drums.

Not previously aware of the group, I came to the album without preconceived notions, and I have found their music very appealing. Steeped in blues traditions, Blue Moon Marquee cuts things down to the wood- their presentation is uncluttered and unified. While their are certainly elements of jazz and traditional European folk music within their sound (“Gypsy’s Life,” as one example, “Bishop Street” as another), the blues is at the core.

Playing electric lead, Cardinal displays little propensity for either showy riffs or elongated jams. Rather, his playing establishes the core of the melody with little extraneous embellishment. Vocally, Cardinal is reminiscent of others who have mined the blues- dirtier than Long John Baldry, more coherent than Tom Waits, less frenetic and rocking than Phil Alvin.

Live, the group appears as a duo, but most of the songs on the album feature three or four musicians with others supplementing things on piano and drums. The song I am featuring today is the title cut, the only that features just Cardinal and Colette. I love the duo format, and this couple seem to have found their groove. “Lonesome Ghosts” strips everything aside, leaving a nice little bass line to do the hard work while the guitar provides minimal colouring. The lyrics are familiar- “I’m going down that old lonesome road”- found in a dozen blues, country, and bluegrass songs, but the (minimal) subject matter- meeting and being supplanted by spectral representation of oneself- grabs the listener’s attention, as does the sparse instrumentation.

While this song is my personal favourite on the album, the other eight songs also have much to offer. If you like Americana-singer/songwriter influences in your blues, Blue Moon Marquee will likely appeal to you.

You can listen to Lonesome Ghosts in its entirety at Bandcamp and “Lonesome Ghosts” is the closing track.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

Roots Song of the Week: Ben Watt- Spring   Leave a comment

When I consider Ben Watt, I must admit that I don’t normally consider the recordings he has released under his own name. Watt has recorded numerous albums as Everything But the Girl with his partner of some 30 years, Tracey Thorn, and that is what I drew on when Watt’s second solo album Hendra arrived a couple months back. I have long admired EBTG having been first exposed to them when a colleague at ROW Entertainment in Edmonton played their first couple albums over the store’s sound system in a seemingly non-stop loop.

I know I didn’t appreciate those early recordings- including the self-titled album and Love Not Money- nearly as much then in the mid-80s as I do now; there was just so much other music to discover each week, I never committed to their gentle sounds the way I could have. My interest in EBTG was piqued when my spouse discovered “Missing” a decade later, and that gave me an excuse to explore their music in more depth, and they have since become a group that- if not a constant in my Top 100 and on my iPhone, are always appreciated when I pull a disc off the shelf for a play.

What I remember only a bit better from those days in West Edmonton Mall was the brilliant Tracey Thorn album A Distant Shore and- to a lesser degree- Watt’s e.p. Summer Into Winter. What grabbed me about these recordings was how unusual they sounded at a time of synthesized dance grooves (Duran Duran, Kajagoogoo, Laid Back, Howard Jones, et al) and corporate shlock for gorbs (Phil Collins, Asia, Wang Chung, Footloose and Flashdance), when the last thing on many minds was ‘contemporary folk music.’ Certainly I wasn’t thinking about folk music when I heard their music, but these brief recordings really grabbed my attention for a few weeks sometime in 1984 or ’85, and A Distant Shore is a recording I haven’t been without since. In hindsight, those early ETBG and ETBG-related albums, singles, and e.p.s have more connection to folk music than anything else that was going on at the time.

If I recall correctly, Summer Into Winter was a sparse e.p. unadorned by floss and gloss, but which still had some lovely and catchy singalong bits- “Skipping Slowly” has stayed with me. [As I typed this, I decided to download North Marine Drive, Watt's debut recording that comes accompanied by the five songs from Summer Into Winter. They are as good as I remember.] I don’t recall having heard North Marine Drive in the record store, but I must have- the cover looks very familiar, and I can’t imagine Tony played the other recordings and missed that one.

I am not familiar with Watt’s work as a DJ.

untitledWhat has all the above got to do with Roots Music? The early solo recordings and the EBTG albums had a lot to do with folk music performed in a modern manner- stripped down, sparse instrumentation that seldom intruded, dreamy or at least inspiring lyrics with obvious production choices that placed emphasis on the voice. Along with Billy Bragg’s very first recordings, these albums and extended singles made me better understand the limits I had placed on my listening: things started to open up at that time, and I was soon playing  Richard Thompson, Joan Baez, and The Blasters as frequently as Dwight Yoakam, Violent Femmes, and Skinny Puppy. Doc Watson, Emmylou, and bluegrass weren’t far behind once I realized that there was music- and enjoyment- beyond The Who, Springsteen, Bananarama, and Haysi Fantayzee.

With Watt’s Hendra having become a regular fixture in my home these past two months, I thought it was past time that I focused some attention on it here at Fervor Coulee.

It is an entirely enjoyable recording, as much singer-songwriter and folk as it is electronic. The album starts off with the charming title track (“These rooms are cold but heavenly, and the sun is shining; You know what they say about silver and lining”) and doesn’t let up for its full 45 minutes. The songs are dripping with dramatic phrases and unflinching expressions of sincerity, some of which I glean, others go well over my head. But they all sound beautiful.

At times the album reminds me a bit of Dire Straits (“Forget,” “Young Man’s Game”), while other songs are very EBTG in their construction (“Spring,” “The Gun.”) It is “Spring” that I put forth as this week’s Roots Song of the Week.

“Spring” doesn’t have an overly complex construction, but the combination of Watt’s piano and Bernard Butler’s electric guitar (from Suede, I’m told. I missed most of the music out of England from 1990-2002, so I’m not familiar) draws me in. Quite hypnotic- and I did notice a couple weeks back driving for several seconds without being aware of where I was- this is the song that was playing at the time. I quite like the poetic nature of the words- they allow my brain to drift a little and imagine a bit more- again, not good when you’re driving: never know when an elk will saunter into your path.

Give it a listen and see if it appeals- it is always good to get out of one’s comfort zone, so perhaps this will do it for you.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

Canada Day Roots Songs, 2014 edition   Leave a comment

It’s Canada Day up Canada way (this coming Tuesday),   and in the spirit of all things Canadian- the NHL amateur draft and Free Agent Frenzy, apple and blueberry crumble, bacon wrapped corn on the cob, and O.V. on the deck- I want to shine what little light Fervor Coulee produces on five homegrown roots albums that have been under-heard.

And when I say under-heard, I am putting the blame right where it belongs- on me- as I have given too little listening attention to these recordings. Perhaps they have been played the ‘just right’ number of times in your world, or maybe even overplayed in some, but I have had these albums sitting around the Fervor Coulee Bunker for weeks, months, and in one case almost a year. I listened to all of them when they first arrived, but for whatever reason- too much ‘real’ work, too much stress, too much laziness, too much other music, or shear neglect on my part- they obviously didn’t catch my ear the way other albums did.

My loss, then, because- having given them a second, third, and more listens this past week- there is quite a lot to appreciate within each one.

Brandon IsaakBrandon Isaak comes to us from the Yukon Territory. You can’t get much further on the continent from the birthplace of the blues that Whitehorse, but it is obvious that Isaak has a deep appreciation and understanding for acoustic blues. His album Here On Earth is impressive. Sticking to the acoustic format- if there is electricity firing any of these instruments, I can’t pick it out of the mix- Isaak has composed a baker’s dozen songs representing ‘roots and blues for the modern world.’

He has a deep, soothing singing voice, capable of a gruff touch when his songs demand such, but most often it is as straightforward and strong as a cup of Midnight Sun’s Heart’s Desire.

There is an autoplay CBC Radio interview clip with Brandon describing the effortless process that was the creation of Here On Earth.

He introduces the song I want to feature today, “All Night Long.”

The album performance of the song is a bit more developed, but the guitar-harp core remains consistent, although the addition of Keith Picot’s bass to the album version strengthens the performance.

I didn’t locate audio samples, but I’m sure you’ll find some if you look. Here on Earth is strong in its entirety, and well worth searching out if you are interested in blues and blues-related, singer-songwriter music.

RolandSometime last year, a Vancouver Island songwriter and musician Roland Digh sent me a copy of one of this five albums. The Lady Known As ‘She’ was released three years ago, and from listening to samples on his website it is obvious that he has continued to develop a clear vision for his music. [My mistake: Roland informs me that all five of his albums were released this past January. So, any 'change' I'm noticing in his work my simply be within my own wee head.] The more recent recordings are, at times and generally, more developed than the earlier performances captured on The Lady Known As ‘She.’ His music is a little bit country in a Murray McLauchlan kind of country way, a bit pop in that it is reminiscent of some of Chris deBurgh’s music. I was quite taken with his approach when I first heard the album, but as it wasn’t a new release I didn’t do anything with it. Until today, that is, when I listened to select bits of it and was once again quite enamoured with the piano-based song “Harbour Lady.” The imagery captured struck the mood for a raining Central Alberta morning.

Warning, autoplay all over the site so be prepared for that. He also has a very nice recording called “Where Poppies Blow” for free download, a fitting rendition of “In Flanders Fields.”

AlannaI know next to nothing about Alanna Gurr and the Greatest State, and my bandwidth allocation for the month is used up, so I can’t look anything up either. Their eight song e.p./album arrived on my desk sometime in late winter or early spring- not sure who sent it my way, but I’m glad they did. A nice mix of sophisticated roots- a bit glossy for my tastes, but still quite appealing.

The vocals are nicely supported- as opposed to overwhelmed- by the instrumentation. Gurr has a soft, flirty-sounding voice that belies some of the darkness lurking in the shadows. They call themselves a ‘minimalist rock troupe’ which works, I suppose.

You can listen to and purchase Late At Night here. I’m find the song “It’s Been a Long Time” quite appealing, but there are any number of songs that should strike a chord including “By My Side” which features a great guitar riff and “Thunder Rolls” which is an appropriately stark piece and a perfect conclusion to the e.p.

MelissaWith a similar sounding voice (in that they are both female and have some lightness within their vocal style), Melissa Payne puts a bit more punch into her music than Gurr which can’t be seen as a slight to either artist as both are enjoyable. High and Dry was co-produced by Greg Keeler (Blue Rodeo, duh) and James Mckenty (never heard of…again, I’m already paying overage fees.) The Blue Rodeo connection didn’t help this album get into my player as they are a band I lost interest in after they recorded their only necessary song, “Try.” Yes, I’m a jerk.

Anyway, not one to let my prejudices get in the way of listening (well, except where Michael Jackson is concerned) I did give Payne a few minutes of my time when the album arrived, but obviously not enough. I’m not certain there is a lot distinguishing her from a hundred other pop-roots performers, but there is ‘something’ that makes her voice linger in my memory.

Listening to the entire disc again today, I am taken with Payne’s voice. I can’t find the right phrase, but there is something quite substantial about her voice that is nicely softened by a pillowy, southern soul quality. I admitted I couldn’t find the right phrase, but there it is.  Listen to “Call Me A Fool” and see if you can do better.

The album’s energy keeps building (“Bring Me Back” may rock hardest) even when things are modulated for a change of pace (“Cool West Wind”). I think it is the kind of record that just needs to be discovered naturally- you can’t force yourself on it, it just has to hit you the right way at the right time. “Gunning For Me” reminds me a little of Lone Justice if that helps any.

clelaAgain, I have no idea how Clela Errington’s understated recording More Love and Happiness made its way to me, but I’m glad it did. [Note to self: start keeping better track of envelopes and one-sheets.] It is a wonderful little album of pensive pieces that are lyrically rich and musically diverse. If you appreciate folk-based sounds- think the McGarrigles, to whom the first song on the album is dedicated- brightened by the charm of the ukulele and a singer with no little bit of jump in her approach, consider visiting the CBC site to be one of the first to listen to More Love and Happiness. Listening to this album, I am reminded how much I used to listen to the music of performers such as Quartette and The Wyrd Sisters, and how I appreciate pure approaches to singing. Nothing fancy here.

This album would sound lovely in a small bookstore or coffee shop. “Angels on the Radio” (two mixes included) is a favourite, both for the “Pilot of the Airwaves” sentiment it captures- the power of the relationship we forge with the music we heard (and continue to hear) on the radio- and the mention of “Dolly, Townes, and Emmylou.” I also really appreciate “Home on High” as it appeals to my firmly held (and quizzical, for an atheist) faith in religion and those who truly believe.

I love artists who just lay it out on the line like Clela does.

Have a great Canada Day- play lots of roots music. Give these fine artists a listen, and as always- thanks for keeping Fervor Coulee on your radar.

Donald

@FervorCoulee on the Twitter thing.

 

Ralph Stanley & Ralph Stanley II- Side By Side   Leave a comment

A mini-review of the duo’s recent album, as well as a thought or two about how ‘more’ bluegrass and bluegrass information may be causing us to overlook what really matters. Here’s the link that will get you to the article over at Country Standard Time. Slow down this summer, and listen to this wonderful little album.untitled

As always, I thank you for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

Roots Song of the Week: Joseph Lemay- Crazy Woman   Leave a comment

JosephLeMayJoseph Lemay has become one of my favourite new performers. When listening to his debut album Seventeen Acres I hear a world of influence, many of them likely imagined: Mumford & Sons, Bon Iver (with whom Lemay shares a penchant of secluded recording situations), Tom Petty, and ’80s Dylan.

The album starts with the languid isolation of the title track, a lo-fi raison d’etre for a couple of “old teenagers” justifying a broken down experiment in coupledom. Later, “Nothing You Can Do” raises the mark a touch higher with Lemay crooning, “You make me want to sing.”

The assembled house band- playing  banjo, lap steel, drums, cello, violin, et al- brings a cohesive mood to the album, despite several songs- such as “You Still Do It”- moving toward fully-enveloped  roots rock while others- including the engaging “Red Wing”- appear to be little more than demo sketches.

Today, I’m nominating “Crazy Woman” as my Roots Song of the Week. With a southern soul foundation brightened by a rhythmic boogie percolating over the top, “Crazy Woman” is an ideal song for a Friday afternoon drive in the sun. Steve Frobert fronting Creedence Clearwater Revisited, perhaps.

Scroll down at http://josephlemaymusic.com/ and you can stream the entire album, one song at a time. I trust you’ll find Joseph Lemay as appealing as I have.

Thanks for taking a moment to visit Fervor Coulee. Donald

Roots Song of the Week: 2014 Polaris Music Prize Edition   Leave a comment

[June 20- Since posting this piece on Thursday, the Long List has been announced.  While I have never seen more than three of my initial ballot choices make the Top 40 list, I don't know if I've previously gone 0 for 5; likely, I have. I don't get offended by this, but I do scratch my head. How can so many other jury members- 190 I believe this year- get it so wrong?

They haven't, of course. The size of the jury provides for a wide range of opinions that collectively come to a consensus. I don't agree with it- come on, no Kim Beggs or Leeroy Stagger? No BARK or Steve Dawson? I can only assume that my fellow jury members, in their efforts to listen to every pretentious and noisy skinny-boy band with 'indie pop' in their bio didn't have time to listen to the amazing roots albums I include on my ballot. I suppose that since the artists I've chosen know how to use capitalization properly, use their real names, and are- in some cases- more than 40 years old- they don't appeal to folks who are in the jury.

I don't actually mean those last two sentences. What I do know is that there were a lot more folks who liked the Arcade Fire album than Doug Paisley's. And that is okay, just sad. Numbers tell us there will always be more people on the look out for the 'next' big thing in electronic, pop, post-rock, and modern whatever than there will be listening to mature and, at least sometimes, meaningful roots music.

Now I need to listen to even more albums in the next week so that I can revise my choices, some of which- Timber Timbre, Rae Spoon, The Kennedy Sessions- received serious consideration for my first ballot.]

With less than a day to go before the 2014 Polaris Music Prize Long List is revealed, I thought I would catch up on my Roots Song of the Week by going for the quint- five roots songs of the week, Polaris edition.

My initial Polaris Ballot is traditionally roots centric. I was invited into the group several years ago to bring my roots- folk, country, bluegrass, blues- perspective to the jury, and I continue to take that responsibility seriously. Still, I’ve never knowingly ignored an album simply because it didn’t comfortably fall into the roots world.

Today, I thought I would share a link to a song from each of the five eligible albums I consider to be the ‘best’ released in the past year.

albums-kim-1024_largeRanked #1 on my Polaris Music Prize ballot is Kim Beggs’ independently released Beauty and Breaking. My full review of the album is available here , and I believe it captures my thoughts. I’ve listened to the album dozens of times, and it continues to positively impact me whether I’m driving, entertaining, reading, or simply puttering about the house.

My favourite song on the album- and there is considerable competition from songs like “Gold In The Ground,” “A Sailor’s Daughter,” “Le Chemin de Rondin/Corduroy Road,” and “Moonshiner”- is “Not Only Only From the Whiskey,” a live performance of which is here.

I am confident is fewer things daily, but I am certain that Kim Beggs is one of our country’s great singers and songwriters. She makes beautiful music.

Leeroy Stagger’sTruth Be Told was the first album I heard last summer that I knew was going to make my Polaris Top 5 ballot. It is an aggressive creation, and I wrote about it here

At Leeroy’s website, he has a few of his songs available for streaming, including “Goodnight Berlin” which is a loud ‘n proud slice that might do Nazareth proud: roots rock defined.

Blackie and the Rodeo Kings has shown up on my Polaris ballot previously, and South is again well deserving of inclusion. I wish I had championed the album earlier, but I only purchased it rather recently. BARK has their formula down, and their songs remain fresh and lively. If you navigate around this link a little you’ll find “North” and other songs ready for streaming. It is an excellent album.

For me, the most surprising album to make my Polaris ballot is Steve Dawson’s recording of solo guitar explorations Rattlesnake Cage. I haven’t heard anything else like it this year. Long acknowledged as a master of acoustic and slide guitar, Dawson has repeatedly proven that he can do just about anything he sets his mind to. This time out, he has decided to simply play his guitar. Give a listen to the title track here, and prepare yourself to be mesmerized.

Doug Paisley’s “Strong Feelings” is an excellent example of mainstream country music, if by ‘mainstream’ one means accessible, catchy, and well-written as opposed to bro-country rap-a-longs about beer and trucks. At http://dougpaisley.com/ there is a promo video featuring an excerpt of “What’s Up Is Down” and audio of “Song My Love Can Sing” and a live performance of it via Q.

If you haven’t encountered these albums yet, you are well advised to do so at your earliest.

The Polaris Music Prize Long List will be announced early in the afternoon of June 19, 2014.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee.

Roots Song of the Week: Stephen Fearing & Andy White- Emigrant Song   Leave a comment

untitledGalaxie is one of the great music services offered in Canada. It is a streaming ‘radio’ service offered with some cable providers, and it is something I don’t take advantage of often enough. There is a large range of channels on offer, with my favourite naturally being Folk Roots.

I’m not in the habit of promoting corporations, but I mention Galaxie because- while listening yesterday morning- I was reminded of the absolute brilliance of Stephen Fearing & Andy White’s second album, Tea and Confidences.

I listened to this album a lot in March and April, but it fell off my radar during May. When I heard “Emigrant Song” again yesterday, the power of this duo resurfaced and I knew I had found this week’s Roots Song of the Week.

Fearing sings the first half of the song, and White takes over for the rest with Fearing joining back in on harmony. It captures the conflict that I imagine people must experience, people who- for whatever reason- feel forced to turn their back on the land of their birth: you’ve loved this land ‘from the first’, even when it is at its worst, but because ‘my country doesn’t want me’ you’ll head elsewhere.

It is a gorgeous song. There is a video of the song captured on someone’s phone available at the Fearing & White website, so please sample it there- but trust me, the song is well worth a download; heck, splurge and get the album.

By the way, it looks like Andy White is returning to Red Deer for a show in July- if my memory of Red Deer addresses is still accurate after two years absence, it is a house show. Also on his site are shows for Edmonton and Calgary.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

 

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