I have a very strong feeling that 2014′s list of Roots Albums of the Year will be even more challenging to create than the last several years. No shortage of candidates already, and we’re less than a quarter of the way through. Eric Brace and Karl Straub’s exceptional Hangtown Dancehall is certain to receive considerable um, consideration.
My review of this album has been posted to the Lonesome Road Review. I’ve yet to encounter a recording associated with Brace that hasn’t been top notch, and I can hardly wait for the Peter Cooper & Brace album I understand is slated for later this year.
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Eric Brace and Karl Straub have created a most ambitious album based upon and extending “Sweet Betsy From Pike,” a song from the California Gold Rush era. Prior to listening to Hangtown Dancehall, I had only passing familiarity with “Sweet Betsy From Pike” having heard versions by Suzy Bogguss and Johnny Cash. Admittedly, I hadn’t paid attention to the song, and certainly hadn’t gleamed the potential the song held.
A well-written overview of the album is available at Engine 145. In short, Brace has created ‘the rest of the story,’ an imagining of what happened to Betsy and Ike after the dance. “El Dorado Two-Step” isn’t nearly my favourite song on this wonderful and cohesive album, but it is the one I can find a (functioning in Canada) link to, so…I guess it’ll do. It is one of a couple songs featuring Tim O’Brien and, as always, he delivers. This track also features Mike Auldridge, Buddy Spicher, and frequent Brace collaborator Peter Cooper, among others, but curiously not Straub. The entire album is fair brilliant, and its liner notes and packaging- featuring woodcuts from Julie Sola- is outstanding.
Give “El Dorado Two-Step” a listen at the Red Beet Records site.
Thank you for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald @FervorCoulee
Flipping through the CDs on the shelves the other morning, I wasn’t surprised to find seventeen Jim Lauderdale albums. Labeling the North Carolina-born, South Carolina-raised singer, songwriter, musician, and producer as prolific is to understate the prevalence of his musical progeny. Since 1991, and including three recently released albums, Lauderdale has created no fewer than 25 complete albums.
Add to that output dozens of guest appearances, compilation album tracks, and songs cut by recording artists from (alphabetically) Gary Allen and Mandy Barnett through to George Strait, Kelly Willis, and LeeAnn Womack, and you have someone who makes Alejandro Escovedo seem a laggard.
Planet of Love, that debut recording, remains a favourite, as does his early masterwork, Persimmons. These were mainstream country records that contained a vibrant pulse heartened by smart writing, creative singing, and inventive musicianship. His albums with Ralph Stanley, and mid-aught recordings including Headed For the Hills and The Bluegrass Diaries were superior, and no matter what perspective of Americana he elected to explore- countrypolitan, bluegrass, jam-band, troubadour, straight-up and hard, or Appalachian roots- he pulled it off with skill and no little bit of magic.
There were stumbles. At times, Lauderdale and his songwriting collaborators- especially Robert Hunter- delivered songs that were (depending on outlook) apparently or obviously formula-driven and predictable, perhaps overtaxing material that needed time to lay fallow. However, these blemishes were the exception rather than the rule. Where contemporaries deliver an album every three or four years, Lauderdale consistently unleashes a recording annually at minimum, a dozen since 2006. He has released four in the past year, three in 2013 alone, including Blue Moon Junction and Black Roses simultaneously this past November.
If anyone matches Lauderdale’s level of prolific creation combined with consistent high quality, they’ve escaped my attention.
My reviews of these three exceptional albums from Jim Lauderdale have been posted to Country Standard Time:
Old Time Angels: http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=5358
Blue Moon Junction: http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=5359
Black Roses: http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=5360
Are these three albums created for the same audience? They could be, if that audience is flexible and fluid enough to react to the musical curves Lauderdale extends. Alternately, each may appeal individually to different types of listeners- Old Time Angels (video of the title track here) for the ‘grassers, Blue Moon Junction for the folk club crowd, and Black Roses for those who are interested in more jam band-influenced sounds.
Jim Lauderdale isn’t afraid to get out of his comfort zone. We should be willing to meet him halfway.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. @FervorCoulee
My review of Great Big World, the new album from banjo artist Tony Trischka, has been posted to Fervor Coulee Bluegrass. With the new year still less than two months gone, this album continues the high level of quality roots music I’ve been encountering.
http://www.countrystandardtime.com/blog/FervorCouleeBluegrass/entry.asp?xid=987 will get you there.
As always, thank you for visiting Fervor Coulee.
Donald @FervorCoulee on Twitter
When I first heard Amy Black almost three years back, I was immediately enamoured with her voice and style. My review of her album One Time can be found by following this link. This evening, I am championing her new and even more satisfying release, This Is Home. Dang, it is a good one- with a soft lilt, directness that is refreshing, and deeply moving and also moving instrumentation, Black has created another terrific release.
Although Boston-based, Black has Muscle Shoals on her mind and in her soul, and I don’t mean that figuratively; she tells a story of her Muscle Shoals-born Grandfather’s influence, and she recently released a four-track e.p. entitled The Muscle Shoals Session. There is a steamy, languid quality to Black’s music, a natural quality that permeates from her very character, and which she wisely chooses to highlight throughout her new album.
On these songs, it is all about emotion, evoking a sense of place and time, and making a connection through Black to the listener’s emotionally connected times and places.
Rather than have me stumble about trying to find the right description- and fail- how about you just click on over to YouTube and give “Nobody Knows You” a watch and listen. Then, try out “I’m Home,” a song that is ‘almost’ just as good (and extra points if you notice a certain Jackson Highway address.) Listen to the guitar work, from Will Kimbrough I believe, and try not to think to hard about Kate Campbell, Oxford American, and how you wish you were sitting under an elderly aunt’s magnolia right about now.
Amy Black is pert darn cool.
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I’ve posted my review of Blue Highway’s new album The Game over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass, part of the Country Standard Time family of blogs.
Give it a read if you are interested. It is a very well-executed album of interesting and mindful bluegrass.
Thanks to everyone who visits Fervor Coulee and Fervor Coulee Bluegrass, and who follow me on Twitter. Special thanks to Regina at Rounder for getting me caught up last month with a wonderful package of Rounder albums. I appreciate it very much.
I became a John Denver fan the first time I heard “Grandma’s Feather Bed.” That goofy opus was perfect for an eleven year-old twisted in his musical development by a diet of school bus sing-a-longs of “Joy To the World,” “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da,” “Patches,” and “Yitsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.”
But, I knew John Denver wasn’t cool. My mom and dad listened to him. I went years denying any appreciation for his music, and it is only now that I am way past worrying about anyone’s definition of cool- and beyond a lot of other things- that I can freely admit to being a casual fan of John Denver’s. Honestly, I’ve not delved too deeply into his music- a vinyl greatest hit package in junior high, quietly singing along with the truck radio when one of his songs would come on, and the purchase of the tribute album that came out last year is about it.
I do get the appeal, without doubt.
When word was released today that The Special Consensus- one of my favourite bluegrass bands- is releasing a ten-song set of Denver songs this coming March, my interest was piqued. I haven’t heard the entire album, but have previewed the three tracks made available to media today. “Take Me Home, Country Roads” is about what I expected- a fine rendering of perhaps Denver’s most familiar song, made more interesting with vocals from both John Cowan and SC’s Dustin Benson. “Back Home Again” has warmth and comfort embedded in each note, and with Dale Ann Bradley singing lead and harmony it is a sure bet to be my favourite song on the recording.
The song I’m featuring as tonight’s Roots Song of the Week would have been “Back Home Again” if a version was available online for streaming. Instead, I’m going with another instantly familiar song, “Wild Montana Skies,” a latter Denver hit with Emmylou Harris. I had thought that this was his last significant hit, never having heard of “Dreamland Express” until this evening. It was definitely the last song of his I recall having heard in regular rotation on the radio.
This version of “Wild Montana Skies” features The Special Consensus joined by Claire Lynch and Rob Ickes, and Compass Records has posted a video of the song on YouTube. The song sounds quite wonderful, with a bluegrass push kicking it up a notch. Lynch’s contributions are significant- she sounds great alongside Rick Faris- and the guitar playing of Benson is just this side of incredible.
The press release for the album reads in part: Grammy-nominated Special Consensus joins forces with contemporary bluegrass music’s best on Country Boy: A Bluegrass Tribute to John Denver slated for release on March 25. There is a natural affinity between bluegrass musicians and John Denver’s repertoire but this is the first purely bluegrass tribute to the iconic singer/songwriter who died in 1997.
Country Boy features Special Consensus at the musical center of each track with a guest cast of Grammy-winning and International Bluegrass Music Association-winning vocalists and instrumentalists joining in. Produced by Compass Records co-founder Alison Brown, the album’s 10 tracks draw from across Denver’s hits and lesser-known songs.
Talking about the genesis for the idea, band founder Greg Cahill comments: “I’ve met so many people who were affected by John’s music and so many musicians who mention him as an inspiration. It felt like a bluegrass interpretation of his songs would be something really special and might also serve as a way to connect more people to bluegrass music.”
With guests listed including the aforementioned Lynch, Ickes, and Bradley as well as Peter Rowan, Jason Carter, and Michael Cleveland, Country Boy is destined to be one of my most played albums of the year.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald