Crowe, Lawson & Williams Standing Tall and Tough Mountain Home
Those surnames are enough to make one sit up and take notice.
Three legends of bluegrass, each a member of the IBMA Bluegrass Hall of Fame. All three led (or lead) very successful bluegrass bands, although Williams’ gospel-based Victory Trio is the least generally known. Each is a capable instrumentalist, with historically Crowe having been possibly the most influential banjo player this side of Earl Scruggs.
J.D. Crowe, Doyle Lawson, and Paul Williams’ new, self-assured second recording was released just a bit ago, and there is no doubt that it is a goodun.
Rather than repeating with a bluegrass gospel, this time out the long ago Sunny Mountain Boys have chosen to move forward with a well-rounded collection of contemporary bluegrass that is deeply rooted in the traditions of the music.
The album kicks off with the first of three songs most frequently associated with the King of Bluegrass, and their former employer, Jimmy Martin. “My Walking Shoes” is certainly the most familiar of the three Martin-Paul Williams co-writes included here (the others being “Little Angel in Heaven” and “Pretending I Don’t Care,”) and it is certainly an appropriate song to set the mood for this upbeat and inspiring set.
While Crowe and Lawson are the more famous of the three, for my money this album is all about Paul Williams. It is so good to hear him singing straight-ahead bluegrass again. While he has guested here and there, and was an integral part of the Jimmy Martin tribute Audie Blaylock and others put together several years back, with his focus on bluegrass gospel for so long, many have lost sight of what an important component of bluegrass he has been. (For those who don’t know, when you see a songwriting credit for Paul Humphreys, that’s Williams.)
One of the most iconic of country songs, “Once A Day” is sung by Williams in a startling clear voice; I believe he is approaching 80, and I swear he has seldom sounded better than on this collection. He also takes on the classic “The Hills of Roane County” and the ever popular “Fraulein,” a song that I must admit I don’t care for no matter who is singing it. Still, “The Hills of Roane County,” with its mountain blood feud storyline, sounds like it was made for Williams. Lonesome, too true.
There is nothing on this album that would make one think that J.D. Crowe doesn’t have many years of 5-string playing ahead of him, and Doyle Lawson has long been known to have good guitar skills. Crowe understands he has absolutely nothing to prove, and his supportive backing is every bit as impressive as his leads. Again, Williams’ mandolin playing is just lights out.
Of course, Lawson sings real nice with Williams and their take of the Louvin Brothers’ “Don’t Laugh” is another highlight. Their real shining moment comes on an old Williams co-write I don’t believe I’ve previously encountered, “Blue Memories.” With voices singing ‘brother close,’ the three should be up for some type of vocal award for this one. It is one stout performance.
Tim Surrett (bass), Josh Swift (reso and percussion), and Jason Barie (fiddle) complete the six-man lineup. No argument with anything they do, and Barie’s fiddle is prominent—especially on songs like “The Hills of Roane County” and “Pretending I Don’t Care”— but the focus rightly remains on the three senior members.
Standing Tall and Tough reveals three long-time friends as a formidable bluegrass presence.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. @FervorCoulee
Doug Seegers Going Down to the River Rounder Records
Delia Bell. Ted Hawkins. David Ball. James Hand.
Every once in awhile, a singer who has been around for a long, long time gets ‘discovered’ and is thrust into the roots limelight for a wee slice of time.
Sometimes they hit. More often, they are soon forgotten.
Like the four names mentioned above, Doug Seegers has been making music for more than a little while. His story got a great deal of attention starting a couple months back, and his Rounder debut is coming out in early October. (Actually, I thought it was already out it has been in my hands for so long; good idea always to fact check.)
I don’t know if Seegers will stick around in what passes for a roots mainstream or not. I do know that Going Down to the River is a darned good sounding country music album.
In case you missed it, here’s a capsule of the capsule: raised on Hank, Sr., a fan of Lennon and Gram, NYC street musician Seegers made his way to Austin, befriended Buddy Miller, got married, settles back in upstate NY, gives up music, but keeps the itch. Eventually, he moves to Nashville and for almost two decades busks for tips in West Nashville and on Lower Broadway. Off the bad habits, he is discovered by a Swedish country star, and becomes a bit of a sensation in the Scandinavian country, with “Going Down to the River” topping the iTunes chart. He is introduced to the right producer, reconnects with Miller, impresses Emmylou Harris, and Going Down to the River makes Swedish gold in a couple months!
The very talented Peter Cooper wrote a story about Seegers a few months back, and it should be read; it gives the full picture.
Going Down to the River was produced by the always tasteful Will Kimbrough (he’s worked with Fervor Coulee favourite Kate Campbell), and it is as stunning a disc as its back story promises.
The album kicks off with the emotional “Angie’s Song,” a favourite of the singer-songwriter. From his first notes Seegers reminds me of no one more than Eddie Noack, the long ago singer that brought “Psycho,” “Delores,” “Barbara Joy,” and other gruesome songs to life. As this lonesome song develops, Marty Brown—another long ago discarded singer that Nashville discovered for a few months, and who I just learned had some success on America’s Got Talent last year—comes to mind, and to my ears he is the best vocal comparison I can locate. (A YouTube clip of Brown’s AGT audition is here.)
There is no mistaking the emotional intensity that Seegers brings to his songs; this natural quality is apparent within each of Going Down to the River’s dozen songs. The quality of his songs is impressive, and this excellence combined with Seegers’ vocal appeal soon makes one set aside similarities or phrasal tendencies and simply concentrate on the connection he is making with his audience.
“Going Down to the River” is the composition that first gained Seegers notice, and it isn’t hard to understand why: “I’m going down to the river, I’m going to wash my soul again; I’ve been running with the devil, and I know that he is not my friend.” Beyond the words, the performance is stunning: restrained, raw perhaps, but crackling with electricity.
By song three, when Emmylou Harris joins in on “She” (which she didn’t on the original GP version more than forty years ago), all bets are off and Seegers is soaring. Harris comes bouncing in on the second chorus before taking a few lines for herself; this is a strong arrangement choice, one that I’ve not heard elsewhere and it serves the song beautifully.
Because of the many production choices Kimbrough makes on this track—the slivers of pedal steel from Al Perkins, the vigorous reverb, even allowing Seegers the first 100 seconds without Harris—everything comes together on this notable take: a (overly?) familiar song is completely reinvigorated.
The album’s other non-original is a quick little run through of Hank Williams’ “There’ll Be No Teardrops Tonight.” Joining Seegers on this one is his old Austin friend Buddy Miller, and the pair duet nicely together. Barbara Lamb, who plays fiddle on every track, accounts for herself well here.
“Pour Me,” “Lonely Drifter’s Cry,” and “Memory Lane” are not only well constructed, they ring with the authenticity that comes from having been written by one who has lived his songs. Not an obviously autobiographical songwriter, Seegers’ reality have influenced his compositions.
Going Down to the River delivers on the promise the advance press has hyped. A feel good story delivered via a remarkable neo-traditional country album.
Thank you for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Mike Farris Shine For All The People Compass Records
Mike Farris is a gospel singer.
Mike Farris is a rock ‘n’ roll singer.
And Mike Farris is a soul singer, in the mode of the 60s and 70s definition of ‘soul.’ Drop one of his songs- try “River Jordan” or “Sparrow”- into one of those Northern Soul compilations you run across sometimes (if you’re looking in the right places) and he would not stand out uncomfortably.
Shine For All The People is one of the most joyous and moving albums that I’ve heard this year. It makes you move. My review copy came without notes, so I don’t know who all else is making these gorgeous noises—the singers swoop and holler, give praise and uplift, the musicians get into a deep groove and never let up—but Farris carries the water.
Dang, he can sing.
Mary Gauthier has written several great songs, and “Mercy Now” stands with the best of them. Unexpectedly, Farris takes her song to another level, wringing even greater hope and charity from the song than (somehow) even Gauthier’s sparse performance does.
I no longer feel guilty or inadequate for missing a performer who has been around for a decade or two and who finally crosses my path and blows me away; there is just too much great stuff to capture it all, and heck Guy Clark had been making records for twenty years before I ever heard of him. But Mike Farris is someone who is going to cost me some dollars as I need to check out the rest of his fairly extensive catalogue. (I did buy his The Night the Cumberland Came Alive fundraising e.p. of a few years back, but nothing on that recording compares to what Shine For All The People captures.)
What else can I try to say? (While editing, I noticed I had originally mistyped “What else can I try to sing?” perhaps proof of what this album has had me doing for the past month.)
He out Al Wilson’s Al Wilson. Richard Manuel is too obvious a comparison, but will do. The joy of “The Lord Will Make A Way Somehow,” taken from Al Green’s first gospel album, is convincing enough to make one want to believe, and I suppose that’s a start; I’m not going to suggest Farris outdoes Green, but— as funky as Green’s 1980 slice was— the entire performance captured here is more impactful.
Bookending this album peak are two Farris originals, the finger-snapping “Real Fine Day” and “Power of Love,” and they are certainly two of the finer songs of the album, the latter especially. The vocal support Farris receives on this bluesy track nudges it to the top.
Some will overlook this recording because of the subject matter. Yes, these songs sing Praise. More than this though, these songs— when melded with Mike Farris’ voice and the uplifting arrangements—have the potential to give hope and strength to those who are needing it, are looking for it.
Beyond that, Shine For All The People just sounds damn good!
Open your ears.
As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. @FervorCoulee.
Craig Moreau The Daredevil Kid www.CraigMoreau.com
Calgarian Craig Moreau recently unleashed an incredible album of modern country music that actually earns that designation. (And no, I’m not going to go off on another old-codger rant about what passes as ‘country’ today.)
Progressive enough certainly to find favour within the wide-open Americana field, The Daredevil Kid is truly an album that recalls everyone’s songwriting heroes…if those happen to be folks like Tom T. Hall, Merle Haggard, Henson Cargill, and Kevin Welch, who actually appears on the album’s closing track “Against the Skyline.”
Vocally, Moreau reminded me first of Ray Materick, but there are certainly a few Randy Travis, Blaze Foley, and Vern Gosdin influences hinted on songs such as “The Uptown Pony” and “Blame It On The Fields.” And while those references may be dated, one suggests they are more accurately labeled ‘classic.’ Moreau has some smoothness about him, but no slickness. Life lessons abound in the frisky “Call It Ignorance,” with “Sweet Luanne” providing a darker, nuanced bit of instruction: Moreau’s vocal depth allows him to bridge the stylistic distance his songs encompass.
If additional evidence of Moreau’s ability to convey the intensity of a song was necessary, I offer up the album’s sole cover, Bill Morrissey’s “Casey, Illinois.” Yup, that’ll do.
Austin producer and musician Mark Hallman has a significant presence on this recording resulting in an Alberta roots album that speaks to home while having the gravitas of Texas connections. Kimmie Rhodes lends her voice to the refrain of “Stranded,” a highlight. Gurf Morlix sings on the title cut, a song well set in the Jerry Jeff Walker mold. Kim Deschamps handles the pedal steel and Elana James (Hot Club of Cowtown, Bob Dylan) violin, each providing expressive textures rooted in tradition.
Before Moreau sent me a text offering to send me the album for review, I had never knowingly heard of him. Man, have I missed out. I was inclined to purchase his previous album Every Know And Then as few weeks back, and was further impressed. Not only does he have Jane Hawley singing on that 2000 release (never a bad idea, that!), but it also contains great songs. The unsettling “The Final Price of Grain” is every bit as powerful as “Thirty Years of Farming,” while “Eighteen Dollar Room” and “Couldn’t Have Done It Better” aren’t going to be pushed off the iPod anytime soon.
Whether categorized as country, folk, Americana, or simply slipping into the indefinable OMFUG, The Daredevil Kid is a strong, dynamic, and eminently listenable platter of fresh sounds.
The album’s lead cut “It Ain’t Nuthin'” is available for free download at www.CraigMoreau.com; give it a try, and then explore the entire album.
Thank you for spending some time at Fervor Coulee. I realize things have been sparse of late…call it responsibility. But, I do appreciate everyone who drops in to see what condition…never mind- I’ve been on a First Edition kick of late: no explaining that, but it did bring to mind my mom watching the Rollin’ on the River TV show when I was a kid.
Check out @FervorCoulee to keep up on all the postings. Donald
Country Standard Time asked me to review two recent releases for them.
Flatt Lonesome’s second album, Too- a terrific improvement over their first and in my opinion uneven album- is one that seems to finding some traction in the bluegrass world. The review is posted HERE.
A couple weeks ago I wrote quite extensively about Larry Sparks’ new release, a fifty year anniversary celebration entitled Lonesome And Then Some. I’ve condensed that review for CST here.
As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
I’ve been waiting more than a month to feature this song as my Roots Song of the Week. Until Friday, I couldn’t locate a version of the song online that was both complete and playable in Canada.
I downloaded the track from iTunes as soon as it became available at the end of July, and immediately love it. Not just the concept- a song pairing George Jones and Jesus doesn’t come along every day- but the execution. The vocal strength of Nu-Blu’s Carolyn Routh ideally complement’s Sam Moore’s pure soul intensity.
I think it is a terrific recording, and was absolutely tickled to be in the audience at Blueberry the first time Nu-Blu performed the song live. Unfortunately, the budget didn’t accommodate bringing up The Soul Man for the date.
There is no doubt the song is clever, but not ‘too’ much so. Every line ‘works’ within the context provided. It is not overly sentimental, but touches a perfect chord of reverence.
The complete video of “Jesus and Jones” is available here.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
My reviews of the new releases from folk singer/songwriter Jason Burton Tyler and a wonderful tribute to Jean Ritchie entitled Dear Jean: Artists Celebrate Jean Ritchie are up at Lonesome Road Review.
Both are impressive, in very different ways. Jason Burton Tyler has a crisp vision for recording his world and experiences, while the artists gathered on the Compass Records’ tribute to Jean Ritchie are uniformly impressive in their interpretations of oft-heard material.
Reviews of Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen, Flatt Lonesome, Ralph Stanley & Ralph Stanley II, and Larry Sparks should also be published shortly.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald