Archive for May 2009
Quietly Please…The New Best of Nick Lowe
It is collections such as this recent two-disc set of Nick Lowe music that keep me going to music stores in the (usually) futile search for magic.
While the selection at most area CD stores has continued to dwindle as DVDs and game system cartridges have taken over the market, one is still occasionally rewarded for taking the time to place hard earned currency on the counter to purchase the soon-to-be antiquated compact disc.
Nick Lowe has had his formidable catalogue resurrected and repackaged a number of times, and being the fan that I am I have purchased most of the collections. Upon reflection, each of the albums have served a purpose during the particular time they were discovered.
I bought 16 All-Time Lowes while attending university and while the album wasn’t my introduction to the cutting wit and word play of John R. Cash’s former son-in-law, it allowed me exposure to a number of songs I hadn’t previously encountered. Labour of Love was a favourite high school album, but at the time I hadn’t delved far enough to discover Pure Pop For Now People.
Basher: The Best of Nick Lowe was purchased on cassette while living in the fairly remote Northern Saskatchewan community of La Loche, and served to brighten many an exhausting weekend day while preparing lessons and materials in my classroom. This extensive collection, while missing many personal album favourites- “We Want Action,” “Tanque-Rae”, “Man of a Fool,” and “My Heart Hurts” as examples- captured the essence of Lowe in a more comprehensive fashion than the previous set.
I have a vague recollection of purchasing The Wilderness Years on a trip to Edmonton’s Sound Connection store, but I can’t find it on my shelves, so perhaps I only dreamed of that acquisition. I missed out on The Doings box set, but recently uncovered a copy of it. More extensive than any other Lowe collection, it boasts the bonus of many live cuts and additional rarities. Only for the real Lowe fan, the set is well worth the search.
And I won’t even start in on my Brinsley Schwarz sets.
Which brings us to Quietly Please…The New Best of Nick Lowe. With 49 tracks, this compilation ranges from Brinsley Schwarz’s 1974 take of “(What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love, and Understanding” through to cuts from 2007’s At My Age. Many favourite songs are again missed, but the majority of the essentials are either here or readily available on Basher. While I knew (and continue to know) I really did not need another Lowe set, this one attracted me because I’ve come to trust YepRoc as a label. Their reissue of Jesus of Cool was very well done, both from music contents and packaging stand points.
But, I was still going to pass dropping another $20 or so into the Lowe and Co. coffers until I encountered the impossible to ignore ‘deluxe’ package featuring a bonus DVD.
I’ve written elsewhere about my disdain for the ‘deluxe’ package marketing ploy as the results have often left me wanting. Plus, too often such packages come out a few weeks or months after I have purchased the standard set, and appear to be just another way to encourage completist fans to spend even more money. But, because the ‘deluxe’ package of Quietly Please…came out at the same time as the standard 2-disc set, I put aside my typical bias and plunked down the $30. And I couldn’t be happier with that decision.
Songs from all the albums are included, and the package also touches on Bowi, Rockpile and Little Village. Set producer Gregg Geller limited himself to songs written or co-written by Lowe, so no “Switchboard Susan” this time. Any studio remastering or tweaking that may have occurred does not interfere with the memory of many of the songs from vinyl. The tunes are arranged chronologically, and provide more than a couple hours of Lowe glory.
Not only can I not argue with the compilers music choices- hell, “Wishing Well” from Pinker and Prouder than Previous is even included- the set is beautiful to look at. A wonder to hold, even.
The quad-panel digipak unfolds to show a collage of scattered Lowe leavings including photos, ticket stubs, and pins. Photos of Lowe- from shaggy-haired pub rocker to dignified elder statesman- grace the disc trays. A well-written essay and producer notes comprise the package booklet with colour reproductions of all the album covers included. The song notes are extensive and include musician credits and chart positions.
The bonus DVD is also a greater than expected treat. The nine song videos- including the familiar “Cruel to Be Kind” and “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll),” as well as several I had never before seen, such as “Ragin’ Eyes” and “Cracking Up”- and allows one – if so inclined- to participate in an individual drinking game: each time a member of Rockpile appears, take a drink. Bonus swallows for spotting other Lowe associates, including Carlene and Paul Carrack. Several of the videos are cheesy and all are dated.
The early pieces- “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass,” Little Hitler,” and “No Reason” appear to be culled from a television performance and are, for me, priceless.
The contained live show featuring Lowe’s studio band- from Brussels and October 2007- is a lovely addition, and highlights the sparse majesty of Lowe as he approaches 60! The voice is still there, but of course not quite as spry as in the late-70s. The show is nicely shot, using a variety of camera locations and the sound is excellent. Lowe performs alone and with the band, and some of the songs featured- including “Shting-Shtang,” “Heart of the City,” and “All Men Are Liars”- are pleasant surprises.
One can download Quietly Please…The New Best of Nick Lowe if so inclined, but that would be the wrong decision. This is that not-so-rare set that calls out to be enjoyed in a non-virtual manner; you can find packages that are worth buying, but you have to look for them.
Time has been taken to produce an outstanding collection of music, beautifully housed. I’m pleased that someone- be it the folks at Proper (UK) or YepRoc- is still willing to take the time to invest in music in this manner. I doubt the collection is expected to sell more than a few thousand copies, and yet here it is- a superbly crafted project.
We owe it to ourselves to pursue such efforts.
FYI: NICK LOWE
THE BRENTFORD TRILOGY
For the first time in one collection, Nick Lowe’s classic solo albums, The Impossible Bird, Dig My Mood and The Convincer have all been assembled into The Brentford Trilogy. The three CD set includes a new book with extra photos and a new interview with Nick by Paul Gorman. This is a limited edition release and will not be available after 6/23!
*Every customer that pre-orders The Brentford Trilogy box set will get all three albums delivered digitally to their Stash immediately to start enjoying right away!
Only one review in today’s column. Scott H. Biram’s new album comes out this coming Tuesday and I’m pleased to feature it in my Roots Music column in the Red Deer Advocate. I thank you again for stopping by Fervor Coulee. Donald
Scott H. Biram
Something’s Wrong/Lost Forever
Scott H. Biram. Now there stands a man on a mission.
Biram is on a journey to make a melding of the triple forces of Hank Williams, hillbilly blues, and rock ‘n’ roll legitimate. And on his seventh album, he does so in a manner that is much more appealing than most of the music released by Hank III and others who have similarly attempted to bring together disparate music styles.
With a hard rockin’ beat, sound collages, and vocal effects that somehow make his claim all the more justifiable, Biram has produced a creative, challenging version of what used to be referred to as alt. country. Indeed, Biram’s music has as much in common with R L Burnside’s nasty Fat Possum releases as it does the songs of Jon Langford, The Sadies, or Justin Townes Earle.
Irreverent, profane, and slightly off kilter, Biram somehow makes it all work, and he has created a country-blues vision that packs a punch while retaining melody. The Dirty Ole One Man Band, as Biram is often referred, produced the album almost entirely on his own, with additional musicians featured on only two songs.
Still Drunk, Still Crazy, Still Blue not only has a title worthy of Robbie Fulks or Dale Watson, but Biram’s desolate lyrics- including “sweat gets so cold alone every night,”- capture desperation in a manner worthy of more familiar songwriters.
Judgment Day would fit with the outtakes from Fred Eaglesmith’s spellbinding Tinderbox album; Biram’s rapid-fire proselytizing warns of what is coming, as the gator snaps at your heels.
Wildside is an impassioned love letter to a woman who has long move on, but whom apparently remains susceptible to backsliding.
The album’s strongest cut may well be the trucking anthem Draggin’ Down the Line; one needn’t have driven a rig to relate to the pressures and daily grind being described: “Starin’ out the window at the world just movin’, thinkin’ ‘bout changes and the friends I keep losin’.”
How does one summarize an album such as Something’s Wrong/Lost Forever? There is some Dan Penn southern country soul mixed in with the electric lead guitar along with elements of Tony Joe White’s swamp rock, but Biram isn’t nearly as refined musically. His voice is huge and weathered with miles but, as demonstrated on Leadbelly’s Go Down Ol’ Hannah, controlled and eminently listenable. This album is dark, and its images, messages, and sounds reverberate long into the night.
I’d say that I don’t really want to know Scott H. Biram after listening to his enjoyable, disquieting album. Unfortunately, I think I do know him. He is me. And you. We all have thoughts that are safely hidden in shadows. The difference is, Biram puts his to music and rhyme.
This one has taken much too long to review; I’ve been enjoying it for months.
An East Tennessean now calling Alabama home, Jay Clark is one of hundreds of singer-songwriters producing quality music, offering insights into the way he perceives the world. Like John Prine, whom he vaguely recalls, what separates Clark from others in the roots world is his willingness to turn the focus away from himself while maintaining an integral intimacy with his subjects.
An ambitious album, I’m Confused takes its title from a song subtitled A Christian’s Lament of How the Right Wing of the Republican Party Has Distorted My Faith. Clark is unabashedly a Christian man, one that has seen his country split along religious and political lines that appear counter to common sense. And while the climate and mood of the United States appears to be changing, Clark’s exploration of paths down which Americans have wandered for eight years is astute.
Not everything is maudlin. A trio of drinking songs- Another Round, Free Beer Tomorrow, and Lifetime of Drinkin’- allow Clark to stretch into a lighter arena, although the latter song is as lonely as anything Guy Clark (no relation) has written. Third Shift in the Coal Mines delves deep into Clark’s rural roots; with its stark images and mournful moan, this number recalls Darrell Scott.
Over the course of three albums, Jay Clark has displayed a consistency of performance and songwriting that is staggering. I’m Confused is well deserving of the effort it will take to track down; with songs of the quality of Anna Lee and Reflectors, Clark remains in my Top Five of contemporary singer-songwriters.
This one slipped by me a couple months back, and I’m glad to have rediscovered it.
JJ Cale has made a career of riding breezy, bluesy grooves, and he doesn’t change things up too much on the fifteenth album in a recording career stretching back to the early 70s.
His voice melds ideally with the roots rock, rhythm and blues, guitar-based music contained within Roll On. Cale’s vocal style is shockingly laid back and seemingly unaffected by the passage of years. This is no doubt because Cale never seems to be trying very hard.
Not that the album sounds lazy or undeveloped. Everything works to perfection, from the jazz-influenced percussion- much of it by Cale himself- to the impeccably tasteful electric guitar serving as the disc’s skeleton.
Roll On occupies the same shelf in my listening library as Mark Knopfler’s albums of recent years; it won’t appeal to everyone, but there are times when JJ Cale’s sounds perfectly complement the mood of a day.
Dry Branch Fire Squad
Echoes of the Mountains
Many have been a-waiting fresh music from Ron Thomason’s Dry Branch Fire Squad since hearing their last album, Hand Hewn, more than seven years ago. With only a live set surfacing in the interim, doubters can be forgiven for fearing the venerable outfit had sang and picked their last.
And then comes Echoes of the Mountains, as strong a bluegrass album as has been released this year, and one that equals or surpasses many of the dozen or so albums previously released by DBFS.
Few combine the stories of the mountains with the sounds of bluegrass quite like Thomason, and his voice hasn’t lost anything with the passage of the years. With his languid vocal delivery, Thomason places emphasis on the stories of the past. And what stories they are!
Within songs both familiar and new- but mostly familiar- we have death from cattle stampede and conclusion jumping, a fruitless, pained search for a lost sibling, reminiscences of times and ways long past, faithful dogs, some brimstone, and even Sam Cooke brought down to the home place.
Fancy, furious picking has never been a hallmark of the DBFS’s, but there is no doubting they can more than hold there own; the manner in which they rework Bring It One Home to Me or fire-up Grayson’s Train reminds listeners of the group’s instrumental dexterity.
A fine return from one of bluegrass music’s longest running institutions, and one that assures that age and experience are no hindrance to the creation of memorable music.
Achin In Yer Bones
Manitoba’s Romi Mayes calls ’em as she feels them. Just don’t expect any hollow Dr. Phil homilies from her.
Perhaps the closest Canada has to Lucinda Williams, although Eliza Gilkison also serves as a fair point of reference, Mayes’s latest is a dark, foreboding album of stark descriptions exposing harrowing emotions.
“The West Coast sun is warm but those folks don’t like to smile” she sings on the title track opening the ten-song disc, and that is about as bright as the album gets.
When Mayes sings of “Tire marks and faded tail lights” one is taken with the forlorn imagery, but it is only later in the song that the frustration and exhaustion of the protagonist is truly revealed: “That old ring that you gave me is sittin’ by the door, it’s the same old one that I’ve given back before, I can’t make you muster up the might-” She has finally had enough, and she’s peeling out of the drive!
Gurf Morlix’s sensible and sensitive production keeps the focus on Mayes’ stronger than ever voice, augmenting the songs with a balance of forceful percussion and tasteful guitars.
Mayes drifts into Sue Foley territory on the bluesy If the Lord Don’t Love You, and recalls John Hiatt on the intense Slow Down. With I Won’t Cry, Mayes releases her inner Loveless and further exposes her vocal agility.
Hard Road is a love song with a difference, one that filters its warmth through absence and isolation. The song, along with a Morlix duet (Mercy On Me), together demonstrate how impactful Canadiana roots music can be.
In the albums since most of us first heard of Mayes- back a few years when she was singing of Styx and BTO- she has matured and blossomed under the lessons of the road and the tutelage of Morlix. Back then, it almost seemed that she was having a laugh at the expense of her audience.
No longer. The sincerity of her thoughts and expression now comes through on each and every song, and she is ready to be mentioned in the same breath as Eaglesmith and the rest.
Achin In Yer Bones needs to be a contender when the Polaris Music Prize and Juno Award nominees are considered.