Archive for September 2009
>>>Updated Oct. 1 as the awards were posted on the IBMA site.<<<In less than 24 hours, they’ll start handing out the hardware in Nashville. I gave up my IBMA membership a couple years back for a variety of reasons- some logical and a few completely indefensible to anyone but me- and therefore am no longer a voting member of the organization. But, I do enjoy playing along at home. I realize the IBMA and bluegrass in general is of little interest to most- but feel free to make your picks as I list mine in the major categories. As for the IBMA Hall of Fame, I’m sure the Dillards and the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers are worthy…but not at the expense of Hazel Dickens and Ola Belle Reed. Come on, already- get the ladies in! The full list of nominees is posted at the IBMA site: http://www.ibma.org/ibma.awards/currentpress/nomineeslist.asp
Last year’s winners, when mentioned, are in italics. I have placed the recipients in bold.
Entertainer of the Year:
Who I Would Have Voted For: Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver
Who I Think Will Win: Dailey & Vincent
Who I Would Have Voted For: Blue Highway
Who I Think Will Win: Dailey & Vincent
Who I Would Have Voted For: Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper
Who I Think Will Win: Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper
Who I Would Have Voted For: Junior Sisk
Who I Think Will Win: Jamie Dailey Dan Tyminski
Who I Would Have Voted For: Dale Ann Bradley
Who I Think Will Win: Dale Ann Bradley
Album of the Year:
Who I Would Have Voted For: Blue Side of the Blue Ridge- Junior Sisk & Rambler’s Choice
Who I Think Will Win: Dailey & Vincent- Brothers from Different Brothers Wheels- Dan Tyminski Band
Song of the Year: and, if I might say, a bit of a weak crop of nominees
Who I Would Have Voted For: “Don’t Throw Mama’s Flowers Away- Danny Paisley & the Southern Grass (songwriters- Chris Stuart & Ivan Rosenberg)
Who I Think Will Win: “Wheels” Dan Tyminski Band
Banjo- Sammy Shelor- Steve Martin Kristin Scott Benson
Bass- Marshall Wilborn- Mike Bub
Fiddle- Michael Cleveland- Hunter Berry
Dobro- Andy Hall- Andy Hall Rob Ickes
Guitar- I can’t be bothered.- Bryan Sutton Josh Williams
Mandolin- Jesse Brock- Adam Steffey
What do you think?
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee! Hopefully, I’ll update things tomorrow evening. >>>I didn’t do too badly in my predictions and was especially pleased to see so many of my choices actually get awards; quite unusual that. For Marshall and Jesse, this is a long time coming. Congratulations! I had hoped- and nothing against Rob Ickes- that Andy Hall would break through this year, but maybe I’m a bit early on that. I’m pleased to see that no fewer than 7 of the recipients have performed for the Waskasoo Bluegrass Music Society, the club I do the bookings for in Red Deer, AB- Jesse Brock (three times), Marshall Wilborn (twice), Chris Stuart and Ivan Rosenberg, Michael Cleveland (twice), Josh Williams, and Dale Ann Bradley (soon to be twice as she returns Nov. 8) Not a lot to argue with, and it’s nice to see the latest Daughters of Bluegrass project recognized, albeit for but one song. Donald<<<
The final chapter- and in no particular order other than the way they scattered across the floor-
Introducing Hanggai Hanggai (eMusic, 2008) My discovery of the summer. Hanggai is a Mongolian stringband featuring throat singing. Their traditional, Eastern sounds are provided bluegrass and old-time touches. Live, they are energetic and arresting. On disc, thoroughly engaging. Songs like “My Banjo and I” and “Drinking Song” are immediately appealing while more controlled material such as “Four Seasons” and “Haar Hu” sneak into long-term memory. A brilliant little album, and I still regret not purchasing the live recording they had on offer at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival; by the time I returned, they were all gone. Never hesitate when it comes to music. Those open to ‘world’ sounds should find something very appealing about Hanggai. Let’s hope they hook up with The SteelDrivers for a recording in the near future.
The Gift The Jam (1982) I missed The Jam, completly and inexplicitly. In the late 70s and early 80s, I loved everything British music offered. From Judas Priest, Girlschool, Kim Wilde, and Kirsty MacColl to Kajagoogoo, Nick Lowe, XTC, and Bauhaus, if it came from overseas, could be found in Smash Hits or NME, and was available on import- chances are I found it. Even things that didn’t really appeal to me (Japan) or that I didn’t really understand (Joy Division) got a listen.
But the Jam, I didn’t get. To be fair, I wasn’t exposed to them either. It was only with “Town Called Malice” that The Jam received commercial airplay in Edmonton, and I did buy the 12” single of it. Beyond that, the band fell on deaf ears. I got into Weller a bit with The Style Council- Our Favourite Shop was more than intriguing and I went thorough a serious Bruce Foxton period when everything from Touch Sensitive was absorbed- but for the next 20 years, Weller and The Jam (and The Jam were much more than Paul Weller) were ignored by me. Somewhere along the time Weller’s albums started appearing on YepRoc, I started exploring The Jam and each of their albums have become a new favourite as they have been acquired. Fittingly, their swan song was finally found this summer, and The Gift was worth the 27 year wait. Ridiculous, that I admit. From the opening bass rumble of “Happy Together,” The Gift is a masterpiece. “Precious,” “Just Who is the 5 O’clock Hero,” “Trans-Global Express,” and of course “Malice” have been heard and enjoyed on out-take collections, compilations, and live albums, but the songs work best as a cohesive set. It is an album of its time and beyond, one that can be taken as surface music that is laden with grooves, hooks, and catchy choruses as well as really listened to for nearly hidden sounds and lyrical insights. Well worth (re)discovering, depending on your history with Paul Weller and The Jam.
When Lost at Sea The Wooden Sky (Black Box, 2008) I believe this one came out two years ago, but I had never heard of them until a friend caught a bit of their music at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. I purchased the album at the Fest without having heard it- after all, all the Hanggai was gone- and have seldom been so pleased by a ‘never heard of it, but bought it anyway’ impulse buy. (The ultimate of which was my trifecta in the summer of ’82 when I purchased Billy Idol, Built for Speed, and Live It Up with my first semi-adult paycheque at Climax Records in Leduc- which would in a few months also be the location of my first record store job.) The album doesn’t seem or sound as calculated as their latest- and still very good- recording, with more rock elements obvious. The cold darkness of “Lonesome Death of Helen Betty Osborne” brings the album to a beautiful sounding if disturbing close.
Finally, album 25…
8:30 Newfoundland Mike Plume Band (Moraine/Fontana North, 2009) I don’t know where Mike Plume has been since Fool for the Radio appeared and then disappeared from store shelves, but I’m glad he’s back. (Hints of the past half dozen year are provided in “Weeds,” but I’ve no idea how literal they should be taken.) For a while there during the No Depression heyday, I was convinced that Plume was going to be ‘the next one’ to be discovered. I guess it never happened, but his recorded legacy stands up against those of Chris Knight, Robbie Fulks, Slaid Cleaves, and just about any other alt.country singer-songwriter type one could mention. The album title is a reference only a Canadian would understand, and the title track name checks as many small towns and features as a pair of Stompin’ Tom albums. The music surpasses the occasional songwriting indulgence Plume allows himself (really, Mike- “knocking boots?”) Produced by Brent Maher (he who discovered The Judds and has been a Nashville A-lister for 30 years) and Charles Yingling (according to Google, either a short baseball player from the late-1800s or a music consultant and contractor in Nashville- whichever, never heard of him), Plume seems to have found a team that understands the importance of staying true to your music and roots while skirting about the edges of the mainstream, much as Corb Lund has. I’ll even forgive him from stealing (in “Like a Bullet from a Gun”) from me a line I’ve been using for years- “Old enough to know better, young enough not to care”- although I haven’t actually lived that particular sentiment). Hockey, driving, judgment, love- all the important themes are explored, and the album – forgive the mindless cliché- completely rocks…in a non-commercial, country kinda way. His voice is as strong as ever. Comeback of the year, anyone?
And that is the list, although many more albums were listened to and enjoyed throughout the summer. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee.
Originally published in The Red Deer Advocate, September 18, 2009
Ricky Skaggs Songs My Dad Loved Skaggs Family Records
Without being able to pin down a defensible rationale, I’ve reacted coolly to Ricky Skaggs’s most recent bluegrass albums.
Listening to this solo album, on which the undeniably talented Skaggs plays and sings all the parts, I realized that I most appreciate the Kentucky native when he is singing unadulterated country music.
Skaggs’ solid vision for acoustic sounds is apparent. These are simple songs from long ago- Green Pastures in the Sky, This World is Not My Home, City That Lies Foursquare, and of course Little Maggie. Despite the necessary multi-tracking of vocals and instruments, each performance sounds heartfelt and spontaneous.
Nothing fancy is added. Skaggs plays the fiddle, banjos, acoustic and resonator guitars, mandolins and mandocello, and bass, weaving an unadorned elegance throughout each number.
With 14 Grammy awards and a dozen country #1 songs behind him, with Songs My Dad Loved Ricky Skaggs has made what may prove to be his most completely satisfying recording.
St. James’ Gate License to Kilt Self-released
Red Deer’s favourite Celtic band of brothers returns with their fourth long player, the anticipated License to Kilt.
The sextet is fully realized on this recording, capturing the enthusiasm and power of live performance on a professionally recorded album.
Significantly, bassist and bouzouki player Dave Best’s production ear is most highly tuned layering as he does the many stringed, percussive, and wind sounds into a cohesive and balanced Celtic-rock bond.
The lead voices are mixed well above the stellar instrumental rumpus, with the rollicking Raise Your Glass and Whiskey Women standing out. St. James’ Gate’s harmonies are largely of the ‘shouting in unison’ variety, entirely appropriate for spirited material.
The group is anything but timid, as even the most heartfelt tune Good Good Man – a tribute to the departed Jimmy McMullen- rocks along. Balancing the endearing frivolity of Pub Brawl and A Man’s a Man are keenly constructed story songs including Too Late, Johnny Ro, and The Ghosts of Rogers Pass. Johnny Jump Up could have been prized from an obscure volume of Thin Lizzy out-takes while a cracking live version of The Waterboys’ classic Fisherman’s Blues and Peter’s Street bring the proceedings to a more traditional conclusion.
Of note is the impressive manner Billy O’Neil’s pipes and whistles are entwined within the St. James’ Gate sound. Fine local players, this is a most charming recording. Indeed, with License to Kilt, St. James’ demonstrates that the boys are back better than ever!
As always, thanks for dropping by Fervor Coulee. Donald
Continuing the journey…
Pale Imperfect Diamond Cedar Hill Refugees (Effigy Records, 2009) I can’t say John Carter Cash’s production decisions do a lot for me, but on this disc- which brings the musical influences of Uzbekistan to Nashville- he and Jack Clift get it pretty much right. Jadoo is the name of the Uzbek band featured throughout, and I’m not really sure where they stop and the array of the usual guests, including Marty Stuart, Ralph Stanley, John Cowan, Randy Scruggs, Ronnie McCoury, Harry Stinson, Dennis Crouch, start.
But the music works on a number of levels. First, the music of the Uzbeks does remind one of southern mountain music, at least as it is presented here. Second, the exotic and mysterious rhythms and unusual instrumentation which includes horns, percussion, and stringed instruments galore works as an alternative to the increasingly glossy bluegrass sounds one ever more associates with ‘mountain music.’ Not that this music isn’t highly produced, but if I’m going to listen to studio polish I’d rather find it here than in my bluegrass.
Finally, the vocals are full of treats that even the most casual of listeners will appreciate. Dr. Ralph’s contributions to “Keys to the Kingdom” are worth the purchase alone, but John Cowan shines on “Oh, Bury Me Not”. The downside is the lack of liner notes beyond general musician credits; a project such as this cries out for explanation and reflection on the song choices, the instruments featured, and the interplay of the participants.
The Record Bar Shows Bob Walkenhorst with Jeff Porter and Norm Dahlor (Internet Archive, 2009) Not an album or even a series of albums, but an ongoing archive of weekly shows performed by the Rainmakers front man at a Kansas City pub. Amongst the wealth of original material are choice country, folk and rock (“Dirty Water”) covers, many with timely significance (“Woodstock” in early-August, Ellie Greenwich’s “Hanky Panky” and “Chimes of Freedom” dedicated to Ted Kennedy as the month drew to a close.)
Walkenhorst and his compatriots are obviously comfortable performing within this largely acoustic setting. While over 300 Walkenhorst recordings are available on the Archive, this summer’s slate of shows were particularly strong, with focus and looseness apparent in equal measure. http://www.archive.org/details/BobWalkenhorst
South Mouth Robbie Fulks (Bloodshot, 1997) An unfortunately long-neglected favourite, I rediscovered South Mouth when I ran across a deeply discounted copy and picked it up for a gift. Of course, I had to listen to it in the car on the way home…and then the next day and a week later. I still haven’t passed it onto Cheryl and Ross, but I trust they’ll like it as much as I do if they ever get a chance to listen to it. Every song, except “F%&k this Town” would sound terrific within a bluegrass arrangement with “Cold Statesboro Ground” already having been given such by James Reams & the Barnstormers. When I hear songs like “I Told Her Lies”, “What the Lord Hath Wrought (Any Fool Can Knock Down)”, and “Busy Not Crying”, I remember why I love country music so much, and how rare such performances seem.
Black & Blue The Rolling Stones (Universal 1976/2009) I’ve wanted to pick up this album ever since reading Ian Rankin’s excellent novel of the same name a few years ago. I was curious not only because of the way Rankin referenced the album throughout, but because I’d heard such mixed messages about the disc. I finally purchased it when it was rereleased this year and I found it cheap enough. The album didn’t blow me away, but I certainly appreciated the mood the grooves inspired in me- good for highway driving, no doubt. Listening to the album, I couldn’t help be surprised that folks claimed the Stones went disco with Emotional Rescue just a few years later; the two albums certainly share the same DNA. I’m glad I listened to it, if only to satisfy my curiousity. Not essential, but few Stones albums are.
Songs My Father Loved Ricky Skaggs (Skaggs Family, 2009) A beautiful album, artfully rendered. And that isn’t something I say very often about a Ricky Skaggs album. Likely the last time I had overwhelmingly pleasant thoughts about a Skaggs disc was somewhere prior to the turn of the century with Bluegrass Rules and Life is A Journey. On the cover, Skaggs looks terrific- and the photo reminds me of both Guy Clark and Marty Stuart- and he appears to be accepting the passages of time. Despite all the necessary multi-tracking, the music is fresh and homely (as in simple and unpretentious) presented. When Skaggs sings country, as he does here- not commercial country, mind, but mountain inspired country- he is in his wheelhouse. Wonderful stuff!
Sylvain Sylvain/Syl Sylvain & the Teardrops Sylvain Sylvain (1980/1981/2007 Acadia) I first heard “I’m So Sorry” on a Rachel Sweet bootleg where she is playing tunes on the Kid Leo show. I picked up both of these albums over the years in delete bins (remember them?) and had been keeping my eyes open for them on disc. I was completely surprised when I (again) tripped over this 2fer in an Athens Metropolis store. I’ve written about the store elsewhere, but what a wonderboon it was- four or five stories of music, neatly if confusingly (to me, a non-Greek) arranged in a roomy and clean environment. Anyway, the second album doesn’t hold up to the first, but the first three tracks (“Teenage News”, “What’s That Got To Do With Rock n Roll”, and the perfect “I’m So Sorry) are as wonderful a ten minutes as I’ve heard in all my years. Maybe the best seven Euro I spent on the trip, although all those Orange Fantas were mighty tasty.
Different Views David Gogo (Cordova Bay, 2009) I’ll be honest. The only reason I even gave this album a fair listen was because I noticed the cover of John Stewart’s “Gold”. I’ve got a stack of CDs that I haven’t had time or inclination to listen to, and this one likely would have found a place in that pile. Do I really need to listen to another self-indulgent blues guitar album?
Good thing I noticed “Gold” because the album is very strong, not the least bit wankerish. It holds up and draws in even the most reluctant listener. The originals are power blues-rockers of the finest sort, with changes of tempo that encourage air-guitar miming from listeners and vocal arrangements that recall Tom Wilson and Carlos Santana. Different Views is soaring voices, power chords and waves of organ, tightly arranged for maximum impact.
I’ve searched for covers of John Stewart’s most famous song this side of “Daydream Believer” and they are rare; Gogo’s version, featuring Carolyn Mark in Stevie’s place is remarkable; Jim Bass may now be making $8.50 for an hour, but the rhythm in his hands is as steady as ever in Gogo’s treatment.
A reminder never to judge without listening.
Two Dimes & a Nickel David Davis & the Warrior River Boys (Rebel, 2009) Along with Dale Ann Bradley’s latest, maybe the finest bluegrass album I’ve heard this year. Beautiful, cinematic songs. Davis picks songs with more care that it appears do his higher-profile bluegrass contemporaries. Yes, they include clichés but the familiar phrases and expected treatments work for the song, not against it. See my full review at http://lonesomeroadreview.wordpress.com/
Motorway Tom Robinson (Music de Luxe, 1994) I’m not sure when or where this collection was recorded. I found it for cheap in a bin of leftovers several years ago and promptly forgot about it. Last winter, ”2-4-6-8 Motorway” worked its way back into my brain when it was featured in an episode of Ashes to Ashes. So I dug out my vinyl of Power in the Darkness and had some fun for a few nights, and actually was listening to PITD in the car this morning before writing this piece. Re-found this disc on the shelf when I was doing some reorganizing of the CDs. A fine little set that captures the freewheeling attitude that was so obvious when these songs were first heard during university days- we can do anything and will accomplish everything. Well, we didn’t- or at least I haven’t. ”2-4-6-8 Motorway” is still one of the best driving songs of any genre of the past forty years, and while the version here is a bit restrained, it still feels right. This album encouraged me to further explore the Tom Robinson and TRB discographies, and it has been great fun.
A few more to come…. Cheers, Donald
Originally published in The Red Deer Advocate, September 4, 2009
In today’s column in the Red Deer Advocate I was very pleased to review two outstanding Canadian blues albums. For me, it is a fine line between blues wankering and music that resonates with me. Of late, I’ve been listening to several blues albums and have reviewed a handful. I’ve also been exploring some older material, stuff like Johnny Winter, Son House, and even The Mississippi Sheiks. I picked up Joe Bonamassa’s The Ballad of John Henry and couldn’t even listen to it all. Yet, I put on some Alligator-era Johnny Winter- music that isn’t all that different from Bonamassa’s- and I’m entirely engaged. Please read my reviews of David Gogo’s Different Views and the latest live- and I believe only family authorized- posthumous Jeff Healey disc, Songs from the Road. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. I hope you find something of interest, not just in my words but in exploring the music I’m recommending. Donald
David Gogo Different Views (Cordova Bay)
Nanaimo-based David Gogo is a veteran on the Canadian blues circuit, and he returns this fall with his tenth album of electric guitar-oriented shuffles and R&B boogie dance tunes.
The originals are power blues-rockers of the finest sort, with changes of tempo that encourage air-guitar miming from listeners and vocal arrangements that recall Tom Wilson (Where the Devil Won’t Go) and Carlos Santana (Lies). Different Views is soaring voices, power chords, and waves of organ, tightly arranged for maximum impact.
A pair of crack covers- Don’t Bring Me Down, owing as much to David Johansen as it does Eric Burden, and John Stewart’s Gold- serve as recognizable anchors. The 1979 hit receives a vital update, with Gogo’s whammy bar altering the familiar melody and Carolyn Mark holding her own in Stevie Nicks’ harmony spot.
Different Views is a blues album that holds up to repeated listens.
Jeff Healey Songs from the Road (Stony Plain)
During his life I largely ignored Jeff Healey, the Toronto blues and jazz guitarist who died in early 2008. While friends were grooving to his radio hits, I was busy with John Hiatt, Dave Alvin, and the Razorbacks.
This seamless set, collated from festival and club appearances during the last two years of his life, serves as a solid introduction to the bluesy side of Healey while providing long-time followers much to savour.
Showcasing the breadth of Healey’s gifts, most tracks clock in at over five minutes allowing these roadhouse jams to evolve. I Think I Love You Too Much and Angel Eyes represent Healey hits, while the catalogues of Cream, Willie Dixon, The Beatles, and The Allmans are expressively mined by Healey’s impressive band of blues brothers.
Songs from the Road is a fine addition to the Jeff Healey legacy.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee.
I know I’m luckier than many. Even as a writer of marginal talent, I’ve been able to find forums for my writing, and as a result of this am exposed to more fresh music than other folks. Since I also spend too much time in both used and new CD stores, I uncover CDs of interest- including many I didn’t even know I need.
For example, last weekend I stopped into one of the local stores and found a reissue of Mark Lindsay’s Arizona and Silverbird albums on one disc. I barely know Mark Lindsay from Lindsay Buckingham, and haven’t listened to Paul Revere & the Raiders except on oldies radio…although “Indian Reservation” has long been a favourite. I bought the album without even thinking about it, and it was only when Track 1 started once I got home that I realized “Arizona” was that Arizona song. I’ve listened to the disc twice through, and while it isn’t essential I’ve enjoyed discovering something I hadn’t before listened to.
If I work hard enough, I’ll usually find something of interest.
Like many, I spend too much of my free (and other) time listening to music. Here is the first installment of a piece I am assembling where I reflect upon some of the music I’ve either taken off the shelf, purchased, or have been sent since June. While not necessary stunning in all cases, all of these albums are ones I’m really glad I listened to this summer.
Presented in no particular order-
Cry Cry Cry Dar Williams, Lucy Kaplansky, and Richard Shindell (Razor & Tie, 1998) We probably all have albums that we love but seldom- if ever- pull off the shelf. This trio project isn’t one of those as I didn’t know I loved it, and in fact can’t remember listening to it prior to this summer although I must have. I rediscovered Cry Cry Cry while on Santorini and for some reason it really resonated with me as I walked the streets of Fira. The blending and interplay of the three voices is quite special as songs from some of the finest contemporary writers are interpreted. Highlights include “Cold Missouri Waters” by James Keelaghan, Buddy Mondlock’s “The Kid,” and “Down By the Water” written by Jim Armenti, whose version can be seen/heard here, live in a grocery store. Weird. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqSzNKPoRqo
Potato Hole Booker T (Anti- 2009) I wasn’t sure what to except from this one. I’ve always enjoyed the Booker T sound, but am by no means a learned listener. I’ve been hit and miss with the Drive-By Truckers- who serve as the band for this ten-track album- and Neil Young- who plays guitar. It is a rock album with lots of guitar, and I find it really groovy. Of course, the Hammond B3 comes through loud and clear. I’m glad I took a chance on it. There is also a nice set recorded July 4 posted at the Live Music Archive, if you can get past the annoying talking head.
Armageddon Prism (Capital, 1979) A western-Canadian FM-staple, every song on this disc is recognizable to guys of a certain age. Some of the effects sound dated, but dang- the songs have hooks. As a Trooper fan, I couldn’t publicly admit to liking these guys during grade 9 and 10; at least, that was the rule in my head. I’m glad I stopped over-thinking things.
UN, The Boy Bands Have Won, and English Rebel Songs 1381-1984 Chumbawamba (1998, 2004, 2008) Over the past two years, and really for no tangible reason, I’ve been collecting Chumbawamba discs whenever I run across them. Even though almost every album takes a different approach to pop and folk music, I’ve yet to be disappointed. I downloaded these ones from eMusic and iTunes after catching the Chumbawamba Acoustic quintet at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival in early August. I love the blending of voices, the way the female vocals soar above the instruments. The songs are clever and, and times, insightful and thought-provoking.
Nothing Gold Can Stay The Duke & The King (Ramseur, 2009) I can’t write about this album yet because it makes me ache. I can’t stop listening to it. The most beautiful sounding album I listened to all summer. Sparse, mellow, dreamy. Love The Outsiders reference, which I noticed as soon as I saw the album…realizing it comes from a poem. Frost? Buy this one.
As Time Goes By The Bluegrass Brothers (Self-released, 2009) As time goes by, the Bluegrass Brothers just get better. Since I first heard the Virginia band five or so years ago, they have made huge strides- from an enthusiastic if non-descript area family band, to a crew of pros that can hold their own with the finest of the professional bands. They are not fancy but they are lively, pouring out straight-ahead hardcore bluegrass without a hint of progressive intent. I don’t want all my bluegrass to sound this rustic, but I’m glad The Bluegrass Brothers remain true to their vision. Check out “Stanley Tradition.”
A Quiet Evil Lee Harvey Osmond (Latent Recordings, 2009) Turn Tom Wilson loose, and odd things are bound to occur. Featuring Michael and Margo Timmins, Josh Finlayson and Andy Maize, and Brent Titcomb, the album mines deep, virgin musical ground. It isn’t what I would immediately label as roots music, but is has all the elements- original music, ties to country, rock, and folk, and textured vocals that shy away from pop gloss. The album seems dark, yet is soothing and enlightening. The presence of Aaron Goldstein’s pedal steel brings in shades of country, but the overall sound has as much in common with X and Los Straitjackets as it does Fred Eaglesmith.
Western Bell Kelly Joe Phelps (Black Hen Records, 2009) An excellent album to accompany coffee…I drank a lot of coffee during summer mornings last month listening to this one while preparing to write about it. Phelps sings not a word. Instead, in producing a nocturnal collection of eleven solo guitar instrumentals, the west coast native allows his 6- and 12- strings to reclaim their rightful place. Haunting and adventurous, the tunes never get bogged down. So balanced and spacious are the songs, it is difficult to accept that much of the album was improvised in the studio.
The Further Adventures of Los Straitjackets (YepRoc, 2009) Pure fun. Modern surf music created far from the ocean. Nearly every song seems to have been inspired by a previously recorded, familiar song. In “Minority Report” I hear repeated echoes of “This Diamond Ring” and Mashmakhan’s “As Years Go By.” In another, I swear I hear “Theme from A Summer Place.” Thoroughly engaging, if too brief, clocking in as it does at just a cough over thirty minutes. Inspired packaging, too.
Blue Lights on the Runway Bell X1 (Yep Roc, 2009) Sometimes albums surprise me. Duh! I didn’t know anything about this group despite seeing their name in the British mags (Uncut, MOJO) that I read. The rockiest and simultaneously poppiest album on this list, Ireland’s Bell X1’s fourth album was their first for me and brought to mind the wonder years of the 80s British Invasion- Modern English, Lloyd Cole, Nik Kershaw, The Icicle Works, et al. Perhaps most in common with the simple sophistication of East Side Story Squeeze, this one continues to impress. Musically, it is much deeper than most of the modern, non-roots music I encounter.
I’ll post more reflections in a few days. As always, thanks for dropping in at Fervor Coulee. Donald