Originally published in The Red Deer Advocate, October 16, 2009
John Wort Hannam
Black Hen Music
Maintaining his home base in Fort Macleod, over three previous albums John Wort Hannam has established himself as the province’s great folk hope; if anyone within this hard packed environment is destined for greatness, odds have to be in favour of it being the unassuming, former school teacher from the southland.
From his numerous area visits, those who have encountered Wort Hannam appreciate that his voice is pleasingly distinctive. As do Chris Smithers and Martin Sexton, two songwriting musicians that come to mind when listening to Wort Hannam, Wort Hannam and producer Steve Dawson ensure that this powerful voice is presented as his albums’ unifying feature. On Queen’s Hotel, his dreamy lyrical delivery allows each phrase to settle, to find relevancy in the listener’s experience.
Consistent with the previous Two-Bit Suit album, Wort Hannam is backed by a full band. Dawson’s presence is evident, but it is not noted when Wort Hannam is doing the picking or when it is the producer contributing. Rob Becker’s double bass provides depth, while John Reischman’s mandolin contributions are obvious, especially on the swinging Requiem for a Small Town.
Much like an old Merle Haggard album, Wort Hannam’s latest presents a series of vignettes that represent lives and stories greater than their four minutes suggest.
Noteworthy are Juno-winner Jenny Whiteley’s duet vocals on Worth a Damn, a tune that would bring to mind John Prine and Iris Dement even if the press sheet didn’t suggest such. Before I Wake, a song of the traveling troubadour’s life, is a highlight as is Lucky Strikes.
The album’s legacy song may be the lead cut, With the Grain; of such quality that it brings to mind the attributes of Guy Clark, this one contains workbench wisdom and, I suspect, will be played at more than a few funerals.
In true folk fashion, Wort Hannam delves into his own catalogue to provide updated renditions of two of his most popular numbers: Pier 21, detailing his family’s journey from Jersey to Canada, and the unofficial anthem of Southern Alberta, Church of the Long Grass.
Not only the finest Canadian folk album of the year, I can’t recall a more engaging or memorable folk album of the past several years. As did each of his previous discs, Queen’s Hotel demonstrates that John Wort Hannam is a major talent.
Starting this evening in Santa Clara, Wort Hannam is spending October bringing his music to California coffeehouses and folk clubs. With an album of the rare qualities of Queen’s Hotel, word is bound to continue to spread about one of Canada’s finest independent artists.
Actually, I’m grumpy about a few things this evening. Maybe I’ll share the other with you another night, but it has to do with bluegrass bookings.
The one I can and will share with you- whether you want it or not- is this. And I’m as mad at myself as I am at Rosanne and her people.
I’ve been hearing cuts from The List for weeks now, and nothing really impressed me too much. Pretty much music by the numbers. Which is disappointing for me, mostly because I’ve got a crush on Rosanne that is almost Emmylou-like; musically, I mean. She can flat sing, and I’ve loved most everything I’ve heard although I’ve never tripped across that first, Europe-only album.
But, as I buy everything Rosanne does, I knew I would pick it up the first chance I got. (BTW, went to the local HMV the other day looking for it; none on the shelf. Their computer said they had 15 in the store. After a five minute wait while the back was searched, I was asked if I wouldn’t mind coming back later in the week as it was in a box in the back and couldn’t be found right now. This was on Sunday after the Tuesday release. Guess who lost a sale? And the stores wonder why fewer and fewer are buying hard copies. But, I digress. I’m good at that…)
So I go to Wal-Mart on the way home from work the other day, completely forgetting I meant to check on iTunes for the album as I suspected there may be a bonus cut on the download, and I buy the album for $15.99.
As soon as I go home, I see the computer and have a V-8 moment. I pull up the album, and see that for $9.99 I could have downloaded the album and got a bonus track with Neko Case.
So, for $6.00 more, I get one song less. The packaging contains nothing that would be worth the extra three-toonies. No insights. Nothing memorable.
So, I’m grumpy.
(Not terribly impressed by the song selection either, even having known prior to buying what was on the album. The chosen songs are pretty lame- not necessarily the performances themselves- and of the waaaaaay overdone variety on the whole. I would have thought John would have been a bit more adventurous when recommending songs to his daughter. Or, maybe, the blame- if such is appropriate- belongs to JL and RC and they just chose the lame songs.
Okay, lame is the wrong word I realize. But, is there anyone who in the year 2009 will feel their world shift hearing Rosanne sing “Miss the Mississippi and You?” Or “I’m Movin’ On” or “Sea of Heartbreak?” ”Long Black Veil?” “She’s Got You” or “Girl from the North Country?” How about something- anything- that wasn’t a top ten hit? (Well, I guess that would be “GftNC” but why let facts get in the way of a rant!)
The definitive cover of “Silver Wings” has been done. Ditto “Heartaches by the Numbers”. The only song that I was excited to see listed was “Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow” and that is because of the thread that runs through that song back to the Carter Family.
I have no doubt of Rosanne’s sincerity in recording these songs. But 36 years after her father created the list for her, nothing about these selected songs appears inspired. Few of these songs would have been fresh while Rosanne rode the tour bus with her dad, but now- and with dozens of cover projects and one-off covers between them- the choices she has made seem lazy. And I realize she is working with a list put together that many years ago. We’ll need to wait for a second volume to understand the complexities of Johnny’s chosen 100 songs, but the 12 selections here don’t give me much hope. Too safe, by half.
But, I’m really mad because, once again, the recording industry got extra money out of me for giving me less than I deserve as a consumer. Am I any less worthy of hearing Rosanne and Neko sing “Satisfied Mind” as those who download the album for ten bucks? Where is the logic in that? And don’t even get me started on the Barnes and Noble exclusive version with yet another song on it- there are no B&Ns in Canada, as far as I know.
How about a Fervor Coulee edition of the album with a Bill Monroe song on it, just for me?
Okay. I’m done. I don’t feel better.
Anyone else frustrated by anything tonight?? (Sorry about the crowded condition of the last few paragraphs- I’ve attempted to edit to leave breaks four times, but they aren’t taking.)
After years of searching, I’ve found my people. And they were all with me at the Star Stage at the 9th annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park on Saturday afternoon.
I’m still not sure exactly how it happened, but my wife agreed a weekend getaway to San Francisco, a couple hours by plane, was a good idea. I had an earned day off, she took a holiday day, and within a few hours of making the decision we had booked the rooms and flight.
What a treat! We decided to spend the Friday afternoon of our arrival seeing as much of the city as we could, foregoing John Prine and Lyle Lovett. Our hotel was in the heart of the Haight area- Stanyan Park- and was quite nice, although we were shortly to discover it was a bit like sleeping in a tent. The hotel was right across from the park, but deceptively far from the festival site- it ended up being about a brisk, 30 minute walk to the festival.
None the less, we jumped on the Hop On, Hop Off bus tour that stopped across from the hotel, and within 90 minutes of arriving in the city, were streaming across the Golden Gate Bridge on top of an open-air double-decker bus. I was giddy like a kid! Deana claimed I wasn’t as excited when we were in Greece, which was only partly true- when in Greece, I was constantly exhausted, so it was difficult to show excitement.
Truly a beautiful city, the Hop On tour was a nice way to get a quick overview of the city. An extended stop at Macy’s downtown demonstrated that Starbucks coffee truly tastes the same no matter where you are and that some folks will pay way too much for a sweater. We concluded our city tour unsure of how to spend our evening, and found a nice place for supper around the corner from the hotel- Siam Lotus, I believe.
But before we got there, I saw- in the distance- the glory land that is Amoeba Records! O, gosh. What a place. We don’t have stores like this in Alberta anymore, and likely never did. An unreal selection, and because I was pressed for time, I never made it past the first five aisles. The CD clearance section was bigger than most retail stores in my area! 14 discs and $30 later and we were ready to eat.
We turned in pretty early after the flight and stress of a new city, and made plans for a long day at the festival site. One of us had a long day, anyway.
My wife repeatedly challenges me on why I go to festivals. She points out that I hate crowds, which is generally true. I hold noisy chatterers in disdain. In general, I find port-o-potties psychologically scarring. Now, while I feel she is projecting her feelings a little bit here, in general she has a point. I shouldn’t like festivals for a whole lot of reasons, including the ones mentioned as well as less than ideal sound, excessively priced food, and set changeover times that are usually painfully long. And yet I continue to go. I am pleased to say that on the whole Hardly Strictly exceeded all expectations, and only the port-o-potties cast a pall over my two days on the grounds.
My wife and I decided we didn’t want to run around the grounds capturing every act of appeal. So we had made our selections based on a mutual common ground, and we had most of our day slated for the Rooster Stage. She thought Jorma Kaukonen would be to her taste, and I thought she would enjoy the Boz Scaggs revue as well.
The decision made, we set out for our walk through the park to the festival site. And we walked. And walked. With only a general idea of where we were going- even following a map- we likely added a couple kilometres to our journey, but for the most part it was a very nice walk through a lovely green space. (For the record, if you’re going- walk straight west up JFK Drive…if only we knew!)
We set up our mats at the Rooster Stage, and got ready for a day. Walking across the site of the Banjo Stage, I started to really get a sense of the size of this event- it makes the Edmonton Folk Festival seem quaint, and gives Calgary’s Prince’s Island Park a run as a primo festival site as far as trees, shade, and atmosphere go.
Marshall Crenshaw was up first, and did a fine little set. Not terribly engaging, but that had more to do with how far from the stage we were, not to mention the jerk who set up a normal-sized chair four feet in front of our ground level mats- wearing a freakin’ straw hat to boot. That he and his colleagues seldom paused in their chats did little to temper the holes my eyes were drilling into his mealy wee brain…but I had promised myself not to care about such things, and therefore eased back to listen to the power pop sounds of Crenshaw.
While a fan- I have several of his albums and believe his version of “I’m Sorry (But So Is Brenda Lee)” is a top 100 all-time rock song- I was surprised at how many songs I could mouth-a-long to.
My wife started the Guy Clark jokes before he even hit the stage, and she soon went for a walk rather than listen to his ‘old man’ music. I thought his set was pretty good- he was in strong voice, Verlon Thompson complemented with nice lead work, and Bryn Davies was a nice, unexpected touch on bass and vocals.
Clark did the expected numbers- “L. A. Freeway,” “Home Grown Tomatoes,” and “Let It Roll”- but no “Desperadoes Waiting For a Train” (fine by me, to be honest) or “Texas, 1947” or “Randall Knife” which would have been nice. A few new songs- “Some Days the Song Writes You,” “The Guitar”, and “Hemingway’s Whiskey”- held their own. By the time “Dublin Blues” and “Stuff That Works” were done, I was very pleased that I had forgone some of my other choices for a set from the master.
Mid-set, my plans for the day changed when Deana decided she had already had enough of the people and didn’t want to put up with a day in the wind and dirt; she happily went off to continue her city tour (“You’ll probably enjoy yourself more without me,” she claimed; I denied such, but after almost thirty years, I could tell she wasn’t buying it) and I hastily re-planned my day. O, the bounty of choices I faced!
After a few minutes at a way too crowded Banjo Stage trying to listen to the Tim O’Brien Band, I made the last minute decision to head toward the Star Stage for Dave Alvin & The Guilty Women. The reasons were numerous- I always enjoy Dave Alvin, Laurie Lewis had just appeared in Red Deer so the chance to have her in my city one week and then see her in her’s eight days later was too obviously serendipitous to pass up, and the fact I probably wouldn’t have another chance to see them as a combo also played a part. But mostly, it was sentimental curiosity- with the recent death of Amy Farris, I really wanted to see and hear what the band would do.
Since I arrived a full-set early for the show, I found an almost too good to be real space down front, and even met some folks from Utah and Wisconsin to chat with. All the signs were present that the show may be a bit rough- Dave and Laurie working up a tune with fill-in fiddler Suzy Thompson, a lot of uncomfortable milling about on stage from various musicians. But the smiles were obvious, and soon it was apparent that we were about to witness something quite spectacular.
I’ve seen Dave Alvin several times at various festivals, but never to such an attentive and involved audience. We knew all the words, we were familiar with most of the moves and riffs. After years of searching, I had found my people. And they were all with me at the Star Stage on a glorious and sunny Saturday. Without much formality, the band launched into the Cajun arrangement of “Marie, Marie” that kicks off the recent album. We were on our feet right away, and you could light a small town with the energy the audience and band generated. Powerful doesn’t start to describe it.
Appropriately, Alvin brought things down for moments of somber reflection to acknowledge the absence and passing of Farris. I’ll admit, I blubbered for just a few seconds- it was worse than a Hallmark commercial. Pushing me over the edge were the few bars of “California Bloodlines” Dave sang in honour of Amy as an introduction to “California’s Burning”, bringing to mind not only Farris’s death, but that of the songwriter John Stewart. To be in California, and to be reminded of a true son of that state was just too much for me, and I sat down and teared up. Weird.
But the only burning to be smelled on this day was of the medicinal variety, and sadness was short-lived in this environment. Anyway, the rest of the set was steaming. “Abilene” featured an extended jam and “Boss of the Blues” drew me in to vicariously cruise the bluesy streets of southern California with Dave and Phil. “Potter’s Field” was especially poignant on this day, and the band found a new way to play the blues on “Dry River.” Laurie Lewis really cut loose on the set closer “Que Sera Sera”, tearing up a bit of a hoedown with Alvin on that one.
The surprise of the set? Lisa Pankratz! Wow, she can pound. Really nice. Without doubt, the set of the weekend for me. Everyone sounded at their finest, the band’s energy was very positive, and Christy McWilson only threatened to strangle Dave once.
I stayed at the same stage- listening to the Old 97’s play on the adjoining stage- for the Nick Lowe set to follow. A fine decision, and one that was on my original list of ‘must-sees’. Again, talked to folks about common music interests- including Steve Forbert- and had a fine cookie and coffee to pass the time. Lowe was appearing solo, a bit of a disappointment as I had seen the same in Calgary a few years ago and would have enjoyed a band show. But the calm sophistication of Lowe was a nice palate cleanser after the full-bodied brew that was the Guilty Women.
By starting the show with “Ragin’ Eyes”, Nick gave me hope that we would hear a few unexpected numbers- perhaps “Time Wounds All Heels” or “Breaking Glass.” Alas, such was not to be as he delivered a solid, well-performed but not especially inspired list of his most familiar numbers. Mood was lighter than last time out, definitely less restrained, and he cracked more than a couple smiles. But the songs were of the expected sort- “What’s Shaking on the Hill,” “Long Limbed Girl”, “Does She Have A Friend”, et al. “Heart” was a nice surprise, but he really needs to retire “All Men Are Liars.” “Cruel to Be Kind” got the sing-a-long treatment, and “The Beast in Me” silenced everyone, as it should.
It was nice to hear “Without Love,” the other song of Nick’s J.R. Cash recorded and one of my personal favourites before he launched into the expected and populist climax of “I Knew the Bride” Staring into the sun, the silhouette that was Nick Lowe concluded with his eternal song- the one that’ll last long after the bride has divorced and she discovers that being cruel is seldom kind; hearing “(What’s So Funny About)” Peace, Love and Understanding” in San Francisco was pretty darn neat for this old man.
Things were starting to cool off a bit, especially in the shade and I wasn’t exactly positive where to go next. I decided to forego the crowd of the Banjo stage- again- and skip Gillian Welch in favour of Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives. With the best corn dog I’ve ever eaten quickly devoured, and in fine company with Al and his gal Susan, I sat back to enjoy classic country music without worrying about analyzing every nuance.
Some old (“Tempted”), some borrowed (a Buck Owens- Bakersfield instrumental that some may have recognized as “Buckaroo” but that I’m just guessing at, “Long Black Veil”), something blue (“California Blues”), and very little new, Marty and his boys did themselves proud. A strong, unpretentious set highlighted by acoustic gospel vocal tunes such as “Working on a Building” and “A Little Talk with Jesus”, the Osborne Brothers’ “Bluegrass Express”, and a Carteresque guitar instrumental.
By this time, even a Canadian was getting cold, and I needed to move on, and finally gave in to the calling of the Banjo Stage for Steve Earle & the Bluegrass Dukes. That this festival’s biggest and most crowded stage hosts the most traditional bluegrass acts lends this fest a giant heap of credibility. The festival features the gamut of roots and Americana sounds (well, almost- more on that in a moment), and I’m sure would draw even more people if the bluegrass aspect was played down a bit. But, true to their roots, mainstream, progressive, traditional, and contemporary bluegrass acts play to an audience that possibly surpasses 20 000 at this one stage alone. I missed Steve Martin & the Steep Canyon Rangers, Skaggs, Dry Branch, and others who played the stage earlier in the day, but managed to catch much of the Earle set. I’m glad I did.
I had a decent sightline from the side of the stage, away from the hordes, and the sound was still decent. The blowing wind was numbing fingers on stage (and off, for that matter), leading Earle to quip, “I can’t feel them, but it sounds good.” The set wasn’t particularly tight, hardly surprising given the conditions, but I’m glad I can check off the Bluegrass Dukes on my list of Bands to See. This was a particularly charged set of Dukes- O’Brien on mando, Darrell Scott on banjo and such, with Dennis Crouch (bass) and Casey Driessen (fiddle). “Sin City” sounded especially nice, as did “The Hometown Blues”, complete with familiar story about square-headed cowboys named Otto.
They did “White Frieghtliner Blues” and a few songs from the bluegrass album like “Texas Eagle” and “Yours Forever Blue.” Darkness was moving in, and I still had to walk back to the hotel, so I started off on perhaps the second longest walk of my life. Well worth it, though. A terrific day.
A couple random thoughts. Everyone has a dog, and they all come to the festival. Where I come from, dogs don’t go to festivals. It was a nice touch to see all the pets, and several were absolutely gorgeous animals. All appeared to be well-behaved, save the one who bit me! Seriously, all these well behaved, mannerly and docile dogs, and one little yapper jumps out at me and grabs my leg! Fortunately, he/she caught mostly jeans, but I felt its teeth on my leg. Gave my old heart a jump, for sure. The owners were blissfully inattentive and quite taken back that their little Foo-Foo would do such a thing.
For a cosmopolitan city, the festival is very white- both in audience and music. Race doesn’t really enter my thoughts too often, but it was pretty apparent that the weekend lacked colour. True, I didn’t exactly go out on a limb, listening to more than a few aging white guys, but I know my wife would have appreciated more world and blues music; heck, she may have even stayed around for a little while. And yes, Mavis, Allen Toussaint, and others were on the bill- but it still seemed fairly pale.
The festival merch was a bit sparse, with only t-shirts, posters, and blankets on offer. I was hoping to buy a button-down denim or black shirt, but such was not to be found. Both of the major Alberta festivals have extensive merchandise for sale, and I’m surprised HSB doesn’t take advantage of this revenue stream, while fully aware cash flow isn’t a factor here.
The port-o-potties were gross. I’m so glad I’m a man and don’t need to sit to urinate. Come on, with a 1.5 million (or whatever) budget, get the toilets pumped out over night.
Finally, I was shocked at how laid back everything was, for the most part. Little jostling for position, very few folks apparently losing their bearings- the whole festival had a real positive vibe. Even with so many people and being in a foreign land, I felt comfortable leaving my backpack unattended while moving about the stage areas. The whole festival had a very calm mood associated with it. I wonder why?
We needed to catch a late afternoon flight back home, so I knew I would only be able to take in three acts of the Sunday, but I knew which they would be- Darrell Scott, Hazel Dickens, and Doc Watson, all at the Banjo Stage.
Under a warming Northern California sky, the final day of HSB9 opened with the Darrell Scott Band. Having arrived well early, I was able to find a small spot amongst the mammoth and largely abandoned tarps covering the front of the stage area. With Casey, Tim, Bryn and Matt Flinner, Scott delivered a scorching 6-song, 40-minute set.
“Family Tree” was dusted off for a fine performance. On Paul Simon’s “American Tune” Scott again demonstrated his prowess, alternating powerful and rhythmic strumming with carefully chosen, flat-picked notes. A song I don’t remember having previously heard, maybe called “Long Wide Open Road,” featured a great, star-crossed line- “While I was looking for forever, she was looking for the door.”
Flinner did some nice work low on the fret board during “A Memory Like Mine;” the song had a real jam feel with everyone taking the opportunity for extended breaks, Driessen most impressively working the low register. The too-short set concluded with “Long Time Gone.” Time well spent.
Hazel Dickens, truly supported by a cast of trusted sidemen, was who I really wanted to see on this day, and that is no knock against Doc. But Hazel Dickens just makes my bluegrass engine purr. I love her voice, and even knowing the voice isn’t what it once was, it doesn’t hardly matter. She can flat out sing.
Called the Heart and Soul of the festival by its benefactor Warren Hellman, Hazel struggled a bit to find her voice on “Things in Life”, but rounded into form by the time she concluded “Aragon Mill.” “Mannington Mine” was performed, as was the similarly themed “America’s Poor.” (And I tripped over a wee bit on the ‘net that mentions these songs and puts Hellman’s contributions to the festival in a less positive context: http://www.beyondchron.org/news/index.php?itemid=2528)
To ‘appease’ Dudley Connell, Hazel allowed him to sing the Stanley Brothers song “Lonesome Without You.” “Jack and May” had Dudley singing with Hazel, and Marshall Wilborn adding additional harmony. “Mama’s Hand,” “Love Me or Leave Me Alone,” and “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” were also performed.
Hazel also delivered the line of the weekend when she deadpanned- “I smell pot- someone’s smoking. Shame on you.” A few beats later adding, “You got to pass that around!”
When one considers the esteem in which Hazel Dickens is most obviously held at HSB, and judging from the size of her attentive audience it is considerable, it is hard to fathom why she has yet been made a member of the IBMA Hall of Fame. (Yes, I’ve flogged this old horse before, but I will continue to do so until there is some evidence of someone listening.) Could it be that this collection of liberal, wheat-germ eating, pot smokin’ hippy wannabes and their brethren of the Bay Area are more attuned to the musical contributions made by Hazel Dickens than are those who make such decisions on behalf of the bluegrass industry? I exaggerate, of course, but Hazel remains on the outside looking in at her industry’s highest honour while year after year the male (and largely dead) are recognized. All deserving, I’m sure- but really, there is no rush to get some of these names on the wall as their time has (literally) passed.
She has been a groundbreaking bluegrass performer for nigh on fifty years, and with each year that passes we (the bluegrass community) miss an opportunity to bestow upon her the honour she deserves. Her performance at HSB9 gave ample evidence that she remains a vital component of today’s bluegrass scene. Hazel didn’t perform a dozen or more songs I would have loved to have heard, but what she did perform was stellar, even when it wasn’t.
Also appearing with Hazel was Barry Mittenhoff (mandolin), a fiddler I could not recognize, and a banjo player who may have been Jason Burleson, but more likely was someone else.
Finally, my last act at HSB9 was to be Doc Watson, appearing with David Holt. Their three-disc set of interviews and performances is an absolute favourite; while I would have preferred to hear Doc with Jack Lawrence, I wasn’t about to pass up to here Doc and Holt’s homespun music.
The chosen set wasn’t nearly adventurous- “Way Downtown,” “Shady Grove,” “Whiskey Before Breakfast,” and “Stagger Lee” being the first four tunes played. But Doc gave a finger-pickin’ clinic, and Holt’s clawhammer-style of playing does complement Doc well. I was glad to hear Doc perform “Deep River Blues” before I had to leave the park to catch the plane. As I turned away from the stage area, Richard Watson was joining the duo in “Roll On Buddy.”
If considering a weekend away for roots music, one could do worse than giving Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 10 a spin next autumn. I was only able to catch a fraction of the acts I would have loved to hear- heck, I had to pass up The Knitters, Billy Bragg, Rosie Flores, Todd Snider, Del McCoury, and Emmylou Harris, not to mention Booker T and the DBTs, Richie Havens, Billy Joe Shaver, Elizabeth Cook, Robert Earl Keen…
The hard part will be to not allow this festival to overshadow all which follow.
Thanks for spending some time at Fervor Coulee. Donald
Originally published in The Red Deer Advocate, October 3, 2009
500 Miles: The Blue Rock Sessions
Red House Records
The folk roots world is full of singers and musicians many are unlikely to encounter and yet who inspire such devotion from followers that they maintain a fruitful career far from the spotlight. Lucy Kaplansky, Laurie Lewis, Greg Brown, and Steve Forbert are but four who have toured and recorded albums over a number of decades while never becoming household names.
Cliff Eberhardt would fit comfortably on such a list. Having only recently become aware of Eberhardt, I found myself wondering, “How have I missed this guy?” Like Jimmy LaFave and Kate Campbell, when you listen to Eberhardt you are fully willing to accept that he is the finest singer you have heard in a very long while.
There is little especially unique about his voice, but the open manner in which he approaches each song while forgoing indulgent elaboration- leaving space between the notes and words- brings each composition to life. He is a devastating acoustic and slide guitarist, coaxing gentle sounds from his instruments supported by a small, rotating band of collaborators.
Featuring largely acoustic instrumentation with a bit of electric guitar on select tracks, 500 Miles: The Blue Rock Sessions resembles 1990’s The Long Road, Eberhardt’s debut album, in more ways than it does the similar sounding but more stylistically intricate The High Above and the Down Below which preceded this new release.
With this album, Eberhardt inspires listeners to continue searching out his cinematic, mindful music.
The Wooden Sky
If I Don’t Come Home You’ll Know I’m Gone
Black Box Recordings
Iron & Wine- Sam Beam- has much to answer for. In his wake, an entire sub-genre of introspective, indie acoustic folk has sprung with much of it little more than tiresome and twee, angst-ridden adolescent poetry set to guitar, bass, and percussion.
Amongst the drivel glimmers of substance are apparent, including Canadians Great Lake Swimmers, Barzin, and even Wood Pigeon. I missed Toronto’s The Wooden Sky’s first disc When Lost At Sea two years ago, but purchased a copy this summer; I became enthralled with the blend of pop influences with a folk song approach.
With this new album, Gavin Gardiner- principle member of TWS- has expanded the group’s sound by pulling back from the indie rock touches. Oh My God (It Still Means A Lot to Me)is a masterful lead track featuring Gardiner’s youthful voice searching for answers over an unobtrusive but catchy bed of instrumentation. By the time Debra Jean Creelman comes in to harmonize on the refrain, one is hooked.
The momentum generated by the lead track is maintained over the course of the album’s thirteen tracks. The songs are narrative only intermittently, Gardiner and his crew eschewing linear tales in favour of poetic-pop images and lyrical collages.
For fans of Elliot Brood and Joel Plaskett, If I Don’t Come Home… is an early contender for the 2010 Polaris Music Prize.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee and thanks to all the labels that continue to service me with great music to share. Donald