Archive for November 2009
And a final review for this weekend. This one was originally published in one of the final online-only editions of Bluegrass Now in July, 2008.
Master of a rich baritone, Greg Hawks comes to bluegrass after wandering a variety of country roads. With the unheralded Coming Home, adventurous listeners are in for a treat.
Familiar to some from his root-rock debut Fool’s Paradise six years ago, Hawks has dispensed with Springsteen-flavored Americana in favor of more rustic sounds. Comprised of a dozen originals and a pair of public domain numbers, Coming Home has all the earmarks of becoming a bluegrass favorite.
On “Just Because You Can (That Don’t Mean You Should)” Hawks reveals a little John Anderson in his voice; elsewhere he reminds listeners a bit of Josh Turner and Randy Travis. These vocal references may hint otherwise, but Hawks’ album is most definitely bluegrass.
Hailing from Mount Airy, NC, Hawks returns to his roots by creating an album inspired by classic mountain sounds, recognition of faith, and devotion to family.
A multi-instrumentalist, Hawks plays guitar, bass, banjo, and mandolin. Several songs feature his multi-tracked talents, while elsewhere Hawks is joined by capable local talents including fiddler Steve Fraleigh. Rick Lafleur provides some drop-dead gorgeous banjo work throughout including on “Sacred Vow,” “I Belong to You,” and “Some Things Are Better Left Alone.”
Ancillary to this, Daniel Aldridge lays down some mandolin on the lead track “What’s Your Hurry,” and Emily Franz provides fiddle and backing vocals in spots.
Throughout the recording, one gets the sense that most of these songs- had they been written fifty years ago- would have sounded natural coming from the likes of Carter Stanley, the Louvin Brothers, or Jimmy Martin.
Beyond displaying impressive vocal talents, Hawks reveals himself to be an astute songwriter. On the title track, Hawks writes, “Well, I’ve seen a lot of places and I know a lot of faces/ In this country that I’m proud to call my home./ So much more I’d like to see if the opportunity/ comes my way before my time on earth is gone.” It is a classic sentiment delivered expertly by a fresh modern voice. It is only one of several such instances spread over Hawks’ award-worthy compositions.
An exceptional, multi-faceted release, Coming Home will be most appreciated by those listeners who like country in their ’grass; this one is destined to become an album that is recommended from friend to friend.
Another from the Fervor Coulee, pre-blog archive.
Originally published in The Red Deer Advocate, April 18, 2008.
Abraham Lincoln in Song
An album of old-time music from and inspired by the times of Lincoln; there’s a commercial bonanza just a-waitin’!
Within detailed liner notes, Illinois songwriter and musician Chris Vallillo outlines the connection each track has to Lincoln, whether a personal favourite of the sixteenth president of the U.S., an artifact of the time, or a contemporary piece reflecting a historical perspective. Anticipating the bicentennial of his birth, Abraham Lincoln in Song present thirteen tunes and songs from the familiar- Lorena, Hard Times, and Dixie’s Land- to the less known- El-A-Noy and Let the Band Play Dixie.
Vallillo has a pleasant, masculine voice that is fully capable of carrying the nuance of a popular sentimental melody while bringing a bit of bombast to more inspirational numbers. Vallillo’s guitar arsenal is large, and he is accompanied by mandolin, fiddle, bass, and harmonica.
Those interested in the aural tradition and historical basis of familiar songs within a stunning acoustic context are well advised to investigate Abraham Lincoln in Song.
This weekend I made the decision to revamp Fervor Coulee a bit, so you’ll notice a few tweaks. I also realized I hadn’t dug into the non-posted archive for a long time. I dug out this review of Carlene’s ‘comeback’ album originally published just before this blog was born. I’ll make an attempt to update a few older reviews as the weeks pass.
Originally appeared in The Red Deer Advocate, August 1, 2008
Fans can be forgiven for believing they were unlikely to hear new material from June Carter’s first-born.
On her first album in over than a decade, Carlene Carter displays the passion that has consistently been present in her country-rock hybrid while instilling depth that was frequently missing from her chart hits. Stronger has more than a little of the spirit of her Carter family ancestors woven within the tracks.
Having spent years out of the spotlight, Carter’s voice is huskier than it was on Little Acts of Treason, her major label swan song. But she displays control and sensitivity throughout, never over-extending her voice.
Her honest treatment of On To You signifies that at fifty-plus, Carter can give those half her age something to consider, and the mid-tempo, country shuffle To Change Your Heart would fit nicely on any of Carter’s mid-90s albums.
While Carter exposes herself emotionally throughout Stronger, the album’s mood isn’t dense or bleak. I’m So Cool is as lively as when she first recorded it almost thirty years ago. Attention to phrasing and delicate instrumentation allows the gentle love song Spider Lace to stand out as a highlight.
But Carter saves the best for last. The album’s intense title track doesn’t mince words, and Carter’s mature performance of what could be a clichéd lyric (“What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger”) elevates the song. When one considers from where Carter was for much of the last thirteen years- addiction, career bankruptcy, criminal charges, family losses- June, Johnny, sister Rosey, ex Howie Epstein- “this hell-raising angel” is entitled to look back with contented perspective. Stronger should become Carter’s signature song.
Without apologizing for her past, Carlene Carter has documented the challenges, celebrations, and lessons of a hard-lived life on Stronger. Not only Comeback of the Year, Stronger is a candidate for Comeback of the Decade.
2009 update- I just listened to Stronger again, and while it holds up quite well, it isn’t the remarkable ‘comeback’ I perhaps thought it was. In too many places lush overwhelms lust, and that can’t be a good thing for a singer with Carter’s vocal traits. Still, I’m glad the album got made, and I’m just as happy that it brought Carlene Carter some positive press after years of less than stellar news.
I love Dale Ann Bradley’s music, and the fact that she is one of the nicest people within the world of bluegrass makes one want to do even more to promote word of her excellent bluegrass music. She recently appeared here in Red Deer, and the show- presented by the Waskasoo Bluegrass Music Society- was absolutely incredible.
Dale Ann was in excellent voice, played the guitar like she was ringin’ a bell- man, she is one smooth player. A great set of songs, although I wouldn’t have minded a few more of the older tunes, but that is definitely nit-picking.
As you may know, Dale Ann recently had her band shaken up once again with Terry B. leaving rather abruptly, and we would have loved to have heard his talents last night. But let me tell you, for what it’s worth- the band she put together for this brief tour of Alberta is one I hope holds together for a good long time.
I had never heard of Mike Sumner prior to his walking into the hall that night, but I left impressed. The notes just popped from his flathead. Brandon Godman’s fiddling went over huge with the audience, and we had more than a few knowledgeable listeners in the audience. More than one person mentioned how tight the band sounded. Ron Shuffler on bass is a true gentleman of the south, if I can be so bold, and while Chris Harris may be giving Trisha Gagnon a run for the longest hair in bluegrass, he can more than hold his own on the mando, and has a fine voice.
And Dale Ann is quite simply the best- generous, pleasant, easy to work with- the sound check was done and over in about 5 minutes. Everyone was so friendly, which we are quite used to with our visiting American guests, but Dale Ann and her crew took things to a new level of genuineness and good-naturedness, which aren’t really words, but they work.
A most impressive performance; it appeared everyone was hanging onto every note.
Festival bookers and presenters- have no fear that Dale Ann isn’t at the top of her game. She is- and she just keeps getting better and better. If I could, I’d have her back immediately. Maybe we’d get more people out- that was the only negative- not enough bums in the seats. Not sure what we can do differently, but we’ll keep trying!
Anyhow, I told you that to tell you this- Dale Ann will be hitting the road in 2010 with former band member Michael Cleveland. The Bluegrass Blog has all the news:
While the blog host at http://coverlaydown.com/ did not include Fervor Coulee on his list of recommended blogs- and perhaps someday s/he will realize the error in this- I still feel comfortable directing you toward Cover Lay Down.
It is a very good blog, full of downloadable ‘f’olk’ covers and discussion. The labels and artists seem to support this blogger as it would be easy to make them remove the downloadable links if they were displeased by their presence; unlike most blogs offering downloads, this one is hosted from the American NorthEast.
While I don’t want you to leave Fervor Coulee before you’re ready, I do suggest you visit Cover Lay Down at your earliest opportunity. Thanks for visiting, Donald
Thanks for visiting this week. In Friday’s Red Deer Advocate I was fortunate to review two exceptional roots music releases; I’ve listened to both countless times this autumn and discover something new to appreciate each time. Kent McAlister & the Iron Choir recently released How I’ll Remian and it is a splendid collection of songs. Meanwhile, Steve Dawson & Co. have done it again with a fabulous tribute to the music of the Mississippi Sheiks. I’ve been spending a bit of time of late listening to old blues and jug band collections I’ve found myself tripping across and much of the impetus to do so has come from this remarkable album.
Kent McAlister & The Iron Choir
How I’ll Remain
Based in Vancouver, Kent McAlister has quietly over a pair of whiskey-drenched albums established a nice portfolio of working man tales and jaded dreams.
Ballad of the Oar & Chain features primitive percussion of a style seldom heard within dusty roots music. Elsewhere, McAlister delivers in a talking blues manner not dissimilar to Corb Lund (Crossing Arm Blues) but with less novelty and even a bit more sophistication, as on What is this Evil?
How I’ll Remain is sparse and haunting, while Another Bridge lopes along like a Shawn Jonasson-Waylon tribute. Gillian Welch would be proud to call The Cane & The Switch her own- an abusive husband, a deep, dark well, retribution, and nervous horses all in five minutes.
McAlister’s voice is sturdy and smooth, lacking even a hint of slickness.
Things About Comin’ My Way- A Tribute to the Music of The Mississippi Sheiks
Perhaps the roots tribute of the year, Steve Dawson and his spouse Alice have assembled a masterfully balanced collection of blues, folk, and unclassifiable renditions of music recorded by the Mississippi Sheiks during the early ’30s.
Picking highlights from such a storied collection is a fool’s game, but listeners are certain to be impressed by Oh Susanna’s take on Bootlegger’s Blues, The North Mississippi Allstars’ fiery We’re Backfirin’ Now, and Bruce Cockburn’s Honey Babe Let the Deal Go Down.
Rare is the tribute album that possesses the consistency and unity of Things About Comin’ My Way; from soulful sounds (The Sojourners’ He Calls that Religion) to softer vocal treatments (Please Baby from Madeleine Peyroux) and banjo showcases (Too Long from Danny Barnes), every track resonates and no two sound alike.
Thanks again for dropping in, and I hope you’ll find some music to investigate- support the artists and the labels…no one is getting rich on our music! Donald
I’ve fallen way behind in my writing, and have only just got around to submiting three reviews to http://lonesomeroadreview.wordpress.com/- A Tribute to Fiddlin’ Paul Warren, Lost & Found’s latest, and the fourth installment in the North to Ontario series. Please check them out as they are three very strong albums, well worth your listening. Thanks for dropping by Fervor Coulee. Donald
Originally published in The Red Deer Advocate, November 6, 2009.
Dale Ann Bradley appeared in Red Deer on November 8. In recognition of the concert I review Dale Ann’s latest album, Don’t Turn Your Back. The disc has been out for months but I held off on reviewing it in anticipation of her area appearance.
Dale Ann Bradley
Don’t Turn Your Back
A mountain soprano of rare talent, Dale Ann Bradley has been wearing a path from the hills of Eastern Kentucky to the Music City Heartland of Nashville for two decades. With Don’t Turn Your Back she has not only created an album featuring rare musicianship and vocal harmonies, she has continued her ascendancy to the highest reaches of the bluegrass vocal world.
Releasing albums for more than fifteen years, it has been with Bradley’s most recent recordings that she has created artfully constructed discs. Much of the credit must go to the guidance provided by producer Alison Brown, but studio and business acumen can only take one so far. The talent must shine through, and three-Bluegrass Female Vocalist of the Year statuettes provide evidence that Bradley is at the top of her game.
Don’t Turn Your Back is a masterful recording, one that falls solidly within the most stringent of bluegrass definitions, yet is country enough that all roots fans should embrace its rich, melodic tones.
Whether propelled by the banjo of Gene Britt (as on an eye-opening take of Tom Petty’s I Won’t Back Down) or by Stuart Duncan’s fiddle (Rusty Old Halo and Ghost Bound Train come to mind), the majority of the songs zip along in spectacular fashion. In other places, Bradley shows why her flat-picking skills are highly regarded, and the mandolin work from Tim Laughlin is second to none.
When the song calls for it, Bradley’s sweet voice carries the song. Will I Be Good Enough is pretty sentimental but Bradley’s control and expression saves the song from becoming cloying. On material as familiar as Fifty Miles of Elbow Room and Fleetwood Mac’s Over My Head, Bradley reinvents the piece to make it her own without losing the essence of the song.
Those who appreciate mountain music will find satisfaction in Blue Eyed Boy and gospel fans will be thankful for Heaven, featuring Dailey & Vincent. Bradley’s trepidation making the inevitable leap to Nashville from her more isolated Kentucky home is captured within her original, Music City Queen.
Bluegrass music has long been an embarrassed second-cousin to country music. Ridiculed by those who fail to grasp its complexities and heritage, the music has sat on the porch a-waiting to be invited to hang out with its wealthier and more popular relations.
With albums like Don’t Turn Your Back and singers like Dale Ann Bradley, the bluegrass community continues to shake off back wood images. Those who take the time to listen are sure to be rewarded.
Thanks again for dropping by Fervor Coulee. Donald