Archive for December 2009
The past two days have been very busy at Fervor Coulee, the busiest two days since the blog launched. I thank all of you for that, and again I’m hoping you are finding music recommendations that will lead you to new discoveries. Here are the top five- but really six- entries in my list of Favourite Albums of the Aughts. Thanks for all the feedback, too. Best, Donald
- Paul Burch- Last of My Kind 2001- I couldn’t believe it when this album remained atop my list through several revisions. But it deserves its place. Not only was it my introduction to a singer and songwriter who has become a favourite, it is a crackerjack recording in its own right. Back when my CD collection was several thousand albums lighter that it is now, I returned to this album time and again. It was, for me, a perfect storm- a bringing together of mountain influences, literature, and damned good songwriting and performance.
Commissioned to accompany a reading of Tony Earley’s Jim the Boy, the album took on its own life to allow readers and listeners to hear more from the characters, to experience more of their internal observations, struggles and challenges. Coming out at around the same time of O Brother, Where Art Thou? the visuals were fresh in mind without requiring Burch to indulge in extended prose. Instead, Burch- and Earley, of course- could concentrate on the impact and emotions of their characters. Given all that, Last of My Kind is remarkable as one doesn’t need to have read the novel to appreciate its impact. I heard the album well before searching out the book, and as a result I felt I already knew Jim, his uncles, and estranged extended family.
As I type these words, I am again listening to Last of My Kind- probably for the first time in three years. The album is all Burch, recorded and performed at home, seemingly in isolation in the same manner I imagine Earley wrote the novel. From the opening bars of “Aliceville Rag,” Burch sketches a sepia-toned setting of time and place. As we move through the album, to “Up on the Mountain” through to “Amos’s Blues” we meet complex characters brought to life by Burch’s interpretation of Earley’s imaginings.
None of this would matter if Burch’s approach to the music was less than attentive. When I first reviewed the album, I wrote words that hold true for me now: Burch’s compositions capture the essence of Earley’s novel- carefully constructed phrases that read simple but contain a spark for life and common-sense wisdom. The melodies pleasantly linger and the album constructs another layer to Earley’s characters and reinforces the novel’s [straight-forward] but intriguing plot.
When I set out to create this little list of favourites from the last decade, I wouldn’t have expected Last of My Kind to top the list. (Really, I didn’t even think about what would be on top.) Now that it has, nothing seems more natural, nothing would be more right. It was one of the albums I started with when I initiated this journey into writing about music. It is an immensely enjoyable slice of My Kind of Music. It is only fitting that it sits atop my list as my Favourite Album of the Aughts.
2. Dale Ann Bradley- Catch Tomorrow 2006 When a favourite artist takes a great leap forward, one is sometimes left behind. Not so with Dale Ann Bradley’s remarkable Catch Tomorrow album. The sound she had worked so hard to achieve was finally realized through the production support of Alison Brown. Every song on the album is memorable, and she explores not only bluegrass and its foundation- including a duet with Larry Sparks- but she brings in new songs, fresh perspectives, and even a bit of musical history with the Irish band Lunasa on “When the Mist Comes Again.” Dale Ann made Chris Stuart’s “Julia Belle” a standard, while already classic songs- “Live Forever” and “Me and Bobby McGee”- are revitalized. There isn’t a missed step anywhere, and while other artists may be off-putting with slickness in pursuit of a similar sound, Dale Ann and Alison have created an album that breathes its quality rather than having had its breath squeezed from it in the pursuit of perfection. An ideal contemporary bluegrass recording.
3. Maria Dunn- …For A Song 2001 (Albertan/Canadian) I can’t say much more about Maria Dunn than I already have. She is a tremendous writer, one who bridges old world charm with modern trials and situations. I have seen her live more times than I can count, and she always sparkles. …For a Song remains my favourite album although it may not be her best. The songs just wash over me, and her voice- with just a hint of the Old Country punctuating each phrase- is beautiful. Defying classification as adeptly as Van Morrison and Sinead O’Conner, Dunn produced a compelling album of ballads that entwined her influences within a lush, invigorating tapestry. Find her music.
4. James Reams & The Barnstormers- Troubled Times 2005 I have likely played albums from Brooklyn-based (but via Kentucky) James Reams than any other bluegrass act this decade. I do know Troubled Times was the second most played album during the year and a half I hosted the bluegrass show on the Olds station. Reams’ bluegrass may not be ‘perfect’ in the way a Rhonda, Skaggs, or Dailey Vincent album may be, and it is all the better for it. Excellent original songs (“Hills of My County” about mountain top removal coalmining and “Eye of the Storm”) blended with under-heard songs from outside writers (Robbie Fulks’ “Cold Statesboro Ground” and Marvin Goins’ “Head of the Holler”) have kept this one in my CD player for more than five years.
5. John Wort Hannam- Queen’s Hotel 2009 (Albertan/Canadian) Seldom does one get to experience musical history being made. I hope I’m right in stating that this is the last album we’ll hear from John Wort Hannam where the reverberations are localized to Alberta and western Canada. The international folk world needs to sit up and pay attention to this man. There are few like him. Get him on a stage with a Joe Ely or a Guy Clark and he’ll hold his own, I’m certain.
Down to the Wood- Up All Night 2003 (Albertan/Canadian) Okay, I’m an idiot. I knew going into this project I would manage to screw things up somehow, and of course I did. Somehow, in scanning the shelves, examining my inventory list, and racking my brain, I missed Up All Night. Ridiculous, given how much time I’ve spent not only listening to the album but swapping scotch with the trio at various festivals. So, allow me the additional indulgence of revising my list to allow for two #5 albums. Had I not overlooked the album, this is about where it would have landed.
When I hosted the radio show, DTTW was by far the most played band and since Up All Night is their only recording it was the most played album. For good reason. What the album may lack in original material- only one band written song, that being Curtis Appleton’s very strong “Shameless Drive”- they make up for in enthusiasm, energy, and passion.
The band was blessed with one of Alberta’s most proficient and tasteful guitarists in Marc Ladouceur, and his many influences- blues, Celtic, folk, and naturally bluegrass- shade this album’s arrangements all the way through. With three lead voices, natural spontaneity that transferred from the stage to the studio, and an understanding of traditional brother harmonies that served them well, Up All Night was an ideal document of the group’s early days. That they never came together to record a follow-up was unfortunate but not unexpected, given the various factors that place pressure on a regional bluegrass band- careers, finances, family, and limited stages.
I love listening to this album- and am listening to it again as I type- and continue to be impressed by the band’s maturity and vision. They weren’t content just to duplicate the songs they heard on scratchy old bluegrass cassettes and albums. Give a listen to “Crossroad Blues/The Old Crossroads Is Waiting,” a formidable piece of music that has Mr. Monroe meeting up with Robert Johnson on a dusty rural road. That took balls, and they pulled it off not only in the studio but on stage time and again.
For a while, Down to the Wood was the most entertaining Canadian bluegrass band I was fortunate to hear. Up All Night is a terrific album and is well-deserving of a place on my 151 favourite albums of the decade.
What just missed the Top 150? Amongst others: Sam Bush Circles Around Me 2009; Alejandro Escovedo Real Animal 2008; Various Artists The Songs of Fred Eaglesmith 2003; Ian Tyson- Yellowhead to Yellowstone and other Love Stories 2008; The Grascals- The Grascals 2005; Ron Block- Faraway Land 2001; Blackie and the Rodeo Kings- Let’s Frolic Again 2007; The Notorious Cherry Bombs- The Notorious Cherry Bombs 2004; Acoustic Syndicate- Crazy Little Life 2000; Audrey Auld Mezara- Lost Men & Angry Girls 2007
Again, sincere thanks for spending time at Fervor Coulee.
As this project has continued, I’m finding that I’m writing and reflecting more about the albums. Maybe not a bad thing, but it takes up more space. As a result, I’ve adjusted the postings to include four parts. I’ll get the final five up tomorrow morning. Yesterday was the busiest day ever on Fervor Coulee, and I thank you sincerely for dropping by. I hope you are uncovering or rediscovering music that will take you into your next decade. Please, buy the artists’ music; downloading from a sketchy Portuguese site does nothing to continue or support the music. Donald
6. Dale Ann Bradley- Don’t Turn Your Back 2009 No one deserves success in music. It has to be earned. And Dale Ann has earned her modest success in the bluegrass world. What Catch Tomorrow started was further refined on Don’t Turn Your Back. Hopefully the business side of things is taken care of to the same degree the artistic elements are, because Dale Ann Bradley has earned her rightful place as the premier female vocalist in bluegrass. She should headline all the major festivals, and with Don’t Turn Your Back she demonstrates that she has the music to satisfy all bluegrass fans.
7. David Davis & The Warrior River Boys- Troubled Times 2006 Superior bluegrass performances that do not attempt to duplicate the sounds that came before, although their influences are respected and present. Every song has the depth of history, whether it be the history it is sharing (“Chancellorsville” and “The River Ran Black”) or in the history of the music it is exploring. No one sings like David Davis, and on this album he has never sounded better. There is darkness here, in the songs, in the maudlin harmonies, in the instrumentation. Beautiful.
8. Maria Dunn- We Were Good People 2004 (Albertan/Canadian) While folk music isn’t a competition, I have to be careful when stating ‘best’ or ‘finest’ in a province blessed with talents as significant as both Maria Dunn and John Wort Hannam. This album, which explores the history of the province and western Canada probably isn’t the place to start exploring her music- it may be a bit too localized for some tastes- but the songs are so finely crafted- much like brief documentary films- and breathe with the experiences and struggles of those who came before us that it should be heard around the continent. An amazing achievement.
9. Kate Campbell- Monuments 2003 I have no idea what Southern Gothic means but I suspect it sounds like this. Kate Campbell has never made a disappointing album. This one is career-defining, in my opinion. Give “Yellow Guitar,” “Petrified House,” “New South,” or “Joe Louis’ Furniture” a listen and see if your view of music doesn’t shift.
10. John Reischman & The Jaybirds- Field Guide 2003 (Canadian) Canada’s finest bluegrass outfit have now released four terrific albums and each refines and redefines their approach to bluegrass. Given seven years, this one is my favourite but all are terrific.
11. Earl Brothers- Troubles to Blame 2006 Like a shot of warm whiskey, this album leaves its mark. Bluegrass never sounded like this before Robert Earl Davis and his crew let loose. Their debut album Women, Whiskey, and Death is as powerful, but this one benefited from a more realized sense of self.
12. Original Soundtrack- Heartworn Highways 2006 I looked for this album for a couple years before finally finding it from Amazon. An eye-opening DVD certainly, but the soundtrack holds up on its own. The early tracks from Crowell, Earle, and Hiatt are interesting, but its music from the likes of Larry Jon Wilson (my introduction to the man and the reason I looked so hard for the disc) and Gamble Rogers complementing the familiar Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt tunes that make this one essential.
13. David Davis & The Warrior River Boys- Two Dimes and a Nickel 2009 David Davis takes his time producing bluegrass albums, and the pay-off these past few albums has made the wait worth the investment. This one is just as good, whatever that means, as the higher ranked Troubled Times disc; I just haven’t spent the years with this recent release as I have the previous one.
14. Guy Clark- Somedays the Song Writes You 2009 Given more time, this one will likely climb on this chart. An entire album of timeless songs. While other writers revisit their past and rest on well-earned laurels, Clark bangs out- with collaborators- new classics like “Hemingway’s Whiskey” and “Maybe I Can Paint Over That.” Let’s hope there are more like these on the workbench.
15. Ralph Stanley & Jim Lauderdale- Lost in the Lonesome Pines 2002 Lauderdale helped Ralph Stanley explore areas he may not have found on his own. Terrific songs.
16. Bruce Springsteen- Devils and Dust 2005 Springsteen’s darkest moments. I loved it like nothing since Nebraska.
17. Darrell Scott- The Invisible Man 2006 On which Darrell Scott reached his peak. It can’t get better than this. Can it?
18. Fred Eaglesmith- Balin 2003 (Canadian) Fred knows bluegrass.
19. Kirsty MacColl- From Croydon to Cuba 2005 A very tidy summation of the pop genius that was Kirsty MacColl, spread over three discs. I already had most of it, but the set filled the holes that remained in my collection.
20. Fred Eaglesmith- Tinderbox 2008 (Canadian) A complex and troubling album that scares me. Much like Fred himself. The best album of the year, in my opinion. I don’t want all Eaglesmith music to sound like this, but I’m very glad he made the album.
21. Nick Lowe- Quiet Please: The New Best of Nick Lowe 2009 A terrific compilation spanning Lowe’s entire career. A beautiful package holding some of the best songs and performances ever captured.
22. Slowdrag- Ploughin’ It Right to the Fence 2000 (Canadian) Like nothing else. Slowgrass defined. A wonderful acoustiblue treat, the harmonies sell this one. A terrific band. I wonder if they are still around. A hallmark of Canadian acoustic music.
23. Mark Erelli- Delivered 2008 Several albums and a lot of years came together on this one. A serious talent crafted a complex, magnificent album.
24. Del McCoury Band- Del & The Boys 2001 Any Del is good Del. On this album, it all seemed to come together and there wasn’t a finer bluegrass band on stage or in the studio.
25. Dave Alvin & the Guilty Women- Dave Alvin & the Guilty Women 2009 A great album that rose considerably in my estimation following their volcanic performance this past October at Hardly Strictly. I still don’t get “Que Sera Sera”, but the album is a gem.
26. Rodney Crowell- The Houston Kid 2001 Dusted himself off and got serious about being a writer and singer of significance. “I Walk the Line Revisited” had come out a couple years prior and set the stage for this examination of where one came from.
27. Tim O’Brien- Fiddler’s Green/Cornbread Nation 2005 A double shot, released separately but considered together. O’Brien had a tremendous decade, capped by these two albums of essential Americana- bluegrass, country, and folk.
28. Jay Clark- Progress 2006 A WDVX discovery. I could have included any of Clark’s three albums on the list, but this is the one I return to most often. “When I Get To Drinkin’” is as good a song that came out this decade, and there are a half-dozen more almost as good on this amazing album from East Tennessee’s Jay Clark. Find his music if you enjoy most of the other songwriters on this list.
29. Steve Forbert- The Place and the Time 2009 After several albums that had their moments, a disc that was the moment. Start to finish, a remarkable achievement.
30. Jeff & Vida- The Simplest Plans 2002 I love this album. I love this album. I love this album.
31. Gillian Welch- Time (The Revelator) 2001 Took my appreciation for Welch and Rawlings to a new level.
32. Kate Campbell- Twang on a Wire 2003 Simple versions of female country classics. I can listen to this one anytime, anywhere.
33. Alison Krauss & Robert Plant- Raising Sand 2007 Brought AK to another level and made me realize that enjoying Plant’s voice didn’t mean I was stuck in the 70s.
34. Tom Russell- Wounded Heart of America 2007 A tricky one. Largely a tribute containing previously released versions of Russell songs, there are also a handful of fresh takes as well as Russell’s terrific song, “The Death of Jimmy Martin;” while I wasn’t a fan of Martin the performer or person, it is undeniable that he produced some great music and this track is stellar.
35. Audie Blaylock, J.D. Crowe, Paul Williams, and Kenny Ingram- A Tribute to Jimmy Martin 2004 A tremendous bluegrass experience featuring former Sunny Mountain Boys doing the songs they helped make into standards.
36. Doc Watson & David Hold Legacy 2002 Two discs of stories and one of performance. This is the ultimate Doc experience.
37. Mary Gauthier- Filth & Fire 2002 Just before the hype exceeded reasonable expectations. I love Gauthier’s sound and voice, and this album was like a private communication with listeners.
38. Bruce Springsteen & The Sessions Band- Live In Dublin 2007 Pure fun.
39. James Reams, Walter Hensley, & The Barons of Bluegrass- Wild Card 2006 Wicked bluegrass sounds; I have been anticipating more music from the combo since this one dropped.
40. Jason Ringenberg- Best Tracks & Side Tracks 2008 A well-tended compilation.
41. Old Reliable- Pulse of Light Dark Landscape 2002 (Albertan/Canadian) I can’t tell you one song on the album without looking at the disc itself. But the sounds are so staggering that- for once- the words and meanings matter little to me. What is of significance is the entire listening experience, the atmosphere that Edmonton’s Little Band that Almost Did captured for several years. In my opinion, it all came to fruition on this album, their third.
42. Cliff Waldron & The New Shades of Grass- A Little Ways Down the Road 2002 Pure and simple bluegrass with a voice that is ageless.
43. Kimberly Rew- Essex Hideaway 2005 Made me a fan all over again.
44. Chris Stuart & Backcountry- Mojave River 2004 A premier songwriter’s material performed by a terrific band.
45. Kieran Kane- Shadows on the Ground 2002 An inspirational and enlightening collection of acoustic music. Several of Kane’s best songs are included, including “Ain’t Holdin’ Back” and “Mountain Song.” My personal fave is “June Carter Sure Can Sing,” nicely complementing a rendition of “Will You Miss Me.” “In a world of country costume jewelry, she’s a diamond ring!” This is how I best enjoy Kane.
46. Doug Cox & Salil Bhatt- Slide to Freedom 2007 Blues and mohan veena, two sounds that work together to create a fresh music.
47. Chris Knight- The Trailer Tapes 2007 I waited for this album since reading about it in a No Depression article that accompanied Knight’s excellent 1998 Decca debut. The anticipation was satisfied.
48. The Crooked Jades- The Unfortunate Rake Vol. 1 2000 My introduction to the San Francisco old-time troupe. Heard them at Wintergrass 2001- a significant weekend that introduced me to lots of new sounds and approaches.
49. The Steeldrivers- The Steeldrivers 2008 Monroe’s bluegrass never sounded like this, but it sure feels like The Steeldrivers. Bluesy and hard, inarguably one of the best bluegrass albums of the decade.
50. John Anderson- Bigger Hands 2009 I didn’t realize this was a 2009 release or it would have certainly made my annual list, previously posted. Whereas it seems like just about every album from Anderson is a comeback, this one just sounds like an Anderson release should. The voice remains intact, but no one seems to be trying too hard, resulting in a listenable album that takes one away for a half hour or so.
51. Wayne Scott- This Weary Way 2005 We may never hear another album from Darrell Scott’s father, but with songs like “It’s the Whiskey that Eases the Pain” and “I Wouldn’t Live In Harlan County,” I’m glad we got this collection of songs that stands beside the best of Kristofferson.
52. John Stewart- The Day the River Sang 2006 Nothing fancy, just great songs and performance. I cried when I heard he had died, something I don’t do when hearing of the death of someone I don’t know, or do know for that matter.
53. David Grisman- Life of Sorrow 2003 Considering the range of voices, instrumentalists, sessions, influences, and years represented on this collection, one may be incredulous at the cohesiveness of the bluegrass vision this little album contains.
54. Ola Belle Reed- Field Recorders’ Collective Brandywine 2005 Rescued from obscurity, these early 1970s (I think) performances by Ola Belle and various sidemen and family members is a wonderful addition to a scant catalogue.
55. Sam Baker- Mercy 2004 Really, the only Baker album one needs, but why stop there?
56. Rodney Crowell- Fate’s Right Hand 2003 Letting everyone know that The Houston Kid was not a fluke of timing and inspiration.
57. Kate Campbell- Blues & Lamentations 2005 An understated album that captures all of Campbell’s influences.
58. Dry Branch Fire Squad- Live at the Newburyport Firehouse 2005 For a long while there, the most entertaining live bluegrass band on the planet.
59. Marty Stuart- Badlands 2005 Marty does little wrong, although the live bluegrass album was underwhelming; a prior album, 2003’s Country Music is pretty good, too.
60. Greg Brown- The Evening Call 2006 Continues a tradition of excellence
61. Blackie & the Rodeo Kings- BARK 2003 (Canadian)-The supergroup’s most complete recording
62. Various Artists- Por Vida: A Tribute to the Songs of Alejandro Escovedo 2004 With maybe the finest lineup of mid-decade Americana and our kind of music performers aligned, the interpretations of Escovedo’s songs range from merely good to incredible.
63. Diana Jones- My Remembrance of You 2006 From out of nowhere, one of those albums that captures a specific week in my life; an amazing writer with a fine voice. I thought she may replace the void left by Iris Dement.
64. Aengus Finnan- North Wind 2002 (Canadian)- I forget about this album until I again listen to it. Lovely folk sounds.
65. Laurie Lewis & Tom Rozum- Guest House 2004 A complete album, with several essential tracks
66. Tim O’Brien- Traveler 2003 An album that one can play and play and play
67. James King- Thirty Years of Farming 2002 For me, one of the top bluegrass voices I’ve ever heard and an album that is almost free of filler- a rare thing in the bluegrass world.
68. Darrell Scott- Theatre of the Unheard 2003 Rediscovering his own songs, masterfully
69. Various Artists- Harlan County USA: Songs of the Coal Miners’ Struggle 2006 Largely a reworking of previous compilations, the lineup- Hazel Dickens, Phyllis Boyens, Doc Watson, Johnson Mtn Boys, and others- and songs- from ”Coal Tattoo” through “Black Lung” and “They’ll Never Keep Us Down”- are stellar. Did I mention Hazel Dickens?
70. John Wort Hannam- Two-Bit Suit 2007 (Albertan/Canadian) No Alberta folk singer has produced a finer book of universal songs while retaining the elements that provide the important local connection
71. Gurf Morlix- Cut and Shoot 2004 Just a guy and a friend doing his songs- no big deal, except the songs and performances stop time.
72. Chuck Brodsky- Color Came One Day 2004 An amazing writer, singer, and storyteller- this set features some of his best…even if there is only one baseball song. “Miracle in the Hills” is a Christmas favourite.
73. Steve Earle- Transcendental Blues 2000 I was surprised I didn’t have other Earle albums on this list, but there she goes.
74. Mike Plume Band- 8:30 Newfoundland 2009 (Albertan/Canadian) A grand return for the alt.country guy a lot of us had put our money on, only to see him disappear
75. Jenny Whiteley- Jenny Whiteley 2000 (Canadian) Handed to me by the singer at Wintergrass 2001, and it became a favourite. What a voice!
76. Jim Lauderdale- Headed for the Hills 2004 It’s all about the songs. And the voice. And the arrangements.
77. The Swiftys- The Swiftys 2003 (Albertan/Canadian) And when it isn’t about the songs, voice, and arrangements, it is about the passion. But the songs, voices, and classic arrangements are here, too.
78. Various Artists- Country Got Soul Volumes 1 & 2 2004 Changed my music listening life as I had never been exposed to the swampy sounds of southern country soul, and should likely be higher up on the list. In fact…I’m moving it right now. There, that’s better. Deserves mention if only to introduce folks to Larry Jon Wilson.
79. Alison Krauss & Union Station- Lonely Runs Both Ways 2004 The best from a fairly quiet decade from the band that transcends bluegrass
80. Chatham County Line- Route 23 2005 The album that showed the first wasn’t an aberration
81. Scott Miller & the Commonwealth- Thus Always to Tyrants 2001 One of the few albums I keep at work; it has propped me up on a few occasions.
82. Robbie Fulks- Georgia Hard 2005 Makes every song sound like it should have been a classic
83. Various Artists- Light of Day: A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen 2003 A huge collection that works whether listened to at a sitting or on mix.
84. Chris Knight- The Jealous Kind 2003 He keeps getting better and better, but this album has the combination of production, songs, and voice that really appeals to me.
85. Dwight Yoakam- Acoustic.net 2000 Perfect.
86. Slaid Cleaves- Wishbones 2004 Not quite perfect, but close enough
87. Tom Russell- Borderland 2001 A bridge album between phases of a long career, and it works
88. Dwight Yoakam- Blame the Vain 2005 He keeps on going
89. Woodland Telegraph- Sings Revival Hymns 2008 (Albertan/Canadian) Another one of those albums that just arrived in my mailbox. Written over the course of an isolated Canadian Rockies winter, the songs benefit from the intense focus.
90. Johnny Cash- American III: Solitary Man 2000 I think I enjoy all these albums almost equally and almost put volume V on the list.
91. Dave Alvin- Ashgrove 2004 Made me feel like I was there.
92. Original Soundtrack- O Brother, Where Art Thou? 2000 Can’t argue with the performances or the influence of the album. But I haven’t listened to it in five years, so…
93. Niall Toner Band- There’s A Better Way 2003 Deep and meaningful bluegrass from Ireland.
94. Various Artists- Going Driftless: An Artist’s Tribute to Greg Brown 2002 Female voices doing Brown. Gorgeous. Too bad more didn’t hear it.
95. John Wort Hannam- Dynamite and ‘Dozers 2004 (Albertan/Canadian) My introduction to JWH. I couldn’t believe how good it was. Still can’t.
96. The Coal Porters- How Dark This Earth Will Shine 2004 Rooted in America, raggle-taggle bluegrass from across the pond that isn’t inaccessible to those who are willing to listen. Play it loud; very loud! “Teenage Kicks”, indeed.
97. Kimberly Rew- Grand Central Revisited 2002 A sublime album from the Waves chief songwriter.
98. Greg Hawks & the Tremblers- Fool’s Paradise 2001 Simply brilliant- great songs and a voice that goes for miles. Beautiful.
99. Troubled Waters- Half Mile Down the Road 2004 Maybe the best bluegrass album I heard this decade from a band I never heard of before or since.
100. Jim Lauderdale- The Bluegrass Diaries 2007 Jim can do no wrong. For my money, the Americana artist of the decade.
Come back to Fervor Coulee again. Donald
Like every other writer and blogger, I’ve been checking my lists twice and thrice as we close out the decade. The thing with these lists, at least when I make them, is they might look very different on a different day. And the positionings- once you get past the first dozen or two- can be fairly arbitrary. But I was inspired by some of the lists I’ve read to put together my own list of favourite albums of the past ten years. And, since I’m entering my tenth year as a professional writer, I certainly have the music on the shelves to consider. I am not making any attempt to justify my choices, and they aren’t based on influence, importance, sales figures, or popularity. These are simply the albums that I tend to go back to again and again, and that floated to the surface as I scanned the shelves, drawers, and floor that surround me. Without an editor, I tend to go long- so I offer my 150 Favourite Albums of the Decade. I included reissues and compilations along with fresh releases. Check back in to see the rest- and I encourage you to find the music I’ve mentioned; you’ll find that many of the artists are independent and certainly are deserving of financial support. Thanks, Donald
101. Jane Hawley- Ordinary Dream 2006 (Albertan/Canadian)- Alberta’s sweetest voice
102. Mark Davis- Don’t You Think We Should Be Closer/Mistakes I Meant to Make 2007 (Albertan/Canadian)- Not Alberta’s sweetest voice, but one of the voices of Old Reliable
103. Greg Brown- In the Hills of California 2004 – Live compilation spanning the years from Mr. Brown
104. Levon Helm- Poor Dirt Farmer 2008- The unexpected comeback
105. Larry Jon Wilson- Larry Jon Wilson 2008 – Even more unexpected return for the gravel-smooth voice of the Ohoopee River Bottomland
106. Dave Evans- Pretty Green Hills 2006 – One of bluegrass music’s most distinctive voices
107. Dan Tyminski- Carry Me Across the Mountain 2000- Union Station’s mandolinist’s early album
108. Cowboy Junkies- Early 21st Century Blues 2005 (Canadian) – What you’d expect
109. Steve Forbert- Young Guitar Days 2001- A gathering of odds and sods that works as a nice career summary
110. Jackie Leven- Elegy for Johnny Cash 2005 Beautiful album
111. The Drive-By Truckers- Brighter than Creation’s Dark 2008 I tend to enjoy DBT live sets more than their recordings
112. Various Artists- The Executioner’s Last Songs Volumes 1-3 2002/2003 Bloodshot knows compilations
113. June Carter Cash- Wildwood Flower 2003 I enjoyed Press On more, but this was very nice, too
114. Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver- You Gotta Dig A Little Deeper 2005 The best album from the best lineup of DLQ I’ve heard
115. Nick Lowe- The Convincer 2001 Nick makes nice, comfortable sounds that bite
116. Billy Bragg- Must I Paint You A Picture 2003 A superior compilation
117. Nanci Griffith- The Loving Kind 2009 The comeback many have been waiting for, Ms. Griffith writes again. And captures the experiences of others in her clear, sparse manner
118. Guy Clark- The Dark 2002 Features some of his finest songs written with others
119. Larry Sparks- The Coldest Part of Winter 2003 A stellar bluegrass album from the man with the voice
120. John Stewart- Havana 2003 The voice was almost gone, but the words rang true
121. Kimmie Rhodes- Walls Fall Down 2008 Another beautiful album from the Texas songwriter
122. Rodney Crowell- Sex & Gasoline 2008 Just the latest in a series of powerful albums; docked places for the slightly off-putting album cover
123. Dale Watson- Every Song I Sing Is For You 2001 Gentle, heartfelt- great country music
124. Ralph Boyd Johnson- Dyin’ to Go 2002 (Albertan/Canadian) A terrific songwriter with memorable delivery
125. Robin & Linda Williams- Buena Vista 2008 Doin’ what they do…and a great song about Monroe’s mandolin and Maybelle’s guitar
126. Lynn Morris Band- Shape of a Tear 2003 The final album- for now- from bluegrass music’s greatest female vocalist of the past twenty years, and that includes Alison and Rhonda
127. The Gaslight Anthem- The ’59 Sound 2008 Rock n roll, just for a change
128. Heather Myles- Sweet Talk & Good Lies 2002 If Dwight was a gal…
129. Dan Bern- Smartie Mine 2000 Smartass
130. Bobbie Gentry- Chickasaw County Girl 2004 A wonderful country soul collection
131. Jayme Stone & Mansa Sissoko- Africa to Appalachia 2008 (Canadian) Banjos and banjos
132. Various Artists- Touch My Heart: A Tribute to Johnny Paycheck 2004 If you’re gonna sink, you might as well go to the bottom…
133. George Jones- The Rock: Solid Cold Country 2001 A last blast from the Possum, included if only for “50 000 Names,” but there is much more here
134. Loretta Lynn- Van Lear Rose 2004 Some stellar moments
135. Janis Ian- God & the FBI 2000 If “Boots Like Emmylou’s” was the only decent song, it still might make the list- one of folk music’s most important and visionary voices
136. Open Road- Cold Wind 2002 What could have been
137. Various Artists- Just One More: A Tribute to Larry Brown 2007 A thoughtful tribute to a great writer
138. Steve Coffey & the Lokels- Same Boy 2006 (Albertan/Canadian) His music touches me everytime
139. The Shiners- Bonnie Blue 2001 Somedays, I like these guys more than the DBTs
140. John McEuen & Jimmy Ibbotson- Stories & Songs 2000 Relaxed remembrances
141. Richard Thompson- 1000 Years of Popular Music 2003 The most expensive single CD I’ve ever bought- and worth it
142. Eric Brace & Peter Cooper- You Don’t Have to Like Them Both 2008 Great writing and performances- nice packaging, too
143. Rex Hobart & the Misery Boys- Your Favorite Fool 2002 I love country music
144. Bruce Springsteen- The Rising 2002 The album was a favourite, but has faded a bit over the years
145. Iron and Wine- Around the Well 2009 The first Beam collection that really grabbed me
146. Hacienda Brothers- What’s Wrong With Right 2006 A fine album that works in almost any environment
147. Charlie Waller & The Country Gentlemen- Songs of the American Spirit 2004 A great voice that was in its final months matched with some great songs such as “Joe” and “Be Quiet When Willie Walks By”
148. Various Artists- Old Town School of Folk Music Songbook Volumes 1-4 2006/2007 Ambitious
149. The Osborne Brothers- Detroit to Wheeling 2003 The Brothers O revisit their youth
150. Original Soundtrack- The Slaughter Rule 2002 Jay Farrar’s score is just as impressive as the vocal cuts- has anyone ever seen the movie?
My top 21 albums of the year- in no particular order beyond #1 & #2 which are either Dale Ann Bradley’s Don’ t Turn Your Back or John Wort Hannam’s Queen’s Hotel, depending on the day and my mood. This list was submitted to the Postcard 2 survey with one exception; I only just heard the latest from Nanci Griffith and fell for it immediately.
I thought it was another outstanding year for roots music; I likely listened to more music than ever and know I enjoyed so many different sounds. I was glad that I didn’t have to listen to quite as much acoustic twee-folk as in the past. You’ll notice my list includes several Fervor Coulee favourites who either continued to produce outstanding music or made fine comebacks after a few years away. Not too much ‘off the radar’ music, but I’m not in a competition to discover the most unheard music. Thanks for visiting throughout the year- Donald
Dale Ann Bradley’s Don’ t Turn Your Back
The Duke & the King- Nothing Gold Can Stay
Guy Clark- Some Days the Song Writes You
Bill Callahan- Sometimes I Wish We Were Eagles
Loudon Wainwright III- High Wide and Handsome- The Charlie Poole Project
Dave Alvin & the Guilty Women- Dave Alvin & the Guilty Women
Danny Barnes- Pizza Box
Dave Rawlings Machine- A Friend of a Friend
Great Lake Swimmers- Lost Channels
Steve Forbert- The Place and the Time
Sam Bush- Circles Around Me
The Deep Dark Woods- Winter Hours
The Undesirables- Travelling Show
Leeroy Stagger- Everything Is Real
John Wort Hannam- Queen’s Hotel
Dry Branch Fire Squad- Echoes of the Mountain
The Wooden Sky- If I Don’t Come Home You’ll Know I’m Gone
Various Artists- Things About Comin’ My Way- A Tribute to the Music of the Mississippi Sheiks
Mike Plume Band- 8:30 Newfoundland
David Davis & the Warrior River Boys- Two Dimes & A Nickel
Nanci Griffith- The Loving Kind
Welcome back to Fervor Coulee. In my Red Deer Advocate Roots Music column this week I advance several coming shows and feature a review of a dynamic album from The Undesirables.
Billed as “two grown men, one guitar, and a natural disaster,” Toronto’s The Undesirables have released their third album of original rural soul. This time out, the sound is fuller, more elaborate and refined.
Channeling CCR, Tony Joe White, Bobby Charles, and The Band, this pair reminds me of when Gordie Johnson and Mr. Chill (Big Sugar) did duo shows. They play roots music with palpable elements of rock, folk, country soul, and the blues and make no attempt to hide influences. As a result, the music is honest and familiar, yet completely their own- lush and sophisticated, balanced by the simplicity and sweetness of two voices harmonizing.
One imagines the rough-hewn honesty of The Undesirables’ music is a product of darkened highway, borrowed beds, and gas station meals. Colin Raymond voice is smooth and luxurious, and on tracks as diverse as Night Train, Singing Bones, and Northern Girls, somehow brings to mind both Richard Manuel and Bobbie Gentry. As intriguing as Raymond’s voice is, his sound wouldn’t be nearly as interesting without the instrumentation provided by Sean Cotton; playing several guitars in different styles, Cotton provides the backbone to the band.
Lyrics from the title track summarize the album’s mood: The tree tops sway like a doo-wop group, I got a front row seat on a front yard stoop.
With extravagant packaging- gatefold, a lavish booklet, and inner sleeve- complementing the music, a thoroughly satisfying artistic experience is all but guaranteed from Travelling Show. Take a chance and see if you don’t fall under the spell of The Undesirables.
My wife and I just got home from a really enjoyable house concert in Sylvan Lake tonight. Our friends Ross and Cheryl hosted twentysome of us for a ‘songwriters in the round’ with John Wort Hannam, Dave McCann, and Leeroy Stagger. The Highway 3 Roots Revue, it was.
I went in knowing how much I enjoyed John, who I truly feel is one of the most original and talented songwriters and vocalists working today. His voice is pure and his words resonate; every song has cinematic qualities that allow the listener to see the events dance with the words he sings with the imagination providing additional details.
The biggest surprise was that he didn’t sing “Church of the Long Grass,” followed closely by his decision- well-timed as it was- to perform Robert Earl Keen’s “Merry Christmas From the Family.” It provided a nice, light interlude within the evening of (often) more serious songs. Each of John’s songs were warmly received by these ears with “With the Grain” and “Lucky Strikes” being favourites. Oh, and “Requiem for a Small Town.” And don’t forget about…Buy his music. You’ll be glad you did!
I was very familiar with Dave McCann as well, having enjoyed his albums and having caught him on a few different occassions. He didn’t disappoint, with “Circle of Stones” and “Leaving this Town” being highlights. He got a lot of sound out of his Gibson, and the intimate setting allowed listeners to hang on his every word.
Leeroy Stagger was a bit of a surprise as I am not overly familiar with his music. He quickly won me over with songs like “Stormy” and “Brothers.” “Beautiful House” was dedicated to the hosts and is another fine song. I’ve already downloaded one of his albums from iTunes and imagine that others will soon follow.
The entire evening was perfect. Each performed only six songs, but I can honestly say I enjoyed them all and the singers did jump in and play and sing a little on each others tunes, always a nice touch. Stories were told, laughs were had. Snacks were eaten. Recipes were swapped.
A great night. Thanks to the hosts for making it possible, to the friends to attended and supported the performers, and the three very talented men who stopped by Sylvan lake on too cold of a night. Hopefully we get to do something similar again before too long. See www.johnworthannam.com for a listing of the remaining shows on this tour- they are back in Central Alberta Monday for a show in Red Deer.
Due to a miscommunication, my column scheduled for last week ran today. No big deal really as I was not advancing anything of a time-sensitive matter. However, since the column was submitted, a couple interesting shows have been added to the local roots music calendar.
This coming Friday, Dec. 18, a fundraiser for a few area charities including the food bank goes at The Hub downtown featuring a variety of acts- the only one I have nailed down is Will White with Byron Myhre. $10 at the door and I’ll try to find the entire slate. Also, in huge news, Sam Baker with Gurf Morlix will make a Valentine’s Day appearance at the Matchbox. I caught the pair at the Edmonton Folk Festival this summer, and I dare say Gurf almost overshadowed Sam. I have already reserved my tickets for that one. Also, bluesman Mark Sterling brings The Songs of John Lennon to the same venue March 6.
This week I reviewed two new albums, the Amchitka set from Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and Phil Ochs and the 1965 live set from Pete Seeger.
Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and Phil Ochs
A double-set documenting the 1970 Vancouver event ($3 a ticket!) that launched the endeavours of Greenpeace, those of a certain age are sure to find Amchitk fascinating.
Looking back, a very impressive lineup: Joni Mitchell at the peak of her powers, prior to going arty; James Taylor having just released his breakthrough Sweet Baby James album; and Phil Ochs, the poet prince of the Greenwich Village set.
Mitchell is more lighthearted than one might expect, cracking wise dropping a snippet of Bonie Maronie into Big Yellow Taxi, asking forgiveness to ‘putter around here a minute’ when she loses her way during For Free. Mitchell features a number of tunes from Ladies of the Canyon, and performs on guitar, piano, and dulcimer. Mr. Tambourine Man is just one of the delightful surprises within her thirty five-minute set, made more so when Taylor ambles in to bring it home.
Taylor sings from his first three albums, including tunes from the then unreleased Mud Slide Slim. Songs that would become standards- Carolina in My Mind, Something in the Way She Moves, Fire and Rain- resonate brightly almost forty years later.
At the time, Phil Ochs was as big a name within folk circles as Mitchell, lacking populist appeal perhaps but unrepentant in his convictions. A seven-minute rendition of Joe Hill is masterful, while I Ain’t Marching Anymore and Rhythms of Revolution reminds one of a time when it appeared music just may change the world. Throughout the set Ochs demonstrates that earnestness need not defeat entertainment.
As a sliver of folk-rock history, Amchitka (named for the Aleutian Island where U.S. nuclear bomb tests were protested by Greenpeace) captures a seminal moment in the development of the folk-rock, singer-songwriter era.
Devoid of the planned spontaneity such a benefit now requires, this set highlights a time when the music world seemed less like business and more like community.
Live in ’65
To be valued as true ‘folk music’ there needs to be more than an acoustic guitar or banjo and slightly off-key singing. An attempt to encourage social upheaval thorough a revolution inspired by music is at the core of folk music- whether challenging the structures of 18th century Britain or the constraints of 20th century America, the singer encouraged change.
Recorded in Pittsburgh in 1965, this set captures Pete Seeger at his storytelling and entertaining finest. His manner seems quite quaint more than forty years later; it is hard to imagine that politics and activism made him a target of government scrutiny. Yet his influence on those who would follow- from Bruce Springsteen (who rewrote He Lies in an American Land, included here) to Billy Bragg and Ani DiFranco- is obvious.
Among the 31 cuts included in this previously unreleased concert recording are Seeger standards including Turn! Turn! Turn!, Guantanamera, This Little Light of Mine, Where Have All the Flowers Gone, and Old Joe Clark. Less familiar and as such a little more interesting may be Peat Bog Soldiers with its roots in a Nazi concentration camp, Going Across the Mountain, and When I First Came to This Land. Lovely.
I received a mass email from Edmonton Folk Music Festival producer Terry Wickham yesterday. As part of his message, he dropped the following names as confirmed for the EFMF in August: Levon Helm, Calexico, Kate Rusby, Ian Tyson, Lau, Zachary Richard, Aterciopelados, Four Men and a Dog, and Kailash Kher.
Book holidays for Aug. 5-8 now! www.efmf.ab.ca
I received this email today. After almost ten years, there will be no justice for Kirsty MacColl. I was last in Mexico during the same week Kirsty was killed, and have purposely avoided the country since. I haven’t been back, nor do I plan to visit the country again. For all things Kirsty, visit http://www.kirstymaccoll.com/
The committee which has led the fight to achieve justice for Kirsty MacColl has agreed to cease campaigning. It will disband and stop collecting money to fund its activities. The remaining funds will be distributed to charities of which Kirsty would have approved.
The committee recently received news that the Mexican government have closed their case file on Kirsty’s death, and regard this as the end of the matter. They said they had exhausted all avenues of investigation and taken statements and affidavits from many witnesses. None of these had led to further information as to who may have been implicated, apart from the boat hand Cen Yam, who had already been convicted of causing the accident.
Once the case was closed there was virtually nothing left for the committee to campaign for. We are not able to bring any more pressure on the Mexicans than we have achieved already.
After Kirsty’s tragic death in Cozumel, Mexico in December 2000, her mother, Jean MacColl, launched the Justice for Kirsty campaign. Its primary purpose was to establish whether the Mexican judicial system had investigated the case sufficiently thoroughly for Kirsty’s family, friends and fans to accept that justice had been done in accounting for her untimely death. It did so by rallying the outrage and anger at the accident, and raised funds to allow Jean and the committee to pay for lawyers, and to approach governments at the highest level.
The committee was successful in achieving most of its aims. The Mexican government was compelled to re-open its enquiries after pressure from the campaign and the British government exposed the clumsy cover-up that followed the accident. In the unstable circumstances in Mexico in recent years, it is unlikely that any more could be achieved: the case has been re-examined very thoroughly.
Jean intends to continue working in a personal capacity to raise public awareness of the key issues in the campaign: committee members have pledged their informal support for her efforts. She wishes to thank everyone who has contributed in any way to helping her and the campaign. The support of The Pogues and Billy Bragg have been especially important in increasing the public profile of the campaign.
The two charities receiving the remaining campaign funds are:
• Casa Alianza Mexico, which provides care and rehabilitation for homeless children and others at risk in Mexico
• Cuba Music Solidarity, which Kirsty had supported enthusiastically.