Archive for February 2010
As we all are, I’ve been quite busy these last weeks. What with watching (too much) Olympic action- after vowing not to watch any, but come on- how can you not watch more skicross or snowboard cross once you see it- and trying to keep up with my real job and life, writing sometimes has to take a back seat. Compound this with things I stumble across on the Internet when doing research, and I’m surprised I accomplish anything anywhere. Below are a few sites I’ve discovered the past few weeks- I have no interest in any of them and do not advocate their content beyond the fact that I found them interesting. Don’t blame me for the time you spend visiting them. Best, Donald.
http://1000awesomethings.com/about/ What it says.
http://www.outinthestorm.com/ Alberta singer-songwriter Ruth Purves Smith’s site with music and video.
http://redneckerson.blogspot.com/ One of my favourite places for out of print and often obscure country recordings.
http://tinyurl.com/y8wcab3 My newest favourite album- Strange Creek Singers, featuring Hazel Dickens, and somehow I had never heard of it before last week. On eMusic and YouTube.
http://www.blueberrybluegrass.com/ Once upon a time my favourite bluegrass festival. It is still great, but has went a bit ‘big’ for my tastes- whatever that means- but their lineup is usually pretty good. This coming July’s festival lineup will be tough to beat.
http://www.countrystandardtime.com/countrymusic.asp I usually find something of interest here.
http://www.carrienewcomer.com/ Not a new discovery by any means, but I’ve been delving into her back catalogue and am liking everything I hear. Her new album is fabulous.
http://redbeetrecords.com/ For all things East Nashville, Eric Brace, and Peter Cooper.
http://www.archive.org/details/audio I’ve recommended this site before. Legit live recordings approved by the artists. You will spend hours here if you allow.
http://www.jennywhiteley.com/home/index.php Her new album is quite good and “Cold Kisses” is one of those songs that screams “You won’t hear anything better this week.” Really.
http://www.killbeatmusic.com/ For those of us in the business- okay, I’m not in the business, but whatever- Ken is one of the best promoters of independent and mostly Canadian talent. You can get lost here listening and viewing.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6OjDalPzTz4 James Reams is one of my favourite bluegrass singers and people. There are several Barnstormer clips on YouTube.
http://www.oldmanluedecke.ca/ His new album (coming late March) is a huge step forward. Much of this is due to the presence of Tim O’Brien, never a bad idea, but also due to OML’s development as a songwriter, singer, and performer. Covers Willie P. Bennett’s “Caney Fork River.”
http://btxmp3index.freeforums.org/index.php The Springsteen mp3 archive. O my gosh. If he wanted it down, I’m sure it would be. An amazing resource. I can’t get enough of the late 2009 shows.
and finally http://record-fiend.blogspot.com/search?q=Africa A website that I found while doing some searches after reading the 2003 Oxford American music issue last week. This album is one I can’t stop listening to.
My review of the stellar new album from Carrie Newcomer has been posted to the Country Standard Time site at http://tinyurl.com/yblx5fx. Check it out if contemporary folk (whatever that is) is your thing. Best, Donald
I’ve rewritten my review of the new album from The Earl Brothers for the http://lonesomeroadreview.wordpress.com/ site. If interested…
Thanks for visiting, Donald
Welcome back to Fervor Coulee. In my Red Deer Advocate column this week (originally published February 19, 2010) I am pleased to feature two new releases, the reissue of Central Alberta’s own k.d. lang’s A Truly Western Experience and a new compilation from Putumayo, Rhythm & Blues. As always, support the artists and- I guess in this case- the labels.
k.d. lang & the reclines
A Truly Western Experience- 25th Anniversary Edition
I stopped listening to k.d. lang in the mid-90s. Prior to that, she released fresh, challenging country music; it all started with an explosive live show and a little 7” white vinyl single.
For a brief time in the mid-80s, there wasn’t a hotter ticket in Edmonton, and I recall that in the weeks following the release of A Truly Western Experience, amidst the Madonna, Howard Jones, and Michael Jackson albums, the most in-demand record was the blue album with the collage barnyard.
This new 15-track issue, fleshed out with live tracks from a 1985 concert, a demo, and the aforementioned single- including the b-side, the first-rate “Damned Old Dog”- is artfully packaged and focuses attention on the lang back-story, before the Junos and Dave Edmunds, before Nashville, Roy Orbison, the Grammys, PETA, Vanity Fair, and Tony Bennett.
While mildly disappointing when first heard in 1984, 25 years brings perspective to the original nine tracks that were A Truly Western Experience. It was a darn fine little platter, and announced lang as the anti-Barbara Mandrell.
The lively tracks were most enjoyed; playing at rockabilly with “Bopalena” and bopping country on “Hanky Panky”, lang was the poster child for those who loved vintage everything and Patsy Cline. The populist appeal of “Stop, Look, and Listen” was and remains magnetic. Even with its range of tempos and styles, few knew that “Pine and Stew” and “Busy Being Blue” hinted at her future as a cosmopolitan crooner.
The live tracks, especially the addictive “Johnny Get Angry”, flashes one back to the Dinwoodie Lounge on the University of Alberta campus, witnessing the development of a star in cut-down cowboy boots, a fringed shirt, and those glasses. And if you missed it the first time around, the bonus 3-track DVD will fling you to 1984 quicker than you would expect.
Rhythm & Blues
It’s claimed that Willie Dixon said, “Blues is the roots, all the rest is the fruits.”
And what fruits these are! This 12-track compilation of modern and traditional R&B- the pre-90s definition of the term- is 40-minutes of toe-tapping sounds most of us will have missed.
From 1972 and The Emotions comes “My Honey and Me”, as pure a slice of yearning one can hope to enjoy on a Saturday night. From about a year ago we have Irma Thomas giving promise and hope on “River is Waiting”. In between, folk fest favourites including Ruthie Foster, James Hunter, and Sharon Jones give lessons in what R&B really means; check out The Quantic Soul Orchestra featuring Kabir’s “Who Knows.”
Like most Putumayo albums, this disc reveals music one has never experienced; this disc’s find is Catherine Russell, a Berklee professor who soulfully channels Sam Cooke to memorable effect.
A more concise version of my Sam Baker/Gurf Morlix story has been posted to Country Standard Time at http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/concertreview.asp?xid=497
One of the benefits of this blog is I get the opportunity to take second and third cracks at some of my pieces; if I’m not satisfied with how something is sitting, I can give it another try. In this case, the first version- posted below- went up pretty near as I wrote it in draft. This later version was revised several hours later when it occurred to me that Jeff, CST and its readers may be interested in the show. I took out some of the extraneous phrases and attempted to make the piece more global. I also tightened things up…considerably. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Gurf Morlix, Red Deer Feb. 14 photo courtesy Helge Nome
Sam Baker, Red Deer, Feb. 14 photo courtesy Helge Nome
Last evening in Red Deer, Sam Baker and Gurf Morlix continued their Freezin’ Our Butts Off February tour of Alberta. A sold-out Matchbox Theatre was the venue hosting the two Austin residents on Valentine’s Day night and the evening exceeded all expectations.
One could be forgiven (I hope since I was one of them) for having expected the evening to be a Sam Baker concert with accompaniment by Gurf Morlix. Instead the audience of just over one hundred was treated to a song swap that lasted almost two and a half hours, including the many stories and song introductions shared by both participants. Spontaneity was obvious at almost every turn. And since I went into the show with huge appreciation for Morlix, more so than even Baker, things worked out for me just fine. I also gained an even deeper understanding and appreciation for Baker.
I purposely didn’t take notes during the show, but the memories remain sharp more than a dozen hours later. With each of the singers sharing (I think) ten songs, most of the favourites were covered with a few surprises intermixed. The intimate venue revealed excellent sound and sightlines, well-living up to the reputation it has earned over the past two years. The only complaint could be that Baker’s guitar couldn’t be heard for the middle third of the show, the result of a forgotten pedal switch. This oversight simply allowed one to even more enjoy Morlix’s contributions to Baker’s songs.
While other Texas (and Texan-based) songwriters that I enjoy- Guy Clark, for example, or even Tom Russell and Morlix- seem to have more male-audience appeal, Baker has that mysterious and tortured poet-thing a-goin’ that attracts the ladies. His songs have qualities that appeal equally to the genders, but they seem to resonate emotionally and even romantically a bit more than other songwriters with women. This was obvious with the attention he received during the break and after the show, as well as in the number of heads cradled on partner’s shoulders during the concert.
Establishing that they would play their sad songs early, and the sadder ones later, the pair immediately connected with their audience. I enjoy Baker’s music every time I hear it on the radio or on disc, but I was a bit jaded after a less than satisfying Baker performance at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival this past August. This time out, everything fired for Baker.
The expected songs were masterfully performed- “Juarez,” “Pony,” and “Orphan,” along with a note-perfect rendition of “Waves” late in the second set. Morlix’s fingerpicking on this final number was incredible- he just pulled us into the song. Baker kicked off the second set fulfilling a request for “Iron,” his finest song in my opinion. Also performed were “Boxes,” “Angel Hair,” and his closer, “Broken Fingers.” Prior to this, Baker made “Long Black Veil” all his own, changing the odd word here and there. By the time the scaffold was high, his phrasing had changed enough to make it a Baker song with all influence Cash or Lefty Frizzell may have imparted falling aside.
I left the venue more impressed by Morlix than I had anticipated, especially since my regard was already so significant. He did a couple Blaze Foley songs, including “Cold Cold World” and most of Last Exit to Happyland including the time-stopping “One More Second.” It was apparent the audience was not as familiar with Morlix as they were Baker, so songs like “Crossroads,” “She’s A River,” and “Walkin’ to New Orleans” were new to most. All were very well received. “Voice of Midnight” struck a powerful chord, not surprising given the date and “Madalyn’s Bones” from Diamonds to Dust allowed one to consider what one is leaving behind. Most unexpected was a tear-through of “I Fought the Law.” While Baker had an armful of requests, Morlix satisfied his single request for what he called his most pure song, “Dan Blocker.” This song (Thanks, by the way, Gurf!) caused the evening’s only uncomfortable moments as it was apparent- even after the introductory story about Scout camp- that the audience wasn’t sure what to make of this one, and perhaps kept expecting it to go somewhere. It didn’t of course, but that is kind of the point.
Closing with “The Last Time,” the pair left the stage forgoing the obligatory encore which would certainly have been appreciated by all in the audience.
An excellent evening of roots music in Red Deer, and those who skipped it for a late dinner or an evening of cuddling missed something special. One hopes that this successful performance will encourage the local promoter to continue to take chances on artists of this caliber.
I hope to link some pictures from the show in the next couple days, so check back if interested.
Baker and Morlix remain in Alberta for the next week; check http://www.sambakermusic.com/calendar.html or http://www.gurfmorlix.com/tour.html for details and venues.
The Living Side
Red House Records
For Meg Hutchinson, no matter how tough things get, it is always better on the living side.
Meg Hutchinson writes like Joni Mitchell used to and Springsteen still does, and she sings like an Americana godsend. From the opening lines of this intense, lyrical album- “Train whistling home in the dark, Christmas lights up in the trailer park, And across the highway good Americans shop. There is a quiet dignity, yards tiny and clean, Small enough to just fall right through, The American dream” (“Hard to Change”)- the Boston-resident spins ballads of introspection and challenge.
There is more than a hint of melancholy woven into the spare arrangements, a darkness shadowing the hearts and minds explored. Myth (“It was fun, I glued my feathers on, I flew up to the sun, never getting too warm…until the day it all fell away”) masks depression (“At First it Was Fun”), homespun truth (“When I drink whiskey, sometimes I do things I don’t regret, Sometimes I say things I can’t forget”) illustrates longing (“Hopeful Things”).
I find this album more uplifting than the previous Come Up Full, itself an amazing recording. And it was only when I went to the shelf to search out that album that I realized how much Hutchinson reminds me of Janis Ian.
The Living Side is simple, brilliant and elegant. Meg Hutchinson presents contemporary folk music that is progressive but grounded, coffeehouse sounds that refuse to be background music. http://www.meghutchinson.com/
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee- Donald
Sorry for the lack of posts- life has been plenty busy. My first review in my association with Country Standard Time has been posted at http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=4379. Jane Baxter Miller’s album was a good way to kick it off, I think. I terrific album. Cheers, Donald
Welcome back to Fervor Coulee- hope things are bright in your roots world. It’s a frosty but clear day for roots music in Central Alberta, and I’m hoping you’ll find something of interest here.
In my column today I do the usual show advancing and have a review of The Earl Brothers’ fourth album. I admit, this album didn’t grab me on first listen. But- the second time through- all fell into place and I would rank this up there with their debut album and the previous Moohshine in quality. They’re back! See the review here and then go buy the darn thing.
If you like bluegrass that has a distinctive sound, bluegrass that isn’t all sheen and glitter, this is a fine place to start. Originally published in the Red Deer Advocate, Feb. 5, 2o1o.
Have a fine weekend, listen to something that grabs you, and don’t forget to support the artists when you can. Cheers- Donald
The Earl Brothers
The Earl Brothers
Like The Steeldrivers, The Earl Brothers present a rare shade of bluegrass. Whereas the Nashville-based Steeldrivers emphasize the hard-lived blues ancestry of bluegrass, San Francisco’s Earl Brothers favour twisted, gothic experiences that peel flesh from bone.
For their fourth album, The Earl Brothers have made striking transitions. The abandonment of the black and grays of their previous releases is apparent; that Robert Earl Davis and his crew have released their own ‘white album’ is significant in more than artwork. This is a new chapter for the California band.
The dichotomy between the sweetness of bluegrass instrumentation- spectacularly flavoured for the first time with fiddle introduced to the five-piece lineup- and the rough-hewn, hard-scrabble lead vocals and harmonies remains. In adding Tom Lucas’s fiddle, the band has confidently moved toward the bluegrass mainstream using the instrument much the way Bill Monroe did- to emphasize the tempered emotions of a song as the voice simply can’t alone.
Davis’ chosen subject matter hasn’t changed; like a successful novelist, Davis knows that his audience expects certain traits. His protagonists remain rounders, ramblers, and broken-hearted fools fessin’ up to messin’ up with hard women and raw whiskey. The resulting troubles are almost too much to endure- witness tunes like Lightning, Cold and Lonesome, and Won’t Be Around Anymore.
Of course, come Sunday morning some reflecting and testifying is required while considering a Walk in the Light singing in the Sweet Bye and Bye.
The Earl Brothers have faithfully released bluegrass recordings containing bright banjo-picking and distinctive vocals from Robert Earl Davis. In Danny Morris, Davis has a guitarist and vocal foil to provide tenor accenting his unconventional singing, while the mandolin of Larry Hughes washes over every song.
The band and this album aren’t for everyone, and I’ve heard people praise and damn the band in equal measure. Those who favour Dailey & Vincent or IIIrd Tyme Out are advised to look elsewhere- there is nothing polished or contrived about The Earl Brothers. With this new self-titled album, they have again demonstrated that they are unable to compromise vision or execution.