Archive for December 2010
A final post this evening, to round out the Favourites of the Year series.
So much good music, so little time to allow it to actuallysoak in and become engrained within ones soul.
A top 20 list would have worked here, but a top 10 makes more sense as a concise summation of the Canadian music I most enjoyed this year.
I’ve deliberately not included any Alberta talent on this list as I’ll be publishing a top 5 Alberta roots list next week in the newspaper. Yes, J.R. Shore is from Calgary; blame it on fatigue! This isn’t science- precision isn’t always necessary.
Through my participation on the Polaris Music Prize jury, I have the opportunity to listen to a tonne of Canadian music. Unfortunately, most of it is what might have once been categorized as rock; in my experience, not enough roots music makes its way to the jury discussions. Still, I was able to sample a pretty healthy dose of Canadian roots this year, and these are ten of my favourites, most of which have been reviewed, described, or discussed here at Fervor Coulee.
- Kim Beggs- Blue Bones
- J.R. Shore- Talkin’ on a Bus
- The Sadies- Darker Circles
- Jenny Whiteley- Forgive and Forget
- Fred Eaglesmith- Cha Cha Cha
- Ron Hynes- Stealing Genius
- The Cowboy Junkies- Renmin Park- Nomad Series, Volume 1
- Jim Byrnes- Everywhere West
- The Mountains and The Trees- I Made This For You
- The Wilderness of Manitoba- When You Left the Fire
Reissues, both courtesy of Bumstead Records: The Blue Shadows On the Floor of Heaven and k.d. lang A Truly Western Experience.
Thanks for spending some time at Fervor Coulee today and throughout the past year. Hope to have you visit again in the new year. Best, Donald
I had meant to post this before Christmas, but neglected to do so before leaving for Jamaica from which I have just returned- a day late due to an airplane malfunction, but safe and sound. I quite love Christmas music as long as it isn’t too sweet and has something a little different to recommend it. Not too much description- all the recommendations are pretty much as one might expect:
1. Kimmie Rhodes- Miracles on Christmas Day Reviewed below in my most recent newspaper column. Stunning writing that brings warmth and personality into the mix.
2. The Indigo Girls- Holly Happy Days A range of sounds, all terrific. It sounds like an Indigo Girls album. “I Feel the Christmas Spirit” may be my favourite Indigo Girls song since “Shame on You.” Their live anthology released this year also has much to recommend it.
3. Winterbloon- Traditions Rearranged Meg Hutchinson’s name attracted me to this nicely-paced e.p. Lovely vocal arrangements, with just a bit of bite.
4. Ox- Silent Night and Other Cowboy Songs A very pleasant surprise. Introduced me to “Arthur McBride,” a song I keep hearing everywhere now that I know it. A bit affectatious in spots, but forgivable because the positives are, well, so positive.
5. Chris Jones & The Night Drivers- ”Kentucky Noel” A lovely bluegrass Christmas song- captures the images we all might wish were included in our Christmases, past and present.
In my haste to post last night, I neglected to mention my favourite Christmas discovery, Larry Sparks & the Lonesome Ramblers’ Christmas in the Hills; released on King in 1976, this is an album that will be played annually around my home place. Through the wonders of the ‘net, the treasures that are found.
When I first started to put this list of bluegrass and bluegrass-related albums of this year together, I suspected that I wouldn’t feel the need to list more than ten. Truth be told, I likely listened to less bluegrass this past year than any other in the last ten. The changing nature of the recording industry as a whole contributed to this: fewer companies are servicing freelancers with their products. Having said that, the list I finally came up with was comprised almost evenly of music I purchased and that which was sent to me.
Still, once I started gathering my listening thoughts together the list stretched to fifteen and then twenty albums and eventually thirty. With some judicious editing that revealed the difference between (to my ears) great and good, I settled on the twenty albums I not only listened to the most this past year, but which I most enjoyed- albums I feel I can recommend to others whose taste runs to the bluegrass side of things.
- The Steeldrivers- Reckless The Allmans and Stanleys battle it out somewhere near Walton’s Mountain. Allmans prevail. Mary Ellen’s virtue is the true victim. Not a weak cut on the album.
- The Earl Brothers The Earl Brothers Same skirmish. Different result. Mary-Ellen remains the real loser. A masterful album; nothing else like it released in the last year.
- Chatham County Line- Wildwood CCL may not get the airplay of The Infamous Stringdusters or Cadillac Sky or the critical accolades of The SteelDrivers, but they remain one of the brightest forces within the next bluegrass generation.
- Steve Gulley & Tim Stafford- Dogwood Winter Improves in my estimation with every listen. Beautiful.
- The Kathy Kallick Band- Between the Hollow and the High-Rise Kathy Kallick and her band play bluegrass with a distinctive and fresh flavor: a bit of blues, a touch of swing, a smidgen of folk mixed throughout. Put some drive behind all that, and you’ve got a winning bluegrass album.
- James Alan Shelton- Where I’m Bound A bright sounding album that positively leaps out of the speakers. Play it loud!
- Dierks Bentley- Up on the Ridge A terrific album and the contributions of The Punch Brothers and Del McCoury push it over the edge; for much of the year, my favourite country album. However, not quite grassy enough to be higher on this list.
- The Honey Dewdrops- These Old Roots With the absence of a new Gillian Welch album, this duo is becoming a favourite.
- Jeff & Vida -Selma Chalk Not exactly bluegrass, of course, but close enough for me to include. Genuine sultriness. Some of the songs have real pep, lively stuff but others are more atmospheric and moody, if I may. You’ll sit up and take notice if you take a chance.
- Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band- Legacy Still digesting this one, but I know I like it a lot. Hadn’t heard it until it started to show up on others’ year-end lists. Bought it at the first opportunity.
- The Special Consensus- 35 A bit brief- I would have enjoyed more out of print music, but the new performances favourably capture the latest incarnation of the Special C.
- The Grascals- The Famous Lefty Flynn’s The Grascals exhibit that they remain a bluegrass powerhouse, utilizing three-lead vocalists dexterously while maintaining a vibrant and multi-dimensional instrumental approach.
- Farewell Drifters- Yellow Tag Mondays
- Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen- Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen
- Crooked Still- Some Strange Country
- Will White- Rise Above
- Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice- Heartaches and Dreams
- The John Hartford Stringband- Memories of John
- Tim O’Brien- Chicken and Egg
- The Punch Brothers- Antifogmatic
A few other favourties: Trisha Gagnon- A Story About You and Me; Joe Diffie- Homecoming; Mark Brinkman- On the Brink of a Dream; The Carter Family III- Past and Present; Runaway Express- Howlin’ at the Moon.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee.
Postcard 2 is a listserve- is that still the word?- a message board- whatever we called online communities in the days before MyFace and Tweets- that serves a diminishing population of music folks who know how to spell and will argue about how to pronounce Gram Parsons’ name. http://www.postcard2.com/ is the home page- drop by, join up- we could use the fresh faces.
Annually, the Postcard Top 20 survey provides interesting reading and I’m sure this year will be no different. Over the next couple weeks I’ll also list my Canadian and Alberta-based favourites of the last year. Here is what I submitted to Postcard for this year, many of which I wrote about here at Fervor Coulee:
While compiling this list two things surprised me: a. how much music I purchased last year! And b. how few albums (that I wasn’t reviewing) I listened to more than a couple times. There are few- more likely no- albums I know today from 2010 as intimately as I did Darkness of the Edge of Town, Quadrophenia, and Fool Around in a similar amount of time. With so much music coming into my life even albums from artists I always enjoy- like Jim Lauderdale’s latest and The Gaslight Anthem- were purchased and not heard, not cracked. My new year’s resolution- slow down; listen more; and, if necessary, be more selective in my purchases.
Postcard Top 20 2010 1. Mary Gauthier The Foundling 2. Robert Plant Band of Joy 3. Peter Cooper The Lloyd Green Album 4. Eric Brace & Peter Cooper Master Sessions 5. Elizabeth Cook Welder 6. Marty Stuart Ghost Train 7. Matt Urmy Sweet Lonesome 8. Dierks Bentley Up on the Ridge 9. Mary Chapin Carpenter The Age of Miracles 10. Tony Booth The Other Side of Love 11. Shelby Lynne Tears, Lies, and Alibis 12. Reckless Kelly Somewhere in Time 13. Danielle Doyle The Cartographer’s Wife 14. The Steeldrivers Reckless 15. Kim Beggs Blue Bones 16. Wise-Magraw How the Light Gets In
17. J. R. Shore- Talkin’ on a Bus 18. The Sadies- Darker Circles 19. Ian Gomm and Jeb Loy Nichols Only Time Will Tell 20. Jay Clark Live at Jammin’ at Hippie Jack’s
Almost made it: Mark Erelli Little Vigils; Kevin Welch A Patch of Blue Sky; Marshall Chapman Big Lonesome; Tim O’Brien Chicken & Egg; Jackie Leven Gothic Road; The Earl Brothers The Earl Brothers; D. B. Rielly Love Potions and Snake Oil; Ron Hynes Stealing Genius; Jenny Whiteley Forgive and Forget; The Punch Brothers Antifogmatic
Reissues: 1. Bruce Springsteen The Promise- not a reissue, I know 2. The Blue Shadows On the Floor of Heaven 3. Kris Kristofferson Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends 4. Tom Russell Cowboy’d All to Hell 5. Shawn Camp 1994
Some New Favourites I Didn’t Hear Until this Year: The Wild Tchoupitoulas The Wild Tchoupitoulas; Del McCoury Del McCoury; Larry Sparks Ramblin’ Letters; Bill Morrissey Bill Morrissey re-recording; John Boutté Good Neighbor; Greg Kihn Mutiny; Doug Cox & Salil Bhatt Slide into Freedom 2; Barbara Lynn Voices of Americana; Dick Curless Tombstone Every Mile; Johnny Darrell Singin’ It Lonesome; The albums of Tony Booth, like Lonesome 7-7203 and The Key’s In the Mailbox.
Of course, any such list is subjective and likely to change with the next album off the shelf; I did put considerable thought into compiling my Postcard Top 20 for 2010 and am confident that it wouldn’t change very much with additional review.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee- now, go buy some music! Donald
A Christmas focus this week in my Roots Music column. I had planned on reviewing 4 Christmas columns this weekend, but instead offered up the Ox review here at Fervor Coulee last weekend and the fourth album turned out to be so awful that I couldn’t even write about it. Kimmie Rhodes is always worth a listen as are Putumayo releases.
Roots music column, originally published December 17, 2010 in the Red Deer Advocate
Kimmie Rhodes Miracles on Christmas Day Sunbird Records
Songbird Kimmie Rhodes has been recording rich, original Americana for a couple decades, and during that time has recorded with luminaries including Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Emmylou Harris. Over the course of a dozen albums, the Austin-based songwriter has used her impressive mastery of words and melody to pull on heartstrings in a manner that has established her as one of the finest under-recognized voices in roots music.
Miracles on Christmas Day is Rhodes’ first foray into holiday music and- much like last year’s offering from Mary Chapin Carpenter- pulls listeners into a warm embrace of emotion strengthened by reminiscences and hopefulness.
Inspired by Nelson, Rhodes vowed to write a Christmas song annually. She has packaged the finest of these with two standards of the season- including a beautiful rendition of Carol of the Bells- and an interpretation of Patty Griffin’s Mary.
Amidst gentle shuffles augmented by some of Austin’s finest musicians, Rhodes captures the traditional trappings of the Christmas season within nine wonderful little compositions. Good cheer and mistletoe bring a Little Touch of Christmas while the hopeful pines -eloquently and without saccharine- for One More White Christmas with that special someone.
Wake Up Sleepy Town offers Tex-Mex flavourings while Angels Unaware finds the Christmas spirit in the most appropriate of circumstances.
Miracles on Christmas Day is that rare seasonal offering that stands on its own not only as a beautiful recording but as a thematic exploration that maintains significance outside of December.
Various Artists World Christmas Party Putumayo Records
One can always count on the fine folks at Putumayo to collect listenable and atypical Christmas sounds to inject life to holiday celebrations.
From the irie blessings of Jacob Miller’s Jamaican-flavoured We Wish You A Merry Christmas through to the Latin/Cuban jazz of Ed Calle and Arturo Sandoval’s instrumental interpretation of Santa Claus is Coming to Town, those seeking a more worldly view of traditional sounds need to look no further.
Charles Brown’s soulful Christmas Comes But Once a Year would sound apt no matter the season, while the Hawaiian spirit of Keahiwai’s Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree adds lightness of the collection.
Other favourite sounds stem from Brazil’s Jose Conde (Winter Wonderland) and Texas polka band Brave Combo (The Christmas Song). The highlight may well be Maria de Barros’s Alegria, a beautiful interpretation of Deck the Halls.
Mix in a bit of progressive bluegrass from Alison Brown, a touch of Mozambique via Costa Neto, and New Orleans’ essential Heritage Hall Jazz Band, and one has a Christmas collection waiting to become a favourite.
As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Best, Donald
Ox Silent Night & Other Cowboy Songs (Cosmic Daves Record Factory)
What happens when that slightly off-putting collection of shaggy musicians and ne’r-do-wells from down the block get a-hold of their grandparents Christmas albums?
When Mark Browning and his raggle taggle collection of lo-fi, alt.folk friends get together, creativity abounds. “White Christmas”, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”, and “O Holy Night” and a half-dozen other seasonal classics are dismantled and reconstructed in a manner that is a bit off-putting but also strangely attractive. Quite experimental, the set holds together well. On some songs, such as “Silent Night”, accompaniment is kept to a minimum and the song appears to be little more than a singer hunched over his guitar. Other tracks are more elaborately arranged, as on “Good King Wenceslas” with organ and other instruments seemingly multi-tracked around tape loops that hint at the familiar melody.
One admires their brass at taking a run at beloved tunes in the manner they do.
Listeners get a better understanding of the project when the original numbers are examined. Neither “Xmas in the Jailhouse” (“I spent Christmas in the drunk tank”) nor “Christmas with the Band” (“Wrapped up all the dope and tied with bows ready to smoke, Socks tied to the dashboard with bungee cord, got cookies, beer, and jam sandwiches”) are likely to become standards, but they do reveal the perspective of the group: the glorious Christmases of yesteryear, as magical as they appear in memory and movies, are not something that everyone can relate with.
This is made poignantly apparent in the decision to include “Arthur McBride”, a mid-19th century Irish folk tune centering on the likely fate of poor lads recruited into British army. The ballad, which I wasn’t previously familiar, is provided with a more than impressive performance, and will make it onto my annual Christmas compilation.
Folk? Roots? Indie Rock? Alt.country? Ox is a band, a collective, that defies categorization. Not always focused, with this set the band has created an impressive and ambitious collection of modern alternative Christmas sounds. Endearing is Silent Night & Other Cowboy Songs. Seek it out.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee.
Over at http://lonesomeroadreview.com, Aaron has posted my fresh review of two amazing albums from the inspired spirits of Peter Cooper and Eric Brace. There is an error in the 6th paragraph (‘fevered’ listening?) that totally confuses me, but I wrote it; not sure what I meant, but I trust that Aaron will make the adjustment for me. The Lloyd Green Album from Peter Cooper and Master Session from Peter, Eric Brace, Lloyd Green, and Mike Auldridge are both seemless and impressive. I don’t give out 5 star reviews easily- these two are certainly deserving.
“Alison Krauss and Union Station have completed their new album which is scheduled for release on February 8th. There are no band changes, but as always when the band is off the road, band members work on side projects.”
So says Ken Irwin, one of the founders of Rounder Records in response to the seemingly neverending speculation around Union Station, one of the most stable and successful lineups in modern bluegrass history. Irwin made the statement this weekend on the Bluegrass-L, a online forum of mostly bluegrass conversation. This new album will be the first in more than five years from AKUS, following several years of side projects including Krauss’s very successful venture with Robert Plant and Dan Tyminski’s self-named outfit’s album and touring schedule.
Jim Byrnes's Juno Award-winnning album- Blues Album of the Year
238 columns, somewhere around 500 albums and even more live shows, with today’s column Roots Music has been promoting my kind of music in Central Alberta for 10 years.
I’ve made mistakes, I’ve made a couple enemies, and I’ve fostered connections I would never have experienced otherwise. Some labels have disappeared while others remain viable. The landscape of the music business has changed greatly in a decade. What has remained solid is the core of devoted musicians and artists, publisists and label owners, and local promoters who see the importance of supporting and advancing the cause of roots music. I’ve been glad to be part of it, in my small way, for a decade. Let’s keep it going!
In today’s column I advance a few December shows and feature albums from Jim Byrnes and Jeff Morris, an Alberta musician and songwriter. I still remember the day in 1983 when I almost cracked Jim Byrnes’ debut album Burning, an album I only finally heard this past week. I was at Climax Records in Leduc, a store that gave me my first volunteer record store job. The store’s owner had fallen behind in payments to his distributor and the company had come in and taken over the shop. For some reason, they hired me to assist in running the shop and for a few staggering months of independence, I had my run of the place, not really having any clue as to what I was doing but having a heck of a time doing it.
For some reason, Burning drew my attention one day as I was unpacking a shipment and I almost slit it open to give it a listen, but got distracted by something else- How might the course of my music listening changed had I succumbed to the temptation to open that Polydor album years ago. Hopefully you’ll find something of interest.
Roots music column, originally published December 3, 2010 in the Red Deer Advocate
With this column, Roots Music marks 10 years on these pages. The area roots music scene has ebbed and flowed during the past decade, with local venues for live music coming and going in equal measure. The environment remains quite healthy with touring musicians and locals alike finding outlets for their sounds.
Jeff Morris Original Songs on a Borrowed Guitar Self-released
Hailing from Sherwood Park, Jeff Morris’s debut album is a pleasant, unexpected surprise.
An intimate recording with unobtrusive, vibrant support, comparisons to Jack Johnson are a bit too apparent- Morris’s voice has an inflective catch that is similar to the surfing guitarist, and he favours gentle introspective pieces that examine feelings and relationships. Okay, sometimes the obvious tract is entirely justified.
Morris’s guitar playing isn’t primitive but neither is it overly elaborate. Sparse strumming and delicately picked notes provide the canvas against which Morris constructs his uncomplicated rhymes and reflections. Especially appealing is the percussive element of his playing, obvious on tracks including the standout Hold On.
Blue Sky Falls is another song that captures the imagination: one is drawn into the impassioned possibilities suggested.
This recording captures not only listeners’ attention but their intellect and soul. Coffeehouse music that doesn’t slink into the background as much as it enfolds with comfort and warmth-think Dan Mangan crossed with Brett Dennam, perhaps.
2010 has been a very good year for Alberta roots recording artists. Add Original Songs on a Borrowed Guitar to the list of standouts.
Jim Byrnes Everywhere West Black Hen Music
British Columbia-based for thirty-plus years, Missouri native Jim Byrnes sings the blues with relaxed confidence, leaving no room for over-emoting or grandiose showmanship. Simply put, Byrnes is the real deal, bridging the distance of decades and space between childhood heroes like Big Joe Turner and his west coast home.
I’ve listened to Byrnes’ most recent recordings with growing admiration, and his performance at August’s Central Music Festival- where many of the tracks included here were previewed- was exceptional.
Amongst Everywhere West’s dozen tracks are a handful of fresh, original tunes from Byrnes and compatriot-producer Steve Dawson. The majority of the material comes from a previous time and place: Bootlegger Blues from the Mississippi Sheiks, Take Out Some Insurance On Me from Jimmy Reed, and He Was A Friend of Mine and No Mail Blues from the folk tradition.
Purists may not appreciate the New Orleans overtones inserted into the lively reimagining of Robert Johnson’s From Four Until Late, but one can’t argue that the tune positively shimmies. Obvious is the reverence Byrnes has for his material, as well as the enjoyment he takes from playing and singing these songs.
The four fresh tunes are all impressive with Dawson’s Walk On providing a showcase for the album’s resident band. Byrnes’s Me and Piney Brown takes us back to the 30s to explore a world that existed before his youthful excursions scouting the nightclubs of Missouri.
As he sings in the old Louis Jordan tune, You Can’t Get that Stuff No More. But for 50-plus minutes, Byrnes makes a solid argument that he is willing to bring blues songs to a contemporary audience without sacrificing the soul rooted within each number.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee- Donald