Archive for February 2011
Carrie Elkin Call It My Garden and Danny Schmidt Man of Many Moons
both Red House Records
[FYI- I rewrote the Elkin portion of the review for Country Standard Time, and the edited version of that is up at http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=4657]
An Austin-based couple, Danny Schmidt and Carrie Elkin have each just released an outstanding album of contemporary folk music. Each guests on the others’ album and the recordings are quite complementary while being completely independent.
Recorded in Sam Baker’s Austin living room, Call It My Garden begins with Elkin’s light-hearted giggle, setting the scene for an album of introspective, relationship-based, and ultimately hopeful folk-roots. A personal meditation minus self-centered, maudlin angst that could be unwieldy, the songs of Call It My Garden are rife with nostalgia, change, and opportunity, much realized but some regretful.
Reminiscent of (a non-jaded) Lynn Miles, Elkin has crafted an album that is radio-friendly and deeply personal. “Jesse Likes Birds” blend elements of lullaby with boisterous kitchen-jam frenzy. More indicative is “The Things We’re Afraid Of”; sung from a male perspective, Elkin inhabits her protagonist with honesty and intuition.
Recommended if one enjoys Dala, Nanci Griffith, and Dar Williams, whose “Iowa” is the album sole non-original.
Danny Schmidt has been at the cult-favourite, singer-songwriter game longer than Elkin, delivering well-received if under-heard albums for a decade.
Wise, Schmidt understands that the role of the songwriter is to give voice to the thoughts many of us are hesitant to speak, and he does so throughout Man of Many Moon’s 11 songs. “Guilty by Association Blues” and the song it inspired, “Almost Around the World” are the album’s centerpieces, revealing the strange world of the songwriter as few songs do.
Playing what sounds like finger-picked guitar, Schmidt’s songs are spacious with sparse instrumentation framing his vocals. Inhabiting a vocal domain near John Gorka while evoking the mystery of Greg Brown, Schmidt has the ability- like those songwriters- to cut to the core of issues utilizing only a handful of words.
“On Abundance” and “I’ve Mostly Watched” are songs that may make listeners uncomfortable as Schmidt gently challenges while considering his own inadequacies.
As was 2009’s Instead the Forest Rose to Sing, Man of Many Moons is destined to be one of this year’s most welcome folk albums.
Recommended for those who appreciate Chuck Brodsky and Steve Forbert.
[April 7: This post seems to get referenced a lot, and I don't have the time or inclination to update it regularly- see http://www.efmf.ab.ca/007.whatsnew/007-00.main.html for the lastest on the 2011 edition of the EFMF. Katherine Dawn has recently been announced.]
I don’t normally do this, but I was pretty excited to receive word yesterday that Guy Clark would be appearing at the Edmonton Folk Music Fesitval this coming August. If you read my ramble about his appearance at the Hardly Strictly festival in the fall of 2009, you’ll recall that the craftsman continues to deliver stuff that works (http://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2009/10/08/hardly-strictly-bluegrass-festival-oct-3-4-2009/)
Also just announced for the E.F.M.F. is Nanci Griffith, Angelique Kidjo, and Janiva Magness. Previously announced were: Brandi Carlile, Chris Smither, Matt Andersen, Delhi 2 Dublin, The Once, Mary Gauthier, Garnet Rogers, and Kila. Shaping up to be a good fest, IMO. More details here: http://www.efmf.ab.ca/
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Ironwood Stage & Grill, February 24, 2011
A most impressive evening of music in Calgary tonight, unexpectedly enjoyable as I was taking a bit of a flyer on this one. Whenever I come to Calgary for a conference, as I did this morning, no one who I want to hear is ever playing. The night before I arrive? Sure. The night of my departure? Almost guaranteed. But the night I am free in the big city? Never.
So, when I checked the listings and saw David Jacobs-Strain’s name down for the Ironwood Stage & Grill, I wasn’t too excited and was even disappointed. I had heard David Jacobs-Strain several years ago, but obviously he never made an impression; when I went to pull the CD off the shelf, it wasn’t there, indicating I must have given it away or traded it in some time ago. I had him pegged- wrongly it turns out- as yet another boring blues revivalist, and wasn’t terribly interested. Still, I streamed the songs on his website this past weekend, and- quite happily- really enjoyed what I heard.
I admit it- my mistake: the kid has talent to burn.
Youthful, the self-described “Jewish blues singer from Oregon” is a very percussive guitarist utilizing unorthodox instrumental riffs punctuated by thumping, knocking, and banging as well as vocal dramatics to distinguish himself. Smiling and genuinely pleased that we chose to come out on a frosty evening, Jacobs-Strain is as much fun to watch as he is to listen to.
This wasn’t your standard set of blues wanking; more like folk music played by someone who loves the blues the way I love bluegrass, Jacobs-Strain impressed in every way. Sporting a “Make Biscuits, Not War” cap, he performed a series of developmentally-inappropriate songs that shouldn’t sound so convincing coming from one so young. Each song was more enjoyable than the one that preceded it, and as such the 80-minute set built to a rousing conclusion.
Proving that Todd Snider isn’t the only Oregon-native who can spin a yarn, the personable slide-and-otherwise guitarist shared a number of stories to set-up and extend his songs. Playing the bulk of his Ray Kennedy-produced Terraplane Angel album augmented by older selections including “Ocean or a Teardrop”, Jacobs-Strain is obviously equally competent and engaged with a sparse love song (“Call of the Wild”) as with a raucous party blues tune. Out of nowhere he’ll drop in a ballad with a line as lovely and true as “You taste like dirt and wildflowers” or as revealing as “When you come to see me, leave your visions by the door.”
Thankfully, he didn’t spend a lot of time tuning and noodling. Jacobs-Strain relied on just two guitars to get him through the evening, including his “plywood and duct tape” Yamaha on “Hurricane Railroad,” undoubtedly one of the highlights of the 80-minute set. A few covers were mixed in, including “Come on in My Kitchen” and Stephen Stills’ “Tree Top Flyer.” “Halfway to the Coast” was perhaps an unusual way to begin the ‘half standing ovation’-induced encore portion of the show, but darn it if it isn’t a great song and it led into a more conventional tune of string-bending, much to the delight of the nearly sold out room.
Early in the show, it occurred to me that Jacobs-Strain has one of those voices you heard on late-70s FM radio, back when every song was new and one didn’t yet discern one singer from another.
With even more music from below the corporate radar, hometown troubadour Ralph Boyd Johnson opened the show with a brief six- or seven-song set. Performing entirely unfamiliar material, he kept my interest for the duration, lending hope that an album of new material is on the horizon. It’s been a long time since Dyin’ to Go, and Johnson is one of the province’s finest songwriters and most pleasing vocalists, in my opinion.
An evening well-spent, me thinks. I was able to (unexpectedly) hear a local favourite do a few songs and add- as interestingly- a new favourite into the mix. David Jacobs-Strain is someone I’m going to be watching out for much more intently.
Jacobs-Strain plays Saskatoon this weekend before heading home to the lovely state of Oregon for a slate of shows.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
If I was a good blogger, I would have mentioned this two weeks ago. Steve Forbert is giving away tracks recorded live in Seattle (Oct. 2010), but only a track per day and they are only up for two days each. So…we’re on track 13 today- again, sorry!- but today’s track is notable for its Canadian content- Ian Tyson’s “Four Strong Winds” completes a two song-medley with “Hey, Good Lookin’”. Get it here…but only for a few more hours: http://www.steveforbert.com/sf/news_tractor_tracks.html
I’m not suggesting that it is life-changing, but it is a darn fine little performance of a song I haven’t before heard from Forbert.
Forbert is one of those artists who ‘get it’, in my opinion. He understands that by whetting listeners’ appetites in this manner, he engages them with his music and realizes that by building this relationship, he profits (however marginally) in the end. He has been posting free, live downloads for years and even released a collection of these a couple years back.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
My review of Charlie Sizemore’s new Rounder album is posted at Country Standard Time: http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=4618
As expected, it is a darn good recording. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Originally published in my Roots Music column in the Red Deer Advocate, February 18, 2011
Katie Moore Montebello Purple Cat Records
When Katie Moore’s Only Thing Worse arrived in late 2007, a major talent of the Canadian folk scene was revealed. More than three years later, she returns with Montebello and again impresses.
Moore has not been inactive since garnering raves for her debut album, having recorded with modern Canadian luminaries including Patrick Watson, Plants and Animals, and the very impressive Chilly Gonzales.
The sophomore slump has handicapped more than its share of artists, but Moore escapes this fate with an album as deeply introspective as its predecessor. While Moore’s music contains elements of folk and country, this crooner isn’t so easily contained within clearly defined genre-boundaries.
Reflective as the lyrics are, Moore and producer Warren C. Spicer buoy the mood with deceptively sparse instrumentation. While the musicians are well-separated in the mix, everything has the feel of a quiet evening at home amongst friends. Wake Up Like This is perhaps the albums most energetic number with a peppy backbeat propelling Moore’s assertion that “you can’t walk these streets alone, mile for mile.”
Something on Your Mind and Honey On Juice feature wonderful guitar elements, and Moore’s evocative voice is framed by these tasteful contributions.
As she has previously, Moore adroitly complements original songs with choice covers. Paying tribute to the tradition is a gorgeous rendering of Anna McGarrigle’s devastatingly Heart Like a Wheel while David Wiffen’s We Have Had Some Good Times allows Moore yet another opportunity to explore melancholy shadows.
Similar to Jill Barber, Katie Moore’s sensitive and independent spirit is well displayed on this very satisfying album.
If you enjoyed her first album, you’ll find much to appreciate with the new disc. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Best, Donald
I watched part of the Ian Tyson DVD This is My Sky this afternoon, and it includes interview clips from this past summer’s Calgary Folk Music Festival- I sure wish they had included performance pieces from that day as Tyson was in fine form.
Part way through the bonus features disc, Tom Russell compliments Tyson by stating that modern country music is all ‘throwaway music’, a description that couldn’t be used with Tyson’s music. While a bit over-reaching, the comment resonated with me in light of this weekend’s list over at The 9513 about recordings that made folks fall in love with country music. http://www.the9513.com/your-take-love-at-first-listen/
While the songs many folks mention in the comments are, to me, meaningless (and IMO pretty much what Russell was describing as throwaway) what is obvious is that every person’s gateway into the world of country music is largely personal and what impacts one person doesn’t necessarily connect with another. Jessica Andrews, Lorrie Morgan and Kevin Sharp? As shudder inducing as they may be to me, to someone those artists, their albums and songs are just as significant has the one I’m going to ramble on a bit about today.
As I type I’m listening to that album, the one that I’m thinking was my first country music love- Rosanne Cash’s Seven Year Ache.
Family trips in the Buick LeSabre and later the Ford Cougar were accompanied by 8-Track recordings of studio musicians mimicking the hits of Glen Campbell and Tanya Tucker. As well there were a couple Johnny Cash recordings in the pile- I’m pretty sure one of them was The Rambler. I recall having a passing fascination with The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour when I was real young and CFCW was often playing in the house. But country music wasn’t really anything I would admit to enjoying.
I don’t recall listening to any country music while in high school, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t get into George Jones until university. The first time I can recall listening to country music with any sustained attention was while working at Climax Records in Leduc. I remember that the store owner had a poster for Emmylou Harris’ live album Last Date in the back room, and I did listen to that album while working there.
Darkness on the Edge of Town had come out a few years earlier and besides being my introduction to Bruce Springsteen, it made me susceptible to the cinematic scope that I would eventually find in the best of country music.
The first country album I remember cracking was Seven Year Ache. Something about that album cover- the piercing eye contact she makes with the camera- was certainly an attraction. There was a beguiling mystery in that gaze that made me take notice. Still, I don’t think I would have played the album had I not known- maybe through searching in the big yellow Phonolog binder- that “What Kinda Girl?” was actually a cover of Steve Forbert’s “What Kinda Guy?”
None the less, Seven Year Ache was opened and listened to sometime in the late winter or early spring of 1983 and my world slowly shifted, sending me into the world of country music- to Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, Ricky Skaggs, Marty Stuart, Johnny Cash and George Jones. Heck, for a while there it led to Charly McClain, too.
I know the title track would eventually become one of my all-time favourite songs; heck, how could it not? But it was far from the only song that drew me in. “Blue Moon With a Heartache,” another Cash original, was such a lonely song, reminding me of the teen-ballads from the 50s and 60s that were part of my music education in the early to mid- 70s. The album’s lead track is the Keith Sykes song “Rainin’” and it is basically a rock & roll song barely disguised as country. Booker T.’s organ fills contribute to that feeling, as does the drumming laid out by LarrieLondin.
I recall the pulsing beat of “My Baby Thinks He’s A Train” being impressive; little did I know how much that owed to forty different Johnny Cash songs. The album’s closing track “I Can’t Resist” sent me over the edge because it reminded me so much of Rachel Sweet and her song “Tonight Ricky.”
I know my first favourite song on the album was definitely “What Kinda Girl?” Listening to the song now it seems pretty quaint, and I have a vague memory of her singing the song at the Calgary Folk Music Festival (accompanied by John Leventhal) in 1996, the same day she proclaimed- in writing- her ‘Love’ for me while signing my Seven Year Ache album cover. But, hearing her sing “I’m here for lovin’, but I ain’t no slut” in 1983 seemed pretty sharp and may have pivotal in adjusting the way I looked at country music.
If you haven’t listened to Seven Year Ache recently, I would encourage you to do so. To my ears it has aged well. Far from traditional, neither does it have the dated Billy Sherrill-type of arrangements that were so common on other Columbia and Epic releases of the day. Rodney Crowell’s production choices hold up; while there is no shortage of musicians on the album, the tracks never feel too crowded or over-produced. An incredible number of them are common to most fans of country music: Emory Gordy, Jr., Tony Brown, Glen D. Hardin, Albert Lee, Hank DeVito. Well-respected certainly even at the time, but how was I to know that? Emmylou Harris sings harmony on select songs and those songs may have been my introduction to her.
For a kid who was most comfortable with The Who at the time, Seven Year Ache was revelatory. While memory and time play tricks, I’m pretty sure it was the first country album I listened to with any sort of appreciation and it therefore led me onto this path of Americana, roots, folk, country, and bluegrass that now seem most natural to me. And it definitely isn’t throwaway country music.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Feel free to comment on your gateway album? What led you to roots music? Donald
My review of Dala’s Everyone is Someone is up at the Lonesome Road Review: http://lonesomeroadreview.com/2011/02/10/everyone-is-someone-by-dala/ Released in Canada in 2009, the album was released on Compass in the U.S. a couple weeks ago. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
The past few days have added up to become one of the busiest weeks ever here at
Edmonton's Idyl Tea, circa 1986 at The Gateway
Fervor Coulee, and for that I thank you. I hope you are finding things of interest. (Sorry about the multiple edits- things keep disappearing. Hopefully…)
Today was a strange day. I had taken yesterday off from catching up on various school-based projects to do some casual recharging and ended up watching portions of a couple hockey games, reading a novel, visiting Costco (Urgh!), watching forgettable movies with my wife, and buying 120 plastic flutes.
This morning I sat down and started ploughing through the work and it didn’t take as long to get through as I had anticipated; a good thing as it turned out because, as is often the case, I became distracted. I checked my email and was sent into a bit of a spin learning that a distant but important person in my life had passed away after a long battle with cancer.
I’m not sure why that got me going in this direction, but it got me thinking about Idyl Tea. Again, no connection to my friend who had passed this morning, except- I suppose and upon reflection- my friend Tina was connected to a bluegrass band I have long championed. And, years ago, the first band I can recall supporting similarly in print was Idyl Tea.
Almost three decades ago, when I was desperately trying to be an urban-hipster (something I never successfully pulled off) I bought a compilation album called It Came from Innerspace and this may have been the first placed I heard the precursor to Idyl Tea, Route 66.
Hailing from Edmonton, Route 66 had two songs on the album, “Where Is She During the Week” and “Had Enough of This,” and to me they were somehow remarkable. While the album also featured facecrime (yeah! Moe Berg!) and the Malibu Kens, legendary bands from the considerable distance of Leduc to Edmonton- which was greater than it would now seem- Route 66’s mix of power pop, uncomfortable swagger, punk and vulnerable troubadourism appealed to me immediately. They were modern mods, a sub-group that I could only hope to be associated with. If I could only find the right community hall, I too could be like them. Well, that and learn to play music. And look cool.
A few months later, or maybe at the same time- timelines get foggy after awhile- I found myself living in Lister Hall on the U of A campus, being served late-night pizza at The Ship by a guy I recognized, bass playing Henry Engel. Over the course of my university career, I would cross paths with Henry and his Idyl Tea bandmates in a number of ways, most significantly (for me) by interviewing the band and writing a Gateway feature advancing one of their gigs in the city. Craig Metcalfe worked at a favourite record store, Sound Connection. Everett LaRoi always seemed more distant and I don’t recall having anything to do with him. (Attendance at another Idyl Tea gig ended in a not-at-fault car accident for my future-wife and me, and the less said about that, the better.)
Idyl Tea combined what I eventually grew to love about country and what I already embraced about power pop- bright chords, sometimes devastatingly up-front confession through lyric, and a breezy ability to convey sadness that sounded so cheerful. A bit like bluegrass, that.
I can’t remember anything of what I wrote about them back in 1985 or 1986, and the bound-green annuals I received as payment for my Gateway writing have disappeared along the way. I do remember being entirely enthralled with their music, their image, and had the hope that maybe, someday, I’d be able to say that I knew them when and –perhaps- get a thank you in their first album’s notes!
Well, none of that came to fruition.
Still “Awfully Nice Eyes,” from a distance of 25 or more years, remains a masterful song. It may have been the first Idyl Tea song I heard and, listening to it now, I hear elements of the music of the time: Green on Red, The Long Ryders, The Three O’Clock, Dwight Twilley. It ends in a rush of feedback, which I remember thinking was out of place even then, as the song is so beautiful. Irony, I suppose. It was hardly the only song that captured my attention as “In the Blue” reminded me of Paul Weller, and somewhere in the back of my head I recall that the guys were big fans of The Jam. Their EP How I See This Table was played many a time while I was in university and the years following, but like so many things was eventually placed on a shelf and if not forgotten, at least neglected.
Idyl Tea didn’t record a lot. Over several years, they released a self-titled album, featuring more near-perfect slices of power pop: “Tryin’ to Get Back,” “Comin’ Round,” Untitled Folk Song,” “Ruin Your Life,” and “Your Groovy World,” and another EP, Funny Feelin’. Each was bought as they were found, but remember that back in the late-80s and early 90s, word didn’t travel so fast. Music was more precious- catching a video of the band on Much Music while living in La Loche, Saskatchewan was quite surreal: “Hey, I (almost) know those guys!”
Today, Henry Engel- for whatever reason- came to mind, and I started Googling. Henry Engel didn’t turn up too much, except a link to Everett’s website. After a bit, I found a YouTube clip of Henry Engel performing “Pettin’ Party Paula” on what appears to be the Victoria waterfront. “Hank” Engel was what I needed and I was on my way. Apparently, the guy who once served me pizza is now sometimes known as Hank Angel, and has gone rockabilly, allowing me to (marginally) tie this rambling piece into Fervor Coulee’s mission of roots music opinion.
http://www.myspace.com/hankengelband features songs that I assume come from Henry Engel’s 50s lovin’ alter-ego. Some hardly-watchable video clips from elsewhere make things a bit more clear, although the fella’s appearance changed markedly and eventually- and who knows why it took so long- I Googled Idyl Tea.
http://jam.canoe.ca/Music/Pop_Encyclopedia/I/Idyl_Tea.html came up and filled in some of the missing pieces. But, right around the corner was http://www.myspace.com/idyltea, a surprise find. Who would have thought that Idyl Tea would have a MySpace site after all these years? I started listening to the tunes and was taken back to an easier, lighter time.
As I type I’m listening to my CD Idyl Tea, an album one can buy via iTunes and occasionally find in Edmonton and area used record stores. I recall listening to the cassette I had purchased twenty years ago while bopping around my classroom in Swan Hills on cold and tiring weekends preparing for the week ahead. What I don’t recall is ever thinking that this was an absolutely brilliant recording. Listening today, I’m overwhelmed at the clarity of their music, the ability of Everett, Henry, and Craig to make focused, simple music that combined their love of 60s pop and the bombastic, contemporary sound of the day into a timeless vision that seems more vital today than it did then. The harmonies are rich and fragile, held together by an invisible string that threatens to snap at any moment.
I’m convinced that if I was listening to Paul Collins’ latest album, a new album from the long-lamented Records, or The Inmates debut, I wouldn’t feel any more impressed. Dang, Idyl Tea is solid and holds up incredibly well to the passage of time.
A bit more exploring and it is like a lightning bolt hits me: http://www.idyltea.com/ is found though further searching, and thirty minutes after I begin down this road, I learn that a new Idyl Tea album is nigh!
Beside a picture of someone who doesn’t look anything like Craig Metcalfe is the announcement: “Idyl Tea is pleased to announce that the group will be releasing a new cd in 2011. The cd, tentatively titled Song That’s Not Finished Yet will be a full length cd recording of new songs by the Edmonton-based trio.” Above that, this: “Idyl Tea is putting the final touches on their brand new cd Song That’s Not Finished Yet, which will be released in the year 2011. Hank Engel will be recording some final overdubs in Scott Henderson’s studio in Sooke, British Columbia on Saturday, December 4, 2010. Meanwhile, the following week, guitarist Everett LaRoi and drummer Craig Metcalfe will be finishing their final overdubs at LaRoi’s studio in Edmonton, Alberta.”
A smile comes to my face. Idyl bleedin’ Tea is back. Am I the only one- outside the trio- who cares? I hope not.
Additional songs are available for streaming, a few of which I assume come from the forthcoming project. “Two Straight Lines” and “Simon’s Stereo” could be from that magical 1990 album that Attic Records eventually picked up. They contain the seeming innocence of the young men who recorded the marvelous “Mr. Air Traffic Controller” and “Funny Feelin’.” “The You You Were Then” and “Baby Slow Down” are rougher, more lived in perhaps, reflecting lives spent living.
Regardless, the songs bring back my love of Idyl Tea. In an afternoon that started with awful but hardly unexpected news, I found distraction in music and writing, music that was once important to me. More than that, I rediscovered a band that I really cared about once upon a time, and have hope for a smashing album in the not so distant future. And I think my friend Tina would be happy about that.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald