Archive for August 2011
My review of Dale Ann’s new album has been posted to Country Standard Time. It is another incredible album; while her music has always been inspiring and wonderful to listen to, since joining Compass Records, Dale has truly hit her stride. The review can be viewed at http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=4724.
Now, CST limits reviews to about 250 words, which is a bit tough for me. Posted below are some other thoughts I had about the album:
Bradley’s favourite duet and harmony partner Steve Gulley appears on all but the final track and their stellar performance of the great country song “Will You Visit Me on Sundays” is well deserving of recognition. Additionally, his guitar playing throughout the album- notably on “Summer Breeze”- is masterful. Also featured as the core band are Brown, Stuart Duncan, Sierra Hull, and Mike Bub while David Long, Andy Hall, Kim Fox, and Matt Combs appear selectively.
“In Despair”, as classic a Bill Monroe song as there is, is also included and it is on this lively hurtin’ song that Bradley’s deep-rooted talent is most apparent; she’s as mountain as rock, entirely natural. Singing “But a broken heart will keep on crying, I know you know I am in despair,” one hears the life experience in every syllable of pure bluegrass bliss highlighted by the best voice from the female side of the bluegrass church. Mike Sumner’s banjo parts are no small accomplishment.
Thanks. as always, for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
I’ve also added some Dale Ann reviews from the archives- Gold in the Way:
from 2007 and Bluegrass Now: Dale Ann Bradley Catch Tomorrow Compass Records
I predict that this one takes the bluegrass world by storm, and will be best-received album of Dale Ann Bradley’s career.
Catch Tomorrow overflows with an abundance of powerful, emotion filled, and flat out dynamic performances from Dale Ann. Her voice has never sounded stronger and more
assured. And the band! Michael Cleveland, Jesse Brock, Pete Kelly, and Vicki Simmons, with atmospheric Dobro® from Glenn Gibson. Producer Alison Brown drops in the 5 here and there, and harmony vocals come from the likes of Jim Lauderdale, Steve Gulley, and Andrea Zonn.
Wait until you hear the rendition of Billy Joe Shaver’s “Live Forever”! A spiritual song that is a wellspring of hope, Dale Ann brings a passion to the song that elevates her performance to a level transcending genre. She covers a song Tina Turner did, “I Can’t Stand the Rain”, and makes it sound like a Bill Monroe classic. The kicker is her version of “Me and Bobby McGee,” which she has performed live for years. “When The Mists Come Again” is a Celtic tune, and ties the Isles’ roots of bluegrass with the branches that Dale Ann is sending out.
The originals are notable as well. “Run Rufus Run,” about a cousin’s experiences running the hills of Kentucky delivering moonshine to his daddy’s customers, will be popular, as will a re-recording of “Grandma’s Gift,” a song that originally appeared on East Kentucky Morning a decade ago. Songs from Jerry Chestnutt, Connie Leigh, Chris Stuart, and David A. Thompson round out the collection.
Larry Sparks duets on the gospel standard “Pass Me Not,” and the two capture a bit of magic with neither singer taking a back seat, unified in their devotion to their faith.
Bradley reveals the soul of each song; Catch Tomorrow is an instant bluegrass classic.
from 2009 Red Deer Advocate: Dale Ann Bradley Don’t Turn Your Back Compass Records
A mountain soprano of rare talent, Dale Ann Bradley has been wearing a path from the hills of Eastern Kentucky to the Music City Heartland of Nashville for two decades. With Don’t Turn Your Back she has not only created an album featuring rare musicianship and vocal harmonies, she has continued her ascendancy to the highest reaches of the bluegrass vocal world.
Releasing albums for more than fifteen years, it has been with Bradley’s most recent recordings that she has created artfully constructed discs. Much of the credit must go to the guidance provided by producer Alison Brown, but studio and business acumen can only take one so far. The talent must shine through, and three-Bluegrass Female Vocalist of the Year statuettes provide evidence that Bradley is at the top of her game.
Don’t Turn Your Back is a masterful recording, one that falls solidly within the most stringent of bluegrass definitions, yet is country enough that all roots fans should embrace its rich, melodic tones.
Whether propelled by the banjo of Gina Britt (as on an eye-opening take of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down”) or by Stuart Duncan’s fiddle (“Rusty Old Halo” and “Ghost Bound Trai”n come to mind), the majority of the songs zip along in spectacular fashion. In other places, Bradley shows why her flat-picking skills are highly regarded, and the mandolin work from Tim Laughlin is second to none.
When the song calls for it, Bradley’s sweet voice carries the song.” Will I Be Good Enough” is pretty sentimental but Bradley’s control and expression saves the song from becoming cloying. On material as familiar as “Fifty Miles of Elbow Room” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Over My Head,” Bradley reinvents the piece to make it her own without losing the essence of the song.
Those who appreciate mountain music will find satisfaction in “Blue Eyed Boy” and gospel fans will be thankful for “Heaven,” featuring Dailey & Vincent. Bradley’s trepidation making the inevitable leap to Nashville from her more isolated Kentucky home is captured within her original, “Music City Queen.”
Bluegrass music has long been an embarrassed second-cousin to country music. Ridiculed by those who fail to grasp its complexities and heritage, the music has sat on the porch a-waiting to be invited to hang out with its wealthier and more popular relations.
With albums like Don’t Turn Your Back and singers like Dale Ann Bradley, the bluegrass community continues to shake off back wood images. Those who take the time to listen are sure to be rewarded.
And from Red Deer Advocate, 2001: Dale Ann Bradley- Cumberland River Dreams Bradley’s songs may drift toward the folky edge of ‘grass but don’t be scared off. With this release, Bradley assumes her rightful place alongside Lynn Morris and Alison Krauss as a champion of melodic bluegrass vocalization. Terrific story songs like “Granny Cat” and “The Rockin’ Chair” capture the pure essence of mountain music
http://www.thebluegrassblog.com/liz-meyer-rip/ More at the Bluegrass Blog; Liz was one of the strongest women, strongest proponents period, of bluegrass music internationally. Her suffering is over. Give her a listen.
From Bluegrass Now, 2005: Gold In A Way
Liz Meyer – The Storm Strictly Country
Although she migrated to the Netherlands, Liz Meyer maintains a high profile in North America with appearances at the 2004 World of Bluegrass, and a string of songwriting credits that includes cuts by Auldridge, Bennett & Gaudreau, Kate Mackenzie, and most recently “Bad Seed” from Laurie Lewis and Tom Rozum.
Joined by some of the most respected surnames within the bluegrass and acoustic worlds- Fleck, Block, Douglas, Bush, Duncan (both of ‘em), House, Ickes, Cosgrove, and others- as well as Emmylou Harris, Meyer’s mature voice highlights the recording with its jeweled quality, reminiscent of Kathy Mattea. With instrumentation ranging from fairly standard, modern bluegrass arrangements, to those exploring the new acoustic frontier, Meyer’s The Storm is that rare album that should appeal to both the festival faithful and those more comfortable on the outer edges of the music.
There is wistfulness about the album, a sense of looking back and considering, evaluating, and finally accepting one’s fate. Meyer’s use of natural metaphors- the rain to cleanse body and soul, the wind as heartbreak healer, the storm that enlightens the intoxication of flowers, the embrace of night- lends a mystical element. The substantial lyrical mass, the intensity of the images, and the messages of longing and companionship, while not unfamiliar within the bluegrass canon, have seldom been laid so bare, challenging the listeners to invest themselves in an almost novelistic, interactive process.
With the A-List of instrumentalists bringing their best efforts, the album possesses an atmosphere of support, friendship, and strength. Resophonic masters Jerry Douglas and Rob Ickes embellish the sound with their steel offerings, while the banjo platoon of Ron Block and Bela Fleck electrify the tracks on which they appear. Mark Johnson contributes clawhammer banjo to “Someday You Will,” lending Meyer’s tune a foot-stomping atmosphere.
Liz Meyer has created an engaging, meaningful, and musically substantial album best suited to mellow, reflective moods. On the album’s closing track, Meyer’s sings Only please don’t waste these stars and space, when I’m running out of time; let us hope that such a talent is not ignored, and has the opportunity to share many more songs.
After much listening, I wrote a review of Yesteryears earlier this summer and it has been posted at The Lonesome Road Review site: this link should get your there http://lonesomeroadreview.com/2011/08/27/yesteryears-the-best-of-the-mcpeak-brothers-by-the-mcpeak-brothers/
I’m really enjoying the Rebel reissue campaign, but it is nice to see some things-like this set- available in disc form.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Blue Highway- Sounds of Home Rounder Records
Have you ever heard a less than impressive album from bluegrass superstars Blue Highway? Me neither.
During the course of their 17 years as a heavy-hitting bluegrass outfit, the quintet- Tim Stafford, Wayne Taylor, Jason Burleson, Shawn Lane, and 12-time IBMA Dobro player of the year Rob Ickes- has maintained an almost perfectly stable line-up while delivering consistently impressive recordings.
Featuring a trifecta of accomplished lead vocalists- Stafford, Taylor, and Lane- possessing distinctive but complementary sounds is one of several elements that distinguish Blue Highway from many contemporaries. Their performances mesh into the richest, most vibrantly coloured bluegrass presentation. Listening to Blue Highway- both live and on recordings- evokes the same type of quiet contemplation one experiences in places like Florence’s Uffizi Gallery; no matter which direction you turn, you know you are experiencing something timeless and meaningful.
Not for the first time in their career, Blue Highway has elected with Sounds of Home to trust themselves in selecting only band-written material; each song is at minimum a co-write with folks like Barry Bales, Steve Gulley, and Jon Weisberger. And although the band members do not write with each other here, there is nothing apparent that suggests disunity. As Weisberger intimates in his liner notes, Blue Highway is truly a band of equals.
When I was listening to the album one of the many thoughts that went through my mind was that Sounds of Home quite simply sounded like Blue Highway always sounds: note-perfect, harmony rich, classy and driving bluegrass. One isn’t surprised by such a thought; rather I’m comforted by the knowledge that one can continue to take some things for granted. “I Ain’t Gonna Lay My Hammer Down” is a prototypical bluegrass-radio song while “Heather and Billy” is a nice tribute to foster and adoptive parents. The title track is just a spectacular lonesome song written and sung by Lane.
As one might anticipate, the band doesn’t play things entirely safe, branching off from the bluegrass trunk in various places. “My Heart Was Made to Love You” has strange quality to it that brings to mind a lonesome Texas Playboys meets “Say You, Say Me” amalgam that sounds much better than it reads; Ickes pulls out the lap steel for this one. While there is plenty o’ banjo, so prominently is the Dobro featured on Burleson’s “Roaring Creek” that I mistook it for an Ickes composition. Lane’s fiddling adds another dimension to the song, providing additional evidence of the group’s flexibility and intuition.
For me, the highlight of the album is “Only Seventeen” (yet another) excellent song about working (and dying) “down in the place of endless light.” Taylor balances predictable subject matter with tension honed from acute word choices: from initial listen, you anticipate the youthful miner’s death but the description of the cave-in uses artful language (“Timbers they cracked as the top came in, you heard the cries and the prayers of some mighty men, Said ‘God have mercy on our poor souls, must we all perish for this seam of coal.’”) that is immensely impressive. The band backs off momentarily for the final verse before coming together to deliver a devastating coda.
Another wonderful album from one of the world’s top- and still freshest- bluegrass bands.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Guy Clark Songs and Stories Dualtone
Guy Clark isn’t for everyone. There are few things as predictable as my wife’s reaction to hearing the words, “There ain’t nothin’ in the world that I like better…” But for those who are true believers, who feel quite strongly that he is every bit the writer and singer that Townes Van Zandt was- and on a good day, more so- hearing Guy Clark live is a treat. Van Zandt gets the tribute albums; Clark gets to continue making music.
By writing the above I have no intention of creating an unnecessary and fruitless argument of who is/was better, Clark or Van Zandt. They both had/have their points and their shortcomings; they both had/have their frailties and vices. There is no way I could win the point in Clark’s favour as most likely Guy would suggest that Townes should come out on top. For writers who are truly artists and I would count Clark and Van Zandt among them, the normal standards of success- hit cuts, Billboard charts, sales, popular acclaim- mean little. What counts is the art.
There have been other live collections from Guy Clark and each shows a portrait of the artist as an aging craftsman. The first recorded is the Live From Austin, TX set released a handful of years back but capturing Clark as slipped through his late-40s. Documenting an Austin City Limits taping, the 15-song set presents Clark holding court as an experienced but vibrant troubadour accompanied by Stuart Duncan and Edgar Meyer. The set-list is ripe with the expected standards (including “L.A. Freeway,” “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train,” and “The Randall Knife”) being present alongside songs that are less frequently heard in a Clark show: the beautiful “Old Friends,” “New Cut Road” and “Immigrant Eyes.” As always, at least in my experience, Clark acts the amiable host having invited a few friends over for a guitar pull.
The first live album released was 1997’s Keepers, recorded in late 1996; Clark was in his mid-50s by this time. This album finds a larger band accompanying Clark: son Travis, mainstays Verlon Thompson and Kenny Malone, Suzi Ragsdale, and another true master, Darrell Scott. The usual songs are joined this time by “Like a Coat from the Cold,” the wordy but word-perfect “The Last Gunfighter Ballad,” “She Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” and “That Old Time Feeling.” While Duncan and Meyer could almost be overlooked on the previous album- and I don’t mean that as a criticism, just a fact as I hear it: the focus is on Clark and his performance- here the band shares the bill with Clark not only supporting him but shining in their own right. Make no mistake, it is a Guy Clark show but the experience is made richer by the instrumental interplay between Scott, Thompson, and Clark’s bass-playing son; give “Home Grown Tomatoes” a listen to hear what I mean.
There is also a three-headed beast called Together at the Bluebird Café recorded the previous year. On this 2001 release, Clark shares the stage with Van Zandt and a refreshed Steve Earle. Clark gets five songs in but it isn’t a ‘Clark’ live show, so we’ll leave it for another day. Good recording, though.
Songs and Stories is the new release, sneaking out last week while I was lazing about. It is another beautiful recording, the type of thing- much like a Guy Clark concert performance- that you just can’t help smiling about. As Clark nears 70, the voice that was never polished to begin with has acquired a patina that reveals the treasure of the past while allowing the depth of experience and the craftsmanship of mastery- that which has true value- to be appreciated.
With noticeably greater effort than displayed on the previous albums, Clark still performs his nine songs here admirably and with distinctive flair. Doesn’t matter that he has qualified for seniors benefits for several years, Guy Clark remains the coolest guy in any room he finds himself in. A few songs contained on one or more of the previous albums are included: “L.A. Freeway,” “The Randall Knife,” “Out in the Parking Lot,” and both “The Cape” and “Dublin Blues,” featured on the Bluebird set. “Maybe I Can Paint Over That” (from his most recent album Somedays the Song Writes You) is the early highlight, but Townes’ “If I Needed You” is most certainly appreciated: still one of the most honest songs ever written. And I will never argue with the inclusion of “Stuff That Works” in any Clark (or Rodney Crowell) set. Disappointing is the absence of additional material from Somedays the Song Writes You; it would have been nice to have a live take of “Eamon” or “Hemingway’s Whiskey”
What sets this album apart from the earlier discs in the extra time afforded Verlon Thompson and Shawn Camp. In his easy-speaking manner, and similar to how he performed when I last saw him with Clark at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2009, Thompson charms while he entertains. So impressed was I by his two tracks here, especially the spirited “Joe Walker’s Mare,” that I downloaded his Works album a few weeks ago.
Shawn Camp brings some acoustiblue fire to the show, spinning through “Sis Draper” and bringing a more subtle touch to “Magnolia Wind;” both songs just happen to be Camp/Clark co-writes. While some may argue that a Guy Clark live album should feature more than nine Guy Clark performances, by highlighting the talents of those who surround him, Clark gives evidence to all the stories one has heard about his integrity and mentorship. By not excising the mid-set interlude, the album feels like a performance that the listener is witnessing.
Songs and Stories may not be the best place to start exploring Guy Clark, but it is a wonderful artefact of song writing mastery and performance. I’ve seen The David, I’ve heard Doc Watson pick quite a bit, and I’ve heard Guy Clark sing, “There ain’t nothin’ in the world that I like better, than bacon and lettuce and home grown tomatoes…” more than a few times, including here. Let’s hope this isn’t the last volume of live Clark- he’s got so many songs still to share. And I want to hear what he has to offer as he approaches 80; I trust it’ll be fun.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee; hope you’re finding things that inspire you to listen to music. Best, Donald
Over at the Fervor Coulee Bluegrass blog, I’ve posted my next five (actually six) songs to help readers do some listening to celebrate the upcoming Bill Monroe Centennial. Visit http://www.countrystandardtime.com/blog/FervorCouleeBluegrass/entry.asp?xid=792 to read the piece. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
In my Roots Music column in today’s Red Deer Advocate, I advance the local roots events and feautre two fresh releases by Canadian artists. Joe Vickers has released a wonderful little album detailing the coal mining and pioneer heritage of the Drumheller Valley while Saskatoon’s The Deep Dark Woods have produced a new album that extends their streak of challenging, listenable music. The newspaper appears to be limiting access to their material so readers visiting www.reddeeradvocate.com may not be able to see the material; you’ll have to buy a paper! If you want to see one of the reviews, I’ll post them here in a couple weeks.
And here they are:
Joe Vickers Valley Home Self-released
Joe Vickers is a young songwriter from Drumheller, and with the Drumheller Valley celebrating its Mining Centennial this year he has produced an ambitious and enjoyable collection of music tracing the history of the region.
Valley Home is a collection of original songs of the Drumheller region with a focus on the stories and impact of the coal mining experience. Thematically reminiscent to fellow Albertan Maria Dunn’s We Were Good People which examined the labour history of western Canada, Valley Home educates as it entertains.
Utilizing a variety of approaches, sounds, and tempos, Vickers has created a compelling and insightful account of his home community. The music is rustic with lots of acoustic guitar, fiddle, and banjo coming through the neo-traditional mix. Vocally, Vickers sounds a bit like Paul Burch.
More than a history lesson- although it is indeed that- Valley Home is an engaging set of lively folk-inspired music. A broad cross-section of tales is revealed: pit ponies, the flooded Red Deer River, Allan Cup champions, ghost towns, miners, and madams.
“Into the Darkness” captures the starkness of the mines of a hundred years ago. The energetic instrumental “Boomtown Bustle” reflects the frenzied growth of the towns that rose around the collieries. Vickers borrows from “Down in the Willow Garden” to frame “Young Black Lungs,” telling the tale of a miner who finds that “the place I slave is now my grave.”
The accompanying 24-page booklet provides lyrics and additional information about the area and Vickers’ inspiration. For additional information on this recording, start at http://joevickers.bandcamp.com, or drive to the southwest; the album is available at Drumheller Valley outlets including the Atlas Coal Mine and the East Coulee School Museum.
The Deep Dark Woods The Place I Left Behind Six Shooter Records
Perhaps the greatest thing out of Saskatchewan since Fantuz Flakes, The Deep Dark Woods’ latest album builds on everything they’ve already accomplished while taking their unique bluesy sound to impressive new levels.
In 2011 no one talks in terms of alt-country, but that remains an apt descriptor of this Saskatoon band’s guitar-heavy sound. Sinister and mysterious, the title track doesn’t mess around: guest fiddler Kendel Carson weaves a cloak of darkness around Ryan Boldt’s vocals as a “good old rambling boy” pines for the place were isolation didn’t seem so obvious.
It seems silly to compare music created by today’s generation to those of musicians forty years ago, but The Band is a natural starting place for describing the intricate, moody sounds of The Deep Dark Woods. Much like Old Reliable did a decade ago, the DDW take their craft to startling new places while maintaining a foundation in the past.
Burke Barlow’s pedal steel colours several songs including “Mary’s Gone” and “Back Alley Blues” with lonesomeness. If found on an Avett Brothers’ album, “Sugar Mama” would be heralded as an innovative blending of modern mountain traditions; as is, it is just one of 13-incredible aural voyages undertaken by the quintet.
Epic, “The Banks of the Leopold Canal” is quite unlike anything previously heard. With rich instrumentation and an emotionally charged narrative, the song charts a soldier’s final World War II journey from Canada to Belgium.
A sure-fire contender for the 2012 Polaris Music Prize.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
I was excited to receive a note from Niall Toner yesterday mentioning a YouTube video he had posted discussing his new single “William Smith Monroe.” For the first time ever, I’m going to try to embed a video to Fervor Coulee. Wish me luck! Update: It seems to have worked. Niall is a wonderful man, and I enjoyed hearing his story, straight from Ireland. And dig the black cat. Nicely done, Niall and Kyle. Thanks for visiting, Donald
Announced this evening and posted at The Bluegrass Blog: http://www.thebluegrassblog.com/2011-ibma-nominees/. Of note, Hazel Dickens was over-looked for the Hall of Fame yet again.
As I am no longer a member of the IBMA, I hesitate to criticize the list of nominations, but…