Archive for February 2012
Rose Cousins We Have Made a Spark Outside Music
This coming week sees the release of Halifax-based Rose Cousin’s third album We Have Made a Spark. While exploring similar sounds to her previous releases, this outstanding recording serves as a considerable forward step for the dual 2011 East Coast music Award winner (Songwriter and Solo Female Recording).
Produced by Massachusetts’ Zackariah Hickman (Josh Ritter, Barnstar!), Cousins and her team have negotiated the difficult waters of independence to create a well-paced album of lyrical and musical depth. Similar in some ways to more overtly commercial artists including Kathleen Edwards and Serena Ryder, Cousins piano- and guitar-based music has smoky depth that lends itself to considerable contemplation.
With darkness- loneliness, vulnerability, depression, frustration, and other challenges- as a unifying theme, this set could have become bogged down in self-recrimination and anger. Rather, and while the mood is certainly is not boisterous, the disc isn’t without considerable light charm in no small part because of the environment in which it was created. We Have Made A Spark was recorded in and inspired by the inclusive and collaborative music community of Boston: Kris Delmhorst, Jennifer Kimball, Charlie Rose, and Mark Erelli are among the better known names who gathered in-studio with Cousins to work up this collection of songs.
A multi-layered set, the album has a seemingly infinite bottom-end with drummer Billy Beard and bassist Hickman running herd on the studio collective. The relationship that ends in The Shell is as delicate as the sentiment of Go First. Each of the eight new Cousins originals are songs you can just crawl into and wrap around yourself. As a bonus, Cousins revisits two songs from her previous album The Send Off, All the Time It Takes to Wait and White Daisies.
The first song received what I thought was an ideal performance on The Send Off, but Cousins manages to outdo herself here. With a more hollow sound than on the previous recording, and with the addition of her choir of Boston ladies adding harmony, All the Time It Takes to Wait is given a performance that is all the more impactful. Charlie Rose’s steel elevates White Daisies to some strange- but effective- amalgam of downbeat jazz and classic country.
An inspired performance of Springsteen’s oft-covered If I Should Fall Behind is included. Sung with should-be-folk-superstar Mark Erelli and a chorus of voices, the emotional threads of the song are again revealed, this time in a new way with the melancholy romantic shades of the original replaced by a gentle assuredness of faith in a wider community.
A brilliant album that gently unfolds as it plays, Rose Cousins’ We Have Made a Spark is available February 28 and has worked its way into my Polaris Music Prize Top 5.
A free download of Darkness is available at www.RoseCousins.com and a 20 minute video that takes viewers into the sessions is also posted at her site.
The (brief) version of my review of Fred Eaglesmith’s new album 6 Volts has been posted at Country Standard Time. For those of you who are not familiar with Ontarian Fred Eaglesmith, it is high time you become so; in my opinion, no one- not Buddy Miller, not Jim Lauderdale, not Alejandro Escovedo- has produced as solid a string of roots music over the past twenty years. http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=4822 will get you to the review.
Question? Why do American editors/writers so often refer to Canada as if it is one big ol’ mass o’ land without differentiation between our various provinces and territories? A review of any group’s latest album would never be identified as being from an “America-based” band; the descriptor would be localized as Texas-, California-, or Arkansas-based. When I’m writing for a Canadian audience, I will always refer to the outfit’s state, never simply as “an American band.” But for articles published in American publications, Canadian bands, often have their province specific description- such as Fred as an “Ontarian,” that is a person from Ontario- revised to “Canadian.”
I ask all American-based editors to consider beginning to identify Canadian acts with reference to their province or territory of origin. It isn’t really that big of a deal- I think most Americans can understand that a “Saskatchewan-based” band is indeed Canadian. We can trust that, right? It won’t horribly confuse most American readers, will it?
And heck- if it really confuses someone, they can always Google Nova Scotian.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
O, forgot- here is the ‘long’ version of my 6 Volts review:
Fred Eaglesmith 6 Volts A Major Label
From the opening notes of “Cemetery Road” it is obvious that the classic Fred Eaglesmith sound we fell for in the mid-90s is back. Absent this time out are the experimental revelations of recent albums, and as enjoyable and appreciated as those were it seems high time that the Fred of lonely gravel roads, lonelier women, frustrated Saturday evenings, roadside artistry and junkyard Americana paid a return visit.
In Ontarian Eaglesmith’s dark world, the “Dangerous” man, living on the corner of Stupidity and Recklessness has as much appeal as the broken hearted, drugged-out long hauler of “Trucker Speed.” Eaglesmith doesn’t attempt to provide answers; he is an observer, a writer of domestic history- through his acute writer’s eye, he captures the stories of the people we pass without notice.
Within his character studies, the details of Eaglesmith’s brilliance is revealed. Describing a multi-faceted breakdown within the title cut, Eaglesmith sings, “My clutches are slipping, the carbon gets in my throat. You get out on the passenger side, I swallow my pride. The radiators raging like a murderer, only God can bend tempered steel.” Is Eaglesmith describing the death of a relationship or a vehicle? Really, it doesn’t matter- those images work no matter the interpretation.
Eaglesmith’s characters are seldom obviously heroic; they are flawed, often lost. One example can be found within the wrong-eyed, farmer justice of “Katie,” in which a landowner holds out under pressure of residential expansion because he buried his unfaithful wife under the hickory tree…and there’s another grave down by the creek. A new classic is born, one waiting for a bluegrass interpretation from James King, James Reams, or Junior Sisk.
Elsewhere, Eaglesmith eviscerates those who ignored Johnny Cash prior to his Rick Rubin-driven comeback. Perhaps most poignant is “Stars” in which Eaglesmith reflects on his own legacy, the one in which “Willie played the mandolin, he jumped around the stage; we thought that it would never end.” Of course, everything fades and now Eaglesmith finds himself admitting, “My hands hurt from playing my guitar. Every night in all those bars, we played like we were stars.”
With a less elaborate sound than his previous Cha Cha Cha- mostly guitars and drums with pedal steel, banjo, and organ mixed in- Eaglesmith is more focused this time out but no less fierce in his determination to capture the sounds of the past within modern songs that will be as relevant in twenty years as they are today.
If Fred Eaglesmith lost you in recent years, it is time to get back on board. 6 Volts is a welcome return for Canada’s premier roots road warrior.
My recently written reviews of albums from Ohio’s The Missy Werner Band (http://lonesomeroadreview.com/2012/02/16/three-kinds-of-lonesome-by-the-missy-werner-band/) and California’s The Bee Eaters (http://lonesomeroadreview.com/2012/02/16/oddfellows-road-by-the-bee-eaters/) have been posted by Aaron over at the Lonesome Road Review. I appreciate all the bands who service me with albums; I thank you. And, as always- thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Yesterday I stumbled upon Turnstyled Junkpiled, a site crafted by Courtney Sudbrink and this afternoon have spent a pleasant half-hour watching and listening to the videos she has posted as an L.A. tribute to Guy Clark. http://turnstyledjunkpiled.com/2012/01/31/dont-let-the-sunshine-fool-ya-the-sin-city-sings-the-songs-of-guy-clark/ Less polished performances than those contained on the very excellent This One’s For Him: The Songs of Guy Clark, the performers within Don’t Let the Sunshine Fool Ya are completely unknown to me, excepting Brennen Leigh who accompanies Noel McKay. What is especially nice about this little video sequence is the inclusion of a couple songs not usually encountered when someone drops a Clark song into a set. “The Ballad of Laverne & Captain Flint” and “Queenie’s Song” are performed by Mark W. Lennon and Jackson Tanner respectfully, and are highlights. “Don’t Let the Sunshine Fool Ya” is given a fine performance by Brian Wright and the Ladies Gun Club. The video is mostly of the ‘point and shoot’ variety and the sound quality fluctuates- heck, there is an L.A. Freeway running beside one of the performers. Still, a good listen. I’ll have to further explore some of these L.A. based artists including The Far West. Also at Turnstyled Junkpiled is a nice little piece that includes the definitive Clark perspective on the difference between he and Townes Van Zandt: “Townes was really crazy and I’m not.” Read the entire piece here: http://turnstyledjunkpiled.com/2012/02/01/guy-clark-his-craft-the-turnstyled-junkpiled-interview/ A lot of effort went into this Guy Clark feature; well done Turnstyled Junkpiled.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
This just in from Ken Irwin, one of the founders of Rounder Records: “We have been told that Hazel Dickens will be included in the In Memoriam segment on the Grammys on Sunday. The Grammys have been in contact asking for a photograph to be used.”
Well-deserved recognition, of course, and I now have two reasons to tune into the broadcast, the other being the appearance by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band.
Various Artists This One’s For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark iTunes download
Some years ago, word of a birthday tape featuring Guy Clark’s Nashville friends performing his songs just for him circulated. I have never been fortunate to locate a dub of that set, but from all accounts it was something quite impressive.
Those of us outside that inner circle will have to satisfy ourselves with this remarkable set featuring 30 songs written (and co-written) by Clark and performed by some of the many performers and fellow writers whose lives he has touched. An incredible undertaking, this tribute to the living poet laureate of Texas songwriters has much to offer both the Clark devotee and the casual Americana appreciator.
Guy Clark has never been the household name that other Nashville-based singers and writers may be. His own albums have seldom charted and it was only with his 16th and most recent live release Songs and Stories that Clark finally cracked the Country Top 30. His singles fare no better, but others- among them Ricky Skaggs, Bobby Bare, Vince Gill, John Conlee, and Steve Wariner- took his tunes to the top of the charts while many more have used his material for album depth.
Still, Clark’s influence as a mentor to Rodney Crowell and Steve Earle is well-documented and his friendship with Townes Van Zandt is the stuff of legend. He paints with lyric, each word and phrase combining to create lasting images and impressions that cross generations. Frequently overlooked is the quality of his identifiable and memorable melodies. While it is always wonderful to hear Clark perform, it is equally enjoyable to experience interpretations of his songs.
Intended as a celebration of Guy Clark’s 70th birthday and opening with an unmistakable belly-laugh from the man himself, the compilers of This One’s For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark waste no time in setting the bar high with frequent Clark collaborators Rodney Crowell (“That Old Time Feeling”) and Lyle Lovett with Emmylou Harris (“Anyhow I Love You”) interpreting two classic songs from his earliest albums.
From there it is two hours of uninterrupted enjoyment. All the expected Clark characters appear: the old man with “brown tobacco stains all down his chin”; the reluctant urban dweller who just wants to “get off this L.A. Freeway without getting killed or caught”; the dreamer who trusts that he can fly; the woman “standing on the gone side of leaving;” the wino who loved a Dallas whore; the Texas six-year old placing a nickel on a train track; and the fellow who recognizes that “there are only two things that money can’t buy, true love and home grown tomatoes.” Clark’s characters are not always right, but much like the man himself they always appear to be true.
Performing are the expected cast of voices, many who have recorded with Clark in the past (Crowell, Harris, Rosanne Cash) or have recorded his songs (Jack Ingram, Willie Nelson, Radney Foster). Not all the participants are on the north side of 50 as relative youngsters Hayes Carll, The Trishas, John Townes Van Zandt II, Ron Sexsmith, and Patty Griffin each take a song for a run, perhaps most remarkably Sexsmith who does his expected beautiful job with “Broken Hearted People.”
But, most of the featured singers are of that generation that came of age in the sixties and early seventies and who worked and traveled the same roads and shared similar experiences as Clark: Ray Wylie Hubbard, Terry Allen, Robert Earl Keen, Jerry Jeff Walker, Kevin Welch, Suzy Bogguss, John Prine, and Steve Earle.
There isn’t a wrong move throughout the set. The core band- featuring frequent Clark sidemen Shawn Camp, Verlon Thompson, and Kenny Malone, among others- provides consistency, creating a comfortable environment for each singer. Some songs swing with frivolity (Rosie Flores’s “My Baby Took A Limo to Memphis”) while others offer melancholy reflection (Terry Allen’s “Old Friends”). It is this balance that most distinguishes Clark’s writing- he builds around the gems that are life’s moments.
Guy Clark’s greatest song may be “The Randall Knife,” as powerful a song about father-son relations ever recorded. Vince Gill, who played on the song’s original session in 1983, sings here with more personality than anything on his mysteriously celebrated Guitar Slinger set of last year. He approach differs from Clark’s original, but the power of the words is maintained.
Another highlight is Joe Ely’s inspired reading of “Dublin Blues;” Ely gets to the core of this song- the regret, the loneliness, the desolation- as few other singers can. When he sings the opening lines “I wish I was in Austin, in the chilly Parlour Bar, drinking mad dog margaritas and not caring where you are,” you are aware that you are listening to someone who feels a connection to Clark’s legacy.
It is fitting that Jerry Jeff Walker closes this wonderful tribute as it was through Walker’s renditions of “L.A. Freeway” and “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train” that most of us were first exposed to Clark’s masterful approach to song writing. Walker sings a new song, “My Favourite Picture of You.” In it Clark’s description of his wife Susanna- “no beginning, no end,” “you never left but your bags were packed, just in case,” “it’s bent and faded and pinned to my wall,” “a curse on your lips but all I can see is beautiful,” “a stand-up angel who won’t back down,” and “a thousand words in the blink of an eye”- resonates powerfully: these are the moments that account our lives, our relationships.
Whether you are just discovering Guy Clark or have long appreciated his writing expertise, This One’s For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark impresses.
A shorter version of this review was published in The Red Deer Advocate January 20, 2012
For my meta-analysis of year-end bluegrass lists, visit http://www.countrystandardtime.com/blog/FervorCouleeBluegrass/entry.asp?xid=849 The number one album of the year should be no surprise, but it isn’t the Larry Sparks album picture to the left.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald