Archive for the ‘2009 Releases’ Tag
I’ve been listening to Chris Jones & the Night Drivers quite frequently the past two weeks.
Chris Jones is a bluegrass and Americana artist who should be better known than he is, in my opinion. For a number of reasons, he doesn’t maintain the profile of more acclaimed bluegrass performers. However, having recorded numerous albums and appeared as a member of a number of significant bluegrass bands- The Special Consensus, The Weary Hearts, The Lynn Morris Band- Jones has established himself as an upper echelon songwriter and vocalist. Of course, he is also well known from his daily hosting duties on SiriusXM.
While always worthy of a listen, the reason I have been delving into Jones’s catalog recently is because the Waskasoo Bluegrass Music Society- an Alberta club I’ve been a member of since its inception more than a decade ago- is presenting Jones & the Night Drivers January 29. By habit, I tend to listen to artists we’re presenting just before I book them and then again just before they appear. Therefore, as the year turned, I found myself again pulling all of the Chris Jones albums off the bluegrass shelf.
From Blinded by the Rose, (which, for some reason, I haven’t been able to lay hands on this month…where is it?) Jones’s debut release featuring the Union Station line-up of the day through to his non-bluegrass album of a couple years back (Too Far Down the Road), Jones hasn’t taken a wrong step. The albums are solid, interesting, and enjoyable collections of superior bluegrass songwriting and performance. Whether revisiting a folk standard such as Gordon Lightfoot’s “Ribbon of Darkness” or a county standard like “My Baby’s Just Like Money,” Jones is able to interpret the words and music of others with rare intensity. Similarly, he brings a formidable vision to more recent songs from the likes of John Pennell and most notably, Tom T. and Dixie Hall: his rendition of “The Man on the Side of the Road” was one of the most played bluegrass songs of 2001.
But what has always identified Jones more than his interpretations of others is the power of his own compositions. One only needs to hear a song like “Just a Town” (co-written with his wife Sally) once to understand that they are listening to someone who is a master of words and melody. When he sings, “But somehow it brings me down, now it’s just a town,” anyone who has ever returned to a place of significance only to find the allure- the connection- missing can relate to that which Jones writes about. And when he sings of the café on the corner being “full of strangers, nobody knows my name,” a piece of one’s own heart aches for the remembrance of the time a place, a people, moved on without him.
His version of “Fork in the Road”- a song on which he shared IBMA song of the year honors with John Pennell when The Infamous Stringdusters released it in 2007- is as stunning a bluegrass performance as is contained on the compilation disc A Few Words.
His most recent album, Cloud of Dust, came out more than a year ago and is the first to feature the current Night Drivers line-up. The album includes a re-recording of a song that Jones previously recorded- “The Last Nail”- as well as the bonus inclusion of a couple songs from Just A Drifter – but the vast majority of the music is new. The material is uniformly of an unusually high standard, and Jones is in great voice throughout. Recently I’ve noticed the phrase “low lonesome sound” associated with Jones, and I understand this usage. He has a gentle, deep voice that one doesn’t necessarily associate with great bluegrass vocalists. But there is no mistaking the intensity and focus with which Jones relates his tales of misery and woe. It is a very strong album, one of the most enjoyable I’ve heard in the past several weeks.
Further endearing him, Jones provides the album liner notes on his website for those of us who purchase his music via download.
One of the reasons I was so eager to book Jones for the WBMS this winter was that Jones spends his winters in Northern Alberta, near his wife’s family and her work at a regional college. With such a talent spending so much time in the province, it is near criminal that we haven’t previously featured Jones in our concert season.
As I repeatedly listen to Cloud of Dust this month, I have found something as appealing about the album as Jones’ voice, songwriting, and approach to bluegrass and that is the bass-playing of long-time Night Driver Jon Weisberger.
Weisberger is well-known as a features writer for publications including Bluegrass Unlimited, No Depression, and Nashville Scene. He has also become a presence in the bluegrass songwriting world with cuts having appeared on albums from Blue Highway, Del McCoury, Doyle Lawson, The Chapmans and others, and serves on the IBMA’s Board of Directors. Weisberger has a pair of co-writes on Cloud of Dust: “Cold Lonesome Night” and “ Silent Goodbye.”
As I listen to the album, I find myself unconsciously playing air-bass along with Weisberger. Now, those who are most familiar with my lack of rhythm and musical intellect realize I don’t hardly know a I from a V when it comes to bass playing, and I only have a nagging suspicion that there is a IV floating around those other notes. My air-bass playing is only slightly more advanced than the air-guitar I previously played listening to Born to Run or Who’s Next. What is different is the musical maturity I bring to my bluegrass listening today, a clarity developed by years of focused concentration. And what I hear holding down the bottom end on Cloud of Dust is terribly impressive.
Playing bass is frequently viewed as the easiest way into bluegrass jamming: master a couple notes and have a decent sense of time, and one is on their way. Of course, in bluegrass nothing- harmony singing, rhythm guitar, the mandolin chop- is as simple as it seems on first impression and bluegrass bass is no exception. While not as immediately noticeable as other bluegrass elements, bluegrass bass isn’t exactly easy to do right. And throughout Cloud of Dust, Weisberger demonstrates his art in admirable fashion.
My music vocabulary isn’t developed enough to identify exactly what it is Weisberger does on Cloud of Dust to make his playing stand out so markedly to me. Part of what is apparent to me is that the album is presented to allow all musicians their space within the arrangements. No one appears to be stepping into another’s aural space. While Ned Luberecki’s banjo in may shine for a lead break on the title cut, one feels the throbbing rhythm of Weisberger’s contributions maintaining the balance of the tune.
Elsewhere, on the reflective “What You Do,” Weisberger’s playing adds atmosphere to Jones’s matter-of-fact lyrics. A very different mood is captured within “Cold Lonesome Night,” and again the fingers start strumming an imaginary upright bass, so starkly do the notes Weisberger lays down appear within the well-constructed instrumentation. And don’t get me started on “One Door Man,” the mid-album cut on which I first noticed my fingers moving in rhythm to Weisberger’s playing.
I always find it interesting to realize what ‘grabs’ me about an album. Sometimes the packaging is what draws me in, an appreciation for the care that was put into making a purchase worthwhile. Once in a while, it will be a tone of an instrument or a vocal inflection that I’ll notice. More often it is the use of words that draws me in. I’m pretty certain that I’ve never consciously been pulled into a bluegrass album because of the sound a bass player has achieved, although I am aware of particular songs that have impacted me as a result of the bass.
I’m fairly certain Chris Jones didn’t design Cloud of Dust around Weisberger’s bass-playing. Similarly, I doubt the Night Drivers felt they had captured anything more special on this recording than other times they had recorded- either together or apart- tracks for an album. But for some reason, while listening to Cloud of Dust this past week, my fingers wouldn’t stay still- moving in and out, up and down- a four-stringed fingerboard only I could feel.
And I have an additional reason to look forward to an evening of bluegrass in Red Deer on January 29.
Chris Jones & the Night Drivers appear in Blythe, CA January 14-15 and Edmonton, Red Deer, and Calgary, AB January 28-30.
As always, buy some music! And if you’re up to it, share your thoughts about Cloud of Dust.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Over at The Lonesome Road Review, http://lonesomeroadreview.com/, I’ve written reviews of the most recent releases from Robert Plant, Sweet Sunny South, and Honey Don’t. Given more space than the newspaper column allows, I’ve expanded my Band of Joy review considerably. Hope all is well with you- go listen to something good. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Things have been quite on the Fervor Coulee front lately, and for that I apologize. I’ve been busy with real life commitments, meaning FC has gone on the back-burner. This week in my Red Deer Advocate Roots Music column I review the latest from The Honey Dewdrops and The Grascals. (Originally published in the Red Deer Advocate, April 16, 2010)
The Honey Dewdrops If The Sun Will Shine www.thehoneydewdrops.com
The Honey Dewdrops are the Virginia-based husband and wife team of Kagey Parrish and Laura Wortman, and they make some of the sweetest slo-fi sounds this side of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.
Comprised entirely of original material, If The Sun Will Shine is so open and delicate an acoustic folk listening experience that it flies by in a flash. Wortman takes the leads and plays guitar with Parrish harmonizing and contributing both guitar and mandolin.
The songs are poetic, deceptively simple but substantial; the duo’s approach to instrumentation and arrangement are similarly straight-forward. Wortman’s captivating voice delivers lyrics that are devastating in their gorgeousness:
Shadows in here, crowd the floor
Echo calls, can’t hear no more
Gets so loud, when I’m all alone
My ears’ll bleed that whisper tone
-from “How We Used to Be”
Why does this album appeal so dramatically? Perhaps it is the comforting honesty flowing within the writing and performance.
Sometimes, an album grabs you and you don’t exactly knowwhy; you’re just glad it does.
Give The Honey Dewdrops a listen and see if you don’t fall under their spell.
The Grascals The Famous Lefty Flynn’s Rounder
Having been awarded several industry awards during their ongoing run as a premier bluegrass outfit, with The Famous Lefty Flynn’s The Grascals prove that there are few bands that can match them for studio mastery.
Not atypical in the bluegrass world, the Nashville-based group has experienced personnel changes; with the addition of Kristin Scott Benson on 5-string banjo and Jeremy Abshire on fiddle, the sextet remains formidable. The talents of the newcomers are especially apparent on less rambunctious numbers including “Out Comes the Sun” and an impressive rendering of Steve Earle’s “My Old Friend the Blues.”
The band has always had a way with story songs and they demonstrate this again with the title track which includes a bank robber, a jailbreak, death, and a fortune cached in a well. Also impressive are “Satan and Grandma” and “Up This Hill and Down”, a song from the Osborne Brothers. The novel inclusion of “Last Train to Clarksville” may have proven disruptive but instead is enlivened by a dynamic vocal approach.
Blending high-calibre bluegrass music with country hit-making possibilities has been something The Grascals have previously explored, and here they are joined by Hank Williams, Jr. for a convincing treatment of “I’m Blue, I’m Lonesome”, a song written by Hank Sr. and Bill Monroe backstage at the Grand Ole Opry.
On their fourth album, The Grascals exhibit that they remain a bluegrass powerhouse, utilizing three-lead vocalists dexterously while maintaining a vibrant and multi-dimensional instrumental approach.
As always, thanks for visiting at Fervor Coulee. Donald
My review of Madison Violet’s album No Fool For Trying has been posted at the Country Standard Time site, http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=4401
It has been out for some time in Canada, but I was only just sent the album for review. It wasn’t released in the USA until November.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee.
I just noticed that Chris Scruggs has a recent album, Anthem. I listened to the tracks on his MySpace site and am quite intrigued- as much Ray Davies as Gail Davies, if I can (try to) be so clever. I liked his work with BR549 and on his mother’s Bluegrass Inn live disc.
Ever since I became aware of Chris, I’ve had a soft spot for him. I’ve been a bit disturbed at Earl’s refusal (in print and in person) to acknowledge Chris, but I suspect that matter will remain- for whatever reason- in the family. When I briefly interviewed Mr. Scruggs a few years back, I pointedly asked of his grandchildren’s interest in music, following up on a comment he had made. He stated that none were, none had expressed an interest; I didn’t belabour the point, having no desire to beat up on an older man and having respect for his contributions to bluegrass, but I still thought it was sad that a man would discount a grandchild.
http://www.myspace.com/chrisscruggs to give it a listen. Available on iTunes and eMusic.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
I’ve just submitted two new reviews to Aaron at the Lonesome Road Review, a nice little site with some very good writing. Susanville, the new one from the Dixie Bee-Liners and Deep in the Shade from the Steep Canyon Rangers are the two albums I consider. This link will get you there: http://lonesomeroadreview.wordpress.com/
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
The Wheat Pool
Sounding like Elvis Perkins after spending a train ride being tutored in wordsmithing by Tom Russell and in melody from Chris Stamey, Edmonton’s The Wheat Pool has garnered positive press from publications far beyond our province’s borders.
Their sweeping amalgamation of rock, country, blues, and folk influences place the Canadiana quartet firmly at the fore when one considers premier roots outfits.
For the uninitiated, The Wheat Pool’s second album contains not only evidence of development since their impressive debut two years ago, but is a refinement of a mature and distinctive sound. It is a harder album, one that endures comparisons to Canadian bands including The Western States and The Deep Dark Woods while holding up to notables including Son Volt and Wrinkle Neck Mules.
Hauntario’s eleven tracks explore personalities, relationships, and places from a Canadian perspective. Guitar-based, the sounds created by this quartet fronted by brothers Robb and Mike Angus inspire images of lush prairie land- and cityscapes stained by dark remnants of failed and lost love. Crazy Horse rumblings within tracks such as “This Is It” and “Evangeline” and the free-spirited minimalism of “Nervous Bird” further illuminate influences.
This one has been out for a couple months and sends out vibes that resonate long after initial listens. It is an album that one appreciates more as time passes, as the intricate compositions become familiar and engrained.
The band’s website is http://www.thewheatpool.com/ and they are on the usual social networking sites as well. I think they are worth more than a listen.
Also, I’ve been added to the slate of writers at http://www.countrystandardtime.com/countrymusic.asp which simply means I’ve somehow fooled them again. Don’t hold it against ‘em. I’m working on a review for them- which means the CD is sitting on my desk- and I hope that this will be a productive relationship for all parties.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
This past weekend, my review of Sam Bush’s recent album Circles Around Me ran in my twice-monthly Roots Music column in the Red Deer Advocate newspaper. Unfortunately, due to the holiday weekend, the column never got uploaded to the online edition of the paper. Therefore, I’m adding the review here in the hopes that additional folks get a chance to read it as the album is certainly deserving of your attention and purchase. Support the artists and labels. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee, Donald
Circles Around Me
Is it really possible that Circles Around Me represents only the sixth solo album of fresh material from New Grass Revival founder and all-around mando wizard Sam Bush?
Playing bluegrass mandolin, Bush is without equal. He is loose and laid back, a proverbial Jimmy Buffett for the Telluride set, and yet he remains astonishingly precise and rhythmic in his playing. Coupled with a distinctive voice and a coterie of musical friends built over forty years as a leading figure within newgrass, bluegrass, and acoustic circles, Bush’s recording projects are always welcomed.
On his latest release, Bush concentrates on what he does best: enlivening acoustiblue music with brightness and hominess. Even on the most urbane material- Junior Heywood a chamber-like trio performance with Edgar Meyer and Jerry Douglas- Bush and his cohorts approach things as they might a living room jam.
A few traditional songs are renewed- Diamond Joe and Midnight on the Stormy Deep along with a 1976 take of Apple Blossom- and provide the album’s foundation. Upon this are set several new songs from not only Bush, but collaborators including Guy Clark, Jeff Black, and Meyer.
Live, Sam Bush always appears to be the happiest fellow on stage and on this 14-cut album he seems positively euphoric. A charging bluegrass spin through Roll On Buddy, Roll On (sparked by a lead vocal turn from Del McCoury) leads into a banjo-punctuated account of the failed robbery and murder of Grand Ole Opry and Hee Haw regular David Akeman. The Ballad of Stringbean and Estelle is a masterfully constructed and engaging tale, and Jeff Black’s aching Gold Heart Locket receives the performance it has long deserved.
Circles Around Me bridges the chasm between traditional bluegrass and more progressive sounds in a manner that debunks the argument that the gulf is significant.
My top 21 albums of the year- in no particular order beyond #1 & #2 which are either Dale Ann Bradley’s Don’ t Turn Your Back or John Wort Hannam’s Queen’s Hotel, depending on the day and my mood. This list was submitted to the Postcard 2 survey with one exception; I only just heard the latest from Nanci Griffith and fell for it immediately.
I thought it was another outstanding year for roots music; I likely listened to more music than ever and know I enjoyed so many different sounds. I was glad that I didn’t have to listen to quite as much acoustic twee-folk as in the past. You’ll notice my list includes several Fervor Coulee favourites who either continued to produce outstanding music or made fine comebacks after a few years away. Not too much ‘off the radar’ music, but I’m not in a competition to discover the most unheard music. Thanks for visiting throughout the year- Donald
Dale Ann Bradley’s Don’ t Turn Your Back
The Duke & the King- Nothing Gold Can Stay
Guy Clark- Some Days the Song Writes You
Bill Callahan- Sometimes I Wish We Were Eagles
Loudon Wainwright III- High Wide and Handsome- The Charlie Poole Project
Dave Alvin & the Guilty Women- Dave Alvin & the Guilty Women
Danny Barnes- Pizza Box
Dave Rawlings Machine- A Friend of a Friend
Great Lake Swimmers- Lost Channels
Steve Forbert- The Place and the Time
Sam Bush- Circles Around Me
The Deep Dark Woods- Winter Hours
The Undesirables- Travelling Show
Leeroy Stagger- Everything Is Real
John Wort Hannam- Queen’s Hotel
Dry Branch Fire Squad- Echoes of the Mountain
The Wooden Sky- If I Don’t Come Home You’ll Know I’m Gone
Various Artists- Things About Comin’ My Way- A Tribute to the Music of the Mississippi Sheiks
Mike Plume Band- 8:30 Newfoundland
David Davis & the Warrior River Boys- Two Dimes & A Nickel
Nanci Griffith- The Loving Kind
Welcome back to Fervor Coulee. In my Red Deer Advocate Roots Music column this week I advance several coming shows and feature a review of a dynamic album from The Undesirables.
Billed as “two grown men, one guitar, and a natural disaster,” Toronto’s The Undesirables have released their third album of original rural soul. This time out, the sound is fuller, more elaborate and refined.
Channeling CCR, Tony Joe White, Bobby Charles, and The Band, this pair reminds me of when Gordie Johnson and Mr. Chill (Big Sugar) did duo shows. They play roots music with palpable elements of rock, folk, country soul, and the blues and make no attempt to hide influences. As a result, the music is honest and familiar, yet completely their own- lush and sophisticated, balanced by the simplicity and sweetness of two voices harmonizing.
One imagines the rough-hewn honesty of The Undesirables’ music is a product of darkened highway, borrowed beds, and gas station meals. Colin Raymond voice is smooth and luxurious, and on tracks as diverse as Night Train, Singing Bones, and Northern Girls, somehow brings to mind both Richard Manuel and Bobbie Gentry. As intriguing as Raymond’s voice is, his sound wouldn’t be nearly as interesting without the instrumentation provided by Sean Cotton; playing several guitars in different styles, Cotton provides the backbone to the band.
Lyrics from the title track summarize the album’s mood: The tree tops sway like a doo-wop group, I got a front row seat on a front yard stoop.
With extravagant packaging- gatefold, a lavish booklet, and inner sleeve- complementing the music, a thoroughly satisfying artistic experience is all but guaranteed from Travelling Show. Take a chance and see if you don’t fall under the spell of The Undesirables.