Archive for the ‘2010 Releases’ Tag
I feel honoured to be part of the Polaris Music Prize jury. All year-long I listen to some of the finest Canadian music released and each June I am asked to narrow these down- for the initial ballot- to five. I’ve spent the last several days finalizing my list, re-listening to albums I previously considered, and catching up on a few I had missed. I’m ready to vote…I think. I entered my ballot this evening, and have the rest of the week to finalize it. As of this minute, these are my top 5 albums for this year’s Polaris:
#1 = Kim Beggs – Blue Bones
#2 = Ben Sures – Gone to Bolivia
#3 = Ohama - Earth History Multiambient
#4 = Ruth Moody – The Garden
#5 = David Baxter – Patina Luke Doucet- Steel City Trawler
No shortage of albums to consider, in my opinion. Some love to Ruth Moody, who I had a bit higher until tonight…I’m really hoping several jury members are considering sending Kim Beggs votes- a beautiful recording. You’ll notice, if you care, that Ohama doesn’t
fit my usual roots bias. I can’t stop listening to it- it has played all through my work day a couple of times in the last few weeks. I love the complexity of the sounds he produces. I’ve been enamoured with his music since university and was disappointed to find that I no longer have his early albums on my shelf- not sure what happened to them. Regrets. The new Ben Sures project sounds gorgeous and includes several excellent songs- it is much more than a folk album, if that is how your brain works. I’ve revised my ballot to include Luke Doucet’s Steel City Trawler, an album that was floating around #7 on my list. It moved up with another listen this week, largely because “The Ballad of Ian Curtis” is legendary, IMO.
Feel free to attempt to sway my votes and certainly consider giving the above a listen if you are open to roots sounds. And really, why would you be at Fervor Coulee if you weren’t? Reviews of all but Ohama are located here at Fervor Coulee. Thanks for visiting- Donald
Aaron has posted another pair of review over at the Lonesome Road Review, neither of which are for albums I would necessarily independently seek out.
The first is my review of The Laws’ new album, Try Love. The Laws have played Alberta fairly frequently, but I don’t believe I’ve caught them live. I do know that they played some of the area bluegrass festivals several years ago. While there is nothing obviously wrong or lacking on Try Love, neither is there anything particularly distinctive or memorable about it. Your opinion, of course, may vary: http://lonesomeroadreview.com/2011/04/06/try-love-by-the-laws/ I rated it 3.5 out of 5 because- while it doesn’t appeal to me- it is a well-crafted album.
The other album reviewed is from the UK and comes from The Toy Hearts. I have to admit- I avoided this album for quite a few weeks because the artwork absolutely creeped me out. I realize it is staged to play up to the album’s title, but really…I just think it looks cheap, misguided, and distracting from what isn’t a terrible album but it looks like it is. http://lonesomeroadreview.com/2011/04/06/femme-fatale-by-the-toy-hearts/
I tend to like my roots music with a bit of gravel, and the isn’t too much grit on either of these albums. What they did do was challenge me to write about music that I didn’t necessarily personally appreciate- I was forced to listen to them with others’ ears because it was obvious I wasn’t the target audience. Hopefully, I succeeded in sharing a balanced treatment of the art created by these musicians. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee, Donald
Over at the Lonesome Road Review, Aaron has posted my reviews of the two recent albums from Idaho’s Hillfolk Noir; while both have something to offer Skinny Mammy’s Revenge is a far superior effort. http://lonesomeroadreview.com/2011/04/05/live-at-the-old-idaho-penitentiary-and-skinny-mammy%e2%80%99s-revenge-by-hillfolk-noir/ will get you to the review. Think Folkways meets O Brother, without T-Bone. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee- Donald
Remember when Mountain Heart was a bluegrass band?
Seriously though, I’ve been searching for a reason to mention their most recent album, and got it today via The Bluegrass Blog: click here http://www.thebluegrassblog.com/mountain-heart-on-wsm/ to see news of Mountain Heart’s new radio venture with WSM 650. Sounds pretty nifty.
That Just Happened, which I purchased this month via download, is a pretty wild ride. An EP really, clocking in at 32 minutes over 7 songs, the music steams along, straddling and blurring the lines between rock ‘n roll and bluegrass as few other recent projects have- especially the title track. From “Little Sadie” to “Whipping Post” all the way to David Allan Coe with some piano for those of you who are looking for traditional, Bruce Hornsby influences in your grass.
It’s a lot of fun with a surprise around every corner and it’ll have you listening over and over, I predict. Dirt cheap over at eMusic. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
O Brother, Where Art Thou? was released just over ten years ago. The movie- and more so, the soundtrack recording- gave bluegrass music a possibly unprecedented ‘bump’- arguably more than even Bonnie and Clyde and Deliverance did a generation previously. This despite the lack of ‘true’ bluegrass on the album: excepting the Soggy Bottom Boy and Ralph Stanley/Stanley Brothers tracks, most of the music has only a passing resemblance to bluegrass and would perhaps be better described as old-time country music, or as I prefer to call it within its context, acoustiblue.
For those of us who listen to, write about, and present bluegrass music, the O Brother impact was obvious and immediate. All of a sudden, bluegrass was hip. People were interested in the music, seeking it out in record numbers. Every magazine ran a feature on Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, or Gillian Welch- more often, all three. Ralph Stanley was everywhere. Copycat compilations popped up- some terrific, most rather dodgy. Down from the Mountain hit the road, and in general, bluegrass concert and festival attendance appeared to climb- at least in my part of the world. Everything was pretty darn good for a while there.
Of course, the O Brother bubble only lasted until the next media cycle started. Other fads took its place and we here in Red Deer started to notice declining concert attendance even as the quality of the presented performances remained strong and even improved. We anticipated it happening, and despite concerted efforts, couldn’t find a way to combat it.
Like those who squander the riches of an oil boom or a high-flying economy, we crossed our fingers, hoping for the next O Brother to come along, promising all the while to be better prepared this time. For a few weeks there was hope that the Cold Mountain soundtrack might help things out a bit, continue the momentum, but that didn’t happen. The film and accompanying soundtrack failed to provide a similar bump, notwithstanding the great talent that it gathered- Tim O’Brien, Riley Baugus, Alison Krauss, Dirk Powell and such- but in the end the album just wasn’t that interesting, paling in comparison to the album Songs from the Mountain, previously released by O’Brien, Powell, and John Herrmann.
Which brings me to Winter’s Bone. For the most part, it is unanimous- it is a great movie with wonderful performances that capture the character and people of the modern Ozarks. It is well deserving of one of ten (really, ten?!) best picture Oscar nominations, as is the lead actress Jennifer Lawrence and the down-right scary John Hawkes as Teardrop.
I heard of the movie when the ‘pre-release’ buzz started this past summer. I searched out the Daniel Woodrell novel and found it entirely engrossing, and rented the movie the first time I saw it on a local shelf. I watched the movie the one time more than a month ago- and wasn’t taking notes- but thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn’t really notice the music in the movie until the scene where Ree interrupts a kitchen picking party- the voice I now know as Marideth Sisco’s sliced through me- am I remembering correctly that she was singing “High on a Mountain”?- and I started paying a little closer attention to the soundtrack. Later that evening, I downloaded Winter’s Bone’s soundtrack.
The album has followed me from home to truck to highway to office for the past month, and I’ve enjoyed its less-than-polished music as much- and probably more than- as I did the O Brother soundtrack. Where that album- masterful creation that it was with terrific and timeless performances by favourite Americana artists- in retrospect seems contrived (and how could it not be, given the cinematic thread?) and polished bringing together those that, in most cases, wouldn’t otherwise perform together in the studio, Winter’s Bone sounds more natural, more organic. The soundtrack’s compilers obviously worked just as intently as T. Bone’s crew did with O Brother. But the resulting atmosphere is as different as the movies are. Winter’s Bone is a brutal movie, although not quite as hard-hitting as Woodrell’s novel, and deserves a soundtrack just as sparse and honest.
Little is to be found about the Winter’s Bone soundtrack. Outside of Stephen M. Deusner’s discussion with Marideth Sisco on The 9513 Blog (http://tinyurl.com/4nr8rf8) I haven’t encountered much that is giving the soundtrack its due. While one wouldn’t expect the soundtrack to an art-house movie to give the same boost to bluegrass and traditional music as O Brother did, it would have been nice. This is a wonderful album, more tied to the music bluegrass lovers would appreciate than even the O Brother soundtrack was.
In Deusner’s piece, the point is clearly made by Sisco that the Ozarks are a tough place to live, and the music of the area reflects that through sad ballads, songs that have been ‘tinkered’ with by singers such as Sisco through the centuries. Blackberry Winter, a regional Ozark band according to Sisco, turn in brilliant performances, as does Sisco- in her words, “that old lady singing songs.” Traditional songs including “Rain and Snow” and “Fair and Tender Ladies” are revised to fit the plot of the movie, allowing the soundtrack recording to delve into places- such as the motivations of Jessup Dolly- that the movie doesn’t fully explore. Billy Ward’s “Man on the Run” and John Hawkes’ “Bred and Buttered” (utilizing one of Ree’s favoured expressions) provide additional narrative through song. White River Music Co.’s “Out of Sight” provides a timely honky-tonk interlude that stands on its own as a darn good trucking song.
In my opinion, it is a brilliant soundtrack, one that adds to the memory of film it accompanies. When I listen to it, select scenes from the movie flicker back to me and I appreciate it- the book, the movie, and the soundtrack- all the more with every listen. Again, like O Brother, the music isn’t exactly bluegrass. But, it is close enough to be appreciated by those who love the music. Unfortunately, for those of us waiting for the next O Brother bluegrass bump, we’ll have to find it elsewhere. I’ve read about an upcoming Bill Monroe film that might do it. Again, fingers are crossed.
But- until then- do yourself a favour and seek out Winter’s Bone: Music from the Motion Picture and take a read of the piece on the 9513 as it will add to your appreciation of the process undertaken to make this music so real, so tied to the images and story captured in the movie.
Welcome back to Fervor Coulee. In today’s Roots Music column in the Red Deer Advocate I feature the relatively new album from The Honey Dewdrops, These Old Roots. As was their previous release, it is a darn good listen- sure to become a favourite.
Roots music column, originally published January 21, 2011 in the Red Deer Advocate
The Honey Dewdrops These Old Roots www.thehoneydewdrops.com
In the absence of new Gillian Welch recordings, this Virginia-based duo is becoming a favourite.
On their previous album If the Sun Will Shine, Kagey Parrish and Laura Wortman established an ideal balance of slo-fi folk and bluegrass, creating one of 2009’s finest acoustiblue releases.
Still sounding fresh and bright, The Honey Dewdrops have similarly captured magic with These Old Roots. The acclaim is increasingly universal; according to folk radio airplay, this charming couple received more spins last year than the likes of John Prine, Crooked Still, and even Johnny Cash.
Wortman’s voice has musical purity and in Parrish she has a pleasing harmony and instrumental foil. Similar to Welch in almost all ways excepting that Wortman tends to sing with a bit more zip, this ten-song collection breezes by in a flash.
With a wandering eye Wortman sings, “So goodbye and farewell, I’m going away, there are words my tongue can’t say,” and in the best of folk traditions also sings the spurned lover’s response, “If your mind don’t sway, your life I’ll take right here.” Their fate is left open-ended, but one expects things didn’t work out as initially planned. Similar in theme, Waiting on You allows she who betrayed to exit with her dignity- and soul- intact.
Not to be missed are Parrish’s guitar and mandolin performances. He achieves a nice tone from his instruments, and his flat-picked breaks are truly impressive without detracting from the vocals. Examples are aplenty with his playing on Goodbye and Farewell and Way Back When standing out. It is on this latter song that Gillian Welch-Dave Rawlings comparisons are most apt.
The lyrical lament Amaranth, an animistic ode to a plant whose blossoms never fade, sets the tone for These Old Roots. Nobody in this World follows a blues structure while their rendition of Can’t Get a Letter from Home brings us back to the mountain folk tradition.
Music with roots in Appalachia frequently contains religious themes and imagery, and That Good Old Way and Sweet Heaven are stellar.
Traditional music sometimes feels like it was made for another time. Instead, These Old Roots simply sounds timeless.
Thanks, as always, for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
My reviews of recent Rebel Records digital downloads have been posted at http://lonesomeroadreview.com/.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee.
Garth Hudson & Various Artists A Canadian Celebration of The Band Curve Music
I bought this one at Chapters on impulse, having not seen very much- if any- press on it. I’m glad I trusted my gut.
One doesn’t need to describe the impact The Band had on roots and rock music. The influence is obvious with each listen to an album from The Sadies, Blue Rodeo, and even the Cowboy Junkies.
Those artists and more than a dozen others contribute renditions of (largely) less familiar songs from The Band’s vast catalogue: therefore, no “The Weight,” no “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” no “Rag Mama Rag,” or “Up On Cripple Creek” here.
Instead, Mary Margaret O’Hara and The Sadies deliver a devastating and beautiful “Out of the Blue” and Great Big Sea take on “Knockin’ Lost John.” Songs from Moondog Matinee, Cahoots, The Basement Tapes, and Jericho are alongside more familiar cuts such as “King Harvest” (Blue Rodeo) and “Acadian Driftwood” (Peter Katz & The Curious.) A raucous and bluesy take of “Forbidden Fruit” from Danny Brooks & the Rockin’ Revelators kicks off things off, setting the bar high for all that follow.
With the exception of select performances, this tribute album is successful. The Sadies’ performance of “The Shape I’m In” is beautifully balanced by Raine Maida’s “The Moon Struck One” and Chantal Kreviazuk’s “Tears of Rage.”
Everything hinges on Garth Hudson holding things together, and it is his distinctive approach to each song that is the thread that weaves the project into a solid creation. From his signature introduction to “Chest Fever” (done here by Ian Thornley with guitar accompaniment from Bruce Cockburn)- “Genetic Method”- to the waves of organ colouring Neil Young and The Sadies’ ragged but right take of “This Wheel’s on Fire,” Hudson’s sound remains true.
While personal taste will dictate if one enjoys the contributions of folks such as Suzi McNeil or The Roadhammers, those immersed in roots/Canadiana should find the album purchase worthy.
While nothing can compare to The Bands’ original recordings, this energetic and enjoyable 75-minute celebration of their songs has much to recommend it.
Big Country Bluegrass The Boys in Hats & Ties Rebel Records
For most of the last decade, bluegrass was dominated by a handful of familiar names: McCoury, Vincent, Skaggs, Stanley, and Lawson to name some of the most successful.
A changing of the guard appears underway as time catches up to some, as the impact of others fade, allowing previously less-heard artists to garner attention. Big Country Bluegrass would be one of the groups seemingly ready to take advantage of the opportunities presented.
A well-experienced band, the Virginia band’s debut release for Rebel Records is destined to become a favourite of those who love mountain-inspired, hard-driving and fairly traditional bluegrass.
The title cut- an homage to those who defined the bluegrass sound and tradition- has hit the top of the bluegrass charts and is only one of many memorable songs on an album that is consistently impressive. Vocalist Jeff Michaels, who also handles the fiddle chores, has a voice that evokes both the charming country, nasal elements of Lester Flatt and the piercing, lonesome sound of Del McCoury.
Much of the material is of the under-heard variety, recorded previously by bluegrass masters including Bill Harrell, Roy McMillan, and Jimmy Martin. Other songs are less familiar but sound instantly comfortable, including two from Tom T. and Dixie Hall. Of note is their interpretation of Tut Taylor’s “Prodigal 5.” A pair of Michaels originals close the set on up-tempo instrumental and gospel notes.
Lynwood Lunsford contributes some powerful banjo while guitarist Johnny Williams does a nice job singing a trio of songs. Band founders Tommy (mandolin) and Teresa Sells (guitar and vocals) round out the strong lineup that also features bassist Alan Mastin who passed away before the album’s release. With lively instrumental kick-offs along with arrangements that allow each band member opportunities to display their talents and distinctive vocal harmonies, the album has much to recommend it.
Nothing fancy from Big Country Bluegrass; they’re just a band that lives up to their name.
My review of the latest from The Grascals has been posted at the Lonesome Road Review site: http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=4591
Following a pattern established by other bluegrass artists, most notably Vincent & Dailey with Sing the Statler Brothers, the sextet join forces with Cracker Barrel to showcase countrified bluegrass. With V & D moving somewhere plus of 40K copies of their bluegrass-infused versions of country classics, Rounder labelmates The Grascals attempt to capture similar retail magic.
Interesting note: three of the songs on Country Classics With A Bluegrass Spin were previously featured on Heights of Grass’s 1978 album Louisiana Saturday Night.
One confusing element is The Grascals’ ongoing efforts toward rehabilitating Hank Jr.’s cred with the “Born to Boogie/All My Rowdy Friends” medley; Hank Jr. circa 1985 was bad enough- covers of his windbaggy, urban cowboy-era hits is entirely baffling, to me.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald