A bit late but understandable being how busy editor Aaron Keith Harris is, today brings the release of the Lonesome Road Review’s top 10 bluegrass albums of the past year. I’m pleased to see that Aaron and my LRR colleague Larry Stephens agreed with me in several places, quite likely more than I expected, and I’ve written positively about each of the albums here or elsewhere with perhaps the exception of the #1 album, another that I really enjoyed and purchased both digitally and on vinyl. My only complaint about the Old Memories album is the rather spartan packaging- no gatefold, no liner notes, and the vinyl itself is not as hefty as other recently produced album offerings; still, a terrific album of music.
Each of my top 5 albums made the list and I hope that these placements help some of you make some purchasing decisions. None of the artists who made the list, with the exception of AKUS, is living the high life; most are folks with extensive experience in the bluegrass world, having spent years on the road and are well deserving of any recognition they receive. Of course, I’m absolutely thrilled to see three particular names on the Lonesome Road Review list: Dale Ann Bradley, John Reischman & the Jaybirds, and James Reams & the Barnstormers. See my Top 10 here http://tinyurl.com/873u42u and visit the LRR to see the complete 2011 Top 10: http://lonesomeroadreview.com/2012/01/21/the-lonesome-road-reviews-list-of-top-10-bluegrass-cds-of-2011/
As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Donald Teplyske’s favourite ten bluegrass albums of 2011:
Unlike last year, I feel that I did a very good job of ensuring that I heard the vast majority of excellent bluegrass that was released in 2011. I’m still not being serviced by one particular publicist and a couple of the major bluegrass labels, but others keep me ‘in the know’ and I’ve been able to continue purchasing other albums as I’ve become aware of them. Still, there are no doubt outstanding albums I’ve missed, albums that I may have enjoyed and favourably reviewed- Clay Hess, Darin & Brooke Aldridge, Grasstowne, and others. But I am more than aware that you can’t hear everything and so what follows is my Ten Favourite Bluegrass Albums of 2011 as submitted to the Lonesome Road Review survey. The paragraphs that follow have been largely recycled from my previously written reviews of the albums.
- Dale Ann Bradley- Somewhere South of Crazy (Compass) Critically lauded, praised and recognized by her industry and a fan favourite wherever she appears, Dale Ann Bradley’s third Compass album, and eighth overall, continues her measured but steady ascension to the highest levels of bluegrass performance and reverence. Again working with producer Alison Brown, Somewhere South of Crazy is Bradley’s most obviously contemporary bluegrass recording. Over recent albums, Bradley’s music has become increasingly polished while retaining the traditional spirit that has been her hallmark. It is this duality that makes Bradley’s music so appealing. As a recording artist should, Dale Ann Bradley improves her performance with each album. Fully realized and confident, Bradley exudes bluegrass and has never sounded better than on Somewhere South of Crazy.
- John Reischman & the Jaybirds- Vintage & Unique (Corvus) Over the past decade, John Reischman & the Jaybirds have become increasing popular in western North America. They are a great bluegrass band, always adding new material to their repertoire. Still, when exceptional mandolin players are mentioned, John Reischman’s name is often forgotten. On Vintage and Unique, the quintet takes Bill Monroe’s “The First Whippoorwill” for a spin and refreshes “Shady Grove” and “Last Chance.” Trisha Gagnon and Jim Nunally’s voices- which always sound wonderful together- are especially beautiful throughout this recording. The band delivers new songs alongside their reimagining of classic and long-forgotten tunes. “The Cypress Hills” and “Consider Me Gone” are just waiting to be discovered, while “Cold Mountain (Cam Saan)” examines the Canadian railway experience of Chinese labourers. Every track, each break and harmonic moment are highlights within a flawless album.
- Larry Sparks- Almost Home (Rounder) An album of blue mountain memories: sons returning home, family history, faith, country roads, lonesomeness, country stars, Sunday dinners with nanner puddin’, and Momma’s apron strings. Larry Sparks’ voice continues to be pure and strong and the instrumental accompaniment he receives on this disc- largely from his touring band- is second to none. There remains a naturalness about the way Sparks approaches his music that is incredibly appealing.
- Alison Krauss & Union Station- Paper Airplane (Rounder)A delicate balance of the wistful-yearnsomeness that appeals to a wide-spectrum of the population and the more driving bluegrass sounds that link to the traditional foundation of the band’s history, Paper Airplane is three-quarters of an hour of pure aural pleasure. AKUS further refine the acoustiblue parameters that they have established and explored over the past fifteen years since So Long, So Wrong. The acoustic instrumentation is, as expected, exemplary in its tone and execution and while some of the songs- it could be argued- have a similar calm and sedate sound, there are enough lively moments to maintain momentum. Singularly, the songs are arrestingly enjoyable. Collectively, the cohesive flow of Paper Airplane amounts to one majestic performance.
- James Reams & The Barnstormers- One Foot in the Honky Tonk (Mountain Redbird Music) A wonderful bluegrass album that is just waiting for more of us to discover. As he has consistently done, within this new volume James Reams’ life experiences and those of his ancestors permeate the songs- whether he wrote them or not- not lending them authenticity but ensuring they are authentic. When listening to James Reams, one is on a bridge connecting the present to the past, where the waters below blend the relationships and lamentations of today with those who birthed and shaped them. There are few bluegrass singers who match the lithe and masculine timbre Reams brings to the songs he is called to perform. With One Foot in the Honky Tonk, James Reams further defines his bluegrass, blending the varied elements of the roadhouse with sounds from the hills of Kentucky and her neighbors. One foot in the honky-tonk indeed, but the rest of the Barnstormers’ bodies and their souls are deep in the bluegrass performing songs from the likes of Kevin Welch and Mike Henderson, Chris Gaffney, Fred Eaglesmith, Stonewall Jackson and Harlan Howard- folks who know honky tonks, to be sure- as well as original and traditional tunes.
- Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice- The Heart of a Song (Rebel Records)
- Blue Highway- Sounds of Home (Rounder)
- Laurie Lewis- Skippin’ and Flyin’ (Spruce and Maple Music)
- Steve Martin & the Steep Canyon Rangers- Rare Bird Alert (Rounder)
- Rebel Records digital reissue campaign featuring releases from Ralph Stanley, The McPeak Brothers, Bill Grant and Delia Bell, Dave Evans, and others.
Honourable mentions to: Charlie Sizemore Heartache Looking for a Home, Ralph Stanley A Mother’s Prayer, Barnstar! C’mon, Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper Fired Up, Sarah Jarosz Follow Me Down, Dehlia Low Ravens & Crows, Paul Williams & the Victory Trio Satisfied and The Del McCoury Band Old Memories.
As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Alison Krauss & Union Station performed in Edmonton for the first time in four years last night, and outside a nearly sold out theatre with air circulation challenges it would be hard to imagine anyone leaving the Jubilee Auditorium unsatisfied.
I have seen AKUS live on a handful of occasions at festivals and at IBMA, but this was the first time catching a theatre show and it is an experience that I highly recommend. The performance delivered is focused and well-coordinated, but contains the personal and humorous spontaneity one expects from Krauss and her cohorts. No one could argue that they didn’t get their money’s worth as the concert stretched to about two hours and fifteen minutes.
Some of the guitar breaks Ron Block took were absolutely amazing, and while I wasn’t taking notes during the show I came away with an even greater appreciation for Alberta’s favourite son-in-law. One of the few disappointments was that Block was given only one lead vocal spot.
Dan Tyminski was given the opportunity to sing several songs including “Pastures of Plenty,” The Boy Who wouldn’t Hoe Corn,” “Rain, Please Go Away,” “Dust Bowl Children,” “Bonita and Bill Butler,” “Man of Constant Sorrow,” and (I think) “Wild Bill Jones.” Note to Alison- the George Clooney “butt double” routine can be retired any time now.
For Dobro players- and the only people who really appreciate the Dobro are other Dobro players- Jerry Douglas performed solo the Douglas Concert Suite (“A Tribute to Peador O’Donnell”, “Monkey Let the Hogs Out,” and a couple other interludes) so the others could take a well-deserved break, while the band ripped through a fiery rendition of “Who’s Your Uncle?”
The band, despite not having toured in a number of years, was spot-on and fresh, as expected. My show companions, not as familiar with Paper Airplane to the degree that some were but still significant fans, were very impressed and responded positively to the new material. An emotional performance of “Dimming of the Day” brought tears to several eyes and my wife admitted to getting goose bumps during a pair of songs.
Krauss was in terrific voice and among the songs performed- in no particular order and not without omission- were: “Paper Airplane,” “Sawing on the Strings,” “Restless,” “Let Me Touch You For Awhile,” “Daylight,” “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You,” “Everytime You Say Goodbye,” “O Atlanta,” “Lay My Burden Down” (an especially beautiful performance), and “Miles to Go.” “Ghost in the House,” a song I am not particularly enamoured with, was raised several notches in my estimation as a result of Krauss’s superior rendering, made all the more impressive by her admission that she needed to belch during the song’s entirety!
A handful of extremely pleasant song surprises were also in store: I never expected them to perform either the haunting “Jacob’s Dream” (a Julie Lee-John Pennell song found on the compilation A Hundred Miles or More) or “Any Old Time,” which the band recorded on a Jimmie Rodgers’ tribute album fifteen years ago. The other surprise of the evening, at least to me, was that Larry Atamanuik is no longer manning the drum kit and percussion for the group; I must have missed that announcement. Also present was a keyboard player who, while not detracting from the performance of AKUS seemed a bit superfluous.
For me, all the highlights of the two-hour set (by the way, would an intermission kill the flow of the show? Dang that theatre was hot!) were exceeded by the four-tune encore performed around the single mic. Krauss returned with Block and Tyminski for a reading of “When You Say Nothing At All”, followed by Bales joining to form a quartet for a gorgeous performance of “Down to the River to Pray.” This was followed by Douglas joining them for “Your Long Journey” and the closing “There Is A Reason.” A beautiful way to close a special evening of acoustiblue entertainment.
Well, mostly acoutiblue. Bales and Block had earlier broke out the electric bass and guitar for a pleasantly rambunctious “Away Down the River.”
The set list was balanced and well-chosen. Had I had the opportunity to contribute, I might have substituted in another Block song- maybe “Shield of Faith”- and “Steel Rails.” But, no complaints from me; the concert was near perfect.
A wonderful concert experience without doubt, well worth the late night drive home.
The band next performs in lovely Courtenay at the Music Fest on Thursday before heading to Washington, Bend, Oregon (yeah, Bend!), and Nevada for a short series of dates prior to taking a couple weeks off the road.
For a photo and the Edmonton Journal’s review, click on http://tinyurl.com/6crb82f
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
In today’s Red Deer Advocate Roots Music column, I review the latest from AKUS. The review is posted below. Personally, I would like to hear more bluegrass from the band- my kind of bluegrass- but am wise enough to know that that isn’t likely to happen; it is better to appreciate what the band does than lament what the band doesn’t perform.
While Krauss’s own work with Robert Plant briefly threatened to eclipse Union Station’s substantial glow, all who have some understanding of the band and its workings were confident that they would return as strong as ever, and they have.
Looking forward to their early July concert in Edmonton…although I wouldn’t mind better seats! Wanna trade?
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Alison Krauss & Union Station Paper Airplane Rounder
It has been six years since we’ve heard new music from this top-drawing bluegrass band and while such a stretch might prove commercial suicide for some, the hiatus has allowed the band members to take care of themselves and rejuvenate while exploring side projects.
The quintet returns with an impressive collection of 11 songs, most of which will sound familiar to those who appreciate their uplifting sound.
Krauss and her Union Station mates- and AKUS is truly a band, not a backing unit for a featured performer- further refine the acoustiblue parameters that they have established and explored over the past fifteen years since So Long, So Wrong. The acoustic instrumentation is, as expected, exemplary in its tone and execution and while some of the songs- it could be argued- have a similar calm and sedate sound, there are enough lively moments to maintain momentum.
“My Love Follows You Where You Go” and “Lay My Burden Down” are the most dynamic pieces on which Krauss sings lead; the band pushes things a little, allowing Krauss to sing in a fuller voice than she does elsewhere. Krauss’s signature is the plaintive, yearnsome qualities she conveys vocally in romantic and decidedly anti-romantic settings and these are always appreciated.
The album’s cornerstone song may be an evocative rendering of Richard Thompson’s “Dimming of the Day” on which Krauss’s breathlessly communicates the love that grows with absence.
While much of the music of Paper Airplane is only distantly related to traditional bluegrass, the album does have its share of unrestrained moments. “Dust Bowl Children” is one of three songs to feature the aggressive tenor of Dan Tyminski in the lead position, and each of these songs is better than the one that came before.
Beyond their instrumental and vocal harmony mastery, what is remarkable about Union Station is that they can take an album’s worth of songs from outside writers- only bassist Barry Bales shares a co-writing credit on the album- and make them completely their own. You hear and feel their anguish, their questioning, and their hopes in every note.
Singularly, the songs are arrestingly enjoyable. Collectively, the cohesive flow of Paper Airplane amounts to one majestic performance.
Only until Monday you can download the title track from AKUS’s upcoming album Paper Airplane. http://alisonkrauss.com/ will get you there and all it’ll cost is an email address.
I’m not exactly an industry insider, so I’ll have to leave it to others to share details about the song- I can’t even find out who wrote the darn thing- but it appears to feature the full complement of Union Station. I particularly like the way Jerry Douglas is featured on this track. Alison always sounds great, and this song- which I’m listening to for the fourth time as I type- is no exception.
“Alison Krauss and Union Station have completed their new album which is scheduled for release on February 8th. There are no band changes, but as always when the band is off the road, band members work on side projects.”
So says Ken Irwin, one of the founders of Rounder Records in response to the seemingly neverending speculation around Union Station, one of the most stable and successful lineups in modern bluegrass history. Irwin made the statement this weekend on the Bluegrass-L, a online forum of mostly bluegrass conversation. This new album will be the first in more than five years from AKUS, following several years of side projects including Krauss’s very successful venture with Robert Plant and Dan Tyminski’s self-named outfit’s album and touring schedule.