Archive for the ‘Americana’ Tag
Jeff Black B-Sides and Confessions, Volume Two Lotos Nile Music JeffBlack.com
“They said, ‘We’re sorry son, you think too much: we don’t know what you mean and the tempo’s too slow…” (“True Love Never Let Me Down,” Jeff Black)
Here is what I love about troubadours, especially ones as astute and honed as Jeff Black: I may not always comprehend what they are singing about, but I always understand what they are singing about.
Like no one else so much as Darrell Scott, Jeff Black is that not uncommon breed of singer-songwriter who builds a career upon intelligence and perseverance rather than on the lure of glamour and notoriety. His songs have been infrequently recorded by others, most often by Sam Bush. Black’s “Same Ol’ River” has been a staple of Bush’s live set and is quite possibly the song with which most readers will be familiar, and Black co-wrote with Bush the title track to 2009′s Circles Around Me.
Black’s songwriting catalogue is extensive, but his list of cuts is less expansive. Jerry Douglas recorded one of his co-writes on last year’s Traveler, and Blackhawk took his “That’s Just About Right” to the country top ten twenty years ago.
This is the ninth album from the long-time Nashville (and Kansas City born) resident and serves as a follow-up to the release that originally brought Black to my attention, 2003′s B-Sides and Confessions, Volume One. Since that time, Black has inspired me to research an allusion or mysterious lyric on more than one occasion. I have purchased his early albums via the second hand and digital marketplaces (his debut Birmingham Road came out on Arista in ’98 and was recorded with most of Wilco) and his albums Tin Lily and Mining for Gold have long been favourites.
Black is a stronger, more confidently expressive vocalist today than when I first encountered him, and he was plenty impressive then. He inhabits his songs without reserve, giving Dave Alvinesque weariness to “All Right Now,” and clouded youthful wonder to “Impala.” Black is a paladin, accompanying (and sometimes championing) others on their poetic, musical journeys.
Black sketches characters with acute clarity, laying detail laden phrases upon softly hewn foundations. “Alice Carry” is given depth and strength through Black’s use of judicious lyrical phrases: rather than hitting Hollywood, she finds herself discovering love and a life- “some of us are lucky and some of us just make due”- and it is clear which perspective the protagonist leans toward.
I’m not sure if I’m supposed to care about the character within “An Evil Lesson Is Soon Learned” or hold more than head-shaking respect for the ill-advised, hapless hero of “Molly Rose,” but Black’s execution of his songs is all-encompassing. There are no half-measures here, each note played and every word sung with the same intensity found within Tom Waits’ finest work.
Gretchen Peters and Matraca Berg drop in to sing on “Avalon,” while Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas play most of that which Black doesn’t; the musicianship is unsurprisingly top-notch.
Jeff Black doesn’t appear to write with ‘a hook’ in mind; like the finest of writers, he allows the listener to identify that which will grab them…even if we don’t always grasp every nuance of what is being sung.
“I’m so sorry for all the pain I’ve caused, I don’t know of any reasons;
I just know the gasoline on it just made it worse, when water was all I needed truth be known.” (“Miss Me,” Jeff Black)
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Here is my review of B-Sides and Confessions, Volume One from a decade ago:
Featuring a Beatlesque opening that quickly moves into Chip Taylor territory, Jeff Black is an artist for those who are more musically comfortable with the ditches than the middle of the road. As a vocalist, Black is a terrific songwriter. His gravelly voice, which hints at John Hiatt and John Rebennack, has an appealing bleeding intensity. Adding jazzed blues nuances, piano accents many compositions where others might strum. The effect is a version of country music that is so far removed from the expected parameters as to contribute to that unnameable roots genre populated by Eric Taylor, Darrell Scott, and the late Mickey Newbury. Well worth considering.
Another one from the Who? and Damn! category. You know, you see the album and you say, “Who?” Then, you listen to it and you say, “Damn!”
My review of 1945 has been posted to the Lonesome Road Review.
Track down this one.
Rex Hobart and his band…whose name I’ve completely misplaced in the increasingly cluttered filing cabinet of my mind…played a terrific pair of sets at The Record Bar Tuesday night. Hobart plays the Westport establishment the first Tuesday of every month, and while he hasn’t released an album is way too long he continues to sound wonderful. I was very impressed by the performance I witnessed, a 75/25 split of covers and original material. He and his band- Darrin on pedal steel, as well as drums, guitar and Craig on bass (and I can’t remember the guitar player’s name- a very nice man, as were Darrin and Craig)- allowed me to sing along with just about every song…from the back of the room- from Tom T. Hall and Wynn Stewart, to Dwight Yoakam and Freddy Fender. The originals were equally impressive, songs like “Here Comes Nothing” and “The Tear I Left Behind.” Wonderful stuff. Rex was kind enough to chat with me for a bit, and updated me on the life of a traveling minstrel after the glamour of the road loses it appeal. I was most impressed by his life view- no bitterness about not getting over that final hump toward broad-based success, and fully content (and no small bit grateful) to play a few times a month, work as a theatrical carpenter and set designer, and raise his child.
If you are in the area, I heartily recommend catching Rex’s show. And the hummus pizza was absolutely incredible.
Bob Walkenhorst and Jeff Porter played The Record Bar tonight, Wednesday. Having appreciated the music of the Rainmakers since my University days, and having listened to scores of Bob’s live shows posted to the Live Internet Archive, I knew I was in for a wonderful evening of music. The duo didn’t disappoint, with Norm off on the road with The Elders, Steve Phillips’ band. They played an extended two-hour set and were absolutely brilliant. Jeff took the lead on several songs, including “Savannah” and “Still She Waits,” two songs I never tire of hearing, as well as the ‘almost’ standard “15 Miles.” As much as I appreciate that Bob and Jeff truly share the stage, I was there to see and hear Bob (and that has nothing to do with the fact that Jeff doesn’t like bluegrass for more than two songs!)
Appearing more than a little scruffy with a semi-fresh growth of facial hair, Walkenhorst was in terrific voice and appeared to be in an even better mood. He and Jeff barely paused all evening beyond greeting visitors and acknowledging the familiar crowd. I wasn’t really prepared to be welcomed as a never-before-met cousin by the legion of Wednesday night regulars, but I was. Thanks to all who made me feel part of the family. I even shared a table with Iris DeMent’s yoga teacher, and Jay’s brother Terry. Great folks.
Opening with (I think, and I’ll be terribly embarrassed if my memory has failed me this badly) “I Shall Be Released”, Bob sprinkled in several covers (but perhaps fewer than usual?) including “Sympathy for the Devil,” “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” a verse of “I Started a Joke,” as well as songs culled from both the Rainmakers and his own catalogue. “Like Dogs” was performed by request, and “Small Circles,” “One That Got Away,” “Wages of Sin,” “Hoo Dee Hoo,” and others kept the dance floor filled for much of the night. Personal favourites included hearing “Turpentine,” “Jan Vermeer,” and “No Abandon.” I’ll be downloading this one as soon as I get back home; if the count on the site is accurate, this will be the 500th Bob show to be posted there. A shout out to Jay for keeping this tradition alive. Many thanks.
If you are a Walkenhorst/Rainmakers devote, and haven’t made the pilgrimage to the Record Bar, I highly recommend the trip as being well worth the effort. I am very pleased that I was able to experience the show live, and was most likely the only person in the place seeing Bob for the first time.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Just doing some housekeeping to help out the search engines. My review of Old Man Luedecke’s Tender is the Night is at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass here.
As always, I appreciate your interest in Fervor Coulee. Donald
Over at the Country Standard Time site, Jeff has posted my review of Darrell Scott and Tim O’Brien’s recent live disc, We’re Usually A Lot Better Than This. I think it is a very excellent album. It was recently named Engine 145′s Best Bluegrass Album of 2012 despite not being a bluegrass album in any shape or form. Then again, neither is # 2, 4, 8… By the way, the best bluegrass albums released in 2012 were, in no particular order, The Special Consensus, The Steep Canyon Rangers, The Earl Brothers, the Bobby Osborne, and the Niall Toner albums. If you don’t agree, you are welcome to being incorrect. As am I.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
and one acoustiblue album, too.
Over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass today, I have posted a lengthy piece in which I reflect on six albums released in the past year that I wish I had found time to write about. The link should get you there, as will this one.
The albums are Scott Holstein’s Cold Coal Town, a 2011 album that I didn’t hear until early in 2012, the Kathy Kallick Band’s Time, Danny Paisley & the Southern Grass’ Road Into Town, Bo Isaac’s Dollar, recorded with The Rounders, Old Man Luedecke’s Tender is the Night, and Niall Toner’s Onwards & Upwards. Excellent stuff.
Just a couple of days to Christmas, and my series of Roots Songs of Christmas is coming to a close. There are so many songs and performances I wish I could have included, and- rather than having a non-roots song of Christmas today- I will provide links to some of these down below.
I had considered going all Bah, Humbug today, but I couldn’t find a link to Tim O’Brien’s song of the same name. “Santa Bloody Claus” was an option, but while I love both of these songs, I don’t want to go down that path this year. I’d rather keep things focused on more traditional meanings of Christmas.
And things don’t get much more traditional than the birth of Jesus Christ. Today, my Roots Song of Christmas is an entire album, bluegrass songwriter and artist Donna Ulisse’s All the Way to Bethlehem. Much like Kimmie Rhodes’ Miracle on Christmas Day, Ulisse has chosen to go all the way and write an entire album focused around Christmas; this set is focused on her interpretation of the events leading up to and following the birth of Christ.
The album obviously has a Christian rather than secular approach to Christmas. From the immaculate conception (“You Will Be Delivered”,) to Joseph’s confusion (“He’s Not Mine,”) to an interpretation of the events at the inn (“You Cannot Stay Here,”) to the star leading the three kings (“I’m Gonna Shine“) Ulisse’s (along with her collaborators) interpretation of Scripture and the Christmas story is both interesting and listenable. I believe “Let the World Wait for a Little While” will become a seasonal favourite.
Considering the number of songs that already exist about the first Christmas, all the traditional songs that we grew up on, it is pretty remarkable that Ulisse has been able to create new and inspirational music that forges new ground: a listen to “He Is Here“ provides ample evidence of this.
The music is varied, some touches of bluegrass, a bit of contemporary Christian-pop sounds, and some country, and it definitely isn’t for everyone. But, one admires the energy and focus- not to mention talent and vision- that went into All the Way to Bethlehem.
Honourable mention today goes to The Father of Bluegrass Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass
A Christmas bluegrass set I’ve almost plum wore out
Boys with “Christmas Time’s A-Comin’;” this clip is from the old Nashville Network Ralph Emery show.
As for the other songs that I couldn’t fit in before tomorrow’s all-time best Roots Song of Christmas, and really it will be the only song on the list that I consider to be in any sort of order, there are links to more; happy exploring.
Jack Johnson “Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer” in which Johnson has rewritten the popular song into the tale of self-determination it should have been all along.
Mary Chapin Carpenter’s excellent ”Bells are Ringing” from her Come Darkness, Come Light album of a few years back.
Eric Bogle “Santa Bloody Claus“
Chuck Brodsky “Toast to the Woman in the Holler“
The Be Good Tanyas “Rudy“
Mary Gauthier “Christmas in Paradise“
Eric Brace and Peter Cooper “Silent Night“
The Indigo Girls “I Feel the christmas Spirit“
Chris Rea “Driving Home for Christmas“
Chris deBurgh “A Spaceman Came Traveling“
As well as a couple I couldn’t find links to, Jane Hawley “Christmas in Montreal” which is on her Letters to Myself album and Laurie Lewis & Tom Rozum’s entire Winter’s Grace album.
Thanks for checking in at Fervor Coulee. Tomorrow, what I consider the all-time best Roots Christmas Song.
The family is on their way over, so this one is going to be rushed- which is just as well as the song speaks for itself. There is a whole set of Christmas songs that are a bit acerbic in their delivery. While not spiritual or carols in any manner, they have become as much a part of my Christmas as the more traditional fare. Songs like Robert Earl Keen’s “Happy Holidays, Y’all” John Prine’s”Christmas in Prison,” Dar Williams’ “The Christians and the Pagens” and Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis’ “Oklahoma Christmas” are some of these, songs that take a different aim at the season.
The granddaddy of all these is the previously mentioned Robert Earl Keen’s “Merry Christmas from the Family,” a song that requires no commentary. This is the only video I can find on the YouTube as the CMT site is blocked to me. I’ve heard a dozen singers attempt this and only one other has been able to pull it off, John Wort Hannam.
Today’s non-roots song of Christmas is Alison Moyel’s “Coventry Carol.” ‘Nuff said.
Thanks for continuing to visit Fervor Coulee. Only two more days in this series, and as I did not strategically plan out anything on this list except for #1, there are a bunch of songs I’m not going to get to…perhaps I’ll have to do a Bah, Humbug double header tomorrow. Donald
Tonight’s Roots Song of Christmas takes us to Texas; for me to have gone this long without some mention of Texas singer-songwriters is a feat.
Songbird Kimmie Rhodes has been recording rich, original Americana for a couple decades, and during that time, the Austin-based songwriter has used her impressive mastery of words and melody to pull on heartstrings in a manner that has established her as one of the finest, under-recognized voices in roots music. I believe I first encountered her on Austin City Limits, the rose between several thorns named Willie, Waylon, Kris, and Billy Joe. I’ve been an admirer ever since, and have written about her a few times including here and here.
In 2010, Rhodes did something pretty rare- she created a dynamic and compelling Christmas album Miracles onf Christmas Day including but with two standards of the season- including a beautiful rendition of “Carol of the Bells”- and an interpretation of Patty Griffin’s “Mary.” The rest of the material is original, and I dare say each of the songs has something more than a little special about it. Her songs pull listeners into warm embraces of emotion strengthened by reminiscences and hopefulness.
Her greatest achievement within this collection may be “One More White Christmas,” a song in which the hopeful pines -eloquently and without cloyingness- for additional time with that special someone: ”That would be the greatest gift for me…one more white Christmas with you.” Knowledge that Rhodes’ husband Joe Gracey passed the year following the release of this plea makes the song that much more poignant.
Miracles on Christmas Day is that rare seasonal offering that stands on its own not only as a beautiful recording but as a thematic exploration that maintains significance outside of December. And “One More White Christmas” is its crowning achievement. Listen to it here.
This evening’s non-roots Christmas song is one that even I sometimes overlook. Rachel Sweet was
Sweet , early 80s
my first ‘favourite’ female singer, I think. I can’t recall any other female in my small collection of cassettes, albums, and 45s prior to 1979 who had grabbed me the way she did from first listen; prior to Sweet, I was all Springsteen, The Who, and Three Dog Night. And David Dundas. Sigh.
If I am not mistaken, “Silver Bells”- released in 1995 and drawn from the Stuart Saves His Family soundtrack- was the last excursion into the commercial music realm for Rachel Sweet, a singer I’ve followed since the summer prior to high school. I suspect the song had been in the can for some time previous to its release as by 1995 Sweet had left music far behind to embark on a career in television acting (including an appearance in the greatest Seinfeld episode of all time, “The Contest”) writing (Sports Night) and production (most recently, Hot in Cleveland).
Sweet, left, set of Hot in Cleveland
With a voice triangulating Brenda Lee, Suzi Quatro, and Sammi Smith, Sweet never had significant sales or chart action, although her first album has become a bit of an underground classic in some quarters; Maria McKee wrote about Fool Around in a 2007 edition of MOJO within the “Last Night a Record Changed My Life” feature. Still, she gives “Silver Bells” some rare swagger and swing, transforming the staid MOR number into something a bit spectacular.
Sorry for the delay- I couldn’t get WordPress to cooperate earlier; perhaps I did something wrong.
Over the first five days of Roots Songs of Christmas, we’ve been heavy more often than not. Most of the songs have been on the serious side with only “Wish You A Merry Christmas” lightening things a wee bit. We’ve done the traditional (“The Huron Carol”) and the contemporary classic (“Christmas Must Be Tonight”). We’ve looked at the intentionally downbeat (“Call Collect On Christmas”) and at the depressing (“Get Me Through December). We haven’t yet explored the humourous, cutting side of Christmas songs and that is where I want to take us tonight.
Winterbloom is a collective of four singer-songwriters who come together annually in December for a limited series of appearances. I came across the band a few years ago when I went into a deep Meg Hutchinson phase, includes a review of a previous album. The others in the group are Anne Heaton, Natalia Zukerman, and Antje Duvekot, and three years ago they released an e.p. or very short album entitled Winterbloom: Traditions Rearranged. I discovered it quite by chance and loved it from first listen.
The song I feature tonight is Antje Duvekot’s “Thanks for the Roses (Merry Christmas),” a funny little number that features sharp wit and a warm cleverness that isn’t so smug as to overwhelm the melody, nor so silly as to distract from it. In less than four minutes, it says almost everything that needs to be said about a relationship that is about to snap, and apparently not a moment too soon.
The (not so) little annoyances of one’s partner are known to all of us, and these tend to amplify themselves at times of stress and togetherness- such as the holidays- and when compounded by the inappropriate or thoughtless gift- three sizes too small- there isn’t really any other outcome possible: “the song’s got it right- it’s going to be a silent night.”
It is a song that I have included on almost every Christmas mix tape I’ve made since I first heard it. Each of the eight songs on Traditions Rearranged has something to recommend it. Hutchinson’s “Of The Magi” interprets the O. Henry story and she also is featured on “O Holy Night.” Zukerman’s telling of Greg Brown’s “Rexroth’s Daughter” is near epic. Heaton’s tunes swing. A real beautiful seasonal album, especially great for late night listening.
There are a few clips of this one on YouTube, including this one. There is also a solo version available
Today’s non-Roots Christmas Song of the Day is Brenda Lee, from 1958 “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” She’s one of the best and this rendition has lasted this long for a reason; Lou Ann Barton’s version is also very nice, while Kim Wilde’s recent turn is…memorable?
As always, thanks for visiting FervorCoulee.