Archive for the ‘Black Hen Records’ Tag
Jim Byrnes's Juno Award-winnning album- Blues Album of the Year
238 columns, somewhere around 500 albums and even more live shows, with today’s column Roots Music has been promoting my kind of music in Central Alberta for 10 years.
I’ve made mistakes, I’ve made a couple enemies, and I’ve fostered connections I would never have experienced otherwise. Some labels have disappeared while others remain viable. The landscape of the music business has changed greatly in a decade. What has remained solid is the core of devoted musicians and artists, publisists and label owners, and local promoters who see the importance of supporting and advancing the cause of roots music. I’ve been glad to be part of it, in my small way, for a decade. Let’s keep it going!
In today’s column I advance a few December shows and feature albums from Jim Byrnes and Jeff Morris, an Alberta musician and songwriter. I still remember the day in 1983 when I almost cracked Jim Byrnes’ debut album Burning, an album I only finally heard this past week. I was at Climax Records in Leduc, a store that gave me my first volunteer record store job. The store’s owner had fallen behind in payments to his distributor and the company had come in and taken over the shop. For some reason, they hired me to assist in running the shop and for a few staggering months of independence, I had my run of the place, not really having any clue as to what I was doing but having a heck of a time doing it.
For some reason, Burning drew my attention one day as I was unpacking a shipment and I almost slit it open to give it a listen, but got distracted by something else- How might the course of my music listening changed had I succumbed to the temptation to open that Polydor album years ago. Hopefully you’ll find something of interest.
Roots music column, originally published December 3, 2010 in the Red Deer Advocate
With this column, Roots Music marks 10 years on these pages. The area roots music scene has ebbed and flowed during the past decade, with local venues for live music coming and going in equal measure. The environment remains quite healthy with touring musicians and locals alike finding outlets for their sounds.
Jeff Morris Original Songs on a Borrowed Guitar Self-released
Hailing from Sherwood Park, Jeff Morris’s debut album is a pleasant, unexpected surprise.
An intimate recording with unobtrusive, vibrant support, comparisons to Jack Johnson are a bit too apparent- Morris’s voice has an inflective catch that is similar to the surfing guitarist, and he favours gentle introspective pieces that examine feelings and relationships. Okay, sometimes the obvious tract is entirely justified.
Morris’s guitar playing isn’t primitive but neither is it overly elaborate. Sparse strumming and delicately picked notes provide the canvas against which Morris constructs his uncomplicated rhymes and reflections. Especially appealing is the percussive element of his playing, obvious on tracks including the standout Hold On.
Blue Sky Falls is another song that captures the imagination: one is drawn into the impassioned possibilities suggested.
This recording captures not only listeners’ attention but their intellect and soul. Coffeehouse music that doesn’t slink into the background as much as it enfolds with comfort and warmth-think Dan Mangan crossed with Brett Dennam, perhaps.
2010 has been a very good year for Alberta roots recording artists. Add Original Songs on a Borrowed Guitar to the list of standouts.
Jim Byrnes Everywhere West Black Hen Music
British Columbia-based for thirty-plus years, Missouri native Jim Byrnes sings the blues with relaxed confidence, leaving no room for over-emoting or grandiose showmanship. Simply put, Byrnes is the real deal, bridging the distance of decades and space between childhood heroes like Big Joe Turner and his west coast home.
I’ve listened to Byrnes’ most recent recordings with growing admiration, and his performance at August’s Central Music Festival- where many of the tracks included here were previewed- was exceptional.
Amongst Everywhere West’s dozen tracks are a handful of fresh, original tunes from Byrnes and compatriot-producer Steve Dawson. The majority of the material comes from a previous time and place: Bootlegger Blues from the Mississippi Sheiks, Take Out Some Insurance On Me from Jimmy Reed, and He Was A Friend of Mine and No Mail Blues from the folk tradition.
Purists may not appreciate the New Orleans overtones inserted into the lively reimagining of Robert Johnson’s From Four Until Late, but one can’t argue that the tune positively shimmies. Obvious is the reverence Byrnes has for his material, as well as the enjoyment he takes from playing and singing these songs.
The four fresh tunes are all impressive with Dawson’s Walk On providing a showcase for the album’s resident band. Byrnes’s Me and Piney Brown takes us back to the 30s to explore a world that existed before his youthful excursions scouting the nightclubs of Missouri.
As he sings in the old Louis Jordan tune, You Can’t Get that Stuff No More. But for 50-plus minutes, Byrnes makes a solid argument that he is willing to bring blues songs to a contemporary audience without sacrificing the soul rooted within each number.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee- Donald
I’ve listened to Mary Kastle’s album several time this summer but only truly appreciated it this past week. One of the reasons music is so important to me is that it is so attached- to me- to where I am when I hear it: mentally, physically, socially… Sometimes music has to find you where you are- no matter how hard one seeks to undestand the music, it has to find a way to get within the listener. This album does that- heartily recommended.
Mary Kastle Beneath the Folds Black Hen Music
Mary Kastle, I’ve learned, is a respected fixture within the Vancouver jazz community, and Beneath the Folds is her first, full-length album. An album that ebbs and flows comfortably between generously-defined genres, the constant is the bridled joy that is Kastle’s voice.
Beneath the Folds is honest- an album that unabashedly embraces Kastle’s many and varied musical interests. With a full-album’s worth of original, creatively polished music, it is a surprisingly fluid and defined mix of soul, jazz, and roots sounds. A diverse listen, the album hangs together remarkably well. Whether this is due to Kastle’s vision or producer Steve Dawson’s acumen is moot; it works. While it may be of interest to jazz types, to these ears Beneath the Folds fits comfortably in the roots world.
In addition to Kastle’s appealing, powerful, and lively vocals, the saxophones of Karen Graves and trumpet of Kent Wallace make their presence known with regularity, providing the album with an even richer dimension.
Tracks move from sultry jazz-pop (“Julia” and “Beneath the Folds”) to light shivers of soul (“False Alarm” and “Do It For A Day”)and even more impressive brushes of Memphis-shaded country R & B (“Little Bird,” “Beggin’,” and “Underwater”). Dusty in Memphis meets I Am Shelby Lynne, perhaps. But while comparison to albums that themselves served as tributes to a style of music may suggest limitation, within Kastle’s hands- and voice- such association doesn’t imply that the sound is watered down. From retro 2-Tone dub effects on the album’s up-tempo revisiting of “Drop Your Cover,” to drops of blues elsewhere, Beneath the Folds is a project that reveals additional textures and appealing sounds with every listen.
Comprised of introspective, challenging lyrics exploring personal themes of universal appeal, Kastle and Dawson don’t allow things to get bogged down by heaviness. As is implied by the fabric fluttering in the breeze within the gatefold jacket, Beneath the Folds has a lightness that contains delicate beauty.
[Several months after writing this review, I was asked to submit a review of Blue Bones to the Lonesome Road Review. That piece is posted here: http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=4633]
In this week’s column I review the excellent new album- out this coming Tuesday- from Yukon-based singer-songwriter Kim Beggs. It’s a corker; spend some money on a singer who is well deserving of the support. Albums only occassionally impact me the way this one did; from first listen, I knew Beggs was a singer I want to hear more from. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Roots music column, originally published July 16, 2010 in the Red Deer Advocate
Kim Beggs Blue Bones Black Hen Music
Based in Whitehorse, Kim Beggs has lived across our country and her music captures the influences that have contributed to her development as a singer and writer.
Apparent from the opening track, the organ-fueled road warrior lament “Honey and Crumbs”, is that Beggs has more homespun charm in her voice than many Appalachian-born singers. Not only does her voice contain attractive, easy warmth, but it has strength and depth lending Beggs the power to authentically convey intense emotions.
Based in folk traditions, Beggs’ third release defies easy categorization. The instrumentation is roots rock with country overtones. Lyrically, lively wordplay reminiscent of Loretta Lynn is customary. Has anyone attempted the following in a country song, as Beggs does within “Terrible Valentine”?: “Huck-tuu to you for making me blue, I wanna spit in your shoe!”
Beggs and producer Steve Dawson have structured this collection wisely. The original songs blast out of the gate, establishing Beggs’ voice and perspective. It is only midway that covers are sprinkled in, beginning with Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”; it is difficult to imagine a finer interpretation of the John Wesley Harding classic.
There is a spry loneliness filling these songs. The bitterness, however, doesn’t overwhelm either Beggs or the listener; in the finest country tradition, she sounds plum pleased to be singing these occasionally mournful tales. She hits the mark throughout the collection, perhaps never more accurately as when singing of her lost brother in “Firewater Bones.”
Available Tuesday, Blue Bones maintains the new standard for western Canadian folk music established by John Wort Hannam, Maria Dunn, and Rae Spoon.
Also in rotation: Jimmy Webb- Just Across the River; The Wilderness of Manitoba- When You Left the Fire; Mississippi Live- Mississippi Live ; Various Artists- Putumayo Presents Tribute to a Reggae Legend; Great American Taxi- Reckless Habits
Jenny has been a favourite since 2001 when I met her at Wintergrass. I had previously seen and heard her with a bluegrass band called Heartbreak Hill but it was only listening to Jenny’s debut album that she reached out and grabbed me. This one is a keeper, but very different from that largely narrative album. Give it a listen; I think you’ll be pleased. (Originally published in the Red Deer Advocate, April 2, 2010)
Jenny Whiteley Forgive or Forget Black Hen Music
Ontario’s Jenny Whiteley isn’t afraid to take risks while evoking emotional connections through her music.
A two-time Juno Award-winner for Roots Album of the Year, Whiteley patiently crafts albums with the assistance of producer Steve Dawson and top-drawer session instrumentalists; Forgive or Forget is her fourth effort since 2001.
With each album, Whiteley has evolved and this time out has created a mature, multi-layered, and vastly entertaining album.
Forgive or Forget’s only non-original, Boudleaux and Felice Bryant’s “Raining in My Heart” sets the pace, a collection of mid-tempo ballads that sway more than swing. This album is gentler than anything Whiteley has previously attempted, extending the explorations of Dear. The ten songs continue her career-long examination of love, regret, and loss.
Whiteley’s voice remains her strongest asset. She continually expands her vocal repertoire, this time injecting a soft bluesy quality to her phrasing. Despite imagining a loss of significance singing “I can’t live without you,” Whiteley sounds like she’s enjoying the reflection of “Ripple Effects”, the first of three songs that picks up into anything resembling a country-pop song.
An able collaborator, Whiteley mostly keeps things in-house this time out writing the vast majority of the album herself while sharing songs with husband Joey Wright (a featured performer on various stringed instruments) and Chris Coole.
The album’s signature song is “Cold Cold Kisses”, maybe the best song you’ll hear this month; Whiteley’s approach to the song is sultry, and the song’s warmth belies its title. The instrumentation from producer Steve Dawson provides countrypolitan touches without descending into parody. On this number, as elsewhere, drummer John Raham’s contributions are ideal.
Jenny Whiteley doesn’t get the attention that many of her contemporaries garner. With Forgive or Forget, Whiteley again demonstrates that there are few who can match her for producing balanced, appealing albums that engage diverse listeners.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Thanks for visiting this week. In Friday’s Red Deer Advocate I was fortunate to review two exceptional roots music releases; I’ve listened to both countless times this autumn and discover something new to appreciate each time. Kent McAlister & the Iron Choir recently released How I’ll Remian and it is a splendid collection of songs. Meanwhile, Steve Dawson & Co. have done it again with a fabulous tribute to the music of the Mississippi Sheiks. I’ve been spending a bit of time of late listening to old blues and jug band collections I’ve found myself tripping across and much of the impetus to do so has come from this remarkable album.
Kent McAlister & The Iron Choir
How I’ll Remain
Based in Vancouver, Kent McAlister has quietly over a pair of whiskey-drenched albums established a nice portfolio of working man tales and jaded dreams.
Ballad of the Oar & Chain features primitive percussion of a style seldom heard within dusty roots music. Elsewhere, McAlister delivers in a talking blues manner not dissimilar to Corb Lund (Crossing Arm Blues) but with less novelty and even a bit more sophistication, as on What is this Evil?
How I’ll Remain is sparse and haunting, while Another Bridge lopes along like a Shawn Jonasson-Waylon tribute. Gillian Welch would be proud to call The Cane & The Switch her own- an abusive husband, a deep, dark well, retribution, and nervous horses all in five minutes.
McAlister’s voice is sturdy and smooth, lacking even a hint of slickness.
Things About Comin’ My Way- A Tribute to the Music of The Mississippi Sheiks
Perhaps the roots tribute of the year, Steve Dawson and his spouse Alice have assembled a masterfully balanced collection of blues, folk, and unclassifiable renditions of music recorded by the Mississippi Sheiks during the early ’30s.
Picking highlights from such a storied collection is a fool’s game, but listeners are certain to be impressed by Oh Susanna’s take on Bootlegger’s Blues, The North Mississippi Allstars’ fiery We’re Backfirin’ Now, and Bruce Cockburn’s Honey Babe Let the Deal Go Down.
Rare is the tribute album that possesses the consistency and unity of Things About Comin’ My Way; from soulful sounds (The Sojourners’ He Calls that Religion) to softer vocal treatments (Please Baby from Madeleine Peyroux) and banjo showcases (Too Long from Danny Barnes), every track resonates and no two sound alike.
Thanks again for dropping in, and I hope you’ll find some music to investigate- support the artists and the labels…no one is getting rich on our music! Donald
Originally published in The Red Deer Advocate, October 16, 2009
John Wort Hannam
Black Hen Music
Maintaining his home base in Fort Macleod, over three previous albums John Wort Hannam has established himself as the province’s great folk hope; if anyone within this hard packed environment is destined for greatness, odds have to be in favour of it being the unassuming, former school teacher from the southland.
From his numerous area visits, those who have encountered Wort Hannam appreciate that his voice is pleasingly distinctive. As do Chris Smithers and Martin Sexton, two songwriting musicians that come to mind when listening to Wort Hannam, Wort Hannam and producer Steve Dawson ensure that this powerful voice is presented as his albums’ unifying feature. On Queen’s Hotel, his dreamy lyrical delivery allows each phrase to settle, to find relevancy in the listener’s experience.
Consistent with the previous Two-Bit Suit album, Wort Hannam is backed by a full band. Dawson’s presence is evident, but it is not noted when Wort Hannam is doing the picking or when it is the producer contributing. Rob Becker’s double bass provides depth, while John Reischman’s mandolin contributions are obvious, especially on the swinging Requiem for a Small Town.
Much like an old Merle Haggard album, Wort Hannam’s latest presents a series of vignettes that represent lives and stories greater than their four minutes suggest.
Noteworthy are Juno-winner Jenny Whiteley’s duet vocals on Worth a Damn, a tune that would bring to mind John Prine and Iris Dement even if the press sheet didn’t suggest such. Before I Wake, a song of the traveling troubadour’s life, is a highlight as is Lucky Strikes.
The album’s legacy song may be the lead cut, With the Grain; of such quality that it brings to mind the attributes of Guy Clark, this one contains workbench wisdom and, I suspect, will be played at more than a few funerals.
In true folk fashion, Wort Hannam delves into his own catalogue to provide updated renditions of two of his most popular numbers: Pier 21, detailing his family’s journey from Jersey to Canada, and the unofficial anthem of Southern Alberta, Church of the Long Grass.
Not only the finest Canadian folk album of the year, I can’t recall a more engaging or memorable folk album of the past several years. As did each of his previous discs, Queen’s Hotel demonstrates that John Wort Hannam is a major talent.
Starting this evening in Santa Clara, Wort Hannam is spending October bringing his music to California coffeehouses and folk clubs. With an album of the rare qualities of Queen’s Hotel, word is bound to continue to spread about one of Canada’s finest independent artists.
I know I’m luckier than many. Even as a writer of marginal talent, I’ve been able to find forums for my writing, and as a result of this am exposed to more fresh music than other folks. Since I also spend too much time in both used and new CD stores, I uncover CDs of interest- including many I didn’t even know I need.
For example, last weekend I stopped into one of the local stores and found a reissue of Mark Lindsay’s Arizona and Silverbird albums on one disc. I barely know Mark Lindsay from Lindsay Buckingham, and haven’t listened to Paul Revere & the Raiders except on oldies radio…although “Indian Reservation” has long been a favourite. I bought the album without even thinking about it, and it was only when Track 1 started once I got home that I realized “Arizona” was that Arizona song. I’ve listened to the disc twice through, and while it isn’t essential I’ve enjoyed discovering something I hadn’t before listened to.
If I work hard enough, I’ll usually find something of interest.
Like many, I spend too much of my free (and other) time listening to music. Here is the first installment of a piece I am assembling where I reflect upon some of the music I’ve either taken off the shelf, purchased, or have been sent since June. While not necessary stunning in all cases, all of these albums are ones I’m really glad I listened to this summer.
Presented in no particular order-
Cry Cry Cry Dar Williams, Lucy Kaplansky, and Richard Shindell (Razor & Tie, 1998) We probably all have albums that we love but seldom- if ever- pull off the shelf. This trio project isn’t one of those as I didn’t know I loved it, and in fact can’t remember listening to it prior to this summer although I must have. I rediscovered Cry Cry Cry while on Santorini and for some reason it really resonated with me as I walked the streets of Fira. The blending and interplay of the three voices is quite special as songs from some of the finest contemporary writers are interpreted. Highlights include “Cold Missouri Waters” by James Keelaghan, Buddy Mondlock’s “The Kid,” and “Down By the Water” written by Jim Armenti, whose version can be seen/heard here, live in a grocery store. Weird. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqSzNKPoRqo
Potato Hole Booker T (Anti- 2009) I wasn’t sure what to except from this one. I’ve always enjoyed the Booker T sound, but am by no means a learned listener. I’ve been hit and miss with the Drive-By Truckers- who serve as the band for this ten-track album- and Neil Young- who plays guitar. It is a rock album with lots of guitar, and I find it really groovy. Of course, the Hammond B3 comes through loud and clear. I’m glad I took a chance on it. There is also a nice set recorded July 4 posted at the Live Music Archive, if you can get past the annoying talking head.
Armageddon Prism (Capital, 1979) A western-Canadian FM-staple, every song on this disc is recognizable to guys of a certain age. Some of the effects sound dated, but dang- the songs have hooks. As a Trooper fan, I couldn’t publicly admit to liking these guys during grade 9 and 10; at least, that was the rule in my head. I’m glad I stopped over-thinking things.
UN, The Boy Bands Have Won, and English Rebel Songs 1381-1984 Chumbawamba (1998, 2004, 2008) Over the past two years, and really for no tangible reason, I’ve been collecting Chumbawamba discs whenever I run across them. Even though almost every album takes a different approach to pop and folk music, I’ve yet to be disappointed. I downloaded these ones from eMusic and iTunes after catching the Chumbawamba Acoustic quintet at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival in early August. I love the blending of voices, the way the female vocals soar above the instruments. The songs are clever and, and times, insightful and thought-provoking.
Nothing Gold Can Stay The Duke & The King (Ramseur, 2009) I can’t write about this album yet because it makes me ache. I can’t stop listening to it. The most beautiful sounding album I listened to all summer. Sparse, mellow, dreamy. Love The Outsiders reference, which I noticed as soon as I saw the album…realizing it comes from a poem. Frost? Buy this one.
As Time Goes By The Bluegrass Brothers (Self-released, 2009) As time goes by, the Bluegrass Brothers just get better. Since I first heard the Virginia band five or so years ago, they have made huge strides- from an enthusiastic if non-descript area family band, to a crew of pros that can hold their own with the finest of the professional bands. They are not fancy but they are lively, pouring out straight-ahead hardcore bluegrass without a hint of progressive intent. I don’t want all my bluegrass to sound this rustic, but I’m glad The Bluegrass Brothers remain true to their vision. Check out “Stanley Tradition.”
A Quiet Evil Lee Harvey Osmond (Latent Recordings, 2009) Turn Tom Wilson loose, and odd things are bound to occur. Featuring Michael and Margo Timmins, Josh Finlayson and Andy Maize, and Brent Titcomb, the album mines deep, virgin musical ground. It isn’t what I would immediately label as roots music, but is has all the elements- original music, ties to country, rock, and folk, and textured vocals that shy away from pop gloss. The album seems dark, yet is soothing and enlightening. The presence of Aaron Goldstein’s pedal steel brings in shades of country, but the overall sound has as much in common with X and Los Straitjackets as it does Fred Eaglesmith.
Western Bell Kelly Joe Phelps (Black Hen Records, 2009) An excellent album to accompany coffee…I drank a lot of coffee during summer mornings last month listening to this one while preparing to write about it. Phelps sings not a word. Instead, in producing a nocturnal collection of eleven solo guitar instrumentals, the west coast native allows his 6- and 12- strings to reclaim their rightful place. Haunting and adventurous, the tunes never get bogged down. So balanced and spacious are the songs, it is difficult to accept that much of the album was improvised in the studio.
The Further Adventures of Los Straitjackets (YepRoc, 2009) Pure fun. Modern surf music created far from the ocean. Nearly every song seems to have been inspired by a previously recorded, familiar song. In “Minority Report” I hear repeated echoes of “This Diamond Ring” and Mashmakhan’s “As Years Go By.” In another, I swear I hear “Theme from A Summer Place.” Thoroughly engaging, if too brief, clocking in as it does at just a cough over thirty minutes. Inspired packaging, too.
Blue Lights on the Runway Bell X1 (Yep Roc, 2009) Sometimes albums surprise me. Duh! I didn’t know anything about this group despite seeing their name in the British mags (Uncut, MOJO) that I read. The rockiest and simultaneously poppiest album on this list, Ireland’s Bell X1’s fourth album was their first for me and brought to mind the wonder years of the 80s British Invasion- Modern English, Lloyd Cole, Nik Kershaw, The Icicle Works, et al. Perhaps most in common with the simple sophistication of East Side Story Squeeze, this one continues to impress. Musically, it is much deeper than most of the modern, non-roots music I encounter.
I’ll post more reflections in a few days. As always, thanks for dropping in at Fervor Coulee. Donald
In my Roots Music column today I advance several area roots events and review two albums that were released on Canadian labels earlier this summer- The Homemade Jamz Blues Band’s new one I Got Blues for You (Northern Blues) and Kelly Joe Phelps’s Western Ball (Black Hen). I’ve had both albums for awhile but only now found the words to review them, not to mention the space.
The Homemade Jamz Blues Band I Got Blues for You (Northern Blues)
Comprised of ten-year old drummer Taya Perry and her teenaged brothers Kyle (14, bass) and Ryan (16, guitar and vocals) augmented by father and songwriter Renaud on harmonica, The Homemade Jamz Blues Band surpass novelty with their second collection of original blues.
This is a mature sounding album, with as much in common with blues-based rock acts- think late 70s Pat Travers Band- as it does the southern blues tradition. This is attributable to Ryan Perry’s vocal phrasing and extended instrumental breaks. Additionally, the subject matter- hard headed women, ramblin’, misguided love and unfaithfulness- is adult in theme.
Minor quibbles aside- Taya never passes up an opportunity to give her cymbals a swat, even when a more subtle approach may be considered- I Got Blues for You is suitably impressive and the kids prove themselves a competent power trio.
It would be easy to dismiss the siblings as puppets of an overbearing stage parent, lack of such evidence aside. If presented in an unlabeled jewel case, nothing would indicate that the mean age of the band is thirteen. Acutely sequenced, the album begins raucous and builds in intensity despite modulations in tempo and tone. The recording has a live feel, and there are times when one expects applause over fading notes.
The real treats are the lead vocals and guitar. Ryan Perry has a deep-seated blues growl tempered by phrasing well beyond his years, reminiscent of Phil Lynott and Bill Sheffield. Heaven Lost an Angel is passionately sung, and his instrumentation on a double-necked 12-string is supportive of the song’s mood. King Snake and In the Wind provide additional examples of the singer’s mature dexterity.
Kelly Joe Phelps Western Bell (Black Hen Music)
One of the most expressive vocalists within the Americana genre, Kelly Joe Phelps has also long been recognized for his dexterity within various guitar styles.
On his latest album, Phelps sings not a word. Instead, in producing a nocturnal collection of eleven solo guitar instrumentals, the west coast native allows his 6- and 12- strings to reclaim their rightful place. Haunting and adventurous, the tunes never get bogged down in noodling. So balanced and spacious are the songs, it is difficult to accept that much of the album was improvised in the studio.
Much like an unfamiliar but fragrant coffee blend might be appreciated, Western Bell intrigues and challenges, with lingering flavours that ultimately soothe.
While listening, many names float along the notes- Richard Thompson, Leadbelly, Tony Rice, Jack Lawrence- but one is left with only one: Kelly Joe Phelps.
As always, thanks to the labels and publicists who continue to service me with music to review. And thanks to you for stopping by to read my thoughts. Now, go buy an album! Best, Donald
Originally published in the Red Deer Advocate July 3 2009
My Walking Stick
Over the past several years, Vancouver’s Black Hen Music label has established itself as the premier western roots imprint. From adventurous string music to blues and gospel, the Steve Dawson-headed outlet has produced an unbroken string of exquisite, challenging releases.
Jim Byrnes, elder statesman of the West Coast blues community, delivers an album of incredible quality. I first heard Byrnes almost thirty years ago, and didn’t quite know what to make of him then. Fortunately, my ears have caught up and I can now appreciate his assured, efficient vocal approach.
The album includes a few Byrnes originals including the satisfying opener Ol’ Rattler; like many of the tunes, this one has a 60s Muscle Shoals-vibe with what could be Hammond B3 floating about the melody. The Band’s Ophelia has its tempo taken down a notch, and the effect simmers. Oh Susanna’s Three Shots- similar in theme to Stagger Lee- is the album’s centerpiece and is imminently memorable.
Black Hen-mates The Sojourners lend the album a soulful presence, with deep rhythm & blues harmony and background vocals. Their contributions make songs memorable and intensely appealing.
Producer Dawson is very hands-on and features his guitar talents on all cuts. Additionally, the album package is artful, with time-tinged photos housed in a digipak. All together, a class set and one should feel comfortable investing in such a project.
Likely found in the Blues section of shops, the album retains a roots aesthetic that defies narrow genre-labeling.