Archive for the ‘Blues’ Tag
Michael Jerome Browne The Road is Dark (Borealis Records)
This road is dark indeed. And blue.
A mainstay of the Canadian roots and blues scene, Michael Jerome Browne has released outstanding albums over his career, and this new project may be his finest yet. With slide guitar as primary focus, a bit of banjo and 12-string, some washboard, harmonica, and mandolin, The Road is Dark was recorded live with no overdubs.
An acoustic album, Browne explores the essence of the blues- death, steppin’ out, addiction, jail, and redemption- through 14 songs that are as powerful as they are enjoyable. Perhaps the finest blues album we’ve heard this year, there is no frivolity on the back roads Browne travels here. Highlights include Married Woman, Sinner’s Plea, and If Memphis Don’t Kill Me.
(Originally published in the Red Deer Advocate, December 16 2011)
Paul Geremia Love My Stuff Red House Records
I only became aware of Paul Geremia when I reviewed his previous album Love, Murder, and Mosquitos in 2004. Since then, I haven’t heard anything else from the guitarist who originates from Rhode Island, but I’ve kept an ear open so I was pleased when his new live collection came my way earlier this fall.
A finger-picker of the highest order, there really- to my ears, and I’m more than open to correction- nothing that special about Geremia’s singing. Or his playing. Or his song selection; in fact, if this album came across my desk unlabeled, I might not even listen to it. But, once the disc hits the sound system, the magic begins.
The world is full of blues guitarists and singers, but darn few of them pull me into their songs the way Paul Geremia does. Culled from recordings made in a variety of venues over the years, the majority of the tracks stem from 2002-2007 and reveal that time has done nothing to diminish the control over which Geremia can impose on a song. All but two of the songs feature only Geremia playing 6- and 12-string guitars and harmonica.
See See Rider kicks things off with a familiar groove and slides nicely into Shuckin’ Sugar Blues. Geremia loves the Delta and country blues, and doesn’t deviate from those foundations through this hour-long set. He explores songs from Blind Willie McTell, Sleepy John Estes, Huddie Ledbetter, Charlie Patton, and Blind Lemon Jefferson while weaving in some of his own songs, songs that fit seamlessly with the songs that taught Geremia the rules.
Death Don’t Have No Mercy, a dark and fearsome tune, is a highlight as is the aching Where Did I Lose Your Love?
In my Roots Music column published today in the Red Deer Advocate, I advance many local roots events- including appearances by Bill Bourne, Gary Fjelljaard, Katy Moffatt & Andrew Hardin, and The Spinney Brothers- and review the new album from Ray Bonneville, Bad Man’s Blood. I’ve also added a 2003 Bonneville review from the achives.
Thanks to everyone who visits Fervor Coulee, and all the labels, artists, and publicists who continue to service me. Donald
Ray Bonneville Bad Man’s Blood Red House Records
What Dave Alvin does with country-influenced roots rock, Ray Bonneville does for its blues-based, swamp dwelling cousin.
Unafraid of challenging lyrical structures and rhythmic diversity, Bonneville floats along his self-created river of blues with confident intensity. Starting out dark and hopeless (“Bad Man’s Blood”), the album somberly explores shades of gray before sparking a bit on “Ray’s Jump,” a stepping sax-rich instrumental.
Bonneville provides plenty of room for accompanist Gurf Morlix, who shines on various guitars and provides harmony vocals.
Canadian-born, Bonneville has again produced a collection of story songs rich in the southern, country blues tradition.
From October, 2003: Gold in a Way
Ray Bonneville Roll It Down Stony Plain
With a rousing mixture of acoustic blues realism and mid-80’s populist Clapton “Rock n’ Roll Heart” kinda thing, Bonneville- who splits his time between Montreal and rural Arkansas- has created a disc of enthusiastic and distinctive grooves that should find favour with all discriminating blues fans. Textured and stripped down, uptown and back porch, the most common reference point may be Colin Linden who, not coincidentally, co-produced the album with Bonneville. Bonneville’s voice is only a little less irregular than Linden’s but his guitar playing is every bit as colourful and accomplished. For acoustic fans, Bonneville has included two numbers where he goes it alone with only a guitar and foot keeping time. A satisfying disc that warrants repeated listening.
Has it been two weeks already? Work has been so busy I’ve pushed Fervor Coulee toward the backburner. I’ll try to find some extra time to review a few projects that have piled up, but in all honesty not that much has been coming my way lately. In today’s Red Deer Advocate I review two recent releases by David Vest and Robert Plant.
I take back all youthful and disparaging words spoken about Plant and his caterwauling with Led Zeppelin.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee.
Roots music column, originally published October 15, 2010 in the Red Deer Advocate
David Vest Rock a While Criminal Records
With Alabama roots deeper than a southern swamp, David Vest has been playing the blues and its associated sounds for almost as long as rock and roll has been around.
Billed the Boogie Woogie Starchild, Vest’s piano-based blues are sure to keep toes a-tappin’ and heads a-bobbin’. While a few tracks slide comfortably into jazz territory- check out the brief interlude “Monklife in Vermont” for a sample of such- most of the tunes on this impressive release explore the rockin’ and reelin’ sides of the blues.
Boogie woogie is indeed well-represented throughout the album’s 53 minutes. Several interesting instrumentals are included of which “Magic City Shuffle”, inspired by the furtive, after hours jams Vest participated in while developing his chops in racially-segregated Birmingham, stands out.
Now based on the west coast, Vest’s music reminds one of the spirited music produced by Paul Reddick. With its origins in the past, Vest and his musicians are living in the present and produce lively tunes that keep the house jumping. They can enliven an old John Lee Hooker number like “Whiskey and Women”, making it sound all their own and they can give a fresh song like “Little Big-Eyes” an old-school New Orleans groove that is timeless.
Vest tosses props Fats Domino’s way with a stellar take of “Natural Born Lover” that slides into “Every Night About this Time” and playfully works some of Bill Monroe’s “Rocky Road Blues” into Gene Vincent’s “I Got a Baby.”
Not normally my thing, Rock a While provides ample proof that David Vest is the real deal.
David Vest’s All Star Blues Band plays a Hallowe’en Dance and Costume Party at The Elks Lodge October 29.
Robert Plant Band of Joy Rounder
Even with a band centered about the twin forces that are Buddy Miller and Darrell Scott, one may not have anticipated that Robert Plant’s second foray into the roots-country-Americana field would be as entirely successful as Band of Joy most obviously is.
As on his previous, award-winning collaboration with Alison Krauss, Plant surrounds himself with the finest talent and songs that money, influence, and friendship can solicit. This time out Bekka Bramlett and Patty Griffin serve as Plant’s female foils.
Vibrant and full, the instrumentation on this album swirls into dirges that are almost trance- inducing. Reworking songs from key writers- Los Lobos, Richard Thompson, Townes Van Zandt- as well some less familiar and those whose names are lost within traditions, Plant and album co-producer Miller have created a sonically challenging and sturdy interpretation of modern roots music.
“Cindy, I’ll Marry You Someday” and “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down”, while familiar to all who embrace traditional folk music, have never likely sounded quite like they do here. Plant gives “Cindy” an erotic overtone absent on previously heard recordings.
What a joyful thing it is to hear afresh songs long familiar.
I’m sure there is a more humiliating feeling than walking up to a bar and being denied admission, but fortunately I don’t get to experience such too often. But this was the case tonight in Red Deer when I strolled up to The Vat and saw a sign stating that tonight’s Matt Andersen show was sold out. After enquiring, I was forced to turn and do the walk of shame past the smokers and latecomers who had places reserved by earlier arriving friends.
Good for Matt and the bar- I’m sure the business is much appreciated on all fronts. But, geez…I really wanted to hear tonight’s show, especially having advanced it repeatedly in my newspaper column. One hopes those in the bar are going to enjoy the New Brunswick-native’s performance as much as I think I would have. Pays to get there early, I suppose.
Therefore, I’ll sit at home tonight- watch the Oilers lose and then listen to Live at the Liberty House. Maybe it’ll be just like being there- except I’ll save $20 or $30.
New Brunswick’s Matt Andersen- who appears here in Red Deer on Saturday at the venerable Vat- took home top prize at a Memphis music competition this past weekend. The CBC staffer got paid much more than I will for writing this http://www.cbc.ca/arts/music/story/2010/01/25/matt-andersen-blues.html, so you may as well read it there! Looking forward to Saturday night, Matt. Congrats.
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
Continuing the journey…
Pale Imperfect Diamond Cedar Hill Refugees (Effigy Records, 2009) I can’t say John Carter Cash’s production decisions do a lot for me, but on this disc- which brings the musical influences of Uzbekistan to Nashville- he and Jack Clift get it pretty much right. Jadoo is the name of the Uzbek band featured throughout, and I’m not really sure where they stop and the array of the usual guests, including Marty Stuart, Ralph Stanley, John Cowan, Randy Scruggs, Ronnie McCoury, Harry Stinson, Dennis Crouch, start.
But the music works on a number of levels. First, the music of the Uzbeks does remind one of southern mountain music, at least as it is presented here. Second, the exotic and mysterious rhythms and unusual instrumentation which includes horns, percussion, and stringed instruments galore works as an alternative to the increasingly glossy bluegrass sounds one ever more associates with ‘mountain music.’ Not that this music isn’t highly produced, but if I’m going to listen to studio polish I’d rather find it here than in my bluegrass.
Finally, the vocals are full of treats that even the most casual of listeners will appreciate. Dr. Ralph’s contributions to “Keys to the Kingdom” are worth the purchase alone, but John Cowan shines on “Oh, Bury Me Not”. The downside is the lack of liner notes beyond general musician credits; a project such as this cries out for explanation and reflection on the song choices, the instruments featured, and the interplay of the participants.
The Record Bar Shows Bob Walkenhorst with Jeff Porter and Norm Dahlor (Internet Archive, 2009) Not an album or even a series of albums, but an ongoing archive of weekly shows performed by the Rainmakers front man at a Kansas City pub. Amongst the wealth of original material are choice country, folk and rock (“Dirty Water”) covers, many with timely significance (“Woodstock” in early-August, Ellie Greenwich’s “Hanky Panky” and “Chimes of Freedom” dedicated to Ted Kennedy as the month drew to a close.)
Walkenhorst and his compatriots are obviously comfortable performing within this largely acoustic setting. While over 300 Walkenhorst recordings are available on the Archive, this summer’s slate of shows were particularly strong, with focus and looseness apparent in equal measure. http://www.archive.org/details/BobWalkenhorst
South Mouth Robbie Fulks (Bloodshot, 1997) An unfortunately long-neglected favourite, I rediscovered South Mouth when I ran across a deeply discounted copy and picked it up for a gift. Of course, I had to listen to it in the car on the way home…and then the next day and a week later. I still haven’t passed it onto Cheryl and Ross, but I trust they’ll like it as much as I do if they ever get a chance to listen to it. Every song, except “F%&k this Town” would sound terrific within a bluegrass arrangement with “Cold Statesboro Ground” already having been given such by James Reams & the Barnstormers. When I hear songs like “I Told Her Lies”, “What the Lord Hath Wrought (Any Fool Can Knock Down)”, and “Busy Not Crying”, I remember why I love country music so much, and how rare such performances seem.
Black & Blue The Rolling Stones (Universal 1976/2009) I’ve wanted to pick up this album ever since reading Ian Rankin’s excellent novel of the same name a few years ago. I was curious not only because of the way Rankin referenced the album throughout, but because I’d heard such mixed messages about the disc. I finally purchased it when it was rereleased this year and I found it cheap enough. The album didn’t blow me away, but I certainly appreciated the mood the grooves inspired in me- good for highway driving, no doubt. Listening to the album, I couldn’t help be surprised that folks claimed the Stones went disco with Emotional Rescue just a few years later; the two albums certainly share the same DNA. I’m glad I listened to it, if only to satisfy my curiousity. Not essential, but few Stones albums are.
Songs My Father Loved Ricky Skaggs (Skaggs Family, 2009) A beautiful album, artfully rendered. And that isn’t something I say very often about a Ricky Skaggs album. Likely the last time I had overwhelmingly pleasant thoughts about a Skaggs disc was somewhere prior to the turn of the century with Bluegrass Rules and Life is A Journey. On the cover, Skaggs looks terrific- and the photo reminds me of both Guy Clark and Marty Stuart- and he appears to be accepting the passages of time. Despite all the necessary multi-tracking, the music is fresh and homely (as in simple and unpretentious) presented. When Skaggs sings country, as he does here- not commercial country, mind, but mountain inspired country- he is in his wheelhouse. Wonderful stuff!
Sylvain Sylvain/Syl Sylvain & the Teardrops Sylvain Sylvain (1980/1981/2007 Acadia) I first heard “I’m So Sorry” on a Rachel Sweet bootleg where she is playing tunes on the Kid Leo show. I picked up both of these albums over the years in delete bins (remember them?) and had been keeping my eyes open for them on disc. I was completely surprised when I (again) tripped over this 2fer in an Athens Metropolis store. I’ve written about the store elsewhere, but what a wonderboon it was- four or five stories of music, neatly if confusingly (to me, a non-Greek) arranged in a roomy and clean environment. Anyway, the second album doesn’t hold up to the first, but the first three tracks (“Teenage News”, “What’s That Got To Do With Rock n Roll”, and the perfect “I’m So Sorry) are as wonderful a ten minutes as I’ve heard in all my years. Maybe the best seven Euro I spent on the trip, although all those Orange Fantas were mighty tasty.
Different Views David Gogo (Cordova Bay, 2009) I’ll be honest. The only reason I even gave this album a fair listen was because I noticed the cover of John Stewart’s “Gold”. I’ve got a stack of CDs that I haven’t had time or inclination to listen to, and this one likely would have found a place in that pile. Do I really need to listen to another self-indulgent blues guitar album?
Good thing I noticed “Gold” because the album is very strong, not the least bit wankerish. It holds up and draws in even the most reluctant listener. The originals are power blues-rockers of the finest sort, with changes of tempo that encourage air-guitar miming from listeners and vocal arrangements that recall Tom Wilson and Carlos Santana. Different Views is soaring voices, power chords and waves of organ, tightly arranged for maximum impact.
I’ve searched for covers of John Stewart’s most famous song this side of “Daydream Believer” and they are rare; Gogo’s version, featuring Carolyn Mark in Stevie’s place is remarkable; Jim Bass may now be making $8.50 for an hour, but the rhythm in his hands is as steady as ever in Gogo’s treatment.
A reminder never to judge without listening.
Two Dimes & a Nickel David Davis & the Warrior River Boys (Rebel, 2009) Along with Dale Ann Bradley’s latest, maybe the finest bluegrass album I’ve heard this year. Beautiful, cinematic songs. Davis picks songs with more care that it appears do his higher-profile bluegrass contemporaries. Yes, they include clichés but the familiar phrases and expected treatments work for the song, not against it. See my full review at http://lonesomeroadreview.wordpress.com/
Motorway Tom Robinson (Music de Luxe, 1994) I’m not sure when or where this collection was recorded. I found it for cheap in a bin of leftovers several years ago and promptly forgot about it. Last winter, ”2-4-6-8 Motorway” worked its way back into my brain when it was featured in an episode of Ashes to Ashes. So I dug out my vinyl of Power in the Darkness and had some fun for a few nights, and actually was listening to PITD in the car this morning before writing this piece. Re-found this disc on the shelf when I was doing some reorganizing of the CDs. A fine little set that captures the freewheeling attitude that was so obvious when these songs were first heard during university days- we can do anything and will accomplish everything. Well, we didn’t- or at least I haven’t. ”2-4-6-8 Motorway” is still one of the best driving songs of any genre of the past forty years, and while the version here is a bit restrained, it still feels right. This album encouraged me to further explore the Tom Robinson and TRB discographies, and it has been great fun.
A few more to come…. Cheers, Donald
Originally published in The Red Deer Advocate, September 4, 2009
In today’s column in the Red Deer Advocate I was very pleased to review two outstanding Canadian blues albums. For me, it is a fine line between blues wankering and music that resonates with me. Of late, I’ve been listening to several blues albums and have reviewed a handful. I’ve also been exploring some older material, stuff like Johnny Winter, Son House, and even The Mississippi Sheiks. I picked up Joe Bonamassa’s The Ballad of John Henry and couldn’t even listen to it all. Yet, I put on some Alligator-era Johnny Winter- music that isn’t all that different from Bonamassa’s- and I’m entirely engaged. Please read my reviews of David Gogo’s Different Views and the latest live- and I believe only family authorized- posthumous Jeff Healey disc, Songs from the Road. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. I hope you find something of interest, not just in my words but in exploring the music I’m recommending. Donald
David Gogo Different Views (Cordova Bay)
Nanaimo-based David Gogo is a veteran on the Canadian blues circuit, and he returns this fall with his tenth album of electric guitar-oriented shuffles and R&B boogie dance tunes.
The originals are power blues-rockers of the finest sort, with changes of tempo that encourage air-guitar miming from listeners and vocal arrangements that recall Tom Wilson (Where the Devil Won’t Go) and Carlos Santana (Lies). Different Views is soaring voices, power chords, and waves of organ, tightly arranged for maximum impact.
A pair of crack covers- Don’t Bring Me Down, owing as much to David Johansen as it does Eric Burden, and John Stewart’s Gold- serve as recognizable anchors. The 1979 hit receives a vital update, with Gogo’s whammy bar altering the familiar melody and Carolyn Mark holding her own in Stevie Nicks’ harmony spot.
Different Views is a blues album that holds up to repeated listens.
Jeff Healey Songs from the Road (Stony Plain)
During his life I largely ignored Jeff Healey, the Toronto blues and jazz guitarist who died in early 2008. While friends were grooving to his radio hits, I was busy with John Hiatt, Dave Alvin, and the Razorbacks.
This seamless set, collated from festival and club appearances during the last two years of his life, serves as a solid introduction to the bluesy side of Healey while providing long-time followers much to savour.
Showcasing the breadth of Healey’s gifts, most tracks clock in at over five minutes allowing these roadhouse jams to evolve. I Think I Love You Too Much and Angel Eyes represent Healey hits, while the catalogues of Cream, Willie Dixon, The Beatles, and The Allmans are expressively mined by Healey’s impressive band of blues brothers.
Songs from the Road is a fine addition to the Jeff Healey legacy.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee.
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