In today’s (May 7, 2010) Roots Music column in the Red Deer Advocate, I feature recent releases from two Canadian alt-country bands, Canteen Knockout and SpoonRiver. Both are impressive and have worked their way into consideration for my Polaris Music Prize ballot, which is coming up pretty soon.
SpoonRiver Kingdom of the Burned Northern Electric
Liberally sprinkling reviews with ancient influences and musical touchstones such as Neil Young and The Byrds is standard music writer shorthand for ‘I don’t know how to describe this band/group/singer without resorting to cliché.” It has to be disconcerting for young groups to have their modern interpretation of classic sounds compared to albums released 40 years ago.
SpoonRiver, a British Columbia-based collective that rose from the disillusion of Montreal’s Royal Mountain Band, certainly base their music in the traditions of country-rock. However, like Old Reliable, The Deadstring Brothers, and Old Crow Medicine Show, Travis Triance and his SpoonRiver comrades find ways to deepen and freshen their music so that the past is more whispered echo than blatant imitation. Yes, one hears Richard Manuel in “Buried in the Sun” but the song owes as much- in structure and sound- to Counting Crows and The Wooden Sky as it does The Band.
Hammond organ, piano, harmonica, guitar, bass, and drums combine with emotive vocals that are saturated with plaintive longing lightened by harmony. The singing evokes the past without sounding stale or dated. The intensity of the lyrics is sometimes deliberately masked, but repeated listening allows the textured landscape of language and melody to reveal itself.
Kingdom of the Burned, ideal for spring evening drives.
Canteen Knockout Broken Down Town Weewerk
The term ‘alt-country’- once descriptive and meaningful- has become a watered-down label that has lost all usefulness. Canteen Knockout is alt-country circa 1999, replete with pedal steel, sweet female harmony, restrained electric guitar, and a bluesy-country Stones’ vibe.
This Toronto band is fronted by André Skinner, the owner of a relaxed delivery that favourably borders on languid; those familiar with The Swiftys may find Skinner’s vocal approach similar to Shawn Jonasson’s.
The dozen songs are ideally crafted, with ample space between the notes and excellent separation between instruments. One notices the absence of instrumental clutter, allowing each spark and nuance time to find its way into the listening experience.
A cover of “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” will garner notice, but Skinner’s original material is the attraction. From rockin’, Corb Lundish rave-ups like “My Head’s on Fire” to self-deprecating laments (“Whiskey Drains the Pain”) and maudlin country tribulations (“Louisiana”), Skinner communicates tales, emotions, and a sense of place through lyrics and music as efficiently as others do with prose.
Albums like Broken Down Town make me glad I have the opportunity to champion Canadian roots music.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee- I hope you found something of interest and please support the artists. Donald
This week I listened to the mp3 player and the computer on shuffle a bit more than usual, so the whole album experience was a bit below average in quantity this week. But, the quality! Some good stuff heard this week beyond the CKUA, wdvx.com, XM, and individual songs heard here and there.
The album I most enjoyed this week!
Various Artists- East Nashville Vol. 3: More Music from the Other Side- See review at The Lonesome Road Review; more than an our of OKOM. An excellent compilation of the likes I haven’t appreciated to a similar degree since the first Bloodshot insurgent country comps. More smoother edges certainly, but a much higher slugging percentage.
The John Hartford Stringband- Memories of John- I smile just thinking of John Hartford although I must say I was never a huge fan during his lifetime. I only delved deeply into his music after he died. This collection, which features John on select cuts, swings and sways and cuts across a wide spectrum.
Black Prairie- Feast of the Hunters’ Moon- A month ago, I had never heard The Decemberists. A friend from work lent me The Crane’s Wife and I came under their spell. A bit of clicking around the ‘net one day brought me to a stream of this album and a couple weeks later I purchased it from eMusic. It is a disc that I don’t want to analyze or review, just listen to. So I will. And I love Annalisa Tornfelt’s voice; Bearfoot can’t be the same band without her.
Lene Lovich- The Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver 1980. 02.18- I wish I had been there. I was too young to get in, not to mention too young to travel to Vancouver by Greyhound but I did try to swing it.
SpoonRiver- Kingdom of the Burned Canadian alt-country that sounds like alt-country. It’s 1997 all over again. An album that may make my Polaris Top 5 list.
Canteen Knockout- Broken Down Town The second of two excellent Canadian alt-country albums I heard this week; I review them both this week in my column.
Various Artists- Deal: The Tom T. Hall Project A masterpiece of a tribute. Introduced classic songs to new listeners by perfectly pairing performers to songs. I don’t listen to it very often but it is the only tribute on my mp3 player. R.B. Morris’s take of “Don’t Forget the Coffee, Billy Joe” and Iris Dement’s “I Miss A Lot of Trains” are stellar.
The Tony Rice Unit- Manzanita An album I thought I had listened to enough. Turns out, I hadn’t. Nice to hear again. Duh.
David Mosher- Sycamore Tree I heard David Mosher sing “Bringing Daddy Home” each of his sets during my first Blueberry Bluegrass Festival back in the late 90s. I could only afford the cassette that weekend, but the album was added to eMusic this past week so I bought it again. The album is a nice little listen- terrific picking and singing. And “Bringing Daddy Home” is still my favourite Bill Monroe tribute.
Mary Gauthier- The Foundling Still listening to it.
Various Artists- Preservation I know why I bought this album, but I’m still surprised I did. I hate jazz music. Hate it. Don’t get it, don’t want to. Jazz was ruined for me by a particular jazz snob back in my ROW Entertainment days, even though I did enjoy some Miles Davis and an album recorded by the same co-worker that turned me off the music. Watching the HBO series Treme has made me appreciate the New Orleans sound even more than I previously did, and when I saw this disc with its striking packaging this weekend while on Whyte Ave., I picked it up. Still, I was only looking- until I saw the artists performing with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band on this benefit album- Steve Earle (who appeared in last evening’s episode of Treme, by coincidence), Merle, Dr. John, Pete Seeger, Jason Isbell, and Del McCoury, among others. It is an excellent listen featuring a range of sounds, tempos, and styles. My #2 favourite album of the week. A jazz album. She-yt, as Wendell Pierce’s Bunk Moreland might have said.
Various Artists- Putumayo Presents Latin Party Lots of fun.