Archive for the ‘folk music’ Tag
Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer Little Blue Egg Red House Records
When Dave Carter unexpectedly died in 2002, the folk world lost a great, under-heard songwriter and singer. Since then, Tracy Grammer has quietly kept his songs and spirit alive. Theirs was an evolving musical partnership, with Grammer assuming more responsibility as time passed.
Carter’s songs were always their core. Grammer discovered the source tapes for these performances while cleaning a basement last summer. Recorded in their living room, none of the eleven songs sound like castoffs excised from previous releases. Rather, each is a fully realized creation simply waiting to be discovered. A few of the songs have appeared in different form on Tracy Grammer albums, but these recordings have never before been released.
Carter’s inclusive spirituality weaves through these songs. Whether spoken in the meditations of the truck driver “somewhere between midnight and the changin’ of tires” (‘Hard Edge of Livin’’) or the midnight vocalist singing “in praise or lamentation, in peace or desperation” (“Any Way I Do”), Carter and Grammer communicate messages of significance. The album’s standout may well be “Gypsy Rose,” a song that could have been sung by troubadours hundreds of years ago.
The album’s only non-original is a quiet, duo rendition of “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key,” a song from Billy Bragg & Wilco’s Mermaid Avenue; Grammer’s violin playing on this familiar song is especially evocative.
Little Blue Egg is that most treasured of offerings, an unexpected gift.
The Pines Dark So Gold Red House Records
The third album from the Minnesota-based folk duo of Benson Ramsey (son of Bo) and David Huckfelt is as lush and detailed as their previous offerings, but this time out there is a spooky starkness that results in an even more satisfying listening experience.
As they have previously done, The Pines produce harmonious, folk-based music that at its core is literate and no little bit mysterious. Working this time out with a full band, Ramsey and Huckfelt have created ten distinct, multi-layered pieces, each which could accompany minimalist cinematic portraits of the rural mid-west.
Acoustic-sounding, Dark So Gold is very much rooted in the blues tradition that has informed the practice of most guitar-based folksingers since 1961; a nod to Bob indeed, but The Pines have created their own little niche in the crowded contemporary folk fold.
Recommended if you like Bon Iver, John K. Samson, and Deep Dark Woods.
With the demise of Waskasoo Bluegrass, many of us in the Central Alberta region have been missing stringband music this season. We’re in for a treat February 9 as the energetic The Steel Wheels, a quartet with their roots in the fertile bluegrass and old-time music scene of Virginia, visit The Hideout February 9; despite the venue’s shaky sound, this has the potential to be the roots show of the winter. Think Mumford & Sons meets Old Crow Medicine Show, but even more appealing in my opinion.
In writing my Roots Music column this morning, I’ve been listening to Fred Eaglesmith’s new album 6 Volts as well as Sarah MacDougall’s excellent The Greatest Ones Alive (Sarah is at The Hideout February 7). While searching for the upcoming local shows, I saw mention of The Steel Wheels. Having heard the band name mentioned a few times recently on CKUA, but having not knowingly heard their music, I started listening at their website http://www.thesteelwheels.com/ and quickly found much to appreciate. A quick visit to iTunes led me to their live album of last year Live at Goose Creek, and that is what I’m currently listening to- quite loudly with the headphones on.
Another example of ‘too much music to hear everything,’ I am so glad that I have finally found the music of The Steel Wheels. Fiddle-rich and mandolin-driven, their music includes all the elements I most appreciate in acoustiblue music- energy, strong and distinctive lead vocals that are supported and complemented by acute harmony, instrumental proficiency, originality tied to tradition, new songs that sound old and traditional songs that sound as they always have.
If we’re willing to follow them blindly, there are so many paths that can lead us to unheard music. Great stuff that we just haven’t happened to find. Yet. Eventually, the good stuff finds us- as The Steel Wheels did me this morning. Give them a listen- if you dig Chatham County Line, there is no reason you won’t enjoy The Steel Wheels.
It is rare that we get a US-based, modern stringband playing in Red Deer. Very rare. Waskasoo Bluegrass- of which I was a fair significant part- focused on traditional and contemporary bluegrass bands and rarely ventured toward more progressive and (dare we say) youthful sounds- I suppose the closest we got to ‘hip’ we got was featuring The Infamous Stringdusters several years ago. Thankfully, The Hideout latched onto The Steel Wheels who are going to be in the area for a pair of folk club shows in Calgary and Edmonton.
By the way, in a feat of booking good chance- often a rare thing in our province where left and right hands often book complementary bands on the same night in the same city- while The Steel Wheels are in Edmonton on February 10, Spring Creek, a Colorado bluegrass and acoustiblue group, are in Calgary. When The Steel Wheels arrive in Calgary the next night, Spring Creek are on stage in Edmonton for a show. So, no cross-town conflicts for a pair of bands that should attract similar audiences.
As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. I appreciate your interest and support. Donald
In today’s Red Deer Advocate I reviewed the recent Guy Clark tribute, This One’s For Him. I’ll post that in a few weeks, but for now here is the overview of Alberta releases that ran a couple weeks back.
Wonderful roots music came out of our province this past year, and today I take a look back on my favourite Alberta roots music albums of 2011.
The rootsy-pop of another era returned this summer with the release of Idyl Tea’s first album in sixteen years. Once a fixture of Edmonton clubs, the Idyl Tea trio surprised with the strength of their double album Song That’s Not Finished Yet- The Unthology. Infectious pop melodies with more than enough country overtones for roots rock- heck, if Mumford and Sons and the Avett Brothers are considered roots, Idyl Tea certainly qualify. On this double album, Idyl Tea combines that which connects country and power pop: bright melodies, devastating confession through lyric, and the breezy ability to convey unmistakable melancholy. ”A Guitar and A Broken Heart,” “Just a Road”- an Americana gathering in hell-”Penitent Song,” and “Dark Day in Edmonton” are simply wonderful while the companion collection of outtakes and demos reveal the group’s unrealized, original potential.
Edmonton’s Mark Davis continued his ascension as one of Canada’s critically lauded roots artists. Eliminate the Toxins was even more adventurous than his previous releases but retained the intense focus and introspection one has come to expect from a singer-songwriter whose best works can be appreciated on a poetic level while also serving as impetus to dance, albeit dance slowly. Davis’s music has a cinematic quality that cries out for visual interpretation. In the year we lost Jackie Leven, Mark Davis filled the chasm admirably. Multi-layered, Eliminate the Toxins is so all-encompassing that listeners will find themselves sinking into its warmth.
Captain Tractor’s Famous Last Words was largely ignored at radio but served as a welcome return for the Edmonton collective. Lively stuff, based in tradition (Celtic sing-alongs including “Diamond Joe” “Johnny’s Ghost”) but with no lack of originality and creativity. The songs possesss universal appeal with lots of Alberta references- hockey games, cannibalism (an epic song from Australia sure, but the events described could have just as easily happened on western Canadian prairies), open highways, and local rebellion. This well-played album benefited greatly from the contributions of fiddler Shannon Johnson.
Previously unknown to me, on Valley Home Joe Vickers documented the history of the Drumheller Valley with a focus on the stories and impact of the coal mining experience. Utilizing a variety of approaches, sounds, and tempos, Vickers created a compelling and insightful account of his home community. His music was rustic with acoustic guitar, fiddle, and banjo coming through the neo-traditional mix. More than a history lesson, Valley Home was an engaging set of lively folk-inspired music touching on a broad cross-section of tales: pit ponies, the flooded Red Deer River, Allan Cup champions, ghost towns, miners, and madams.
Collecting 14 seamlessly brilliant offerings, this spring Ben Sures released his most fully-realized recording. Gone to Bolivia opened with a pair of absolutely devastating songs including “American Shantytown” and “High School Steps.” “The Boy Who Walked Backwards Through the Snow” deserves to become a Canadian folk standard. Creating wonderful, fully realized songs of depth with lyrical gems hidden throughout, Sures remains an invigorating voice within the crowded Canadian folk market.
Several weeks ago, in my Red Deer Advocate Roots Music column, I reviewed the latest from Natalie MacMaster. A delightful album, one that I intend to advocate for Polaris Music Prize consideration. The review follows:
Natalie MacMaster Cape Breton Girl eOne Music
How can one not love Natalie MacMaster?
With her soul and music essentially entrenched in the culture and history of Cape Breton, it is inconceivable that Natalie MacMaster be viewed as anything but a Cape Breton Girl.
Her recording output has been impacted in recent years by domestic concerns and extensive touring and collaborations with artists including Thomas Dolby and Yo-Yo Ma; as such, Cape Breton Girl serves as only the third set of new music from MacMaster in the last decade.
Fortunately, while the quantity of her music has not been great, the quality has remained unmistakably stellar.
With fiddle and piano at its core, Cape Breton Girl serves as a welcome return to the fabric of her music. While a dozen different musicians have their talents woven throughout the recording, the focus is firmly on MacMaster’s interpretation of timeless reels, airs, and jigs.
As always, her playing is lively and impassioned. One hardly needs to be a student of fiddling and Cape Breton music to feel an electric connection to these sounds. “Alex MacMaster’s Jig”- written for her father and incorporating “Janet Beaton” and “Miss Ann Campbell”- is a spirited set of fiddle and piano sounds with just a flavouring of guitar. “Stoney Lake Reels” follows a similar theme but has more embellishment with the addition of some solid bass playing.
MacMaster has a knack for finding tunes that complement each other. “F Medley” is comprised of seven old melodies brought together to reveal the intricacies and shades of traditional Cape Breton sounds. The album’s only vocal track is a brief reading of “Our Father” featuring Jeff MacDonald.
Whether performing jigs in G (“Jimmy MacKinnon of Smelt Brook”) or something more emotive based on traditional tunes “(Pretty Marion”, “The Methlick Style”), MacMaster reveals- much as does Alison Krauss- that beyond the buoyant personality and ‘ah, shucks’ demeanor, there beats the heart of a passionate and focused artist who lives to breathe beautiful life into ancient tones.
Pieta Brown Mercury Red House Records
Over the past decade, Pieta Brown has quietly carved out her own little place in the Americana world. Having collaborated with Calexico, Don Was, and Amos Lee, Brown has found herself in some inspiring company, including having Mark Knopfler appear on this album.
Brown is a dreamy singer, a rootsy Feist who isn’t afraid- in one song- of mixing minimalist lyricism balanced by elaborate instrumentation while in the next sharing a seemingly personal experience that has only the barest shades of accompaniment. Her songs fluctuate between dusty, arcane portraits and bluesy country challenges. Beautiful, it is and all is brightened by a voice that, when heard, immediately becomes a favourite. Highlights include Closing Time, Butterfly Blues, and So Many Miles.
Various Artists Acoustic Café Putumayo Records
Attempting to define the singer-songwriter sound is a fool’s errand and fortunately on their latest release Putumayo makes no such claim. Rather they have gathered 11-tracks from names both familiar (The Waifs, Justin Townes Earle, Harry Manx) and less so (Trevor Hall, Jon and Roy, Fences) that share little in common.
I’ve often felt out of my depth with Putumayo releases. With albums featuring a breadth of music from around the world, I’ve often wondered if their featured African and Caribbean tracks are the ‘world’ equivalent of “Sunglasses at Night”: they sound legitimate but are rather silly and insubstantial.
So it is nice when Putumayo releases something that is right in my wheelhouse, an album I can consider with some measure of confidence and even expertise. It reaffirms my faith in the label’s commitment to quality.
Along with Manx, Lucy Kaplansky provides an experienced perspective to the set. Her lyric-heavy “Manhattan Moon” is a substantial offering that deserves a fresh chance at capturing those who may have missed it when it was released several years ago.
Multi-instrumentalist Sarah Jarosz, the youngest artist on this collection, delivers the requisite Dylan cover and one questions why a more inspired original from her very impressive Follow Me Down wasn’t selected; similarly, Manx has many tunes more substantial than his rather pedestrian cover of Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love.”
The Acoustic Café discovery, for me, was Jon and Roy, a Vancouver Island four-piece with which I was previously unfamiliar. Their offering “Any Day Now” has a light island (Caribbean, not Vancouver) vibe that is appealing.
For me, this type of coffeehouse collection has limited appeal because I’m always thinking, “But they should have a song from…” That Mark Erelli, Tracy Grammer, Maria Dunn, and John Wort Hannam are not included should not enter into my evaluation of the set, but invariably does especially when confronted with dreary tracks from The Sweet Remains and The Waifs.
Preaching to the converted, Putumayo’s new endeavour could easily have gone deeper (at 37-minutes, it is rather brief) but as a compact sampler still provides trails for future exploration.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Just got home from the first evening of the Mountain View Music Festival and I’m feeling more than a little giddy.
Regular readers of Fervor Coulee understand that I can be a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to music festivals: I dislike crowds; I become frustrated with wonky sound systems; I can do without porta-potties; and I hate it when people go to music events and chat all the way through.
I’m happy to report that three of those elements caused no problems for me tonight/last night now, I suppose.
What little I knew about MVMF has proven accurate- a small, manageable fest in a comfortable community park. True, Guy Clark, Nanci Griffith, and Del McCoury are in Edmonton and not Carstairs. Still, the entertainment this evening was quite enjoyable.
Lunc at Allen's- Murray, Ian, Cindy, and Marc
Lunch at Allen’s closed the evening and did a wonderful job of entertaining the few hundred in attendance. Running down the stage in order, each of Marc Jordan, Cindy Church, Ian Thomas, and Murray McLauchlan performed three songs, with Thomas taking the lead on the encore to give him the thirteenth song.
Jordan started the set with the familiar “Marina Del Ray,” an astute choice as it seemed that he was the least familiar to much of the audience. The audience also recognized and appreciated his rendition of “Rhythm of My Heart.
Thomas followed a plan similar to Jordan’s, pulling out “Painted Ladies” for his first tune. Featuring flourishes of picking from McLauchlan, the radio hit suffered a bit at the hands of sound gremlins; the wee beasties continued to play havoc during this final set. Thomas also pulled out a Boomers song (“You Got to Know”) and dropped a humour-loaded sea shanty on his prairie audience.
More on McLauchlan in a moment.
With three jesters from the back of the classroom sharing the stage with her, Cindy Church appeared- in turn- bemused and disappointed; while all in fun, there were times when it seemed that she may have been regretting, and not for the first time, signing on with three loveable old fools.
In duet with McLauchlan, Church performed “Anything But Friends.” Later in the set, and accompanied by McLauchlan on harmonica and Thomas with gentle finger-picking, Church delivered a lovely “You Can,” before concluding her leads with “Better Things to Do.”
Immediately after their hour-long set, my wife mentioned that she had forgotten how much she enjoyed Murray McLauchlan’s voice. What is funny about her comment is a) I never knew she liked McLauchlan in the first place, and b) I had earlier written in my brief notes “that voice- one forgets how individual and distinct [it is] until given the opportunity to hear it again- I guess we take ole Murray for granted a bit.”
For me, McLauchlan was the star of the show, and not only for his quick wit- sliding seamlessly into “Lucy in the Sky” and the Carol Burnett theme.
Folk legend Murray McLauchlan snubs the camera
He seemed to find a way to complement each of his three partners- providing vocal harmony to Thomas on the chorus of “You Got to Know,” for example- while delivering three terrific songs of his own. “Down By the Henry Moore” was quite excellent. A more recent song, “The Great Beyond” was offered up as evidence that he still has something new to say; I would suggest that “The Great Beyond” is waiting for a bluegrass interpretation, and Thomas’s mandolin fills only partly influenced that assertion.
In an agricentric county like Mountain View, there was only one song that could close the show, and McLauchlan delivered “Farmer’s Song” for the four thousand ninety-fifth time as sincerely and enjoyably as ever. Having said that, when the group came back for the evening’s only encore “Gratitude” was appreciated.
With deep, rich songbooks it must be a chore for each of these talented singers and songwriters to select only three songs each to perform in a festival setting; one hopes they return to the area for a theatre show soon.
Before they hit the stage, I knew nothing about the Rembetika Hipsters other than a friend, moments before their performance, suggested that they may be of interest to Deana and me; indeed, Billy knows our tastes.
Playing the Greco-blues on various stringed instruments including bouzouki, baglama, clarinet, melodeon, fiddle, guitar, bass, and drum, the rhythms tugged at the souls of those with an affinity for the land of the Greeks.
One-third of the Hipsters
Their beautiful, swirling music kept us both enthralled for the entire set and I’m sure we’ll seek them out again. If Lunch at Allen’s hadn’t been so good, this would have been the set of the night.
We didn’t really catch bluesman Frank Schaap’s set as we bumped into a friend and chatted for a half-hour or so, but what I heard from a distance sounded just fine…just not necessarily my kind of thing.
We hadn’t planned on heading to Carstairs for the Friday of MVMF in the first place, but when Deana learned that reggae band Souljah Fyah was scheduled, we left the house rather impulsively. As we neared Carstairs, the rain started, and by the time we pulled in for supper, well- the skies opened up.
I was feeling for the promoters- here is a once-a-year, walk-up dependent festival and an hour before the show is to begin, the sky explodes. As this is Alberta, the torrential downpour ended within 45 minutes and minutes later the near empty festival site started to fill with a broad cross-section of folks.
We were disappointed in Souljah Fyah’s performance. The music was fine, but ultimately not particularly invigorating. True, being first up at a three-day fest is likely not a performance slot anyone would choose, but still things could have been better.
The five piece band started out lively and performed original material including the appealing “Tears of a Fool” and “Eight Days of Summer” and a few covers such as Musical Youth’s “Pass the Dutchie” and Chaka Demus & Pliers “Murder She Wrote” to good effect.
Unfortunately, Sista J succumbed to the trap that I’ve seen too many reggae (and for that matter, zydeco) front-persons fall into: the near-constant imploring for the crowd to dance and enjoy themselves. Rather than concentrating on singing, she continually had the band stop playing to talk to the crowd about how they needed to dance, going so far as to have the few dancers go gather a partner from the seat-dancers not once but twice. While the ploy did get more people up, it ruined the flow of the group’s performance.
Here’s an idea, offered with respect: play the songs! Just play. If you’re doing a great job and we like what you’re doing, we’ll see what happens- we might dance all on our own.
We truly enjoyed our introduction to Mountain View Music Festival 2011 and look forward to a full day of music tomorrow/today.
For those in the Calgary-Red Deer areas, http://www.mvmf.ca/MVMF/Home.html is a good place to start for information about Saturday and Sunday performances beginning at 10:00 AM.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
And I thought I had a busy weekend. Apparently, Steve Forbert was even busier.
This just arrived in my mailbox: “Set the World Ablaze”, a brand new Steve Forbert studio recording, is now available as a free download!
The song, completed on May 20, 2011, is a protest piece about those who profited the most from the events leading up to the 2008 financial meltdown — and those who have profited “big time” from its taxpayer bailout aftermath.
I have no hesitation in spreading the word. http://steveforbert.bandcamp.com/track/set-the-world-ablaze will get you there. Enjoy- new Steve Forbert is almost always a good thing. I’m not sure if this one will have the longevity of Steve’s “The Oil Song,” but it sounds pretty good to me and I love the idea of the immediacy of getting it out to the public.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee, Donald
Tara Nevins Wood and Stone Sugar Hill
Although she has been performing with Donna the Buffalo for some two decades, outside a brief flirtation around their Jim Lauderdale collaboration of several years back, before Wood and Stone, I was pretty ignorant about Tara Nevins.
Sadly, I didn’t even recognize her name when the album arrived in its nondescript plain yellow-padded envelope last month; the disc sat ignored for more than a few weeks. Once again, my bad.
If you’ve read this far, you likely already know more about Tara Nevins than I could possibly tell you, so let me be brief. The Cajun-flavoured “All I Ever Needed” is my new favourite song this week and Wood and Stone contains half-a-dozen songs easily as appealing as that slice of enchanted sustenance. “You’re Still Driving that Truck” may not be a hit for Nevins- not that it couldn’t or shouldn’t be- but I can hear someone like Miranda Lambert taking hold of it, making it her own, and getting some airplay.
Not as up tempo but every bit as well constructed and engaging are songs such as “Snowbird” (which features the aforementioned Lauderdale on duet vocals, and who has his own Sugar Hill album coming out next month) and “Stars Fell on Alabama.” The latter song, a jazz standard popularized by Billie Holliday and others, is retooled by Nevins as a lonesome mountain ballad accompanied as she is by Crooked Jade-Rose Sinclair on banjo.
While the album largely consists of originals, three of the album’s final four songs are covers, be they very creative and unconventional covers, as in the case of “Stars Fell on Alabama.” Van Morrison’s full-throated “The Beauty of the Days Gone By” is softened but not weakened in Nevins’s treatment, serving as an appropriate foil to Nevins’s own preceding “Tennessee River.” The traditional “Down South Blues” is recast as a poppy, 60s country song, the kind of thing you may have heard on the flip of a Jeannie C. Riley hit.
I should likely write more about Nevins’s fiddling, but I’m so taken with her voice, there doesn’t seem to be much point in further fawning, however well-intentioned.
Nevins’s world is certainly not all lightness and flowers, but she never succumbs to wallowing in the murk for too long. The result is a challenging, multi-dimensional album that should appeal to folks who enjoy Rosanne Cash’s more playful side, although Diana Jones is perhaps a more representative comparison.
The more I listen to Wood and Stone, the more I find to appreciate; I suspect I’m going to be listening to this one well into the fall.
As always, thanks for visiting at Fervor Coulee. Donald