Archive for the ‘folk music’ Tag
In today’s Roots Music column in the Red Deer Advocate I advance the local shows as usual and review the recent Gurf Morlix tribute to Blaze Foley. As previously mentioned on Fervor Coulee, Morlix is bringing his Foley tribute show to Red Deer’s The Hideout June 12.
To access the column, click on the link http://tinyurl.com/3b2gsbv and give it a gander.
Originally published in my Roots Music column in the Red Deer Advocate, May 20, 2011
Gurf Morlix Blaze Foley’s 113th Wet Dream www.GoToAGig.com
If it were not for Gurf Morlix, most of us would not know of Blaze Foley and his incredible legacy of understated songs, many of which could be mistaken for less familiar offerings from the songbooks of Steve Earle and Townes Van Zandt.
As much myth as legend, Foley has had songs written about him by Van Zandt and Lucinda Williams and he has been covered by Merle Haggard, John Prine, and others. Foley’s songs are sparse, matter-of-fact Texas poetry, alternating gentle romanticism with crude reality. Not long for this mortal coil, Foley checked out almost a decade before Van Zandt and left only a hodgepodge of recordings behind.
Over the past several years, Gurf Morlix has brought Blaze Foley’s name to prominence within Americana circles. Recently, Morlix released Blaze Foley’s 113th Wet Dream, performing intense, low-key renditions handpicked from the Foley catalogue.
Morlix presents a balanced view of Foley’s music. The straightforward country request of “Baby Can I Crawl Back to You,” which opens the album, is offset by the realistic wistfulness of “Clay Pigeons” and the linguistic playfulness of “No Goodwill Stores in Waikiki.”
Having made his career as a sideman, Morlix is a more than capable front man; his voice isn’t pretty but is pure, imparting shades and textures where more flamboyant vocalists may falter communicating the melancholy and conflicted emotions of the songs. Late in the set, a trio of songs- “Small Town Hero,” “Rainbows and Ridges,” and “In the Misty Garden”/”I Shoulda Been Home with You”- fully expose the tortured intelligence and talents of Blaze Foley.
Obvious is the respect and loyalty Morlix holds for his friend Foley. He imparts enough personality to make the album his own, holding fast to the measure of the words and melodies as written by Foley.
When Morlix sings “Wherever I’m going is the same place I’ve been” in “Cold Cold World,” Morlix isn’t only singing the words as written, he is revealing the tortured soul that inhabits all of us.
As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee.
Ben Sures Gone to Bolivia www.BenSures.com and http://www.myspace.com/bensures
This spring, Ben Sures released what may be his most fully-realized recording. The Edmonton-based songwriter has made Red Deer appearances and in 2005 won the John Lennon Song contest.
I’ve heard Sures live on several occasions and he never fails to impress. When listening to albums, I’ve been less enamored with the singer and I’m not sure why that has been the case. I’m guessing he just hasn’t held my attention for whatever reason, and I’m certain that is attributed more to me and my listening habits than to Sures.
I received Gone to Bolivia for review the same day as his most recent Red Deer performance and was naturally unable to review it in the Red Deer Advocate in advance of the show earlier this month.
Gone to Bolivia collects 14 brilliant and near-brilliant offerings. The set opens with a couple absolutely devastating songs including “American Shantytown” before sliding into “High School Steps,” a song that revisits the familiar ‘looking back at pre-adult life and love’ theme in clever, creative ways; anyone who can work Ray Davies into a song gains several points in my ledger.
“The Boy Who Walked Backwards Through the Snow” has the potential to become a Canadian folk standard, revealing the tale of a Ontario child escaping residential school. The peppy title track can’t be constrained by the traditional conventions of folk music.
Sures remains a fresh, invigorating voice within the crowded Canadian folk market and is very deserving of the accolades that are sent his way. What is most notable about Sures is that he isn’t just a whiny folk singer with a guitar (not that there is anything wrong with that!). The production values of Gone to Bolivia are high and the instrumental accompaniment provided is substantial.
With wonderful, fully realized songs of depth and with lyrical gems hidden throughout, Gone to Bolivia is an early favourite for Canadian folk album of the year. It will receive serious consideration for a place on my Polaris Music Prize ballot next month.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
It takes a lot to get me out of the house, but I seldom miss an opportunity to catch John Wort Hannam live. Fort McLeod’s most famous folk resident stopped by for an appearance at The Hideout, Red Deer’s newest bar and grill featuring live music.
As always, John was in excellent form and voice. On this evening, he was joined by fiddler Scott Duncan. I don’t believe I’ve previously heard JWH with accompaniment, so I was intrigued from the start.
What is it about an energetic fiddler that makes any set better? That was certainly the case tonight/last night; in some places Duncan simply added additional life or texture to the songs, and in other places- as on “Infantryman”- brought a sense of increased solemnness.
Kicking off his performance with the apt “Requiem for a Small Town” (“How about we get all dressed up, go out and get all messed up”), JWH covered most of the essential ground within the 22 songs performed, including a couple choice covers.
“Annabelle,” JWH’s revisioning of “Long Black Veil” had Marty Robbins got a hold of the Marijohn Wilkin/Danny Dill classic, was another early highlight. One in a series of peaks, as expected, and complete with toe-tappers and knee-bouncers and a couple almost sing-a-longs. Actually, the most crowd participation came on a song I hadn’t heard before, a lovely children’s lullaby entitled “Chompy, The Head Biter-Offer.”
I’m always pleased when a familiar song ‘pops’ on a particular evening, and for me on this night that song was “Gypsies Grove.” The line “My boots may be dirty but my conscience is spit polish clean” hit me as particularly impressive, even though I’ve heard it twenty or more time while listening to Dynamite & Dozers.
“Two-Bit Suit,” “Church of the Long Grass,” Sweet, Sweet Rose,” “Tonight We Strike,” and especially “Wheatland” all sounded great and met with appreciation from the audience. I love that lyric “I guess some of us are wheat, and some of us are chaff.”
“Lucky Strikes” was performed late in the evening, long after many of the listeners had departed, and the evening ended with a gentle performance of “50 Miles.”
As for the covers, in honour of the never-ending winter we’re experiencing- including a blizzard JWH had to drive through on his way to Red Deer- Robert Earl Keen’s “Merry Christmas from the Family” was trotted out for (hopefully) one last time this spring. I’d never heard him perform Guy Clark’s “L.A. Freeway” before so that was a most excellent treat. Duncan’s fiddle added a lonesome despair to that one. Nicely done. But now that I reflect, I wasn’t surprised when he started to introduce the song, so maybe I have heard him do it previously. Doesn’t matter, the duo nailed it.
A bit of a strange venue for a folk show certainly. I’m not sure if a pool-table laden bar and grill is the best atmosphere to experience JWH, but so be it. If he’s willing and the booker is too, I’m game. I’d never visited The Hideout before tonight/last night, but I’ll be back- it is quite a nice place, very roomy. The beer was cold, and it was good to see 40 or so folks come out specifically to hear John.
John Wort Hannam is next in Vermillion on Saturday night before heading to Calgary and Fort McLeod for performances of The Gift, the Ian Tyson tribute before heading to California and Ontario.
Over at the Lonesome Road Review, Aaron has posted my reviews of the two recent albums from Idaho’s Hillfolk Noir; while both have something to offer Skinny Mammy’s Revenge is a far superior effort. http://lonesomeroadreview.com/2011/04/05/live-at-the-old-idaho-penitentiary-and-skinny-mammy%e2%80%99s-revenge-by-hillfolk-noir/ will get you to the review. Think Folkways meets O Brother, without T-Bone. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee- Donald
John McCutcheon & Tracy Grammer Old Town School of Folk, Chicago- March 25, 2011
The Fates coordinated things quite nicely.
While the result of the Blackhawks-Ducks game was not what I wanted (the Hawks lost), the game itself was quite good. Combine that with an unexpected whirlwind tour of the amazing Art Institute of Chicago, things worked out quite well for a weekend in Chicago that could not have been anticipated a couple months beforehand.
Once in Chicago, the weekend started with a great meal of gumbo and fried catfish at the Exchequer, and that first evening was capped off with an incredible evening of folk music at the legendary venue, the Old Town School of Folk. Seldom does a night of music shift the way you view the music world, but the two-hour set by John McCutcheon definitely did that for me.
I purchased three seats for this concert as soon as our tickets for the Blackhawks game and flights were secured. I was very familiar with Grammer, having caught Dave Carter and her at the Edmonton Folk Fest some years ago, and having purchased her music since. She was the reason I settled on this concert; taking two non-folkies to the show was a bit of a risk, but the opportunity to attend a show at the OTSF was not likely to be repeated, and since I already enjoyed Grammer’s music, I figured to take the chance that my traveling companions would indulge me. McCutcheon was less familiar to me, although I had listened to and enjoyed the Rounder Records compilation Supper’s on the Table…Everybody Come In. By no means was I A Fan in the way that I am of Guy Clark, Doc Watson, Dale Ann Bradley, or even Tracy Grammer.
That changed by the end of the evening.
To misuse McCutcheon’s words, folk singers can be well-intended guides for guilt trips. What I experienced with McCutcheon- through his music and with his words- is that a visionary folk singer reveals that amidst heaviness of thought exists the lightness of revelation. Think about that for a second, if you would. Instead of feeling bad for what is going on in north Africa, in Japan, in Wisconsin- for feeling remorse that you aren’t doing something, anything, of significance to mitigate the situation- how about understanding that by being made aware of the harshness of life elsewhere, one can feel empowered to make changes in one’s own life situation to minimize the negativity experienced by others.
Back to the concert…
If, like me, you’ve only heard of the Old Town School of Folk through the occasional article or Bloodshot Records compilation, you need to make a pilgrimage to Chicago to experience the room. It is small- smaller than one might imagine even after looking at the on-line line drawing used to select your tickets. No more than six rows of pews augmented by several round tables and a tiny balcony, every seat places one within a few metres of the performer. The lobby is crowded and the refreshment stand is quaint. Fair warning…Edmund Fitzgerald porter sounds much better than it tastes. The posters and decorations of the lobby are of interest to folks like me, but I was disappointed that I couldn’t purchase an Old Town t-shirt or other merchandise at the show; I’m sure they know what they’re doing, but to me such appears short-sighted.
Okay…to the concert.
Tracy Grammer. You have to love her. As she hints throughout her songs and stories, Tracy Grammer has continued performing as much to keep the memory of Dave Carter alive as she does to promote her standing in the folk world. This is apparent in her choice of material- Carter songs such as “Crocodile Man” and “The Mountain”, and a revealing interpretation of Kate Wolf’s “Across the Great Divide,” which opened the half-hour, five-song set. “Across the Great Divide” especially worked on a couple levels, reaching out to the memory of Dave Carter, but also to those who have memory of him. It was genuinely affecting.
As impactful as that performance was, Grammer saved her best for a more recent song drawn from her very fine e.p. Book of Sparrows. On disc, Kate Power’s “Travis John” is an appropriately moving tribute to those who have fallen in recent overseas conflicts. Performed live- and accompanied by the story Grammer shares during her introduction- the song assumes additional dimension. Singing the simple words “I am a boy, full of promise, full of freedom,” Grammer stakes a position- in her small way- as an advocate for liberty and truth, as well as for the sacrifices that accompany such ideals.
Yes, she tends to ramble a bit between songs, and I could have done without the Marcia, Marcia, Marcia story (that led into “Crocodile Man”) in place of a few more songs, but Grammer is so personable, so honest, that while five-songs might not have been nearly enough, one still felt satisfied.
Grammer’s voice may not be the fullest on the folk circuit, and it may not be note-perfect. But for a little while in Chicago, it felt like it was.
Performing for an audience that included five non-retirees (McCutcheon’s slight exaggeration), the well-regarded folk singer opened the set with “Reuben’s Train” leading into the first sing-a-long of the evening, “Well May the World Go.” And this was the first indication that I wasn’t in Red Deer.
At home- and in my experience- one doesn’t normally break into full-voiced accompaniment with the performing singer. In fact, in a different location, doing so one would risk getting the old stink-eye from yours truly. In Chicago and at the School of Folk, it’s what people do. And it sounds pretty good and one becomes quite willing to raise one’s own voice- as off-key and wonky as it is- within this inclusive community atmosphere. Weird.
This was a magical night. Not only did my two traveling companions claim they enjoyed the performance, I believe they really did. McCutcheon performed on any number of instruments, and I perhaps missed one: guitar, banjo, piano, autoharp, hammered dulcimer, and finally- as things came to a close- fiddle. Amongst the songs he performed were stories of tubed meats, Crispy Crème donuts, July 3rd celebrations, Woody Guthrie, flare-lit soccer games, family, and life in the days before Ritalin.
If one thought Grammer rambled on, one hadn’t heard anything yet!
As McCutcheon admitted late in this memorable set, the evening found him with friends and mentors weighing heavily on his mind. And while the evening was certainly inspired by Pete and Woody, less familiar names and stories were given equal measure. West Virginia’s Frank Buckles, “Immigrants,” union coalmen red necks, kindergarten chants, and Si Kahn were all given their due in song, all given respect through McCutcheon’s measured manner.
In a most moving fashion, McCutcheon performed Kahn’s “Washington Square,” commemorating the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, on the 100th anniversary of the tragedy.
While McCutcheon played and sang “Pastures of Plenty,” I was startled to realize that I don’t recall ever before seeing someone play the hammered dulcimer in person. The man is truly an embarrassment of talents- a voice for the ages, a multi-instrumentalist, and a compelling storyteller.
“How Can I Keep From Singing” closed a poignant and lively evening of song and story, and gave McCutcheon the opportunity to feature yet another instrument, the Tibetan Singing Bowl.
What a night of folk music! The experience of listening to folk music- real folk music: the songs of Pete and Woody, songs that evoked the spirits of Kate Wolf and Dave Carter, songs written by those who have lived and observed, songs that provide hope, perspective, and history, and songs sung by people gathered in a similar spirit- was truly astounding. The legacy of the ‘Sixties was alive and well on this recent cold night in Chicago- it was something I won’t soon forget.
I learned. I laughed. I cried. I sang. I thought. One should do those things more often.
Not even a self-aggrandizing, singing cab driver could spoil the natural high of the evening.
A couple things came off the Bucket List (I don’t really have a B.L., but the weekend was full of experiences I’m so fortunate to have experienced) that weekend- Walking under the elevated tracks of Chicago while a train passes overhead. Seeing a show at the Old Town School of Folk. The Willis (Sears) Tower. Experiencing a Blackhawks game in Chicago, and seeing Fernando Pisani play (even a little bit).
What wasn’t on the list was becoming A Fan of John McCutcheon. Check.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Fearing & White Fearing & White Lowden Proud
Like most followers of the Canadian folk scene and industry, I’ve tripped across Stephen Fearing more than a few times, both as a member of Blackie & the Rodeo Kings and as a self-supporting troubadour of some distinguished repute. I own a couple of his albums, and realize the man has a terrifically melodic voice and more often than not can be counted upon to give a satisfying performance.
I’m not as familiar with Andy White, Ireland-born and Australia-based songwriter, musician, and singer. Again, I have a couple of his albums, but don’t really know his music.
So, I come to Fearing & White positively predisposed to enjoy the album, but without the familiarity that would provide strong prejudice of what it should sound like. Given that I’m not entirely confident about who is singing what on the album, forgive me the lack of detail here and there.
This is what I know today: Fearing & White is a collection of wonderful music, much of it catchy and appealing in the broadest sense. “What We Know Now,” in a better world and time, would be a hit single played on Top 40 and underground stations as well as the programs devoted to folk sounds. “Mothership,” a dreamy tune sporting intangible lyrics, and “Under a Silver Sky” might meet a similar fate were they not so obviously out of time and space with current popular tastes.
“If I Catch You Crying” goes back almost a decade to BARK’s third album; it is a horrible song in that it- with bitter honesty- absolutely captures the devastation one can feel when love’s door is slammed in one’s face, and the helplessness of friends left to soothe the injury.
“Heaven for a Lonely Man” and “October Lies” are similarly reborn from BARK’s often overlooked Let’s Frolic album. The latter song especially is given new life here, with Fearing giving the song the consistent voice, conveying the loss with more impact than sharing the lead with his BARK compatriots on the previous version did. Meanwhile, the shared lead vocal on “Heaven for a Lonely Man” works quite well. All of which goes to prove that songs can be effectively rearranged and refiltered on any number of occasions.
The album’s opening track, “Say You Will,” has a frivolous Traveling Wilburys vibe that is instantly attractive and should fill the dance floors of the various community halls and clubs the duo are touring in Western Canada. Seemingly a song of love-at-first-sight, the protagonist’s less than authentic intentions are made a bit clearer through lines including “what can I do so we can walk away” and “say you’re willing to be this naïve.”
The album is self-produced and largely acoustic, featuring a single guest, percussionist Ray Farrugia. Fearing and White handle all other instrumentation: acoustic and electric guitars, including resophonic, from Fearing, acoustic and bass guitar and a spot or two of pump organ from White, with both contributing percussion via a vibraphone.
The duo most obviously has great chemistry, comfortable drifting toward the lead mic and away in near equal measure. Instrumental touches are slipped-in between verses and phrases deftly, giving punctuation to a thoughtful or pointed observance.
Generously packaged and timed, Fearing & White has much to recommend it. Over the past week it has become a new favourite, and unlike the Fearing & White albums already on my shelves, I suspect this one will remain in the oft-played pile for some time. It also provides a nudge to go explore those albums with fresh ears.
As a bonus, the digital version of the album includes the bonus track “How Long.” In no way a throwaway, this 14th track provides the album with an appropriate coda. And don’t despair- near-luddites (like me) who prefer to possess the physical album will be pleased to know that the pair also offer a free download of “How Long” on their website http://www.fearingandwhite.com/.
By the way, Fearing & White visit Red Deer’s Elks Lodge March 25; additional dates posted at their website.
As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Carrie Elkin Call It My Garden and Danny Schmidt Man of Many Moons
both Red House Records
[FYI- I rewrote the Elkin portion of the review for Country Standard Time, and the edited version of that is up at http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=4657]
An Austin-based couple, Danny Schmidt and Carrie Elkin have each just released an outstanding album of contemporary folk music. Each guests on the others’ album and the recordings are quite complementary while being completely independent.
Recorded in Sam Baker’s Austin living room, Call It My Garden begins with Elkin’s light-hearted giggle, setting the scene for an album of introspective, relationship-based, and ultimately hopeful folk-roots. A personal meditation minus self-centered, maudlin angst that could be unwieldy, the songs of Call It My Garden are rife with nostalgia, change, and opportunity, much realized but some regretful.
Reminiscent of (a non-jaded) Lynn Miles, Elkin has crafted an album that is radio-friendly and deeply personal. “Jesse Likes Birds” blend elements of lullaby with boisterous kitchen-jam frenzy. More indicative is “The Things We’re Afraid Of”; sung from a male perspective, Elkin inhabits her protagonist with honesty and intuition.
Recommended if one enjoys Dala, Nanci Griffith, and Dar Williams, whose “Iowa” is the album sole non-original.
Danny Schmidt has been at the cult-favourite, singer-songwriter game longer than Elkin, delivering well-received if under-heard albums for a decade.
Wise, Schmidt understands that the role of the songwriter is to give voice to the thoughts many of us are hesitant to speak, and he does so throughout Man of Many Moon’s 11 songs. “Guilty by Association Blues” and the song it inspired, “Almost Around the World” are the album’s centerpieces, revealing the strange world of the songwriter as few songs do.
Playing what sounds like finger-picked guitar, Schmidt’s songs are spacious with sparse instrumentation framing his vocals. Inhabiting a vocal domain near John Gorka while evoking the mystery of Greg Brown, Schmidt has the ability- like those songwriters- to cut to the core of issues utilizing only a handful of words.
“On Abundance” and “I’ve Mostly Watched” are songs that may make listeners uncomfortable as Schmidt gently challenges while considering his own inadequacies.
As was 2009’s Instead the Forest Rose to Sing, Man of Many Moons is destined to be one of this year’s most welcome folk albums.
Recommended for those who appreciate Chuck Brodsky and Steve Forbert.
If I was a good blogger, I would have mentioned this two weeks ago. Steve Forbert is giving away tracks recorded live in Seattle (Oct. 2010), but only a track per day and they are only up for two days each. So…we’re on track 13 today- again, sorry!- but today’s track is notable for its Canadian content- Ian Tyson’s “Four Strong Winds” completes a two song-medley with “Hey, Good Lookin’”. Get it here…but only for a few more hours: http://www.steveforbert.com/sf/news_tractor_tracks.html
I’m not suggesting that it is life-changing, but it is a darn fine little performance of a song I haven’t before heard from Forbert.
Forbert is one of those artists who ‘get it’, in my opinion. He understands that by whetting listeners’ appetites in this manner, he engages them with his music and realizes that by building this relationship, he profits (however marginally) in the end. He has been posting free, live downloads for years and even released a collection of these a couple years back.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
O Brother, Where Art Thou? was released just over ten years ago. The movie- and more so, the soundtrack recording- gave bluegrass music a possibly unprecedented ‘bump’- arguably more than even Bonnie and Clyde and Deliverance did a generation previously. This despite the lack of ‘true’ bluegrass on the album: excepting the Soggy Bottom Boy and Ralph Stanley/Stanley Brothers tracks, most of the music has only a passing resemblance to bluegrass and would perhaps be better described as old-time country music, or as I prefer to call it within its context, acoustiblue.
For those of us who listen to, write about, and present bluegrass music, the O Brother impact was obvious and immediate. All of a sudden, bluegrass was hip. People were interested in the music, seeking it out in record numbers. Every magazine ran a feature on Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, or Gillian Welch- more often, all three. Ralph Stanley was everywhere. Copycat compilations popped up- some terrific, most rather dodgy. Down from the Mountain hit the road, and in general, bluegrass concert and festival attendance appeared to climb- at least in my part of the world. Everything was pretty darn good for a while there.
Of course, the O Brother bubble only lasted until the next media cycle started. Other fads took its place and we here in Red Deer started to notice declining concert attendance even as the quality of the presented performances remained strong and even improved. We anticipated it happening, and despite concerted efforts, couldn’t find a way to combat it.
Like those who squander the riches of an oil boom or a high-flying economy, we crossed our fingers, hoping for the next O Brother to come along, promising all the while to be better prepared this time. For a few weeks there was hope that the Cold Mountain soundtrack might help things out a bit, continue the momentum, but that didn’t happen. The film and accompanying soundtrack failed to provide a similar bump, notwithstanding the great talent that it gathered- Tim O’Brien, Riley Baugus, Alison Krauss, Dirk Powell and such- but in the end the album just wasn’t that interesting, paling in comparison to the album Songs from the Mountain, previously released by O’Brien, Powell, and John Herrmann.
Which brings me to Winter’s Bone. For the most part, it is unanimous- it is a great movie with wonderful performances that capture the character and people of the modern Ozarks. It is well deserving of one of ten (really, ten?!) best picture Oscar nominations, as is the lead actress Jennifer Lawrence and the down-right scary John Hawkes as Teardrop.
I heard of the movie when the ‘pre-release’ buzz started this past summer. I searched out the Daniel Woodrell novel and found it entirely engrossing, and rented the movie the first time I saw it on a local shelf. I watched the movie the one time more than a month ago- and wasn’t taking notes- but thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn’t really notice the music in the movie until the scene where Ree interrupts a kitchen picking party- the voice I now know as Marideth Sisco’s sliced through me- am I remembering correctly that she was singing “High on a Mountain”?- and I started paying a little closer attention to the soundtrack. Later that evening, I downloaded Winter’s Bone’s soundtrack.
The album has followed me from home to truck to highway to office for the past month, and I’ve enjoyed its less-than-polished music as much- and probably more than- as I did the O Brother soundtrack. Where that album- masterful creation that it was with terrific and timeless performances by favourite Americana artists- in retrospect seems contrived (and how could it not be, given the cinematic thread?) and polished bringing together those that, in most cases, wouldn’t otherwise perform together in the studio, Winter’s Bone sounds more natural, more organic. The soundtrack’s compilers obviously worked just as intently as T. Bone’s crew did with O Brother. But the resulting atmosphere is as different as the movies are. Winter’s Bone is a brutal movie, although not quite as hard-hitting as Woodrell’s novel, and deserves a soundtrack just as sparse and honest.
Little is to be found about the Winter’s Bone soundtrack. Outside of Stephen M. Deusner’s discussion with Marideth Sisco on The 9513 Blog (http://tinyurl.com/4nr8rf8) I haven’t encountered much that is giving the soundtrack its due. While one wouldn’t expect the soundtrack to an art-house movie to give the same boost to bluegrass and traditional music as O Brother did, it would have been nice. This is a wonderful album, more tied to the music bluegrass lovers would appreciate than even the O Brother soundtrack was.
In Deusner’s piece, the point is clearly made by Sisco that the Ozarks are a tough place to live, and the music of the area reflects that through sad ballads, songs that have been ‘tinkered’ with by singers such as Sisco through the centuries. Blackberry Winter, a regional Ozark band according to Sisco, turn in brilliant performances, as does Sisco- in her words, “that old lady singing songs.” Traditional songs including “Rain and Snow” and “Fair and Tender Ladies” are revised to fit the plot of the movie, allowing the soundtrack recording to delve into places- such as the motivations of Jessup Dolly- that the movie doesn’t fully explore. Billy Ward’s “Man on the Run” and John Hawkes’ “Bred and Buttered” (utilizing one of Ree’s favoured expressions) provide additional narrative through song. White River Music Co.’s “Out of Sight” provides a timely honky-tonk interlude that stands on its own as a darn good trucking song.
In my opinion, it is a brilliant soundtrack, one that adds to the memory of film it accompanies. When I listen to it, select scenes from the movie flicker back to me and I appreciate it- the book, the movie, and the soundtrack- all the more with every listen. Again, like O Brother, the music isn’t exactly bluegrass. But, it is close enough to be appreciated by those who love the music. Unfortunately, for those of us waiting for the next O Brother bluegrass bump, we’ll have to find it elsewhere. I’ve read about an upcoming Bill Monroe film that might do it. Again, fingers are crossed.
But- until then- do yourself a favour and seek out Winter’s Bone: Music from the Motion Picture and take a read of the piece on the 9513 as it will add to your appreciation of the process undertaken to make this music so real, so tied to the images and story captured in the movie.
Welcome back to Fervor Coulee. In today’s Roots Music column in the Red Deer Advocate I feature the relatively new album from The Honey Dewdrops, These Old Roots. As was their previous release, it is a darn good listen- sure to become a favourite.
Roots music column, originally published January 21, 2011 in the Red Deer Advocate
The Honey Dewdrops These Old Roots www.thehoneydewdrops.com
In the absence of new Gillian Welch recordings, this Virginia-based duo is becoming a favourite.
On their previous album If the Sun Will Shine, Kagey Parrish and Laura Wortman established an ideal balance of slo-fi folk and bluegrass, creating one of 2009’s finest acoustiblue releases.
Still sounding fresh and bright, The Honey Dewdrops have similarly captured magic with These Old Roots. The acclaim is increasingly universal; according to folk radio airplay, this charming couple received more spins last year than the likes of John Prine, Crooked Still, and even Johnny Cash.
Wortman’s voice has musical purity and in Parrish she has a pleasing harmony and instrumental foil. Similar to Welch in almost all ways excepting that Wortman tends to sing with a bit more zip, this ten-song collection breezes by in a flash.
With a wandering eye Wortman sings, “So goodbye and farewell, I’m going away, there are words my tongue can’t say,” and in the best of folk traditions also sings the spurned lover’s response, “If your mind don’t sway, your life I’ll take right here.” Their fate is left open-ended, but one expects things didn’t work out as initially planned. Similar in theme, Waiting on You allows she who betrayed to exit with her dignity- and soul- intact.
Not to be missed are Parrish’s guitar and mandolin performances. He achieves a nice tone from his instruments, and his flat-picked breaks are truly impressive without detracting from the vocals. Examples are aplenty with his playing on Goodbye and Farewell and Way Back When standing out. It is on this latter song that Gillian Welch-Dave Rawlings comparisons are most apt.
The lyrical lament Amaranth, an animistic ode to a plant whose blossoms never fade, sets the tone for These Old Roots. Nobody in this World follows a blues structure while their rendition of Can’t Get a Letter from Home brings us back to the mountain folk tradition.
Music with roots in Appalachia frequently contains religious themes and imagery, and That Good Old Way and Sweet Heaven are stellar.
Traditional music sometimes feels like it was made for another time. Instead, These Old Roots simply sounds timeless.
Thanks, as always, for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald