Archive for the ‘Fred Eaglesmith’ Tag
The (brief) version of my review of Fred Eaglesmith’s new album 6 Volts has been posted at Country Standard Time. For those of you who are not familiar with Ontarian Fred Eaglesmith, it is high time you become so; in my opinion, no one- not Buddy Miller, not Jim Lauderdale, not Alejandro Escovedo- has produced as solid a string of roots music over the past twenty years. http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=4822 will get you to the review.
Question? Why do American editors/writers so often refer to Canada as if it is one big ol’ mass o’ land without differentiation between our various provinces and territories? A review of any group’s latest album would never be identified as being from an “America-based” band; the descriptor would be localized as Texas-, California-, or Arkansas-based. When I’m writing for a Canadian audience, I will always refer to the outfit’s state, never simply as “an American band.” But for articles published in American publications, Canadian bands, often have their province specific description- such as Fred as an “Ontarian,” that is a person from Ontario- revised to “Canadian.”
I ask all American-based editors to consider beginning to identify Canadian acts with reference to their province or territory of origin. It isn’t really that big of a deal- I think most Americans can understand that a “Saskatchewan-based” band is indeed Canadian. We can trust that, right? It won’t horribly confuse most American readers, will it?
And heck- if it really confuses someone, they can always Google Nova Scotian.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
O, forgot- here is the ‘long’ version of my 6 Volts review:
Fred Eaglesmith 6 Volts A Major Label
From the opening notes of “Cemetery Road” it is obvious that the classic Fred Eaglesmith sound we fell for in the mid-90s is back. Absent this time out are the experimental revelations of recent albums, and as enjoyable and appreciated as those were it seems high time that the Fred of lonely gravel roads, lonelier women, frustrated Saturday evenings, roadside artistry and junkyard Americana paid a return visit.
In Ontarian Eaglesmith’s dark world, the “Dangerous” man, living on the corner of Stupidity and Recklessness has as much appeal as the broken hearted, drugged-out long hauler of “Trucker Speed.” Eaglesmith doesn’t attempt to provide answers; he is an observer, a writer of domestic history- through his acute writer’s eye, he captures the stories of the people we pass without notice.
Within his character studies, the details of Eaglesmith’s brilliance is revealed. Describing a multi-faceted breakdown within the title cut, Eaglesmith sings, “My clutches are slipping, the carbon gets in my throat. You get out on the passenger side, I swallow my pride. The radiators raging like a murderer, only God can bend tempered steel.” Is Eaglesmith describing the death of a relationship or a vehicle? Really, it doesn’t matter- those images work no matter the interpretation.
Eaglesmith’s characters are seldom obviously heroic; they are flawed, often lost. One example can be found within the wrong-eyed, farmer justice of “Katie,” in which a landowner holds out under pressure of residential expansion because he buried his unfaithful wife under the hickory tree…and there’s another grave down by the creek. A new classic is born, one waiting for a bluegrass interpretation from James King, James Reams, or Junior Sisk.
Elsewhere, Eaglesmith eviscerates those who ignored Johnny Cash prior to his Rick Rubin-driven comeback. Perhaps most poignant is “Stars” in which Eaglesmith reflects on his own legacy, the one in which “Willie played the mandolin, he jumped around the stage; we thought that it would never end.” Of course, everything fades and now Eaglesmith finds himself admitting, “My hands hurt from playing my guitar. Every night in all those bars, we played like we were stars.”
With a less elaborate sound than his previous Cha Cha Cha- mostly guitars and drums with pedal steel, banjo, and organ mixed in- Eaglesmith is more focused this time out but no less fierce in his determination to capture the sounds of the past within modern songs that will be as relevant in twenty years as they are today.
If Fred Eaglesmith lost you in recent years, it is time to get back on board. 6 Volts is a welcome return for Canada’s premier roots road warrior.
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
With the summer break totally messing with my normal publication schedule in the Red Deer Advocate, my Roots Music column has fallen by the wayside. Not intentially, I’m sure- just the nature of summer holidays I suppose. I’m posting this week’s (actually last week’s revised) column here in the hopes of spreading the word about some local Red Deer gigs that roots fans will want to attend this weekend and in the days following. Also, you may recall the nice things I posted about Kayla Luky’s album a couple weeks back (http://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2011/06/15/kayla-luky-the-best-album-this-month-you-havent-heard/)- the review follows below. Best, thanks for your patience, and thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee- Donald
Alberta’s finest touring roots artists continue to make their way to The Hideout.
Appearing this weekend at the Gasoline Alley tavern and eatery are Canadian and international folk and roots performers. Tonight (July 8), The Heartbroken- featuring Damhnait Doyle- has a slicker sound than some, but their music remains very agreeable to those who listen with ears attuned to rootsy sounds. Tomorrow, Vancouver’s Graham Brown Band-featuring exceptionally strong vocals- pops in for a show.
In what has to be The Hideout’s most substantial coup thus far, Mary Gauthier appears with fiery fiddler Tania Elizabeth this coming Sunday evening (July 10).
For the second summer in a row, Fred Eaglesmith is spending a great deal of time in Alberta. July 14 finds Eaglesmith at the Grandview Stage near Rocky Mountain House while the next night he takes over The Vat.
Dan Bern also appears this month at The Vat; Bern brings his impressive songbook to The Vat July 20. Bern, who last appeared in town about a decade ago, is a top-notch entertainer as well as a terrific writer and singer.
Red Deer’s Central Music Festival features blues, roots, and rock from many popular performers: David Essig, Souljah Fyah, David Vest, the Jack Semple Trio, and Jonas and the Massive Attraction alongside local performers take over a wonderful rural site north of Red Deer August 12-14. Ticket information is available at www.CentralMusicFest.com.
Blues-rock legend Johnny Winter is slated for Red Deer’s Memorial Centre October 13.
This week’s disc review:
Kayla Luky The Time It Takes www.KaylaLuky.ca
Arriving unheralded this month was the third album from Grandview, Manitoba’s Kayla Luky.
A full-blown alternative country release, The Time It Takes doesn’t waste any time in establishing itself as a revitalizing shot of natural sounding, roots music. From the initial seconds of the album’s opening track “Cowboys are Coming”, one suspects that the album is going to be something special.
And it is.
Similar in sound and approach to recent and excellent recordings from Kim Beggs, Ruth Moody, and Kate Maki, The Time It Takes marks Kayla Luky as an artist for whom we should keep an ear open. Swinging into Neko Case territory on “You Won’t Find Me” and “Arizona”, Luky takes on the fair-haired child of the Americana scene and wins an uncontested victory.
Among the many things one appreciates about this recording is the quality of Luky’s annunciation. While several noted artists have in recent years started slurring their lyrics in an attempt at (one supposes) poetic mystery, Luky lays everything out clearly.
“Lonesome Ranger” wouldn’t sound out of place on an Uncle Earl disc, and closes the album with energy and attitude.
This music could have been made anywhere, I suppose. But knowing that it comes from a group of friends gathered in small town Manitoba this past winter, living on liquor and lottery tickets, makes it all the more appealing and authentic.
Kayla Luky has an ache in her heart, but through music transforms it into something joyful.
Donald Teplyske is a local freelance writer who contributes a twice-monthly column on roots music; visit fervorcoulee.wordpress.com for additional reviews. If you know a roots music event of which he should be aware, contact him at email@example.com
To quote Stompin’ Tom Connors, it’s Canada Day up Canada
way, and in honour of our great Canadian celebration- marked traditionally by hailstorms, watching the NHL Free Agent Frenzy on TSN, and mega-sleep-ins to recover from a school year (6 PM last evening until 7:45 this morning, a personal best perhaps)- I thought I would offer up 10 Roots Songs for Canada Day.
Not a list of the 10 greatest Canadian songs, or my favourites even- just 10 songs to consider pulling off the shelf or downloading (legally, dagnabit) this DFKADD (day formerly known as Dominion Day).
- “8:30 Newfoundland” Mike Plume Band- Okay, maybe
this is the best roots song itemizing the charms and challenges of our fine
country. As a proud Canadian- one who doesn’t usually agree with our governments’
decisions- this song is 4:08 of joy. I haven’t been to all the places mentioned, but that doesn’t make it less appealing- we’re all tied together, especially those of us who watched lots of CBC in the 60s and 70s, by the fact that we know what ‘8:30 Newfoundland’ means. Originally released on 8:30 Newfoundland 2009
- “Acadian Driftwood” The Band- Maybe the band’s finest moments this side of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” A stylized account of the forced exodus of the Acadians from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and their eventual settlement in Louisiana. I took my Canadian history courses in university, but I never really understood the expulsion of the Acadians until I started to understand the meaning behind and context of “Acadian Driftwood.” Unfortunately, that didn’t happen until I was well out of university. A great listen: a solid groove, a story clearly told, and wonderful vocal performances from the triad of Levon Helm, Rick Danko, and Richard Manuel. Originally released on Northern Lights-Southern Cross 1975
- “O Saskatchewan” Matt Masters- As a reluctant Saskatchewanian for a few years, I came to appreciate the province in ways that others- like me, once upon a time- simply can’t because of our stereotypes and our willingness to go for the easy joke. Saskatchewan has always been viewed by Albertans as the poor cousin to the east, but it really isn’t that different from us, save the mountains. Yes, you can see your dog run away for three days out on the prairie, but the same can be said for most of Alberta. The real Saskatchewan is pretty magnificent and I got to explore a bit of it living in
the north country for a few years: you don’t know Saskatchewan until you’ve
walked the Methye Portage three different times and been left breathless each
time at the view of the Clearwater River as you break through the bush at that
final ridge. Matt Masters doesn’t get much off the Trans-Canada in his view of
the province, but we’ll forgive that as his appreciation for Saskatchewan
appears genuine, and the album gets its release today. Originally released on All-Western Winners TODAY, July 1, 2011!
- “Do You Know Slim Evans?” Maria Dunn- As we see labour and worker rights eroded weekly in our country- ask the postal workers and Air Canada workers about that- it is good to reflect on the sacrifices of those who came in previous generations and made the choices necessary to allow others- including those workers who today benefit greatly from their efforts while speaking negatively of unions- to lead more satisfying and fair lives. Maria Dunn’s We Were Good People is a wonderful collection of songs telling the stories of those who really founded our province. In short, Slim Evans was a labour organizer who was accused and convicted of misusing union money; he had diverted funds to feed the families of miners on strike during the winter of 1921-22. Every story tells a picture, and this album does more than that- it allows the seldom heard stories of Albertan pioneering labour organizers, political rabble-rousers, and ordinary people to be shared. Originally released on We Were Good People 2004
- “Out on the Weekend” Doug Paisley- A list of Canadian roots songs without Neil Young would be akin to an issue of enRoute without Neil Young being represented on the in-flight audio program. I chose to go with this cover by Doug Paisley rather than Neil himself because, well frankly Neil isn’t too dang Canadian these days, is he. As part of Mojo magazine’s never-ending quest to recreate every single album released between 1965 and 1975, Harvest received the honour last fall and this track is one of the standout performances. Whether we head toward L.A. or not, what Canadian hasn’t had the urge to “pack it in and buy a pickup”? Originally released on Harvest Revisited 2010
- “Prairie Town” T. Buckley- From an Albertan I’m convinced will become a household name in roots circles, “Prairie Town” is songwriting perfection in under four and a half minutes. This one has the lonesome qualities of the finest songs, crafted with an eye for detailed images that resonate with anyone who was raised on or near the prairie, built upon decisions of love and home. Do you stay or do you follow? Originally released on Roll On 2010
- “Love Shines” Ron Sexsmith- A power pop masterpiece. Everyone knows Ron Sexsmith doesn’t have the most commercially accessible voice, but it does have its appeal. The recent documentary about Sexsmith and his journey to find himself- not to mention album sales- shares a title with this number, and much like the movie this song has a slow build that sucks you right in until you’re hanging on every phrase and sound. Beautiful. Originally released on Long Player, Late Bloomer 2011.
- “I Like Trains” Fred Eaglesmith- As a farm kid, I can still remember the thrill of waiting at the crossing at Duffield as the train passed through town. Sitting in the red Ford pickup, counting the cars, waving at the engineer and the crew in the caboose…those are memories as fresh today as they were when they happened forty years ago. All kids like trains. Only folks like Fred get to write about them. I love the phrase “shake the gravel loose”- it captures the trembling that you felt as a kid as the train
roared by. Originally released on Drive-In Movie 1995.
- “Sometimes I Think I Can Fly” Suzie Vinnick- Sparse blues. If I could play music, it wouldn’t sound anything like this. But I wish it would. Originally released on Me
‘N’ Mabel 2011.
- “Pier 21” John Wort Hannam- This is where the journey started for many Canadians of previous generations. Like Maria Dunn and I suppose Robbie Robertson, John Wort Hannam gives life to Canadian history, and any one of a dozen of his songs could have had a place on this list. With the exception of its Native people, Canada is a country of immigrant stock and JWH captured that experience in this song from his debut:
“He said Go Laddie Go, Go Laddie Go, Find your dreams over on Pier 21, He said Go Laddie Go, Go Laddie Go, But don’t you ever forget where you’re from.” Originally released on Pocket Full of Holes 2003
And that sums up Canada Day for me- “Don’t forget where you’re from!” We or our ancestors might have come from Scotland, Germany, Ukraine, India, and anyone of twenty-four dozen other countries, but we’re Canadian. And let’s not forget it.
Now, go play some Trooper.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
BTW- I posted a similarly-themed but different posting of 10 Canadian Bluegrass songs over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass: http://www.countrystandardtime.com/blog/FervorCouleeBluegrass/entry.asp?xid=770
Fred Eaglesmith- Cha Cha Cha Reviewed here: http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=4463 With every listen, this album reveals a bit more. And what it reveals, is good.
The album I most enjoyed listening to this week.
Fred Eaglesmith- Milly’s Café, 50 Odd Dollars, Dusty I listened to these the other night while prepping my Cha Cha Cha piece. Dusty shocked me. I thought I disliked the album, and because of that I haven’t listened to it since it was released. Surprise. It’s pretty good. I know what I didn’t like- the organ- but my ears have grown into it. Really glad I pulled it off the shelf.
The Sadies- Darker Circles Working on a review. Well, listening a lot in preparation of writing a review.
Bryan Sutton and Friends- Almost Live One of those albums I feel quite inadequate reviewing.
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band- Preservation Treme wrapped up Season 1 last night; I thought it had finished up before Memorial Day, but it only took a week off. Great show. I hadn’t listened to this one in a couple weeks, but put it on after the show was finished. The last four cuts really appealed to me last night.
Ian Dury- New Boots and Panties!! Just had to listen to it again. Rhymes, rhymes, rhymes. Rhythms. Rhythms. Rhythms. Good.
Kimberley Rew- Great Central Revisited One of my favourite albums. He is a master.
Highwaymen- The Road Goes On Forever: 10th Anniversary Edition Pulled off the shelf while writing a review for the new Mark Chesnutt album. Enjoyable, and even more so now than when first released.
Kathy Kallick Band- Between the Hollow and the High-Rise Great title! One of my favourite bluegrass people, Kathy Kallick is. I’ll be listening to this one all summer.
Oliver Schroer & The Stewed Tomatoes- Freedom Row Even better the second week. Reviewed in the paper last Friday; link below…somewhere.
Dierks Bentley- Up On The Ridge The last time a major country artist- at the top of his game, while not exactly setting the world on fire with his previous release- was this brave, putting everything on the line to make music he loves was, well…never? Marty Stuart, who Bentley does remind me of at times on this pretty spectacular acoustic roots album, did something similarly risky in 1999 with The Pilgrim. While an artistic success, The Pilgrim died at retail. So far, Up On The Ridge is a chart success. It is a terrific album and the contributions of The Punch Brothers and Del McCoury push it over the edge.
Doc Watson- Songs for Little Pickers Any Doc is good Doc.
Mumford & Sons- Sigh No More Modern music for a non-modern guy.
The Wooden Sky- If I Don’t Come Home You’ll Know I’m Gone The only release from my Polaris Music Prize ballot to make it through to the ‘long list’ stage; how can I be so consistently out-of-touch with the Canadian pressie masses? Pretty easily- only a very small sampling of music I would identify as roots made it through- see the long list here: http://www.polarismusicprize.ca/blog/148 Lots of good music, no doubt, but it is criminal that John Wort Hannam was overlooked- Juno nominated, Queen’s Hotel is wonderful folk album, one for the ages. The Wooden Sky is battling it out with Lee Harvey Osmond for top place on my ‘short list’ ballot. Had LHO had a W in it, it may have made my Long List ballot.
The Fabulous Ginn Sisters- You Can’t Take A Bad Girl Home I’m reserving judgment until I listen again. Some nice songs with lyrics clever enough for me to suspect Fred Eaglesmith had a hand in them- the writing credits prove me wrong.
While it didn’t change the course of network television, it may well change the course of Fred’s career. Looking like a secondary character from Carnivàle, Fred’s highly publicized appearance on Letterman Friday night, June 18 (recorded the previous Monday) went off without an apparent hitch. Performing “Careless” from Cha Cha Cha with the full assemblage of The Fred Eaglesmith Road Show, Fred was all Fred- calm, cool, and calculated. I’ve been listening to Cha Cha Cha for a couple weeks now and had identified “Careless” as among the most accessible tracks within a dense collection of odd (to be clear, that is not a negative) songs and performances. Within the ‘live’ context, the song worked very well and Fred was beaming by the time Dave ambled over. It was a strange but restrained performance on a huge stage, and I do hope it causes the sales of Fred’s new album to go through the roof; I enjoy mid-90s Fred much more, but I’m not going to knock anyone for changing their style over time. Count me among those who never thought they would see Fred on Letterman, but it is a logical placement- Dave has always taken chances with his musical guests, featuring many one would not anticipate.
Eaglesmith will be spending most of July in Alberta this year, beginning at Pembina River Nights July 9 (http://www.asmallshieldmusic.ca/) and wrapping up at the nearby Grandview Stage at Cow Lake August 5 (http://www.grandviewstage.com/specialevents.html) I can’t wait to see how Fred goes over at Blueberry Bluegrass! (www.blueberrybluegrass.com)
From New York’s Ed Sullivan Theatre to the Grandview Stage in less than six weeks- the life of a road musician!
Letterman clip here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MdUAjwHWYSI
Another busy week of listening. Less time with WDVX and CKUA than usual, and I didn’t even listen to much Sirius 65 this week. Full albums took priority, and I did a quite a bit of listening in anticipation of casting my Polaris ballot next week.
The album I most enjoyed this week!
J.D. Crowe & The New South- Flashback When I started drafting this piece, I wasn’t sure which album was my favourite of the week; after today, I’m certain. Flashback! What a strong bluegrass album. I wasn’t immersed in the bluegrass world when this one came out in 1994, so I can only imagine the impact the disc had.
I found this one at the library yesterday afternoon, and while I was sure I had it on the shelf at home, the liner notes didn’t look familiar. I wonder why? I don’t actually own this one, only thought I did. I’ve thought this thought a couple times after listening to a Crowe disc- That is a perfectly constructed album. Some country touches, some solid picking and creative vocal arrangements, a couple strong instrumentals (including “Sledd Ridin’,” a personal fave) and a few old gospel numbers. And it has Crowe. ‘Nuff said, I say.
Cowboy Junkies- Renmin Park: The Nomad Series Volume 1 Only gave this one a quick and distracted listen this week. It sounds like the Cowboy Junkies. I will listen to it more.
Danny and the Champions of the World- Streets of Our Time A wonderful album. Rock ‘n’ roll with a folk poet soul.
Fred Eaglesmith- Cha Cha Cha I am going to have to listen to Dusty again. This one reminds me a bit of that along with the vocal approach Fred took to Tinderbox. Again, more to hear here.
The Blue Shadows- On the Floor of Heaven One of my favourite albums, reissued with an additional disc of covers and outtakes. Considering Jeffery Hatcher’s Cross Our Hearts was one of the first three CDs I bought back in 1990 (yes, I made the transition to CDs slowly) it isn’t surprising that I feel a connection to this album. I’ll write more about this one.
Woodpigeon- Die Stadt Muzikanten Polaris listening. Woodpigeon is one of my enduring favourites whenever Polaris consideration is being given. It may sneak into my Top 5, which I will continue to whittle away at. Right now I’ve got John Wort Hannam, Canteen Knockout, SpoonRiver, Kent McAlister, The Wooden Sky, The Sadies, and Lee Harvey Osmond on my list. Only JWH is a lock.
The Wilderness of Manitoba- When You Left the Fire Never heard of them before this week when I received this one in the mail. Comes out in June; an amazing trip. I love listening to a disc with absolutely no expectations clouding my brain. This album has me gobsmacked. It is light, dreamy, and smooth without being sleepy. What most impressed me was the quality of the voices. Normally I am a lyric pig, but with this one- so far- I haven’t listened to the words at all. The yearnsome voices become an instrument within my listening, blending and complementing the instrumentation. It is a beautiful thing to hear late at night. I’m also listening to their Polaris-eligible Hymns of Spirit and Love album/e.p.; it is every bit as appealing.
Various Artists- Putumayo Presents South Africa I review this collection in the paper this coming Friday. A cohesive overview just in time for soccer madness to take over the world.
Donna Durand- The Road Back A quiet little album from a local singer-songwriter. Her lyrics are beautiful and the melodies are memorable. I review it this week, too.
Jaydee Bixby- Easy to Love Sometimes, I listen to things because I have to. This is one of those occasions, but the experience wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. This album is evidence of tremendous growth from the Canadian Idol finalist. Not my thing, but there is worse on the radio.
The Sadies- Darker Circles More Polaris listening. A very appealing album. I seldom seek out their music, but I almost always enjoy it. Perhaps I should listen to them more often.
Doug Cox & Salil Bhatt- Slide to Freedom 2: Make a Better World Listned to this one while driving this week; got through it a couple times. It is growing on me, and I appreciate John Boutté more and more. The bass playing on this one, from Dinah D., is special. My new favourite track off here is “The Moods of Madhuvanti.”
The Rolling Stones- Stripped Not nearly as bad as I remember the reviews to be; AllMusic didn’t like it one bit. I was going to buy the Exile on Main Street reissue this week, but saw this one even cheaper, so I bought it. How often would I listen to Exile, anyway? A friend once suggested I would like a re-recording of Led Zeppelin IV if they did it acoustic. My enjoyment of Stripped leads me to believe he may have been onto something.
Martin Sexton- Sugarcoating Either I forgot how funky he is, or if this is a fresh direction for Sexton. I’ll dig his other albums off the shelf. I didn’t fall for this one as I had hoped I would when I downloaded it, but I did groove to it a bit.
John Boutté- Good Neighbor Now that Treme is finished for the season, I need to continue to get my New Orleans fix. I do like this one. I downloaded another version of “The Treme Song” from his Jambalaya album that I like even more than the version here; it’s the Treme version, I believe.
Cadillac Sky- Gravity’s Our Enemy I’m not sure why I downloaded this one, other than I liked the song “Bible By The Bed” when I heard it one Sirius 65 a couple months back. I can’t say I’m a fan of the band. I can’t remember too much from this one, which says enough I suppose.
One Horse Blue- One Horse Blue I was link-jumping one night this week and found this album. I remember seeing it in the stores when I was younger, but didn’t recall the songs. Now I do, especially “Cry Out for the Sun.” An unheralded, western Canadian classic. Sort of like the Cooper Brothers for me- memories of my brother’s listening choices. When I find it on vinyl, I’ll buy it.
Teenage Head- Frantic City My buy of the month, found sans case but with booklet for fifty cents in a used store. Yes, it was likely stolen. I rocked to this one in the truck for a complete day last week. I think Frantic City would make my All-Time Top 100 albums.
Mark “Brink” Brinkman- On the Brink of a Dream My review is up at the Lonesome Road Review. A very fine bluegrass/Americana album.
The Special Consensus- A Hole in My Heart I’m cheating here, as I actually listened to this one the week before and missed it in my weekly write-up. I have been searching for this album for ten years, and a ten or so days ago, it showed up in my mailbox courtesy of Greg Cahill, Mr. Special C. I sure appreciate him remembering me when he uncovered this cassette, and what a treat. I’ve been wanting to hear Robbie Fulks sing bluegrass ever since I learned he had been a member of the Chicago-based, bluegrass institution. He sings a couple numbers here, and the wait was worth it.
The Feelies- Crazy Rhythms If I wasn’t sure which album was my favourite of the week, hands down I know which was my least favourite. For more than thirty years I’ve been reading about The Feelies, how influential they were and how it was too bad they were underappreciated in their time.
I have a sneaking suspicion that, since they were on Stiff, I may have even owned this at some point. For some reason I decided to give them another chance and purchased this album from iTunes in February; it was only yesterday I got around to listening to it. I’m not sure what the big deal is- the songs go nowhere and it sounds like it was recorded in a bathtub on a Sears cassette deck circa 1977. “Raised Eyebrows,” indeed. The only song I halfway enjoyed was the title track, a percussion-driven track that, well, goes nowhere!
Around the same time I downloaded this one, I bought the The Good Earth reissue package. I haven’t listened to it yet and can only hope things got better with time. Sometimes money just burns a hole in my pocket, and then I pay the price months later.
This past Saturday, I took the highway north to take in my (almost) annual day at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. As I’ve detailed elsewhere, I find it difficult to do more than a day at any music fest although there was a time when I could do three days in Calgary, three at Stony Plain, and then four in Edmonton; those days are long gone. In fact, this year, I needed to sleep away most of Sunday afternoon just to recover from my day at Gallagher Park.
Because I limit myself to a day at the EFMF, I do try to take in as much music as possible. I go in with a bit of a game plan as to which sessions I most want to catch, but try to allow for some spontaneity. This year I was very much looking forward to finally catching Rodney Crowell as he has been a long time favourite I haven’t caught in concert; I remember a scheduled Red Deer show in the early nineties was cancelled after only a few dozen tickets sold- and this after six consecutive number ones on the Canadian country charts.
Celebrating its 30th anniversary, the festival is well-established and there are usually not too many organizational surprises, leaving one to discover music without worrying about food (lots of vendors), water (two different locations with plenty of taps with potable water), potties (go early is my advice!), or discs (the CD tent is fully stocked, although some artists still don’t bring enough (or any) product to satisfy the demand). I’m estimating this is my tenth festival over fifteen years, and despite attending only the one day, I must admit I have never more enjoyed an Edmonton Folk Music Festival. It helps that the weather was sunny without being uncomfortably hot.
I got to the park in plenty of time to catch the opening sessions, and made a bee-line for Stage 2 for Newgrass, a pairing of Nashville’s The SteelDrivers and Mongolia’s Hanggai. I had checked out Hanggai’s Myspace site (http://www.myspace.com/hanggaiband) the day before and was intrigued at the interaction that may occur between southern bluegrassers and an Asian stringband. I was not disappointed.
Richard Bailey, the SteelDrivers’ five-stringer and one of the most in-demand session players in Nashville, had a huge smile on his face as he dropped in some basic fills while the throat singer and other members of Hanggai performed their music. Quite a bit of interplay occurred between the quintets, with Hanngai’s electric guitar player taking an extended break during one of the SteelDriver tunes- can’t recall which one.
This was my first chance catching the SteelDrivers, and they didn’t disappoint. Tammy Rogers has played Edmonton numerous times as a member of the Dead Reckoners, and her contributions to a song are always appreciated. Chris Stapleton’s growly blues vocals are as effective on stage as they are live, and Mike Fleming kept things moving along with a restrained approach to MC duties. The bands came together for a rousing closing on “The Drinking Song.” This was one session that ended much too soon, and it seemed that everyone on the stage left quite pleased with their collaboration.
Next up were my favourite Canadian alt-country band, The Swiftys. I was pleased to see Marc Ladouceur hanging around the stage area as the SteelDrivers and Hanngai performed, leading me to believe he might be sitting in with the band. And he was, performing on acoustic and electric guitars and mandolin. It became clear early on that Jody Johnson was no longer playing with Shawn Jonasson and Grant Stovel as a new bassman was on stage with them- and Jody was off to the side. Roger Marin was also sitting in on pedal steel, making the trio a quintet.
I didn’t take notes during the show, and instead just sat back to enjoy the forty-minute set. They played songs from both of their albums including “Ridin’ High” and “Sweet Rose”. They dropped in Shuyler Jansen’s “Bottle of Wine” and Darrek Anderson’s “26 oz of Gin”, both recorded on their Ridin’ High disc, as well as a cover of Waylon’s “Sweet Mental Revenge.” I don’t know how much this line-up has been gigging, but they sounded quite tight and there were no noticeable slips. Knowing how much Marc likes the electric guitar, I was pleased to finally, after how many years, get to hear him play in a couple spots. Very nice, and complemented the band’s sound nicely. A strong set of electric barroom-inspired country music was enjoyed by a fairly large gathering of friends, family, and fans at stage two.
After touching base with acquaintances after the show, I rushed off the catch the final bit of a session featuring Tift Merritt, Sam Baker, Alana Levandoski, and Slaid Cleaves. To be able to listen to three of my favourites- four, if one includes Gurf Morlix who was sitting in with Sam- was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I don’t often enjoy the sessions that include a number of singer-songwriters taking turns playing their songs with little interaction. It often seems pretty stiff and awkward. Maybe it has to do with the mind-set of the songwriter.
Sam Baker was finishing up “Orphan” as I got to Stage 5. Slaid slipped nicely into “Drinkin’ Days” along with a backing duo whose names I didn’t catch. Tift was next up, and sang a beautiful version of “Something to Me” unaccompanied. Very nice, and a great way for my only chance to see Merritt at the festival to begin. Later, she moved over to the keyboard to perform “Good Hearted Man.”
I only caught a couple songs by Alana, one of which was a cover of “Those Memories of You” inspired by her dual love of Emmylou Harris and Brit-pop bands.
Sam Baker performed “Truale” and Slaid’s mando player was invited to drop in a four-second break. Gurf Morlix wrapped things up, playing it “weird and scary”, transforming the Stones’ “The Last Time” into a breezy gospel clap-a-long. A nice way to close things down.
The session- at least the portion I witnessed- didn’t feature a lot of interplay between the participants although many quips were exchanged and laughter was plentiful.
The mid-afternoon main stage performance was by Oysterband. I’ve long thought the Saturday afternoon 2:00 set as the toughest of the weekend. By Sunday afternoon, most folks are tired enough to sit down and just veg and listen. But on Saturday it seems the performers always face a sea of movement, lanes of wanderers in search of sustenance, shade, and lost pals. While it didn’t seem many were listening to Oysterband initially, John James’ personable interactions, encouragement of audience participation, and the band’s lively Celtic-rock hybrid seemed to bring things around. Fortunately, the sound system was cranked up loud enough that the set could be heard throughout the site, allowing one to indulge in green onion cakes and the like. I want to dive back in and explore their catalogue a bit.
I was a bit torn for the next slot. The Skydiggers were doing a concert set, and as they are a new-to-me favourite, I was tempted. But, in the end, seeing a bit of Fred won out- how can I attend any festival and not spend at least a bit of time being amused, enlightened, and offended by our Fred? So, I went over to the Megatunes session for Fred Eaglesmith and Loudon Wainwright III. Joining them at the far stage six were Danny Michel and Jill Barber, two singer-songwriters that don’t much interest me but whom I know have devoted and- judging by the crowd in attendance- sizeable fan bases.
This one had all the makings of a session disaster- too many chairs on the small side stage, too many hands setting up too much gear. The start time of 3:00 came and went with only Danny Michel appearing ready to go. Plugs, cords, and mics were still being manipulated by the time Fred and Jill were ready, and Loudon was still nowhere in sight. Of course, the biggest straw hat in the park had to sit directly in front of me, ta boot. I considered beating a hasty retreat, but elected to hang in. Loudon took the stage at seven past, and by about eleven after the hour things appeared set to go.
Jill Barber did a couple of her jazz-tinged songs of an earlier time. She has a lovely voice, but it doesn’t quite stick with me or hold my attention for very long. She did “Wishing Well” and “Be My Man” and audience loved that.
Joined by Bill Chambers, Fred launched into one of his ‘lesbian love songs’ “Wilder than Her,” offending half of the slope with an off-colour quip about gay pride and rainbows that I figure will somehow be edited out by the time this session is broadcast on Radio 2 August 27. He also pulled out “Rough Edges,” which I haven’t heard in years. That’s one of the many things I like about Fred, he is willing to pull out older songs and give them an airing on occasion. Some songwriters, well you have a fair idea of what you’ll hear, but with Fred all bets are off. Fred is able to do more in two songs than lesser entertainers can in an entire set.
Loudon performed a pair of songs from his upcoming Charlie Poole project that really interested me, and will encourage me to check out High Wide and Handsome when it is released.
Knowing that I would only likely hear another song from each of the performers, I decided to head back across the park for the 4:00 concert by Chumbawamba, a band I really wanted to experience. They were booked into the festival a few years back, but I missed their performance and since then I’ve purchased a handful of their discs and quite enjoyed them. I am also interested in them because of their refusal to fall victim to the ‘pop trap’, and have gone out of their way to maintain their values and aims while setting “Tubthumping” well behind them.
Chumbawamba Acoustic is a very impressive group- heavy songs, lightly presented. Two guitars, accordion, trumpet, tambourine, a pipe and usually four but occasionally five voices taking on the world. I spent a wonderful fifty minutes listening to them, and was absolutely impressed in every way. They engaged their audience- actually went a bit far with that and had a young gal from the audience come up to sing the first verse of “Ring of Fire” within “Charlie”- and were completely brilliant. They even dropped in a bit of “pissing the night away” into “Charlie.” I’m gushing, I know, but I just loved what they did. The did several songs from The Boy Bands Have Won (including “I Wish They’d Sack Me” and “El Fusilado”) as well as the chuckle inspiring ode to the joys and perils of social networking, “Add Me.” “Hanging On the Old Barbed Wire” brought things back to somber realties. I downloaded a couple albums last night- UN and Boy Bands-and can’t get enough.
Which brings me to a suggestion I’ve thought of making to the festival’s A.D., Terry Wickham. I think it may be time to let go of the mid-day main stage performance. Many (most?) people appear to have trouble focusing on the music during the middle of the afternoon when the stage is so far down the hill from many of the audience. Judging by the number of folks in the food lineups, under the shade of the sheltering tent, and just wandering the grounds, I wonder if the slot might be better used by having seven extended concert sets going instead of one main stage performance.
While a Fred Eaglesmith, Chumbawamba, or Tift Merritt- or for that matter, The SteelDrivers, Hot Tuna, or Joel Plaskett) may not warrant a full, main stage set, they are more than deserving of greater than forty-five or fifty minutes to show their wares. Perhaps if one scheduled a series of 80-minute concert sets between 1:30 and 3:00 on all the stages, more engagement may occur between listeners and performers.
I know I would have much rather had the Oysterband play to a really enthusiastic but smaller audience than have them playing to a sparsely populated hill of half-listeners. Just a thought.
Next up was Texan Sam Baker, again accompanied by Gurf Morlix. I love his voice and approach to songwriting. He did a couple songs from the new album Cotton including the title track and “Moon.” I don’t mind his penchant for borrowing lyrics at all as he makes the traditional words fit his characters and their situations so effectively. He punctuates his singing with an oddly lively picking style that is appealing.
“Waves” is up there with “75 Septembers” for impactful songs of sustained commitment and aging. Baker has a way of singing that is unlike anyone I can think of off the top of my head. It is a hesitant yet melodic singing-speaking voice that is attractive. He’s top drawer, engaging, self-deprecating, insightful. I enjoyed the set immensely. And yet…
When Gurf Morlix gets a chance to do one of his songs- and Sam turned things over to him twice during the nine-song set- it is magic. He doesn’t blow Sam Baker off the stage- they are too different in approach for that to occur- but when he is finished a song like “Crossroads,” one thinks, “Damn, that’s how it is done.”
They are like two visual artists of very different styles. One is grounded in realism, texture, and details, the other is into poetic uses of colour within impressionistic murals. I’m not sure which is which, but I enjoy them both as they are completely compelling when sharing their music.
But note to Sam- don’t ask for requests from the audience when you can’t hear what they are yelling! Just play your songs.
So that was the day in the sun. Next up were the main stage acts, supper, and such. After having my fill of green onion cakes, we settled in on the hill for the main-stagers. I didn’t hear much of Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit, but we were ready for Patty Griffin.
According to my friends, I’ve seen and heard her at the folk fest before, but I don’t remember her. I don’t think I’ll recall much of this performance as well. I don’t find her music terribly appealing, although I am definitely outvoted in that regard within our small group. My ears perked up for a version of “Silver Wings”, but I would have a real hard time recalling any of her other songs. It wasn’t unpleasant by any means, but just more suitable to an audience that doesn’t include me, I suppose.
Iron & Wine was next. I have to be honest, I own several Iron & Wine albums and EPs but without liner notes I don’t know one Sam Beam song from the next. Strangely, I’m okay with that ignorance. I just like the sounds. And on the main stage, standing alone in a revolving spotlight, he alternately banged and strummed his guitar- making the bass notes count- and sang. And for an hour or so, the crying babies, squabbling couples, (loudly) reuniting friends, and other annoyances faded away. I’m told he sounds like Jethro Tull/Ian Anderson, and that was a good thing, I believe. I didn’t recognize a single song, and that has more to do with the way I listen to Iron & Wine than anything else. I just love the music. It was a great set, very enjoyable. The word ethereal is used a great deal when describing music that causes other words to be inadequate. I think I now know the meaning of the word.
Okay, that isn’t completely true. I didn’t fully enjoy the set. I had gone all day without having any conflicts with any other attendees. I had even mentioned this to my friends- the chatterers seemed to be missing this year. Well, all good things come to an end.
I hope you are reading this! If you want to gush about your friend’s knitting, discuss the dental crown you lost, compare and discuss the relative merits of hoodies and zippered sweaters, and….Why come and do it on a hill surrounded by folks who are actually trying to listen to the freakin’ music? I will never, ever understand it.
I do understand and embrace the social aspects of the folk festivals. Over the last twelve or so years, more often than not I’ve attended festivals with a small group of friends, and recently that group has included a great wee lad. We chat relatively quietly, we catch up, and then we listen. That is the part I don’t get- why would you pay money and ignore world class artists who are sharing their innermost thoughts and observations? A mystery.
Back to the hill.
When the lights go down, things do change. When the sun finally sets around 10 o’clock, and darkness engulfs the hill, it is really quite spectacular. I remember both of the Joans (Baez and Armatrading) marveling at the effect of the candle-covered hill. With the candles on our side, and the downtown skyline on the other, a better setting for a festival of this type is hard to imagine. And, amazingly, people tend to quiet down as well! Bonus.
Rodney Crowell was next, the act my group and I had been waiting for, and he was amazing. Fronting a three-piece band, including Cicadas compatriot Steuart Smith for the first time in nine years, Crowell focused largely on material from The Houston Kid and later albums. “The Rise and Fall of Intelligent Design” and “Moving Piece of Art” started the show, setting the tone for an evening of music played with maturity and good taste. “Still Learning How to Fly” seemed especially poignant, and “I Wish It Would Rain” seemed to capture the audience’s attention. I was especially pleased to hear “Closer to Heaven,” if only to howl “I love Guy Clark” along with Rodney.
More than halfway through the show, Crowell started reaching back into his extensive catalogue. “Leaving Louisiana” and “Til I Gain Control Again” got things going while an amped up take of “I Ain’t Living Long Like This” was blistering, and on this familiar tune Crowell and his band demonstrated that a country band can rock without resorting to recycled Van Halen riffs.
While at an afternoon session (I’m told by an ecstatic Cheryl) Crowell dipped into the songbooks of George, Hank, and Merle, the only cover on this night was a spell-binding rendition of “Pancho and Lefty.” Introduced by Crowell as “one of the greatest songs ever written,” he launched into the song and made it sound new. I think this version may get Waylon and Willie playing dress-up out of my head, and perhaps I can enjoy the song now as others do.
As an encore, Crowell came back unaccompanied with quiet, gentle benediction that I just can’t identify although I know I’ve heard it before; it reminded me a little of “Forever Young,” but I couldn’t figure it out. (Edit: Two years later…”Earthbound,” I do believe.) He swung into “I Know Love Is All I Need” with the band rejoining him before the song’s conclusion.
A perfect performance, in my opinion. Too often I am disappointed in performances on large festival stages from my favourites, but not this time. Even lacking the Columbia hits and our being several hundred feet from the stage, Crowell kept me engrossed the entire performance.
My friends left after Rodney, and I decided to move to another location for Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. I knew I wouldn’t stay long, no matter how good they were because of the two-hour commute home, but I wanted to be close to one of the video screens. I found a wonderful spot, and I think it may now be my favourite secret location, on a steep incline that no one else seems to sit on.
The tweener for this slot was Ashley MacIsaac accompanied by Quinn Bachand, a thirteen year-old guitar wizard. One could almost hear the hill collectively sigh, “Ashley, all is forgiven. Welcome back, lad!” The attention-seeking behavior of the past was forgotten as the duo electrified those remaining in attendance. They did three numbers, the middle of which was a dreamy, passionate fiddle tune that was lovely. Bookending this sensitive number that really showed off MacIsaac’s gifts were a pair of up-tempo leapers with which one more readily associates with the Nova Scotian. Seeing MacIsaac mouth the chord changes to Quinn was like watching the skills of one generation being passed down to the next, which I guess it was. I’ll be on the lookout for more music of this type from MacIsaac and I won’t be surprised to see him making a return visit soon.
The seven-piece Dap-Kings opened the show Wilson Pickett-style, with a horn rich instrumental, firing up the audience with an extended introduction to the revue while getting the lower bowl on their feet. By the time Jones joined the boys, the hill was rocking to the soul-fest. “How Do You Let A Good Man Down?” got things jumping, and “Nobody’s Baby” kept it going. A couple tunes later and I was making my way to the bus, wishing I could stay later. But, knowing it would be 2:00 AM before I got home kept me going toward the exit as midnight approached.
What a day! I can’t remember the last time I left a music festival so drained and satisfied. I was unable to catch several favourites, including Chuck Brodsky, Kimmie Rhodes, The Skydiggers, Spirit of the West, and Great Lake Swimmers, and I still haven’t caught up to Sierra Hull. Hot Tuna intrigued me, especially after I realized who was playing with them- Barry Mitterhoff. Dang! I even missed Dick Gaughan, something I never thought I would do. Too many choices. A friend suggested I hear The Wooden Sky, but I was unable to. I bought their disc instead, unheard and only on my pal’s advice. I must say, Ross has me figured out as I’ve quite enjoyed the album already.
A last thought- It was nice to see a mention of Gilbert Bouchard in the festival’s program guide. I won’t pretend Gilbert and I were friends, and certainly have no desire to overstate our relationship. But for several months from 1984 to 1986, Gilbert was a close acquaintence. He was the first person to give me a chance to write about music and was a brutal but supportive editor. His taste in sherry not withstanding, without his involvement, I likely wouldn’t have followed a path that has included writing.
As always, the Edmonton Folk Music Festival appeared to be excellently organized, and my experience was entirely pleasant, excepting a half-hour of chatter-chatter during Iron & Wine. For those of you not in the Edmonton area, consider putting this fest on your vacation planner; but get your tickets early, as the fest tends to sell out quickly. www.efmf.ab.ca
Postcard2 is a list serve that is focused around (mostly) roots music and its various off-shoots. Each year members submit their Top 20 releases of the year. The submissions can be interesting, and can lead to further exporation of artists and albums previously missed. www.postcard2.com for more information. Anyhow, here is what I submitted, with three comments. One, I missed Darrell Scott’s Modern Hymns. Not sure how, but I did. It would have most likely pushed the Hubbard disc out of the top 20. Second, I hadn’t heard either the Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson album nor the Hank Williams unreleased radio show recordings prior to compiling the list. Not sure if Rattlin’ Bones would have made it to the Twenty, but Hank would have made the reissues list. Additionally, Maria Dunn’s album arrived too late to be considered. Again, quite likely it would have made the list; it is an excellent example of the living Canadian folk tradition. Finally, as discussed elsewhere, Carlene Carter’s Stronger is a very fine album, but didn’t make my top 20. Instead, I mention it on the reissues as it was originally issued as a fan club disc a couple years ago. Anyhow…here it is:
Beyond Fred Eaglesmith’s Tinderbox, few of the albums I shortlisted and then finally listed stood-out ‘head and shoulders’ above the rest.
Actually, I had initially believed 2008 was a weak year for the kind of music I like, simply because little separated itself from the pack. Once I started working at it, I discovered there was a lot of music I liked and enjoyed, but the new releases were overshadowed by the volume of catalogue- and in some cases deep catalogue- music I’ve been listening to (Genesis’s Foxtrot, anyone?)
This is a result, I think, of purchasing a lot of music- some I still haven’t got to- from a chain going bankrupt this fall, finding a bunch of $1 CDs I could trade in for three and four times at the local shop for mega-discounted ‘my kind of music’- You’re Never Alone With A Schizophrenic for $4, Martin Sexton Wonder Bar for 6, and various Midnight Oil’s for $3…
In no particular order, beyond Fred being #1…
Fred Eaglesmith- Tinderbox
The Steeldrivers- The Steeldrivers
The Earl Brothers- Moonshine
Kathy Mattea- Coal
Mark Erelli- Delivered
Melonie Cannon- And the Wheels Turn
Blue Moon Rising- One Lonely Shadow
Chip Taylor- New Songs of Freedom
Crooked Still- Still Crooked
Charlie Haden- Rambling Boy
Lucinda Williams- Little Honey
Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper- Leavin’ Town
Jay Clark- I’m Confused
Justin Townes Earle- The Good Life
Brad Paisley- Play
Eliza Gilkyson- Beautiful World
Ray Wylie Hubbard- Snake Farm
Kimmie Rhodes- Walls Fall Down
Kathleen Edwards- Asking for Flowers
Jimmy Gaudreau and Moondi Klein- 2:10 Train
Subject to change within twenty minutes
The Wire- …And All the Things Matter
Nick Lowe- Jesus of Cool
VA- Ten Years of European World of Bluegrass
Larry Sparks- Bound to Ride
Ralph Stanley- Old-Time Pickin
Katrina Leskanich- Walking on Sunshine
Carlene Carter- Stronger
Bruce Robison- His Greatest Hits
Jason Ringenberg- Best Tracks and Side Tracks
James King- Gardens in the Sky
And the whole damn Creedence reissue set- How did I ever miss CCR before? What a rhythm section! Much more than the FM singles band I always took them for.
And finally, Ali Thomson’s digital reissue of “Take A Little Rhythm”!
A Major Label
Any FredHeads out there?
Tinderbox, the most recent album from Ontario’s Fred Eaglesmith, could well stand as a milestone album for the (almost) always impressive resident of Port Dover.
Never one to shy away from hot-button topics, this time out Eaglesmith has created Tinderbox, a collection of almost twenty songs both loosely and directly connected to fundamentalist religion and manipulation. He captures sketches of people who hold to strong, imbedded faith. As a concept album, the songs and sounds stand as a vital, dynamic project. The individual songs, when approached singularly, hold the listeners attention and can be appreciated as such.
“Quietly,” “Sweet Corn,” “Shoulder to the Plow,” (written with Mary Gauthier) and “The Light Brigade” stand with anything Eaglesmith has previously written. These are not the catchy songs of 50-Odd Dollars, Drive-In Movie or even Milly’s Café.Eaglesmith has always delved deep, but this time has gone even further into his soul to colour each song with passion while maintaining a unified, coherent sound.
“Shoulder to the Plow” starts out rather easily- seemingly even a bit lazy- before its elegance and brilliance is revealed: “Fox is in the hen house, crow’s in the corn, devil dancing in the church yard blowing his horn; Sun beating down it’s a dusty old road, only one place you can go.” Like the best Texas songwriters- Ray Wylie Hubbard, Guy Clark, Steve Earle- Eaglesmith has that rare ability to combine the familiar and the profound within descriptions that are straightforward, outwardly obvious, and completely original.
The song (“Worked Up Field”) where Kori Heppner talks over Fred’s singing kind of confuses me, but the resulting juxtaposition of her observations of her man’s failings and obsessions with his lamenting about rainfall and trains seems positively real.
Eaglesmith’s tendency to draw toward stylistic annunciation challenges the listener, but provides the album with a touch of southern affectation that feels appropriate given the subject matter.
“Quietly” doesn’t appear to be about religion and fundamentalism, although I suppose the characters within the song could easily be those who attend any of the country churches described elsewhere. To this listener, it is a love song, one of Eaglesmith’s best. There is a tension, a darkness permeating the song, even as “the morning light” invades the bedroom.
This musique noir repeats itself throughout the album. Within “Get On Your Knees,” the narrator finds his strength through prayer with shocking result. “I stayed up til dawn, praying for her soul; Satan was awaiting, she come through the door.”
“Killing Me II” is also dark, but in a different way; here the refrain of “This old world is killing me” is spoken/sung until it becomes mantra-like. Hypnotizing, really.
“Stand” is a straight-forward gospel number, and one senses that Eaglesmith included such a song to further define the lifestyle and society he characterizes throughout Tinderbox. Its singer is in glory, happy to know that his mother no longer has to worry as he “is standing on the rock.” I can hear a bluegrass band doing this one.
There is no hint of arrogance or judgment about Tinderbox. One suspects one knows where Eaglesmith’s allegiances lay, but he serves almost as a reporter- respectfully describing and identifying that which he witnesses.
I can’t swear that all the instruments are acoustic, but it sounds that way to my ears. Maybe I missed some electric bass or other guitar, but the album appears to be predominately unadorned by anything but wood, steel, and percussion. Willie P. Bennett makes his final recorded appearance on this album, and while his individual contributions are not listed, one appreciates what one assumes are his touches of mandolin.
The album sounds a bit like an episode of the HBO series Carnivàle looked. It is grey, dusty, and sparse. The instrumentation is percussion heavy- bells, shakers- and seldom do more than a couple instruments sound prominent in the mix.
Fred has always scared the hell out of me, and after Tinderbox…let’s just say I’m reconsidering the balance- or lack of it-within my own life. More than ever, I’m on Fred’s side. Tinderbox received one of my votes in the initial Polaris Music Prize balloting this summer, and certainly is deserving of any accolades it may receive.
Tinderbox isn’t likely the best place to delve into Fred Eaglesmith’s music for the first time. But, it is certainly worth exploring. It is destined to be considered a classic.
(I’ve attributed Tinderbox to Fred’s A Major Label, but the album packaging doesn’t actually identify it as such.)