I’ve revised my piece from seven years ago about “The Mountain,” the album recorded by Steve Earle and the Del McCoury Band and released in 1999. It is posted over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass at http://www.countrystandardtime.com/blog/FervorCouleeBluegrass/entry.asp?xid=927. Hopefully you find it worth the read.
Archive for the ‘Gold In A Way’ Tag
Over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass, I’ve posted a new edition of “Gold…In A Way,” an ongoing series where I re-examine albums that I believe deserve another listen. This time out, Bobby O & Try A Little Kindness, his 2006 Rounder album that relaunched his bluegrass pursuits. http://www.countrystandardtime.com/blog/FervorCouleeBluegrass/entry.asp?xid=916 will get you there. As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass, I’ve posted my 2003/2004 piece about the Doc Watson-David Holt album Legacy. I’m listening to it tonight and thinking of Doc. As I type, Doc is recollecting his early memories of his beloved Rosa Lee. It is a wonderful recording, and appropriate listening on this day. http://www.countrystandardtime.com/blog/FervorCouleeBluegrass/entry.asp?xid=889 will get you there- I retyped the piece this evening, fixing only typos and a couple awkward phrases.
Dammit. If you are not familiar with Wayne Scott, you should be. He was the father of Darrell and was possibly the biggest musical influence on Darrell Scott. He debut album, which was released when he was into his 70s, was and is a masterful production. I spoke to Darrell once about his father and he detailed how important his father’s love for music- how his environment was saturated with country music- was in fueling a passion for picking, singing and songwriting. Wayne Scott died this week in Kentucky following a car accident. News clip at http://www.wbir.com/video/default.aspx?bctid=1283901815001&odyssey=mod|tvideo|article
In the wake of the release of This Weary Way in 2005, I caught a great, understated set by Wayne Scott at IBMA. It was a pleasure to witness and if my failing memory serves, Guy Clark joined Wayne and Darrell on stage. My review of This Weary Way from 2005 is posted below- Gold In A Way:
Few artists are recording at age 71 with fewer making their recording debut at this age, but that is how the press bio of Wayne Scott, father of respected roots songwriter and musician Darrell (who appears throughout this delightful recording,) begins. Not a bluegrass album in any way, the disc is nonetheless of interest to the bluegrass community not only because of his son’s recent involvement with Tim O’Brien and others, but also because of the pedigree of those musicians charged with bringing to fruition Scott’s musical dream.
Names familiar to all fans of Darrell Scott and Tim O’Brien- including Dirk Powell, Kenny Malone, Dennis Crouch, and Casey Driesen- make multiple instrumental appearances, while O’Brien contributes both harmony vocals and a smattering of mandolin. Among the other musical guests is the legendary Guy Clark, dueting with Wayne Scott on the album’s lead track, “It’s The Whiskey That Eases The Pain;” frequent Clark collaborators Verlon Thompson and Suzi Ragsdale also drop in on the proceedings.
With such an impressive list of participants, one is assured of a quality production; what may be surprising to the uninitiated is the quality of the senior Scott’s lyrics, melodies, and voice.
Best known within bluegrass circles as co-writer (with Darrell) of Mountain Heart’s popular “With A Memory Like Mine,” Wayne Scott’s talents have frequently been cited by Darrell in live performance and print. Comprised of 11 powerfully written originals and a pair of familiar covers, This Weary Way fulfils the son’s dream of bringing his father’s talents to the wider music community. If John Stewart and Billy Joe Shaver albums are in your collection, This Weary Way will also likely become a favorite.
With half the performances living room takes of relaxed familiarity, the reflective and regret-filled “Sunday With My Son,” “It’s The Whiskey That Eases The Pain,” and “In The Mountains,” which does have a bit of a bluegrass vibe to it, serve as three highlights within a collection of inspired writing, musicianship, and singing. Well worth searching out.
My review of Junior Sisk’s outstanding new album has (finally<g>) been posted to the Lonesome Road Review site: http://lonesomeroadreview.com/2011/10/23/the-heart-of-a-song-by-junior-sisk-ramblers-choice/ will get you there. Additionally, I’ve decided to start posting reviews of older albums whenever something is relevant to a new release. In this case, a reviews written several years ago that involved Junior Sisk; for whatever digital file misplacement, I can’t my more recent reviews of Junior Sisk albums.
BlueRidge Side By Side Sugar Hill
Last year, by rough estimate, I was fortunate to catch about 50 bluegrass bands in
concert, ranging from regional heroes to living legends. No band collectively impressed me more than BlueRidge. BlueRidge is a band that does its best to combine the traditions established by Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers with the contemporary approach taken by bands such as IIIrd Tyme Out and Blue Highway.
With Alan Bibey’s mandolin providing the melodic heart of their sound, on this new
release the band successfully embraces the finest elements of bluegrass precision instrumentation, gracefully constructed harmonies, and awe inspiring devotion to the creation of a identifiable banjo-fueled sound. A predominant component of this sound is the voice of Junior Sisk.
It has been said, most recently by Dave Robicheaux, that all real artists seem to disappear into that which they create; therefore, Junior Sisk is an artist of the highest order, as he becomes the words he sings, creating a reality as true as his voice is distinct. Few bluegrass singers capture the country music roots of the genre as effectively as Sisk;
the resulting effortless sound is one that softens some of the music’s harsh edges. Equally impressive is the quality of his songwriting including the ultimate ‘kiss-off’ song, What If (Then I’ll Come Back To You.)
BlueRidge has recaptured the bluegrass power they established on their previous album, Come Along With Me, and Side By Side should be as favourably received.
Another week, another great album. Over at Country Standard Time, Jeff has posted my review of the latest from Bearfoot. After more than a decade as a functioning bluegrass outfit, a core of two remain from the band of young Alaskans who took much of the (mostly western) bluegrass world by storm. They are stronger than ever with a sound that is all their own. I saw them nine or ten years ago at Wintergrass and they aren’t the same band they were then. Give it a read: http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=4734
Also, a couple reviews from the archives- one from 2003 that Bluegrass Now rejected and one from 2008 that they may have published; what I find interesting is that it is obvious that in as much as Bearfoot changed and developed, I hope I have as well- Gold in a Way:
It has been a long time since a recording has surprised me as much as Follow Me.
When we last heard a recording from Bearfoot in 2003, they were known as Bearfoot Bluegrass, and were saddled with some of the trappings of being youngsters performing bluegrass as a traveling troupe.
Hailing from Alaska, the quintet has maintained a consistent lineup for their third recording, and brings appealing confidence and maturity to the Gene Libbea-produced Follow Me. The teenagers who were seen at festivals across the continent have grown up, completed degrees, and got on with the business of being professional musicians.
What is most obvious about the band is the distance they have moved away from bluegrass within their new sound. Today’s Bearfoot has firmly embraced the New Acoustic approach of groups such as Nickel Creek and, to a lesser extent, Crooked Still.
Bearfoot is comprised of Annalisa Tornfelt (guitar and fiddle), Kate Hamre (acoustic bass), Angela Oudean (fiddle), Jason Norris (mandolin), and Mike Mickelson (guitar.) All five sing various parts with the ladies’ voices much more apparent on the recording than the men.
Annalisa has a voice for the ages, and she is more prominently featured on Follow Me than on their previous album, Back Home. Her voice may be described as sultry, but it is more than what that term implies. Like Trisha Gagnon (John Reischman & the Jaybirds,) Annalisa possesses that extra special something- a soulful breathlessness and ease of vocalizing- that creates an uneven playing field for those who are simply gifted. Her vocal display is strengthened by the support it receives from Angela’s tenor.
Mike’s take of the jam favorite “Deep River Blues” is bluesy and swinging, a description that also applies to several other tunes on the album including the openers “Molasses” and “Go on Home.” An avian theme is also apparent with a bright, but old-timey reading of “The Blackest Crow” with Kate singing lead followed by a rendition of Becky Buller’s “Little Bird;” neither song has much to do with birds, but both are delightful!
As time passes, people change and so does the music they want to play. Don’t hold it against Bearfoot that they are no longer the sweet teens who captured imaginations at the turn of the century playing bluegrass.
Instead, embrace the more complex and fully realized version of the band that encourages listeners to Follow Me.
Bearfoot Bluegrass is an enthusiastic, personable young band working the western bluegrass festival circuit. Comprised of five college-aged musicians, the band is engaging live, making them favorites at the many important festivals they have played in both the United States and Canada over the last number of years. Combined with their laudable mission of bringing youngsters to bluegrass music through their well-received youth workshops, one has a story seemingly created by People magazine.
Bearfoot Bluegrass are: Annalisa Woodlee (fiddle), Kate Hamre (acoustic bass), Jason Norris (mandolin), Angela Oudean (fiddle, guitar), and Mike Mickelson (guitar.) All except Norris contribute vocally.
On their second album Bearfoot Bluegrass show that they have many miles to travel before they can be considered more than pretenders within the bluegrass world. One hesitates to be too harsh on this well-meaning quintet from Alaska, or on their producer, acoustic musician Todd Phillips. However, when the execution of a project so dramatically fails, one must consider the purchasing public when sharing views.
Overwhelmingly, the album leans closer to easy listening, new age folk than to mountain realism, especially when the talented but oh, so laid back, ladies take the lead. Oudean suffers the fate of many young vocalists early in their development, that of confusing emotion with emoting; with time, this immature tendency disappeared from the sound of, say, Nickel Creek as it well may from the vocals of Bearfoot Bluegrass. Woodlee seems to have greater control over her vocal gifts and isn’t afraid to get a little dirty when the song calls for such. For example, with a frat rock party riff, “Won’t Be Long” is immediately engaging as a light-hearted romp; with upbeat vocals and restrained instrumentation the song, however, bears little resemblance to the bluegrass I know and love. However, if acoustic Memphis soul is your thing, this song delivers.
Never is their inability to convey sincere communication more clearly expressed than on ‘The Sweetest Gift;” a mature song requiring a certain amount of life experience, the vocal duo more resemble a community talent show entry than wizened wise women sharing bold truths.
“I Know What It Means To Be Lonesome” is more like it- a bit of power behind the vocals, some push being delivered by the mando chop. Mike Mickelson takes the lead on this number and, in two short minutes, enlivens what had been a dreary aural experience.
Jason Norris’ “Pretty Lady” maintains the bluegrass feel with an instrumental that has some drive within its soft sounds. The other highlight of the album would be Mickelson’s only other lead feature, “Fishtrap John.” Written by the guitarist, the song covers unfamiliar territory within a traditional frame as a loner, harvesting northern lands, is unjustly murdered by a gang of ne’er do wells;’ the discovery of his body years later is cleverly told by this engaging young lyricist.
There can be no arguing the instrumental virtuosity of any of the musicians within the band. Their playing betrays no weaknesses on the disc’s dozen numbers; smooth and careful, the members appear well practiced and proficient. The overall mood of the album is a bit too intense for me, perhaps a result of youngsters trying just a bit too hard to be seen as capable. At times it sounds as if there are two distinct bands at work in Bearfoot Bluegrass- the guys- interested in more traditional bluegrass and acoustic sounds- and the gals- enamored with the sounds of wistful pop-folkies. While this dichotomy may help them appeal to a broad audience, such diverse manners of presentation makes one question how sincerely impassioned they are by their music.
In my Roots Music column published today in the Red Deer Advocate, I advance many local roots events- including appearances by Bill Bourne, Gary Fjelljaard, Katy Moffatt & Andrew Hardin, and The Spinney Brothers- and review the new album from Ray Bonneville, Bad Man’s Blood. I’ve also added a 2003 Bonneville review from the achives.
Thanks to everyone who visits Fervor Coulee, and all the labels, artists, and publicists who continue to service me. Donald
Ray Bonneville Bad Man’s Blood Red House Records
What Dave Alvin does with country-influenced roots rock, Ray Bonneville does for its blues-based, swamp dwelling cousin.
Unafraid of challenging lyrical structures and rhythmic diversity, Bonneville floats along his self-created river of blues with confident intensity. Starting out dark and hopeless (“Bad Man’s Blood”), the album somberly explores shades of gray before sparking a bit on “Ray’s Jump,” a stepping sax-rich instrumental.
Bonneville provides plenty of room for accompanist Gurf Morlix, who shines on various guitars and provides harmony vocals.
Canadian-born, Bonneville has again produced a collection of story songs rich in the southern, country blues tradition.
From October, 2003: Gold in a Way
Ray Bonneville Roll It Down Stony Plain
With a rousing mixture of acoustic blues realism and mid-80’s populist Clapton “Rock n’ Roll Heart” kinda thing, Bonneville- who splits his time between Montreal and rural Arkansas- has created a disc of enthusiastic and distinctive grooves that should find favour with all discriminating blues fans. Textured and stripped down, uptown and back porch, the most common reference point may be Colin Linden who, not coincidentally, co-produced the album with Bonneville. Bonneville’s voice is only a little less irregular than Linden’s but his guitar playing is every bit as colourful and accomplished. For acoustic fans, Bonneville has included two numbers where he goes it alone with only a guitar and foot keeping time. A satisfying disc that warrants repeated listening.
My review of Dale Ann’s new album has been posted to Country Standard Time. It is another incredible album; while her music has always been inspiring and wonderful to listen to, since joining Compass Records, Dale has truly hit her stride. The review can be viewed at http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=4724.
Now, CST limits reviews to about 250 words, which is a bit tough for me. Posted below are some other thoughts I had about the album:
Bradley’s favourite duet and harmony partner Steve Gulley appears on all but the final track and their stellar performance of the great country song “Will You Visit Me on Sundays” is well deserving of recognition. Additionally, his guitar playing throughout the album- notably on “Summer Breeze”- is masterful. Also featured as the core band are Brown, Stuart Duncan, Sierra Hull, and Mike Bub while David Long, Andy Hall, Kim Fox, and Matt Combs appear selectively.
“In Despair”, as classic a Bill Monroe song as there is, is also included and it is on this lively hurtin’ song that Bradley’s deep-rooted talent is most apparent; she’s as mountain as rock, entirely natural. Singing “But a broken heart will keep on crying, I know you know I am in despair,” one hears the life experience in every syllable of pure bluegrass bliss highlighted by the best voice from the female side of the bluegrass church. Mike Sumner’s banjo parts are no small accomplishment.
Thanks. as always, for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
I’ve also added some Dale Ann reviews from the archives- Gold in the Way:
I predict that this one takes the bluegrass world by storm, and will be best-received album of Dale Ann Bradley’s career.
Catch Tomorrow overflows with an abundance of powerful, emotion filled, and flat out dynamic performances from Dale Ann. Her voice has never sounded stronger and more
assured. And the band! Michael Cleveland, Jesse Brock, Pete Kelly, and Vicki Simmons, with atmospheric Dobro® from Glenn Gibson. Producer Alison Brown drops in the 5 here and there, and harmony vocals come from the likes of Jim Lauderdale, Steve Gulley, and Andrea Zonn.
Wait until you hear the rendition of Billy Joe Shaver’s “Live Forever”! A spiritual song that is a wellspring of hope, Dale Ann brings a passion to the song that elevates her performance to a level transcending genre. She covers a song Tina Turner did, “I Can’t Stand the Rain”, and makes it sound like a Bill Monroe classic. The kicker is her version of “Me and Bobby McGee,” which she has performed live for years. “When The Mists Come Again” is a Celtic tune, and ties the Isles’ roots of bluegrass with the branches that Dale Ann is sending out.
The originals are notable as well. “Run Rufus Run,” about a cousin’s experiences running the hills of Kentucky delivering moonshine to his daddy’s customers, will be popular, as will a re-recording of “Grandma’s Gift,” a song that originally appeared on East Kentucky Morning a decade ago. Songs from Jerry Chestnutt, Connie Leigh, Chris Stuart, and David A. Thompson round out the collection.
Larry Sparks duets on the gospel standard “Pass Me Not,” and the two capture a bit of magic with neither singer taking a back seat, unified in their devotion to their faith.
Bradley reveals the soul of each song; Catch Tomorrow is an instant bluegrass classic.
A mountain soprano of rare talent, Dale Ann Bradley has been wearing a path from the hills of Eastern Kentucky to the Music City Heartland of Nashville for two decades. With Don’t Turn Your Back she has not only created an album featuring rare musicianship and vocal harmonies, she has continued her ascendancy to the highest reaches of the bluegrass vocal world.
Releasing albums for more than fifteen years, it has been with Bradley’s most recent recordings that she has created artfully constructed discs. Much of the credit must go to the guidance provided by producer Alison Brown, but studio and business acumen can only take one so far. The talent must shine through, and three-Bluegrass Female Vocalist of the Year statuettes provide evidence that Bradley is at the top of her game.
Don’t Turn Your Back is a masterful recording, one that falls solidly within the most stringent of bluegrass definitions, yet is country enough that all roots fans should embrace its rich, melodic tones.
Whether propelled by the banjo of Gina Britt (as on an eye-opening take of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down”) or by Stuart Duncan’s fiddle (“Rusty Old Halo” and “Ghost Bound Trai”n come to mind), the majority of the songs zip along in spectacular fashion. In other places, Bradley shows why her flat-picking skills are highly regarded, and the mandolin work from Tim Laughlin is second to none.
When the song calls for it, Bradley’s sweet voice carries the song.” Will I Be Good Enough” is pretty sentimental but Bradley’s control and expression saves the song from becoming cloying. On material as familiar as “Fifty Miles of Elbow Room” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Over My Head,” Bradley reinvents the piece to make it her own without losing the essence of the song.
Those who appreciate mountain music will find satisfaction in “Blue Eyed Boy” and gospel fans will be thankful for “Heaven,” featuring Dailey & Vincent. Bradley’s trepidation making the inevitable leap to Nashville from her more isolated Kentucky home is captured within her original, “Music City Queen.”
Bluegrass music has long been an embarrassed second-cousin to country music. Ridiculed by those who fail to grasp its complexities and heritage, the music has sat on the porch a-waiting to be invited to hang out with its wealthier and more popular relations.
With albums like Don’t Turn Your Back and singers like Dale Ann Bradley, the bluegrass community continues to shake off back wood images. Those who take the time to listen are sure to be rewarded.
And from Red Deer Advocate, 2001: Dale Ann Bradley- Cumberland River Dreams Bradley’s songs may drift toward the folky edge of ‘grass but don’t be scared off. With this release, Bradley assumes her rightful place alongside Lynn Morris and Alison Krauss as a champion of melodic bluegrass vocalization. Terrific story songs like “Granny Cat” and “The Rockin’ Chair” capture the pure essence of mountain music
http://www.thebluegrassblog.com/liz-meyer-rip/ More at the Bluegrass Blog; Liz was one of the strongest women, strongest proponents period, of bluegrass music internationally. Her suffering is over. Give her a listen.
From Bluegrass Now, 2005: Gold In A Way
Liz Meyer – The Storm Strictly Country
Although she migrated to the Netherlands, Liz Meyer maintains a high profile in North America with appearances at the 2004 World of Bluegrass, and a string of songwriting credits that includes cuts by Auldridge, Bennett & Gaudreau, Kate Mackenzie, and most recently “Bad Seed” from Laurie Lewis and Tom Rozum.
Joined by some of the most respected surnames within the bluegrass and acoustic worlds- Fleck, Block, Douglas, Bush, Duncan (both of ‘em), House, Ickes, Cosgrove, and others- as well as Emmylou Harris, Meyer’s mature voice highlights the recording with its jeweled quality, reminiscent of Kathy Mattea. With instrumentation ranging from fairly standard, modern bluegrass arrangements, to those exploring the new acoustic frontier, Meyer’s The Storm is that rare album that should appeal to both the festival faithful and those more comfortable on the outer edges of the music.
There is wistfulness about the album, a sense of looking back and considering, evaluating, and finally accepting one’s fate. Meyer’s use of natural metaphors- the rain to cleanse body and soul, the wind as heartbreak healer, the storm that enlightens the intoxication of flowers, the embrace of night- lends a mystical element. The substantial lyrical mass, the intensity of the images, and the messages of longing and companionship, while not unfamiliar within the bluegrass canon, have seldom been laid so bare, challenging the listeners to invest themselves in an almost novelistic, interactive process.
With the A-List of instrumentalists bringing their best efforts, the album possesses an atmosphere of support, friendship, and strength. Resophonic masters Jerry Douglas and Rob Ickes embellish the sound with their steel offerings, while the banjo platoon of Ron Block and Bela Fleck electrify the tracks on which they appear. Mark Johnson contributes clawhammer banjo to “Someday You Will,” lending Meyer’s tune a foot-stomping atmosphere.
Liz Meyer has created an engaging, meaningful, and musically substantial album best suited to mellow, reflective moods. On the album’s closing track, Meyer’s sings Only please don’t waste these stars and space, when I’m running out of time; let us hope that such a talent is not ignored, and has the opportunity to share many more songs.