Archive for the ‘James Reams & the Barnstormers’ Tag
I’ve added a second story to my ongoing series The Story Behind…over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass, part of the Country Standard Time site. On this final day of March, I share James Reams’ recollections on how he came to use the Barnstormers name. James has posted a trailer for his Pioneers of Bluegrass film which will soon be released on DVD. Those of you who purchased his Troubled Time CD have seen some of the footage already, and I am eagerly awaiting the release of the completed project.
As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Over at Bluegrass Today, a posting providing additional new information and an overview of James Reams & the Barnstormers’ career has been published. Read it here. No secret is my admiration of the music of James Reams.
As always, thanks for searching out Fervor Coulee. Donald
If you know me, you know I love the music of James Reams and the Barnstormers. James recently called me and brought me up-to-date. I’ve posted a piece over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass that attempts to summarize what has been occurring with James over the past year. He’s a good man- and I appreciate his friendship. http://www.countrystandardtime.com/blog/FervorCouleeBluegrass/entry.asp?xid=860 More info about James’ upcoming gigs is available at http://www.facebook.com/jamesreams.barnstormers
As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
A bit late but understandable being how busy editor Aaron Keith Harris is, today brings the release of the Lonesome Road Review’s top 10 bluegrass albums of the past year. I’m pleased to see that Aaron and my LRR colleague Larry Stephens agreed with me in several places, quite likely more than I expected, and I’ve written positively about each of the albums here or elsewhere with perhaps the exception of the #1 album, another that I really enjoyed and purchased both digitally and on vinyl. My only complaint about the Old Memories album is the rather spartan packaging- no gatefold, no liner notes, and the vinyl itself is not as hefty as other recently produced album offerings; still, a terrific album of music.
Each of my top 5 albums made the list and I hope that these placements help some of you make some purchasing decisions. None of the artists who made the list, with the exception of AKUS, is living the high life; most are folks with extensive experience in the bluegrass world, having spent years on the road and are well deserving of any recognition they receive. Of course, I’m absolutely thrilled to see three particular names on the Lonesome Road Review list: Dale Ann Bradley, John Reischman & the Jaybirds, and James Reams & the Barnstormers. See my Top 10 here http://tinyurl.com/873u42u and visit the LRR to see the complete 2011 Top 10: http://lonesomeroadreview.com/2012/01/21/the-lonesome-road-reviews-list-of-top-10-bluegrass-cds-of-2011/
As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Donald Teplyske’s favourite ten bluegrass albums of 2011:
Unlike last year, I feel that I did a very good job of ensuring that I heard the vast majority of excellent bluegrass that was released in 2011. I’m still not being serviced by one particular publicist and a couple of the major bluegrass labels, but others keep me ‘in the know’ and I’ve been able to continue purchasing other albums as I’ve become aware of them. Still, there are no doubt outstanding albums I’ve missed, albums that I may have enjoyed and favourably reviewed- Clay Hess, Darin & Brooke Aldridge, Grasstowne, and others. But I am more than aware that you can’t hear everything and so what follows is my Ten Favourite Bluegrass Albums of 2011 as submitted to the Lonesome Road Review survey. The paragraphs that follow have been largely recycled from my previously written reviews of the albums.
- Dale Ann Bradley- Somewhere South of Crazy (Compass) Critically lauded, praised and recognized by her industry and a fan favourite wherever she appears, Dale Ann Bradley’s third Compass album, and eighth overall, continues her measured but steady ascension to the highest levels of bluegrass performance and reverence. Again working with producer Alison Brown, Somewhere South of Crazy is Bradley’s most obviously contemporary bluegrass recording. Over recent albums, Bradley’s music has become increasingly polished while retaining the traditional spirit that has been her hallmark. It is this duality that makes Bradley’s music so appealing. As a recording artist should, Dale Ann Bradley improves her performance with each album. Fully realized and confident, Bradley exudes bluegrass and has never sounded better than on Somewhere South of Crazy.
- John Reischman & the Jaybirds- Vintage & Unique (Corvus) Over the past decade, John Reischman & the Jaybirds have become increasing popular in western North America. They are a great bluegrass band, always adding new material to their repertoire. Still, when exceptional mandolin players are mentioned, John Reischman’s name is often forgotten. On Vintage and Unique, the quintet takes Bill Monroe’s “The First Whippoorwill” for a spin and refreshes “Shady Grove” and “Last Chance.” Trisha Gagnon and Jim Nunally’s voices- which always sound wonderful together- are especially beautiful throughout this recording. The band delivers new songs alongside their reimagining of classic and long-forgotten tunes. “The Cypress Hills” and “Consider Me Gone” are just waiting to be discovered, while “Cold Mountain (Cam Saan)” examines the Canadian railway experience of Chinese labourers. Every track, each break and harmonic moment are highlights within a flawless album.
- Larry Sparks- Almost Home (Rounder) An album of blue mountain memories: sons returning home, family history, faith, country roads, lonesomeness, country stars, Sunday dinners with nanner puddin’, and Momma’s apron strings. Larry Sparks’ voice continues to be pure and strong and the instrumental accompaniment he receives on this disc- largely from his touring band- is second to none. There remains a naturalness about the way Sparks approaches his music that is incredibly appealing.
- Alison Krauss & Union Station- Paper Airplane (Rounder)A delicate balance of the wistful-yearnsomeness that appeals to a wide-spectrum of the population and the more driving bluegrass sounds that link to the traditional foundation of the band’s history, Paper Airplane is three-quarters of an hour of pure aural pleasure. AKUS further refine the acoustiblue parameters that they have established and explored over the past fifteen years since So Long, So Wrong. The acoustic instrumentation is, as expected, exemplary in its tone and execution and while some of the songs- it could be argued- have a similar calm and sedate sound, there are enough lively moments to maintain momentum. Singularly, the songs are arrestingly enjoyable. Collectively, the cohesive flow of Paper Airplane amounts to one majestic performance.
- James Reams & The Barnstormers- One Foot in the Honky Tonk (Mountain Redbird Music) A wonderful bluegrass album that is just waiting for more of us to discover. As he has consistently done, within this new volume James Reams’ life experiences and those of his ancestors permeate the songs- whether he wrote them or not- not lending them authenticity but ensuring they are authentic. When listening to James Reams, one is on a bridge connecting the present to the past, where the waters below blend the relationships and lamentations of today with those who birthed and shaped them. There are few bluegrass singers who match the lithe and masculine timbre Reams brings to the songs he is called to perform. With One Foot in the Honky Tonk, James Reams further defines his bluegrass, blending the varied elements of the roadhouse with sounds from the hills of Kentucky and her neighbors. One foot in the honky-tonk indeed, but the rest of the Barnstormers’ bodies and their souls are deep in the bluegrass performing songs from the likes of Kevin Welch and Mike Henderson, Chris Gaffney, Fred Eaglesmith, Stonewall Jackson and Harlan Howard- folks who know honky tonks, to be sure- as well as original and traditional tunes.
- Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice- The Heart of a Song (Rebel Records)
- Blue Highway- Sounds of Home (Rounder)
- Laurie Lewis- Skippin’ and Flyin’ (Spruce and Maple Music)
- Steve Martin & the Steep Canyon Rangers- Rare Bird Alert (Rounder)
- Rebel Records digital reissue campaign featuring releases from Ralph Stanley, The McPeak Brothers, Bill Grant and Delia Bell, Dave Evans, and others.
Honourable mentions to: Charlie Sizemore Heartache Looking for a Home, Ralph Stanley A Mother’s Prayer, Barnstar! C’mon, Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper Fired Up, Sarah Jarosz Follow Me Down, Dehlia Low Ravens & Crows, Paul Williams & the Victory Trio Satisfied and The Del McCoury Band Old Memories.
As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
I was on a brief vacation for most of this past week and my listening reflects what is on my mp3 player. It was lovely to be sitting in the Vancouver Island sun watching the waves lap the shoreline with bald eagles flying overhead while listening to Doc Watson and such. A nice, relaxing break. As always, only whole album listening gets listed; this is what passed my ears this week:
Tom Russell- The Tom Russell Anthology: Veteran’s Day
Doc Watson- Trouble in Mind: The Doc Watson Country Blues Collection and Hayes Carll- Trouble in Mind Through a glitch in how my machine sorts files, these two ended up in the same folder. Listening to them trading songs in this manner was perfect. This is the first time I have been able to listen to the Carll album in its entirety- for no reason than lack of attention span- and I found myself quite enjoying it. The Doc set is faultless.
Guy Clark- Sometimes the Song Writes You Truly a master. His strongest set in quite awhile, and he has never recorded a less than satisfying album.
Various Artists- Real: The Tom T. Hall Project One of the best tribute albums, and possibly my favourite. Without fault.
Steve Earle- Train A Comin’ Still my favourite Steve Earle recording.
The Gaslight Anthem- The ’59 Sound I love everything about this album, including all the Springsteen references, deliberate and obvious as they are.
Slowdrag- Slow-Fidelity One of the finest acoustiblue albums of the past ten years.
John Wort Hannam- Queen’s Hotel As a member of the Polaris Music Prize jury, I wasn’t surprised that this album didn’t get through to the long list. I was disappointed, though. Folk music doesn’t get much better than this.
Charlie Sizemore- The Story Is…The Songs of Tom T. Hall The second best Tom T. Hall tribute. And it is pretty darn good.
Paul Burch- Pan-American Flash
The Wooden Sky- If I Don’t Come Home You’ll Know I’m Gone Another album that was considered for the Polaris Music Prize this year; it didn’t make the short list.
Kate Campbell- Blues and Lamentations
The Drive-By Truckers- The Fine Print A collection of odds & sods that rivals several of their albums.
John Stewart- Bombs Away Dream Babies
James Reams & the Barnstormers- Troubled Times and Barnstormin’ Listening to these two last week made me realize, again, how strong his original material is, and how different it is from typical bluegrass fare.
That’s the mp3 album list from last week; I never thought I’d become a portable device person, but I’m glad I did; the convenience is great, the battery life is unreal, and the capacity- even on my wee 4 gig machine, is incredible.
My wife is convinced I have a record store GPS inserted somewhere in my body. This was proven, again, when I pulled into a random parking spot in Parksville and looked up to see the community’s new and used record store in front of me. The Cranky Dog was visited three times over five days and offered up some discs I couldn’t leave without, including:
Thin Lizzy- The Universal masters Collection A set of pre-Vertigo Thin Lizzy. A nice collection I hadn’t previously seen.
The album I am most glad I listened to last week.
Dwight Yoakam- South of Heaven, West of Hell I’ve been looking for this one for three or four years, after passing up on it the only other time I saw it in a store. I love searches like this; it makes the locating of the album that much more meaningful. Good for driving, as are most Yoakam albums.
James Gordon- Mining for Gold (Disc 2) A retrospective of the Ontario songwriter’s material up to 2000; 8 bucks for the 2-disc set. The deal of the trip.
Ray Wylie Hubbard- Live at Cibolo Creek Country Club
Marshall Crenshw- The Definitive Pop Collection I already have most of the songs. Who cares? A non-stop power pop , two-disc set.
Graham Parker and the Rumour- The Up Escalator Not among the critic’s favourites, The Up Escalator is one of my essential GP albums. It may have been the first album of his I bought and the album holds up. “Endless Night” remains a stone classic.
Bookending our Vancouver Island getaway was more listening:
Various Artists- Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine I missed this one last week. Review is up at the Lonesome Road Review.
Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez- The Trouble with Humans
Lainie Marsh- The Hills Will Cradle Thee Liking it more with every listen.
Various Artists- Putumayo Presents Tribute to a Reggae Legend A nice set for casual reggae fans. I prefer my reggae with a bit more anger.
Mississippi Live- Mississippi Live
Kim Beggs- Blue Bones To be reviewed in the paper this Friday. A great album.
The Sadies- Darker Circles With a well-deserved place on the Polaris Prize short-list.
Andre Williams- That’s All I Need
Regular visitors may recall in March I shared some listening suggestions for those just beginning to explore the dusty backroads of the bluegrass world. Now that the Summer edition of That High Lonesome Sound is available, I’ll post the continuation and conclusion of the piece; the full newsletter is available at http://www.waskasoobluegrass.com/nl/waskasoo_sum10.pdf
I don’t expect anyone to necessarily agree with my opinion, nor do I claim that my list is definitive. We each have to find our way on the bluegrass track- I’m just hoping some readers will benefit from my advice and find some music they may not have otherwise discovered.
In our last issue, I provided suggestions for bluegrass fans who are just beginning to explore the music, CDs that were from the ‘classic’ era of bluegrass (more or less) that I believe provide an introduction to my favourite music. This time I provide additional suggestions– remember, this listing is not definitive and I certainly welcome the ideas of others; if you have opinions on bluegrass albums that are readily available, we’d love to publish your thoughts.
Continuing our bluegrass journey with:
Yesterday meets today:
David Grisman- Home is Where the Heart Is (Rounder, 2008- originally released in 1988) David Grisman went back in time to have the second- and third-generation pay tribute to the music that forged their careers. Probably the first place I heard Del McCoury, 23 of the 24 songs are darn near perfect; I refuse to give any credit to the second worst song in the bluegrass canon, “I’m My Own Grandpa.”
Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder- Bluegrass Rules! (Rounder, 1997) Still my favourite Skaggs album since he came back to bluegrass from country music stardom. The album doesn’t let up even when it slows down; from the mando kick-off of “Get Up John” through to the closing notes of “Rawhide” we have a survey of bluegrass history served up by one of the most talented bluegrass groups ever assembled. Likely easiest to find at the Skaggs Family Records website.
Del McCoury Band- Del & the Boys (McCoury, 2007- originally released on Ceili, 2001) Any place is a good place to start with Del McCoury. I chose this recording because it served as a bit of a break-through for Del and his sons, giving them a signature song in Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning”, and served as a pinnacle for the group. It’s Just the Night (McCoury, 2003) is as strong, and has more blues and folk influences while The Cold Hard Facts (Rounder, 1996) is a pure, stone classic.
Steve Earle & The Del McCoury Band- The Mountain (2009, New West- originally issued E-Squared, 1999) Steve Earle isn’t a bluegrass singer, but he does know bluegrass. In what could have been a vanity project, Earle composed more than a dozen solid bluegrass songs to sing and pick with the finest bluegrass band working at the time. That the partnership was short-lived and dissolved in acrimony doesn’t take anything away from the recording with songs like “Carrie Brown,” “The Mountain,” and “Yours Forever Blue” entering the bluegrass repertoire. The place to start if you are a Steve Earle fan just encountering bluegrass.
David Davis & The Warrior River Boys- Two Dimes and a Nickel (Rebel Records, 2009) Really, any one of his three most recent albums is an excellent introduction to David Davis’ particular brand of bluegrass music. Seldom does one think of the literary aspects of bluegrass, but when encountering Davis one isn’t offered any other course. He doesn’t seem to have the populist appeal that others may, but he possesses an artistic vision as defined and assured as anyone. The album’s strongest track is Tommy Freeman’s “The Brambles, Briars and Me.” The song is positively spooky in its matter-of-factness, and the Warrior River Boys- especially Owen Saunders’ fiddle contributions- make it haunting. A classic album.
Alison Krauss & Union Station- Every Time You Say Goodbye (Rounder, 1992) The ‘coming of age’ album for both Alison and Union Station. Every song is a winner, from the sacred (“Shield of Faith,” sung by Ron Block) and the traditional (“Cluck Old Hen”) to the unexpected (“Lose Again” from the Karla Bonoff folio) and the familiar (“Another Night.”) A classic recording that spoke to future greatness. Can’t find this one? No problem. Give Two Highways (Rounder, 1988) or So Long, So Wrong (Rounder, 1997) a try. The 2002 album Live would also be a fine introduction to one of bluegrass music’s most successful, multi-dimensional, and loyal outfits.
Rhonda Vincent- One Step Ahead (Rounder, 2003) All of her albums have something to offer, and Vincent has been consistent over time. I favour this one because it didn’t feel as over-polished as some of her later work would, it has some fiery bluegrass picking throughout, and it came at a time when there were few bands as exciting as The Rage. That “Ridin’ the Red Line” mentions Alberta didn’t hurt.
Steep Canyon Rangers- Deep in the Shade (Rebel Records, 2009) Contemporary bluegrass doesn’t get much better than this. From a youthful band of veterans, Deep in the Shade is the group’s fifth release, but the band hasn’t significantly altered their approach or sound. And while on some bands this may appear stagnant or limited, with the Rangers the impression is of consistency and capability. As they did on Lovin’ Pretty Women, the Steep Canyon Rangers demonstrate that a band can be musically innovative while reaching into the past. Steep Canyon Rangers straddle the blurred edges of traditional and progressive bluegrass.
Dale Ann Bradley- Don’t Turn Your Back (Compass Records, 2009) A mountain soprano of rare talent, Dale Ann Bradley has been wearing a path from the hills of Eastern Kentucky to Music City 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. 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. With albums like Don’t Turn Your Back and singers like Dale Ann Bradley, the bluegrass community continues to shake off back wood images. If you can’t find this one, any Dale Ann album is worthy of consideration.
Ernie Thacker- The Hangman (Pinecastle, 2009) If you listen to the satellite radio, you likely know the name and voice, Ernie Thacker. If he has escaped your notice, change that right away. Thacker has natural bluegrass country voice that is memorable and distinctive. Listen to the way he bends his voice when singing the single word ‘throttle’ in “This Drinkin’ Will Kill Me.” Thacker was severely injured in a car accident several years ago, but has found a way to continue to make wonderful bluegrass music. His is a rare talent. Order CDs, including the excellent and hard-to-find The Chill of Lonesome (Doobie Shea, 2002), directly from his family at http://www.erniethackerroute23.com/
Adam Steffey- One More for the Road (Sugar Hill, 2009) A satellite radio favourite, Steffey’s (formerly Mountain Heart, Union Station, Dan Tyminski Band) second solo project is powerful from start to finish. While his lead voice isn’t the strongest, when listening to the first vocal track on the album I remarked to myself- because who else is listening inside my head- “I’ve missed that.” Throughout the album, Steffey is accompanied by the finest players, including Union Station mates Barry Bales, Ron Block, and Dan Tyminski. Heck, there’s even a Union Station circa 1997 reunion on “Warm Kentucky Sunshine,” with Alison taking the lead; evidence of her generosity and the ties that bind the bluegrass community, that one is a keeper. The featured mandolin breaks are demonstration that Steffey isn’t ready to rest on his laurels. My musical vocabulary isn’t strong enough to give justice to “Let Me Fall,” “Durang’s Hornpipe,” or “Half Past Four,” but the boys know what they’re doing.
James Reams & The Barnstormers- Troubled Times (Mountain Redbird, 2005) and James Reams, Walter Hensley & the Barons of Bluegrass- Wild Card (Mountain Redbird, 2006) Finally, to wrap up this selection of bluegrass starting points, two exceptional albums from James Reams. The first features hard-scrabble bluegrass with Kentucky roots, songs of salvation, hollers, trains, storms, home places, and mountains that disappear. The second is punctuated by the banjo of bluegrass pioneer Walter Hensley and is perhaps an even more clearly articulated of what bluegrass can be in the right hands. Visit http://www.jamesreams.com/ to find these recordings- because the packaging of both is exceptional- or iTunes and eMusic for downloads.
There they are, the places I recommend you use as starting places as you being to delve into the wonderful world of bluegrass. Words of caution– avoid the ‘bargain bin’ collections found in some stores. Often what you find will be shoddily compiled sets that are less than satisfying. Enjoy your bluegrass journey!
The past two days have been very busy at Fervor Coulee, the busiest two days since the blog launched. I thank all of you for that, and again I’m hoping you are finding music recommendations that will lead you to new discoveries. Here are the top five- but really six- entries in my list of Favourite Albums of the Aughts. Thanks for all the feedback, too. Best, Donald
- Paul Burch- Last of My Kind 2001- I couldn’t believe it when this album remained atop my list through several revisions. But it deserves its place. Not only was it my introduction to a singer and songwriter who has become a favourite, it is a crackerjack recording in its own right. Back when my CD collection was several thousand albums lighter that it is now, I returned to this album time and again. It was, for me, a perfect storm- a bringing together of mountain influences, literature, and damned good songwriting and performance.
Commissioned to accompany a reading of Tony Earley’s Jim the Boy, the album took on its own life to allow readers and listeners to hear more from the characters, to experience more of their internal observations, struggles and challenges. Coming out at around the same time of O Brother, Where Art Thou? the visuals were fresh in mind without requiring Burch to indulge in extended prose. Instead, Burch- and Earley, of course- could concentrate on the impact and emotions of their characters. Given all that, Last of My Kind is remarkable as one doesn’t need to have read the novel to appreciate its impact. I heard the album well before searching out the book, and as a result I felt I already knew Jim, his uncles, and estranged extended family.
As I type these words, I am again listening to Last of My Kind- probably for the first time in three years. The album is all Burch, recorded and performed at home, seemingly in isolation in the same manner I imagine Earley wrote the novel. From the opening bars of “Aliceville Rag,” Burch sketches a sepia-toned setting of time and place. As we move through the album, to “Up on the Mountain” through to “Amos’s Blues” we meet complex characters brought to life by Burch’s interpretation of Earley’s imaginings.
None of this would matter if Burch’s approach to the music was less than attentive. When I first reviewed the album, I wrote words that hold true for me now: Burch’s compositions capture the essence of Earley’s novel- carefully constructed phrases that read simple but contain a spark for life and common-sense wisdom. The melodies pleasantly linger and the album constructs another layer to Earley’s characters and reinforces the novel’s [straight-forward] but intriguing plot.
When I set out to create this little list of favourites from the last decade, I wouldn’t have expected Last of My Kind to top the list. (Really, I didn’t even think about what would be on top.) Now that it has, nothing seems more natural, nothing would be more right. It was one of the albums I started with when I initiated this journey into writing about music. It is an immensely enjoyable slice of My Kind of Music. It is only fitting that it sits atop my list as my Favourite Album of the Aughts.
2. Dale Ann Bradley- Catch Tomorrow 2006 When a favourite artist takes a great leap forward, one is sometimes left behind. Not so with Dale Ann Bradley’s remarkable Catch Tomorrow album. The sound she had worked so hard to achieve was finally realized through the production support of Alison Brown. Every song on the album is memorable, and she explores not only bluegrass and its foundation- including a duet with Larry Sparks- but she brings in new songs, fresh perspectives, and even a bit of musical history with the Irish band Lunasa on “When the Mist Comes Again.” Dale Ann made Chris Stuart’s “Julia Belle” a standard, while already classic songs- “Live Forever” and “Me and Bobby McGee”- are revitalized. There isn’t a missed step anywhere, and while other artists may be off-putting with slickness in pursuit of a similar sound, Dale Ann and Alison have created an album that breathes its quality rather than having had its breath squeezed from it in the pursuit of perfection. An ideal contemporary bluegrass recording.
3. Maria Dunn- …For A Song 2001 (Albertan/Canadian) I can’t say much more about Maria Dunn than I already have. She is a tremendous writer, one who bridges old world charm with modern trials and situations. I have seen her live more times than I can count, and she always sparkles. …For a Song remains my favourite album although it may not be her best. The songs just wash over me, and her voice- with just a hint of the Old Country punctuating each phrase- is beautiful. Defying classification as adeptly as Van Morrison and Sinead O’Conner, Dunn produced a compelling album of ballads that entwined her influences within a lush, invigorating tapestry. Find her music.
4. James Reams & The Barnstormers- Troubled Times 2005 I have likely played albums from Brooklyn-based (but via Kentucky) James Reams than any other bluegrass act this decade. I do know Troubled Times was the second most played album during the year and a half I hosted the bluegrass show on the Olds station. Reams’ bluegrass may not be ‘perfect’ in the way a Rhonda, Skaggs, or Dailey Vincent album may be, and it is all the better for it. Excellent original songs (“Hills of My County” about mountain top removal coalmining and “Eye of the Storm”) blended with under-heard songs from outside writers (Robbie Fulks’ “Cold Statesboro Ground” and Marvin Goins’ “Head of the Holler”) have kept this one in my CD player for more than five years.
5. John Wort Hannam- Queen’s Hotel 2009 (Albertan/Canadian) Seldom does one get to experience musical history being made. I hope I’m right in stating that this is the last album we’ll hear from John Wort Hannam where the reverberations are localized to Alberta and western Canada. The international folk world needs to sit up and pay attention to this man. There are few like him. Get him on a stage with a Joe Ely or a Guy Clark and he’ll hold his own, I’m certain.
Down to the Wood- Up All Night 2003 (Albertan/Canadian) Okay, I’m an idiot. I knew going into this project I would manage to screw things up somehow, and of course I did. Somehow, in scanning the shelves, examining my inventory list, and racking my brain, I missed Up All Night. Ridiculous, given how much time I’ve spent not only listening to the album but swapping scotch with the trio at various festivals. So, allow me the additional indulgence of revising my list to allow for two #5 albums. Had I not overlooked the album, this is about where it would have landed.
When I hosted the radio show, DTTW was by far the most played band and since Up All Night is their only recording it was the most played album. For good reason. What the album may lack in original material- only one band written song, that being Curtis Appleton’s very strong “Shameless Drive”- they make up for in enthusiasm, energy, and passion.
The band was blessed with one of Alberta’s most proficient and tasteful guitarists in Marc Ladouceur, and his many influences- blues, Celtic, folk, and naturally bluegrass- shade this album’s arrangements all the way through. With three lead voices, natural spontaneity that transferred from the stage to the studio, and an understanding of traditional brother harmonies that served them well, Up All Night was an ideal document of the group’s early days. That they never came together to record a follow-up was unfortunate but not unexpected, given the various factors that place pressure on a regional bluegrass band- careers, finances, family, and limited stages.
I love listening to this album- and am listening to it again as I type- and continue to be impressed by the band’s maturity and vision. They weren’t content just to duplicate the songs they heard on scratchy old bluegrass cassettes and albums. Give a listen to “Crossroad Blues/The Old Crossroads Is Waiting,” a formidable piece of music that has Mr. Monroe meeting up with Robert Johnson on a dusty rural road. That took balls, and they pulled it off not only in the studio but on stage time and again.
For a while, Down to the Wood was the most entertaining Canadian bluegrass band I was fortunate to hear. Up All Night is a terrific album and is well-deserving of a place on my 151 favourite albums of the decade.
What just missed the Top 150? Amongst others: Sam Bush Circles Around Me 2009; Alejandro Escovedo Real Animal 2008; Various Artists The Songs of Fred Eaglesmith 2003; Ian Tyson- Yellowhead to Yellowstone and other Love Stories 2008; The Grascals- The Grascals 2005; Ron Block- Faraway Land 2001; Blackie and the Rodeo Kings- Let’s Frolic Again 2007; The Notorious Cherry Bombs- The Notorious Cherry Bombs 2004; Acoustic Syndicate- Crazy Little Life 2000; Audrey Auld Mezara- Lost Men & Angry Girls 2007
Again, sincere thanks for spending time at Fervor Coulee.