Archive for the ‘John Boutte’ Tag
It has been an exceptional week for disc listening this week; late nights of reading and thinking along with a few days of work-motivation challenges has allowed me to have the music machines spinning more than usual. What has marked the week has been I haven’t listened to anything that I didn’t end up enjoying, and a few- like Angel Band- really surprised me. Almost got to Carstairs for the Mountain View fest on Saturday afternoon, but didn’t make it; Fred was in province for the best part of a month and I didn’t catch him. Shame on me! Here’s what I listened to this past week- some real gems; I hope you’re inspired to seek out some of these sounds. Best, Donald
The album I most enjoyed this past week
The Mountains & The Trees- I Made This For You An incredible new release out of Newfoundland. I’m not familiar with Jon Janes but I keep listening to this album. Pop and folk working together, lyrics that dig in under the skin to explore the usual subject matter but in ways that maintain interest. A powerful voice that isn’t over-extended. Lovely fiddle touches. Quite moody, but warm. A wonderful find.
The Grateful Dead- In the Dark I saw a used copy of this album for $14 the other day; not sure why it was so expensive. My iTunes version sufficed, giving me the fix I was craving.
Dala- Angels & Thieves Pulled out as a result of hearing them in Canmore last weekend. I enjoyed the live presentation a bit more than this collection of original and cover material, but this album is still impressive. The original material isn’t as strong as they would deliver on later albums, but their covers of songs from Donovan, Blur, Neil Young and The Cure are spot on in their creativity. Lovely blending of voices.
Jesse Malin- Glitter in the Gutter Picked up for the Springsteen track. A fine semi-modern rock album but I don’t think I’ll listen to it again any time soon.
Evie Ladin- Float Downstream Produced by Mike Marshall, from the Stairwell Sisters. An album that has been sitting, ignored, in the pile for awhile. Lots of harmony and banjo, neo-old tyme. I need to listen more, but it is quite appealing.
Brian Dunn- Examining the Fallout Created with Nathan Lawr, whom I’ve been hearing a lot about recently. Interesting noises. Again, a pleasant surprise but not sure if it is really my kind of thing.
Amos Garrett, Doug Sahm, and Gene Taylor Band- The Return of the Formerly Brothers A nice set of tunes, some of which are pretty familiar. More roots than blues, which is the way I most enjoy Amos Garrett. Doug Sahm does much of the singing and is in good voice. It is folk festival season and that is why this one came up for a listen.
The Duhks- Fast Paced World I stopped listening to The Duhks when Jessica Havey left, and for no good reason, apparently. I guess I figured the ‘new’ singer wouldn’t be as impressive. I started exploring them again this week and am finding much that is appealing. A fine album.
Darrell Scott- A Crooked Road Bought this from Amazon when it was released a few months ago but was saving it for a night when it seemed right. That finally came up on Friday. I’ll need to listen more; first impressions are positive.
Various Artists- Private Radio Soundtrack Borrowed from the library.
Woodbend- Hank’s Old Mandolin My father-in-law saw them at Blueberry and spoke quite positively about them so I thought I’d give it another listen. I’ll need to give it another go. They make some interesting cover choices- Corb Lund, for one.
Will White- Rise Above An excellent acoustiblue album from a Calgary songwriter. Great original material with southern roots.
Zachary Richard- Last Kiss Outstanding in every way although I could do without the contributions from She Whose Name Will Not Be Typed Within Fervor Coulee on “Acadian Driftwood;” that being said, the voice on the album doesn’t sound anything like her to my ears- without the liner notes, I would never have known who was singing with Richard and it sounds very good. Still, his version sans accompaniment at Canmore was even more intense. One can feel his pain when he sings, “Somebody call out a warning, Somebody come to my rescue” in “The Levee Broke.” This is more than just another Cajun album- this is folk songwriting at its highest level. A deep fellow- read his postings at www.zacharyrichard.com
Zachary Richard- Snake Bite Love I could listen to him all day, I do believe. More directly ‘Cajun’ in sound than Last Kiss, the songs still draw you in.
John Boutté- Jambalaya A nice album, not essential like Good Neighbor but covers much of the Boutté repertoire. Live at Jazz Fest 2007 A brilliant set featuring a version of “Louisiana 1927.”
The Drive-By Truckers- The Big To-Do Another one that has sat in the pile for too long; I bought this one back in May. The only two DBT albums (not including The Fine Print) that hit me hard on first listen were Southern Rock Opera and Brighter Than Creation’s Dark so I’ll need to spend more time with this one. If nothing else, they have great song titles.
Shearwater- Shearwater Acoustiblue from the left coast. Gentle. Nice background music, but still holds the attention.
Jerry Castle- Don’t Even Ask Country rock from Nashville. Review is up at Lonesome Standard Time.
Delhi 2 Dublin- Planet Electric Not my normal thing as it is both quite noisy and very young. But appealing, meant to be played loud. I love the blending of East Indian music with elements of electronica and Celtic sounds.
James Alan Shelton- Where I’m Bound One of my favourite bluegrass guitarists. I’m reviewing it for the Lonesome Road Review.
Tom Russell- Cowboy’d All to Hell The more time I spend with this one, the more I appreciate it. There is only one new song on the collection, but several new recordings of classic songs. He has such a command of language and can generate vivid portraits in just a line or two of astutely chosen words.
My home office is a mess, with piles of magazines going back a few years and discs that haven’t made it to the alphabetical stacks. This week I decided to start working my way through the piles that have been alphabetized but aren’t yet ready to be permanently filed- these are things I’ve acquired over the last year and a half but haven’t had a chance to give them my full attention, so they’ve been sitting in the Shelves of Purgatory. I started with the ‘A’ discs, and actually worked my way through them in three extended sessions.
The Action- Action Packed Mid-60s mod rock. Nothing essential and nothing The Small Faces didn’t do better, despite the Paul Weller endorsement. Still, “Something Has Hit Me” and “Shadows and Reflections” are cracking songs.
Africa- Music from ’Lil Brown Since I found this recording, I’ve listened to it four or five times. You can find more expansive discussions of this band and album on the ‘net- look around a bit. Quite magical, if only for the medley of “Louie, Louie” and “Ode to Billy Joe.” One of those albums I wish I had found years ago.
Akido- Akido A beautiful album with engaging percussion.
Dave Alvin- Blue Blvd. I found this CD for $3 so decided to replace my cassette copy. One of my favourite Alvin releases.
Kasey Anderson- Nowhere Nights and Dead Roses Reminds me of James McMurtry. I think one has to take the time to listen to his words in order to really appreciate what Anderson has to offer. “Out on this road all the miles feel the same,” he sings in “The Borderline.” There is desperation here, shades of talent all over the place, Crowell, Russell, etc but also lesser known folks like LeeRoy Stagger, Steve Pineo, and Dave McCann- sill original, still dynamic and personal. Good stuff.
Doug Andrews & The Circus in Flames- A Little Bit of Gasoline I downloaded this from eMusic a couple years back but found a used copy for a couple bucks several months ago. If you like The Sadies, this one might appeal, capped by the epic “When Christ was a Cowboy.”
Angel Band- With Roots & Wings I apologize to the three ladies that make up this vocal combo. I apologize to Appleseed Records. I apologize to Lloyd Maines who produced the album. They sent it, I think I listened to it. I did nothing with it because, quite obviously, I’m an idiot. The entire time it was playing this past week I kept shaking my head and exclaiming, “Dang, that’s good.” Sometimes it was after a particularly beautiful lead vocal segment, more often when an instrument came in with a fill to support the harmonies. Like a Tex-Mex Wailin’ Jennys, these gals have it- terrific songs, a killer studio outfit, wonderful harmonies and arrangements- and I’m a sucker for Emmylou references. Some of it is lonesome- “The saddest bird I ever saw lives on a branch in Arkansas, Perched alone with nothing to do waits all his life for a rendezvous”- from “Cold Lonesome Down in Blackbird Creek”- but more often the pain and reflection is disguised in breathless liveliness. A beautiful recording project. I am so glad I rediscovered it with fresh ears.
Any Trouble- Where Are All the Nice Girls? and Wheels in Motion Elvis Costello meets The Jags. Folk meets power-pop. The first album has some of the finest songs to come out of new wave- “Second Choice,” “Playing Bogart,” and “Girls Are Always Right.” Thirty years ago, covers of Springsteen songs were not a penny a pair as they are today, so when I heard their version of “Growing Up” on late night radio, I bought Where Are All the Nice Girls? and an official live bootleg containing a version of “Growing Up” at the next opportunity.
Joseph Arthur- Daytrotter Session Okay, so this was the only thing I listened to in the last week that didn’t work for me. On one track, “Dead Savior” he sounds engaged and vital- sort of sounding like Jim Carroll. The rest though appear to be outtakes from a Foreigner reunion album.
Audrey Auld- Losing Faith, Texas, and The Billabong Song e.p. with “Poverty Line” and “Bread & Roses” singles “I got California debt on a Tennessee income…” “He’s more generous than handsome…” “Once I thought I would be a big star…looking at myself on T.V.” More than great lines, Audrey Auld- not sure what happened to the Mezera- has great songs, a great sense of the world and how she can reflect it in songs, and not just her own. Slim Dusty songs, an Eric Bogle classic, and lots of Tazmania’s great vocal export. I spent an afternoon with Audrey this week- well, with her music- and remembered again why I went on a bit of a download jag last winter. She is something special. Comes with the Fred Eaglesmith endorsement. Listening to Audrey sing “Harmony” with Kieran Kane is just magic. Classic country sounds with a contemporary bent.
Hoyt Axton- And His Guitar Recordings from the 60s that have been packaged and repacked any number of ways. “Greenback Dollar.” “500 Miles.” “John Henry.” He had such a terrific voice and easy-going approach to songs. While listening to this, I made a little list of singers I never got to see live but wished I had. John Stewart. Johnny Cash. Bill Monroe. Kirsty MacColl. Hoyt Axton is another one.
Okay, now I can move all those ‘A’ listers to the archive shelf and move a wee pile onto the bottom shelves until I get through the ‘B’s this week. Or not…
I also listened to James McMurtry’s first Sugar Hill album It Had to Happen. Another one of those performers I love whenever I listen, but I don’t listen to enough to call them a favourite.
Broken Social Scene- Forgiveness Rock Record and Broken Social Scene How have a missed falling for his band? Reenergized me with an unavoidably catchy blend of sounds- a real mess that works.
Canmore Folk Music Festival, July 31- August 2, 2010, Canmore, AB
The Canmore Folk Music Festival has long been a ‘best kept secret’ between western Canadian music lovers. Being a bluegrasser, for many years I attended Blueberry at Stony Plain, inconveniently scheduled the same weekend as Canmore. Other years, since Canmore’s fest is nestled between Calgary’s and Edmonton’s folk fests, I was unable to convince myself to do festivals three weekends in a row.
In its 33rd year, making it Alberta’s longest running folk fest, Canmore has done just fine without me attending. But finally, after hearing so much about the event and having things work out this year, Deana and I made the commitment to attend. I’m very glad I did.
For those from away, Canmore is nestled in the Rocky Mountains, less than an hour west of Calgary. The setting of the festival is small but adequate, is within the downtown hub of the community, and has flushables. Yeah! The site is level ground making access a breeze for all and there are many trees providing shade. There were a wide variety of food and other vendors on site, selling everything from $6 smokies (!) to smoked salmon meals and Mediterranean-inspired dishes, clothing, jewelry, naturopathic remedies, flutes, and alpaca products. There was also a large and active kids area and program, making the festival very child-friendly.
On the negative side, because the site is so small, there is a lot- too much- sound bleed between the three stages. When an artist such as John Boutté is performing, he shouldn’t be drowned out by loud, electric blues from a neighbouring stage; either the stages need some realigning to prevent this or the volume levels need to be brought down a touch. Of course, having so many people together for a weekend- especially on Sunday when the fest eventually sold out- there are going to be some people who are a little too self-involved and oblivious to others to understand that their behaviour- standing, talking, their kids’ talking, their monster stroller- may impact the enjoyment of others.
On the whole, the festival has a wonderful atmosphere and for the most part the attendees appeared to be more attentive and engaged than witnessed at other, larger folk festivals.
The music is what we went to the festival to hear and I wasn’t disappointed. We left midway through Monday afternoon so missed an evening of the main stage. However, with about 20 featured performers playing over three days on three stages and 33 ‘workshop’ sessions, several opportunities to hear all the performers were available.
The highlights were many:
John Boutté was the reason I really wanted to get to Canmore this year, knowing I won’t be making it to Edmonton to hear him next weekend. Four or so months ago, I had never heard of John Boutté. Today, he is one of my favourites. After hearing “The Tremé Song” introducing the third episode of Treme, I started searching out the song, believing it must be contemporary to “Iko Iko” and such. Wrong.
Since then, I’ve listened to his albums and have loved the breeziness that he brings to his jazz-soul hybrids.
He did not disappoint live. Whether singing Sam Cooke songs in a session with the always impressive Ruthie Foster, or holding court on the mainstage accompanied by guitarist Todd Duke, Boutté was the highlight of the weekend. A talented songwriter and collaborator, Boutté is able to make the songs of others- Paul Simon, Annie Lennox, Neil Young, Steve Goodman, Louis Armstrong- entirely his own. Listening to him perform “Southern Man” added an entirely new shade to the song. His clever arrangements, which made full use of Duke and his own quietly powerful voice, made Boutté’s songs meaningful and memorable.
While Boutté could sing generic soul, jazz, and pop standards to great acclaim, he is instead drawn to a higher calling, singing of his city, its residents, and their celebrations and challenges. He does so with intensity and humour. Whether a particular song is directly about New Orleans or not, he manages to make it relevant to the circumstances. “Nobody Knows Nothing,” “Door Poppin’,” and “The Treme Song” were especially enjoyed.
If you thought k.d. lang had delivered the ultimate “Hallelujah,” you haven’t heard Boutté sing the Leonard Cohen song.
As much as I was impressed by and enjoyed Boutté, I was left with longing to see him with a full band and horns. Maybe I’ll make it to New Orleans sooner than I had thought.
I stuck around on Monday afternoon only to hear Boutté again, and that session was another highlight and is described below.
Hearing Buffy Sainte-Marie sing “Universal Soldier” at a too-brief afternoon session. She said it- sometimes a three-minute song says more than an entire thick book. (I’ve often stated that if it can’t be said in a 2:50 country song, it doesn’t need to be said!) The heavy rain made me abandon the festival on Sunday night so I missed her main stage set. I’m told she was great.
Being properly introduced to the music of Zachary Richard. Before this weekend, I knew he was from Louisiana and that was about it. Now I’m a fan. One needs not be familiar with the man’s music or language to feel an intense and immediate connection. During his main stage set, he kept things moving, whether making us think in songs like “Last Kiss” or bringing the dance hall to us, hauling out the squeezebox for “Dancing at Double D’s” and getting everyone (except us) up to do the “Crawfish.” On the session stages, he held his own with Buffy Sainte-Marie and making everyone do a little thinking while performing “Acadian Driftwood” or performing “The Levee Broke” sitting beside fellow Louisianan John Boutté. Richard is a powerful and entertaining performer.
The Duhks were a very pleasant surprise, not that I hadn’t heard them and enjoyed them before. But I was surprised by how much I enjoyed their music this weekend. One of the most versatile of roots groups, the latest incarnation of always evolving The Duhks brought more French and Louisiana influence than I had expected. True, I haven’t listened to their music in several years but the days of flirting with bluegrass are long over- much more bayou in their sound than when I saw them live and listened in the mid-aughts. I’ve since learned that their standard set closing has “Les Blues de Cadien” morphing into an explosive take of “Whole Lotta Love”, but this raucous move caught me off guard and was entirely thrilling. At the session stages, the group was equally impressive and demonstrated their ability to flit between genres and interact with a range of performers. Sara Dugas is a very strong and personable vocalist.
Music of the Deep South was a Monday afternoon session, and I am very pleased that I stayed around for it. It was the session I had been awaiting all weekend. Vancouver’s The Sojourners were joined by John Boutté and Zachary Richard. Ouch! Gospel, New Orleans soul, and Cajun- three tributaries of Mississippi music represented on one stage. The Sojourners performed their rich, soulful gospel music- “Eyes on the Prize,” “Farther Along”- to great effect. They also collaborated, adding harmonies to the songs of Boutté and Richard. Richard delivered a devastating rendition of “The Levee Broke,” augmented by Steve Dawson laying down some fiery licks on the electric guitar. He also went back to Snake Bite Love (the next Richard album I’m buying) for “Côte Blanche Bay”. Beautiful. Boutté finally got around to performing “Louisiana 1927” – with the original lyrics, not his Bush- and Katrina- inspired reworking- and the wait was most assuredly worth the investment before concluding the session with a gospel rave-up- joined by The Sojourners and Richard- of “One of These Days.” Pure magic.
Other notable moments-
Dala impressed with complementary, weaving vocals, sharp humour, and strong songs including “Levi Blues.”
Vieux Farka Touré’s music suffered a bit without the ornamentation that made Fondo so impressive, but the ‘bare bones’, three guitar and drums format was as close as the weekend came to rock ‘n’ roll. Obviously well rehearsed, Farka Touré and crew delivered a lively main stage set of bass heavy grooves. Even the most intimate sounding songs kept the audience keen, upon their feet or swaying in their chairs.
Matt Andersen demonstrated that his confidence with the blues and performing just keeps getting stronger. During a Sunday evening rainstorm, he didn’t miss a lick.
Four Men and a Dog know what they are doing, collaborate with anyone, and make music that draws you in even when you aren’t really listening.
A wonderful festival. I would recommend it to folks who- like us- are tired of the hustle and bustle of larger festivals. And you can’t beat the location.
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.
The album I most enjoyed this week!
In the ten years I’ve been writing semi-professionally, I’ve received exactly one album and seven hundred, thirty-two emails from the folks at Light in the Attic. It was a hell of an album, that Karen Dalton disc released a few years back; spending time with In My Own Time introduced me to an artist I had never heard and never knew about.
I had a few gift cards from my birthday last month, and finding myself in Calgary for the weekend (part of my other professional life) I spent some time at a decent HMV store and bought the new Kristofferson album I read a bit about somewhere last week. Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends: The Publishing Demos 1968-1972 is a beautiful package. The cuts are incredibly insightful. I’m always fascinated to hear the genesis of songs, especially ones I’ve never heard (tunes like “Epitaph (Black and Blue),” “Billy Dee,” and “Border Lord”). For me there is no better introduction to a song than hearing it for the first time sung by the writer within an unadorned setting.
While I’ve always known about Kristofferson- and have bought a half-dozen albums over the years- I don’t think I’ve really known him- as much as one can know a songwriter you’ll never meet- until this collection. The liner notes- written by Michael Simmons- are among the finest I’ve ever devoured, and the packaging is artful, utilizing embossing and assemblage to dramatic effect; you can’t download this stuff, you have to hold it in your hands.
None of which would matter if the performances didn’t hold up. Hearing “Me and Bobby McGee” with just Kris and Billy Swan is just sick. Some tracks feature Swan, others Donnie Fritts, while a few are fleshed out with background singers and more complete bands. I hear echoes (or foreshadows) of Larry Jon Wilson in “Border Lord,” John Stewart elsewhere. My eyes (and ears) are wide open, now.
Listening to “Billy Dee”- and reading the liner notes- I had a bit of a revelation. Kristofferson is a hell of a writer obviously, but his songs and his softly sung performances here are every bit as good as Townes Van Zandt’s best. The lyrics have the same attention to implied detail that I find impressive. No doubt there were similarities in their lives- and I started to imagine what TVZ would have done had mental illness not been in the picture. Could he have been a survivor, like Kristofferson?
My introduction to Kristofferson was the (to my ears, at the time) cheesy stuff he did with Streisand when I was in junior high; I knew him more as an actor than I did singer until about 1996 when I picked up a disc cheap somewhere. Since then, I’ve developed an appreciation for his songs and his singing.
It is only with this album, this weekend, that I grasp the artistry behind the writing and performance.
Doug Cox & Salil Bhatt- Slide to Freedom 2: Make a Better World The initial collaboration between slide guitarist Cox and stavik veena master Bhatt was one of my favourite albums of the previous decade. It slapped me upside the head with its blending of sounds and genres. I missed out on this one- for some reason I wasn’t serviced with it- and I never bothered buying it, figuring I’d find it used somewhere, someday. But I didn’t.
With my weekly watching of Treme, I’ve been intrigued by the theme song and one morning this week recognized the singer’s voice when I heard a version of “City of New Orleans” played on CKUA- John Boutté. A Google search confirmed his connection to Treme and continued investigation brought up not only an album I downloaded from eMusic, but Boutte’s involvement with this collection. Yes, Vancouver Island meets up with India and New Orleans!
I recalled considering Slide to Freedom 2 on a previous visit to the downtown Calgary, so while there this weekend I searched it out. Not as immediately arresting as the first volume, but that has more to do with the lack of surprise this one holds. The addition of Boutté’s voice to the proceedings provides another interesting element. By the time they work out on “Freedom Raga,” I’m in another world.
Their rendition of “Amazing Grace”- Boutté’s soulful voice working with the unusual (in a gospel/soul context) sounds of the veena, brings down the house. (More about my strange affinity for gospel music later.) It is on the longer tracks when the music is most trance-inducing that the power of the Cox-Bhatt collaboration is most apparent.
Paid full price for it, dang it.
Elizabeth Cook- Welder and The Blue Album The occasional morning I’ll scan through the Sirius channels- when Kyle Cantrell gets on my nerves- and settle on Elizabeth’s show on the Outlaw channel. I enjoy her approach to hosting and this week- or was it last- was reminded how much I enjoyed her album of a couple years back. So I downloaded these two from eMusic. ‘Bout what I expected- top-drawer performances and interesting writing. Good stuff.
Barrence Whitfield Eta Petti & The Bloodyhotsak- Self-titled Caught sight of this new on eMusic and downloaded because a) my father-in-law, out of the blue a couple months back, asked if Whitfield had released anything lately and I gave the stock answer of ‘I have no idea’ and promptly forgot about it; I hadn’t even realized that the Whitfield/Tom Russell albums we bought in bulk from Stony Plain Records more than a decade ago (our second last, failed money-making venture) made an impression on him, and b) the sample of Russell’s “Veteran’s Day” I previewed; I think “Veteran’s Day” may well go down as Russell’s most perfect song.
Anyhow, I downloaded this one, and gave it a listen this weekend. I’m not sure I needed it, but I have it now. Lots of rock n roll guitar in spots, and then the next song is acoustic; a bit jarring at times. A cover of The Bottle Rockets’ “Thousand Dollar Car” jumped out at me as I was listening; the band sounds a bit like the Bottle Rockets, and not just on this cut. Whitfield’s voice remains appealing in its strength and Petti has a tortured soul that bleeds artistic pain, losing nothing to the language barrier. I’ll be buying Whitfield’s Raw, Raw, Rough.
John Boutte- Good Neighbor I’m really beginning to appreciate the sounds of New Orleans and find myself breaking into “The Treme Song” at the oddest times. This one has some great grooves, nothing deep or overly vital I suppose, but the songs serve their purpose. Some are dark and soulful, others light and irreverent. I didn’t even recognize “Southern Man” the first time through, so different is the melody from that I’m used to hearing. I really like Boutte’s voice and appreciate its supple qualities.
Danny and the Champions of the World- Streets of our Time Another CKUA, 6:15 a.m. discovery for me. Heard it once, went and found it. I’m attracted to the strength of the songs, the way the songs make me think of Springsteen without ever sounding like Springsteen. I didn’t even notice the sneakers on the cover until the Bruce reference was firmly in my brain; homage to Born to Run, perhaps?
Richard and Linda Thompson- I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight To my ears, the album sounds hopeful. Twisted, aren’t I?
The Tallest Man on Earth- The Wild Hunt I like this guy more with every listen.
Mark “Brink” Brinkman- On the Brink of a Dream I know Mark through his irregular posts to the BGrass-L and having read his name on every third bluegrass album over the past few years. I listened to the first half of this album on the way down to Calgary Saturday morning. Fine songs, nothing especially noteworthy about the performances although I appreciated hearing Dale Ann Bradley sing on “Littlest Guardian Angel,” although the song didn’t particularly do much for me. “Bluestone Mountain” got a couple listens because the story caught me and I wanted to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. “With Love from Normandy” will get played on Remembrance Day and Memorial Day theme-shows, and rightly so; it is a simple song with international appeal.
And then I heard “Lucius Gray.” From the opening lines (“Lucius Gray had seen a lot of trouble in his time, He was the meanest man to ever work down in the mine. If you valued your existence you’d stay out of his way, if the devil had a human form it would be Lucius Gray”) the listener’s imagination is on alert. By the time the coal mine collapses and only two men are left- the singer and Gray- I thought I knew where the song was going: a battle between good and evil for the failing supply of oxygen.
When Gray instead prays for the singer’s survival, the tears started flowing, blurring the highway in front of me. Seconds later, I was a wreck, bawling to a song like I haven’t since the first time I heard the Dixie Chick’s rendition of “Traveling Soldier.” “That was the day the Devil became a prayin’ man!” It is a devastating song of redemption, one that carries an emotional weight beyond that which is normally found on even the most impressive of bluegrass or country albums. Brink has written his “Sunday Morning Coming Down.”
My friend Barb finds it funny that a person who is non-religious gets entirely tangled up in bluegrass gospel and songs of faith. Maybe I’m just hedging my bets and hoping that’ll be enough…just in case. I know my childhood experiences/mental manipulation at the hands of southern Baptists relocated to Edmonton caused my loss of belief. Nonetheless, it is stellar songwriting- like this song from Brinkman- that inspires me to see the glory in the faith others possess. Songwriters like Brinkman and songs like “Lucius Gray” make a case for religious belief like no man of God standing behind a pulpit ever could.
Fun Boy Three- Self titled and Waiting Back to the 80s again, for a little while. These two albums had just enough substance to support their pop. I’m probably the only fan of The Specials who was introduced to them through “It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it” on the first of these two albums. First heard at Climax Records in Leduc, my initial record store job. Better than making cones at DQ or driving the newspaper truck.
The Who- Greatest Hits Live I caught sight of this online some time ago but didn’t see a physical copy until this weekend. Bought it although I need another live collection from The Who- or what is left of them- like a need another chin. But, being a completeist…
Disc One has some nice recordings of oft-bootlegged shows from the 70s, slices I’ve either not heard or only on late generation tapes (thanks to connections made through a tape swopping fan group in the early 80s). The second disc is mostly superfluous, coming from the LA stand of ’89 and a few shows in the ‘aughts. The most recent material, from 2007 and 2009, provide evidence that I didn’t miss much when I passed on paying $150 plus when they- Pete, Roger, and whomever else- came through the province a few years back. Embarrassing is a rendition of “The Kids Are Alright” where the crowd can’t sing along when encouraged to do so. Could have lived without the set, but Disc One makes it worthwhile, I suppose; with these vintage versions, one remembers how smart, fresh, and lively The Who once sounded. How did three musicians and a singer make that much noise? The 14-minute jam of“Naked Eye/Let’s See Action/My Generation” is the centerpiece.
Peter Ostroushko- When the Last Morning Glory Blooms I fell asleep listening to this one today. That should not be taken as a negative. I had the headphones on and obviously needed a nap after driving for a couple hours. The music allowed me to drift off and then filled my sleeping brain with lovely thoughts, images, and rhythms. Ostroushko’s mandolin playing- delicate and rhythmic- allowed me to relax and clear my head. I’ll have to listen to it again when I’m not so drowsy.
Echo & The Bunnymen- The Fountain I picked this up for five bucks a couple months ago and hadn’t got to it until this week. I couldn’t name three Echo songs, but they are a band I like reading about in the British mags and whose CDs I always look at when I come across them in stores. After listening to The Fountain, I still don’t know three Echo songs. But that doesn’t really matter.