Archive for the ‘Mark Erelli’ Tag
Rose Cousins We Have Made a Spark Outside Music
This coming week sees the release of Halifax-based Rose Cousin’s third album We Have Made a Spark. While exploring similar sounds to her previous releases, this outstanding recording serves as a considerable forward step for the dual 2011 East Coast music Award winner (Songwriter and Solo Female Recording).
Produced by Massachusetts’ Zackariah Hickman (Josh Ritter, Barnstar!), Cousins and her team have negotiated the difficult waters of independence to create a well-paced album of lyrical and musical depth. Similar in some ways to more overtly commercial artists including Kathleen Edwards and Serena Ryder, Cousins piano- and guitar-based music has smoky depth that lends itself to considerable contemplation.
With darkness- loneliness, vulnerability, depression, frustration, and other challenges- as a unifying theme, this set could have become bogged down in self-recrimination and anger. Rather, and while the mood is certainly is not boisterous, the disc isn’t without considerable light charm in no small part because of the environment in which it was created. We Have Made A Spark was recorded in and inspired by the inclusive and collaborative music community of Boston: Kris Delmhorst, Jennifer Kimball, Charlie Rose, and Mark Erelli are among the better known names who gathered in-studio with Cousins to work up this collection of songs.
A multi-layered set, the album has a seemingly infinite bottom-end with drummer Billy Beard and bassist Hickman running herd on the studio collective. The relationship that ends in The Shell is as delicate as the sentiment of Go First. Each of the eight new Cousins originals are songs you can just crawl into and wrap around yourself. As a bonus, Cousins revisits two songs from her previous album The Send Off, All the Time It Takes to Wait and White Daisies.
The first song received what I thought was an ideal performance on The Send Off, but Cousins manages to outdo herself here. With a more hollow sound than on the previous recording, and with the addition of her choir of Boston ladies adding harmony, All the Time It Takes to Wait is given a performance that is all the more impactful. Charlie Rose’s steel elevates White Daisies to some strange- but effective- amalgam of downbeat jazz and classic country.
An inspired performance of Springsteen’s oft-covered If I Should Fall Behind is included. Sung with should-be-folk-superstar Mark Erelli and a chorus of voices, the emotional threads of the song are again revealed, this time in a new way with the melancholy romantic shades of the original replaced by a gentle assuredness of faith in a wider community.
A brilliant album that gently unfolds as it plays, Rose Cousins’ We Have Made a Spark is available February 28 and has worked its way into my Polaris Music Prize Top 5.
A free download of Darkness is available at www.RoseCousins.com and a 20 minute video that takes viewers into the sessions is also posted at her site.
Typically, I don’t like exclamation marks; they seem a little obvious, to me. Like dying your hair green or getting a ‘mohawk’. They scream, Look at me!
Okay, so I still use them, probably more often than I should.
Barnstar! is the bluegrass project of one of my favourite singer-songwriters, Mark Erelli, and a bunch of his Boston-based musician pals. Their album C’Mon! was recently released and I featured the album in my Red Deer Advocate Roots Music column two weeks ago. Here it is, and thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Barnstar ! C’mon! Barnstar.bandcamp.com
Massachusetts has long been a hot spot for inspired bluegrass. From the days of the Lilly Brothers and Don Stover, through Joe Val and Southern Rail to modern artists including Crooked Still and products of the Berklee College of Music including Sarah Jarosz and Sierra Hull, the area surrounding Boston has produced serious bluegrass. The latest outfit to come out of the area is the accidental bluegrass band, Barnstar!
Accidental in that members of Barnstar! are well-established individuals with independent careers who didn’t start playing together with the intention of forming a permanent touring band.
Jake Armerding (fiddle, vocals) and his father Taylor (mandolin, vocals) have deep bluegrass credentials including years fronting Northern Lights; since then, Jake has carved out a niche as a respected instrumentalist and performer.
Mark Erelli (guitar, vocals) is an incredible songwriter and singer with a string of exceptional albums in his rucksack as well as an album of murder ballads with Jeffrey Foucault and sideman gigs with the likes of Josh Ritter and Lori McKenna. Zack Hickman (bass, vocals) is a producer of note who has also played with Ritter as well as Kris Delmhorst, and banjo player Charlie Rose spent time with west coast old-timers The Crooked Jades.
C’mon! is 46 minutes of modern, song-based (as opposed to sound-based) non-traditional bluegrass- the roots of the Traveling Wilburys (whose Handle Me With Care closes the disc) are as important as those of The Stanley Brothers- which isn’t to detract from the quality of the album, because it is a very strong, enjoyable recording: but the Lonesome River Band it isn’t.
A collaboration as strong as its parts, the members of Barnstar! play off each other to create a cohesive sound that is mindful of traditional bluegrass- instrumental precision balanced by the ease of a living room jam, vocal harmonies that soar and blend, and songs that emphasize story over poetic ambiguity- while shape-shifting within those confines.
Take My Ashes to the River has all the pain and melancholy of the ageless Scots-Irish mountain songs on which the bluegrass tradition is built, but the song is an Erelli original and serves as one of the album’s pinnacle numbers. More familiar will be the songs the band has chosen to bluegrassify: Paul Simon’s Boy in the Bubble, Neil Young’s Cowgirl in the Sand, The Louvins’ Cash on the Barrelhead, and the timeless I Think We’re Alone Now.
Taylor Armerding’s Northern Rail is a highlight as is a new Erelli composition, Charlottesville. A second song from the Northern Lights’ repertoire serves as the album’s spiritual focus; Build It Up features some of the album’s finest vocal harmony. Dawes’ When My Time Comes may over-reach as a bluegrass song, but it is a great showcase for four-part harmony and Erelli’s vocal performance is faultless; Mumford & Sons fans take note.
C’mon! may not be a ‘between the lines’ bluegrass release- some songs have more troubadour swing than full-throttle drive- but it is a darn fine example of what happens when disparate talents come together to play music they love.
Mark Erelli just released a new album entitled Little Vigils. On his website this month he wrote an impassioned piece on the importance of the journey in music discovery. He asks the question, “When you can find an answer (though it may not be correct) to any question with a simple web search or hear nearly everything ever recorded with a few keystrokes, what can any of it be worth?” He uses his ‘gateway’ band- The Grateful Dead- to his discovery of George Jones. He clearly makes an argument I’ve unsuccessfully attempted to communicate- the search for music is as important as the listening to the music. Read more at http://markerelli.com/
This week, my six-month Sirius freebie expired. Now that that distraction is gone- as much as I enjoyed listening to Chris Jones, Elizabeth Cook, Mojo, and even Kasey Kasem on Saturdays, I don’t really need the service; I know I am my own best dj- So, I can concentrate on whole-album listening a bit more. With the end of the school year approaching, my disc listening will likely increase. For this week, here is what crossed my path:
The album I most enjoyed this week.
Jason & the Scorchers- Halcyon Times The first Scorchers release in more than a decade, and for some reason it isn’t readily available on disc in Canada. After waiting for a couple months, I finally downloaded the album. I’ve listened to it twice so far, and am really enjoying it. Sounds like Jason and Warner haven’t missed a beat. It will become a favourite.
Marty Raybon- At His Best
Ian Hunter- Welcome to the Club Not as vital as it was in 1980, but a heck of a live album.
Oliver Schroer- Hymns and Hers and Camino Inspired by the recent release of Freedom Row, I started delving further into the Schroer catalogue. Hymns and Hers was a pleasant listen, but- for me- hardly essential. Camino is inspiring. While walking the Camino de Santiago through France and Spain, Schroer recorded himself playing his violin in churches along the route. The field recordings of birds, footsteps, and cowbells are as important to the recording as are the songs. The environments, the chambers, provide a depth to the instrumentals. This is where fiddle meets violin along a path carved by millions of footsteps over eleven hundred years. Special.
Mark Erelli- The Memorial Hall Recordings Likely my favourite folk singer that I haven’t seen live.
Marty Stuart- The Pilgrim Brought to mind by the new Dierks Bentley album, this concept album reminds one of how good Marty Stuart can be when commercial constraints are removed. Stands up to the Johnny Cash theme-albums that inspired it.
Kim Wilde- Kim Wilde
The Blue Shadows- On the Floor of Heaven To be reviewed in the paper this Friday. A wonderful reissue of an album everyone who loves roots rock should own.
Summertown Road- Summertown Road An uneven bluegrass recording that I’m reviewing for The Lonesome Road Review. Uneven is perhaps the wrong word- more like underwhelming. It is a fine disc, just not spectacular.
Andre Williams- That’s All I Need More listening needed.
Dierks Bentley- Up on the Ridge A wonderful collection of acoustiblue music. While it will sound entirely different, I was moved to download the Punch Brothers’ album of a couple years back.
Peter Case- Peter Case This one has spent too much time on the shelf.
Swamp Dogg- Total Destruction of Your Mind A find courtesy of an Oxford American music issue of a few years back. Memorable, if nothing else.
Phil Seymour- Phil Seymour While playing around on the ‘Net this week, I came across mention of this album and was inspired to pull it off the record shelf in the basement. I slapped it on the turntable, put on the headphones and was in a blissful power pop cloud for about 35-minutes. Side One- with “Precious to Me,” “I Found A Love,” “Love You So Much,” “Baby It’s You,” and “Let Her Dance” rivals The Cars’ debut album as the best first side in a recording career; of course, Seymour had done several projects with Twilley before this, so maybe it doesn’t count. Throw in “We Don’t Get Along” and it is a masterpiece.
Kevin Welch- A Patch of Blue Sky He can sing anything. A great voice. Welch has asked these questions before, has sung these same songs in other ways. Doesn’t matter; when someone sounds this good, captures himself this well with lyrics, it is to be admired.
The Feelies- The Good Earth The vocals are mixed so low, I found it impossible to sustain interest in any of the words. If this were an instrumental album I would have enjoyed it much more.
David Newberry- When We Learn the Things We Need to Learn A nice little listen.
Joe Strummer & the Mescalaroes- Rock Art and the X-Ray Style Only discovered last year. I love this one.
Larry Jon Wilson- New Beginnings and Let Me Sing My Song To You His songs may not have the depth of Townes’, but I enjoy his singing and guitar playing very much. I’ve never been near the “Ohoopee River Bottomland,” but Wilson makes me feel a connection to his world. I imagine I’ll listen again to his 2009 release this coming week. I hope he had a good life; never read too much about him. When I think of Eaglesmith, the term ‘cult artist’- so popular in the 70s and 80s- sometimes seem appropriate. With Wilson, it seems like a slight; this is a singer that should have been better compensated for his art.
Sometime ago, Mark Erelli posted to his website the opportunity for fans and followers to invest in his next album. It isn’t a unique fundraising venture, but one usually reserved for artists of lower profile. It is telling of the narrowness of economic margins in the new musical world order, however. I neglected to respond to the opportunity, and now that I have the product in my hand I very much regret that I spent the hundred dollars on coffees and gum rather than contribute to Erelli’s project.
Delivered is a powerful, dramatic artistic statement from a singer-songwriter who has for too long flown under-recognized while cover shots, features, and praise have fallen on contemporaries. Not that Erelli is better than anyone else plying their trade out there within the coffeehouse, folk club, and house concert circuit. He’s different from some of them, similar to others, and this isn’t a competition, after all. He’s received his due praise from the media that matters, and yet his name is never raised when I’m discussing favoured artists with like-minded peers.
Delivered is different from the other albums of Erelli’s that I’ve enjoyed- Hope & Other Casualties and Compass & Companion- lack of ampersand notwithstanding. As much as I enjoyed and appreciated those recordings, Delivered is of an entirely different breed. The album has more of a universal theme to it, as it attempts to focus on issues impacting our world, even if they are close to home. It is that ‘great leap forward’ that one hopes for those one respects and holds in esteem.
As a non-American, “Abraham” doesn’t speak to me the same way it may to Erelli and his countrymen, but I appreciate the sentiment all the same. When he sings, “We’ve more in common than divides us, but we need someone to guide us,” I like to think Erelli is singing about more than American politics and leadership. This song, with its refrain of “Rise up, rise up, rise up” calls to all of us to consider not only who we choose to follow, but challenges us to consider why we chose to follow rather than lead.
That Erelli has chosen to close his album with such a powerful number is most appropriate. Elsewhere Erelli provides sketches and portraits of people caught in changing times, feeling powerless to activate any type of action.
The album opens with an incredible song, one that Erelli may have to sing for the rest of his career. “Hope Dies Last” utilizes a backdrop of quiet domesticity to facilitate his description of the pressures faced by not only his country, but those who are tied to its fate. While the images Erelli highlights- suicide bombs, trapped and lost coalminers, New Orleans, and myopic presidents- are tied to current times, the overarching message of holding close those you love will last long after specific headlines are forgotten.
In both “Shadowland” and “Volunteers” Erelli portrays the fates and circumstances of those who serve in the military. Both songs are gripping in their honesty and use of language. “Shadowland” is the loudest song I’ve ever heard from Erelli, reaching levels of distortion and anger that rivals Jerusalem-era Steve Earle. The sense of loss and despair expressed by the song’s protagonist is excruciating- “When you’re dancing with a devil of your own design, you sink down to his level every time.”
“Volunteers” takes a more linear path, but the destination is similar. Caught in a war he never anticipated, the National Guard volunteer who had spent his weekends filling sandbags and cleaning up after storms finds himself in Iraq. Unprepared for what he experiences, and feeling the disappointment of a nation, Erelli’s soldier reflects on his challenges. Considering the judgments of history and God, the volunteer admits, “Over here it’s a victory just to make it through another day.”
Not everything is centered on global wars and politics as Erelli looks at the loss and frustrations of folks caught up in their own turmoil where things don’t always work out as planned. “Five Beer Moon” captures a father living on his own, filling his hours with thoughts about what might have been elsewhere. The darkness of “Baltimore” could only occur after an all-night drive to an elusive love; Erelli doesn’t reveal how the story ends, but one anticipates it isn’t with a country wedding.
The pressures of being the “Man of the Family” seem less harsh surrounded by the despair that populates other songs, but to the guy who feels he can “only tread water” in his own doubts, the impasse is palatable. And for the fellow who claims “I ain’t giving up, I just changed my mind” while standing on railway tracks in “Unraveled,” all the signs in the world are not going to free him from his situation.
Erelli has a way with words that is more than remarkable. Sometimes it is a stark image of “roadside trash crucified on a barbed wire fence” (“Unraveled”) capturing a daily observation in a way one could never have thought. Other times it is in a series of lines that captures the strength of a short story- “Small town Sunday morning and the children all dressed up for church. The bells are a-ringin’ and I’m a-thinkin’ for whatever it’s worth that I might find some comfort if I could just learn how to kneel” (“Not Alone”). In “Baltimore,” the spurned lover laments, “I’ve got a pawn shop ring and a yellow rose bouquet/Honey, that I bought in a cheap truck stop. Hardly seems enough to prove to you I’ve changed/Well, maybe it ain’t, but it’s all I got.” Lonesome, for certain.
Instrumentally, the album has a comfortable sound, familiar to previous Erelli discs, but also fresh. Liam Hurley’s drums provide a conscious heartbeat for Erelli’s songs. There is the usual selection of guitars and basses, and the addition of pump organ, piano, and other keyboards along with horns makes Delivered a full and panoramic listening experience.
Despite the elaborate settings of some of the songs, the focus is always on Erelli and what he is singing. The words are powerful, and while I don’t believe a song can change the world, we need songs like Erelli’s to encourage us to have the strength and conviction to make changes Where We Live. To borrow a quip from Jon Brooks: for me, that is what folk music is all about- advancing civilization four minutes at a time.
Mark Erelli has done that with Delivered.