Archive for the ‘Red House Records’ Tag
I’ve been going through a heavy Dale Watson phase recently; almost every day this month I’ve had a dose of the Texan’s music. I’ve written about him before, including upon the release of The Sun Sessions, his first Red House album. Long a favourite, Watson hasn’t disappointed to date.
Whether singing honky tonk originals, neo-western swing, Memphis-Sun injected early-rock influenced hillbilly music, drinking songs, dreaming ones, or rig driving anthems, Dale Watson sings country; like Dallas Wayne, Billy Don Burns, and a thousand others going back to Tony Booth, Bobby Austin, Dick Curless, and further, country runs through his veins and colours his life.
Fresh from his Sun focus (The Sun Sessions and the recently unveiled and equally enjoyable Dalevis) and taking a stab at Blake Shelton’s lack of vision (“Old Fart, A Song for Blake”, available on iTunes later today), Dale Watson hasn’t changed a lot from the first time we heard him sing ”Cheatin’ Heart Attack” two decades ago.
Had Watson scored even a minor chart hit along the way, things might be different; forced to do things fairly independently, Watson has chosen to stay close to his roots (and their principles) over the course of some twenty albums. He never caught the Nashville rash, and wasn’t afraid to call ‘em out if he thought something was less than justified (“Country My Ass.”)
El Rancho Azul is comprised of 14 Watson originals, according to the record label ”the honkiest tonkiest album” of his career. Measuring such would be difficult, but Red House won’t get an argument from me.
Never one to mince words, Watson has consistently demonstrated that he can build a solid song around a clever turn of phrase, occasionally elevating his songs to greatness. “Where Do You Want It” and “Thanks To Tequila” are built around memorable catch phrases, and while enjoyable don’t reach the comparable standard of Watson’s best songs. ”Cowboy Boots,” an ode to dancin’ women, also falls into this category.
“I Drink to Remember” fares better; the lyrics unfold like a Capitol Haggard cut- I believe there is even a subtle vocal nod to Merle within the chorus at 0:51- and the pedal steel of Don Pawlak combines with Watson’s guitar for a unadulterated 60′s California country sound. “We’re Gonna Get Married” and “Daughter’s Wedding Song” are thematically independent of each other in their approach to nuptials, but each successfully accomplishes its intent. The first is filled with good-natured frivolousness, while the second conveys matters from the father’s point of view; complete with recitation, this is another song that could have appeared on Pride In What I Am or Hag.
I’m not sure what Watson’s motivation was in writing, recording, and then sequencing two songs that are so similar (and yet, different) as “Quick Quick Slow Slow” (about a couple’s hesitant first dance) and “Slow Quick Quick” (about a different couple’s only slightly less hesitant first dance), but they work, as a single track and one-after-the-other. Not afraid of redundancy (on his 1995 debut, Watson recorded “Wine Wine Wine” which was outdone on last year’s The Sun Sessions by “Down Down Down Down Down), here we have “Drink Drink Drink” which is about about what you figure.
Through it all, Watson and his Lonestars-which includes, in addition to Pawlak, Chris Crepps on upright bass and Danny Levin on fiddle and piano- sound like they are quite simply having a time playing these songs. A true original, Watson appears not to give a rip about being original. Some will criticize his music for being a throwback, even derivative perhaps.
This week I’ve listened to six or eight Watson discs. El Rancho Azul stands with his best. Either you like it or you don’t; if you like country music, I can’t understand not liking it.
Sorry for the delay on this one…thought it had been posted.
Robin & Linda Williams These Old Dark Hills Red House Records Reviewed by Donald Teplyske
Robin & Linda Williams have been creating folk-based, country-leaning music for parts of five decades, and as the long-married duo approach their 40th anniversary of recording in 2015 they just keep getting stronger.
There is nothing overly complicated about what the Williamses do. They tend to write and select relevant, heartfelt songs of relationships focusing on the places almost as much as the people (despite the protagonist’s claim to the contrary, “They All Faded Away” serves as a prime example, balancing memories of rolling hills, gently flowing water, and ramshackle towns with the recollection of a long-abandoned love). Their harmony-centric and acoustic approaches to music making ensures that the voices and the lyrics- the stories, characters, and settings- always remain at the fore.
None of which should be taken to imply that what they create is simplistic. There is true skill and art involved in making meaningful music pure and straightforward. Taking a rather undistinguished, latter-day Bruce Springsteen composition (“My Lucky Day” to create something that sounds classic is no small feat.
As is their practice, Robin and Linda alternate taking the lead vocal position with the other slipping into seemingly effortless harmony. Utilizing the standard bluegrass instrumental norm- five musicians on any six instruments including Chris Brashear’s mandolin and fiddle, Todd Phillips on bass, and Al Perkins on various steel guitars, with Linda on guitar and banjo and Robin on guitar- a consistent and appealing foundation is established early.
Lonesome and the title track, both co-written by the Williamses, are destined to become standards within their extensive repertoire.
Looking at Lonesome as a “rotten town” of mental blueness- “If you get broke down in that barren ground, you will be forever bound to Lonesome,” Linda Williams maps a journey of formidable challenge.
More gentle are the images Robin Williams evokes as he settles his tired gaze on “faithful confidants of stone.” The untouched, ancient wilderness is brought to mind within this gentle, loping number, as are fond reminiscences of family.
Additional highlights are a version of Jessi Colter’s “Storms Never Last,” the bright “Tessie Mae,” and “Arizona.” The only misstep appears- and this may not be universally felt- as the album closes with “World Wide Peace,” a familiar but over-reaching song.
These Old Dark Hills stands with the best of Robin and Linda Williams’ recordings.
Drew Nelson Tilt-a-Whirl Red House Records
The world is full of singers we’ve never heard. One of the most recent to come my way is Michigan’s Drew Nelson.
Like hundreds of other under-heard songwriters, Drew Nelson has been playing the clubs and festivals for years. Signed now to influential independent Red House, Nelson’s blend of John Mellencamp-roots rock and Kevin Welch-country balladry is a winning combination.
Without pretension, Nelson has created eleven blue collar songs that tell his truth through characters and situations that are universal. “Promised Land” explores the hand-to-mouth existence of under-employed and itinerant workers while “Danny and Maria” is his “Jack and Diane” drawn from the experiences of the same population.
The album reaches its pinnacle mid-set with the five-minute epic “5th of September”. Quietly sung over minimal accompaniment in the voice of a combatant- is it 1862 or 2007?- Nelson reveals but a little of the thoughts and emotions within one man’s mind and soul as he faces death in battle.
Like those who have traveled similar paths, Nelson well knows the value that a tight, talented band can bring to a recording. Notable amongst those present are the contributions of producer and multi-instrumentalist Michael Crittenden and drummer Brian Morrill.
Comparisons to Bruce Springsteen are inevitable, if flawed. Still, with the album’s final three tracks and especially “Copper” and “My Girl (Shooting Star Wishes),” Nelson approaches the inventive qualities of Springsteen’s stream-of-consciousness workingman’s poetry.
If Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball is a bit too esoteric for your tastes, Tilt-a-Whirl might do- it has a tighter aural focus than Springsteen’s latest, but is no less engaging and enjoyable.
As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer Little Blue Egg Red House Records
When Dave Carter unexpectedly died in 2002, the folk world lost a great, under-heard songwriter and singer. Since then, Tracy Grammer has quietly kept his songs and spirit alive. Theirs was an evolving musical partnership, with Grammer assuming more responsibility as time passed.
Carter’s songs were always their core. Grammer discovered the source tapes for these performances while cleaning a basement last summer. Recorded in their living room, none of the eleven songs sound like castoffs excised from previous releases. Rather, each is a fully realized creation simply waiting to be discovered. A few of the songs have appeared in different form on Tracy Grammer albums, but these recordings have never before been released.
Carter’s inclusive spirituality weaves through these songs. Whether spoken in the meditations of the truck driver “somewhere between midnight and the changin’ of tires” (‘Hard Edge of Livin’’) or the midnight vocalist singing “in praise or lamentation, in peace or desperation” (“Any Way I Do”), Carter and Grammer communicate messages of significance. The album’s standout may well be “Gypsy Rose,” a song that could have been sung by troubadours hundreds of years ago.
The album’s only non-original is a quiet, duo rendition of “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key,” a song from Billy Bragg & Wilco’s Mermaid Avenue; Grammer’s violin playing on this familiar song is especially evocative.
Little Blue Egg is that most treasured of offerings, an unexpected gift.
The Pines Dark So Gold Red House Records
The third album from the Minnesota-based folk duo of Benson Ramsey (son of Bo) and David Huckfelt is as lush and detailed as their previous offerings, but this time out there is a spooky starkness that results in an even more satisfying listening experience.
As they have previously done, The Pines produce harmonious, folk-based music that at its core is literate and no little bit mysterious. Working this time out with a full band, Ramsey and Huckfelt have created ten distinct, multi-layered pieces, each which could accompany minimalist cinematic portraits of the rural mid-west.
Acoustic-sounding, Dark So Gold is very much rooted in the blues tradition that has informed the practice of most guitar-based folksingers since 1961; a nod to Bob indeed, but The Pines have created their own little niche in the crowded contemporary folk fold.
Recommended if you like Bon Iver, John K. Samson, and Deep Dark Woods.
Paul Geremia Love My Stuff Red House Records
I only became aware of Paul Geremia when I reviewed his previous album Love, Murder, and Mosquitos in 2004. Since then, I haven’t heard anything else from the guitarist who originates from Rhode Island, but I’ve kept an ear open so I was pleased when his new live collection came my way earlier this fall.
A finger-picker of the highest order, there really- to my ears, and I’m more than open to correction- nothing that special about Geremia’s singing. Or his playing. Or his song selection; in fact, if this album came across my desk unlabeled, I might not even listen to it. But, once the disc hits the sound system, the magic begins.
The world is full of blues guitarists and singers, but darn few of them pull me into their songs the way Paul Geremia does. Culled from recordings made in a variety of venues over the years, the majority of the tracks stem from 2002-2007 and reveal that time has done nothing to diminish the control over which Geremia can impose on a song. All but two of the songs feature only Geremia playing 6- and 12-string guitars and harmonica.
See See Rider kicks things off with a familiar groove and slides nicely into Shuckin’ Sugar Blues. Geremia loves the Delta and country blues, and doesn’t deviate from those foundations through this hour-long set. He explores songs from Blind Willie McTell, Sleepy John Estes, Huddie Ledbetter, Charlie Patton, and Blind Lemon Jefferson while weaving in some of his own songs, songs that fit seamlessly with the songs that taught Geremia the rules.
Death Don’t Have No Mercy, a dark and fearsome tune, is a highlight as is the aching Where Did I Lose Your Love?
Pieta Brown Mercury Red House Records
Over the past decade, Pieta Brown has quietly carved out her own little place in the Americana world. Having collaborated with Calexico, Don Was, and Amos Lee, Brown has found herself in some inspiring company, including having Mark Knopfler appear on this album.
Brown is a dreamy singer, a rootsy Feist who isn’t afraid- in one song- of mixing minimalist lyricism balanced by elaborate instrumentation while in the next sharing a seemingly personal experience that has only the barest shades of accompaniment. Her songs fluctuate between dusty, arcane portraits and bluesy country challenges. Beautiful, it is and all is brightened by a voice that, when heard, immediately becomes a favourite. Highlights include Closing Time, Butterfly Blues, and So Many Miles.
In my Roots Music column two weeks ago I featured Dale Watson’s first Red House release, The Sun Sessions. It may not change the world, but it sure is a good way to spend a half-hour.
Dale Watson & the Texas Two The Sun Sessions Red House
From folk (Greg & Pieta Brown, Eliza Gilkyson) and contemporary blues (Ray Bonneville, Paul Geremia) to Americana (The Pines, Robin & Linda Williams) and jamming rock (Hot Tuna), there may not be a stronger or more eclectic roots lineup than that presented by Red House Records. The latest to join the fold is country iconoclast Dale Watson.
A spontaneous recording inspired by a canceled Memphis club booking, Watson found himself writing and recording at the famed Sun Studios with little notice. The album opens with Watson singing over a backdrop of Tennessee Two-style rhythm: “I had my first taste of whiskey, I had my first taste of love; both got me high and twisted up inside, Only one way to go after up” on Down, Down, Down, Down, Down, the first of several Johnny Cash-inspired tunes.
With half a dozen tracks not even breaking the two minute mark, The Sun Sessions is firmly entrenched in the spirit of mid-50s country and western music. There is absolutely nothing complicated about this 14-song set. Rather than the depth of introspection- a hallmark of some other Watson projects- this time Watson and his crew of two are simply exploring the simplicity of rhythm and rhyme while telling a few tales that could have been recorded by the likes of Cash, Charlie Rich, Carl Perkins, and Sonny Burgess.
The joys of cholesterol-busting home cooking, the aftermath of shooting up the living room, local heroes, the love of a good (and a bad) woman, and spirituality are all touched on within thirty minutes that absolutely fly by; heck, along with some fine tickety-tack guitar playing Watson includes a train song for good measure. (www.RedHouseRecords.com)
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
New from Dale Watson is The Sun Sessions, a rocking little album inspired by the 50s rock and roll and country that made the Memphis studio famous.
and http://youtu.be/EnyYwdFQJgk are among the many videos from the project posted on YouTube. They don’t come much cooler than Dale Watson and The Sun Sessions provide ample evidence that roots music doesn’t need to be complicated to be effective.
I’m spending part of this afternoon writing my review of this new Red House release and am enjoying every minute of it.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
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.