Bill Scorzari Through These Waves
“One of the greatest songwriters I’ve never heard.” Jonah Tolchin, Through These Waves’ producer
“I enjoyed playing on Bill Scorzari’s record…Boy, did it turn out fine—thoughtful, soulful songs, with—by God—real music to back them up. Top notch.” Will Kimbrough, musician and current Fervor Coulee man-crush
“He looks like Steve Earle would if he hadn’t taken care of himself.” Albertan wit
In 2014, New York’s Bill Scorzari released his debut album, Just the Same.
Don’t feel bad—I didn’t hear it either. Upon receiving Through These Waves, his follow-up release, I’ve changed that, of course. Until you can purchase it, feel free to stream Just the Same at Scorzari’s website. It is a good listen, and reveals the promise that first albums often do.
But, go buy Through These Waves right now. Because while the sophomore album is supposed to be weaker than the one the artist had a lifetime to create, this one isn’t. It is February 19th as I write this review, and I am betting that when December 15th comes along and I am paring down my list of favourite roots albums of 2017 Through These Waves will be there. And it isn’t going to be whittled off the list.
Scorzari has been compared to everyone from Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, and Blind Willie McTell. Hey, don’t shoot me—I didn’t fall back on those clichés. [Not that I don’t fall back on clichés. Just not those particular ones. Today.] Here is where I am going: Bill Scorzari lives where the Blues meets Texas Sam Baker.
Alberta readers might understand that sentence. I hope others do as well, ’cause that is about as good as I get.
Whereas on Just the Same Scorzari did sound like he was trying to find his inner Waits, especially on songs such as “Baby’s Got a New Blue Dress,” and his Magic-era Springsteen on “It Is Hard to Know,” with Through These Waves Scorzari has found himself.
Scorzari sings, but his version of singing is more of the spoken poetry with a pulsating vibration timbre that Sam Baker has perfected over the course of four albums and innumerable gigs. He connects with listeners by creating soundscapes that reveal descriptions of mood and atmosphere more than character. You listen and think, Yes—I’ve felt that: why didn’t I understand?
Scorzari and producer Jonah Tolchin gathered some of the finest available talents to record to tape at the Bomb Shelter in East Nashville. Will Kimbrough plays mandolin and piano, while Jon Estes contributes both bass and acoustic guitar as well as organ and even a bit of percussion. Joachim Cooder is the featured drummer and Chris Scruggs handles the steel guitar. Additional familiar names including Brent Burke (Dobro,) Laur Joamets (guitars,) Matt Murphy (bass,) and Kyle Tuttle (banjo) appear.
Singing with Scorzari on particular tracks are Kim Richey (on “Holy Man”) and Annie Johnon (on “More of Your Love”) as well as Cindy Walker and Marie Lewey singing beautiful backing on “I Can Carry This” and “Hound Dog Diggin’,” lending some lightness to Scarzari’s dark places.
“I got no answers to my questions why,” he declares in “Holy Man.” As Joamets let loose with a string of slide guitar notes, Scorzari comes back to the realization that one doesn’t need answers, one just needs to question. Supported by Richey, this track features Scorzari’s most complete vocal performance (although, not my favourite which come next.)
Scorzari captures a moment in time to craft a portraits of life that can be aching. In “She Don’t Care About Auld Lang Syne” a woman “won’t slow down” as she leaves. Gentle, sparse guitar notes provide the meditative atmosphere, with just a taste of Eamon McLoughlin’s fiddle seasoning the desperate atmosphere. Scorzari mourns her loss—or perhaps, the idea of her being gone—using disjointed phrases to bring sense to the revealed lack of faith. A similar approach is taken on the album’s penultimate number, “It’s Time.”
“Shelter From the Wind,” “A Dream of You,” and “For When I Didn’t See” are songs that would fit into more challenging Americana playlists, and I’m talking to y’all at WDVX—if you aren’t giving Scorzari some love, I think you should be.
Through These Waves keeps the listener keen right though to its concluding songs—no filler apparent. A joker among aces laments his lot in “Loser At Heart,” while “I Can Carry This” hints that we can’t do it in isolation. In closing with “Riptide,” another meditative composition, Scorzari pulls it all together—through these waves, as we are searching for rescue and as we are tested, if we keep our wits about us and trust in others, we just might survive.
A complete album, one that is going to go on the shelf next to classics such as Lucinda Williams, Mercy, and Cannons in the Rain.
Manitoba Hal Live in Ghent
The world has never been smaller. The musical world has never been larger.
I’ve been writing about roots music for sixteen years. Manitoba Hal has been releasing albums for a little more than that. We’ve never crossed paths. Until now.
Manitoba Hal Brolund has been making music for several decades, has released 15 albums, and has travelled the world playing the blues on his ukulele. See…that last world surprised you, too—proving again that there is always someone new to hear and something worthwhile to discover.
Manitoba-raised, Nova Scotian by choice, Brolund traveled to Belgium a year ago, and this two-disc set sounds like a fairly true representation of the performance he did that April evening at the Missy Sippy Blues & Roots Club in Ghent. It is well-worth investigating.
Establishing himself from the start, Manitoba Hal cuts through “Come On In My Kitchen” before easing into the darkness of Tom Waits’ finest song, “Way Down in the Hole.” Manitoba Hal performs unaccompanied, so it rests entirely on his own musicianship, looped rhythms, gravel-worn voice, and charm to keep the listener enthralled, and from the enthusiastic audience response recorded herein, one has to suggest that he succeeded.
The set is a mix of covers and originals, but since I am by no means a blues expert—and I’ve only just been introduced to Manitoba Hal—I can’t be definitive in which is what. Well-known sounds abound as “St. James Infirmary,” “They’re Red Hot,” “My Creole Belle,” “Let the Mermaids Flirt With Me,” and “Baby, Please Don’t Go” are intermixed with material with which I am less familiar.
Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago” allows Manitoba Hal to explore the range of his instrument on a number with which all blues listeners are cognizant. “Ain’t No Grave” is sparsely played, but effectively delivered. One of the more hypnotising numbers featured is “Dancing in the Moonlight” (not the King Harvest song.)
The featured evening closes with two indispensable blues of very different derivation, “Who Do You Love” and “The Thrill is Gone.” Within these ten minutes, the measure of Manitoba Hal is confirmed. Keeping a steady bass line going via looping while playing the notes over-top, Hal gets pretty gritty on “Who Do You Love.” Closing with “The Thrill is Gone,” Hal visits uptown for a few moments, demonstrating his dexterity and aptitude in revealing different aspects of the blues.
On a ukulele.
Scott Ramminger Do What Your Heart Says To
Arbor Lane Music/www.ScottRamminger.com
It takes but a few measures of “Living Too Fast” for the listener to understand from where Alabama-DC-Nashville songwriter, musician, and singer Scott Ramminger is coming.
First there is the deep, propulsive drum beat established by Doug Belote. Then, in a wave of keys, horns, and guitar straight out of New Orleans comes the vibrancy of that city’s musical heritage courtesy of recognizable names including Dave Torkanowsky, Rick Trolsen, Greg Hicks, George Porter, Jr., and Shane Theriot.
Once the groove is established, coming in through the middle is Ramminger- swampy-voiced and hardcore, listing the ways his woman is working to improve his situation. The lyrics are archetypal blues, but the sound is essential Crescent City, that irresistible mix of blues, R&B, and funky rock ‘n roll, sweetened by a taste of jazz and roadhouse.
What follows is an hour of self-crafted, well-earned hard luck and self-immolation over a steady Louisiana backdrop. The title track, which features Francine Reed (heard on Lyle Lovett and His Large Band,) goes to church via the tavern to ensure we understand that we pass this way only once, so we might as well follow our hearts. In that spirit, the album’s most appealing track may well be “Someone New to Disappoint;” if you know you’re gonna lose, you may as well find someone you don’t mind losing with seems to be the essential testimony of this saxophone (by Ramminger) showcase. Featuring Bekka Bramlett, this one should attract airplay from discerning stations.
Janiva Magness joins Ramminger on the blazing, classic-sounding “It’s Hard to Be Me.” The instrumental break about a minute and a half in is pure magic. The fella is selling hard—what’s harder to tell is if she is buying.
The McCrary Sisters add essential soul to four numbers. “Get Back Up” provides extended inspiration in a very different manner than “Walk A Little Straighter.” Ramminger is all about encouraging ones better self to come to the fore, and he does it as only a bluesman can—by not giving a damn if his heart or nose get broke. “I Need a New One” is the album’s longest track, and perhaps the most jazz-based. Tornkanowsky lays out the foundation, enhanced by the killer rhythm section and the encouragement of the McCrary Sisters.
The album closes with additional testimony from Ramminger in the form of “Stubborn Man:” based on what came before I’m guessing is his self-composed elegy.
“You may not believe me,
but it is all going to work out fine
If I beat my head against the wall
just a few more times.”
Surrounding himself with the very best musicians and vocalists he could find was Ramminger’s finest decision. Coming to the studio with a series of songs—some whimsical, some proud, all honest and real (give “Winter Is Always Worse” a listen)—was also crucial to making Do What Your Heart Says To the complete success that it is.
My review of the sixth album of new material from Darin and Brooke Aldridge has been posted to Country Standard Review. They have become one of bluegrass music’s most reliable acts.
http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=6272 will get you there.
My thoughts on the 2017 Bluegrass Grammys have been posted over at our alt.site, Fervor Coulee Bluegrass. Regular readers know for whom my fingers are crossed. http://www.countrystandardtime.com/blog/FervorCouleeBluegrass/entry.asp?xid=1112
Thanks for visiting. Donald
Brigitte DeMeyer & Will Kimbrough
Let’s be straight: I don’t like Will Kimbrough.
Will Kimbrough is just too talented and inspiring. I know it is irrational jealousy as I have no musical talent, and I am sure I am better at a couple things that Kimbrough is—not much market for ability to recite random facts from the backs of 70s O-Pee-Chee hockey cards, though.
Equal parts Buddy Miller, Larry Jon Wilson, and Darrell Scott, Kimbrough churns out albums of excellence and depth like few I can think of in the broad Americana world. He is a guitarist of significance, coaxing notes and moods that are, depending on the context, soulful country or rapid-fire rock. It seems like he always has a new recording out whether with one of his bands—Daddy and Willie Sugarcapps— or as a solo artist. He has produced dozens (including Fervor Coulee favourites Doug Seegers, Kate Campbell, and Todd Snider) and collaborated with more (Amy Black, Tom Russell, Rodney Crowell, Greg Trooper, Billy Joe Shaver, and Gretchen Peters) always bringing impressive qualities to projects. His songs have been recorded by Jack Ingram, Jimmy Buffett, Little Feet, and the Hard Working Americans.
It seems that every time I turn around I am dropping dollars on a Kimbrough-associated recording, and that gets expensive. I know I’m not the only one who appreciates Kimbrough as I’ve purchased Kimbrough recordings that are no longer on my shelves: to my consternation, they’ve been lent out and not returned.
No, I don’t like Will Kimbrough. I kinda love him.
I’m starting to feel the same way about Brigitte DeMeyer. Unfortunately, I had never heard of her prior to finding out she was releasing Mockingbird Soul with Kimbrough, the album shortly to be under discussion. I`ve dropped dollars on three of her albums since receiving this album for review, and I still have a number to explore—like Kimbrough, she is costing me money. Additionally, DeMeyer can sing. Man, can she sing.
Having appeared on each others’ albums and performed together, the pair have released their debut recording, one that is certainly going to be considered on many year-end, ‘best of’ lists when the time comes.
Largely taking the lead on alternating songs, they have produced an ideally balanced duet recording, with DeMeyer’s Side One Melissa Etheridge passionate huskiness pairing with Kimbrough’s restrained, telling honesty.
Tracks three through five (“The Juke,” “Running Round,” and the title track) are about as spirited, swampy, and Southern-country soul as the album gets, while in other places the songs more closely resembles what country music once was and could be again given a shot of 3614 Jackson Highway swagger. Not as full-blown but every bit as funky as Bobbie Gentry’s best work, each track has more soul than 98% of what any of us have heard on modern country radio this decade. The arrangements are straight-forward rather than minimalistic, allowing the duet vocals prominence.
Mid-set, family relations courses through numbers including “Rainy Day” (inspired by a child’s struggle,) “Little Easy,” (an atmospheric expression of a wanderer, perhaps), “I Can Hear Your Voice” (vivid memories of a father approaching the end) and even “Honey Bee,” with a no-nonsense mama of a different stripe. It is this intimacy of subject matter that allows Kimbrough and DeMeyer to positively shine throughout the 43-minute set: their musical, artistic bonding complete.
“Broken Fences” allows Kimbrough more latitude vocally and instrumentally, and is among the finest of his recorded performances I’ve encountered. The Incredible String Band’s venerable “October Song” is the set’s sole cover, and this ode to time’s passing is a suitable and compelling closing to a remarkable album. Ah, those doors behind our mind, indeed.
Long before my tenth or twentieth listening of Mockingbird Soul was completed, I was reinvigorated, having found another album to get me through this horrid January of upset and turmoil. Will Kimbrough and Brigitte DeMeyer. Remember them, and buy their album—you won’t be disappointed.
Sincere thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee.
Eight O’Five Jive Swing Set
www.EightOFiveJive.com/Red Rudy Too Tunes
I admit it. I didn’t really ‘get’ this music.
Make no mistake, I get the blues. If I wasn’t economically privileged (and I have worked for that, dang it all), I would live the blues. I just don’t ‘get’ swing. Jive. Jump. I don’t understand it. I’m not sure I really like it. Give me acoustic, 12-bar blues and dim lights, and I’m satisfied. Don’t get me started on jazz; I’m not that privileged!
Having admitted that…I more than dig Eight O’Five Jive’s second album Swing Set.
I first played the album a month or so back, and was immediately taken by the monumental horns of Patrick Mosser and the Horn Stars. Right out of the gate, my toes were tapping. Then, a few measures in, Lee Shropshire started singing…and I knew I was hooked. “Make Mine a Double” was the song, and the group has so much fun on this shim-sham-shimmy number providing a bedrock for Shropshire’s account of adoration for all things alcohol that I got swept away. By the time she sings, “A daiquiri a day, keeps my abstinence at bay…” I knew I had found the right band to get me through the January blues of 2017.
Swing Set is fun. There is no pretense of weightiness within its eleven tracks. Nor do Eight O’Five Jive have about them airs of self-importance. This ‘one band revival’ has their heart and feet in the 40s and 50s, bringing to contemporary listeners the sauciness and escapism of the music of a distant generation of sophisticated musicians and vocalists who played wherever and whenever to make a buck or three.
The band continues to hop on “Never.” Punctuated by blasts of brass and guitar, Shropshire purrs with confidence, “You’re never gonna shake it with me!” Eight O’Five Jive’s songs are filled with rhythmic lyrical repartee, whether related to alcohol consumption (“Before you go and leave me, pour me one more glass of wine,”) marital indiscretion (“The last time I did that, I got laid out with a bat”), or alcohol consumption (“Trust me boys, I can put it back!”) Discovering the world’s problems one drink at a time, perhaps.
For a change of pace, the band modulates with the sassy saunter of “I Won’t Wear Flats (To Your Funeral),” a clever kiss-off number. Slightly more spritely is “Back Of My Hand,” in which Shropshire promises that “if I catch you flirting with another chick, you’re gonna feel how these heels feel.”
Closing with “A Little Bit of Bourbon” (“makes everything better,”) another song of female empowerment through 80 proof, Eight O’Five Jive sends their listeners off to find some “hair of the dog” to get themselves through the rest of their day.
Eight O’Five Jive isn’t out to analyse the troubles of the world. They are playing up-tempo, lively music for those who are looking for something to help them deal with the challenges of their world. The musicianship is crackerjack, with Andy Scheinman’s guitar of particular appeal. Mosser’s saxophone shines throughout, taking leads with aplomb while never over-reaching to the detriment of the combo. Bill Bois’ bass is, depending on tastes, buried a bit, while Duane Spencer’s ‘cocktail drums’ perfectly complement the sound Eight O’Five Jive achieves. Everyone sings- often the call and response variety- but the vocal star is Shropshire who carries the album. She possesses a bold voice, one that gives not an inch against her robust accompaniment.
There is a whole lot of awful stuff going on in our world. Politics appear a mess, those we are supposed to entrust with our best interest betray us, and (rightly or wrongly) we look over our shoulders much too often. Social media is anything but. Too many folks aren’t working, too many people are battling demons that are much too strong, and too many use faith to blind followers. I know my sleep has been troubled these past few months, too many hours in the early morning dark fretting forces I can’t control. The only thing that appears predictable is the implausibly unpalatable.
When I first opened the package containing this disc, I was unmoved: not my thing, I thought. I was wrong. Eight O’Five Jive is just my thing, and is the free-spirited, lively, and amusingly entertaining music I needed this month. I suggest you may feel the same.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald