My very talented editors have posted two new reviews, both of albums from Americana/Roots performers who haven’t released new music in a long time.
. At Lonesome Road Review, I took a run at the new album Right Beside You from veteran Jeff White. It appears he has slipped into Tim O’Brien’s Earls of Leicester suit on a permanent basis, and this former member of Union Station calls on his EarlsofL pals, as well as a pair of McCourys, Vince Gill, and others to record an absolutely stout bluegrass album. My review is here: http://lonesomeroadreview.com/right-beside-jeff-white/ The last sentence of the review wasn’t mine, but that doesn’t make the sentiment any less true.
Over at Country Standard Time, my review of the new one from the Hackensaw Boys has been posted. Despite appearances, this one took a while for me to write-from first listen I liked the album, but I couldn’t find the thread in…not sure I ever found it, but I did manage to splatter some words about the wall and come up with something. Again, a really good album. Regular readers will know that I have no use for percussion in bluegrass: fortunately, the Hackensaw Boys don’t play bluegrass! My review: http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=6042
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee, and thanks to the artists, publicists, and labels who make sure some of the best music being released makes its way to me. Donald
Someone has been a busy bluegrass reviewer in recent days/weeks.
My review of The Del McCoury Band album Del & Woody is up at Country Standard Time. http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=6027
My review of the vinyl reissue of The New South, the album better known as Rounder 0044, is up at Lonesome Road Review. http://lonesomeroadreview.com/0044-2/
As well, my review of Dave Adkins second album, Dave Adkins, was posted over at Country Standard Time earlier this week. http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=6026
Rounder Records has released Josh Williams’ latest: Rhonda Vincent’s guitar player, produced by J. D. Crowe, has seldom sounded better. Last summer, seeing and hearing him live with The Rage, I was reminded how strong of a guitar player he is. My review: http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=6031
I’m busy on several other projects, too. Also over at Lonesome Road Review, you’ll find my review of Jane Kramer’s surprisingly strong (only because I hadn’t previously heard the Asheville singer) album. http://lonesomeroadreview.com/carnival-hopes-jane-kramer/
I’ve never hidden the fact that James Reams is one of my favourite people in bluegrass. He gets to the heart of the music each and every time, whether interpreting an underheard classic of the genre, reinventing a country song, or performing one of his many excellent original numbers. Now based in Arizona, the longtime Brooklyn bluegrass mainstay returns this spring with a wonderful new album, “Rhyme & Season.”
Over at Country Standard Time, we’ve posted three articles that-taken together-take the reader through the project’s germination. If you have the patience, here is James Reams and “Rhyme & Season,” mostly in his own words.
Part One: the main article- http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/article.asp?xid=1203
Part Two: a little bit more- http://www.countrystandardtime.com/blog/FervorCouleeBluegrass/entry.asp?xid=1083
Part Three: song-by-song- http://www.countrystandardtime.com/blog/FervorCouleeBluegrass/entry.asp?xid=1084
After reading, I hope you are as enthused about James Reams & the Barnstormers as I have been for a dozen years.
Woodland Telegraph Screendeath Summersong Northern Folklore
Woodland Telegraph, Matthew Lovegrove and a cast of collaborators, have released the final component in their multi-year odyssey to define and refine our relationship with nature. Screendeath Summersong is a departure, less obviously folk in nature, with the natural world presented in our relationships dedicated through technology.
Similar in spirit and conception to Shuyler Jansen’s recent The Long Shadow, Screendeath Summersong is ambitious in scope and execution. I’m certain I don’t grasp its philosophical motivation, but I do appreciate it as a recording project.
Unified in sound and vision, the fourteen songscapes reminds of a time when artists—be they David Bowie, Ohama, or Bauhaus—experimented with ambient qualities to construct mystical music that challenged, confounded, and enlightened. Similar to those artists’ recordings, the album works singularly as a forty-minute opus, as well as individual pieces encountered randomly. “Fighting For The Feeling,” a male-female duet, works most assuredly as a pop song, as does “Screens.” Instrumental interludes allow for aural set changes between pieces.
“Forests on the Edge of Factories” captures the push-pull duality of the natural and technological worlds we inhabit. As once XTC did, Woodland Telegraph hides introspection in rock n roll verse: we may not grasp the significance today, but eventually enlightenment will be revealed.
“Summerblood” and “Breathing the Numbers Out” do not belong beside the banjo-charged “Follow Free,” but it all works given the breadth of the recording. Tension builds achieving fruition in the crescendo that is “Springtime Computers”: “Instead of seeing birds perched on fire escapes I’m seeing what the April showers really bring; there was a forest of wires in my mind—there was a change coming down the line.”
Screendeath Summersong will not replace …Sings Revival Hymns and From the Fields as my favoured Woodland Telegraph recordings. It is cooler than those recordings, more abstract certainly. Despite this distance, I can appreciate it for what it is—a mirror of our time, a portrait of who we have become as pixels, bytes, and http:// replace bark, stream, and soil we once touched, heard, and smelled.
Or something like that.
Town Mountain Southern Crescent LoHi Records
To suggest bluegrass music is at a railway crossing of style and substance at this particular moment in its 70-plus history is to not have been listening for the past several decades.
Bluegrass has been simmering and evolving since the beginning, and although some of the changes were not as apparent to many, whether because they were temporary, ill-advised, or not enthusiastically influential, [ed. note: or, just plain stupid] with the world smaller than ever all adjustments are now given the opportunity to be perceived by the wider listening population. There should be room for all spectrums of bluegrass, and Town Mountain is staking out its own little territory.
Town Mountain, a hard-driving Asheville, NC outfit, has produced their fifth album. Southern Crescent isn’t so much a departure from their previous albums, especially 2012’s excellent Leave the Bottle, as it is an intense continuation of their southern influences and hard-scrabble bluegrass sound. As raucous as this approach is, there is a place within the (sometimes) staid and constrained bluegrass community for exactly this type of music. It isn’t trying to be country, it sure isn’t leaning toward easy listening, NPR pap—it is bluegrass, just not the type favoured by Bill Monroe. For that matter, it isn’t of the flavour projected by Doyle Lawson, Rhonda Vincent, Lonesome River Band, or most of today’s mainstream headliners.
With Dirk Powell co-producing, it isn’t surprising that the group’s sound fully embraces Americana sounds, be they via the 70s (The Band, most obviously) and today—is there anyone else working this seam as effectively outside The SteelDrivers? While embroidering their approach with threads of different colours, Town Mountain doesn’t neglect the foundational fabric. When Town Mountain is on the stereo, there is no modern, progressive bluegrass band I would rather be listening to—the windows fly open, the sun streams in, and the cats are allowed to race about the place!
Opening with the fiddle theme “St. Augustine,” (Bobby Britt) a nod to the customs of the music when radio shows and live sets opened with similar touches, Southern Crescent is a thoroughly modern approach to the traditions of the music. Yes, Powell plays drums on five tracks (but, not in a way that distracts) and there is piano on a single cut. There aren’t an abundance of G-runs or other obvious ‘grass trappings. Rather than ‘high and lonesome,’ Town Mountain go low and aggressive.
What Southern Crescent reveals is an energetic, driving approach to acoustic music. The band members all take their breaks, and there are plenty of nice fills to augment their collective sound. Vocals, whether from Phil Barker (mandolin,) Jesse Langlais (banjo,) or Robert Greer (guitar,) are this side of gruff, unadorned by prettification: they sing like your cousin Jake, and Jake is a darned fine singer. When Greer starts in about “if you got the notion, I’m willing and able” in “House with No Windows,” you are ready to cut and run with him no matter where it leads.
With songs like “Wildbird” and “Long Time Comin’” preventing mid-album doldrums from settling in, the now four-piece (Jon Stickley has departed to front his own group, and bass is handled by Nick DiSebastian) ably demonstrate that they are unique. By the time they arrive at “Whiskey With Tears,” one is ready to recommend them to country radio not because they sound like they belong there, but because you wish radio sounded like Town Mountain.
This past week, Edmonton folks have been reflecting on a memorable show that occurred 20 years or so back featuring a band that is big now- Radiohead, Coldplay…someone like that. Doesn’t matter. Last night at The Almanac 150 or thereabouts were fortunate to capture something equally memorable, the return of Mike Plume to the burgh formerly known as the city of champions.
I’ve followed Plume mostly from a distance these last 20+ years: I caught he and the band opening for Fred Eaglesmith once a lifetime ago in Red Deer. Despite having heard Plume live fewer times than many others in attendance on this evening, my appreciation for Plume is well-developed. His albums are of a consistently high caliber, and he has dropped a series of live recordings that reveal his sharp wit and timing, not to mention keen songwriting and performance chops.
All were on display as Plume returned to the city where he started to make his name before relocating to Toronto and Nashville. Now on his way back, this one-off gig was a show I couldn’t miss. Well worth the hour drive home through the dark.
The two-hour long set leaned heavily on his most recent recordings Red and White Blues and 8:30 Newfoundland. I was (pleasantly) surprised how familiar the audience was with this material; for some reason, I believed these recordings had flown under the radar. Wrong there. Over the course of the evening, tunes including “Stay Where Yer At,” “Like A Bullet From a Gun,” Half Full is the Cup,” and “If Fins Were Wings” were greeted with enthusiasm and no little bit of sing-a-long. The hockey anthem “More Than a Game” and “So Long, Stompin’ Tom” proved popular, while “Coming Home Again” almost brought the roof down. Plume certainly captures the Canadian experience in his music.
Older songs were also performed, although I don’t recall anything that predated “Alcohol” and “Silver Lining.” One after another the hits kept coming with only “Steel Belted Radio” and “Rattle the Cage” notably absent, although folks shouting out requests for “Eldorado and the 12:15” and “Rust” were also disappointed: a pair of duets with Jenny O made up for such. “DiMaggio” remains one of the finest songs I can recall; “Free” isn’t far behind. A personal highlight was “Best Job I Ever Had,” the song Plume co-wrote with Guy Clark.
A tiny room soon to be renovated, The Almanac featured good sound throughout the evening. While the show was advertised by wait staff starting ‘a little after’ doors opened at 7, the music didn’t start until 8:40. The extended wait was quickly forgiven.
Kristy Cox Part of Me (Pisgah Ridge)
Pursuing her bluegrass dream, Australian singer/songwriter Kristy Cox has now firmly established herself in North America.
Recently awarded with an Australian Golden Guitar for Bluegrass Recording of the Year, Cox’s new album Part of Me proves that the youthful performer is surrounded by a team focused on her success.
Recorded in Tennessee with Jerry Salley again producing, Cox’s extensive experience as a vocalist is evident on heart-worn material including “The Part of Me (That’s Still in Love With You.)” Sentimental perhaps, but not overwrought, and she certainly doesn’t over sing.
Like Rhonda Vincent, Cox is most successful with upbeat, driving material. “Baby, You Ain’t Baby Anymore,” previously recorded by Jett’s Creek, is as appealing as it is frivolous: a strong performance that is sure to be a live set favourite. “Your Train Don’t Stop Here Anymore” blends country and ‘grass quite well and is also memorable.
If one is looking for a song of significance, a stark rendition of Chris Stapleton’s modern standard, “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore” should do it. With previous recordings by the likes of James King and Volume Five as well as Stapleton on his award-winning Traveller set, most folks will have heard this number, and again Cox (along with Salley and guitarist Stephen Mougin) pulls this one close lending credibility to their performance.
“Little White Whiskey Lies” (co-written by Tammy Rogers and Salley) and the lead track “Another Weary Mile” should also be favourably received, while “William Henry Johnson” turns the table within the Little Willie oeuvre. “I’m No Stranger to This Lonesome Road” isn’t the greatest bluegrass tune ever written, but with its driving rhythm and swinging chorus, it stays with the listener.
Working with a core band, the album has a cohesive feel. In addition to Mougin, the band is comprised of Justin Moses (Dobro), Mike Bub (bass), Jason Roller (fiddle and mandolin), and Steve Sutton (banjo). Vocal harmonies are of the type more associated with country and pop music than bluegrass, ably offered by Jerry and Maggie Salley.
Part of Me is a very clean, slightly over-produced album (“You Love Never Grows Old” and “You Walked In” are a bit slick for my tastes) that holds up across its 37-minutes. Kristy Cox is a personable vocalist who has crafted a fine album of bluegrass, one that isn’t all that different from when we first encountered her with Breaking New Ground several years ago.
Thank you for visiting Fervor Coulee. I hope you are finding some music to investigate further, and I hope you will always buy your music: most of the artists featured at Fervor Coulee are of the independent type-there are few millionaires in roots music.