Mac Wiseman I Sang The Song Mountain Fever Records
With all due respect to the folks who have released excellent bluegrass and country albums this year, and those who will undoubtedly do so in the coming months, we have our 2017 Americana/Roots album of the year.
An incredible undertaking by Peter Cooper and Thomm Jutz, the most important element of the thirteen songs comprising I Sang the Song: Life of The Voice With A Heart is the source material, Mac Wiseman himself. Nearing 92, Wiseman was born in 1925 and recalls a time few of us can picture outside history books and re-runs of The Waltons. Wiseman is a man who knew A. P. Carter and has now had Sierra Hull share a song with him. Think about that for a half-a-moment.
“It ain’t bragging if you’ve done it,” asserts John Prine gently within the title track, revealing for the unaware that Wiseman performed alongside the acknowledged masters of 20th century roots music. A member of both The Foggy Mountain Boys and The Blue Grass Boys, as well as a charting, featured performer in his own right, Wiseman is a founder of the Country Music Association, and inductee to both the International Bluegrass Music Association Hall of Fame and the Country Hall of Fame. A label executive and producer—and one of the finest bluegrass gentlemen I’ve had the pleasure of encountering, however briefly— Wiseman was always far more than “just another young hillbilly.”
The majority of these songs are obviously bluegrass, a few clearly country, and others find that sweet, magical spot between the two. Cooper and Jutz had the inspiration and wisdom to listen to and converse with Wiseman, finding in his stories threads to embroider the ten new songs created together to communicate a compelling narrative of anecdote.
Naturally, the singing is incredible throughout. Recent IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year Shawn Camp is given a pair of songs, as is Milan Miller who appears with Buddy Melton (another IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year) and Andrea Zonn. Junior Sisk, yet a third IBMA vocalist recipient, also has two lead appearances, “Crimora Church of the Brethren,” on which he is joined by Ronnie Bowman (yes, another IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year) and “The Wheat Crop”—with the ladies of The Isaacs—which laments the lot of the poor farmer. These performances are expectedly outstanding, and the history-rich lyrics and eternal melodies provide galvanizing framework for blessed voices.
Justin Moses (fiddle, banjo, and Dobro) and Hull (mandolin) work with Jutz (guitar) and Mark Fain (bass) to serve as the house band, uniting to create a consistent instrumental environment. Cooper and Jutz harmonize on several tracks, providing further uniformity.
Within a song, Wiseman (“The Guitar,” via Moses and Hull) takes us from receiving his first Sears Roebuck, ragtop box, to the eventual day he stopped “playing in G and singing in C” to nail “There’s An Empty Cot in the Bunkhouse Tonight” for an audience of one. As the album unfolds, his experiences through to the hardships of the depression (“Barefoot ‘Til After the Frost”, “Three Cows and Two Horses”) are revealed in a natural, homespun manner capturing the vernacular of his rural upbringing down to cold “feet just as red as a gobbler’s snout.” In the universal and frustrating balance poverty, even when things improve for Wiseman’s family (“Manganese Mine,”) another discovers only hardship and tragedy.
“Simple Math,” one of two sang by Americana icon Jim Lauderdale, details further experiences from Wiseman’s youth following him into early gigs as a professional musician including his big break playing Molly O’Day sessions. Lauderdale, one of the most prolific and versatile vocalists working today, adroitly relates the simple truths of Wiseman’s observations.
As compelling as the connections to Wiseman’s life are across the album, the fact that each song stands independent released from context is indicative of their significance. The bluegrass chart hit “Going Back to Bristol,” sung by Camp, radiates universal appeal, whether you’ve ever been near the border community, cut a side with Flatt & Scruggs, been near a Studebaker, or not.
Alison Krauss joins Wiseman on the closing benediction “‘Tis Sweet to Be Remembered,” one of his earliest successes, for a performance joining generations in hopeful love of music and life. Wiseman drops in on a few of these numbers, providing a foundation for the lyrics and music, but also allowing those with the greatest of admiration to communicate his story through the voices of generations influenced by “The Voice With A Heart.”
For thirty-eight minutes, timeless memories are communicated. Through time, these performances will be shared to become part of our collective memory.
Visit https://mountainfever.com/ to order.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. @FervorCoulee
Okay, take a moment an revel in the beauty of that album cover.
Rooted in classic music, the cover of Ned Luberecki’s Take Five recalls the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Time Out giving it a bluegrass twist. Luberecki takes things further, interjecting a jazz ‘grass interlude mid-set including a fresh take on Paul Desmond’s “Take Five.” The album features several guests, both folks we associate with Luberecki-Chris Jones & the Night Drivers and Becky Buller-as well as those who don’t immediately come to mind when considering Nedski-Dale Ann Bradley, to name the most prominent.
It is a very strong album with lots to offer. My review was published at Lonesome Road Review, but got lost in the mix her at Fervor Coulee.
The Gibson Brothers have been a Fervor Coulee favourite since their Sugar Hill debut Bona Fide was released in 2003. It was a very strong album, ticking off all the requirements of a bluegrass album of the day: a railroad song, a Tom T. Hall classic, a road song, a song about bluegrass, another about a favoured instrument, an instrumental standard, a metaphor-laden gospel piece…Despite this seemingly contrived set of requirements, it warranted notice, and still does.
Fourteen years and eight albums later (bringing their release total to thirteen, I believe) Eric and Leigh Gibson are at the top of the bluegrass world, a pinnacle at which they’ve resided for a decade. In The Ground may be their finest yet. An album of self-written songs, it isn’t like anything they’ve before accomplished. Still bluegrass, of course, but taking things to yet another level. My review has been published by Lonesome Road Review; I hope you will consider giving it a read.
My review of Front Country’s second album has been posted at Lonesome Road Review.
I am surprised to find that I hadn’t reviewed their previous album Sake of the Sound, although I did write Melody Walker & Jacob Groopman’s album in a rather long-winded piece written during the fall of 2013. Just because of the nature of the albums, I prefer Sake of the Sound to Other Love Songs, but this second album is very strong.
Many years ago and as part of a side conversation during a bluegrass jam, an acquaintance and I traded thoughts about the possibilities of mixing elements of bluegrass, specifically the acoustic instrumentation built around five instruments, and rock and roll. This was post-O, Brother and around the time OCMS was starting to break. We decided that there had to be a market for acoustic rock ‘n’ roll, that is music that thematically and topically fit closer to rock and pop than it did bluegrass or country, but which was played on acoustic instruments while embracing elements of the folk and ‘grass traditions.
Front Country’s Other Love Songs might have been imagining.
A while back, Country Standard Time asked me to review Blackie and the Rodeo Kings’ latest, Kings and Kings. I had previously bought the download of the album for my own enjoyment, so I was more familiar with it than I normally am with an album by the time came to write about it. It holds up. My review can be accessed here.
The first song of Otis Gibbs’ was “Everyday People,” the song that starts, “Grandpa walked a picket line when he was nineteen, had a wife and kids back at home to feed. Daddy did the same it was his turn to, made things better for me and you.” With those four lines, he captured me. That’s how it goes sometimes. Guy Clark did it just as quickly for me. So did Joy Lynn White, Bruce Springsteen, Melody Walker, Marty Stuart, and-more recently-Danko Jones. As I have those artists-and a hundred and sixty seven others-I’ve slowly amassed all the available recordings, and have eagerly anticipated new music since that initial moment of illumination. Like them, Otis has a way about him-one that reveals itself quickly, but which depths take years to explore.
Otis Gibbs is damn good. If you haven’t heard him, change that. Now. Mount Renraw is as good an album as he’s released, and there are a bunch of them. My review was published over at Country Standard Time, and somehow I missed cross-linking it here. So, that’s one thing fixed around the house today. Can’t find my drill or bits, so the laundry room closet door is going to have to wait a bit longer.
Spend a bit of time at http://otisgibbs.com/ to watch videos of “Sputnik Monroe” and “Great American Roadside.”
I missed posting a link to this review from a couple months back. When did I first run across Darrell Webb? I can’t truly recall, but it may have been as a member of the Lonesome River Band at Blueberry quite some years ago. Or was it as a member of J. D. Crowe’s New South? Memories fade and become confabulated. I do know that his mandolin stylings were impressive from the first, and he is one of those players whose career I have paid some attention to over the last decade. With an impressive cover image, Lover’s Leap is a strong bluegrass album, and my review is published at Country Standard Time.