It takes a lot of energy to review an album that severely disappoints. This one was exhausting.
As I state in the review, In Full Color was a great album, one of the finest of 2001. Worries on My Mind was almost as good. But damn it, Sho Nuff Country just doesn’t measure up. It is predictable and uninteresting. Unnecessary and unoriginal. Uninspired, even.
I more than gave the album a chance. Listened to it a half-dozen times before I finalized my opinion on it because it is frankly risky for a freelancer to lean heavy on a weak album. Safer to ignore it than risky incurring the wrath of a label or publicist.
Sho Nuff Country just doesn’t work. Want to know why? Read my review over at Country Standard Time. And please know, label/publicist aside, I don’t craft a negative review lightly. Obviously the group thought they were recording something special. Their label believed in what they put together. I know they invested heavily in the project. But there was no way I could find to put some gloss on this one.
Your opinion may be different. Feel free to write your own review.
I was asked to contribute some reviews to Lonesome Road Review recently. I am likely writing a little less for LLR and Country Standard Time than I had in the past, but I do find time to get a couple or three done monthly. These days, there is little to no money in freelance writing on the level I do it-back in the early to mid-aughts I had a steady little stream of revenue coming from various publications, but that has pretty much dried up. Fortunately for me, I have a true career to pay the bills, and I am able to leave paying jobs to those who actually are writing for a living…and who are usually a bit better at it than I am.
Anyhow, two new reviews have been posted. The Special Consensus is one of my favourite bluegrass bands going back almost twenty years, and their most recent Compass Records release Long I Ride is another really strong recording. Last year Darrell Scott released 10: Songs of Ben Bullington, a masterful recording that I’ve been listening to monthly if not weekly since it came out. We don’t usually review albums so long after release, but Aaron sent it to me and therefore I did; I hope I did the album justice.
Both of these albums are ones I think any fan of roots music should have in their collection. Investigate on your own, and let me know what you think. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Rory Block Keepin’ Outta Trouble: A Tribute to Bukka White Stony Plain Records
Indisputably, Rory Block is one of the most impressive contemporary blues artists. Rooted so deeply in country blues traditions, Block can’t be anything but authentic. Unfortunately, I’ve not caught every installment of her Mentor Series, which started with her tribute to Son House in 2008 and now stands at six volumes, but I’ve heard enough to know that she does nothing in half-measures.
As Block writes in her liner notes, “More than any artist in my Mentor Series, Bukka inspired me to write new songs.” With that, one shouldn’t be surprised that Block has done a true tribute here; not only has she crafted five Booker T. Washington “Bukka” White songs in her own individual, immitigable style, but she has created a further five originals capturing the time and mythologies of White’s life and career.
An exciting album from start to finish, Block—who plays everything on this disc, including percussive Quaker Oats boxes—and co-producer Rob Davis establish a sparse, natural sound.
Opening with a pair of originals setting the table as a frame of reference for both the uninitiated and the connoisseur, in short order Block nails standards including “Aberdeen Mississippi Blues,” “Fixin’ To Die Blues,” and “Parchman Farm Blues.” With attention to detail, but an even greater sense of purpose, Block enlivens these performances with a balance of passion and precision that breathes life into oft-encountered numbers.
Masterfully, she closes the set with the album’s most significant performances. Built upon “Bukka’s Jitterbug Swing,” Block’s “Gonna Be Some Walkin’ Done” captures not only the reality of White’s circumstance, but envelopes the traditions of finding something new in what has come before. “Back to Memphis” pulls everything together, encapsulating eighty years of blues history and development in five minutes.
As someone who doesn’t have much patience for raucous noisy blues, Rory Block’s interpretation of the music’s foundation is always welcome. Her voice is magic, and her approach to blues guitar is clean, restrained, and just damn fine beautiful. Keepin’ Outta Trouble: A Tribute to Bukka White is an excellent album.
Thank you for your interest in Fervor Coulee. Donald
MonkeyJunk Time to Roll Stony Plain Records
There is an American band starting to make a bit of noise south of the border with an aggressive, swampy blend of rhythm & blues that is as deeply entrenched in tradition as it is forward looking. They are called The Blue Shadows (Canadian readers pause—they have nothing to do with our Blue Shadows, natch) and if I didn’t know better I would suspect they’ve spent their time cribbing from MonkeyJunk.
MonkeyJunk, the preeminent Canadian power trio not named Rush, never have messed around. Give them a stack of amps and a stage, and the Ottawa-based group are happy to deliver their spirited blues-rock to whomever is willing to listen. Time to Roll is their fifth set of music, and to me it sounds their most accomplished to date.
Adding bass to the mix for the first time, MonkeyJunk’s approach hasn’t dramatically changed—lively party music with lyrics more impressive than frequently encountered within this segment of the blues. For generations raised on early J. Geils Band, Foghat, and the Allman Brothers, MonkeyJunk slips smoothly into a familiar groove.
Recorded over a concise series of sessions, the immediacy of the process may be part of the reason Time to Roll sounds so fresh and invigorating. “Blue Lights Go Down” aches with palatable passion; I’m not sure what it is about Tom Wilson, but one didn’t need to refer to the credits to immediately identify his signature touch on this co-written number.
With a throbbing introduction reminiscent of both Russ Ballard’s “On The Rebound” and “Can I Get a Witness,” the title track is a rallying exhortation for moving on from the constraints of the predictable. Three songs are co-written with fellow Canadian bluesman Paul Reddick, the most vibrant of which is “Pray for Rain,” an incantation of mesmerizing eyes and dramatic rhythms.
As strong as the first half of Time to Roll is, the band busts it to pieces within a blistering second act.
Fittingly paying tribute to Albert King by updating “The Hunter,” MonkeyJunk also offers a plaintive “Can’t Call You Baby” to add considerable intensity to this ten-track album. Delving a bit further south with the call and response rhythms of “Undertaken Blues” and the positively peppy “Gone,” a staggering Booker T-influenced instrumental “Fuzzy Poodle” closes the disc.
MonkeyJunk has become one of the most awarded bands in Canadian blues history. Time to Roll won’t change that: it is an electric collection of tradition-rich, rollicking modern blues.
Thank you for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Caleb Klauder & Reeb Willms
Imagine that country music didn’t take a heavy countrypolitan swerve in the 60s. Pedal steel guitar remains prominent, but things didn’t go all schmaltzy. Emotion is paramount, loves challenged and lost, frustrations voiced. Syrup is for pancakes, not country songs. What else may have been avoided? No urban cowboys of the 70s? Sawyer Brown? No Garth and Shania pop-rock? Bro country and the current slate of misguided country would never have evolved.
Nope, had things gone just a little differently and things remained more Louisiana Hayride and less uptown, there is a fine chance that today’s country music might more frequently sound like that produced by Caleb Klauder and Reeb Willms.
This is the real stuff.
Veterans of Washington state’s more authentic country music environs, Klauder (Foghorn Stringband) and Willms (also FHSB) joined forces a few years ago, and if Innocent Road is any indication of the magic they produce when performing together, I need to search out their debut Oh Do You Remember.
Featuring the Caleb Klauder Country Band, Innocent Road is comprised of a half-dozen Kluader songs, a few obscure covers, and a healthy dollop of familiar country classics from the likes of Buck Owens and George Jones. The kicker is a track from Paul Burch’s stunning Fool For Love album, “C’est le Moment (If You’re Gonna Love Me,)” artfully sung by Willms.
Klauder and Willms sing together very well, and as much as I enjoy Prine and DeMent and Robison and Willis, I think I might just prefer what this duo accomplishes. There is no artifice within these recordings, no hint of sly aside. They sound as if they are in the corner of a county hall, singing their hearts out for folk who have worked too damn hard all week and need a few hours to forget enough to do it all again come Monday morning.
Songs like “I’d Jump the Mississippi,” “Coming on Strong,” and “There Goes My Love” may be familiar to some listeners, and their performances are nothing short of splendid. The true jewels of Innocent Road are Klauder’s songs, whether the faithful title track or the mournful and slightly Roger Milleresque “New Shoes.” “Just A Little” is a weepy duet shuffle of missed opportunities.
Outside the Burch song, the album’s strongest five minutes might be the double shot of “Been On the Rocks” and “Last Time I Saw Her.” Great guitar work (maybe from Rusty Blake,) some sweet bass (Jesse Emerson), and Jason Norris’ fiddle, combined with great lyrics, close harmony, and a feeling of yearnsome one doesn’t usually find outside an Alison Krauss recording. Beautiful.
Mostly acoustic, this is the kind of country music for which we at Fervor Coulee plainly pine.
Some of these songs have appeared on previous recordings, but that should dissuade no one. Innocent Road is an excellent collection of country music. The packaging is nothing short of ingenious, too: kudos to Colleen M. Heine and Stumptown Printers.
A version of this review-tighter, stronger-has been picked up over at Country Standard Time.
Over at Lonesome Road Review, Aaron has posted my review of Just Love: A Tribute to Audrey Auld Mezera. It is nothing short of fantastic, and features none of the usual tribute suspects. In fact, you may not have heard of any of the participants before: I believe the only ones I had more of a passing acquaintance (before listening) with were The Chamberses and Andrew Hardin. Don’t let that stop you!
Never heard of Audrey Auld (Mezera)? Again, don’t let that stop you. This is as fine a collection of Americana and roots music you’ll hear this year, familiar or not.
In the review, I state that I might have first heard Audrey on an area radio show, specifically Wide Cut Country on the CKUA network. I’m no longer sure of that. I believe, in hindsight, I more likely discovered her while searching for Fred Eaglesmith music on eMusic, and a duet with Audrey came up. I am thinking that based on my recent uncovering of a self-made compilation disc featuring a single Eaglesmith-Auld collaboration.
No matter. Listen to the album. And enjoy.