Kacy & Clayton- The Siren’s Song review   Leave a comment

K and C What an amazing sound! My review of Kacy & Clayton’s new album is posted at CST. Safe to say, I liked it. When their previous album made its way to me a year or so ago, I was not impressed. I listened to it several times, and it didn’t move me, didn’t draw me in. I recall a brief conversation with the publicist handling the album, and all I could say for not reviewing it was (words to the effect of) “Meh, I don’t hear it.” I read the reviews, and couldn’t figure out what I was missing.

Fast forward to earlier this month when CST asked me to review the new album. When it arrived in all its retro-grooviness packaging, I first went to the drawers and gave Stranger Country a fresh listen. And then another one. What had I been thinking? It is masterful, a beautiful and fresh approach to modern Americana folk. Then I listened to The Siren’s Song, and to my amazement it was even better. I went back-and-forth between the two albums for about three hours (each runs just over 30 minutes) and kept getting pulled in further and further.

There is so much to appreciate, including a terrific rhythm section of (former) Old Reliable mainstay Shuyler Jansen and Mike Silverman, intricate guitar harmonies, and exquisite vocals.

All I can say is music finds you when you need it to. Kacy & Clayton found me this summer. And I needed it. So do you. Read my review if you like, but explore this group and these albums.

Dwight, Buck, and Adcock vintage releases/reissues   Leave a comment

Three new reviews have been posted at Country Standard Time.

dwight-yoakam-buck-owens-live-from-austin-txA decade ago, New West issued several Austin City Limits episodes on both DVD and CD, and it appears they are in the midst of re-issuing some of these, this time in dual DVD/CD packs and on vinyl, which I didn’t receive; buyer beware, therefore: you may already have these on the shelves. My reviews of the Dwight Yoakam and Buck Owens sessions, on which each guests with the other, from 1988 are up at CST.

AdcockIn 1963, bluegrass banjo (now) legend Eddie Adcock put together a combo to attempt to broaden the reaches of the 5-string banjo in popular music. The result was Vintage Bluegrass Jam, a recording that was only recalled in the last year and has now been released. My review. It is uneven, but it grew on me.

Rodney Crowell Trio, Red Deer August 16, 2017   Leave a comment

rodney

Made the drive south to see Rodney Crowell Trio in Red Deer last night; a most unusual experience. I’ve written a review for CST, and you can get to it by clicking on this link. Good show, no doubt: very good. And as someone who has repeatedly criticized the sound quality at The Hideout, things were of a high quality last night, much better than last time five years back when our table walked out on Hayes Carll. So, kudos.

Set List:

Glasgow Girl
Earthbound
Stuff That Works
Come Back Baby
Frankie Please
Fever On The Bayou
It’s Hard to Kiss At Night…
That’s Alright, Mama (forty years since Elvis’ death)
‘Til I Gain Control Again
East Houston Blues
Reckless
It Ain’t Over
She’s Crazy For Leaving
After All This Time
Dancin’ Circles Around The Sun
Leaving Louisiana In The Broad Daylight
The Flyboy & The Kid

All of which got me to thinking of the songs I wish he had done—not that I didn’t enjoy that which was performed: maybe like no one outside of Springsteen, I have so many favourite Crowell songs that I could think of an entire separate set list that I would have been just as pleased to hear…so, that’s what I’ve created. Not better, just different: what could the set list have looked like and I would have been just as happy? Kept it to seventeen songs, no duplicates, had to get a Guy Clark co-write (or more) in, find a way to tie-in Elvis, consider pacing, and do all that with songs Crowell has recorded (with the exception of “Eamon” a Clark co-write that appeared on Someday The Song Writes You) and which would be (almost) of as much interest to the audience as me.)

I Ain’t Living Long Like This
When The Blue Hour Comes
Eamon
Fate’s Right Hand
Voila, An American Dream
Shame On The Moon
Tell Me The Truth
I Don’t Care Anymore
Tobacco Road
Stay (Don’t Be Cruel)
Many A Long And Lonesome Highway
The Rock of My Soul
Say You Love Me
Lovin’ All Night
I Couldn’t Leave You If I Tried
Heartbroke
Nashville 1972

How would that sound? And I have another 17 songs that would make a fine second alternate set…and I didn’t even get to “She Loves The Jerk” and “Jewel of the South,” another two favourites.

I amuse myself.

Dale Ann Bradley- Self-titled review   1 comment

Dale Ann Bradley Dale Ann Bradley Pinecastle Records

DAB

From its beautifully framed cover illustration through each note within its 36-minute running time, Dale Ann Bradley is an album to celebrate.

Having written numerous reviews of Dale Ann Bradley’s albums over the past 15 years, I am no longer surprised by the quality the East Kentucky native’s recorded music. Here. Here, too.

She is included in this annotated list of my favourites of the first decade of this century; she came in at #2! Also, at #6 on the same list. Recently elected to the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame, Bradley is a perennial Female Vocalist of the Year nominee within the IBMA, and has received the honour on five occasions.

Again producing herself, as she did on the previous Pocket Full of Keys, Bradley has crafted a cohesive bluegrass album. Developing themes of family, belonging, and faith across its eleven tracks, Bradley sings with mountain-born conviction perhaps no more freely than on Bud Chambers’ gospel standard, “One More River.”

On Sister Sadie’s debut album of last year, Lenny LeBlanc’s “Falling” was given a bluegrass treatment; Bradley record’s his 1980 song “Champagne Lady” here, and the Louisiana-flavoured number works terribly well as a bluegrass song, thematically and musically, further elevated by Greg Blaylock’s Dobro fills.

More than any other thematic element, belonging appears to weave itself through most of Dale Ann Bradley’s songs.

The album opens with a new song co-written by Bradley, Ronnie Miracle, and Donna Sullivan, a heartfelt piece that shares a musical echo of “Me and Bobby McGee’s” free-spirited independence balanced with the aching pull of home. The song features Bradley playing cross-picking style guitar to excellent effect.

“Going Back to Kentucky,” a thoroughly contemporary Mark Brinkman and Tresa Jordan song celebrating the rejuvenating powers of home (and satellite radio playing The Stanley Brothers), is another performance highlight. “Blackberry Summer” is drips with emotion, but not syrup: Bradley’s forte is making us feel the emotional connection she solidifies within her music, and this is a prime example of her abilities.

Continuing this theme of familial closeness, and bringing the album to a close, is Bradley and Jon Weisberger’s “Now and Then (Dreams Do Come True)” on which Greg Davis (banjo) and Casey Campbell (mandolin) are given all the room they need to shine.

Vince Gill joins Bradley for The Stanley Brothers’ timeless “I’ll Just Go Away,” and if there was any justice left in the world of country radio…but we know there isn’t. [In a related aside, if you want to hear this song performed by Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys—featuring Keith Whitley—in a 1977 public television broadcast.] Heartfelt, without doubt. “This Is My Year For Mexico” was recorded by Crystal Gayle on her first album with slightly different lyrics than here, and The Rarely Herd brought it to bluegrass in the early 90s, but Bradley’s reflective interpretation of this ‘long goodbye’ is definitive.

I don’t recall if Bradley has attempted a four-part acapella number in the style of “Stand By Me” before, but this is certainly successful. Joined by frequent vocal partner Steve Gulley—who sings harmony on several songs, and takes a lead on the chorus of “Our Last Goodbye”—Debbie Gulley, and Vic Graves, an honest and true vocal showcase is presented, one devoid of artifice. This is a pure expression of faith.

Charlie Cushman appears on a pair of tracks, and Alison Brown  on one, but Greg Davis handles most of the banjo and is well-represents himself on the 5-string throughout. Tim Dishman contributes most of the guitar and bass while another member of Bradley’s touring group, Scott Powers, is the featured mandolinist on four tracks. Sister Sadie’s Deanie Richardson (fiddle and mandola) and Tina Adair (harmony vocals) appear on multiple songs, as does Kim Fox (harmony.)

Bluegrass doesn’t come better than this. Many years ago I wrote that Dale Ann Bradley was “as mountain as rock,” and my editor questioned me about such a term. I knew what I meant then, and listening to Dale Ann Bradley, I still do. No one is capable of doing what Bradley accomplishes, and this album is ample demonstration of her revered status within the bluegrass field. Over the years, her music has become more sophisticated, but at its core it remains pure and true.

A video of an hour-plus Bradley (almost solo) performance is up and features some new songs. It is an intimate performance that shows a most appealing side of DAB.

Blueberry Bluegrass & Country Music Society Festival, 2017   Leave a comment

It isn’t often you get to reinvent yourself after 31 years, but that is what Blueberry Bluegrass needed and was able to achieve during their 2017 event, August 4-6. BBG

Held in Stony Plain, Alberta, the Society celebrated their 32nd edition by pulling out all the stops to even hold the event. The current organizing committee didn’t take the reins of the fest until late February, and with no advance work having been done for the 2017 event, many feared for the future of the festival. But thanks to the efforts of area bluegrass stalwarts, many associated with but separate from the Northern Bluegrass Circle Music Society, it happened. And thank goodness it did.

Blueberry has long been one of Canada’s premier bluegrass events, having been referred to (accurately or not) as the largest and oldest bluegrass festival in the country, going through periods of growth (and stints of fallow) over the course of its three decades. It has battled August snow storms, near tornado-like winds and rain, sound system failures, no-shows, and performance disappointments while also embracing warm, azure Alberta skies, life-altering shows from legends, facilitating friendships and an intermittently strong provincial bluegrass scene.

Prior to this year’s event, Blueberry had gone through the management of essentially three different teams of leadership, each featuring individual strengths, foci, perspective, and vision during their years of control. Respect for all who previously headed the fest. While no event can satisfy each and every bluegrass fan—and I stayed away out of dissatisfaction for much of the decade from 2004-2014—Blueberry has done a pretty good job of meeting the needs of most. Quibbles aside, the Alberta bluegrass community has been well-served by Blueberry, and many of the most important names and bands have played the fest, Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys, Mac Wiseman, Jimmy Martin, and J. D. Crowe on through to today’s hottest bands including The Earls of Leicester, Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Rhonda Vincent & the Rage, and the Del McCoury Band. Local heroes have developed at Blueberry, among them Jerusalem Ridge and Down To The Wood.

Without getting into gossip and ‘inside baseball’ territory—the details of which I am not privy—or criticizing prior practices, Blueberry Bluegrass dived into their next era this year, and the effect was immediately apparent.

While getting into the festival site was a bit of a mess on Saturday morning (the only day I was able to attend this year—I don’t believe I have the stamina to take in a three-day fest), the twenty minutes spent in line awaiting admittance was the only negative I experienced all day. Well, the weather wasn’t great but that is well-beyond anyone’s control.  So many positive adjustments were apparent, some of them very significant.

Most notable, the use of the available facilities was taken to positive advantage. Blueberry has long been fortunate to have a gravelled stage site, access to flushables, and a covered pavilion for venders and additional conveniences. A new building had been built on the site, and the new board grabbed it to allow a second stage, this one indoor. As we all know, any fest is at the mercy of the weather, and by taking advantage of the new building, the organizers  advanced the festival to its next level.

BMB

The Bix Mix Boys- well, most of them. Sorry, Jim.

Not only does the second stage provide an indoor respite for those looking for such (and additional washrooms) it also allowed the festival programmers the advantage of broadening their artistic vision. Providing listeners choice (something admittedly not all welcomed when competing stage times caused undesirable conflicts) the festival allows guests their preference: inside/outside, Band A/Band B, wet/dry. According to one of the performers, the ballroom is not particularly ‘sound-friendly,’ but no one would have discerned that. Why? The festival invested in excellent equipment and sound talent, going as far as bringing in Miles Wilkinson to head up the interior sound team. Amazing. As well, the second floor of the new hall allowed for a private green room for the performers, a separate area for volunteer meals and such, and an intimate workshop space. No complaints heard. A third stage was available for the workshops and jams as well as additional performances.

The organizing committee went extra lengths to provide opportunities for attendees to participate in a variety of activities, some related to bluegrass, some not. While the music is what matters to me, I am glad that the committee recognizes that ‘value added’ elements will help grow the festival. Among the many activities organized for younger guests were a petting zoo, an arcade, and colouring contest, as well as bluegrass-related films, instrumental and singing workshops throughout the days, and facilitated jamming tents. Additionally, the venders market was vastly expanded and improved, and this was only possible by re-establishing relationships with area venders and artisans. The concourse area was filled with tables featuring commercial products, handcrafted items, and instruments, providing additional energy and vitality.

Building relationships is part of all good festival experiences, and the Blueberry board recognizes this. To secure talent, they were able to draw on the personal relationships built with professional musicians through years of involvement within the bluegrass community. The time they committed to working with the local government, communities, and service groups was apparent. Also obvious was the liaising that had been done between Blueberry and other area music presenters, the folk clubs and other western roots music fests, many of which had information tables. Gary Glewinski provided ukulele workshops.

None of this would matter if the quality of the stage presentations was lacking. Despite challenges, this year’s Blueberry line-up was more than satisfying. Of the seven full sets I witnessed, not a single one disappointed and the diversity was appreciated. Each performer seemed to match and exceed those that came before: who was my favourite? Who played last?

Blue Highway, the Foggy Hogtown Boys, and David Peterson & 1946 (two sets) displayed different shades of ‘grass, and showed that this music has room for the traditional and original, for the progressive and that which emulates a previous time. (However, I still don’t need yodelling in my bluegrass.) While I didn’t catch their sets, reports were that the Spinney Brothers and Feller and Hill were also well received, while Fervor Coulee faves In With the Old, Russell DeCarle, and Nomad Jones performed on days when I wasn’t present.

OML

Old Man Luedecke…and his mic stand

Old Man Luedecke provided a bridge to the folk world, while Foghorn Stringband brought in the country/old-time element. Both received extended ovations. Local and area bluegrass talent was also given additional prominence this year, something that had been less respected in recent years. The Bix Mix Boys, whose energetic set I did catch, and Kayla and Matt Hotte were appreciated by their audiences.

While some criticized the lack of BIG NAMES (whomever that is supposed to be- you don’t get bigger than Blue Highway) this year’s festival has to be considered an artistic and entertainment success. Notable was the inclusion of eastern Canadian acts this year—The Spinney Brothers, The Foggy Hogtown Boys, and Old Man Luedecke—when it was previously asserted that it “wasn’t worth the money” to bring talent west. A Canadian festival must support developing and established Canadian bluegrass.

1946

David Peterson & 1946

I was familiar with all the performers I witnessed on Saturday, but there were still surprises. David Peterson brought Mike Bub along, the bassist making his Blueberry debut twenty years after missing due to illness his scheduled appearance with the Del McCoury Band. Also with Peterson was his tenor foil Mickey Boles, a terrific mandolinist and vocalist, and the team of Corrina Rose Logston (fiddle) and Jeremy Stephens (banjo). What a band, and as a bonus Corrina and Jeremy gifted me a pair of albums, including their highly impressive High Fidelity band release. I had forgotten how powerful a singer Peterson is, and as he was singing “In The Mountaintops to Roams,” he just kept twisting emotion from the song. I’ve already filled a couple holes in my DP&1946 collection purchasing two downloads this week.

Adding to the enjoyment and in another essential progression, a rotating cast of personable MCs worked the stages, keeping the focus where it belongs—on the festival and the talent.

Of all the developments apparent at the 2017 edition of Blueberry, none seemed to be better received than the ‘late night’ old-time country dances. Featuring ever-popular local legends Calvin Vollrath & Alfie Myhres Friday and The Caleb Klauder Country Band on Saturday, reportedly the audience filled the hall and dance floor for high-spirited, communal celebration. These dances were a risk for the Blueberry folks, and it appears to have paid off in full.

FHSB

3/4 of Foghorn Stringband

The festival would be nothing without its volunteers, and while I understand some long-serving volunteers were not brought into the fold this past year, those who were working the festival were unfailingly polite and helpful. Hopefully those who were overlooked this time out, perhaps due to the lack of transition support received by the new organizers, will be encouraged back into the event.

During the course of the weekend—and as a result of meticulous planning and effort—Blueberry Bluegrass was completely revitalized!

The Board of Blueberry Bluegrass & Country Music Society Festival must grow their event, attracting additional paying guests and sponsorship. Keeping the focus on bluegrass will be a must, but incorporating the folk, old-time, traditional (but high-quality) country, Americana, and broader acoustic roots worlds will be an important part of the festival’s long-term health and vitality. Similarly, continuing to network with the local communities and governments will be vital, as will ensuring the festival offers its attendees more than just the music—opportunities for families to experience the music together being paramount.

My relationship with Stony Plain, Alberta goes back well before I discovered bluegrass or attended my first Blueberry in 1997. Stony Plain was where I had my first milkshake (at the long gone Gulf station restaurant out on the highway), attended my first pancake breakfast, and saw my first parade. Stony Plain was where Dr. Patterson was, where I went for speech therapy, and where once—as a four-or five-year old—I got onto the floor of the high school gym during a basketball game. It was the town of significance nearest our farm, and I thought I would always live near. Turns out, I haven’t—but for a weekend (or part of one) each year, I return. A dozen times I have driven into town for the festival, and I immediately feel at home. This past Blueberry Bluegrass was that much more significant for its improvements, and I have seldom felt so welcomed.

Way to go, Blueberry organizers: here’s to the next 32 years! See you August 3-5, 2018.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

Lonesome River Band- Mayhayley’s House review   Leave a comment

LRB

Lonesome River Band Mayhayley’s House Mountain Home Music Company

The personnel line-up for the Lonesome River Band has remained quite consistent for the past decade or so, and it is arguably the strongest it has ever been—and I am well-aware of the earliest days, thank you very much.

Sammy Shelor remains one of the music’s most accomplished 5-string players. Brandon Rickman is an exceptional lead vocalist and an impressive guitarist. Mike Hartgrove has fiddling skills few can touch, and Barry Reed is a fine bassist and harmony vocalist. Mandolinist and singer Jesse Smathers wasted no time in establishing himself within LRB on the previous Bridging the Tradition album, and Tony Creasman returns on drums and percussion.

LRB will never be Fervor Coulee’s favourite bluegrass band, but one cannot argue that they create great albums of significance.

Mayhayley’s House doesn’t have a weak moment within its very generous forty-three. “I Think I’m Gonna Be Alright” has an appealing, loping vibe that reminds one of 70s country-rock, while a pair of Shawn Camp songs anchor the recording. “As Lonesome As I Am,” co-written with Matt Lindsey, moves along at a good tempo, and benefits from Shelor’s propulsive banjo rolls. Camp’s “It Feels Real Good Goin’ Down,” co-written with Gary Nicholson, is a well-crafted song that avoids easy cliché; instrumentally the song features nice mandolin touches, banjo notes, and fiddling. Musicianship of such a high quality is always appreciated.

LRB has taken to recording Adam Wright songs, and this time out the title track comes from the prolific, Nashville-based writer. Like all good writers, Wright pulls us into a world we may have previously had no understanding, this time the story of a Georgia seer and lawyer; LRB’s telling is spirited and engaging.

Numbers including “Hickory Hollow Times and County News” and “Old Coyote Town” reflect nostalgically for previous times, but do so in uncontrived manner. Renditions of “Fly Away My Pretty Little Miss” and “Ida Red” may appear superfluous, but are presented here with energy and conviction. Reaching back twenty years, Don Humprhies’ morally unpalatable “Blackbirds and Crows” is very ably (and with a bit more verve than the Nashville Bluegrass Band opted for) brought forward for new listeners. Allen Reynolds’ “Wrong Road Again” has had a few bluegrass versions over the years, notably by the Lynn Morris Band, and LRB’s Rickman-led, radio-friendly version should receive attention. [Just checked the Bluegrass Today chart- the song is #1 for this month, so…I guess I am right.] Ditto “Diggin'” and “Lonesome Bone,” songs that have enough shine to attract spins.

Dismiss Mayhayley’s House for the Lonesome River Band’s continued embrace of percussion if you like. You will be missing out on outstanding progressive bluegrass.

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver- Life Is A Story review   Leave a comment

LifeIsaStory

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver Life Is A Story Mountain Home Music Company

Let’s be honest up front, and I trust that is why you visit Fervor Coulee—Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver were one of the first bluegrass bands I experienced (on album) and I have spent many hours enjoying their music. When I first encountered them live in 2001, I was rocked. While the names and voices may change, the quality is always apparent, and if I think the peak of the group was more than a decade ago when Jamie Dailey, Barry Scott, Terry Baucom, and Jesse Stockman recorded Dig A Little Deeper with Doyle, I can also allow that others have a different view.

Here is the honest part—I find much of the music that DLQ has recorded since to be—at turns—trite, heavy-handed, or sanctimonious. At best each album, no matter the year, had two or three songs that just rubbed me the wrong way.

With that out of the way, there is a lot to appreciate about Life Is A Story. As strong an album as the previous In Session was, Life Is A Story is a touch more impressive. With the band lineup solidified—at least for now—with Josh Swift (resophonic, lead guitar, and percussion,) Joe Dean (banjo and guitar,) Dustin Pyrtle (vocals and guitar,) Eli Johnston (vocals and bass,) Stephen Burwell (fiddle,) and Lawson (vocals, mandolin and mandola)—a true band sound emerges. I am not privy to how the album was recorded, but is certainly has a feel of a group working together to create a collection of songs with a consistent feel.

There are several highlights, and these will vary between listeners depending on tastes. “What Am I Living For” is a strong vocal showcase, featuring rich harmonies and a strong lead; unfortunately I don’t know if it is Pyrtle or Johnston, but it sounds real fine, and is perhaps the album’s strongest performance. The O’Kanes’ “Bluegrass Blues” has been a song deserving of a high profile recording for decades, and it given its due here. “Guitar Case” is a nice Donna Ulisse-Marc Rossi narrative, and the treatment it is given here is both lonely and hopeful; this song may be familiar from Nu-Blu’s recording of a few years back.

Less successful are the album’s two lead tracks. “Kids These Days” recalls a time that may (or may not) have existed forty or fifty years ago, but certainly not the “twenty years ago” it claims, and whether the elements held up as exemplary are indeed entirely positive will depend on personal beliefs; for me, the song falls flat.  “Little Girl,” John Michael Montgomery final #1,  is a lot too judgmental and contrived for this listener.

While the lyrical elements of “Life of a Hard Workin’ Man” and “I See a Heartbreak Comin’,” two of the band-written songs, are very familiar within the bluegrass world, the performances here are spot-on and represent this edition of DLQ at their finest. Lawson sounds a bit thin on “Cry Across Kansas,” but this road-weariness complements the song and it may be my favourite song on the album. “Drivin’ It Home” does exactly that, closing the album on lively notes.

Without question, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver remain one of bluegrass music’s most highly considered outfits. Nominated this year as both Entertainer of the Year and Vocal Group of the Year, and with Josh Swift getting a nod as Reso Player of the Year, the IBMA continues to acknowledge their expertise. With Life Is A Story the group continues to produce the type of music that has made DLQ one of the most successful bluegrass bands in history; that not every song or production decision appeals to me doesn’t discount the quality of their performances. Maybe for fans only, but that is a fairly sizeable contingent!