John Reischman & the Jaybirds- On That Other Green Shore review   Leave a comment

Jaybirds

John Reischman & the Jaybirds
On That Other Green Shore
Corvus Records
http://www.thejaybirds.com/

It has long been known that John Reischman & the Jaybirds are one of my favourite bluegrass combos. To my ears, they have everything I expect from a band—vocal complexity and diversity, exceptional instrumentation and harmonic interplay, rock solid material with a curiosity  for the past and the ingenuity of creative originality.

When I was booking bands for the local association, The Jaybirds were the first non-locals I pursued. In subsequent appearances they never disappointed. I have seen them live about as many times as any bluegrass band I have witnessed, and even briefly used their “Jaybird Ramble” as my radio show theme song.

So, I’m a fan. But I am also a critic, and understand perhaps why they have never ‘broke through’ within the bluegrass world. Being based in western Canada has possibly been an impediment. I’ve heard some say that can appear a bit too polished, and maybe have at times appeared a bit ‘stiff’ on stage, especially early on. Still, the quality of their five previous full-fledged albums (and a seasonal EP) are without question—one of the strongest catalogues any bluegrass band can present since their debut of 2001. Why they are still not as recognized as other bluegrass bands—the Balsam Ranges, the Gibsons, the IIIrd Tyme Outs, and others—remains a mystery to my way of thinking.

John Reischman—having played with the Good Ol’ Persons, Tony Rice, John Miller, Kathy Kallick, and more—has long been one of bluegrass music’s most impressive and versatile mandolinists. Deeply influenced by Bill Monroe, Reischman has had the added benefit of being able to not only follow the inspiration of the instrument’s traditional Master, but to hear and work with others to provide guidance as well as the dedication to shape the instrument and its musical presentation in his own image.

Reischman’s bandmates Nick Hornbuckle (a more than impressive 5-stringer playing in an adapted 2-finger style), Trisha Gagnon (a tasteful bassist with an incredible voice in both lead and harmony positions),  Greg Spatz (an immensely sensitive and versatile fiddler and, as an aside, a formidable writer of prose), and Jim Nunally (a man of many hats including producer, absolutely devastating guitarist, and a singer rivaling Del McCoury, in my opinion) are unparalleled on the Canadian bluegrass scene (the fact that two-members of the group are naturalized Canadian citizens and only Gagnon is Canadian by birth doesn’t escape me) and—should this be a competition—could stand mic-to-mic with any of the most prominent bluegrass bands. [Someone will need to be the referee here, but I believe I may have just written a 113-word sentence that is almost grammatically justified.]

With the release of On That Other Green Shore this summer also comes news that Jim Nunally has left the group, the first personnel changeover the group has experienced. As I’ve already noted, Nunally has been one of the five pillars of the group, and his departure is significant. His playing and singing, as well as personality and songwriting, will be missed. For the unfamiliar, sample the two-song burst mid-set on Field Guide: “Arrowhead,” a Hornbuckle composition, features stunning flat-picking from Nunally while “Shackled and Chained,” one of his songs, is one of Nunally’s many fine vocal performances as a Jaybird.

One That Other Green Shore is not terribly different from previous JR&JB releases, and that is no criticism. The group has established an appealing and winning formula. The group boasts five song- and tune-writers, four vocalists, three-part harmonies, an untouchable duo of lead singers in Gagnon and Nunally, and a singular focus on making bluegrass music that is dynamic and memorable. As they typically do, the Jaybirds here refresh under-appreciated (or at least, under-known) songs from the Americana-roots-old time traditions, mix in some gospels and cracking instrumentals, and a handful of instrumentals as well as (this time) a song from The Beatles to create a unified representation of modern bluegrass.

Gagnon’s “I Don’t Want to Say Goodbye,” written upon her father’s passing, is not only emotional but also soothing. Two numbers feature the Jaybirds’ four-part vocal harmony ‘wall of sound.’ “You’ve Got To Righten That Wrong” and “Don’t You Hear The Lambs A-Crying” come from previous times but seem entirely apropos to current world circumstance, perhaps in ways the originators never intended. Spatz doesn’t contribute an original fiddle tune this time out, but brings to the group Caridwen Irvine Spatz’s “Thistletown,” a mournful and introspective piece well-placed within the 13-song set.

Nanually’s “Gonna Walk” features strong guitar lines, and I suppose serves as a fitting farewell nod to the group of which he has been integral the better part of two decades. “Today Has Been a Lonesome Day” is a song we’ve long heard at Jaybird shows, but makes its recorded debut here: interestingly, for a number that the group first worked up long ago, Patrick Sauber (who is the newest Jaybird) joins the group here on baritone.

 

new jaybirds

The ‘new’ Jaybirds: Image borrowed from the internet: no credit apparent, but will correct/remove if requested

 

Reischman has written dozens of memorable instrumentals, and “Daylighting the Creek” (listen to Spatz’s fiddle here—dang!) and “Red Diamond” join the list. His lead take on Paul McCartney’s “Two of Us,” in duet and close harmony with Gagnon, is a highlight of this recording. As they have done before (think “Shady Grove” from Vintage & Unique and “The House Carpenter” on Stellar Jays) the Jaybirds inject new shades to a familiar piece with the closing “Katie Bar the Door.”

As all John Reischman & the Jaybirds albums have been, On That Other Green Shore is beautifully packaged, and for those who still believe such matters, is well-deserving of purchase as a physical CD. Sneaking up on twenty years, John Reischman & the Jaybirds remain a vibrant part of contemporary bluegrass. Search them out.

 

Advertisements

Winnie Brave- Moonshine   Leave a comment

winniebrave-0309Winnie Brave is an Americana/roots duo from the mighty metropolis of Holden, Alberta. That’s north of Camrose, y’all- making them almost neighbours to Fervor Coulee. If I knew how to embed a video, I would…I don’t think I do. So, follow the link and give it a look and listen. Good sound- gets the Fervor Coulee approval of not being shut off upon first listen. Yes, that is enthusiasm coming from me! Winnie Brave- Moonshine video.

Posted 2017 September 22 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , ,

Steve Martin & Steep Canyon Rangers- The Long-Awaited Album review   Leave a comment

SMSCRI apologize to all readers, groups, and promo folks/labels who have been expecting more from me the past few weeks. Work is busy, and I don’t have time to write although I try- I have (in my head) written much of a John Reischman & the Jaybirds review, know I need to get to the Chris Hillman album (how tired am I? It just took me a good ten seconds to come up with Chris Hillman’s name- an original icon of roots and Americana [before those labels were imagined] and a Fervor Coulee favourite, I can’t think of his name!) Anyway, I did- for better or worse- write a review of the new Steve Martin & Steep Canyon Rangers album for Country Standard Time. Find it at http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=6477 if you are so moved. There is much (80%?) to appreciate with just a handful of minutes falling short. As always, your opinion may very well vary from mine- here’s the deal: I won’t tell you what to think when you’re wrong, you don’t tell me what to think when I am right.

The Grascals- Before Breakfast review   Leave a comment

GrascalCov9-2-1

The Grascals Before Breakfast Mountain Home Music Company

The Grascals can be counted on to deliver, every eighteen months or so, another collection of mountain solid, formidable and smooth bluegrass.

Over nine albums and one very fun EP, The Grascals have consistently been one of bluegrass music’s stellar outfits. While not everything they have ever attempted has resonated with me (I felt their The Grascals and Friends country-hybrid project was—to be generous—uneven) there are few bluegrass bands I would rather encounter than The Grascals.

Before Breakfast is as strong an album as the group has released. From the catchy opener “Sleepin’ With the Reaper,” a fine Becky Buller-Grant Williams addition to the bluegrass canon of fidelity, through to the closing sing-a-long rambunctiousness of “Clear Corn Liquor” The Grascals present a well-rounded collection of bluegrass excellence.

John Bryan has been an outstanding addition to the group. His vocals on not only the lead track, but additional and quite diverse songs including the excellent “Delia” (coming from Jon Weisberger, Charlie Chamberlain, and Charles R. Humphrey III) and “I’ve Been Redeemed” are uniformly impressive.

One of three remaining original members of the group, Terry Eldredge offers up his always appreciated, earthy approach to tender songs. “Demons” faces down the temptations we all face, while “He Took Your Place” is a familiar song of faith worthy of modern interpretation.  “Beer Tree” and “Clear Corn Liquor” (from Tim Stafford and Bobby Starnes) are less weighty, but no less worthy.

Bassist Terry Smith takes the lead position on a single song, “Lonesome,” (co-written with sibling Billy) and one wishes the album had another couple samples of his country-inspired approach to bluegrass singing (without subtracting anything—running 38 minutes, five or six more minutes featuring Smith would have comfortably stretched Before Breakfast.)

I’ve listened the this album fifteen or twenty times this month, and each time I notice another little fill or roll from Kristin Scott Benson. While her 5-string sounds are all over the album, there are places—as on “Beer Tree” and “Delia”—where her contribution is so subtle you almost miss it; once recognized, it is impossible to again miss and one realizes the importance of every single element within the greater expanse of this bluegrass combo—nothing is included out of habit or obligation, each note serves a purpose.

Danny Roberts, with Eldredge and Smith forming the august original core of the group, is like Benson a proverbial master of his instrument if under-recognized, and his mandolin playing is well-featured, never more so on his instrumental romp (co-written with fiddler Adam Haynes) “Lynchburg Chicken Run.” Roberts and Haynes work together well as on “He Took Your Place” and on Kelsi Harrigill’s (Flatt Lonesome) “There Is You” Haynes adds depth to a rather sentimental set of lyrics.

“Pathway of Teardrops” is a well-established bluegrass harmony showcase going back to The Osborne Brothers, and The Grascals’ interpretation goes toe-to-toe with that venerable classic rendition: not better, but equally their own. No matter where The Grascals go, they never stray too far from the foundation.

Before Breakfast, after lunch, and during supper—there is no bad time for The Grascals. Now, would someone bring them to Alberta—it has been a dozen too many years since I’ve seen the group live!

 

 

 

Do we need more negative bluegrass reviews?   Leave a comment

Over at No Depression, thoughtful bluegrass prognosticator Ted Lehmann recently reflected on the overwhelmingly number of ‘positive’ bluegrass reviews against a wider view that there seems to be fewer reviewers willing to write challenging criticisms of albums. So as not to misrepresent anything Ted expresses, I refer you to his published piece.

While I don’t agree with everything Ted argues, there is merit to his thesis. Without running the numbers, there does appear to be fewer ‘negative’ bluegrass album reviews than there should be. I have my theories as to why, including that the bluegrass world is so insular and interdependent there is little tolerance of ‘outliers’ whose opinions are contrary to the greater interests of the industry.

Simply put, to write negatively about an album is to accept that you will quite possibly be cut off the publicist’s contact list and the record label’s servicing run, not to be mentioned attacked by overly aggressive parents and colleagues, and have your inability to play “Cumberland Gap” held up as evidence that you have no right to express an opinion. Therefore, like me, if someone writing about bluegrass encounters an album they feel is lacking, it seems they are most likely to ignore it than to spend hours crafting a hatchet piece: most of us are not making the dollars writing that makes it worthwhile to rip an album to shreds, even if it deserves such. Instead, we move onto an album that we can write about more positively.

However, beyond this obvious element there is another set of reasons why I believe there are fewer negative bluegrass album reviews than which we might expect: for the most part, bluegrass albums today are pretty darn strong!

The top bluegrass performers, even when they are spinning their tires, are usually so darned good at what they do that it is difficult to criticize them for their representation of the art. They play in tune (always a good thing), understand how to feature themselves and each other most artfully, understand and execute vocal harmony, and are creative in their arrangements of familiar songs. Essentially, they know what that heck they are doing, and it sounds good.

Most often when I consider something to be of lower-quality, it is a matter of taste and opinion—I have little patience for overwrought, wimpy-arsed, watered-down, and slickly-produced bluegrass, but realize that for whatever misguided reason, some folks actually like that type of saccharine-infused, cloying sentimental trash.

When a major artist does release something less than impressive, whether due to questionable song choices, pedestrian effort, or simply misguided execution—and I am assigned to write about it—I am obligated to call them on it, whether that runs contrary to popular opinion or industry interests. Fortunately, in the bluegrass world, that doesn’t happen very often. Most of what I encounter is of a very high calibre, but if I feel a project is lacking, I try my best to communicate that in an up-front and professional manner, even if sometimes folks may have to read between the lines to pick up on it. I figure that is the reader’s obligation, and if I’ve done my job correctly, they are able to achieve it.

I guess we have to trust readers (and bluegrass listeners) to look for reviews that meet their needs. If they want reprints of promo releases and one-sheets, there is a bluegrass website for that. If they want bluegrass industry cheerleading and baby pictures where never a discouraging word is heard, there is a website for that. Heck, there is even a bluegrass site that features bluegrass only in rare situations. If they want honest opinion, mostly the good, sometimes the bad, and occasionally (usually around IBMA time) the snarky, there is a website for that. I call it Fervor Coulee!

I don’t believe we need more negative bluegrass reviews. We just have to continue to pay attention to the quality music that surrounds us.

Posted 2017 September 1 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , ,

Between the Cracks, Summer 2017: what have we missed? reviews   Leave a comment

A selection of albums that have worked their way my direction these last few months. Americana of a variety of flavours.

RERailroad EarthCaptain Nowhere One recalls RRE as one of the first ‘big tent’ bands to be selectively-shunned by bluegrass festivals. Lost track of them somewhere around The Good Life (2004), but became reacquainted early this summer when this six-track EP was released. Groovy, acoustic-Dead inspired rock’n Americana, Captain Nowhere is a concise encapsulation of the group’s drum-propelled music. “Adding My Voice” is especially relevant given recent political/civil events, while one can easily imagine “The Berkeley Flash” inspiring an extended live jam. [Review based on download.]

MOMatthew O’NeillTrophic Cascade (Underwater Panther Coalition) More natural-sounding and perhaps a little less rambunctious than previous music sampled from this upper New York-state resident, Trophic Cascade is no gentle beach listen. Imagine, if you will bear the indulgence, Bon Iver and Shakey Graves coming together in the forests of the Catskills with Crosby, Stills, Nash, & mostly Young to create a modern southern soul album. Lots of wailing guitars, layered vocals, some horns, and trance-inducing rhythms and melodies that soar and twist. Tapping into topic s associated with his evolving beliefs of Earth and our relationships with its people, O’Neill kept this listener engaged through 50 minutes. [Provided CD version reviewed.]

JMJohn Mellencamp featuring Carlene Carter- Sad Clowns & Hillbillies The Lonesome Jubilee came out 30 years ago, and still battles it out with Scarecrow for top spot among my favourite Mellencamp albums; don’t read too much into that—don’t most of us have greatest appreciation for music we’ve lived with for several decades? Among his 23 (twenty-three!) albums (yeah, I’ve got them all going back to Chestnut Street Incident) there is no shortage of evidence of greatness, with even his more dire albums (1994-1999, maybe) revealing gems of considerable genius. [I long ago forgave his re-writing of Wreckless Eric’s “Broken Doll” as “Rodeo Clown.”] Teaming with touring partner Carlene Carter for several tracks, there is plenty of patented Mellencamp swagger and rhythm—that immediately recognizable groove—within these forty-seven minutes, and a number of songs (“Battle of Angels, “My Soul’s Got Wings,” “Damascus Road,” and a cover of “Early Bird Cafe”—don’t pretend you know the original) that stand with his finest.  Carter shines both as a featured vocalist and in a harmony role with “Indigo Sunset” and “Sugar Hill Mountain” ringing true. [Purchased CD version reviewed.]

bhBen Hunter & Joe Seamons, with Phil Wiggins A Black & Tan Ball An exquisite black & tan is a tough pour, I’ve found. Good thing this trio understands their art. Well-grounded in the various blues traditions, Seattle’s Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons along with touring partner Phil Wiggins don’t need me to tell them they know what they are doing. Pulling together all their influences—broad folk traditions, ragtime and jazz, even hints of country and mountain fiddle music, and always the blues—and both the good and bad of their (and previous) times, Hunter & Seamons hold a mirror to that which surrounds them, bask in that reflection, and give respect to the Black Americana tradition. Life may not get better than “Struttin’ With Some Barbeque,” “Longin’ For My Sugar,” or “How’m I Doing?” but it sure can get worse; the songs selected for this set keep things mostly breezy, and don’t delve on the most significant of matters, although “Bad Man Ballad” (recognizable as a derivation of “Little Sadie”) and “Hard Time Blues” acknowledge hardship. Loose/tight is a phrase I love for music making—allow for the joy and fun, but keep the quality—and A Black & Tan Ball captures it perfectly. [Provided CD reviewed.]

GGR SINGLE POCKET JACKET UPDATED 032112Amy BlackMemphis Featuring members of The Bo-Keys and those intimately familiar with the Stax and Hi Records Memphis traditions, Amy Black returns with an even stronger album than her most stout Muscle Shoals Sessions. Beautifully gritty and gloriously soulful, Black has written some terrific songs (“The Blackest Cloud,” “Without You,” and “Nineteen”) that fit ideally with her voice and approach, and selected tasteful and timely covers, notably Otis Clay’s “If I Could Reach Out (and Help Somebody).” With lots of guitar and B3, killer rhythm section support, plenty of horns, and a song for the ages in “It’s Hard to Love An Angry Man,” it is time to stop mentioning the likes of Dusty Springfield, Bonnie Raitt, and Shelby Lynne in reviews of Black’s albums, and realize she needs to be discussed on the same terms as these soulful singers. [Provided download only reviewed.]

zz andy hall roosevelt Andy Hall & Roosevelt Collier- Let the Steel Play Someone is playing a cruel joke on me. I will tolerate the resonator guitar in (very) select bluegrass situations, and I can appreciate it (in moderation) within a blues-setting, but it will never be an instrument I reflect upon and think, ‘Man—what this song needs is some hub-cap guitar.’ Imagine my surprise (chagrin?) to discover one of my favourite albums of this Summer of 2017 is the debut recording of Hall (The Infamous Stringdusters) and Collier, and it features NOTHING but reso. “Reuben’s Train” and “Power In the Blood” are trad. arr all should recognize, but I dare say we haven’t heard them like this. Coming from the Sacred Steel tradition, Collier approaches these tunes differently than I imagine Hall would on his own, and their collaboration is mind-blowing. Their originals (“The Darkest Hour” and “Rosebud” especially) mix well with the familiar pieces including The Grateful Dead’s seductive “Crazy Fingers.” [Provided CD reviewed.]

the_savage_radley_kudzu_DK_BrownThe Savage Radley- Kudzu Get ready: this one is going to club ya between the eyes and knock you on your arse. Kentucky’s The Savage Radley is an explosive slice of the modern south, not country, rock, or ‘grass, but a sweet distillation of all three, and a potent concoction it is. Shaina Goodman writes the songs and gives them voice while S Knox Montgomery keeps things moving from the drum kit. Also featured are multi-instrumentalist Eddy Dunlap (pedal steel, guitar, and bass), Ryan Cain (bass), and producer Skylar Wilson (piano). Rural tales of hardship and darkness abound, and while one might be reminded of the way Bobbie Gentry, Larry Jon Wilson, and even Rodney Crowell construct songs around ones’ experiences and ancestry, one hears flecks of The Alabama Shakes in the production choices: time-tested testimony, new approaches. “Blood Money” and “Little River Town” provided the narrative threads I appreciate. “Don’t call me honey, Honey,” Goodman sings in “Milk and Honey,” “It don’t mean nothing when you say it.” Harsh, but in keeping with the mood of the collection, where hope and dreams have been corroded with reality. [Provided CD reviewed.]

Some of what I’ve been listening to this summer. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Now, go BUY some music: keep the roots alive. Donald

 

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.