I am not a blues aficionado, not even close. If you went through my music collection, you are likely to find many blues discs but you are more likely to find as many albums from the Williamses—Hank, Lucinda, Jack, Dar, Holly, Robin, Linda, and the like—as you are blues recordings, in total. I tend to write about them—or not—and pass them onto friends who are more likely to get long-term enjoyment.
When I do hang onto a blues album, as likely as not they are ones released on Canada’s two preeminent blues labels, Northern Blues and Stony Plain. Not everything they produce resonates, but they have a stronger track record of appealing than most. Here are three recent releases from Stony Plain, as well as one release that is even more independent.
Ride the One
Stony Plain Records
Among my favourite blues artists is Paul Reddick, and Reddick’s Villanelle (2004) is one of my most frequently played roots albums. An examination of pre-war blues and rural music, that album was acoustic sounding although electric instruments were present within the well-balanced mix. Without resorting to studio trickery, Reddick and producer Colin Linden created a full, natural sound with songs that were thoughtful and lasting.
Since that time, Reddick has continued to produce excellent blues music, and his recordings are of interest individually and collectively.
On Ride the One, Reddick reunites with Colin Cripps, producer of his last album Wishbone, and continues in a similar stream of full-bodied, band-focused blues. What is different this time out is the aggression present on songs including Ride the One’s lead tracks “Shadows” and “Celebrate.” While Reddick had previously touched on such in songs like “Whiskey in the Life of Man” and “Devil’s Load,” this time out it is the rule more than the exception.
The darkness of some of these songs, including “Living in Another World,” will challenge listeners, but they are pulled back from the edge by awareness that the blues needs more subtlety than other forms of roots music: go too far, and it becomes rock and roll, and usually not good rock and roll. Cripps and Reddick balance their more base instincts with gentle artistry in songs such as “Mourning Dove” and “Diamonds.” Even an up-tempo number such as “Watersmooth” is presented with an emphasis on the more gentle shadings of band interplay.
MonkeyJunk’s Steve Marriner is featured on guitar and keyboards throughout, with Cripps and Greg Cockerill contributing additional guitar. Reddick’s voice is afforded rather scary effects in a number of places, digging deep into Nick Cave territory on several songs. Elsewhere, as on “Love and Never Know” and “Gotta Find A…,” the approach is more natural and even satisfying.
My favoured blues will always be that which is more-acoustic and focused on the aged roots of the music. That Paul Reddick doesn’t want to spend all his time in the past is fine with me, as long as he continues to incorporate those influences in his music. On Ride the One he has done that most successfully.
Eric Bibb & North Country Far with Danny Thompson
The Happiest Man in the World
Stony Plain Records
Michael Jerome Browne. Paul Reddick. Maria Muldaur. Guy Davis. Eric Bibb.
That pretty much sums up the contemporary blues artists I have great interest in. Not many, but the quality is there, I like to think.
Eric Bibb’s last album was the excellent tribute Lead Belly’s Gold. This time out, the spectrum is a bit broader, incorporating a range of approaches to the blues. What remains consistent with all Bibb releases is that voice, smooth as Bailey’s with the same effect that sneaks up on you the more you imbibe.
These are almost exclusively songs of love and lust, and one can hear why Bibb favours this type of material: it is his natural palate. When he sings, “I’ll pump your water, light your stove, Take you on a picnic baby, in the shady grove,” in “I’ll Farm for You,” it isn’t so much dirty as a promise. Similarly, Bibb stays busy in the “Creole Café” and a “King Size Bed,” confessing that he was “Born to Be Your Man” while “Toolin’ Down the Road.” I guess it ain’t bragging if it’s true.
Producing these smooth blues numbers, Bibb and the band—a pair of Finnish brothers Janne (drums) and Olli (resophonic and pedal steel guitars) Haavisto, Petri Hakala (mandolin, mandola, fiddle), and Danny Thompson (upright bass)—have found a comfortable groove and ride it straight through. Despite its consistency, things never become mundane, each song revealing understated differences in approach.
One has to be impressed by the quality of guitar playing Bibb produces from his various acoustics. Listening to this album is such a satisfying experience. Nothing is cluttered, no one is attempting to elbow their way into the mix. Happiest Man in the World is a delightful listen for those who appreciate polished, acoustic blues.
Adding some diversity to the proceedings are songs not intended to lead to the bedroom. “Prison of Time” is filled with a longing for freedom, naturally, but there isn’t any bitterness just regret. “Tell Ol’ Bill” connects these contemporary performances to the roots of blues and folk music. The instrumental tunes, “1912 Skiing Disaster” and “Blueberry Boy” retain the album’s pervasive mood while allowing the instrumentalists the opportunity to further demonstrate their intuitive connections.
Rather unexpectedly, the album closes with a soupy rendition of “You Really Got Me,” allowing Bibb to (again) prove he can sing absolutely anything and make it sound as if he unearthed it from some obscure recording.
Eric Bibb turns sixty-five this year. Depending on how you’re counting, Happiest Man in the World is his fortieth album. I haven’t been listening for all that long, and have encountered only possibly a fifth of his recordings. But, this is one of the finer ones I’ve listened to. Beautifully recorded and artfully packaged, Happiest Man in the World is an album that deserves the accolades it is certain to garner.
Good Days a Comin
Right Side Up Records
With several recordings behind him, Missouri-based guitar player Ivas John’s Good Days a Comin is an acoustic folk, country, and blues recording (folk country blues—is that a thing?) presenting a cleanly recorded set of concise songs.
Two originals, “Roll Mississippi” and “Goin’ Back to Arkansas” provide the template for this recording, a breezy interpretation of acoustic roots music with an emphasis on companionable instrumental interplay. Cleanly played and pristinely recorded, one envisions four or five friends jamming on a shaded, rural porch, dogs resting beside their chairs. Laid-back doesn’t begin to describe it.
In his mid-thirties, but appearing a decade younger, John—whose family name is Dambrauskas, as fine a Lithuanian moniker as I’ve encountered—mixes a handful of standards with originals. “Dark As a Dungeon” is brooding, “Can’t Help Wonder Where I’m Bound” brims with Eric Bibbeque optimism. Mid-set, “Greenville Trestle High”—a song that seems to be ageless but only appeared in the last thirty years—is provided an earthy, low-key interpretation, highlighted not only by John’s effective leads, but bluegrass bandleader David Davis’ timing and impeccable mandolin chop.
Jack Williams comes to mind listening to John’s guitar playing: it isn’t flashy, and he doesn’t go looking for unnecessary notes just for the sake of playing them. His songwriting, augmented in places by his father Edward, is consistent with his instrumental approach. Not wordy, but sufficiently detailed to attract the listeners attention.
“Things Ain’t Been the Same” aches, honest and unadorned. Less complex emotionally, “Keep Your Train Movin’” is equally well-crafted, a gentle blues-jam that connects with one’s inner rambler. “Here I Am,” again featuring Davis, reveals the other side of the wanderer’s heart.
Over the last decade, Ivas John has built a nice little portfolio. Good Days a Comin provides additional evidence that he is a folk country blues picker and vocalist to keep an ear open for.
Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne
Jumpin’ & Boppin’
Stony Plain Records
Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne’s tenth recording is the first I’ve listened to, but this definitely isn’t the first time I’ve encountered the legendary keyboard player.
Over the last decade, Wayne has become prominent enough so that even casual blues listeners have likely heard his music on various radio and satellite services. He has been awarded a couple Living Blues awards, a Juno and a Maple Blues award, and has been recognized for his long-time contributions to the music.
Born in Spokane, and raised in Los Angeles and New Orleans, Kenny Wayne is now firmly established as a Canadian ambassador of the blues piano. Jumpin’ and Boppin’ is his third album for Stony Plain, and its title tells the tale.
Up-tempo through and through, but not one-dimensional, Jumpin’ and Boppin’ is a tribute to the type of music created in the 1950s by artists that influenced Wayne’s development, folks like Louis Jordan, Amos Milburn, and Fats Domino and no one so much—to these ears—as Ray Charles. There is lyrical substance in some songs, but mostly this is music for dancing and jiving. Wayne’s voice is soulful and strong, and he is accompanied by some of the finest players around.
Duke Robillard makes appearances, including on the opening “Blues Boss Shuffle,” and bassman Russell Jackson toured with B.B. King for years, and has recorded with Wayne previously. Charlie Jacobson is the featured guitar player, and Dave Babcock brings his saxophone including on “Blues Stew” and “Blackmail Blues,” two outstanding cuts.
“Bankrupted Blues” contains wisdom in its grooves, and the title track “Jumpin’ and Boppin’ With Joy” is a breezy, toe-tappin’ celebration of the boogie woogie. “Back to Square One” is more restrained, a jazz-touched portrait of romance.
Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne brags that he has the beat that won’t let go, and this is ably demonstrated throughout Jumpin’ and Boppin’s 45-plus minutes.
Hopefully you have found something to pass this rainy long weekend at Fervor Coulee. Support the artists, support the labels. Catch up to me @FervorCoulee
40 Years of Stony Plain
Stony Plain Records
As much as any label, Stony Plain Records—by most measures a small, Canadian independent—has impacted my awareness of folk, blues, bluegrass, and the various associated shades and textures of what we now call Americana and roots music.
Going back to my late teens, I have had Stony Plain records (and tapes and compact discs) in my collection. Through judicious support of regional talents (Corb Lund, Jr. Gone Wild, The Models, and Mark Korven, to name four off the top of my head) and longstanding relationships with national icons (Ian Tyson, Colin Linden, Crowcuss, Amos Garrett) and Duke Robillard, and with Canadian licensing and distribution agreements with labels such as Blind Pig, Rounder, Sugar Hill, Watermelon, and others over the years—not to mention ‘one-offs’ with folks like Rodney Crowell, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Tom Russell, Katy Moffatt, and more—the Edmonton-based label has had a major part in building a strong base for roots and blues in western Canada.
This is, I believe, the fourth anniversary collection of the label’s to make its way to me, and I may just getting old but it sounds like an old friend dropping by for a visit. Labeling itself “Canada’s Roots, Rock, Folk, Country, and Blues Label” Stony Plain Records is exactly that. While I’m more of the first four than the latter, there is plenty for all to appreciate within this triple album anthology.
If one has ever had the pleasure of wandering the stacks of albums and discs in the Stony Plain headquarters, one is aware of the incredible diversity of music appreciated by the label’s founder Holger Petersen. I don’t pretend to be intimately associated with Petersen or know the inner workings of the label, but from a (near) distance, I have long admired what he has accomplished. That he once dragged me across the Edmonton Folk Festival CD tent to meet Maria Muldaur is only one reason I have affection for him.
More so, he (and his staff) has brought amazing music to my ears.
On this three-disc set, again organized by Singer-Songwriter, Blues and such, and Rarities, the breadth of the label is revealed.
The first disc collects familiar material from folks like Spirit of the West (“The Crawl,”) Doug Sahm (“Louis Riel,”) and Emmylou (“Where Will I Be”), stuff we’ve all heard but which is also nice to hear again, together. There is also more recent material, such as a cut from Colin Linden’s outstanding album of last year (“No More Cheap Wine”) and the Guitar Heroes album. Lund, Harry Manx & Kevin Breit, Crowell, Valdy & Fjellgaard, Jr. Gone Wild, Tyson, and more are also represented. Essentially, a 70-minute jaunt through what Stony Plain has done with folk, roots, and country music over 40 years.
Disc two is a set of cuts from the blues, R&B, and associated sounds the label has released. For someone like me, who voluntarily listens to little blues and such, this offers a compact representation of the label’s treasures, from Rory Block (from her excellent Mississippi John Hurt set) and Paul Reddick (“Mourning Dove,” from his just released album) to Jim Byrnes (“Wrapped Up, Tied Up,”) King Biscuit Boy (“Blue Light Boogie,”) MonkeyJunk (“Mother’s Crying,”) Ruthie Foster (“Keep Your Big Mouth Closed,” a Memphis Millie number) and Long John Baldry (“Midnight Special.”) 75 minutes of mostly party sounds.
No two-album collection can adequately capture 40 years of releases, but this one certainly gives a great effort: good thing there are other Stony Plain anniversary packages, released in five-year intervals, to sample, not to mention the original albums.
The final disc adds a dozen rare, out of print, or previously unreleased tracks including—depending on tastes— several highlights. I’ve never been taken by the song “Rehab,” but Duke Robillard’s bossa nova-tinged instrumental rendition works for me. A pair of Eric Bibb songs previously unavailable outside Europe adds value, as do live cuts from Maria Muldaur, recorded in 2001. Colin Linden completeists will appreciate a pair of songs from the early 70s recorded with Sam Chatmon, while those who value Bob Carpenter’s approach to country-roots will want to hear unreleased gems.
Richard Flohil’s liner notes, partly cribbed from previous releases in the series, provides insight into the Stony Plain story and details however briefly the manner in which the label has managed to survive from 8-tracks and vinyl to digital sales. For the uninitiated, this set is a brilliant, affordable introduction to the label. For those who have been along for much of the ride, it is a reminder of the importance of supporting those who make excellent music available.
Congratulations on 40 Years, Stony Plain Records, and kudos to Holger, Alvin Jahns, and everyone who has passed through the house in Edmonton’s west end.
40 years, 47 tracks, somewhere around $25: good deal, I’d suggest. Out June 3rd.
Things have been hopping in the Fervor Coulee Bunker. Several reviews have been posted at the usual sites.
Darrell Scott has long been a personal favourite. His latest release is very impressive. My review is up at Country Standard Time. http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=5983
Guy Clark passed this week, and I can’t add to the quality of tributes shared across the web. I offer only my favourite picture of him, taken in July of 1996 at the Calgary Folk Music Festival. He and Rosanne Cash were singing “Watermelon Dream.” It isn’t an exaggeration to write that Guy Clark changed the way I listen to music. He was a heck of a nice guy the one time I shook his hand, and I know I will listen to his songs to my final days.
James King also succumbed this week. My thoughts are posted at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass. http://www.countrystandardtime.com/blog/FervorCouleeBluegrass/entry.asp?xid=1090
Additional reviews have been posted at Lonesome Road Review.
PEI’s Nudie released an excellent album of country honky tonk this spring: http://lonesomeroadreview.com/everythings-different-night-nudie/
I had never heard of Jack Hardy before receiving A Tribute to Jack Hardy to review. It is quite an interesting album: http://lonesomeroadreview.com/tribute-jack-hardy-various-artists/
Steve Coffey has long been one of my favourite singer-songwriters, Albertan or otherwise. His latest set is a combination book of paintings and music that has limited release: http://lonesomeroadreview.com/paint-songs-steve-coffey/ I love Coffey’s visual work as much as I love his writing and singing. An amazing package.
More reviews are in the pipeline. Thanks, always, for visiting Fervor Coulee- hopefully you find artists to explore. Donald
Still the Birds
Blue Rock Texas/ www.DarrylPurpose.com
Frequently, I receive the opportunity to hear for the first time an artist at the peak of their powers. What often follows is a mad scramble of catalogue listening, spending more money on past recordings than I can ever hope to recoup via the modest remuneration received for a review.
Darryl Purpose has been making music for twenty-plus years, but I only heard his music earlier this spring when Still the Birds arrived unsolicited in my mailbox. Like other artists that I’ve come late to the dinner to discover—Eliza Gilkison fifteen or so years back, David G. Smith more recently—the immediate benefit is a ‘new favourite’ what has a legacy of recordings to explore.
The first thing one notices about Purpose is how much he sounds like James Taylor. Not a bad thing that, except one has to constantly remind oneself that they are listening to Darryl Purpose, and that can become a chore. It isn’t like one is listening to bad James Taylor, ‘cause it is good…but, Purpose deserves more.
Purpose, and his songwriting partner Paul Zollo, have a keen awareness of song craft, and their tunes often take us to places we hadn’t expected.
“Hours in A Day” is one of the album’s finest songs, and one is drawn to the protagonist—a reluctant escapee of the American draft of the 60s. Wonderful little scenes unfold during the just-beyond-spoken singing of the song: LBJ punching his father, the contemplation of being a prisoner of war, and his despair of living “under a bridge at Reindeer Lake.” The listener invests in this story-song, and is that much more blindsided when, returning to the US after amnesty, he climbs a water tower with a loaded gun. This is an amazing performance, highlighted by Carrie Elkin’s vocal contributions, Joel Guzman’s organ, and Daran DeShazo’s guitar. Beautiful, troubling stuff.
Purpose and Gilkison trade verses of devotion within “The Meaning of My Love,” and within its whimsical lines one suspects more is occurring than we are party to, not the least because of mysterious lyrics. Among the litany of protestations of adoration are chicken wire, helicopters, and brown grass—one isn’t sure why they love each other, but—much as John Prine does on occasion—the various incongruences make for a strong song.
“Baltimore” (which explores Edgar Allan Poe’s demise) and “Sheena’s Dog” (a metaphor, I think) are a pair of songs that highlight the beautiful marriage of songwriting and performance. Poetic use of rhythmic language with jazzy-folk music touches, lovely background vocals (from BettySoo) and various percussion effects via Eric Darken and mesmerizing rhythm courtesy of bassist Roscoe Beck combine to create songs that linger long after the stereo has cooled.
Darryl Purpose’s Still the Birds is a satisfying listen. It fits the bill for warm, solo evenings on the deck, languid moments with the lights turned low, and bright days of driving. As much as it reminds me of James Taylor (it’s inescapable, I’m sorry) what keeps flitting through my wee brain is Rickie Lee Jones’ Pirates and Magazine, confessional, ambitious albums which endure long after their release date.
[The packaging design by A Man Called Wrycraft is a bonus.]
Man, Matt Patershuk is good. I’m not sure exactly when I first heard of Patershuk, but I’m guessing it was during an episode of CKUA’s Wide Cut Country a couple years back. Back in January or so of this year, I was listening to the radio and a four song set was played-some combination of Corb Lund, Guy Clark, John Fulbright, and Patershuk, and I recall realizing that I couldn’t tell from that listening which of those guys was from La Glace, Alberta making his living in construction. Put his songs on WDVX, and Patershuk would sound as comfortable alongside Darrell Scott, Fred Eaglesmith, and Chris Stapleton. Patershuk is the real deal, folks. If you are missing the country, the kind of country music recorded in the days when their was more grease and a little less gloss, check out his new album I Was So Fond of You. My review has been published at Country Standard Time: http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=6046
As always, thank you for visiting Fervor Coulee. More reviews and roots music opinion are in the pipeline.
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
Also at CST, my review of The Gospel Road from Daniel Crabtree, a Tennessee bluegrasser who has written an album’s worth of fine bluegrass gospel songs. http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=6050
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/