Roots Song of the Week: 2014 Polaris Music Prize Edition   Leave a comment


[June 20- Since posting this piece on Thursday, the Long List has been announced.  While I have never seen more than three of my initial ballot choices make the Top 40 list, I don’t know if I’ve previously gone 0 for 5; likely, I have. I don’t get offended by this, but I do scratch my head. How can so many other jury members- 190 I believe this year- get it so wrong?

They haven’t, of course. The size of the jury provides for a wide range of opinions that collectively come to a consensus. I don’t agree with it- come on, no Kim Beggs or Leeroy Stagger? No BARK or Steve Dawson? I can only assume that my fellow jury members, in their efforts to listen to every pretentious and noisy skinny-boy band with ‘indie pop’ in their bio didn’t have time to listen to the amazing roots albums I include on my ballot. I suppose that since the artists I’ve chosen know how to use capitalization properly, use their real names, and are- in some cases- more than 40 years old- they don’t appeal to folks who are in the jury.

I don’t actually mean those last two sentences. What I do know is that there were a lot more folks who liked the Arcade Fire album than Doug Paisley’s. And that is okay, just sad. Numbers tell us there will always be more people on the look out for the ‘next’ big thing in electronic, pop, post-rock, and modern whatever than there will be listening to mature and, at least sometimes, meaningful roots music.

Now I need to listen to even more albums in the next week so that I can revise my choices, some of which- Timber Timbre, Rae Spoon, The Kennedy Sessions– received serious consideration for my first ballot.]

With less than a day to go before the 2014 Polaris Music Prize Long List is revealed, I thought I would catch up on my Roots Song of the Week by going for the quint- five roots songs of the week, Polaris edition.

My initial Polaris Ballot is traditionally roots centric. I was invited into the group several years ago to bring my roots- folk, country, bluegrass, blues- perspective to the jury, and I continue to take that responsibility seriously. Still, I’ve never knowingly ignored an album simply because it didn’t comfortably fall into the roots world.

Today, I thought I would share a link to a song from each of the five eligible albums I consider to be the ‘best’ released in the past year.

albums-kim-1024_largeRanked #1 on my Polaris Music Prize ballot is Kim Beggs’ independently released Beauty and Breaking. My full review of the album is available here , and I believe it captures my thoughts. I’ve listened to the album dozens of times, and it continues to positively impact me whether I’m driving, entertaining, reading, or simply puttering about the house.

My favourite song on the album- and there is considerable competition from songs like “Gold In The Ground,” “A Sailor’s Daughter,” “Le Chemin de Rondin/Corduroy Road,” and “Moonshiner”- is “Not Only Only From the Whiskey,” a live performance of which is here.

I am confident is fewer things daily, but I am certain that Kim Beggs is one of our country’s great singers and songwriters. She makes beautiful music.

Leeroy Stagger’sTruth Be Told was the first album I heard last summer that I knew was going to make my Polaris Top 5 ballot. It is an aggressive creation, and I wrote about it here

At Leeroy’s website, he has a few of his songs available for streaming, including “Goodnight Berlin” which is a loud ‘n proud slice that might do Nazareth proud: roots rock defined.

Blackie and the Rodeo Kings has shown up on my Polaris ballot previously, and South is again well deserving of inclusion. I wish I had championed the album earlier, but I only purchased it rather recently. BARK has their formula down, and their songs remain fresh and lively. If you navigate around this link a little you’ll find “North” and other songs ready for streaming. It is an excellent album.

For me, the most surprising album to make my Polaris ballot is Steve Dawson’s recording of solo guitar explorations Rattlesnake Cage. I haven’t heard anything else like it this year. Long acknowledged as a master of acoustic and slide guitar, Dawson has repeatedly proven that he can do just about anything he sets his mind to. This time out, he has decided to simply play his guitar. Give a listen to the title track here, and prepare yourself to be mesmerized.

Doug Paisley’s “Strong Feelings” is an excellent example of mainstream country music, if by ‘mainstream’ one means accessible, catchy, and well-written as opposed to bro-country rap-a-longs about beer and trucks. At http://dougpaisley.com/ there is a promo video featuring an excerpt of “What’s Up Is Down” and audio of “Song My Love Can Sing” and a live performance of it via Q.

If you haven’t encountered these albums yet, you are well advised to do so at your earliest.

The Polaris Music Prize Long List will be announced early in the afternoon of June 19, 2014.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee.

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