Archive for January 2016

Shuyler Jansen-The Long Shadow review   Leave a comment

untitledShuyler Jansen The Long Shadow Big White Cloud Records

The west coast collective Big White Cloud Records is off to a fine start. First came Ryan Boldt’s bold and experimental Broadside Ballads, a collection of (mostly) old tales given contemporary interpretation maintaining fairly traditional construct. Next up was cousins Kacy & Clayton’s Strange Country, an album that didn’t appeal to me as much as it did to others, racking up extensive airplay across the country.

Now arrives veteran alt-musician, songwriter, and singer Shuyler Jansen’s The Long Shadow, the ever-evolving ex-Edmontonian’s  fourth full album. First encountered as an essential component of Old Reliable—Alberta’s great roots hope of the early 2000s—Jansen has never stayed a single course while creating music that has always challenged expectations.

Today’s Remains, Jansen’s 2004 offering, continues to be my favourite album, one that I continue to find engaging upon my too infrequent returns. But, both Hobotron and especially Voice From the Lake had much to contribute to my ongoing redefinition of roots music. The Long Shadow brings many thoughts and impressions to mind: I hear a bit of Talking Heads, even some Magazine, in its dense composition. Maybe it drifts closer to the melodic, Wilco-end of modern rock. But, memorable.

Working again with producer David Carswell, Jansen has created a forty-minute opus of sweeping, dramatic pieces. It is admittedly difficult for me to capture a thread of story within these elaborate compositions, but that ultimately did not dissuade me from leaving the listening favourably impacted.

“Idle City,” opening with raw guitar strums, gives the impression that Jansen and Carswell are planning on dialing things back a bit, but that notion doesn’t last too long. The sounds build, often intensifying into a crescendo of drums, guitars, and keys that threatens to unspool within the din. Ultimately, every song comes back to a core of voices—Jansen’s alternately bold and vulnerable, his cohorts’ harmonies finding natural homes within a complex and swirling tapestry of instrumentation.

“Silver Heart” appears to be a love song, but I’m not sure if it is directed inward or outward, while the album’s most charming song is saved for last: “Mercury” incorporates elements of spoken audio—whether found, sampled, or unique to this recording I don’t know, but it sounds like it is drawn from a Fred McMurray film—that works, a stark, abrupt juxtaposition of beauty and harshness within an emotionally exposed confessional.

“We Should Just Fall Apart” is dramatic in its search for comfort, “Old Machine” is hook-laden, a deep-cut, classic song unearthed for a bonus-track laden Humble Pie or Bad Company set. Meanwhile “Treasure Trove” is an aggressive jam that could serve as inspiration for a show-ending climax of destruction.

The Long Shadow isn’t a conventional roots-based, singer-songwriter confessional. It is at times loud and even disjointed, but it is ultimately focused on the communication of emotion. While I might prefer more traditional interpretations of roots rock, Jansen has always forged his own path toward an horizon of his own creation. It is in appreciating this innovative steadfastness that his appeal is most likely found. Doesn’t hurt that when The Long Shadow ends, one is repeatedly drawn to revisit the disc.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

Since I can’t find it online, here is my review of Jansen’s Today’s Remains, originally published in the Red Deer Advocate.

Shuyler Jansen Today’s Remains Black Hen

Edmonton’s Old Reliable is a band with a wealth of talent and vision, more than can possibly be contained within their sporadic group recordings. Earlier this year, Mark Davis released a tremendous double-shot of alt.Canadiana on the dual albums Don’t You Think We Should Be Closer? and Mistakes I Meant to Make. This fall sees cohort Shuyler Jansen producing Today’s Remains.

If you are not a fan of Jansen’s unadulterated country vocals and modern arrangements, Today’s Remains will not change your opinion. For those of us who long ago came under the spell of Jansen’s country-folk vision, Today’s Remains is a welcome repast from the bleak offerings currently being marketed.

From the opener, “Pegasus”-a tune reminiscent of Townes Van Zandt’s “Tecumseh Valley” through to the final notes of “Chief,” this new disc is a far cry from Jansen’s previous solo effort, the spacey, folk-electronica of Hobotron. “Windswept” has a bit of an Iron & Wine vibe, while the whole album benefits from a sense of adventure reminiscent of Scott Miller- anything is possible musically, and stylistic labels only represent vague directions.

Now based in Saskatoon, Jansen- like Howe Gelb, Richard Buckner, and Miller-  doesn’t fit into a neat cube labeled ‘sensitive singer-songwriter;’ his lyrical themes are often dark and moody, but also occasionally capture an unexpected lightness. Lush but not over-produced, the atmosphere of the disc is rich, but not dense. The majority of the instrumentation comes from album producer Steve Dawson, who has never met a guitar he couldn’t squeeze into a song.

Consolation and desolation are equally represented in the ten tracks. In fact, it sounds very much like the country album Old Reliable never made. Today’s Remains is darn near perfect.


David G. Smith- First Love review   Leave a comment

smithDavid G. Smith

First Love

You need to check yourself sometimes.

Maybe you are starting to slack off at work. Perhaps you are starting to imbibe just a little too frequently. You may notice you aren’t really engaged in your relationship, allowing the mundane to become routine.

You recognize the issue, and because you realize its importance, you make a change to get yourself back on track.

David G. Smith, challenged by mentors Darrell Scott and Mary Gauthier, realized he was losing himself some years ago. Chasing the Nashville brass ring—co-writes, pitches, holds—Smith found himself writing material that no longer spoke to him. He needed to get back to ‘the truth.’

He did. Finding his voice and his songwriting soul, Smith has crafted a series of independently released albums, including live projects capturing his songs in their natural environment. Reflective and demanding, Smith has received kudos from folks who know good music, the likes of Peter Cooper, Robert K. Oermann, and Gauthier.

“One House” stretches peace, love, and understanding to contemporary circumstance. The uncertainty bred by 9/11 is juxtaposed by the selfless sacrifices of those who responded when “Angels Flew.” “Other Side of Free” is the type of song we used to discover on Nanci Griffith albums. Which doesn’t mean everything has to be heavy: Smith’s “You’re the Reason God Made Tequila”  is both playful in execution and honest in tone.

First Love is Smith’s third studio album. It contains ten artfully arranged original numbers of the type that brings to mind the likes of Kieran Kane, Stephen Fearing, and David Francey. There is an aching reality populating the title track, a thread of hope woven through experience: “first love…after the last one died.” Life goes on, renewed. Larry Jon Wilson might have enjoyed “Nightlife in the Stix,” a song that (perhaps inadvertently) captures his swampy, southern soul approach to true life blues, “with some sweet lowdown on the stand up bass” from Doug Kahan.

Smith explores the unknown certainties of life (“Questions,”) juxtaposing the wonderings of a child with those of a grandfather. “Carrie” possesses the simplicity and purity of mid-70s folk rock, while “Ocean Soul” appeals to the freedom-lover that (hopefully) exists in each of us, if only when on vacation. Keb’ Mo slips reso into “I Can’t Tell,” a relaxed, bluesy jam with shades of Delaney and Bonnie.

The album’s lead track should garner notice. “Fear” is a soneofabitch sonofagun that Smith faces down: if only all of us could! Featuring pals Buddy Mondlock (guitars and vocals) and Gauthier (vocals) as well as Kenny Malone (percussion,) Bryn Davies (bass,) and Steve Conn (keys,) this song is possibly Smith’s calling card: it was featured in a different, and more profane, arrangement on Non-Fiction; deceptively straight-forward, the song has depth beyond its inspired performance.

First Love. Damn.

To be released February 5, 2016.

Hey, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee; I appreciate it.


Danny Paisley & The Southern Grass- Weary River review   1 comment

paisleyDanny Paisley & the Southern Grass

Weary River

Patuxent Music

Done right, bluegrass sounds simple.

We know it isn’t, of course; anyone who has watched a talented group working up a new song is aware of the incredible complexities that go into making a pure and natural bluegrass song.

Some people are convinced that bluegrass needs to be altered and intensified with additional, progressive elements in order for the music to continue to advance within a broader marketplace, and perhaps they are correct. Still, few things sound as wonderful, as clean, and—yes—simple as a bluegrass band at the top of its game, creating music that is entrenched in a tradition that stretches back seventy years and more.

A bluegrass band that has no pretense about it, one that knows that every song needs to be individual within a sound palate that is as deep as it is wide: is there anything better?

Danny Paisley & the Southern Grass are one sterling example of such a band.

Weary River was released in late 2015, too late to be considered for most year-end lists, but one hopes the album will received its due in this new year. For those who continue to appreciate bluegrass unadorned by passing-fancy, Weary River has much to offer.

It contains several songs from the repertoire of The Southern Grass, a Paisley-Lundy family entity since the 70s, including the spirited lead cuts “Darling Nellie Across the Sea” and “Uncle Ned,” as well as the sentimental “Mother Knows Best.” Three instrumental tunes are sprinkled throughout: “Grey Eagle,” featuring T.J. Lundy sawing a storm, a new one entitled “Fall Branch” from creative banjoist Mark Delaney, and one of Bill Monroe’s signature tunes, “Come Hither to Go Yonder,” featuring each instrumentalist, but none so obviously as the youthful Ryan Paisley on mandolin. Doug Meek plays the majority of the fiddle parts throughout the album, while Russ Hooper adds Dobro in a few places.

As great bluegrass does, Weary River takes listeners on a journey to the pits of despair. The title cut is a new Chris Stuart number: one may recall that Danny Paisley & the Southern Grass performed Stuart’s (with Ivan Rosenberg) 2009 IBMA Song of the Year “Don’t Throw Mama’s Flowers Away” on a previous album. “Weary River” is not only an exceptionally well-written song, but Paisley’s soulful lead vocal performance is equal parts aching (for what is missing) and devastated (by that which has been lost): there is not one iota of joy or light within its four and a third minutes. The fact that “Weary River” could serve as soundtrack to my yet-to-be completed novel of matrimonial strife, idealistic duplicity, and childhood neglect is simply a bonus.

Alongside “Weary River,” “The Letter Edged in Black” almost sounds uplifting, while Ringo Starr’s “Don’t Pass Me By” is positively hopeful: not sure how Del McCoury missed out on ‘grassifying this White Album track. The vocal and bass contributions of Eric Troutman are an outstanding addition to The Southern Grass for this recording, while Paisley remains one of those wonderful, under-heralded bluegrass rhythm guitarists.

Like Road into Town and The Room Over Mine, Weary River is a truly impressive modern, straight-ahead  bluegrass recording.