It’s July 1. The year is half over and during the past six months some terrific music has been released. While I have heard my share of the roots music that has come out, I haven’t heard it all. I do have my favourites and that is what I share today: Fervor Coulee’s Favourite Roots releases of 2018, so far. In no particular order…
Mary Gauthier- Rifles & Rosary Beads An ambitious undertaking that has received its fair share of attention. Co-writing with American veterans and their families, Gauthier has created a piece of art greater than its parts. Of course, none of it would be as significant if the songs themselves were weak or if Gauthier faltered in their delivery. No worries. Gauthier’s indomitable performances bridge the gap between those of us who have never considered serving in the military, and those whose lives have inalterably changed because of their sacrifices. Key tracks: “Got Your Six” “The War After the War” “Brothers” (purchased download)
Various Artists- Johnny Cash Forever Words: The Music Excepting the typically overwrought Elvis Costello track (When he sang—prior to about 2000—there were few who had greater regard for him, but he lost me a long time ago—his voice is shot, he mistakes emoting for expression, and has completely lost the plot on what even sounds ‘good’) this collection provides an hour of entertainment and contemplation. Comprised of unrecorded Cash ‘songs’—lyrics, poems, or musings, depending—that were—for the most part—fleshed out by the various performers, one is transported into a series of ethereal collaborations that is very affecting. Again, like the Gauthier album, what matters is more than the process, it’s the music: this album enhances the Cash legacy, unlike some other more exploitive sets that have been released. Key tracks: Alison Krauss & Union Station’s interpretation of Robert Lee Castleman’s “The Captain’s Daughter” Rosanne Cash’s “The Walking Wounded” Carlene Carter’s “June’s Sundown” Jamey Johnson “Spirit Rider” (purchased CD)
Bobbie Gentry- Live At The BBC A Record Store Day release, this 12-track compilation of cuts from 1968 and 1969 are simply a fan’s greatest attainable wish. Performances—excepting “Ode to Billie Joe”—unheard since their original broadcast (so, brand new to most of us) that add to Gentry’s legacy. Her voice is huskier on these numbers, the arrangements sparser, the mood slightly playful: the effect is even greater intimacy that that expressed through the album versions of the songs. Key tracks: “Papa Won’t You Let Me Go To Town With You” “Recollection” “Nikki Hokey” in a medley with Robert Parker’s “Barefootin'” name-checking Long John Baldry. (purchased vinyl)
Motel Mirrors- In The Meantime The second collaboration between Amy LaVere and John Paul Keith is every bit as satisfying as their first, with the added bonus of having folded Will Sexton and Shawn Zorn into the mix to become a genuine band. Americana with a heavy dose of Memphis heart, this is a country-rock album that owes much to the music that influenced it. Key tracks: “Things I Learned” “Do With Me What You Want” “The Man Who Comes Around” (purchased download)
Mariel Buckley- Driving In The Dark I would have felt bad had I not been able to include an Alberta artist on this list, and Mariel Buckley doesn’t place out of any obligation. I wasn’t familiar with her until late last year, but she has quickly become a Fervor Coulee favourite. Produced by Leeroy Stagger, these ten songs contain lyrical and instrumental nuances that make them individually appealing and collectively stout. There isn’t much polish herein, just as it should be. I avoid using the word ‘authentic,’ but that is what works here. Straight-forward, modern country (think Kelly Willis) for those of us who live in the past. Key tracks: “Rose Coloured Frames” “Heart Is On Fire” “Pride” (purchased download)
David Davis & the Warrior River Boys- Didn’t He Ramble: The Songs of Charlie Poole A welcome return for one of bluegrass music’s most consistently satisfying bands with a traditional bent (serviced with CD).My full review here.
Various Artists- Epilogue: A Tribute to John Duffey A bluegrass legend and innovator gets his due, more than two decades after his passing (Serviced with download).My full review here.
Gretchen Peters- Dancing With the Beast Americana/folk doesn’t get better than this, the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member’s ninth album of original material (purchased CD).My full review here.
Hadley McCall Thackston- Hadley McCall Thackston A beautiful, stunning debut: like Venus, she emerges fully realized (serviced with CD).My full review here.
Mare Wakefield & Nomad- Time to Fly There is so much good music, we can only hope that the best of it finds its way to us. Sometimes it is up to us to do the work. Search out this Nashville-based duo: they are worth it (serviced with CD).My full review here.
Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar- Run To MeSouthern Ontario’s soul revue gift to the world- lively, bright, and brassy (serviced with CD).My full review here.
Doc Watson Live at Club 47 There is no end to the live Doc Watson albums available, and some (Doc Watson On Stage, for one) are definitely more well-rounded than this set. However, this 1963 set recorded in Massachusetts is a welcome and indispensable addition for those of us who just can’t get enough of the deft, affable roots legend. Several of the songs contained here would remain staples of his live and recorded repertoire for the next five decades (“Little Sadie,” “Deep River Blues,” “Sittin’ On Top Of The World”) while others are less frequently encountered (“Little Margaret,” “Hop High Ladies The Cake’s All Dough,” and “Blue Smoke, for example.”) Watson’s connection to his audience would not waver throughout his career, and this early archival recording- coming in at almost 80 minutes- is riveting. (Purchased download)
I limited myself to a baker’s dozen albums. Look around Fervor Coulee- I have reviewed a lot of great roots music since January, and many wonderful albums just wouldn’t fit on this list: the latest from Peter Rowan, Sylvia, John Prine, Bob Rea, Sue Foley, The Lynnes, John Paul Keith, Mary Chapin Carpenter, The Travelin’ McCourys…