The Start- Kieran Kane & Johnny Staats reviews


Late in 2000, buoyed by a seemingly growing and increasingly vibrant local roots music ‘scene’, I approached the local daily about writing a column on roots music. Intended to promote upcoming events and to feature reviews of important roots music recordings—and to allow me a way to get ‘free’ music—the paper (for some bleeding reason I still don’t understand) bit, and Rural Roots (renamed Roots Music soon after) made its debut as a monthly feature. Three months in, they moved me to twice-monthly, where I remained—usually on the front page of the entertainment section—for the next twelve years. Like a lot of freelancers, I didn’t get a great deal of (or any) guidance or coaching so I had to learn my craft the hard way: in front of everyone! It wasn’t always pretty, but it was a great ride, and only ended when I moved from Red Deer.

Shortly after I started writing for the Advocate, I approached Bluegrass Now about writing for them. With the infinite patience of their editorial team, I wrote for them for seven years, until the Internet and the challenging economic forces it wrought on publishing claimed the publication.

I have dug through the archives and found digital files for those columns, and will post them at Fervor Coulee irregularly as I waste time in front of the television, watching the world fall to pieces: consider these my contribution. For the oldest reviews, I have re-typed them from the paper copies I retained. They may not reflect any editorial revisions made upon publication.

KieranKieran Kane The Blue Chair Dead Reckoning Records (2000)

New York-born, Nashville-based singer-songwriter Kieran Kane has quietly established himself as one of North America’s steadiest performers of folk-inspired country music.

Having recently played to a full house at Red Deer’s 49th Street Cafe, Kane’s latest album solidifies his status as a premier troubadour.

Kane’s fifth original release is a quiet affair containing fewer lighter songs and catchy hooks than his previous albums. The somber mood of the album, hinted at in both the title and cover art, is prevalent throughout.

The album’s standout track is “Four Questions.” Expressing the frustrations of love, Kane quietly evokes the tribulations and joys of fidelity and life.

The Blue Chair is, without exaggeration, masterful. Each track extends the theme of mature love—stretching and cracking with age but always renewing its strength.

“I’ll Go On Loving You,” recently recorded by Alan Jackson, concisely establishes this element. “I’m reminded that what I feel for you, will remain strong and true.” Simple phrases, lasting images.

(originally published December 15, 2000 Red Deer Advocate)

Johnny StaatsThe Johnny Staats Project Wires & Wood Giant Records (2000)

John Cowan writes, in the liner notes to this fine debut album, that “the mandolin is a mysterious, earthy, and beautiful instrument.”

Bluegrass music’s quintessential instrument sounds like no other, and the mandolin has seldom sounded stronger than in the hands of Johnny Staats.

Wires & Wood, released earlier this year, is a stellar collection of largely original material. Guests include such bluegrass and country torchbearers as Jerry Douglas, Scott Vestal, Tim O’Brien, and the aforementioned Cowan.

Alternately spirited and sensual, the instrumentals fully display the versatility of Staats’ mandolin playing while the vocals, complemented by those of Cowan, O’Brien, and Kathy Mattea, are strikingly strong.

Key songs include “Coal Tattoo,” on which Staats’ voices has its finest workout, and the un-rehearsed studio outtake “John Hardy/Fox On The Run.”

No better introduction to a newcomers talents could be envisioned. Wires & Wood deserves a place in every bluegrass music lover’s collection.

(originally published December 15, 2000 Red Deer Advocate)

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