Three terrific roots albums that got away in 2018


Ray Bonneville
At King Electric
Stonefly Records

Ray Bonneville can be counted upon to deliver albums of uncluttered, lyric-driven blues. He has been doing it since long before I started paying attention, and one hopes he will continue for years still to come. His latest, a set of eleven original, southern-influenced compositions, is every bit as strong as previous favourites including Roll It Down and Bad Man’s Blood. While the instrumentation—groove-laden and yet easy-going—reminds us a bit of Mark Knopfler at his least indulgent, it is Bonneville’s gentle vocal approach that has kept us coming back to this engaging disc. “Tender Heart,” “South of the Blues,” and “Until Such A Day”—featuring Gurf Morlix—are highlights. Highly recommended for those who appreciate their Americana with indigo overtones.

Taylor Martin
Song Dogs
Little King Records

One of my favourite discoveries of 2018, Taylor Martin sings from ‘way down there,’ a country blues rocker who most reminds me of Bill Hurley of The Inmates. With Fervor Coulee favourite Amanda Anne Platt producing, Song Dogs contains eight strong original compositions, as well as a choice selection of covers. As a fellow named for two guitars, Martin doesn’t over-emphasize lead guitar within his songs; while both acoustic and electric are apparent, most songs have a strong B3 and Wurlitzer (“Second Sight”) presence; Josh Shilling (Mountain Heart) provides these atmospheric touches. Vocally and in places lyrically, Martin reminds me of East Tennessee’s Jay Clark. Platt contributes some vocal harmony, including on Neil Young’s “Music Arcade,” a fine song made stronger in Martin’s presentation. Merle Haggard’s “Kern River,” as lonesome a song as has been written, is made that much more impressive given Martin’s straight-forward delivery along with Matthew Smith’s forlorn pedal steel. Some of these songs could be mistaken for classics written three decades ago by folks named Robertson, Kristofferson, and Newbury. Additional highlights include “Milk and Honey,” “Here Comes the Flood,” and “Little Pictures.” Recommended if your Americana leanings include mountain-influenced blues.

Ynana Rose
Tea Leaf Confessions
Self-Released

If “The Gift of A Song” was the only notable song on this album, I would recommend it. But, it isn’t: Tea Leaf Confessions is replete with memorable, deep songs that are simultaneously personal and universal. With a voice infused with colour and maturity, Ynana Rose is my latest favourite singer. She snuck up on me like Meg Hutchinson once did, pulling me into her world of truth and mystery one song at a time. “The Gift of A Song,” the love song of Charlotte and Henry Jackson, has to have roots in reality, and Rose brings forward their life journey in the most intimate of ways, in a style fondly reminiscent of Nanci Griffith’s.

“Henry Jackson was my man, we had 20 years together
I see him every day but he never grows old.
He sang ‘Amazing Grace’ in the sweetest tenor,
I swear it feels like yesterday, but it was 40 years ago.”

I’m not crying—you’re crying.

But there is so much more here. “The Hard Work of Love” lays it all out—“But when the going gets rough, are you tough enough for the hard work of love?” The country waltz—a bit Kathy Mattea, perhaps—“Leave Me Lonely” is further elevated by a bit of fiddle from Fervor Coulee hero Tammy Rogers, one of three songs on which our favourite Dead Reckoner and SteelDriver appears.

Rose admits her music is rooted in a previous time, and one can easily imagine the singers she must have heard on the country radio of her youth—Lacy J. Dalton, Sylvia Hutton, Karen Brooks, and Rosanne Cash, perhaps—singing some of these songs. However, it is Rose’s own unique—yes, I’m using that word deliberately—approach to singing that makes these songs vibrate with intensity and honesty. “Lillian” and “Thin White Line” are home hew compositions that sound desperately personal and still immediately universal. Stunning country-folk from another time.

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