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John Gary Williams- review   Leave a comment

[Note: Prior to May, I had never heard of John Gary Williams, nor had I knowingly heard The Mad Lads. However, I have spent considerable time ‘catching up,’ purchasing all The Mad Lad tracks I could locate on iTunes and eMusic. So, yes again—a review that costs me money; there is something wrong with this model! Worthwhile exploration, though; glad I did it.]

John Gary WilliamsJohn Gary Williams John Gary Williams Stax

One of the summer’s most eagerly received soul/R&B albums comes with a distinctively 70s vibe, for good reason.

If you’ve grooved to Charles Bradley, Leon Bridges, or the late Miss Sharon Jones, you owe yourself the opportunity to hear John Gary Williams eponymous album from 1973. Recently reissued as part of Stax Records 60th Anniversary, during its concise 32-minutes, this eight-song release pulls the listener back more than 40 years.

Williams was in his early thirties when his sole album was released on Stax, already a veteran of the music business not to mention life. Williams was lead singer of Memphis group The Mad Lads, high school friends signed to Stax subsidiary Volt, and who had limited chart success through the mid-60s. The Mad Lads never came near to the upper half of the US pop charts (1966’s “I Want Someone” hit #74, which had more success as a R&B hit, peaking at #10), but also had significant appearances on the R&B charts with “Don’t Have To Shop Around” (#11, 1965) and other songs, last hitting the chart with a shattering take of “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” in 1969. In the midst of the group’s existence, Williams left The Mad Lads to serve in the Vietnam War, and upon returning to the group found himself completing a jail sentence after being involved in a shooting (according to what I’ve read, Williams wasn’t the shooter, but took the blame.)

In 1973, largely producing the album himself, Williams released John Gary Williams. And the record sunk with little trace. While Stax hit #1 in 1973 with both The Staple Singers and Johnnie Taylor, the label was floundering and gave Williams’ effort scant support. Forty-four years later, it again sees the light of day including on 180-gram vinyl, which (unfortunately) was not available for my review, which is based on provided download.

Listening to this album, one imagines Williams saw a different future for American society, one with more promise than has been delivered, one perhaps without gerrymandered Congressional districts, targeted voter suppression, and young black men shot while driving with their family. The story goes that Williams returned from service more politically aware, ready to give voice to his increased social consciousness.

The Mad Lads approached southern soul, as a vocal group, a bit differently than some. The Mad Lads’ earliest records had more in common with doo-wop and Frankie Lymon than they did boundary-pushing contemporaries such as The Temptations. Later songs reveal appreciably more sophistication, and this is where we join Williams in 1973.

Bookended by two songs of considerable significance, John Gary Williams is an incredible listen. Obviously a song of faith, with reference to sweet chariots, baptism, and the conflicts of the light and dark, “I See Hope“—”we’ll be able to walk down the streets in peace and harmony,” Williams sings, “and we’ll be able to experience equal opportunity”—calls for improvements in this life, not beyond it. The album’s coda, “The Whole Damn World Is Going Crazy,” is as relevant today as when composed. A lush number of Williams’ observances of promise—

“It take my breath away, to see people live from day-to-day,
without respect for each other, without love for their brothers—
without a second of kindness, or a minute to be reminded,
that we all have a common cause, and together we could conquer all—”

—we are left instead, with what we now experience. These are two beautiful, uplifting songs, ones that hit the listener right upside the head intellectually while also encouraging one to dance about the room (or drive a little faster.)

Between these concrete indications that the world hasn’t progressed far since the 1970s are six songs that assuredly reflect the soundtrack of their day. Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey” is given a gentle love loop that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Lou Rawls or Donny Hathaway lp. “Loving You (Just Ain’t Easy)” is absolutely perfect, a performance that should be heard on oldies radio as often as “Let’s Stay Together” and “You Are the Sunshine of My Life.” With a bit of funk coming through, it is a poetic, visionary, and romantic expression of its time.

The album sways with lush strings, innovative guitar flourishes, and rhythms that keep the listener fully engaged. Slow jam shuffles, highlighted by Williams’ soaring falsetto, provide a complementary sample of R&B of the early 70s. And, that voice. Amazing–I could listen to it all day, and today I have. Effortless, and yet fully committed. Not necessarily groundbreaking, Williams’ interpretations of songs like “Open You Heart (And Let Love Go)” and “Ask the Lonely” reveal how unjust it is that this album isn’t remembered as a classic of its era.

Reissued previously in 2010, perhaps the third time around will be kinder to John Gary Williams. Extraordinary. Give this version of “Don’t Need to Shop Around,” from 1975, a view.

 

 

Posted 2017 July 19 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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Stax Classics- reviews   Leave a comment

As someone who came to William Bell via William Broad, to Sam & Dave by way of ZZ Top, and Carla Thomas through a (most outstanding and life-changing) Rachel Sweet single, I have spent more than 35 of my years listening to select soul and R&B, with the disparate sounds of Northern Soul (still not sure what counts as N.S. and what doesn’t), southern soul, Memphis soul, Muscle Shoals, and 60s and 70s ‘urban’ music becoming a bit of an obsession the last decade. As a rhythm-less man from Alberta, I do spend most of my time writing about bluegrass, roots, and folks music, but this ‘other side’ of Americana is as natural to me as any dusty troubadour’s latest, metaphor-heavy anthem.

STAX_60_Poster_FrontCelebrating 60 years, the reinvigorated Stax imprint is having select titles re-issued and repackaged this year. Some titles are being issued on vinyl (which I haven’t heard—except as noted, all impressions are based on provided downloads or streams) while a handful of single-artist compilations have also been released and are the focus of today’s writing. Regardless of format, there are several reasons to celebrate these releases.

The single-artist CD compilations are nicely but not lavishly packaged, and are accompanied by informative liner notes providing context, credits, and release and chart details. [Only The Dramatics physical CD release was received for review; presuming the rest of the releases follow similar packaging.] As hinted earlier, William Bell, Sam & Dave, and Carla Thomas have their Stax output distilled to 12-track sets. Additionally, Otis Redding, Booker T & the MGs, Isaac Hayes, The Staple Singers, Johnnie Taylor, and Albert King, and The Dramatics are included in the initial slate of Stax Classics.

Depending on personal experience and preference, some of these artists are likely more familiar than others, and the Stax output of Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Isaac Hayes, and several others are readily encountered digitally, on various compilations, and within the used market. Others within this series will be more revelatory.

Stax DramaticsPersonally, The Dramatics were a group I had little heard. While the others are staples (see what I did there!) on oldies radio as well as satellite outfits including SoulTown on Sirius/XM, I had not knowingly encountered The Dramatics previously; a couple songs revealed themselves as vaguely familiar upon listening. Recording for the Stax subsidiary Volt, included here is their initial single for the label, 1969’s “Your Love Was Strange” (which failed to chart) as well as later Billboard Top 10 hits “In the Rain” (#5 in 1972) and “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” (#9, 1971.) By my count, and confirmed via Wikipedia, six of these songs hit the R&B Top 20 between 1971 and 1973.

Featuring Dennis Coffey’s signature guitar electricity, the group’s vocal manner is uniformly impressive across these dozen tracks. William Howard is a terrific lead vocalist, and Willie Ford gets real low in some spots. At times funky—”Gimme Some (Good Soul Music)” and “Get Up and Get Down”—and at other times lush and headin’ for the covers—”Thank You For Your Love” and”  “Feel For You”—the group also sends messages with “Hey You! Get Off My Mountain” and “The Devil Is Dope.” How I went this long without “And I Panicked” is another indication that there are always new things to discover. Recommended if the Isley Brothers are your sort of thing.

Stax CarlaIf Carla Thomas had only recorded the Hayes/Porter classic “B-A-B-Y,” I do believe it would have been enough to set her in my sights given my affection for Rachel Sweet’s stunning and very different 1978 rendition. Thomas’s “B-A-B-Y” is about as perfect a three-minutes of breezy, pop-soul as has ever been committed to wax. While her biggest hit came in 1967 with Otis on “Tramp,” The Queen of Memphis Soul had considerable pop and R&B chart success with Stax and, with the exception of “Gee Whiz (Look In His Eyes)”, a solid overview of Thomas’s recorded output is distillated herein ranging from 1964’s “I Got No Time to Lose” through to 1969’s “I Love What You’re Doing to Me.” For me, I want more of Thomas and will stick to the albums, but for casual listeners this set will suffice.

Stax HayesThe 54-minute Isaac Hayes Stax Classics album provides a concise peek into one of soul’s true innovators. The hits are included (“Theme from Shaft,” “Never Can Say Goodbye,” “Do Your Thing”), but I prefer the album versions of “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” and “Walk On By” to  the truncated renditions included. Positively, all 9-plus glorious minutes of “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic” are here. Any artist having had the lengthy not to mention influential and important a career as Hayes had cannot be expected to have the definitive contained within a single-disc set. Rather, this package is a mighty introduction for those just coming to Hayes.

Stax AlbertThe strongest representation of the blues presented in these Stax issues comes from Albert King, the man who popularized William Bell/Booker T. Jones’ “Born Under A Bad Sign,” and whose definitive versions of “Cross Cut Blues” and “The Sky Is Crying” either became (depending on perspective) overshadowed by Stevie Ray Vaughn’s emergence, or were brought to greater attention because of it. King’s most successful album for Stax may have been I’ll Play the Blues For You, but only two tracks from that release are included, “I’ll Play the Blues For You, Part 1” and “Breaking Up Somebody’s Home.” The seminal and readily available Born Under A Bad Sign album is well-represented. What we are presented with here is a nice little summation of King’s importance to both Stax specifically and the blues in general. Aficionados will already own the albums, but again—a solid introduction.

Stax TaylorJohnnie Taylor could sing. Most known for his 1976 monster hit “Disco Lady,” as with all the artists contained within this Stax series, there is more to explore beyond the best known material. While Stax had gone bankrupt and missed out on “Disco Lady,” included on this set are the pop and R&B hits “Who’s Making Love,” “Jody’s Got Your Girl and Gone,” “Take Care of Your Homework,” and the very groovy, “Love Bones.” “Cheaper to Keep Her,” “I Believe In You (You Believe In Me)”, and “Steal Away” are additional songs that helped make Taylor one of Stax’ most important acts.

Stax Bell“I Forgot to Be You Lover.” “Born Under a Bad Sign.” “You Don’t Miss Your Water.” “A Tribute to a King.” Just four of the William Bell classics included on his Stax Classics album. A couple numbers with Judy Clay, including the funky “My Baby Specializes,” help shape this too brief examination of Bell. Bell didn’t have as broad-based chart impact some of the other artists included in this series did, although he had his successes, but I would argue that his music has aged the best. Every track here is essential. Then again, Bell is my favourite soul singer. With his current resurgence, thanks to the Grammy-winning This Is Where I Live, I need the full albums—you may be satisfied with this wonderful wee set.

With crystal clear sound, the Stax Classics albums appear to be selling for $7 or $8 in the US (double that plus in Canada) and are available digitally for either $5.99 or $9.99 on iTunes Canada. Well worth the investment, I believe. All are highly recommended as introductions to the label and the artists, and provide excellent but limited overviews of the highlighted artists.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

Ralph Stanley II & the Clinch Mountain Boys review   Leave a comment

RSII At Country Standard Time, my review of the first album from Ralph Stanley II & the Clinch Mountain Boys has been posted. It is a strong release, fitting right in with the Stanley Tradition with a mix of familiar songs and new ones. Two has impressed me a number of times over the years with his rendition of “Bluefield” and a pair of Fred Eaglesmith songs (“Carter” and “Wilder Than Her”) being favourites. I quite like his voice, and the way he approaches bluegrass singing. His banjo player Alex Leach is a story all his own- I’ve been listening to him since 2002 on WDVX.com, and have always been impressed by his enthusiasm for the roots and traditions of bluegrass. As a junior high school student, he was putting other broadcasters to shame with his fervor for the music, his knowledge and willingness to learn, and now as a bluegrass professional his playing is crisp and invigorating. Check out this album- it is worth it.

Bobby Osborne- Original review   Leave a comment

Bobby O

My review of Original, Bobby Osborne’s Compass Records album, has been posted to the Country Standard Time website, linked here. It is a good album, but not a great one. There is much to enjoy musically, and Osborne’s voice has lost little of its power. Musically, there is less bluegrass drive throughout this recording, but the musicianship is exceptional. Still, the album is a bit uneven. Out of the ten songs, four of them are indispensable, and another couple are pretty good. It comes down to taste and preference, but I could have done without the Bee Gees and Elvis covers and they really take the shine off the album, for me.

I’ve reviewed previous Bobby Osborne sets here and here and I know I have also done so elsewhere, but I can’t locate them online. Oh, there’s another one here.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

Favourite Roots Albums of 2017, so far   Leave a comment

School ended two weeks ago, and I have been able to take the last week to relax, read, and listen—a great start to this summer. It appears that almost every online outlet has released their ‘best of 2017 (so far) list,’ so I figure I might as well get in on the action. If nothing else, hopefully someone reading will find an album they haven’t previously heard, and will be inspired to purchase it.

Americana, bluegrass, and their associated roots music are what I love, and I’ve been fortunate this year to listen to some amazing albums. Here is a list of my favourite fifteen roots albums of 2017 (so far)—and I found it difficult to narrow it down: I have no idea what I will do if this pace continues through the end of the year.

Whose albums didn’t make the list? Jason Isbell, Willie Nelson, Angeleena Presley, Jim Lauderdale, Fred Eaglesmith, Chuck Prophet, Amy Black, Slaid Cleaves, Jesse Waldman, Ray Davies, Jeffrey Halford…

Links are to my review or, where I haven’t reviewed, to the artist site.

  1. Mac WisemanMac Wiseman & Various Artists- I Sang the Song (Life of the Voice With A Heart) Yes, it is that good. My review.
  2. ronsexsmith_3Ron Sexsmith- The Last Rider Continuing a streak of excellence, Sexsmith’s 16th (!) album may just be his finest. Excellent songs, catchy melodies, accessible production…I’ve seldom been so proud to have shown support for a musician. A very strong album, just the latest in a series of memorable, standout recordings. The songs alternate between playful and introspective, catchy and maudlin. Layered, but not flamboyant. I am really glad that I bought the album, and even more glad that I took the time to make the trek to see Ron and the band in Edmonton. Surprised and disappointed that this one didn’t receive deserving Polaris Music Prize attention. “Radio” is my favourite song of the year.
  3. OtisOtis Gibbs- Mount Renraw I have been listening to Gibbs for a close to a decade, but never have I attended to this degree; a singer who was always on the periphery for me has eased himself onto my ever-narrowing list of favourites. My review.
  4. made_to_moveChris Jones & the Night Drivers- Made to Move Another excellent album from Chris Stuart & the Night Rangers. My review.
  5. CrowellRodney CrowellClose Ties With the passing of Guy Clark, Crowell heads to the front of the line of Texas songwriters. A masterful creation.
  6. demeyer_and_will_kimbrough-mokingbirdBrigitte DeMeyer and Will Kimbrough- Mockingbird Soul Largely taking the lead on alternating songs, they have produced an ideally balanced duet recording, with DeMeyer’s Side One Melissa Etheridge passionate huskiness pairing with Kimbrough’s restrained, telling honesty. Spirited, swampy, and Southern-country soul at times, in other places the songs more closely resemble what country music once was and could be again given a shot of 3614 Jackson Highway swagger. The arrangements are straight-forward rather than minimalistic, allowing the duet vocals prominence. The rest of my review.
  7. billBill Scorzari- Through These Waves Bill Scorzari lives where the Blues meets Texas Sam Baker. My review.
  8. gibson_2The Gibson Brothers- In the Ground Bringing their release total to thirteen, I believe, Eric and Leigh Gibson are at the top of the bluegrass world, a pinnacle at which they’ve resided for a decade. In The Ground may be their finest yet. An album of self-written songs, it isn’t like anything they’ve before accomplished. Still bluegrass, of course, but taking things to yet another level. My review.
  9. AMANDA-ANNE-PLATT-HONEYCUTTERS-ON-WALLAmanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters- Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters Platt is a strong songwriter and an impressive and memorable vocalist. She has that important capability to write in a variety of voices, making each genuine and authentic to the experiences conveyed. My review.
  10. richardRichard Laviolette- Taking the Long Way Home Earnest country records are few and far between. Ignoring the trappings of modern country recording, Laviolette has created a natural-sounding album, balancing the beauty and fidelity of old-time country and folk music (think Clarence Ashley and Doc Watson recordings with the refinement of original songs and expanded instrumentation) with the gravity of personal exploration and experience. My review.
  11. NellNell Robinson & Jim Nunally BandBaby, Let’s Take the Long Way Home One of my favourite guitarists and singers has teamed, over the course of four albums, with an impressive and natural vocalist, writing killer songs well-founded in the traditions of Americana.
  12. BIBB_MigrationBlues_livretEric Bibb- Migration Blues My review.
  13. brock zemanBrock Zeman- The Carnival Is Back in Town My review.
  14. lk-a-calm-sun-cover-webLesley Kernochan- A Calm Sun A bold, mature recording, free of gimmick and insincerity. My review.
  15. JebJeb Loy NicholsCountry Hustle Soulful country, as he has been doing for a very long time. Maybe my favourite album cover so far in 2017 (tho’ The Monkees Forever is giving it a run.)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              There you have them, my favourite roots albums of 2017, January to June.

 

Favourite Bluegrass of 2017, so far   Leave a comment

Over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass, Country Standard Time’s sister blog for Fervor Coulee, I have posted my five favourite bluegrass albums released between January and June of this year. If you are interested, follow this link to get you there.

Mac Wisemanmade_to_movegibson_2dannybarnes3BCB

As always, I thank you for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald @Twitter

Jeffrey Halford & the Healers- Lo-Fi Dreams review   Leave a comment

Jeffrey Halford and the Healers
Lo Fi Dreams
Shoeless Records/Floating Records
www.JeffreyHalford.com

j lo fiIt is usually painful to review your writing from a distance of years. Or, maybe it is just me who finds that to be the case. Might mean something…

No amount of prodding can make me re-read what I wrote for The Gateway beginning some 33 years ago, although I am tempted: I remember the Katrina Leskanich interview I did as being pretty good. However, the majority of what I wrote was—I am confident—awkward, artless, and anguish-inducing; my patient editors could only do so much. Going back into the Fervor Coulee vault then…

When I first heard Jeffrey Halford’s music over fifteen years ago, I knew I like it. I wasn’t sure how to write about it, but I tried. Here is what I wrote about Hunkpapa in February, 2002:

j hunkpapa

Jeffrey Halford is my latest new, favourite singer-songwriter.  I vividly remember the moment Guy Clark became my new, favourite songwriter.  And Steve Forbert. And Steve Pineo.  Years from now, I’ll look back on the day I first heard Jeffrey Halford.

I was nothing if not enthusiastic.

A coalescence of Mike Plume energy and Lucinda Williams’ poetic gifts, Jeffrey Halford is more concerned with authentic mood and melody than contrived slickness.  Writing primarily bluesy-country shaded story songs, Halford doesn’t allow introspection to interfere with a rock-propelled groove.  Coloured by Chuck Prophet’s guitar, “Radio Flyer”—a love song about a dad, son, and wagon that documents the passage of time—is but one of Hunkpapa’s standout tracks: “we look beat up but we work just fine.” “Satchel’s Fastball” and “Memphis” are songs for a warmer season, music that roars down Highway 1 while “Oh, Susanna” and “.44” recount impetuous acts of regret. 

 Writing for the local daily, space was at a premium, but attempting to be succinct allowed me to a freedom to experiment with stylistic writing I would have otherwise avoided. Reading this today, for the first time in a decade and a half, I do cringe a little. But, I am comfortable with that because—on a positive note— a new Jeffrey Halford album has arrived for me to review! And it is playing as I try to recall why I haven’t listened to Halford nearly enough in the intervening years.

Three years later, Railbirds was released, and I again had a chance to write about Halford for the Red Deer Advocate and its seven readers who cared about my kind of roots music:

j railbirds

Emphasizing guitar based roots-rock over narratives, Halford’s imagery rich release lacks the lyrical breadth of his previous disc Hunkpapa.  Wielding a variety of six-strings- acoustic, electric, resophonic- and dropping some tasty slide into a couple tunes, Halford delivers a satisfying album of blues-based rock tunes that bring to mind mid-career Tom Petty and Blackie & the Rodeo Kings.  Augie Meyers adds atmospheric Hammond B-3 organ to a pair of tunes.

Wow! Even fewer words. I listened to Railbirds again this week, and I still enjoy it, more than the middlin’ review above would suggest. And, I notice at Halford’s website, another writer has made the Tom Petty connection: beat ya to it!

But then that was pretty much it. I listened to the albums (maybe) two or three times in the ensuing years, and I am pretty sure I played a track on the radio one July at the University of Lethbridge station while working on my Masters. However, and as new music continually arrived to be reviewed, Halford faded in my memory. I continued to associate positive thoughts with his music, I just didn’t bother to search it out.

Then Lo-Fi Dreams arrived in my mailbox, sent by the same publicist who got Hunkpapa into my hands in the first place; thanks, Martha. To catch up, earlier this month I purchased the downloads of Broken Chords and Rainmaker, and recalled as if fresh my enthusiasm for this singer and guitarist. (Yes, again, writing a review costs me money! How was I able to pay bills writing in 2001-2012? Oh, yeah…back then, outlets paid. I digress.)

j brokej rainmaker“Thunderbird Motel,” “Vinyl,” “Dead Man’s Hand,” and “Ninth Ward” have quickly become favourites. With the exception of Halford, all the names associated with The Healers have changed while I was otherwise occupied. Co-producer (with Halford) Adam Rossi handles drums, keys, and percussion as well as harmony vocals, with Bill MacBeath handling the deep notes. What hasn’t altered are Halford’s obvious strengths.

His voice is only slightly different than it was fifteen years ago, seasoned by time as some like to say, but definitely not harsh or haggard. Consistent is his ability to strengthen his country-blues-rock sound with lyrics that appear like precious pearls of poetry. In “Two Jacksons,” Halford captures the power of positive changes as acutely as anyone since Springsteen railed about needing to change his clothes, his hair and face in 1984: “torn and frayed, and in need of repair” our hero reveals, but with a new jacket, anything seems possible. Similarly, waiting “behind ‘Door #3′” may just be what you’ve been looking for.

Emphasizing the groove, ‘the feels’ of his songs, Halford eases slide into several tracks, and that National sure has a big sound. The bluesy “Elvis Shot the Television,” as did songs on Railbirds and Broken Chords, favourably brings to mind Colin Linden. “Bird of Youth” is close to rock ‘n’ roll, and “Good Trouble” gets similarly raucous. I am really awful at being able to identify specific songs/singers that new songs remind me of (like, mental blockage bad) but “Sweet Annette,” has my brain spinning. Antsy McClain, perhaps? Auditory allusions aside, this is a crackerjack performance—a slice of Americana that honours all meanings of the word.

Featuring some of the album’s finest guitar sounds, “Great Divide” takes us gently to the end of Lo-Fi Dreams, a soothing, challenging listen from start through completion. It isn’t a lot different from Rainmaker, a bit louder perhaps—a production choice? The one-sheet mentions the use of “vintage lo-fi amplifiers and guitars like the Sears Silvertone, Danelectro, and Harmoney brands from the 1950s and ’60s…” none of which means much to me. It does hint that Halford was searching for a specific sound on Lo-Fi Dreams, and I would suggest he was successful in the pursuit.

Lo-Fi Dreams is a welcome reminder of, as if we needed it, how many roots and Americana artists there are that we haven’t before encountered…or who we have neglected for far too long. Jeffrey Halford and the Healers are again at the fore of my thinking: this time, I’m going to make sure they stay there.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. See me on the tweetsite @FervorCoulee.

Donald