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J. P. Harris- Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing review   Leave a comment

JP Harris

J. P. Harris Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing Free Dirt Records

Quick: Name your three favourite country albums of the 70s. Go.

That was easy: Emmy’s Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town, Townes’ High, Low, and In Between, and Tom T. Hall’s Rhymer and Other Five and Dimers.

And Waylon’s Honky Tonk Heroes. And Cash’s Johnny 99. Okay, five favourite country albums of the 70s.

Now, just as quick: Name your three favourite Americana albums of the last decade. Go.

The second is tougher and I couldn’t narrow it if I tried. I suspect for many of us, names like Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, and Rosanne Cash would be mentioned, along with folks as disparate as Gurf Morlix, Rodney Crowell, Jim Lauderdale, and Lucinda, Emmylou, Marty and the like: Dave Alvin, Otis Gibbs, Carlene Carter, Robbie Fulks, Drive-By Truckers, Reckless Kelly…

Listening to J. P. Harris’s Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing, all those artist and their albums come to mind, and not necessarily because he sounds like any of them or even presents his music as they do (or did): what simmers in the back of this wee brain is that Harris has listened to and learned from master songwriters and song presenters. There are many ways to nurture yourself as a country music artist, and one of them is to fully immerse yourself in the artistry, in the craft, that has flourished within a fertile community, much as Florentine artists once studied under master practitioners of visual arts.

It appears J. P. Harris has taken this path. He seems to have asked himself, What have the best singer-songwriters done? How have they accomplished it? and What do I need to do to get myself there? The answer is, of course, Be Yourself. And blast, if he hasn’t done just that. Oh, and barley pops.

J. P. Harris sounds like an artist who has finally figured out his life. He has been making music for a lot longer than I’ve been paying attention, but this new album has forced me to focus on the Alabaman who was born around the same time I last walked out of high school. We are of completely different generations and experiences, but like Tom T. Hall, Rosanne Cash, Rodney, and Marty have and still do, he connects his experiences—real and imagined—with those who hear them, creating a natural relationship that cannot be co-opted through shortcuts, artifice, PR finery, or a rhyming dictionary.

Alcohol figures prominently in Harris’ songs, a product of a misspent youth I’ve been led to understand. His songs do not glorify excess; rather “I Only Drink Alone” and “When I Quit Drinking” (“I start thinking about starting up again…”) more than hint at the never-ending contest of wills and misery alcoholism entails.  “Why did I go out looking for answers a the all-night bars with pole dancers,” he asks within “Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing.” [My favourite line on the album may be, “Why does a pecker bang his head on your stovepipe, when he’s got himself a perfectly good pine log of his own?”]

And the cycle doesn’t stop here. “Runaway” captures the need for the fallen to find a new start, one with “no old memories hanging around” where he can tell “lies on an old guitar.” J. P. Harris is Waylon on a bad Tuesday night, singing into a “bottle filled with tears” (“When I Quit Drinking,” again) or perhaps Johnny sorting out “reds and blues, uppers, downers,” a no-good rounder trying to hold on to “what little bit of soul I’ve got” (“J. P.’s Florida Blues”).

Harris’ vocal and instrumental approach is classic, hardcore 70s country—Paycheck, Jennings, Bare, and Van Zandt: nothin’ fancy to hear here, but just try to stop listenin’.

Van Zandt and especially Guy Clark is most apparent within “Hard Road,” a tale of heartworn highways and failed decisions. Guy didn’t often cut loose as Harris does here, but Crowell learned his tricks at the same table Harris would have found welcome. Still, as appealing as the initial eight songs are, it is on the final two that Harris truly establishes himself as a well-inspired, original individual.

“Miss Jeanne-Marie” and “Jimmy’s Dead and Gone” are pure hardwood poetry, and mark the place where influence is eclipsed by talent, skill, and wood-shedding. In the former and over a base of piano and steel, Harris pines for the girl whose name he longs to change, while in the latter—and wasting no time on particular niceties—he tells a hobo tale told “a hundred times.”

While there are exceptions, many of the great country albums I admire are relatively short- 30 to 35 minutes of perfection. Harris appears to think similarly, bringing this one in at around 31 minutes with ten exquisitely executed songs.

J. P. Harris has It, whatever It is. He can sing a storm and provides hard-spun, dirty-collar scholarship like few others. No pretender, Harris just does it like he knows: that sort of authenticity can’t be bought with a pair of jeans or a beat-up flat top.

Hey, y’all- thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee: it would be real cool if my Georgia friend Sheri found this note one day!

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Jerry Wicentowski- …Thanks, Mac! review   Leave a comment

Jerry Mac

Jerry Wicentowski …Thanks, Mac! Songs of Mac Wiseman www.WizGrass.com

If not for Mac Wiseman and a pair of brothers named Osborne, I am not certain we would have living ties  to the first generation of bluegrass performers. While Bobby continues to book shows and record, Sonny and Mac have largely eased into retirement to only make rare appearances. More than a year ago, Wiseman was the subject of the incredible collection I Sang the Song: Life of the Voice With a Heart. Next up is Jerry Wicentowski’s well-considered set, …Thanks, Mac! Songs of Mac Wiseman.

I am sure Wicentowski, a long-time member of the Milwaukee bluegrass community, would prefer to hear Mac Wiseman singing his own songs with the strength and clarity evidenced herein, and most certainly so would I. While we have old recordings on various formats to enjoy (until they become further obsolete) Mr. Wiseman’s voice—with all respect—isn’t what it once was, and neither should we expect it to be. To give his many fine songs the ongoing attention they deserve, they must be sung by the generations which follow. And in this regard, and others, …Thanks, Mac! Songs of Mac Wiseman is a complete success.

Wicentowski, while emphasizing the distinctive characteristics of Wiseman’s voice—the rise within a vowel, and the fall at the end of a phrase, along with the immediately familiar phrasing—hasn’t allowed the instrumentation to take a back seat. Supported by bluegrass veterans including Joe Mullins (tenor vocals) and Shad Cobb (fiddle), Wicentowski surrounds himself with names that may not be as familiar: the immensely talented Jeremy Stephens (5-string), the adventurous Paul Kowert (bass), and Jennie Obert (fiddle) augment the collective, as does Marc MacGlashan (mandolin) who appeared on those very fine, Sugar Hill-era Gibson Brother recordings.

Wicentowski can flat sing. Endorsed by Wiseman, Wicentowski’s interpretations of these fifteen timeless songs surprise only in the quality of the interpretation. I haven’t compared Wiseman’s and Wicentowski’s approaches side-by-side (as I write, I am two thousand kilometres from the Bluegrass Bunker and home), but most certainly nothing sounds ‘off.’ Each and every vocal note sounds fitting to the context of songs originating from the 50s, 60s, and earlier. The production presentation is fresh and contemporary; not overly slick, no one is going to mistake these for tracks ripped from 78s long ago.

Wicentowski, no youngster himself,  has his own voice, but—whether by nature or design—is near a dead ringer for Wiseman. To his credit, he isn’t attempting to imitate the bluegrass legend (as a jam singer may do) and I am quite comfortable with “Love Letters in the Sand,” “‘Tis Sweet to be Remembered,” and “Travelin’ This Lonesome Road” being presented in this manner, and as they should ever be. These are songs of another time, and while they should appeal to modern listeners, and Wicentowski realizes they do so best within honest and true structures.

I must say, listening to Stephens ripping through these songs is a true treat. Approaching the instrument in a traditionally-rooted manner, in just over a year Stephens has become one of my favourite banjoists. “Are You Coming Back to Me” “We Live In Two Different Worlds,” and “Homestead on the Farm” contain shining examples of his playing. “We Live In Two Different Worlds,” “‘Tis Sweet To Be Remembered,” and “Four Walls Around Me” are fiddle-centric songs, featuring twin fiddles, I believe (and could very well be wrong!)

A balanced, enjoyable bluegrass listen, I can’t imagine many folks finding fault with these fabulous, faithful interpretations of classic songs.

Edward David Anderson- Chasing Butterflies review   Leave a comment

CHASING+BUTTERFLIES+COVER+w.+BORDER

Edward David Anderson
Chasing Butterflies
Black Dirt Records www.EdwardDavidAnderson.com

First off, I am not placing this album on the pedestal the next paragraph may be interpreted as referencing to.

But.

I remember the first time I heard Darrell Scott. And Lucinda Williams. And Emmylou, Tim O’Brien, Joy Lynn White, and George Jones. And Jay Clark, Guy Clark, Gene Clark, Nobby Clark, Old Joe, and all the rest of the Clarks. Sometimes music heard seeps into your soul, and hunkers in for a stay—it locates a special warm and inviting place, curls up, and becomes part of you. Know what I mean?

Listen to Edward David Anderson’s Chasing Butterflies and you may start deciphering what I am attempting to communicate: hopefully the next few paragraphs don’t get in the way.

I haven’t yet explored the rest of Anderson’s catalogue: that will come next, as soon as I find a few bucks for an iTunes card. But I can say with some confidence that I will locate those dollars and will purchase his previous albums, 2014’s Lies & Wishes and its follow-up Lower Alabama: The Loxley Sessions. I can only hope they contain songs as well-structured, complete, and intriguing as those within Chasing Butterflies.

There are a handful of songs spread throughout the 40-minute disc that would make Chris Stapleton sit up and notice, and that is not a slight toward one of my favourite contemporary country singers. But, beat me hard—this is how the album opens:

She’s been singing songs with her mama since the age of three,
She learned to sing the high parts sitting on there on mama’s knee;
Well, they love to sing together, it came natural—it was fun,
Sang so many songs, that their voices were like one.
It’s a beautiful thing, when two people sing in Harmony.

“Harmony” grabs the listener, pulling us into Anderson’s world of relationships, dovetailing—one hopes—with one’s own experiences. He massages rhyme and melody into a gentle creation replete with life, light, and trust so significant that one cannot resist its pull.

Similarly, “The Best Part” captures the strength of romantic relationships enduring—and strengthening with—the weathering of time and shared experience. “Sittin’ Round At Home”—in a chair that fits your “ass just right”—is as important and life affirming as living while the “Seasons Turn” with a faithfulness matched only by the one sharing your life.

It is Anderson’s awareness of hearth, home and domestic happiness that is immediately appealing, but the second track takes things in an entirely different direction. “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” “Strange Fruit,” “Jena,” and far too many other songs have revealed for us the pain and suffering associated with inequalities of the North American south. Add to the list “The Ballad of Lemuel Penn,” the artfully constructed tale of army reservist murdered for the crime of driving through the Georgia night. The song is stark, striking in its matter-of-fact composition, never more so within its final line of his murderers: “And one still lives in Athens today.”

Musically, the album has a deep southern soul feel, perhaps in part for being recorded with Jimmy Nutt in the Muscle Shoals region. Grooves are deep, guitar breaks are extended (but not exaggerated), and emotion is palatable.

Chasing Butterflies is a stunning collection of modern Americana. Poetic and fresh with a deceptively laconic quality making it all the more momentous. I don’t use the word often: brilliant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carolina Chimes: Rudi Ekstein’s All Original Bluegrass Instrumental Showcase review   Leave a comment

RudiRudi Ekstein Carolina Chimes Rudi Ekstein’s All Original Bluegrass Instrumental Showcase
FoxFire Recordings

One of the strongest bluegrass sets of the year comes from a name most bluegrass aficionados, me wee self included, are unfamiliar with prior to its release.

Rudi Ekstein is an absolutely beautiful mandolin player, and while his name may not roll off the tongue like his more prominent eight-string colleagues, his latest collection deserves significant attention.

Upon first listen, I was really quite taken aback: Who is this guy I’ve never heard of playing with such notable bluegrassers including Stuart Duncan (fiddle, natch), Jeff Autry (guitar), Mark Schatz (bass), and Patrick Sauber (banjo on four tracks, Seth Rhinehart on another pair)?

A couple days later, listening to the area alternative radio network, CKUA, I started to hear songs from the album outside the weekly bluegrass showcase: that was even more surprising, but so well-deserved. Rudi Ekstein’s All Original Bluegrass Instrumental Showcase is 34-minutes of original tunes sounding fresh, invigorated, and powerful, accessible to even the most sceptical of ears.

I’ll leave others better suited to tell the Rudi Ekstein story; I’ll simply concentrate on my impressions of this dynamic album of modern bluegrass well-rooted in traditions perfected over the course of seventy years.

“Cornerstone” is no doubt a fair number with which to kick-off the album as it oozes with the moody sensibility for which bluegrass’s father was perhaps most appreciated. Elsewhere, as on “Dixie Sunset,” mandolin trills reveal wisps of the ancient tones so often referenced by Mr. Monroe. “Back Drag” captures more up-tempo spirits of similar heritage and “Rockalachia” is a jaunty tune containing a playful Monroe bounce.

“Spikebuck,” a spicy instrumental, could be culled from the latest album from any number of name bands, but most strongly brings to mind Mark Stoffel’s playing with Chris Jones & the Night Drivers. “Jessy’s Fancy” contains welcome echoes of country music’s past, perhaps of “Just Someone I Used to Know.” A breakdown, “Bacon In the Pan,” is another highlight.

These twelve original numbers flow brilliantly, a set of mandolin-based bluegrass the likes we haven’t experienced in a number of years. I’ve hit ‘repeat’ more than once listening to the set, the minutes passing by much too quickly.

An absolute stunner of a bluegrass album.

 

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Come See About MeMy review of the very well-intended and expertly executed benefit disc for the IBMA Trust Fund is up at Country Standard Time/Fervor Coulee Bluegrass.

I certainly think the album is more than worth your time.

I’m With Her- Overland video   Leave a comment

I’m With Her have just released an intriguing video for their song “Overland.” In the hopes of driving tens of folks to Fervor Coulee, I am embedding it here:

Here is the press release, explaining more about the vid.

October 2, 2018 – New York, NY – I’m With Her, the band of Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O’Donovan is releasing a video for “Overland” which features magnificent stop-motion animation painstakingly created by award-winning filmmaker Tobias LaMontagne. “Having the opportunity to create a video for ‘Overland’ was really quite exciting for me. But the process did not come without its challenges,” he said.

LaMontagne describes the process: “Working with paper and shadows in stop-motion is a unique process, ultimately requiring extensive pre-production and running meticulously through all the details before shooting began. Lighting and angles were key in properly achieving the desired effect, often taking days to nail down the look and feel for certain shots. The project offered the perfect balance of time versus schedule, with principal photography broken into two blocks over eight weeks of shooting.”
“The sets were all built by hand from the bottom up. Each shot was often a mix of various elements filmed on the day that I then blended together in post-production. Because of the two-dimensional aspect of the film, there was quite a bit of flexibility with visuals and compositing. The opportunity to take this song and bring it to life in animation was truly magical. As a filmmaker and animator, “Overland” was one of the most challenging and fulfilling projects I’ve had the pleasure to work on.
The ballad’s plaintive, wistful lyrics mourn the narrator’s losses while looking ahead to the promise of a better life out west:
Goodbye brother, hello railroad
So long, Chicago
All these years, thought I was where I ought to be
But times are changing
This country’s growing
And I’m bound for San Francisco
Where a new life waits for me
 
The group is currently in the midst of a headlining tour of North America which includes several stops in New York and California and three Canadian dates. They will tour Australia in the early part of 2019.
See You Around has received accolades on both sides of the Atlantic.
Writing in The Guardian, Emma John observed, “Together their sound is both ethereal and purposeful, a combination of searing musicianship and tender vocals,” while Randy Lewis of the Los Angeles Times noted, “The trio’s vocals and instrumentals share an intimate sonic environment, closely recorded so listeners can almost feel their breath as they trade lines and blend voices.”
The New York Times‘ Jon Pareles wrote, “I’m With Her’s songs are folky on the surface and skeletal, yet intricate within. They carry tales that are both intimate and far-reaching, involving heartbreak, separation, resilience, mortality and constant, restless travels.” He continued, “Sharing one microphone onstage was a subtle show of mastery, exposing every musical detail. The balance depended entirely on the trio’s meticulously plotted arrangements and intent listening.”
Bob Boilen of NPR Music summed it up succinctly: “Purity is the brilliance behind I’m With Her.”

Posted 2018 October 2 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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The Earls of Leicester- Live at the CMA Theater…Fame review   Leave a comment

EARLS_LIVEatCMA_COVER_comp4My regard for The Earls of Leicester is no secret. Funny that the member of the band I first appreciated was lead singer Shawn Camp, not only for his long-ago country albums but most importantly for his long ago live album recorded at The Station Inn. Jerry Douglas is fine, I suppose, for a Dobro player (I jest), but I can’t say I was ever a big fan of his type of stuff- too many bad memories of outta control jam busters wielding the hubcap guitar. Anyhow, my review of their latest album, a long-titled live one is up over at Country Standard Time. Enjoy.