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Stax Country- review   Leave a comment

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Stax Country Various Artists Craft Recordings/Concord Music

The early 1970s were pivotal in the evolution of country music. Preceding the populist explosions of both “Outlaw Country” and the resulting, reactive “Urban Cowboy” phases, in the early years of the 1970s country music ties to “& Western” had been significantly severed while the influence of “Countrypolitan” sounds were beginning to wane.

It was in these years that the charts included the emerging legends—Tammy Wynette, Lynn Anderson, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Charley Pride—as well as singers of significance—Susan Raye, Mel Street, Tony Booth, “Crash” Craddock, and Tommy Overstreet—for those of us who have dived deeply at garage sales and thrift shops. There was a certain ‘sound’ associated with the country music of the day, an abundance of pedal steel, florid choruses, and silky background singing, that hasn’t necessarily aged particularly well, but which feels positively rootsy compared to today’s over-the-top, unrepentant, and decidedly manufactured country hit-making.

Venerable Stax Records, celebrating its sixtieth anniversary this year with a series of reissues and compilations, also released select country singles and albums on associated labels. Jim Stewart, Stax founder, came from country and the label produced, leased, and otherwise acquired a significant number of artists and masters and—as this single-disc compilation reveals—released several top-touch but ultimately doomed songs from 1969-1975.

Nothing within Stax Country, as far as I can determined, charted nationally: if you want to give your Google a workout, try some research into the recording careers of Paige O’Brian, Danny Bryan, and Dale Yard, all included herein with tracks culled from the Enterprise label. Here, then, are fairly obscure, seldom heard, and in select cases unreleased recordings, several of which are absolute gems: every track, even the most contrived and dated, offers insight into country music’s less familiar trajectory.

The most familiar artists, I’m guessing, included in the set are O. B. McClinton, Connie Eaton, Paul Craft, and Eddie Bond, not a household name among them.

“The Chocolate Cowboy,” O. B. McClinton is typically included whenever the history of African-American country music is discussed, and his “The Finer Things in Life” certainly has everything a soulful country song should include: tick-tack guitar, a compelling ‘crossing the tracks’ narrative of a woman who had everything “until I came along,” and an exceptional vocal take. Like most things McClinton touched, it wasn’t quite enough, but as part of this interesting set one considers ‘what could have been.’

A compelling singer, Connie Eaton was destined to achieve a mere footnote in country music history. She brushed the country charts a number of times in the early 70s, never breaking through despite hitting as high as #23 in 1975 with “Lonely Men, Lonely Women.” The catchy “I Wanna Be Wrong Right Now” didn’t stand a chance in 1974, released as it was as everything Stax was beginning to fail. But hearing it from 40+ years distance, one can hear echoes of Olivia Newton-John, Donna Fargo, and other popular singers of the day: it is a great performance. Eaton’s daughter, Cortney Tidwell, recorded as KORT with Kurt Wagner, recording the excellent Invariable Heartache a few years back, a reminder to re-discover both Eaton’s and Tidwell’s music on the shelves.

Bluegrassers are familiar with the name Paul Craft, if only for writing the standards “Keep Me From Blowing Away” and “Midnight Flyer,” but this member of the Nashville Songwriters’ Hall of Fame also had a brief recording career including time spent on the Stax Truth-imprint. “For Linda (Child in the Cradle”) was the b-side of his unforgiveable “It’s Me Again, Margaret” single: sorry, the novelty song is unlistenable. “For Linda” (Child in the Cradle)” is vastly superior, a well-executed country nativity of confusion and poor decisions.

Eddie Bond’s album about Buford Pusser ranks as one of my favourite discoveries of the YouTube/grey-shade download era, and the Memphis rockabilly legend has more recordings floating around than likely anyone on this 16-track set. What his rockabilly recordings may lack in substance they compensate for in verve, but “That Glass” is pure honky-tonk country, an over-looked classic of the type George Jones recorded for United Artists and Musicor.

From the first track, Becki Bluefield’s “Sweet Country Music,” through to the final tracks (Dale Yard’s, A.K.A. Stax guitarist Bobby Manuel, instrumental “Purple Cow” and Lee Denson’s sentimental “A Mom and Dad for Christmas,”) Stax Country is an incredible overview of country music most of us have never encountered. Joyce Cobb’s “Your Love” should have charted amongst all those Lynn Anderson hits, while Cliff Cochran’s “All the Love You’ll Ever Need” is a Jeannie Seely song that had everything going for it, excepting label support.

Safe to say, those looking for fairly traditional, throwback country music will be well-served by Stax Country, and I haven’t never mentioned the album’s best song, Daaron Lee’s “Long Black Train,” a lonesome, Lee Hazlewood song. Recording as Daaron Lee, Billy Lee Riley—a Sun rockabilly artist—here sounds ideally suited to the type of country blues singing that made a star of Charlie Rich.

Colin Escott’s notes are much appreciated, although a bit more detail on how several of the songs came under the Stax umbrella and photos would have been appreciated. A terrific stocking-stuffer for the old school crowd. In my ‘top ten’ country albums of the year, guaranteed.

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Josh Ritter- Gathering review   Leave a comment

Josh

My review of Josh Ritter’s Gathering album has been published at Country Standard Time. The relay was delayed because the promised CD never arrived, and while I could have reviewed with the provided download, I waited. I am not going to go militant, but if a record company/label or publicist wants a timely review, I figure the least they can do is follow through with the requested and promised CD. That was October 4.

Meanwhile, I listened to the download, and was again captured by what Ritter offers. He isn’t like anyone else, really- a blend of pop and rock, folk and country that I have come to appreciate over the last couple years.

I eventually purchased the two-CD version of the album, and still didn’t write the review because the disc never arrived from the promo firm. At the end of November, CST followed up, wondering where the review was, and out of obligation I wrote up the review. This review cost me about $20. I hope it was worth it.

 

Posted 2017 December 9 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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A ballad of three Alberta bluegrass DJs   Leave a comment

This is the brief tale of three Alberta bluegrass radio hosts, one failed, one successful, and one nearing status reserved for legends.

About six weeks ago, I received a call out of the blue: would I be interested in auditioning as host of CKUA’s long-running bluegrass program? My immediate reaction was, Yes.

Years ago I had hosted a bluegrass radio show on an area commercial country station, and while I was never very good at the job, I was persistent; when I listen to the recordings of those shows, I frequently cringe, but not so much as to distract from what I thought was a good representation of bluegrass music.

In receiving the call last month, I was pleased that the work I had done (and continue to do) on behalf of bluegrass music in Alberta was deemed significant enough to be asked to audition. For the next several days following the phone call and bubbling with excitement at the possibility, I scrambled to put together an audition recording (What the heck should be in that?) using my vaguely remembered knowledge of Audacity and my even more limited understanding of file-sharing. This was truly professional broadcasting: the music wouldn’t be the problem: trying to have a natural-sounding conversation with non-existent listeners from my basement would be.

My second reaction when called was, What about Darcy?

Ultimately, the station’s management decided to go with Darcy Whiteside, a veteran of Alberta’s bluegrass scene as a banjo player, singer and front-man for the Bix Mix Boys, and a much more experienced radio host than me. Whiteside is hosting CKUA’s The Bluegrass Show at noon (MST) on Sundays, and four weeks in is presenting a nice cross-section of the music: his latest show featured the McCormick Brothers, Laura Love, Town Mountain, Front Country, Boone Creek, the Dead South, Joe Val, and Larry Sparks, as fine a blend of the music as one could hope for within the constraints of a 60-minute broadcast.

I am confident I was up to the task, but knowing how much CKUA means to the province I also believe I have some knowledge of the pressure that comes with hosting such a show: maybe I’m better off without it! Or, as my father-in-law observed, with a shake of his head, “So, you recommended the guy who beat you out?” Naturally. (And, for all I know, I could have been fifth on a three-person list.)

I highly recommend all bluegrass fans give Darcy a listen next Sunday.

This last week, SiriusXM was again been offering a free taste of their wares; as a result, my car was tuned to Bluegrass Junction, broadcasting out of the northern Alberta studio, over the extended (American) Thanksgiving weekend. The opportunity to again appreciate the venerable Chris Jones has solidified my opinion that there is no finer bluegrass broadcaster.

Unlike some who make themselves the center of attention or ramble while delivering little substance, Jones always maintains a conversational tone in his broadcasts, letting the music speak for itself as often as interjecting his own insights into the songs. And when he does share an extended anecdote, you can be guaranteed it is relevant and informative, not self-serving or artificial. I can think of no better voice bringing bluegrass music to listeners.

With folks like Darcy and Chris bringing bluegrass to the airwaves-broadcast, online, and satellite-listeners are being well-served.

And, when the opportunity next arises, I hope CKUA again give me a call!

Posted 2017 December 9 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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D. B. Rielly- Live from Long Island City: Live at the RaR Bar review   Leave a comment

D B Rielly

D. B. Rielly Live from Long Island City: Live at the RaR Bar https://www.dbrielly.com/

When D. B. Rielly contacted me about his new 7-song live EP, I immediately expressed interest: a new live set from one of my favourite singer-songwriters, of course I want to hear it! Later it occurred to me, “How will this one be packaged?”

Previous Rielly albums had come housed in tin and wood boxes. When this postcard-encased release arrived, I had my answer. There is much to appreciate about D. B. Rielly beyond his aptitude for creative packaging.

With spoken-word witticism reminiscent of John Prine and an Arlo Guthrie-inspired penchant for the absurd, D. B. Rielly is truly a master, a remarkable person doing remarkable things.

Stripped to the essentials—a man, his guitar, and his words— Live from Long Island City: Live at the RaR Bar is a document of a songwriter at the peak of his craft, playing his songs for ‘non-imaginary people.”

These seven songs (and three tracks of between song setup and insight) are focused entirely on relationships free of the sucky-ass stuff that makes us uncomfortable. “Look at You” (“looking at me”) and “Nothing Like You” are the most straight-forward loves songs, the latter lead track featuring more heart-encasing, protective humour than the former.

“I Believe, Angeline” and “Don’t Give Up on Me” are the yearning numbers, ones where love is sought but not necessarily achieved. “Let It Ring” challenges the phone that has come between a couple, a clever, understated piece.

Two distinct slices of romance are presented in “Prenup” and “I’ll Remind You Every Day.” “Lawrence Welk” leads into “Prenup,” a song where one gives freely of his heart, but not his Stuff. “My Ma,” detailing a family coming to grips—replete with requisite dark humour—with dementia, leads into the heartfelt devotional “I’ll Remind You Every Day.”

The brevity (24.5 minutes) of Live from Long Island City: Live at the RaR Bar is its only fault. While our appreciation for the concept is true—seven new compositions presented without ceremony—the inclusion of live takes of previous Rielly chestnuts (maybe “Roadrunner,” “I’ve Got a Girlfriend,” “It’s Gonna Be Me,” or “Moving Mountains?) as bonus tracks would not have been out-of-place. They would, however, result in a different recording, and we’ll trust the artist to know what he wanted to present.

As an introduction to the best songwriter you’ve never heard, Live from Long Island City: Live at the RaR Bar serves as an exceptional appetizer . For those of us already fans of the troubadour, it refreshes our appreciation.

 

 

Posted 2017 December 1 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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Winnie Brave- Cheap Gin review   Leave a comment

Winnie Brave

Winnie Brave Cheap Gin www.WinnieBrave.com

Alberta music duo Winnie Brave return with their second EP of acoustic-based (but not exclusively unplugged) original roots music. Unlike their largely acoustic 2014 debut, the presence of synthesizer and electric guitar pull Cheap Gin significantly from the realm of the Welch-Rawlings and the Romeros; still, the subject matter of their songs—relationships and folks—and their construction have more in common with the aforementioned than not.

Based in Holden, Alberta (on Highway 14 between Viking and Tofield, if that helps), the rambling husband and wife duo of Brad and Amy MacIsaac, one imagines, find inspiration for songs in the people, places, and circumstances encountered travelling North America in their Winnebego.

Winnie Brave’s music is delightful.

Amy MacIsaac—I would suggest—knows she has a voice that reminiscent of Maria McKee, before the long-ago Lone Justice vocalist was distracted by other sounds, and doesn’t shy away from stomping her way through “Moonshine” and “Spicey Waters.” Reigning herself in on “Lover On The Side” and the title track, MacIsaac also stretches herself vocally, demonstrating control while infusing passion. “Wear You Down,” smothered in biscuits, gravy, synthesized horns, and a “snug-huggin’ George Jones tee shirt,” is a definite keeper not soon forgotten.

Brad MacIsaac provides the keyboard effects and bass, and in various places but especially “New Mexico” he fleshes out their sound to near Giant Sand territory. Christine Bougie’s lap steel adds a welcome warmth to the arrangements, with Adam Cannon’s drumming providing propulsive energy. If Ann Vriend chose to meld country and soul, it would probably come out sounding similar to what Winnie Brave offer here: for those who don’t know, that’s a very good thing! Albert Carraro’s extended jam on “Digging For Fire” provides a different and aggressive flavour.

This seven song set comes in at 28 minutes, and together with their previous release, we now have an hour of Winnie Brave on record, ample opportunity to recognize that this duo possesses the skill and vision to be considered when discussing notable, emerging Americana talent.

Cheap Gin is an excellent mini-album.

Kevin Breit- Johnny Goldtooth and the Chevy Casanovas review   Leave a comment

johnn

Kevin Breit Johnny Goldtooth and the Chevy Casanovas Stony Plain Records

Without doubt, Kevin Breit is one of Canada’s most intriguing musicians.

Whether working in conjunction with pals including Harry Manx (three albums) and The Sisters Euclid (five albums), on his own (seven and more releases), or as a sideman, Breit always brings something engaging and frankly unique to his recorded appearances. Blues, jazz, roots, and folk, Breit has demonstrated he can turn his hands and ears to every type of music. Last time out with the old-world, mandolin extravaganza Ernesto and Delilah, Breit created a showcase of story-telling and creativity as engaging as it was challenging.

Not one to repeat himself, Breit now conjures himself as Johnny Goldtooth and the Chevy Casanovas to deliver a (largely) instrumental set of guitar-based tunes to evoke a smarmy, 60s lounge-vibe with Duane Eddy accompaniment. Blasting out the set in ten days, Breit called upon friends to provide select overdubs, but what we have here is essentially Breit concocting his own experiments in vintage sounds much like Neil Young once did (in a different vein) with the Shocking Pinks.

The result is mixed. While one digs (and really, no other word is as appropriate) what Breit has done with this recording, after four or five songs it tends to blend into one extended jam of righteous coolness. “C’mon, Let Go” combines the mood of after-school cartoons (think Lippy the Lion & Hardy Har-Har) with Velvet Underground “Sweet Jane” riffs. “The Knee High Fizzle” takes a jaunty run through rockabilly references, with “Chevy Casanova” illuminating more uptown touches, complete  with lively saxophone from Vincent Henry. Always a sucker for a bit of “Yakety Sax” (or yakety axe), “I Got ‘Em Too” is a favoured romp.

However, other pieces appear little more than excuse for playful song titles as evidenced by “Cozy With Rosy” and “Zing Zong Song, which initially borrows from Treme’s theme, before sliding into Los Straitjackets territory. “One Mo Bo,” a Bo Diddley homage, doesn’t progress beyond its implicit limitations, and “The Goldtooth Shuffle” isn’t much more than a groove, albeit a fine one, extended to three minutes. Predictably, “A Horse of Another Stripe” and “Dr. Lee Van Cleef” recall cinematic vistas.

None of which diminishes the obvious skill and artistry Breit possesses, nor the encompassing appeal of this recording. If nothing else, it is a whole lot of fun. Everybody’s Rockin’ clocked in at 25 or so minutes, a light, concise, and contemporaneously lambasted statement of rock ‘n’ roll minimalism that time has been kind toward. Breit gives Johnny Goldtooth and the Chevy Casanovas more rope, and while the results are not exclusively excellent, accepted for what it is—a blast of spirited, comedic, guitar wizardry—it provides an overwhelmingly pleasurable journey.

Posted 2017 November 14 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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Tom Savage, Mark Martyre, & Rob Lutes reviewed   Leave a comment

Three Canadian singer-songwriters. Three very different voices and visions.

What keeps me writing about roots music? The money dried up in 2012. Most PR and label types expect writers to get by with downloads, totally disregarding the importance of packaging art, notes, and musician credits. It is more difficult than ever as a freelance writer to even get any attention from ‘major’ (and major independent) labels. So, why bother?

The music, of course, is the reason. Albums like these three are why I keep challenging myself to write on a daily and weekly basis, albums that most folks will sadly never encounter. Heck, one could have a very interesting hour-long radio show each week just playing tracks from and talking about one unheralded album: all three of these would be candidates for inclusion.

Tom SavageTom Savage Everything Intertwined TomSavage.ca

Kingston, Ontario’s Tom Savage doesn’t have an obviously unique voice, but it is terribly appealing. He starts out the lead track (“Forever”) reminding one of raucous Ron Hynes (“Your hair gets grey, your senses fade away,” he sings the passage of our time) before slipping into a most natural approach: his own, of course, but with strong overtones of mid-career Warren Zevon. The music—up tempo, full-throttle rock ‘n’ roll with a troubadour’s heart—certainly is in the Sentimental Hygiene/Mr. Bad Example neighbourhood.

With four or five previous albums, Savage comes to my attention fully-formed, confident and a master of his own game. Full-throated, on songs like “Kid” and “17 Years,” we’re reminded of a time when commercial radio would have found a place for strong performances that might pin back a few ears. Lovers find themselves in ‘just the right place’ for four minutes and twenty-four seconds of hard-driving passion (“Burnt By the Sun”), while a different emotional plane is explored with no less intensity within “Sad When You’re Not With Me.” “Come Home” is plaintive, “Cold But Free” about as frank and direct as a elegy gets, “Mean To Me” challenging. As do the finest albums, each of these nine songs takes the listener on a different, memorable journey.

Augmented by a concise group of collaborators—Tony Silvestri (various keys including organ), Seamus Cowan (bass), and Bonz Bowering (drums) with Silvestri and Zane Whitfield providing backing vocals on “Forever”—Savage is the focus: his guitars and voice are at the fore of every number, a modern folk singer doing his job in a most satisfying manner.

Some albums are listened to, written about, and filed away. Everything Intertwined isn’t one of those albums: brilliantly captivating, it will remain in regular rotation in the Fervor Coulee bunker.

Mark MartyreMark Martyre Rivers MarkMartyre.com

Like Savage, above, Toronto’s Mark Martyre comes to my attention a well-established force, several albums into a career that has allowed him to become an engaging singer, songwriter, and musician.

With a deep, gravel-smooth voice (not nearly as harsh as Tom Waits, but not someone you’re going to hear on The Voice any time soon) Martyre’s songs have a ‘lived-in’ quality about them that  inspires introspective escapades of creative endeavour: about the third time through “Carry On,” I had a character sketch roughly outlined describing an entirely different couple, but inspired by Martyre’s lovers “walking through the rain, prayin’ for the sun.” Only problem being, mine aren’t nearly as engaging as his.

Martyre’s songs have relationships at their core, and it is credit to his insightfulness that across ten songs one never becomes jaded listening to these wistful examinations of happiness and memory. As riveted as we are by the poetic observances of “Come Lie Beside Me, Dear” we remain as intrigued as things come to a close forty-five minutes later with “Never Forget You.” Rare, that.

Complementing Martyre at almost every turn is singer Stacey Dowswell. As impressive as Martyre’s songs and performances are, Dowswell presents herself as a formidable foil, whether in a full-fledge duet (as on “The Next Song” and “Trying to Explain”) or contributing backing vocals as she does on most tracks. Dowswell’s is a strong and beautiful voice that I am going to be paying attention to in the future. Lovely stuff.

Graydon James (The Young Novelists) provides an incredible drum presence, and Matt Antaya’s guitars are ideally placed in the mix. Mark Martyre’s Rivers gently sparkles.

rob-lutes-walk-in-the-dark-cover-web-hqRob Lutes Walk in the Dark RobLutes.com

Finally, we come to Rob Lutes. Based in Montreal, Lutes is our third well-established singer-songwriter of the folk-ish persuasion with whom I was not previously familiar before receiving his latest missive: obviously I haven’t been paying enough attention.

Lutes has no little bit of blues colouring in his voice, and his melodies explore a wider palate than do most folk-roots artists. Nothing in his singing or approach should remind me of Texan Sam Baker, but that was where my ears went while listening to Lutes’ finely chiselled songs; like Baker, Lutes establishes characters and situations in just a few well-chosen words and phrases: we want to know more from the start.

Recorded in only three days, Lutes and his collaborators have unleashed an amazing collection of songs. Most of us appreciate reference points, and I’ll call on our collective memory by comparing Lutes to late-80s John Hiatt. Vocally I hear something of Hiatt (especially on “There’s No Way To Tell You That Tonight” and the title track) throughout, and even the pacing of the songs recall Hiatt at his finest.

Lutes is most definitely his own artist with an individual approach to singing and writing. The atmospheric “Whistling Past the Graveyard” may be the album’s finest song, but we would be splitting hairs to judge one superior to another. The lively guitar instrumental “Spence” (for Bahamian Joseph Spence) is suitably remarkable, but when you have the gift of lyric and story, those pieces naturally call for notice. “Rabbit” has an old-time, traditional feel as does “Believe in Something,” all be they completely different in almost every regard.

For folk roots with a blues foundation, I don’t think it can get much better than Rob Lutes and Walk in the Dark.

Three singers. Three albums. 32 songs, all but one original (Lutes’ delightful cover of John Prine’s “Rocky Mountain Time” the only exception). All well-worth exploring.

And a shout out to Sarah French Publicity who understands writers—even mere freelancers—need the CD in their hands to experience the full effect of an artists’ album.