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Okay, now that your eyes have adjusted…with what may be the folk/roots album package of the year, Saskatoon’s (“They put the sass into Saskatchewan,” says Jim Lauderdale) In With the Old has released a simply delightful album. My Mother’s Couch is 45-minutes and 13 songs of unbridled folk roots joy- a heaping helping of bluegrass and related old-time sounds, family-tight vocal harmony, and originality- all blended together and sounding so, so good. You’ll find my musings about In With the Old over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass.
Hey, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. I hope you find reason to stop by regularly. Follow me at @FervorCoulee on the Twitter.
Danny Barnes Stove Up Wendell
As time takes the lauded masters of bluegrass banjo, another generation is allowed to come to the fore. I don’t mean the youngsters who have studied and practiced for a dozen or twenty years and are confidently taking the 5-string to amazing new places.
No, the time has come for the light to shine on those who have been refining and perfecting their skills for thirty, forty, and more years. Folks like Danny Barnes. My review of Stove Up is posted at http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=6349
Danny Barnes has been a personal favourite since somewhere in the late 90s when a friend introduced me to the Bad Livers. He is a terribly interesting banjo slinger, and has written some incredible songs (such as “Falling Down the Stairs,” “Get It While You Can,” and “Charlie,”) recorded timeless albums including Delusions of Benjer and Things I Done Wrong, while also covering folks as diverse as T. Rex, Beck, The Faces, and now-on Stove Up- Don Stover. It is an absolutely beautiful album of (mostly) straight-ahead bluegrass.
Chris Jones & the Night Drivers Made to Move Mountain Home Music Company
It is ridiculous that we expect groups and artists to constantly out-do themselves from one album to the next. Once a pinnacle is reached, perhaps we should be pleased when a group simply maintains their standards.
Therefore, I’m not going to suggest Made to Move is better than Chris Jones & the Night Drivers’ previous recording, the hit-laden collection Run Away Tonight. Indeed, it may not be. No, that future classic was a mighty high bar, but if Made to Move doesn’t exceed it, it certainly matches that recording as a set of original bluegrass that is superior to the majority encountered.
The album kicks off with a healthy Chuck Berry vibe (“All the Ways I’m Gone,”) that complements Jones’ confident low-nsome vocal canter. Before the song is out, we’ve heard memorable, stellar picking from not only Jones, but mandolinist Mark Stoffel and co-producer Dobroist Tim Surrett.
And things just continue to get better with each passing song.
Newest Night Driver Gina Glowes’ vocal harmony contributions are noticed and appreciated, giving a new depth to the group’s well-established sound. Her 5-string chops are obvious throughout, but especially on more reflective pieces such as the already chart-topping “I’m A Wanderer” and “Living Without.” “Last Frost” is the album’s banjo instrumental, and it is a fully-developed musical landscape that the imaginative can read like a story. On this tune, bassist Jon Weisberger’s tone is notable.
Weisberger, who co-wrote half the songs on the album, is a formidable bass presence. He doesn’t impede with his presence, of course, but no one in bluegrass seems to be able to do exactly what he does—perhaps it is just a testament to the way the group records, but his bass rhythms are never experienced as an apparent afterthought.
With his bold, baritone voice, Jones is easy to listen to and his mild-mannered approach to a song allows him to connect with listeners in a way some vocalists never master. A story song such as “The Old Bell” pulls one into its history within seconds, while the ‘coming home’ “Range Road 53” appeals in a similar manner if with increased tempo. “Silent Goodbye” may remind listeners of a previous Jones-Weisberger co-write, “Final Farewell.”
Stoffel is known as a tasteful accompanist, and his contributions to songs including “Rainbows Fell” will have some listeners leaning in toward the speakers. His mando-laden “What the Heck?!” closes the set, and is a fitting way to wrap-up the album, one that is as fresh and sparkling as its coda.
Clowes’ approach to “Dark Hollow” is readily apparent and perhaps even innovative, but it is Stoffel’s notes that I gravitate toward. The Night Drivers present an interesting arrangement of the old warhorse, one that obviously sparked the band’s interest as they worked it up together. By modulating the tempo mid-song, the Night Drivers encourages one to re-engage with the oft-heard standard.
Finally, I know Jones has recorded albums without a Tom T. Hall song, but not often. Made to Move‘s offering is a gentle interpretation of the Johnny Rodriguez co-write “You Always Come Back (To Hurting Me,)” a #1 from 1973.
Chris Jones & the Night Drivers are undoubtedly one of bluegrass music’s strongest instrumental bands. Each of the musicians is a master of their craft, and together they produce a style of bluegrass that is most likely unique. With Jones as their lead singer, they are blessed with one of the strongest, most recognizable vocal stylists the music offers. Will 2017 finally be the year that the band are recognized by the International Bluegrass Music Association when it comes time to complete ballots? One hopes so, because they truly have earned it.
Made to Move is another top-notch album from Chris Jones & the Night Drivers.
Richard Laviolette Taking the Long Way Home You’ve Changed Records
Earnest country records are few and far between. Ignoring the trappings of modern country recording, Ontario’s Richard 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. “The house that I grew up in, has long been forgotten,” he sings in the lead track “Grey Rain,” over a sprightly shuffle rhythm. “But these memories are calling me home.”
Featuring songs that bring to mind the Americana songbook and its most revered vocalists, Taking the Long Way Home bridges the chasm between the familiar and the obscure. Seldom does a song cause this writer to pull-over off the highway, but “Two Guitars”, a stark paean to songs and their performance did just that the other day. “Someone To Tell My Story When I’m Gone” brings to mind the artfulness of a Guy Clark composition sung by John Prine, while “The Rock and the Moss” is an obvious (at least, to these tired ears) nod to Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman.
The album’s strongest song is the title track, with a vibrant Willie Dunn—groove propelling this road song above its neighbours. Elsewhere, as on “Red-Winged Blackbird,” an easy-going Dave Edmunds beat disguises the intensity of an ode to a developing relationship; Julia Narveson’s fiddle and Aaron Goldstein’s pedal steel are key to this terrific song.
Less impressive is the admittedly great title “My Grandma’s More Punk (Than Most Punks I Know;)” unfortunately, the song goes on for almost five-minutes without making its case. The melody itself is very appealing, but a more robust premise and refrain would have improved it greatly; it is almost as if Laviolette had the title in one pile of unfinished ideas, and the song in a second and attempted to bring them together.
With additional songs revealing the family connections made through music (“Yesterday’s Gospel,” “Old Country Music”) and a coda for the ages (“You’ve Really Got Me On the Run”) Richard Lviolette and producer Andy Magoffin have crafted an album that is rich and deep. Like the floor and shoes gracing the cover, these songs have age to them— and they have a lot more to give; we’ll be listening to them twenty years from now.
Bill Scorzari Through These Waves
“One of the greatest songwriters I’ve never heard.” Jonah Tolchin, Through These Waves’ producer
“I enjoyed playing on Bill Scorzari’s record…Boy, did it turn out fine—thoughtful, soulful songs, with—by God—real music to back them up. Top notch.” Will Kimbrough, musician and current Fervor Coulee man-crush
“He looks like Steve Earle would if he hadn’t taken care of himself.” Albertan wit
In 2014, New York’s Bill Scorzari released his debut album, Just the Same.
Don’t feel bad—I didn’t hear it either. Upon receiving Through These Waves, his follow-up release, I’ve changed that, of course. Until you can purchase it, feel free to stream Just the Same at Scorzari’s website. It is a good listen, and reveals the promise that first albums often do.
But, go buy Through These Waves right now. Because while the sophomore album is supposed to be weaker than the one the artist had a lifetime to create, this one isn’t. It is February 19th as I write this review, and I am betting that when December 15th comes along and I am paring down my list of favourite roots albums of 2017 Through These Waves will be there. And it isn’t going to be whittled off the list.
Scorzari has been compared to everyone from Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, and Blind Willie McTell. Hey, don’t shoot me—I didn’t fall back on those clichés. [Not that I don’t fall back on clichés. Just not those particular ones. Today.] Here is where I am going: Bill Scorzari lives where the Blues meets Texas Sam Baker.
Alberta readers might understand that sentence. I hope others do as well, ’cause that is about as good as I get.
Whereas on Just the Same Scorzari did sound like he was trying to find his inner Waits, especially on songs such as “Baby’s Got a New Blue Dress,” and his Magic-era Springsteen on “It Is Hard to Know,” with Through These Waves Scorzari has found himself.
Scorzari sings, but his version of singing is more of the spoken poetry with a pulsating vibration timbre that Sam Baker has perfected over the course of four albums and innumerable gigs. He connects with listeners by creating soundscapes that reveal descriptions of mood and atmosphere more than character. You listen and think, Yes—I’ve felt that: why didn’t I understand?
Scorzari and producer Jonah Tolchin gathered some of the finest available talents to record to tape at the Bomb Shelter in East Nashville. Will Kimbrough plays mandolin and piano, while Jon Estes contributes both bass and acoustic guitar as well as organ and even a bit of percussion. Joachim Cooder is the featured drummer and Chris Scruggs handles the steel guitar. Additional familiar names including Brent Burke (Dobro,) Laur Joamets (guitars,) Matt Murphy (bass,) and Kyle Tuttle (banjo) appear.
Singing with Scorzari on particular tracks are Kim Richey (on “Holy Man”) and Annie Johnon (on “More of Your Love”) as well as Cindy Walker and Marie Lewey singing beautiful backing on “I Can Carry This” and “Hound Dog Diggin’,” lending some lightness to Scarzari’s dark places.
“I got no answers to my questions why,” he declares in “Holy Man.” As Joamets let loose with a string of slide guitar notes, Scorzari comes back to the realization that one doesn’t need answers, one just needs to question. Supported by Richey, this track features Scorzari’s most complete vocal performance (although, not my favourite which come next.)
Scorzari captures a moment in time to craft a portraits of life that can be aching. In “She Don’t Care About Auld Lang Syne” a woman “won’t slow down” as she leaves. Gentle, sparse guitar notes provide the meditative atmosphere, with just a taste of Eamon McLoughlin’s fiddle seasoning the desperate atmosphere. Scorzari mourns her loss—or perhaps, the idea of her being gone—using disjointed phrases to bring sense to the revealed lack of faith. A similar approach is taken on the album’s penultimate number, “It’s Time.”
“Shelter From the Wind,” “A Dream of You,” and “For When I Didn’t See” are songs that would fit into more challenging Americana playlists, and I’m talking to y’all at WDVX—if you aren’t giving Scorzari some love, I think you should be.
Through These Waves keeps the listener keen right though to its concluding songs—no filler apparent. A joker among aces laments his lot in “Loser At Heart,” while “I Can Carry This” hints that we can’t do it in isolation. In closing with “Riptide,” another meditative composition, Scorzari pulls it all together—through these waves, as we are searching for rescue and as we are tested, if we keep our wits about us and trust in others, we just might survive.
A complete album, one that is going to go on the shelf next to classics such as Lucinda Williams, Mercy, and Cannons in the Rain.
Manitoba Hal Live in Ghent
The world has never been smaller. The musical world has never been larger.
I’ve been writing about roots music for sixteen years. Manitoba Hal has been releasing albums for a little more than that. We’ve never crossed paths. Until now.
Manitoba Hal Brolund has been making music for several decades, has released 15 albums, and has travelled the world playing the blues on his ukulele. See…that last world surprised you, too—proving again that there is always someone new to hear and something worthwhile to discover.
Manitoba-raised, Nova Scotian by choice, Brolund traveled to Belgium a year ago, and this two-disc set sounds like a fairly true representation of the performance he did that April evening at the Missy Sippy Blues & Roots Club in Ghent. It is well-worth investigating.
Establishing himself from the start, Manitoba Hal cuts through “Come On In My Kitchen” before easing into the darkness of Tom Waits’ finest song, “Way Down in the Hole.” Manitoba Hal performs unaccompanied, so it rests entirely on his own musicianship, looped rhythms, gravel-worn voice, and charm to keep the listener enthralled, and from the enthusiastic audience response recorded herein, one has to suggest that he succeeded.
The set is a mix of covers and originals, but since I am by no means a blues expert—and I’ve only just been introduced to Manitoba Hal—I can’t be definitive in which is what. Well-known sounds abound as “St. James Infirmary,” “They’re Red Hot,” “My Creole Belle,” “Let the Mermaids Flirt With Me,” and “Baby, Please Don’t Go” are intermixed with material with which I am less familiar.
Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago” allows Manitoba Hal to explore the range of his instrument on a number with which all blues listeners are cognizant. “Ain’t No Grave” is sparsely played, but effectively delivered. One of the more hypnotising numbers featured is “Dancing in the Moonlight” (not the King Harvest song.)
The featured evening closes with two indispensable blues of very different derivation, “Who Do You Love” and “The Thrill is Gone.” Within these ten minutes, the measure of Manitoba Hal is confirmed. Keeping a steady bass line going via looping while playing the notes over-top, Hal gets pretty gritty on “Who Do You Love.” Closing with “The Thrill is Gone,” Hal visits uptown for a few moments, demonstrating his dexterity and aptitude in revealing different aspects of the blues.
On a ukulele.
Scott Ramminger Do What Your Heart Says To
Arbor Lane Music/www.ScottRamminger.com
It takes but a few measures of “Living Too Fast” for the listener to understand from where Alabama-DC-Nashville songwriter, musician, and singer Scott Ramminger is coming.
First there is the deep, propulsive drum beat established by Doug Belote. Then, in a wave of keys, horns, and guitar straight out of New Orleans comes the vibrancy of that city’s musical heritage courtesy of recognizable names including Dave Torkanowsky, Rick Trolsen, Greg Hicks, George Porter, Jr., and Shane Theriot.
Once the groove is established, coming in through the middle is Ramminger- swampy-voiced and hardcore, listing the ways his woman is working to improve his situation. The lyrics are archetypal blues, but the sound is essential Crescent City, that irresistible mix of blues, R&B, and funky rock ‘n roll, sweetened by a taste of jazz and roadhouse.
What follows is an hour of self-crafted, well-earned hard luck and self-immolation over a steady Louisiana backdrop. The title track, which features Francine Reed (heard on Lyle Lovett and His Large Band,) goes to church via the tavern to ensure we understand that we pass this way only once, so we might as well follow our hearts. In that spirit, the album’s most appealing track may well be “Someone New to Disappoint;” if you know you’re gonna lose, you may as well find someone you don’t mind losing with seems to be the essential testimony of this saxophone (by Ramminger) showcase. Featuring Bekka Bramlett, this one should attract airplay from discerning stations.
Janiva Magness joins Ramminger on the blazing, classic-sounding “It’s Hard to Be Me.” The instrumental break about a minute and a half in is pure magic. The fella is selling hard—what’s harder to tell is if she is buying.
The McCrary Sisters add essential soul to four numbers. “Get Back Up” provides extended inspiration in a very different manner than “Walk A Little Straighter.” Ramminger is all about encouraging ones better self to come to the fore, and he does it as only a bluesman can—by not giving a damn if his heart or nose get broke. “I Need a New One” is the album’s longest track, and perhaps the most jazz-based. Tornkanowsky lays out the foundation, enhanced by the killer rhythm section and the encouragement of the McCrary Sisters.
The album closes with additional testimony from Ramminger in the form of “Stubborn Man:” based on what came before I’m guessing is his self-composed elegy.
“You may not believe me,
but it is all going to work out fine
If I beat my head against the wall
just a few more times.”
Surrounding himself with the very best musicians and vocalists he could find was Ramminger’s finest decision. Coming to the studio with a series of songs—some whimsical, some proud, all honest and real (give “Winter Is Always Worse” a listen)—was also crucial to making Do What Your Heart Says To the complete success that it is.