Fred Eaglesmith has been around the Americana/roots/Canadiana music world for almost 40 years. His first album was released in 1980, and since then he has unleashed more than 20 albums (including live sets) to a devoted following, but hasn’t ‘quite’ broke through to the threshold of household name; for perspective, Lucinda Williams’ folk/blues cover set Ramblin’ was released the previous year, Guitar Town was six years away, and No Depression was part of a Carter Family title.
I don’t pretend I have been listening to Fred since 1980. I believe I first heard the Ontario renegade at a mid-90s edition of the Calgary Folk Music Festival. I have no recollection who Eaglesmith was sharing Stage 4 that afternoon, but I recall my wonder at hearing his songs that weekend for the first time, “I Like Trains,” “White Trash,” “Wilder Than Her,” and “49 Tons,” I believe.
In the years since, across many albums and several live sets, my admiration has not waned despite his once cutting short an interview before I even finished my first question. His latest is called Standard, and while it doesn’t include a “White Rose” or “Spookin’ the Horses,” it does contain songs that-given a chance-may just become as fondly held.
My review of Standard is published at Country Standard Time. Best, Donald
We don’t get too many releases from what was once the premier bluegrass music label these days. I don’t know the reasons, but I do wish it twernt true: maybe it isn’t, just my perception.
I was pleased to receive a review download of Rebel Records’ new Larry Sparks compilation, Lonesome & Blue: More Favorites. The review is posted over at Lonesome Road Review; I hope you will consider giving it a read.
My review of the new album from Big County Bluegrass, available from Rebel Records, has been posted to the Lonesome Road Review.
Let Them Know I’m From Virginia is a most enjoyable bluegrass album. As I state in the review, nothing fancy (and as I didn’t mention in the review, nothing groundbreaking that moves the music forward) just real strong ‘grass!
I’ve reviewed previous albums from the band HERE and THERE.
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.