Fervor Coulee’s Favourite Bluegrass Albums of 2018   1 comment

Favourite, not best. I happen to consider them the best, but you certainly may feel different. One will notice no ‘big tent’ bluegrass on this list-the furthest afield I go is with my #1 album, which is still fair solid bluegrass.

These are the albums I felt delivered in 2018.

1. The Travelin’ McCourys- The Travelin’ McCourys An incredible album. Featuring three capable (and better) lead vocalists and five earth-shattering musicians, The Travelin’ McCourys deliver a set of complex bluegrass that remains firmly rooted while extending branches toward the light. Wonderful stuff: powerful, masterful, and most importantly, memorable. Their live presentation is also aces. (Purchased)

2. Sister Sadie- II There are a lot of great bluegrass bands working today: I would put Sister Sadie up against any one of them. II is even more unified than their debut with the group having melded into a seamless force greater than its exceedingly impressive parts. The quintets’ natural essence is given prominence, a traditional vision bolstered by contemporary approaches. (Serviced by PR)

3. David Davis & the Warrior River Boys- Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poole David Davis is a true follower of The Monroe Doctrine. “Didn’t He Ramble” is a well-considered collection of music from the early years of the twentieth century. Many of the songs are well-known, but Davis and co-producer Robert Montgomery also include less familiar numbers. An album of considerable variation, an acceptance of life’s departures is an apparent theme; one senses Davis and Montgomery drawn to songs where everything doesn’t go to plan. An exemplary example of modern, traditional bluegrass. (Serviced by PR)

4. Rudi Ekstein- Carolina Chimes This ‘All Original Bluegrass Instrumental Showcase’ is 34-minutes of tunes sounding fresh, invigorated, and powerful. The twelve numbers flow brilliantly, a set of mandolin-based bluegrass the likes we haven’t experienced in years. An absolute stunner of a bluegrass album.  (Serviced by PR)

5. High Fidelity- Hills and Home Hills and Home serves as an appealing versatile introduction to this quintet’s energetic, foundationally strong, and vocal-focused representation of contemporary bluegrass. The group presents bluegrass that captures the old-time sounds influenced by Reno & Smiley, with shades of the Louvins in their arrangement choices and production approaches. High Fidelity is bringing bluegrass music’s rich history forward to today’s audience.  (Serviced by label)

6. Special Consensus- Rivers and Roads I didn’t write about this album. I just listened to it about thirty times. I haven’t been disappointed in an album from Special C in a long time, and given the strength of this set, I won’t be in the foreseeable future. A core of solid songs, lively singing, a few notable guest spots, and blazing instrumentation: my kinda bluegrass mix. (Purchased download)

7. Peter Rowan- Carter Stanley’s Eyes An acute reminder of that, when performed with talent, inspiration, and respect, bluegrass is a very powerful thing. Rowan-the target of the infamous Bill Monroe quote, “Don’t go too far out on that limb, there’s enough flowers out there already”-has frequently ventured well-outside the bluegrass realm. He returns to the formidable truck of the bluegrass tree with an album-long tribute to the music and its originators, especially Carter and Ralph Stanley. The light still shines in Peter Rowan’s eyes: that he loves bluegrass music is doubtless. Neither is his ability to create a masterful album of bluegrass classics. 
(Serviced by label)

8. Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road- True Grass Again Carolina Road has always been strongest following Jordan’s keen vision of bluegrass. Here Carolina Dream create a faithful, refreshing representation of the ever-evolving genre by ensuring a secure grounding in the traditional substratum of bluegrass. “True Grass Again” is a fine return to form for this well-established and soulful outfit. (Serviced by PR)

9. Various Artists- Epilogue: A Tribute to John Duffey A lovingly assembled testament to the status John Duffey attained and the influence he continues to impart upon bluegrass music. Compiled from numerous sessions over almost 20 years, it also serves as acknowledgment to the devotion of its producers, Bluegrass 45s’ Akira Otsuka and Ronnie Freeman. Despite being assembled track-by-track, including 53 musicians and singers making contributions in a variety of makeshift studio settings, the 46-minute, 17-song set is coherent, bound as it is by the tensile strength of the bluegrass community. (Serviced by PR)

10. Del McCoury Band- Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass With the exception of the lead track “Hot Wired,” on which Del and the Boys seem to be trying too hard to be edgy, this album delivers on the faith we’ve been placing in Mr. McCoury from the first day we heard him thirty-some years ago. McCoury’s voice isn’t what it once was, but that it just fine; when performances are as strong and true as these, we’ll forgive the effects of time’s passage. (Purchased download)

A note: Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard- Sing Me Back Home: The DC Tapes, 1965-1969 is not included simply because it isn’t fully a ‘bluegrass’ album. While there is no doubting Hazel and Alice was bluegrass and this archival release is tremendous , these practice sessions/kitchen tapes feature little to no bluegrass instrumentation, and are as such ‘just a bit outside’ my definition of bluegrass for the purposes of this list. Without a doubt, it remains one of my favourite five roots releases of the year.

Thoughts or reactions? fervorcoulee@gmail.com

Best to you for the Christmas and holiday season and a terrific New Year. Donald

Addendum: When the Bluegrass Grammy nominees were announced December 7, I was surprised to find three of my top six included: The Travelin’ McCourys, Sister Sadie, and The Special Consensus. I don’t know if such has previously occurred- out of necessity, I take some pride in being a bluegrass outlier. Glad to see that the industry is finally aligning- for one brief moment- with my way of thinking. The other 2 Grammy nominees were two album I didn’t encounter. I might have noticed Mike Barnett’s all-star fiddle album had he and his Kentucky Thunder band-mates (and boss) made an effort to bring merch and shake & howdy at the mercantile at Blueberry this summer, but they didn’t bother. I learned of the existence of Wood & Wire today.

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Roland White & Appleseed Recordings reviews   Leave a comment

Over at Country Standard Time, two of my reviews have been published. Roland White (& Friends) latest is a star-studded tribute to his legendary bluegrass group The Kentucky Colonels. Meanwhile, Appleseed Recordings celebrates their 21st anniversary with a three-disc set featuring several previously unreleased cuts by Fervor Coulee faves John Stewart, Bruce Springsteen, and Tom Russell. The Appleseed set is neatly divided into ‘political action songs,’ ‘singer-songwriter, rootsy kinda stuff, and mostly ‘trad. arr.’ with a broad cross-section represented: the British tradition, as well as African-American spirituals, Spanish-language songs, and old-timey songs that made the transition to being American ‘standards.’ Well-constructed. Both are highly recommended.

D. B. Rielly- Live From Chester review   2 comments

D. B. Rielly Live From Chester Shut Up & Play!

D. B. Rielly is like no one with whom I am familiar.

Rielly has released two full albums and now two live discs, with few songs repeated between them. The natural energy and personality of his performance is readily conveyed on Live From Chester, which like the earlier Live From Long Island City, is a brief—30 minutes this time out—snapshot of what he brings.

Vocally a bit Peter Cooper with Antsy McClain’s acerbic wit running through, Rielly is a more than capable vocalist. While songs sharp with barbs (“I’m Your Man,” “Your Stupid Face,”) and the John Prine-ish “Don’t Think Too Much” receive continued appreciation from his audience, Rielly is as strong on numbers that plumb emotional depth without self-deprecation. Disparate songs including the painfully romantic “The Sea” and the old-timey “Moving Mountains” reveal that the New York City-based artist continues to hone his songwriting chops, utilizing his guitar and banjo to give each song its unique mood. “Your Doggin’ Fool” is just beautiful.

The pairing of the spoken word “My Ma” and “I’ll Remind You Every Day” remains as powerful as when first heard on Live From Long Island City, and are the only pieces the discs have in common.

D. B. Rielly is damned fine. Someday the rest of the roots world is going to figure it out for themselves. Until then, trust me: seek out Live From Chester.

Posted 2018 December 2 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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John Akapo- Paradise Blues review   1 comment

 John Akapo Paradise Blues Mensch House Records

I like the blues. I don’t love the blues. There are contemporary blues artists whose music I do love, RoryBlock, Eric Bibb, and Crystal Shawanda among them, but I will never love the blues the way I love bluegrass, southern country soul, and much of the “singer-songwriterAmericana almost-country” set.  

But, I do love the debut album from John Akapo.

Taumei “Big John” Akapois a resident of Hawaii, Maui-born I believe. His Samoan heritage echoes in his interpretation of classic blues sounds, an appealing breezy openness offering something just a little bit different. Paradise Blues is a 35-minute blues journey across well-traveled tradition with invigorating originality.

Three blues classics ground the album, including a lively opening slice of Robert Johnson, “Ramblin’ On MyMind.” One of the album’s centerpiece songs— “Hindsight (Missionary Blues)”—leaves no doubt about the impact colonization had on Akapo’s ancestors.  “Little Lani,” and “Maui Drive” also place Akapo’s Island environs at the fore,  incorporating regional moods, events, and locations over hard-driving blues beats.

Darkness permeates Muddy Waters'”I Can’t Be Satisfied,” with “Caramac Blues” (“Life is like a box full of Caramacs, we take all we want but we can’t put nothin’back”) offering more uplifting aspirations (“Be the light, be thechange you want to see.”) Growling through “Big Road Blues,” one realizes the breadth of Akapo’s vocal range.

“Fighting for Love”offers a plaintive take on an imperfect relationship (“We had a good run, it wasn’t all bad times,”) but one senses a situation of ‘too little, too late;’ here and elsewhere, Akapo’s voice reveals an elegant, soulful maturity often missing in blues presentations. Perhaps “Don’t Believe Her” offers up this dude’s story when he finally recognizes his reality.

Largely acoustic, Paradise Blues offers, as Akapo aptly describes it, “a tree rooted in traditional blues, sprinkled with Pacific salt water.” Good stuff. 

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Posted 2018 December 1 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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Jonathan Byrd & The Pickup Cowboys- Pickup Cowboy review   Leave a comment

JonathanByrd & the Pickup Cowboys PickupCowboy

With this concise slice of retro-modern country music, North Carolina folk/Americana veteran Jonathan Byrd turns the clock back about three years, before the vagrancies of reality impinged upon best laid plans.

Inspired by a ‘humble badass’ ethos, The Pickup Cowboys—Byrd (guitar, Rhodes, percussion), Johnny Waken (guitar, mandolin, organ, piano, harmonica, percussion, musical saw, vocals), and Paul Ford (cello and bass)—toured for years, and made a single recording which was shelved upon Ford receiving what would transpire to be a fatal brain tumor diagnosis. With the passage of time, Byrd and Waken fleshed out the recording with Joanna Miller (drums), and Alexa Dirks and Andrina Turenne (backing vocals) to produce this album.

Reminding us of favourite singers and songwriters including Peter Cooper and D. B. Rielly, Byrd possesses a naturally smooth voice, one that is, in turn, gentle (“We Used To Be Birds” and “It Don’t Make Sense”) or playful (“Tractor Pull” and “Temporary Tattoo,”) and which can be infused with challenge as the song demands, as on the epic “Lakota Sioux” (as with the album closing—”Do You Dream”—written by friend Matt Fockler) and “When the Well Runs Dry,” co-written with Steep Canyon Ranger Charles Humphrey III.

The original sessions transpired in Chapel Hill and were completed in Winnipeg, but there is no sense of incongruence despite the distance and time between sessions: mostly, I just like mentioning Winnipeg whenever I can.

As a poet and writer, Byrd is circumspect in lyrical development, but not so conservative that we can’t imagine his characters and spaces. The guy driving on two bald tires after fishing for his breakfast (“Pickup Cowboy”) materializes fully textured: we all know that guy, going from job to job, seldom settling down for too long, no mortgage, no payments, no footprints. The transient, boomtown community of trailers and guys sleeping in their trucks of “When The Well Runs Dry” could be in Kansas, Oklahoma, Alberta, or damn near anywhere else where the earth is squeezed of every bit of wealth it can produce.

Sometimes things just get away from you, as Byrd reveals in “Temporary Tattoo. “Who can’t understand the sentiment of “I showed my love for you with a temporary tattoo?” The “damn fool” protagonist isn’t mean-spirited: he just doesn’t want it to hurt, and besides—how was he to know she would elevate things to a more permanent impression? Hopefulness and vulnerability balance (with Townshendesque echoes) in “Taking It Back,” with faith and beauty prominent in “We Used To Be Birds,” previously recorded in tandem with Chris Kokesh.

Paul Ford’s subtle, susurrous cello effects—propulsive plucking (“When The Well Runs Dry,” “Tractor Pull,”) articulate bowing (“It Don’t Make Sense,” “Do You Dream,”) and momentarily ominous (“We Used To Be Birds”)—provides Pickup Cowboy an encompassing sound near-unique within country music. Jonathan Byrd has been making really good albums for a long time, The Law and the Lonesome, Cackalack, and The Barn Birds disc among them. Pickup Cowboy is another. Seek it out.

Craig Moreau- A Different Kind of Train review   1 comment

Craig Moreau

Craig Moreau A Different Kind of Train

Ever since Kitty Wells sang “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” there have been those who have chased that perfect “country song” balance between complexity of thought and lyrical clarity Jay Miller captured in 1952.

From Mariel Buckley to Leeroy Stagger, Alberta has no shortage of singing songwriters who flirt with country music. Then there is Craig Moreau, a Calgary artist who is straight-up, blatantly and unapologetically, Country. Songwriting, and country songwriting specifically, forms the thematic core of Craig Moreau’s masterful album, A Different Kind of Train.

Early in this forty-minute album, he sings:

And there never was a pot of gold,
At the rainbow’s end—
Just another empty hole to fill,
And another fence to mend.

That’s a country lyric, no argument, and it comes in one of Moreau’s gentler songs, a reflective and seemingly ‘lost-love’ song filled with self-recrimination directed—ultimately—toward the artist’s pursuit of inspiration. Like the greatest songwriters, Moreau presents inventive dichotomy in select songs, revealing different messages to listeners. “Thirsty Soul” is about songwriting, not drinking, “The Muse” is as much a woman as artistic stimulation.

Moreau’s grizzled voice—somewhere between Waylon, Billy Joe Shaver, and Darrell Scott—appears a living thing. It carries gravity on the challenging title track, a lament to a depressed, hotel room inhabitant facing (figurative? literal?) death, presents desperate acceptance within “Best Of Me,” a song equally downbeat in subject, but not in mood. “We all got our demons, failed ambitions, guilty feelings” Moreau sings in “Old Man and the Fiver”—a song that reveals shades of Guy Clark in its lyrical choices— recognizing we are all trying to get by today with decisions previously made.

It is with this vocal gravitas through which Moreau communicates—the melding of sage, artist, and Everyman—that is his strength. He sings with a profound understanding that happiness is fleeting, struggle a constant, forward momentum a dream. No accident one of A Different Kind of Train‘s charged realizations, found in “Shadows Left Behind,” is “I’ve had my illusions of control, holding fast to nothing for fear of losing all.”

There is no little bit of “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way”‘s frustration of reality woven into within “Off The Rack”:

I can’t help to think about the ones who’ve gone before me,
As I rush to take my place among the line.
Hard work and sacrifice just to build ourselves a little life,
That fades and changes colours with the times.

Crafted in both Austin and Lethbridge (at Stagger’s studio, with Leeroy co-producing), Moreau’s third album of hardwood hewn, homespun Americana is as surprising as it is comforting. The drumming that opens the album’s sole cover—an otherwise faithful rendering of Jean Ritchie’s “The L & N Don’t Stop Here Anymore”—starts with several seconds of forceful drumming that had me asking, ‘Are you ready, Steve?’

Craig Moreau continues to hold faith that, one way or another, his country dream is bound to be realized, even if he “hasn’t seen the sunshine in a while.” With cover art courtesy a Steve Coffey painting (himself a terrific Alberta singer-songwriter) A Different Kind of Train allows Craig Moreau opportunity to continue his journey, “waiting on a rhyme.”

 

Mickey Galyean & Cullen’s Bridge- Songs From the Blue Ridge review   Leave a comment

Gaylean

Mickey Galyean & Cullen’s Bridge
Songs From the Blue Ridge
Rebel Records

Unheralded bluegrass bands performing music to the highest quality abound.

Hailing from the Blue Ridge Mountain area of Virginia and North Carolina, Mickey Galyean & Cullen’s Bridge have been performing and developing without the benefit of overbearing promotional folks and management. They are doing it honestly: woodshedding, performing, and recording. Their previous release, My Daddy’s Grass, was an impressive collection of new songs (“I Found My Daddy’s Grass,” “Brother Paul,” and “I’d Have A Dime”) via Rick Pardue (and his collaborators) and bandleader Galyean (“Home With The Blues”) further strengthened with powerful interpretations of familiar chestnuts (“It’s A Cold, Cold World,” “Dark As A Dungeon,” and “We’ll Be Sweethearts in Heaven.”)

Songs From the Blue Ridge is every bit its equal.

Recorded ‘the old fashioned way’ by the band members—Galyean (guitar, lead vocals), Pardue (banjo, tenor vocals), Brad Hiatt (acoustic bass, baritone vocals), and Billy Hawks (fiddle)—in a single studio without guest appearances, Songs From the Blue Ridge is a collection of songs that will provide endless entertainment.

While few of us ever need to hear “Dixieland For Me” again, the remaining eleven selections are without fault—and “Dixieland For Me” suffers only because it is overly familiar. The album’s centerpiece is a driving rendition of the Johnson Mountain Boys’ “Too Late to Say Goodbye,” a Dudley Connell song that we haven’t heard recorded in much too long. Another classic seldom encountered is John Duffey’s hopeful (and somewhat self-centered, demanding, and presuming) “Wear a Red Rose,” while “The Drunkard’s Dream” is oft-heard, but seldom with such musically dark overtones. Nice.

The new material is as inspiring. Pardue again comes through for his cohorts with both “You Can Go to Heaven” and a song many of us can relate to, “No Candy in My Bluegrass.” Over a strong bass rhythm and a mess of impressive banjo rolls, we hear words like an elixir:

He was standing in the back row shaking his head,
Considering the fact all his heroes were dead.
He was hearing something that he didn’t rightly know—
Was it souped-up country or bad rock and roll.
Don’t put no candy in my bluegrass,
I don’t want my whiskey watered down.
Don’t give me no electrified baloney—
I just want to hear that mountain sound!

Preachin’ to the converted, and no complaints about it.

Galyean’s songwriting contribution is similarly well-conceived. “Now I’m Losing You” is a ‘woe, you’re leaving me’ number with some flair, not the least of which is Hawks’ fiddle work. His father Cullen’s “The Blue Ridge Mountains” ties the project together amid “tall lonesome old pines.” Brad Hiatt’s “She’s Gone” is memorable, a somewhat empowering tale of self-determination, and Hawks’ fiddle showcase “Outback” is more than filler—Hiatt’s rhythm sets the pace, but it is the interplay of Hawks and Pardue that sets the tune apart.

Filled-out by terrific readings of the thematically linked “The Convict and the Rose” and “These Old Prison Bars,” Mickey Galyean & Cullen’s Bridge have created an intriguing, lasting bluegrass recording. Rebel Records has done it again!

As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald