Will Kimbrough is just too talented and inspiring. I know it is irrational jealousy as I have no musical talent, and I am sure I am better at a couple things that Kimbrough is—not much market for ability to recite random facts from the backs of 70s O-Pee-Chee hockey cards, though.
Equal parts Buddy Miller, Larry Jon Wilson, and Darrell Scott, Kimbrough churns out albums of excellence and depth like few I can think of in the broad Americana world. He is a guitarist of significance, coaxing notes and moods that are, depending on the context, soulful country or rapid-fire rock. It seems like he always has a new recording out whether with one of his bands—Daddy and Willie Sugarcapps— or as a solo artist. He has produced dozens (including Fervor Coulee favourites Doug Seegers, Kate Campbell, and Todd Snider) and collaborated with more (Amy Black, Tom Russell, Rodney Crowell, Greg Trooper, Billy Joe Shaver, and Gretchen Peters) always bringing impressive qualities to projects. His songs have been recorded by Jack Ingram, Jimmy Buffett, Little Feet, and the Hard Working Americans.
It seems that every time I turn around I am dropping dollars on a Kimbrough-associated recording, and that gets expensive. I know I’m not the only one who appreciates Kimbrough as I’ve purchased Kimbrough recordings that are no longer on my shelves: to my consternation, they’ve been lent out and not returned.
No, I don’t like Will Kimbrough. I kinda love him.
I’m starting to feel the same way about Brigitte DeMeyer. Unfortunately, I had never heard of her prior to finding out she was releasing Mockingbird Soul with Kimbrough, the album shortly to be under discussion. I`ve dropped dollars on three of her albums since receiving this album for review, and I still have a number to explore—like Kimbrough, she is costing me money. Additionally, DeMeyer can sing. Man, can she sing.
Having appeared on each others’ albums and performed together, the pair have released their debut recording, one that is certainly going to be considered on many year-end, ‘best of’ lists when the time comes.
Largely taking the lead on alternating songs, they have produced an ideally balanced duet recording, with DeMeyer’s Side One Melissa Etheridge passionate huskiness pairing with Kimbrough’s restrained, telling honesty.
Tracks three through five (“The Juke,” “Running Round,” and the title track) are about as spirited, swampy, and Southern-country soul as the album gets, while in other places the songs more closely resembles what country music once was and could be again given a shot of 3614 Jackson Highway swagger. Not as full-blown but every bit as funky as Bobbie Gentry’s best work, each track has more soul than 98% of what any of us have heard on modern country radio this decade. The arrangements are straight-forward rather than minimalistic, allowing the duet vocals prominence.
Mid-set, family relations courses through numbers including “Rainy Day” (inspired by a child’s struggle,) “Little Easy,” (an atmospheric expression of a wanderer, perhaps), “I Can Hear Your Voice” (vivid memories of a father approaching the end) and even “Honey Bee,” with a no-nonsense mama of a different stripe. It is this intimacy of subject matter that allows Kimbrough and DeMeyer to positively shine throughout the 43-minute set: their musical, artistic bonding complete.
“Broken Fences” allows Kimbrough more latitude vocally and instrumentally, and is among the finest of his recorded performances I’ve encountered. The Incredible String Band’s venerable “October Song” is the set’s sole cover, and this ode to time’s passing is a suitable and compelling closing to a remarkable album. Ah, those doors behind our mind, indeed.
Long before my tenth or twentieth listening of Mockingbird Soul was completed, I was reinvigorated, having found another album to get me through this horrid January of upset and turmoil. Will Kimbrough and Brigitte DeMeyer. Remember them, and buy their album—you won’t be disappointed.
Make no mistake, I get the blues. If I wasn’t economically privileged (and I have worked for that, dang it all), I would live the blues. I just don’t ‘get’ swing. Jive. Jump. I don’t understand it. I’m not sure I really like it. Give me acoustic, 12-bar blues and dim lights, and I’m satisfied. Don’t get me started on jazz; I’m not that privileged!
Having admitted that…I more than dig Eight O’Five Jive’s second album Swing Set.
I first played the album a month or so back, and was immediately taken by the monumental horns of Patrick Mosser and the Horn Stars. Right out of the gate, my toes were tapping. Then, a few measures in, Lee Shropshire started singing…and I knew I was hooked. “Make Mine a Double” was the song, and the group has so much fun on this shim-sham-shimmy number providing a bedrock for Shropshire’s account of adoration for all things alcohol that I got swept away. By the time she sings, “A daiquiri a day, keeps my abstinence at bay…” I knew I had found the right band to get me through the January blues of 2017.
Swing Set is fun. There is no pretense of weightiness within its eleven tracks. Nor do Eight O’Five Jive have about them airs of self-importance. This ‘one band revival’ has their heart and feet in the 40s and 50s, bringing to contemporary listeners the sauciness and escapism of the music of a distant generation of sophisticated musicians and vocalists who played wherever and whenever to make a buck or three.
The band continues to hop on “Never.” Punctuated by blasts of brass and guitar, Shropshire purrs with confidence, “You’re never gonna shake it with me!” Eight O’Five Jive’s songs are filled with rhythmic lyrical repartee, whether related to alcohol consumption (“Before you go and leave me, pour me one more glass of wine,”) marital indiscretion (“The last time I did that, I got laid out with a bat”), or alcohol consumption (“Trust me boys, I can put it back!”) Discovering the world’s problems one drink at a time, perhaps.
For a change of pace, the band modulates with the sassy saunter of “I Won’t Wear Flats (To Your Funeral),” a clever kiss-off number. Slightly more spritely is “Back Of My Hand,” in which Shropshire promises that “if I catch you flirting with another chick, you’re gonna feel how these heels feel.”
Closing with “A Little Bit of Bourbon” (“makes everything better,”) another song of female empowerment through 80 proof, Eight O’Five Jive sends their listeners off to find some “hair of the dog” to get themselves through the rest of their day.
Eight O’Five Jive isn’t out to analyse the troubles of the world. They are playing up-tempo, lively music for those who are looking for something to help them deal with the challenges of their world. The musicianship is crackerjack, with Andy Scheinman’s guitar of particular appeal. Mosser’s saxophone shines throughout, taking leads with aplomb while never over-reaching to the detriment of the combo. Bill Bois’ bass is, depending on tastes, buried a bit, while Duane Spencer’s ‘cocktail drums’ perfectly complement the sound Eight O’Five Jive achieves. Everyone sings- often the call and response variety- but the vocal star is Shropshire who carries the album. She possesses a bold voice, one that gives not an inch against her robust accompaniment.
There is a whole lot of awful stuff going on in our world. Politics appear a mess, those we are supposed to entrust with our best interest betray us, and (rightly or wrongly) we look over our shoulders much too often. Social media is anything but. Too many folks aren’t working, too many people are battling demons that are much too strong, and too many use faith to blind followers. I know my sleep has been troubled these past few months, too many hours in the early morning dark fretting forces I can’t control. The only thing that appears predictable is the implausibly unpalatable.
When I first opened the package containing this disc, I was unmoved: not my thing, I thought. I was wrong. Eight O’Five Jive is just my thing, and is the free-spirited, lively, and amusingly entertaining music I needed this month. I suggest you may feel the same.
In preparation of writing the review, I went back to the shelves and was surprised to find that I had only three of their previous albums, the debut Fork in the Road and its follow-up The Infamous Stringdusters as well as both the download of Silver Sky and the deluxe edition which came with the live album We’ll Do It Live.
I must have misplaced their third album somewhere, because when I purchased the download earlier this month, it sounded immediately familiar. I share this because I think sometimes folks feel that writers, even we of the freelance variety, get all their music free. I certainly don’t. [I was serviced with Laws of Gravity; that is why I wrote about it.]
In order to write this review, I purchased downloads of Things That Fly, Let It Go, Undercover, and Ladies & Gentlemen. I did that to ensure that my perspective on Laws of Gravity was fully informed. I will never, ever make back that $3o from my review of Laws of Gravity (once upon a time…O, how I sometimes long for 2005!), but in order to write about a band I need to understand their music.
Apparently, I stopped intently listening to The Infamous Stringdusters some time ago, and I am now- having listened to their albums for the past three weeks- regretful of that: won’t happen again. I am listening to their set from last year’s DelFest as I type these words, and I am reminded of how impressed I was the first time I heard them live- maybe on WDVX- and how incredible their concert in Red Deer was almost a decade ago. They are a great band- not necessarily ‘bluegrass’ as I understand it, but a damned fine group of musicians and singers. Check out my review over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass, and feel free to let me know what you think.
I don’t understand why record labels and bands release ‘regular’ albums in December. For gift giving and year-end splurges, I understand the compilations, box sets, and special editions being released late in the year.
Pinecastle Records released two bluegrass albums in December, 2016. Both are really strong and distinctive albums, but weren’t heard until most of the ‘year-end’ lists were compiled. A shame because-a month after their release-they haven’t received as much attention as I think they deserve.
Blue Mafia is one of my favourite bluegrass bands. I’ve yet to catch them live-living on the edge of the frozen prairies and forests of Alberta does have some drawbacks-but their two previous albums were immediately appealing. Their third release is just as strong, and is one that I’m going to be listening to a lot as the next months unfold. My review has been posted at Country Standard Time.
Wildfire is a group I’ve been listening to since their first album was released in 2001. They have undergone all sorts of lineup changes over the year, but Robert Hale and Curt Chapman have been the consistent members and have just released their fifth recording. My review has been posted at Country Standard Time.
An excellent start to the 2017 bluegrass season. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Here is my list of Favourite Bluegrass Albums of 2016. Of course, your kilometreage will vary: I once received a perplexing, cranky email from the father of a fairly prominent bluegrasser whose album I didn’t include on such a list several years ago. For those such inclined, I repeat—these are my favourite bluegrass albums of the year. Not the best, ’cause that is silly. And all I can base it on is those albums I’ve heard, and maybe I somehow missed your son’s album…talk to his publicist.
Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands- The Hazel & Alice Sessions (Spruce and Maple) Laurie Lewis places Hazel Dickens with the bluegrass vocal big-three: Bill Monroe, Carter Stanley, and Lester Flatt. Alice Gerrard is a fearsome master of vocal folk, old-time, and bluegrass. The Hazel and Alice Sessions is not only a worthy tribute to a key bluegrass partnership, but an entertaining and formable collection of music. For me, undoubtedly the bluegrass album of the year. Nominated for a Grammy this time out, I could listen to this one every day. Also, if taken together with the rest of the roots and Americana world, my favourite album of the year.
2. Sister Sadie- Sister Sadie (Pinecastle) It remains rare for an all-female outfit featuring well-established personalities to come together to perform and record. Sister Sadie is one hell of a band! Presenting Dale Ann Bradley, Tina Adair and Gena Britt with Deanie Richardson and Beth Lawrence, Sister Sadie not only has individual name recognition, but an appealing, unified bluegrass approach. Dedicating the album to bluegrass innovator Lynn Morris, Sister Sadie has paid homage to the power of their gender’s role in bluegrass and country music.
3. The Earls of Leicester- Rattle & Roar (Rounder Records) Like the Bluegrass Album Band did three decades ago, The Earls of Leicester are more than a bluegrass supergroup. They deftly remind the bluegrass community of what this music is about: no ‘nod’ to the roots of the music, this is a full-blown tribute to the sturdy trunk that has supported the many branches of bluegrass for 70 years. While one may not ‘hear’ that the album was largely cut live with the musicians playing simultaneously within the same room, you can certainly ‘feel’ the intimacy of the experience. Everything is precise and note-perfect of course, but listening to “Why Did You Wonder?” one can envision Jerry Douglas nodding to Paul Warren to take a fiddle break after a chorus, Shawn Camp encouraging Charlie Cushman to step-up to deliver a memorable fill, and Jeff White grinning to Barry Bales as the song is brought home. With great regard for the tradition and even greater understanding of the precision required to make this music appear effortless—and the ability to pull it off—Rattle & Roar is another outstanding bluegrass recording from The Earls of Leicester.
4. Bryan Sutton- The More I Learn (Sugar Hill Records) Hands down, Bryan Sutton is the preeminent contemporary bluegrass guitar player. With clarity, precision, and enthusiasm born of ingenuity and good-taste, he is the ‘go-to’ player within both the bluegrass and Nashville-country studio recording worlds. All the while, Sutton has maintained a recording presence. While early recordings focused primarily (although not exclusively) on impressive interpretations of familiar instrumentals and fiddle tunes, Sutton has pushed himself on latter albums to develop his songwriting while also presenting himself as a singer. This progression continues with The More I Learn, with seven originals and co-writes and nine songs featuring Sutton in the lead position. A very satisfying recording that will appeal to those who have come to appreciate Sutton’s tasteful approach to bluegrass and acoustic music.
5. Balsam Range- Mountain Voodoo (Mountain Home) Balsam Range is a band that encapsulates all that modern bluegrass represents. So consistently impressive that we no longer expect their albums to be ‘better than their last,’ in less than a decade Balsam Range has hit the plateau of excellence few groups achieve. Like The Del McCoury Band, Blue Highway, and Alison Krauss & Union Station before them, a new release from Balsam Range is measured against their individual legacy. Mountain Voodoo lacks nothing.
6. James Reams & the Barnstormers- Rhyme & Season (Mountain Redbird) I’ve never hidden the fact that James Reams is one of my favourite people in bluegrass. He gets to the heart of the music each and every time, whether interpreting an under-heard classic of the genre, reinventing a country song, or performing one of his many excellent original numbers. Now based in Arizona, the longtime Brooklyn bluegrass mainstay returned this spring with a wonderful new album, Rhyme & Season. Rhyme & Season is most deliberately a concept album, a rarity in bluegrass circles. It includes songs from Mike Stinson (“Angel of the Evening,” Marty Stuart (“Rough Around the Edges,”) and Lawrence Shoberg (“Born to Roll”) and from the catalogs of Porter Wagoner (“$100 Funeral”) and Charley Pride (“Special,”) songs that capture the experiences of life’s outliers, the lost and often invisible.
7. Jeff White- Right Beside You (Jeff White Bluegrass Records)Right Beside You is simply a terrific bluegrass album, one provided shades of influence from the Americana tree. As a result of the familiarity of the material, Right Beside You sounds classic. Because of the quality of performance, it is.
8. Blue Highway- Original Traditional (Rounder Records) Their eleventh album and first since Rob Ickes departed, continues Blue Highway’s recent blueprint: original music written or co-written by band members along with a single traditional song. The album’s title alludes to the group’s tendency to bridge the generations of bluegrass through recognition and reverence for the traditions of the music while ensuring a contemporary, original perspective is always present. With three formidable lead vocalists and key songwriters—Tim Stafford, Shawn Lane, and Wayne Taylor— along with Jason Burleson’s alternately aggressive and pensive, propulsive and sympathetic banjo presence (his tune “Alexander’s Run” is a highlight of the recording) and an instrumental lineup as strong as has ever been staged, Blue Highway is one of the top bands in the business. And this is an excellent bluegrass album.
9. Danny Paisley & Southern Grass- Weary River (Patuxent Music)Weary River was released in late 2015, too late to be considered for most year-end lists including my own, but the album received its due in 2016. For those who continue to appreciate bluegrass unadorned by passing fancy, this album has much to offer.
10. Del McCoury Band- Del and Woody (McCoury Music) As produced previous sets from Billy Bragg & Wilco, Jay Farrar, et al, and The Klezmatics, lyrics stored within the Woody Guthrie Archives were turned over to McCoury to be repurposed. This rootsy set, fully bluegrass in sound and intent, is the result and the first thing one may notice is how much it sounds like a typical Del McCoury Band album: if unaware of its genesis, one wouldn’t be surprised by anything included here. The musicianship is naturally first-class. McCoury has crafted these 12 songs within the well-established family oeuvre, balancing up tempo, but still substantial numbers and reflective, even maudlin songs. Del and Woody should satisfy those searching for fresh takes on Guthrie lyrics as well as the legion that devours music of The Del McCoury Band.
11. Sam Bush- Storyman (Sugar Hill Records) Sam Bush, it can be argued, is the most significant mandolin player of the last fifty years. Bowling Green, Kentucky’s favoured son has long been the bellwether of all things acoustic and ‘grassy. Storyman comes almost seven years after the exceptional Circles Around Me, an album that signified a high-point in Bush’s considerable solo output. As strong as that album was (it made my Top Ten for 2009 and, in hindsight, it would now be certain of a Top 5 berth) Storyman is an even more complete encapsulation of Bush’s approach to acoustic, bluegrass shaded Americana.
12. Special Consensus- Long I Ride (Compass Records) For more than forty years, Greg Cahill has been making bluegrass music as leader of the Special Consensus. Never in that time, as far as I’m aware, has he experienced the type of success as seen in the past few years since signing on with Compass Records and Alison Brown, who also produces this record. They are a stellar bluegrass group, one of the finest in the business. Long I Ride is further evidence of this true life fact.
13. The Grascals- …and then there’s this (Mountain Home) One of bluegrass music’s strongest and most engaging performing groups, The Grascals have consistently freshened traditional sounds with modern, progressive elements. From start to finish, in this case Bill Monroe’s plaintive “Highway of Sorrow,” this album maintains the best parts of The Grascals’ country-tempered style of bluegrass, with lots of banjo from Kristin Scott Benson: The Grascals are back at the top of their game with …and then there’s this.
14. Town Mountain- Southern Crescent (LoHi Records)Southern Crescent isn’t so much a departure from previous albums, especially 2012’s excellent Leave the Bottle, as it is an intense continuation of their southern influences and hard-scrabble bluegrass sound. As raucous as this approach is, there is a place within the (sometimes) staid and constrained bluegrass community for exactly this type of music. It isn’t trying to be country, it sure isn’t leaning toward easy listening, NPR pap—it is bluegrass, just not the type favoured by Bill Monroe. For that matter, it isn’t of the flavour projected by Doyle Lawson, Rhonda Vincent, Lonesome River Band, or most of today’s mainstream headliners.
16. Kristin Scott Benson- Stringworks (Mountain Home) A beautifully balanced bluegrass album, one that alternates between instrumentals and songs. A very well-constructed and superbly executed bluegrass release, one that reveals the continued growth of one of bluegrass music’s most respected banjoists and personalities.
17. Audie Blaylock & Redline- The Road That Winds (Patuxent Music) Like his previous releases, The Road That Winds is a bluegrass album firmly down the dotted, middle line—it holds a steady course without drifting toward the edges, meeting anything in its way head on. Blaylock comes from the Jimmy Martin school, and his music will always be rooted in that tradition. However, over the course of their evolution, the younger members of the group—and obviously, Blaylock, too—have kept their sights on progressing with their music, ensuring they remain relevant as artists and entertainers. It’s straight-ahead bluegrass, but forward looking in execution.
18. Corrina Rose Logston- Bluegrass Fiddler (Patuxent Music) The title of the album is an acute summation. This is a bluegrass fiddle album, and a darned fine one. While I will sometimes drift-off (to use a polite term for ‘fall asleep’) listening to a fiddle-dominated recording, Bluegrass Fiddler kept me intrigued from start to finish. No doubt part of the reason was that Logston’s assembled band keeps things interesting, not just supporting her fiddling showcase, but sounding like a true band who has worked up a strong set of numbers.
19. Josh Williams- Modern Day Man (Rounder Records) A stunning bluegrass vocalist and guitarist, Williams’ contributions to Rhonda Vincent’s concert appearances are significant, never failing to impress. With the release of Modern Day Man, Williams delivers evidence that second chances must be earned through honesty, acceptance and no little bit of hard work.