Archive for the ‘2008 Releases’ Tag

Gold…In A Way- The SteelDrivers, featuring Chris Stapleton   Leave a comment

imagesOver at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass, I’ve posted an update to my 2008 review of The SteelDrivers’ debut album. Gold…In A Way is a semi-regular thing I do where I look back on a favoured bluegrass release. I was prompted to do this one by Chris Stapleton’s absolutely unexpected crowning as the CMA’s Male Vocalist of the Year, as well as Best New Artist and Album of the Year. “Traveller” is, no doubt, a great album, and Stapleton is a fabulous singer and songwriter, but no one-not even his pal Nelson at WDVX could have anticipated that he would win three awards last week.

I’m also linking in my review to The SteelDrivers’ latest album, The Muscle Shoals Sessions, published awhile ago at Country Standard Time; I can’t find a link to it here- must have missed that. As well, I reviewed Hammer Down there a couple years back.

Yup, I do love me some SteelDrivers.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald


Chris Vallillo- Abraham Lincoln in Song   Leave a comment

Another from the Fervor Coulee, pre-blog archive.

Originally published in The Red Deer Advocate, April 18, 2008.

Chris Vallillo

Abraham Lincoln in Song

An album of old-time music from and inspired by the times of Lincoln; there’s a commercial bonanza just a-waitin’!

Within detailed liner notes, Illinois songwriter and musician Chris Vallillo outlines the connection each track has to Lincoln, whether a personal favourite of the sixteenth president of the U.S., an artifact of the time, or a contemporary piece reflecting a historical perspective. Anticipating the bicentennial of his birth, Abraham Lincoln in Song present thirteen tunes and songs from the familiar- Lorena, Hard Times, and Dixie’s Land­– to the less known- El-A-Noy and Let the Band Play Dixie.

Vallillo has a pleasant, masculine voice that is fully capable of carrying the nuance of a popular sentimental melody while bringing a bit of bombast to more inspirational numbers. Vallillo’s guitar arsenal is large, and he is accompanied by mandolin, fiddle, bass, and harmonica.

Those interested in the aural tradition and historical basis of familiar songs within a stunning acoustic context are well advised to investigate Abraham Lincoln in Song.

Carlene Carter- Stronger   Leave a comment

This weekend I made the decision to revamp Fervor Coulee a bit, so you’ll notice a few tweaks. I also realized I hadn’t dug into the non-posted archive for a long time. I dug out this review of Carlene’s ‘comeback’ album originally published just before this blog was born. I’ll make an attempt to update a few older reviews as the weeks pass.

Originally appeared in The Red Deer Advocate, August 1, 2008

Carlene Carter



Fans can be forgiven for believing they were unlikely to hear new material from June Carter’s first-born.

On her first album in over than a decade, Carlene Carter displays the passion that has consistently been present in her country-rock hybrid while instilling depth that was frequently missing from her chart hits. Stronger has more than a little of the spirit of her Carter family ancestors woven within the tracks. 

Having spent years out of the spotlight, Carter’s voice is huskier than it was on Little Acts of Treason, her major label swan song. But she displays control and sensitivity throughout, never over-extending her voice.

Her honest treatment of On To You signifies that at fifty-plus, Carter can give those half her age something to consider, and the mid-tempo, country shuffle To Change Your Heart would fit nicely on any of Carter’s mid-90s albums.

While Carter exposes herself emotionally throughout Stronger, the album’s mood isn’t dense or bleak. I’m So Cool is as lively as when she first recorded it almost thirty years ago. Attention to phrasing and delicate instrumentation allows the gentle love song Spider Lace to stand out as a highlight.

But Carter saves the best for last. The album’s intense title track doesn’t mince words, and Carter’s mature performance of what could be a clichéd lyric (“What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger”) elevates the song. When one considers from where Carter was for much of the last thirteen years- addiction, career bankruptcy, criminal charges, family losses- June, Johnny, sister Rosey, ex Howie Epstein- “this hell-raising angel” is entitled to look back with contented perspective. Stronger should become Carter’s signature song.

Without apologizing for her past, Carlene Carter has documented the challenges, celebrations, and lessons of a hard-lived life on Stronger. Not only Comeback of the Year, Stronger is a candidate for Comeback of the Decade.

2009 update- I just listened to Stronger again, and while it holds up quite well, it isn’t the remarkable ‘comeback’ I perhaps thought it was. In too many places lush overwhelms lust, and that can’t be a good thing for a singer with Carter’s vocal traits. Still, I’m glad the album got made, and I’m just as happy that it brought Carlene Carter some positive press after years of less than stellar news.

Roots music column, June 5   Leave a comment

Good day, roots music fans,

In this week’s column, I advance several area shows and festivals as well as highlight the five albums I am placing on my ballot for this years Polaris Music Prize: the latest from The Great Lake Swimmers, Maria Dunn, The Swiftys, The Wooden Telegraph, and Jayme Stone & Mansa Sissoko. More information about the Polaris Music Prize is available from

Thanks for dropping by- Donald

(Written first week of June, 2009) This week I’ll be submitting my first ballot nominees for the Polaris Music Prize. Awarded annually, this prize amounts to $20 000 for the album deemed by a panel of Canadian music writers and broadcasters as ‘best’ of the (June to May) year, regardless of sales or genre.

I’m honoured to be among the jury members from across our country. While my rootsy nominees seldom make it to the ‘short list’ of finalists, I usually place a couple on the ‘long list’ of 40 nominees. So, here they are- the five albums I consider the ‘best albums of the year!’

 In no particular order-

 Great Lake Swimmers- Lost Channels (Nettwerk) Existing on the fringes of roots music, Tony Dekker’s Ontario-based Great Lake Swimmers are, in my opinion, a perfect listening choice for those tired of Blue Rodeo, ready for challenging sounds that bring to mind Bon Iver, The Black House, Blue Oyster Cult, and XTC. Lost Channels enraptured me from first listen, and Pulling on a Line may be the singular finest new song I’ve heard in six months.

 Woodland Telegraph- Sings Revival Hymns (Northern Folklore) Woodland Telegraph comes out of Lethbridge via Kananaskis Country, where Matthew Lovegrove spent the winter of 2007 writing the music that became Sings Revival Hymns; his intention was to re-create the Canadian Rockies and their history in song. Lovegrove’s deep, melodic voice takes some getting used to, but once one accepts it the magic flows from the speakers. The music is charged, and sweeps away musical inertia through challenging melodies and time signatures.

The Swiftys- Ridin’ High (Self-released) Not hearing new material for several years from The Swiftys, I had to reacquaint myself with Shawn Johnson and Co.’s approach to rootsy, country rock. Ridin’ High is a more engaged, mature collection of songs, not as immediately welcoming as their previous material but every bit as attractive. If these guys were from Austin, they might be just another band; since they are ours- well, at least western Canada’s- they ‘ride high’ in my esteem.

 Maria Dunn- The Peddler (Distant Whisper) I must stand behind Edmonton’s Maria Dunn and advocate one final time for The Peddler. An album of rare acuity, this disc is populated with characters historical and imagined. Joined by long-time collaborators Shannon Johnson and The McDades, Dunn’s sweet and gentle manner tempers the darkness that shades many of her songs. Her voice and phrasing, as well as her blending of Scots-Irish folk sounds, are immediately and appreciatively identifiable.

 Jayme Stone & Mansa Sissoko- Africa to Appalachia (Self-released) Released last summer, this one was almost forgotten, but the intense exploration of the Malian roots of the 5-string banjo will not be denied. Stone, Sissoko, and their collaborators successfully amalgamate African sounds- kora, percussion, ngoni, and vocals- with the fiddles and banjos of the Appalachia, producing a unification of rhythms that is lively, memorable, and awe-inspiring.

 As I am limited to five nominees, I couldn’t put forth terrific albums released by The United Steel Workers of Montreal (Three on the Tree), Rae Spoon (Superioeyouareinferior), David Baxter (Day & Age), Annabelle Chvostek (Resilience),  One Hundred Dollars (Forest of Tears), Romi Mayes (Achin’ in Yer Bones), and The Deep Dark Woods (Winter Hours,) all of whom released music worthy of mention and listening.

 (For the record, I ended up dropping Maria Dunn’s album-knowing full well it had no chance of making the long list- in favour of David Baxter. That didn’t work out either; as things progressed, only one of my five nominees made it to the long list of 40 albums- Lost Channels. In baseball, hitting .200 is called, I think The Mendoza Line. In nominating albums for the Polaris Prize, it means being out of touch with the ‘mainstream!’ Oh, well. Maybe next year I’ll be able to convince more writers and broadcasters from across Canada of the value held by roots performers. Or, at least, the ones I value! Donald)

Jay Clark- I’m Confused   1 comment

Jay Clark

I’m Confused

 This one has taken much too long to review; I’ve been enjoying it for months.

An East Tennessean now calling Alabama home, Jay Clark is one of hundreds of singer-songwriters producing quality music, offering insights into the way he perceives the world. Like John Prine, whom he vaguely recalls, what separates Clark from others in the roots world is his willingness to turn the focus away from himself while maintaining an integral intimacy with his subjects.

An ambitious album, I’m Confused takes its title from a song subtitled A Christian’s Lament of How the Right Wing of the Republican Party Has Distorted My Faith. Clark is unabashedly a Christian man, one that has seen his country split along religious and political lines that appear counter to common sense. And while the climate and mood of the United States appears to be changing, Clark’s exploration of paths down which Americans have wandered for eight years is astute.

Not everything is maudlin. A trio of drinking songs- Another Round, Free Beer Tomorrow, and Lifetime of Drinkin’– allow Clark to stretch into a lighter arena, although the latter song is as lonely as anything Guy Clark (no relation) has written. Third Shift in the Coal Mines delves deep into Clark’s rural roots; with its stark images and mournful moan, this number recalls Darrell Scott.

Over the course of three albums, Jay Clark has displayed a consistency of performance and songwriting that is staggering. I’m Confused is well deserving of the effort it will take to track down; with songs of the quality of Anna Lee and Reflectors, Clark remains in my Top Five of contemporary singer-songwriters.

Lluís Gómez Quartet- Lluís Gómez Quartet   Leave a comment

Lluís Gómez Quartet

International bluegrass is no more consistent in sound and influence than the familiar North American variety. No surprise then that Spaniard Lluís Gómez’s Quartet recording is an eclectic album that will either challenge listeners- again- as to ‘What is bluegrass, anyway?” or be embraced by those who celebrate acoustic instrumental virtuosity.

Barcelona-resident Lluís Gómez is comfortable playing his 5-string banjo in a number of musical settings including one devoted to traditional Irish music. On Quartet, Gómez is joined by three like-minded musical compatriots to explore original bluegrass, jazz, and newgrass sounds.

Entirely instrumental, Quartet features Gómez with longtime friend and musical mentor Ricky Araiza (guitar), Joan Pau Comellas (harmonica), and Maribel Sánchez (bass.) Joining the quartet on mandolin is American Tom Corbett, who also contributes some guitar, Tim Carter and Jose Mari Pulido (banjo), Bernard Molloy (fiddle), and Victor Estrada (theremin.)

The album’s initial track “Doctor’s Tune,” an ode to Gómez’s friend Pete Wernick, wouldn’t be out of place on any Alison Brown album, with mandolin-inspired images of waterfalls and other natural elements forming in this listener’s mind. Comellas’ harmonica breaks are especially appreciated within the confines of this light tune.

Elsewhere, upright bassist Sánchez is allowed to take a prominent role on the bass-rich “Forget the Fiddle,” an Araiza original that features a tapestry of mandolin notes that is quite remarkable. Araiza’s guitar fills and breaks are breathtaking in numerous places including on “Hutnik’s” and “Russtheny,” a tune inspired by two of Gómez’s favorite guitarists, Russ Barenberg and Pat Metheny.

The sounds Gómez coaxes from his 5-string are both exotic and comfortable; he can play it fast (“Stop the World”), he can play it slow (“Desestres”), and always he plays it in a manner that is completely jaw-dropping. On “Moving Cloud,” the most traditionally folk sounding tune on the album, Gómez- and Molloy’s fiddle- remind us of bluegrass’ Celtic origins.

And stick around for the eerie interlude within the album’s final track, “Walkin’, featuring a possible first- a banjo and theremin duet- as well as shades of the Beatles and Led Zeppelin.

Quartet is an inspiring collection of acoustic, instrumental music rooted in the sounds of bluegrass but reaching out tendrils to a place where genre labels are inconsequential.

Robin & Linda Williams- Buena Vista   Leave a comment

Robin & Linda Williams

Buena Vista

Red House


The venerable folk and acoustiblue duo return with their, by my count, 20th album; it is another that will undoubtedly become cherished by their legion of followers.


Little new ground is broken here, and little does that matter. As they have for thirty-some years, the Williams’ sing of love, family, their environment, and whatever else strikes a fancy. “Tied Down, Home Free” takes an irreverent look at long-term commitment, while “I’m Invisible Man” almost moves me to tears. It’s lonesome.


“Maybelle’s Guitar and Monroe’s Mandolin” (“standing there together like they were next of kin”) perfectly captures my exact feelings- but so much more eloquently- upon seeing the legendary instruments amongst the gaudy suits, faded pictures, and modern-day memorabilia in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.


The long-married couple always sounds fresh and lively, no small part due to the inspiration received from their accompanists. Regular readers will know the names- Tim O’Brien, Tim Crouch, Jerry Douglas- but what is more important is the sound they collectively capture. It is like listening to the perfect living room jam, so natural and unfettered is the music.


Linda and Robin have done it again, releasing another seemingly perfect album of contemporary folk music.