Archive for the ‘2010 Releases’ Tag

My Polaris Music Prize Ballot 2011…for now   Leave a comment

I feel honoured to be part of the Polaris Music Prize jury. All year-long I listen to some of the finest Canadian music released and each June I am asked to narrow these down- for the initial ballot- to five. I’ve spent the last several days finalizing my list, re-listening to albums I previously considered, and catching up on a few I had missed. I’m ready to vote…I think. I entered my ballot this evening, and have the rest of the week to finalize it. As of this minute, these are my top 5 albums for this year’s Polaris:

#1 = Kim Beggs – Blue Bones
#2 = Ben Sures – Gone to Bolivia
#3 = Ohama – Earth History Multiambient
#4 = Ruth Moody – The Garden
#5 = David Baxter – Patina Luke Doucet- Steel City Trawler

No shortage of albums to consider, in my opinion. Some love to Ruth Moody, who I had a bit higher until tonight…I’m really hoping several jury members are considering sending Kim Beggs votes- a beautiful recording. You’ll notice, if you care, that Ohama doesn’t
fit my usual roots bias. I can’t stop listening to it- it has played all through my work day a couple of times in the last few weeks. I love the complexity of the sounds he produces. I’ve been enamoured with his music since university and was disappointed to find that I no longer have his early albums on my shelf- not sure what happened to them. Regrets. The new Ben Sures project sounds gorgeous and includes several excellent songs- it is much more than a folk album, if that is how your brain works. I’ve revised my ballot to include Luke Doucet’s Steel City Trawler, an album that was floating around #7 on my list. It moved up with another listen this week, largely because “The Ballad of Ian Curtis” is legendary, IMO.

Feel free to attempt to sway my votes and certainly consider giving the above a listen if you are open to roots sounds. And really, why would you be at Fervor Coulee if you weren’t? Reviews of all but Ohama are located here at Fervor Coulee. Thanks for visiting- Donald

The Laws and The Toy Hearts reviews   Leave a comment

Aaron has posted another pair of review over at the Lonesome Road Review, neither of which are for albums I would necessarily independently seek out.

The first is my review of The Laws’ new album, Try Love. The Laws have played Alberta fairly frequently, but I don’t believe I’ve caught them live. I do know that they played some of the area bluegrass festivals several years ago. While there is nothing obviously wrong or lacking on Try Love, neither is there anything particularly distinctive or memorable about it. Your opinion, of course, may vary: I rated it 3.5 out of 5 because- while it doesn’t appeal to me- it is a well-crafted album.

The Laws
Try Love
http://www.thelaws.ca
3.5 stars (out of 5)

By Donald Teplyske

Philanthropists and songwriters. Partners and spouses. Canadians and world-travelers. Singers and jammers.

So a description of The Laws begins.

In just over a decade, the Ontario-based couple have established themselves as one of the more appealing and well-regarded duos on the Canadian folk and acoustiblue circuits, equally comfortable on a bluegrass festival stage and a quaint coffeehouse.

With Try Love, their sixth independently released album, John and Michelle Law further refine their approach to harmony rich folk music. Produced by Cape Breton multi-instrumentalist J.P. Cormier, the album has a bright, clear sound that places their vocals just in front of the artfully embossed instrumentation.

Songs such as “Love Again,” “Walking Away,” and “With My Heart” are unabashed country in structure and theme, certainly modern but without the rock ‘n’ roll overtones that have come to define contemporary country.

Elsewhere, “Rebel Cowboy Dream” and “Wherefore and Why” contain bluegrass shadings, with the latter having a bit of drive behind it, while “Who’s Keeping Score” gently swings.

“Beer Mountain Rag” is a full-blown bluegrass instrumental featuring quality picking from Cormier on banjo and mandolin.

Michelle sings most of the leads, and yet the album loses no momentum when John takes over. Powerfully voiced, on “In the Clouds” he may remind some of Canadian crooner Johnny Reid, but on “Try Love” he stretches—perhaps a bit too much—into John Hiatt territory.

Try Love is a pretty slick sounding album that will undoubtedly become a favorite of those who appreciate The Laws’ approach to roots music.

The other album reviewed is from the UK and comes from The Toy Hearts. I have to admit- I avoided this album for quite a few weeks because the  artwork absolutely creeped me out. I realize it is staged to play up to the album’s title, but really…I just think it looks cheap, misguided, and distracting from what isn’t a terrible album but it looks like it is.

The Toy Hearts
Femme Fatale
Woodville Music
3 stars (out of 5)

By Donald Teplyske

With flirty vocals and a saucy image, The Toy Hearts are—if one believes the publicity attached to their website—at the forefront of a British revival of Americana sounds.

Despite having been immersed in bluegrass music, The Toy Hearts’ third album has barely a hint of ‘grass within its 50-plus minutes. Hailing from Birmingham, England this trio fronted by sisters Hannah (lead vocals and mandolin) and Sophia (guitar and harmony) Johnson bring to acoustic music a faux sophistication that is at odds with the bluegrass, western swing, and gypsy jazz they emulate.

While that isn’t intended as a compliment, neither is Femme Fatale unlistenable; there is quite a lot to recommend it as long as one sets aside notions of what roots music sounds like.

“Tequila and High Heels,” “Good For Me,” and the title track share a sound that some readers may associate with The Good Lovelies, the Canadian trio that connects the Andrews Sisters to the old-time, folk tradition. “The Devil on the Wall” is one of several songs one appreciates, especially with its unusual bridge and guitar interlude.

“The Captain” may be the album’s finest five minutes. This call-to-arms to personal empowerment finds the protagonist breaking the chains of manipulation and helplessness hardened by years of domination.

The sisters’ multi-instrumentalist father Stewart contributes resonator and banjo throughout, including on the lively instrumental “Creek Bluff Drive.” Every song benefits from his deft touch as mournful tones emanate from his Dobro and spirit springs from the 5.

Several names familiar to the bluegrass faithful appear on Femme Fatale. The Infamous Stringdusters’ Jesse Cobb handles much of the mandolin across this project, and Missy Raines assumes bass duties. Ex-Cadillac Sky’s Ross Holmes fiddles while former bandmate David Mayfield appears on vocals, electric guitar, and Mellotron, a keyboard instrument Google tells me was invented in Birmingham, completing the circle. Mayfield also produced the album.

The Toy Hearts are not my kind of band. They play around the edges a bit too much for my liking, not really committing to any one direction. Still, I can appreciate their vocal treatments, their emphasis on original songs, and their willingness to explore sounds that others may not.

Not likely an album that I’ll be revisiting anytime soon, but recommended if you appreciate The Greencards, Claire Lynch, and Sara Watkins.

 

I tend to like my roots music with a bit of gravel, and the isn’t too much grit on either of these albums. What they did do was challenge me to write about music that I didn’t necessarily personally appreciate- I was forced to listen to them with others’ ears because it was obvious I wasn’t the target audience. Hopefully, I succeeded in sharing a balanced treatment of the art created by these musicians. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee, Donald

Hillfolk Noir reviews   Leave a comment

Over at the Lonesome Road Review, Aaron has posted my reviews of the two recent albums from Idaho’s Hillfolk Noir; while both have something to offer Skinny Mammy’s Revenge is a far superior effort.  Think Folkways meets O Brother, without T-Bone. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee- Donald

Hillfolk Noir
Live at the Old Idaho Penitentiary
http://www.petometz.com
2.5 stars (out of 5)

Hillfolk Noir
Skinny Mammy’s Revenge
http://www.petometz.com
4 stars (out of 5)

By Donald Teplyske

The most recent releases from Boise, Idaho’s Hillfolk Noir, led by Travis and Alison Ward, are lively, risk-taking examples of what can happen when musicians throw their fate toward the wind.

Live at the Old Idaho Penitentiary and Skinny Mammy’s Revenge are billed as field recordings, capturing the group—on Old Idaho a seven piece, on Skinny Mammy a quartet—in their natural environs within Boise. The recordings are unencumbered to the point of pretentiousness—a few mics, no sound system in the case of the former, a single mic to analog tape in the case of the latter, 20-track project. Fortunately for Hillfolk Noir, they overcome affectations with aplomb.

Recorded in late 2009, Live at the Old Idaho Penitentiary is an inconsistent, ten-track offering played before a small but appreciative audience. Travis Ward carries the water throughout, singing the lead parts over instrumentation that—excepting the percussion—stays largely in the background.

Mandolinist Thomas Paul comes to the fore on occasion, as on “Johnny’s Last Run,” but the intricacies of the band’s arrangements are frequently lost due to production decisions. “Sleeping Under Stars” and “Stealin’” are exceptions where the band is allowed to cut loose a little and this is captured in the recording; unfortunately, the trade-off is that Ward’s vocals are more distant.

The malfeasance often captured in traditional songs is also present including in the slight but enjoyable “N. Idaho Zombie Rag,” featuring the walking (dead) bass of Mike Waite.

Far from perfect, Live at the Old Idaho Penitentiary is an album to which one may not frequently return. Still, as an artefact of a time and place in a group’s development, it serves a purpose.

Subtitled The Gage Street Market Sessions, Skinny Mammy’s Revenge features better sound quality and production than its predecessor and as a result is a more complete and listenable project.

Featuring a dozen Travis Ward originals, this album would stand proudly even without the inclusion of various blues and folk standards; with them, the album becomes an hour-long pleasure.

A gorgeous take of Jean Ritchie’s “The L & N Don’t Stop Here Anymore” is bookended by a pair of old-time blues numbers, the first a Ward original. “Broken Record” is one of several Ward compositions contained herein that could have been lifted from a Revenant reissue while “Ragged and Dirty Blues” is familiar from any number of performers including Willie Brown and Sleepy John Estes. A pair of Henry Thomas, Texas blues are ably covered, “Run, Molly, Run” and “Charming Betsy,” while “The Coo Coo” and “Jack of Diamonds” are given a blues bent.

Ward’s songs may not have the authenticity of centuries old standards, but he has mastered the art of replicating their structures. Seldom using more than a dozen lines of lyrics, his blues-based creations, among them “Dyin’ Bed Blues” and “Mr. Wilson’s Lament,” contain the genuine ache, frustration, and turmoil found in tunes much older than he.

Ward uses a resonator guitar throughout, providing a naturally amplified sound to the recording and he lays out some finely played blues riffs. Alison Ward maintains a strong instrumental presence on Skinny Mammy’s Revenge, contributing banjo, saw, and laundraphone which is, I believe, washboard as well as harmony vocals.

Like other old-time revivalists, Hillfolk Noir has found a way to mix their own sound with that of musicians who performed several generations ago. Depending on the song, their music has both old-time, Appalachian string band and Delta blues qualities, making for an uncommon but ultimately sustaining dissonance.

What sets them apart from Old Crow Medicine Show and their ilk is an insistence to not allow themselves to get ahead of the music; by not allowing for pop culture compromise throughout Skinny Mammy’s Revenge, Hillfolk Noir allows their largely unadorned music to stand on its own—for better or worse—and to be absorbed by listeners discovering these types of sounds for the first time.

Mountain Heart   Leave a comment

Remember when Mountain Heart was a bluegrass band?

Seriously though, I’ve been searching for a reason to mention their most recent album, and got it today via The Bluegrass Blog: click here http://www.thebluegrassblog.com/mountain-heart-on-wsm/ to see news of Mountain Heart’s new radio venture with WSM 650. Sounds pretty nifty.

That Just Happened, which I purchased this month via download, is a pretty wild ride. An EP really, clocking in at 32 minutes over 7 songs, the music steams along, straddling and blurring the lines between rock ‘n roll and bluegrass as few other recent projects have- especially the title track.  From “Little Sadie” to “Whipping Post” all the way to David Allan Coe with some piano for those of you who are looking for traditional, Bruce Hornsby influences in your grass.

It’s a lot of fun with a surprise around every corner and it’ll have you listening over and over, I predict. Dirt cheap over at eMusic. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

Posted 2011 February 4 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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Winter’s Bone- Music from the Motion Picture   2 comments

 O Brother, Where Art Thou? was released just over ten years ago. The movie- and more so, the soundtrack recording- gave bluegrass music a possibly unprecedented ‘bump’- arguably more than even Bonnie and Clyde and Deliverance did a generation previously. This despite the lack of ‘true’ bluegrass on the album: excepting the Soggy Bottom Boy and Ralph Stanley/Stanley Brothers tracks, most of the music has only a passing resemblance to bluegrass and would perhaps be better described as old-time country music, or as I prefer to call it within its context, acoustiblue.

For those of us who listen to, write about, and present bluegrass music, the O Brother impact was obvious and immediate. All of a sudden, bluegrass was hip. People were interested in the music, seeking it out in record numbers. Every magazine ran a feature on Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, or Gillian Welch- more often, all three. Ralph Stanley was everywhere. Copycat compilations popped up- some terrific, most rather dodgy. Down from the Mountain hit the road, and in general, bluegrass concert and festival attendance appeared to climb- at least in my part of the world. Everything was pretty darn good for a while there.

Of course, the O Brother bubble only lasted until the next media cycle started. Other fads took its place and we here in Red Deer started to notice declining concert attendance even as the quality of the presented performances remained strong and even improved. We anticipated it happening, and despite concerted efforts, couldn’t find a way to combat it.

Like those who squander the riches of an oil boom or a high-flying economy, we crossed our fingers, hoping for the next O Brother to come along, promising all the while to be better prepared this time. For a few weeks there was hope that the Cold Mountain soundtrack might help things out a bit, continue the momentum, but that didn’t happen. The film and accompanying soundtrack failed to provide a similar bump, notwithstanding the great talent that it gathered- Tim O’Brien, Riley Baugus, Alison Krauss, Dirk Powell and such- but in the end the album just wasn’t that interesting, paling in comparison to the album Songs from the Mountain, previously released by O’Brien, Powell, and John Herrmann.

Which brings me to Winter’s Bone. For the most part, it is unanimous- it is a great movie with wonderful performances that capture the character and people of the modern Ozarks. It is well deserving of one of ten (really, ten?!) best picture Oscar nominations, as is the lead actress Jennifer Lawrence and the down-right scary John Hawkes as Teardrop.

I heard of the movie when the ‘pre-release’ buzz started this past summer. I searched out the Daniel Woodrell novel and found it entirely engrossing, and rented the movie the first time I saw it on a local shelf. I watched the movie the one time more than a month ago- and wasn’t taking notes- but thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn’t really notice the music in the movie until the scene where Ree interrupts a kitchen picking party- the voice I now know as Marideth Sisco’s sliced through me- am I remembering correctly that she was singing “High on a Mountain”?- and I started paying a little closer attention to the soundtrack. Later that evening, I downloaded Winter’s Bone’s soundtrack.

The album has followed me from home to truck to highway to office for the past month, and I’ve enjoyed its less-than-polished music as much- and probably more than- as I did the O Brother soundtrack. Where that album- masterful creation that it was with terrific and timeless performances by favourite Americana artists- in retrospect seems contrived (and how could it not be, given the cinematic thread?) and polished bringing together those that, in most cases, wouldn’t otherwise perform together in the studio, Winter’s Bone sounds more natural, more organic. The soundtrack’s compilers obviously worked just as intently as T. Bone’s crew did with O Brother. But the resulting atmosphere is as different as the movies are. Winter’s Bone is a brutal movie, although not quite as hard-hitting as Woodrell’s novel, and deserves a soundtrack just as sparse and honest.

Little is to be found about the Winter’s Bone soundtrack. Outside of Stephen M. Deusner’s discussion with Marideth Sisco on The 9513 Blog (http://tinyurl.com/4nr8rf8) I haven’t encountered much that is giving the soundtrack its due. While one wouldn’t expect the soundtrack to an art-house movie to give the same boost to bluegrass and traditional music as O Brother did, it would have been nice. This is a wonderful album, more tied to the music bluegrass lovers would appreciate than even the O Brother soundtrack was.

In Deusner’s piece, the point is clearly made by Sisco that the Ozarks are a tough place to live, and the music of the area reflects that through sad ballads, songs that have been ‘tinkered’ with by singers such as Sisco through the centuries. Blackberry Winter, a regional Ozark band according to Sisco, turn in brilliant performances, as does Sisco- in her words, “that old lady singing songs.” Traditional songs including “Rain and Snow” and “Fair and Tender Ladies” are revised to fit the plot of the movie, allowing the soundtrack recording to delve into places- such as the motivations of Jessup Dolly- that the movie doesn’t fully explore. Billy Ward’s “Man on the Run” and John Hawkes’ “Bred and Buttered” (utilizing one of Ree’s favoured expressions) provide additional narrative through song. White River Music Co.’s “Out of Sight” provides a timely honky-tonk interlude that stands on its own as a darn good trucking song.

In my opinion, it is a brilliant soundtrack, one that adds to the memory of film it accompanies. When I listen to it, select scenes from the movie flicker back to me and I appreciate it- the book, the movie, and the soundtrack- all the more with every listen. Again, like O Brother, the music isn’t exactly bluegrass. But, it is close enough to be appreciated by those who love the music. Unfortunately, for those of us waiting for the next O Brother bluegrass bump, we’ll have to find it elsewhere. I’ve read about an upcoming Bill Monroe film that might do it. Again, fingers are crossed.

But- until then- do yourself a favour and seek out Winter’s Bone: Music from the Motion Picture and take a read of the piece on the 9513 as it will add to your appreciation of the process undertaken to make this music so real, so tied to the images and story captured in the movie.

The Honey Dewdrops- These Old Roots review   Leave a comment

Welcome back to Fervor Coulee. In today’s Roots Music column in the Red Deer Advocate I feature the relatively new album from The Honey Dewdrops, These Old Roots.  As was their previous release, it is a darn good listen- sure to become a favourite.

Roots music column, originally published January 21, 2011 in the Red Deer Advocate

The Honey Dewdrops These Old Roots  www.thehoneydewdrops.com

In the absence of new Gillian Welch recordings, this Virginia-based duo is becoming a favourite.

On their previous album If the Sun Will Shine, Kagey Parrish and Laura Wortman established an ideal balance of slo-fi folk and bluegrass, creating one of 2009’s finest acoustiblue releases.

Still sounding fresh and bright, The Honey Dewdrops have similarly captured magic with These Old Roots. The acclaim is increasingly universal; according to folk radio airplay, this charming couple received more spins last year than the likes of John Prine, Crooked Still, and even Johnny Cash.

Wortman’s voice has musical purity and in Parrish she has a pleasing harmony and instrumental foil. Similar to Welch in almost all ways excepting that Wortman tends to sing with a bit more zip, this ten-song collection breezes by in a flash.

With a wandering eye Wortman sings, “So goodbye and farewell, I’m going away, there are words my tongue can’t say,” and in the best of folk traditions also sings the spurned lover’s response, “If your mind don’t sway, your life I’ll take right here.” Their fate is left open-ended, but one expects things didn’t work out as initially planned. Similar in theme, Waiting on You allows she who betrayed to exit with her dignity- and soul- intact.

Not to be missed are Parrish’s guitar and mandolin performances. He achieves a nice tone from his instruments, and his flat-picked breaks are truly impressive without detracting from the vocals. Examples are aplenty with his playing on Goodbye and Farewell and Way Back When standing out. It is on this latter song that Gillian Welch-Dave Rawlings comparisons are most apt.

The lyrical lament Amaranth, an animistic ode to a plant whose blossoms never fade, sets the tone for These Old Roots. Nobody in this World follows a blues structure while their rendition of Can’t Get a Letter from Home brings us back to the mountain folk tradition.

Music with roots in Appalachia frequently contains religious themes and imagery, and That Good Old Way and Sweet Heaven are stellar.

Traditional music sometimes feels like it was made for another time. Instead, These Old Roots simply sounds timeless.

Thanks, as always, for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

Rebel reissues- Dave Evans, Curly Ray Cline, & The Country Gentlemen   Leave a comment

My reviews of Rebel Records digital downloads were posted at Lonesome Road Review.

The Country Gentlemen
The Young Fisherwoman
Rebel Records (digital download only)
4.5 stars (out of 5)

Curly Ray Cline
Chicken Reel
Rebel Records (digital download only)
3.5 stars (out of 5)

Dave Evans
Bluegrass Memories
Rebel Records (digital download only)
4.5 stars (out of 5)

By Donald Teplyske

One commends Rebel Records for enriching the bluegrass marketplace by to pulling classic, out-of-print recordings from the vaults. Several digital reissues have come our way recently and each has much to recommend them.

Dave Evans’ 1984 Rebel issue was Bluegrass Memories. A handful of tracks from this album are on the Classic Bluegrass disc, but several of the songs will be new to those coming to Evans late.

Aside from sporting one of the finest bluegrass album covers I can recall, the 12-song set is without fault. Three Evans originals anchor the set and each provides essential listening: “When the Snow Falls on My Foggy Mountain Home” and “If I Ever Get Back to Old Kentucky” capture phrases and images not unique to Evans, but his vocal performance—augmented by superb fiddling—on these numbers raise them above others’ songwriting.

“My Bluegrass Memories” serves as a tribute to the founding fathers of the genre and a more sincere and expansive recognition is now difficult to imagine, and Evans isn’t above dropping in a reference to his own “Highway 52.” Aside from these, the highlight may be the distinctive performance of “Down in the Willow Garden,” one of the finest interpretations of the song ever heard.

True to the album’s title, songs from times well before the 1980s are included. “Tragic Romance,” “Sweet Thing,” “Someone Took My Place with You,” and “Six Feet Under the Ground” require no introduction to even the most casual of bluegrass listeners. Sung by Evans, the songs sound even more impressive; not intimidated by tradition, Evans’ distinctive voice makes each of these songs his own, if only for a few minutes.

Now, if Rebel would follow the lead of other labels and artists—Smithsonian Folkways, Rounder, Chris Jones, among others—and offer up liner notes for downloads, one will be more satisfied and be able to answer queries including: Who is singing lead on Bluegrass Memories’ “Rock Bottom?” Jim Rigsby, perhaps?

Curly Ray Cline recorded several albums for Rebel Records and his first—1971’s Chicken Reel—is again available.

According to the one-sheet, these dozen tracks feature the Clinch Mountain Boys of the era, and a finer backing band for Cline’s old-time inspired sounds is difficult to imagine: Ralph Stanley (banjo), Jack Cooke (bass), Ricky Skaggs (mandolin) and Roy Lee Centers and Keith Whitley (guitar).

Largely instrumental, a couple vocal numbers are included including “Walkin’ in My Sleep.”

Not professing to be any kind of fiddle expert, the tunes and renditions included here don’t sound especially original or distinctive, which isn’t to imply they aren’t thoroughly enjoyable. One always appreciates hearing “Soldier’s Joy” and “Leather Britches,” but one imagines the album was created more for table sales than as an artistic statement on the state of bluegrass and old-time fiddling circa 1971.

His rewriting of “Black-Eyed Susie” as “Blue-Eyed Vertie” is certainly a nice addition to any collection, as are the performances of “Carroll County Blues” and “The Old Rugged Cross,” the latter of which features fine accompaniment from Stanley.

Made up of studio tracks from the very early 1960’s, 1970’s The Best of the Early Country Gentlemen, retitled The Young Fisherwoman in this Rebel campaign, is simply an outstanding example of the classic Country Gents presentation. Listening to these songs almost fifty years after they were recorded reminds one that the harmonies of this outfit set new standards within bluegrass.

The performances, once considered progressive, have now become as traditional as those of the Stanleys and Bill Monroe, albeit with an entirely different sound. Obviously a product of its time, the recordings have such a heavy vocal folk sound—The Kingston Trio are never far from mind—that when an Eddie Adcock banjo run comes to the fore, as in “500 Miles,” one is a little taken aback.

If only for the title track, which according to the label hasn’t been available for some thirty years, “Copper Kettle,” and as a remembrance of the majesty of the original Gents lineup—Adcock, John Duffey, Tom Gray, and Charlie Waller—The Young Fisherwoman is appealing. Fortunately, there is much more within these 36 minutes.

Keep the re-releases coming, Rebel.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee.

Donald