Archive for the ‘2011 Releases’ Tag
It’s Canada Day up Canada way (this coming Tuesday), and in the spirit of all things Canadian- the NHL amateur draft and Free Agent Frenzy, apple and blueberry crumble, bacon wrapped corn on the cob, and O.V. on the deck- I want to shine what little light Fervor Coulee produces on five homegrown roots albums that have been under-heard.
And when I say under-heard, I am putting the blame right where it belongs- on me- as I have given too little listening attention to these recordings. Perhaps they have been played the ‘just right’ number of times in your world, or maybe even overplayed in some, but I have had these albums sitting around the Fervor Coulee Bunker for weeks, months, and in one case almost a year. I listened to all of them when they first arrived, but for whatever reason- too much ‘real’ work, too much stress, too much laziness, too much other music, or shear neglect on my part- they obviously didn’t catch my ear the way other albums did.
My loss, then, because- having given them a second, third, and more listens this past week- there is quite a lot to appreciate within each one.
Brandon Isaak comes to us from the Yukon Territory. You can’t get much further on the continent from the birthplace of the blues that Whitehorse, but it is obvious that Isaak has a deep appreciation and understanding for acoustic blues. His album Here On Earth is impressive. Sticking to the acoustic format- if there is electricity firing any of these instruments, I can’t pick it out of the mix- Isaak has composed a baker’s dozen songs representing ‘roots and blues for the modern world.’
He has a deep, soothing singing voice, capable of a gruff touch when his songs demand such, but most often it is as straightforward and strong as a cup of Midnight Sun’s Heart’s Desire.
There is an autoplay CBC Radio interview clip with Brandon describing the effortless process that was the creation of Here On Earth.
He introduces the song I want to feature today, “All Night Long.”
The album performance of the song is a bit more developed, but the guitar-harp core remains consistent, although the addition of Keith Picot’s bass to the album version strengthens the performance.
I didn’t locate audio samples, but I’m sure you’ll find some if you look. Here on Earth is strong in its entirety, and well worth searching out if you are interested in blues and blues-related, singer-songwriter music.
Sometime last year, a Vancouver Island songwriter and musician Roland Digh sent me a copy of one of this five albums.
The Lady Known As ‘She’ was released three years ago, and from listening to samples on his website it is obvious that he has continued to develop a clear vision for his music. [My mistake: Roland informs me that all five of his albums were released this past January. So, any ‘change’ I’m noticing in his work my simply be within my own wee head.] The more recent recordings are, at times and generally, more developed than the earlier performances captured on The Lady Known As ‘She.’ His music is a little bit country in a Murray McLauchlan kind of country way, a bit pop in that it is reminiscent of some of Chris deBurgh’s music. I was quite taken with his approach when I first heard the album, but as it wasn’t a new release I didn’t do anything with it. Until today, that is, when I listened to select bits of it and was once again quite enamoured with the piano-based song “Harbour Lady.” The imagery captured struck the mood for a raining Central Alberta morning.
Warning, autoplay all over the site so be prepared for that. He also has a very nice recording called “Where Poppies Blow” for free download, a fitting rendition of “In Flanders Fields.”
I know next to nothing about Alanna Gurr and the Greatest State, and my bandwidth allocation for the month is used up, so I can’t look anything up either. Their eight song e.p./album arrived on my desk sometime in late winter or early spring- not sure who sent it my way, but I’m glad they did. A nice mix of sophisticated roots- a bit glossy for my tastes, but still quite appealing.
The vocals are nicely supported- as opposed to overwhelmed- by the instrumentation. Gurr has a soft, flirty-sounding voice that belies some of the darkness lurking in the shadows. They call themselves a ‘minimalist rock troupe’ which works, I suppose.
You can listen to and purchase Late At Night here. I’m find the song “It’s Been a Long Time” quite appealing, but there are any number of songs that should strike a chord including “By My Side” which features a great guitar riff and “Thunder Rolls” which is an appropriately stark piece and a perfect conclusion to the e.p.
With a similar sounding voice (in that they are both female and have some lightness within their vocal style), Melissa Payne puts a bit more punch into her music than Gurr which can’t be seen as a slight to either artist as both are enjoyable. High and Dry was co-produced by Greg Keeler (Blue Rodeo, duh) and James Mckenty (never heard of…again, I’m already paying overage fees.) The Blue Rodeo connection didn’t help this album get into my player as they are a band I lost interest in after they recorded their only necessary song, “Try.” Yes, I’m a jerk.
Anyway, not one to let my prejudices get in the way of listening (well, except where Michael Jackson is concerned) I did give Payne a few minutes of my time when the album arrived, but obviously not enough. I’m not certain there is a lot distinguishing her from a hundred other pop-roots performers, but there is ‘something’ that makes her voice linger in my memory.
Listening to the entire disc again today, I am taken with Payne’s voice. I can’t find the right phrase, but there is something quite substantial about her voice that is nicely softened by a pillowy, southern soul quality. I admitted I couldn’t find the right phrase, but there it is. Listen to “Call Me A Fool” and see if you can do better.
The album’s energy keeps building (“Bring Me Back” may rock hardest) even when things are modulated for a change of pace (“Cool West Wind”). I think it is the kind of record that just needs to be discovered naturally- you can’t force yourself on it, it just has to hit you the right way at the right time. “Gunning For Me” reminds me a little of Lone Justice if that helps any.
Again, I have no idea how Clela Errington’s understated recording More Love and Happiness made its way to me, but I’m glad it did. [Note to self: start keeping better track of envelopes and one-sheets.] It is a wonderful little album of pensive pieces that are lyrically rich and musically diverse. If you appreciate folk-based sounds- think the McGarrigles, to whom the first song on the album is dedicated- brightened by the charm of the ukulele and a singer with no little bit of jump in her approach, consider visiting the CBC site to be one of the first to listen to More Love and Happiness. Listening to this album, I am reminded how much I used to listen to the music of performers such as Quartette and The Wyrd Sisters, and how I appreciate pure approaches to singing. Nothing fancy here.
This album would sound lovely in a small bookstore or coffee shop. “Angels on the Radio” (two mixes included) is a favourite, both for the “Pilot of the Airwaves” sentiment it captures- the power of the relationship we forge with the music we heard (and continue to hear) on the radio- and the mention of “Dolly, Townes, and Emmylou.” I also really appreciate “Home on High” as it appeals to my firmly held (and quizzical, for an atheist) faith in religion and those who truly believe.
I love artists who just lay it out on the line like Clela does.
Have a great Canada Day- play lots of roots music. Give these fine artists a listen, and as always- thanks for keeping Fervor Coulee on your radar.
@FervorCoulee on the Twitter thing.
Just doing some housekeeping to help out the search engines. My review of Scott Holstein’s Cold Coal Town is at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass here.
As always, I appreciate your interest in Fervor Coulee. Donald
I rewrote my review of Laurie Lewis’s latest at the request of the Lonesome Road Review; without doubt, an incredible album.
Skippin’ and Flyin’
Spruce and Maple Music
5 stars (out of 5)
By Donald Teplyske
West coast bluegrass maven Laurie Lewis pays tribute to Bill Monroe by exploring his roots and branches in ways few others have attempted. In commemoration of the 100th anniversary of his birth, several Monroe ‘tributes’ have been released. Skippin’ and Flyin’ is easily the most impressive and understated.
Nowhere on the cover of Skippin’ and Flyin’ is Mr. Monroe mentioned or illustrated. Rather, Laurie Lewis appears in full-blown Blue Grass Boy regalia, dressed with the same precision of style and substance that has been her hallmark for the past several decades as one of bluegrass and acoustiblue music’s beautiful flowers.
Skippin’ and Flyin’ is not simply a collection of Monroe tunes recorded by a contemporary band. Rather, the disc goes to the heart of Mr. Monroe’s music, exploring its soul and his motivations and influences.
Laurie Lewis is no newcomer, having played almost every bluegrass festival there is and having recorded several excellent albums over the years. However, she has never narrowed her field of vision and has recorded some of the finest folk-inspired music of the past three decades, among them her incredible collaborations with Tom Rozum The Oak and the Laurel and the under-heralded Guest House.
Throughout this recent album, Lewis doesn’t mimic what Bill Monroe did in 1947 and 1957; she goes deeper, exploring what he may have heard and been affected by in earlier years. In doing so, she gets to the root of Bill Monroe in ways that many other artists have not attempted.
Skippin’ and Flyin’ takes its name from “Old Ten Broeck,” which opens this magnificent 55-minute album: “Old Ten Broeck is skippin’ and gone away, Old Ten Broeck is skippin’ and flyin’.”
Lewis has taken this precursor to “Molly and Tenbrooks” to its roots in the music of the Carver Boys and Cousin Emmy while working in elements from Mike Seeger and Monroe. (Thank goodness for artists, like Lewis, who believe in the value of song notes!)
She takes a different approach with “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” It is almost as if Lewis is saying, “This is Monroe, and we’ll honour him by performing it as he did.” Lewis takes liberty with the chorus, switching up the ‘left me blue’ and ‘proved untrue’ lines, but otherwise maintains the spirit of the early, pre-Elvis Monroe recordings of the song, including an extended, mournful fiddle feature and beautiful mandolin from Rozum.
The final ‘Monroe’ song included here is also the lonesomest. As recorded here by Lewis and her touring band (Rozum, Scott Huffman, Craig Smith, and Todd Phillips) “A Lonesome Road,” recorded by Monroe in 1957, is blue and bluesy. A similar mood with a very different execution is found on “Tuck Away My Lonesome Blues,” a flirty tune Lewis learned from Wanda Jackson.
A contemporary gem is Mark Erelli’s lyrically rich song of devastation, “Hartfordtown 1944.” Monroe never heard the song, but one can imagine that he might have given it more than a passing nod.
Songs from Del McCoury, Wilma Lee Cooper, and Flatt & Scruggs are also included, as are fresh interpretations of “What’s Good For You (Should Be Alright for Me)” and “I Don’t Care Anymore.” Going back even further, “Fair Beauty Bright” has hauntingly ideal mandola offerings from Rozum.
Laurie Lewis has created many excellent albums, and may have recorded “better” ones than this. But none have been more important or have affected me more. By exploring Bill Monroe—his music, his tradition, his influences—in this manner she has paid him the ultimate tribute.
Announced ealier today, and I am pretty excited. If memory serves, I’ve never before helped three albums make the list.
From the Polaris site http://www.polarismusicprize.ca/article/416/the-2012-polaris-music-prize-long-list-is-here/
“The 2012 Polaris Music Prize Long List is (in alphabetical order):
A Tribe Called Red – A Tribe Called Red
Marie-Pierre Arthur – Aux alentours
Rich Aucoin – We’re All Dying To Live
Avec pas d’casque – Astronomie
Azari & III – Azari & III
Bahamas – Barchords
The Barr Brothers – The Barr Brothers
Blackie And The Rodeo Kings – Kings And Queens
Cadence Weapon – Hope In Dirt City
Kathryn Calder – Bright And Vivid
Cannon Bros – Firecracker / Cloudglow
Coeur de pirate – Blonde
Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas
Cold Specks – I Predict A Graceful Expulsion
Rose Cousins – We Have Made A Spark
Mark Davis – Eliminate The Toxins
Drake – Take Care
Kathleen Edwards – Voyageur
Feist – Metals
Fucked Up – David Comes To Life
Great Lake Swimmers – New Wild Everywhere
Grimes – Visions
Handsome Furs – Sound Kapital
Japandroids – Celebration Rock
Dan Mangan – Oh Fortune
Mares Of Thrace – The Pilgrimage
Ariane Moffatt – MA
Lindi Ortega – Little Red Boots
Parlovr – Kook Soul
Sandro Perri – Impossible Spaces
Joel Plaskett Emergency – Scrappy Happiness
PS I Love You – Death Dreams
John K. Samson – Provincial
Shooting Guns – Born To Deal In Magic: 1952-1976
The Slakadeliqs – The Other Side of Tomorrow
Patrick Watson – Adventures In Your Own Backyard
Bry Webb – Provider
The Weeknd – Echoes of Silence
Yamantaka // Sonic Titan – YT//ST
Yukon Blonde – Tiger Talk
The 200+ writers, editors, producers and media figures who make up the Polaris Music Prize jury pool will now go back to the ballot boxes again and submit their Top 5 albums, selecting only from what’s on the Long List.
When those votes are in, the Short List comprised of 10 albums will be announced in Toronto on July 17.
Once that’s done it’s on to the big show, the Polaris Gala, being held in Toronto on September 24, where one of the 10 Short List albums will be declared the best Canadian album of 2012 in a secret jury Hunger Games-style argument to the death.”
My Top 5 ballot had a roots focus, as it should, and was published earlier this month in the Red Deer Advocate. I’m pleased that my number 1, 3, and 4 picks made the Long List, as well as two other albums I championed- Rose Cousins’ and John K. Samson’s. I am surprised that the Mark Davis album made it simply because it is one of those ‘under the radar’ releases. As well, I’m surprised BARK made it as the album didn’t seem to generate much buzz amongst the jury members online. I really thought the Cowboy Junkies would have made it, but…such is democracy.
Mark Davis- Eliminate the Toxins Capturing a selection of sounds even more adventurous than created within his previous releases, Davis retains the intense focus and introspection one has come to expect from the Edmonton singer-songwriter. Eliminate the Toxins stands with his best work, and as such can be appreciated on a poetic level while also serving as impetus to slowly dance. Multi-layered, Eliminate the Toxins is so all-encompassing that listeners will find themselves sinking into its warmth. It will take top spot on my ballot.
Cowboy Junkies- The Wilderness Having celebrated 25 years as one of Canada’s most dynamic recording groups, Cowboy Junkies embarked on an ambitious campaign 18 months ago: release four distinct albums within a year and a half. The Wilderness is certainly the strongest of the four. Closest to the ‘classic’ Cowboy Junkies sound, Margo Timmins’ languid vocals and delicately complex, occasionally trippy backing tracks are immediately recognizable. One tranquil song effortlessly slips into the next with little but contributions of visiting musicians distinguishing one from another. This consistency in sound makes The Wilderness appealing: nothing jars the listener out of the inviting, profound sound-space the band has created.
Blackie & the Rodeo Kings- Kings & Queens As far-reaching as Kings & Queens is, producer Colin Linden and his cohorts never lose perspective while singing with fourteen different ladies, among them Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, Serena Ryder, and Rosanne Cash. Their contributions bring even greater focus to Lindsn’s, Tom Wilson’s and Stephen Fearing’s singing, and it is this ability to maintain balance that serves as Blackie & the Rodeo Kings’ greatest accomplishment.
Great Lake Swimmers- New Wild Everywhere That rare album that is comprised of thirteen songs with each as strong as those surrounding it: every song stands on its own as a memorable and engaging composition while being all the better because of its place within the greater album. New Wild Everywhere is elaborate. Tony Dekker and Great Lake Swimmers have created an album that is lush and rich. Miranda Mulholland’s background vocal contributions are astounding, adding a depth to the songs that is impressive. Similarly, Erik Arnesen’s guitar and banjo sounds create a lovely and complementary backdrop for Dekker’s words and vocals.
Skydiggers- Northern Shore Lovely songs that are fully realized with beautiful production, gorgeous, uplifting vocals, and a seemingly random mix of sounds that keeps one listening, Especially on shuffle, you can’t be sure what is coming next: a stark aching ballad, a mishmash of strangely musical beats and electronic burps, something piano based that slowly evolves,
a bit of bombast, a choice Mickey Newbury cover, or a sweeping piece that- for three or four minutes- makes the darkness that surrounds us disappear. I’m no expert on the Skydiggers- I only have the The Truth About Us compilation on the shelf- but this recently released album sneaks into my top 5, at the expense of John K. Samson’s Provincial, Fred Eaglesmith’s 6 Volts, or Rose Cousins’ We Have Made a Spark, three albums I also really loved.
The (brief) version of my review of Fred Eaglesmith’s new album 6 Volts has been posted at Country Standard Time. For those of you who are not familiar with Ontarian Fred Eaglesmith, it is high time you become so; in my opinion, no one- not Buddy Miller, not Jim Lauderdale, not Alejandro Escovedo- has produced as solid a string of roots music over the past twenty years. http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=4822 will get you to the review.
Question? Why do American editors/writers so often refer to Canada as if it is one big ol’ mass o’ land without differentiation between our various provinces and territories? A review of any group’s latest album would never be identified as being from an “America-based” band; the descriptor would be localized as Texas-, California-, or Arkansas-based. When I’m writing for a Canadian audience, I will always refer to the outfit’s state, never simply as “an American band.” But for articles published in American publications, Canadian bands, often have their province specific description- such as Fred as an “Ontarian,” that is a person from Ontario- revised to “Canadian.”
I ask all American-based editors to consider beginning to identify Canadian acts with reference to their province or territory of origin. It isn’t really that big of a deal- I think most Americans can understand that a “Saskatchewan-based” band is indeed Canadian. We can trust that, right? It won’t horribly confuse most American readers, will it?
And heck- if it really confuses someone, they can always Google Nova Scotian.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
O, forgot- here is the ‘long’ version of my 6 Volts review:
Fred Eaglesmith 6 Volts A Major Label
From the opening notes of “Cemetery Road” it is obvious that the classic Fred Eaglesmith sound we fell for in the mid-90s is back. Absent this time out are the experimental revelations of recent albums, and as enjoyable and appreciated as those were it seems high time that the Fred of lonely gravel roads, lonelier women, frustrated Saturday evenings, roadside artistry and junkyard Americana paid a return visit.
In Ontarian Eaglesmith’s dark world, the “Dangerous” man, living on the corner of Stupidity and Recklessness has as much appeal as the broken hearted, drugged-out long hauler of “Trucker Speed.” Eaglesmith doesn’t attempt to provide answers; he is an observer, a writer of domestic history- through his acute writer’s eye, he captures the stories of the people we pass without notice.
Within his character studies, the details of Eaglesmith’s brilliance is revealed. Describing a multi-faceted breakdown within the title cut, Eaglesmith sings, “My clutches are slipping, the carbon gets in my throat. You get out on the passenger side, I swallow my pride. The radiators raging like a murderer, only God can bend tempered steel.” Is Eaglesmith describing the death of a relationship or a vehicle? Really, it doesn’t matter- those images work no matter the interpretation.
Eaglesmith’s characters are seldom obviously heroic; they are flawed, often lost. One example can be found within the wrong-eyed, farmer justice of “Katie,” in which a landowner holds out under pressure of residential expansion because he buried his unfaithful wife under the hickory tree…and there’s another grave down by the creek. A new classic is born, one waiting for a bluegrass interpretation from James King, James Reams, or Junior Sisk.
Elsewhere, Eaglesmith eviscerates those who ignored Johnny Cash prior to his Rick Rubin-driven comeback. Perhaps most poignant is “Stars” in which Eaglesmith reflects on his own legacy, the one in which “Willie played the mandolin, he jumped around the stage; we thought that it would never end.” Of course, everything fades and now Eaglesmith finds himself admitting, “My hands hurt from playing my guitar. Every night in all those bars, we played like we were stars.”
With a less elaborate sound than his previous Cha Cha Cha– mostly guitars and drums with pedal steel, banjo, and organ mixed in- Eaglesmith is more focused this time out but no less fierce in his determination to capture the sounds of the past within modern songs that will be as relevant in twenty years as they are today.
If Fred Eaglesmith lost you in recent years, it is time to get back on board. 6 Volts is a welcome return for Canada’s premier roots road warrior.
My recently written reviews of albums from Ohio’s The Missy Werner Band and California’s The Bee Eaters have been posted by Aaron over at the Lonesome Road Review. I appreciate all the bands who service me with albums; I thank you. And, as always- thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
The Missy Werner Band
Three Kinds of Lonesome
3.5 stars (out of 5)
By Donald Teplyske
Storming out of Ohio this winter is the sophomore project from the Missy Werner Band. Fronted by the mandolin-playing bandleader, this quartet reveals here that they are ready for a national stage.
Produced by noted bluegrass writer and musician Jon Weisberger, Three Kinds of Lonesome is a very strongly crafted contemporary bluegrass album. Professionally recorded but by no means staid, the warm and vibrant performances make even new songs instant favourites.
Following in the footsteps of bandleaders including Lynn Morris and Alison Krauss, Werner has elected to emphasize the Missy Werner Band rather than utilize a contingent of studio hands. Tim Strong plays guitar and contributes vocals while Artie Werner plays the bass and sings. Jeff Roberts is the band’s 5-string player with Missy Werner holding down the mandolin parts and lead vocals.
Only a few instrumental guests appear, notably Mike Witcher on Dobro® and Aaron Till on fiddle. Duet vocals from Frank Solivan (“Endlessly”) and the always dependable Chris Jones (“Just the Same”) provide variety while Jennifer Strickland’s vocals add additional texture.
Several Weisberger co-writes appear throughout the album’s 14 selections. Written with Strickland, “I’d Rather Love a Memory” kicks off the album with a familiar-sounding and appealing melody, and one day I may even place it! Later, “Right Here” – co-written by Lisa Shaffer- and “Let It Go”- written with Ashley Lewis- take different routes toward life’s pathways.
Werner appears comfortable singing the chosen songs and is an emotive singer. One may desire one or two fewer sentimental lost-love songs, but on balance Three Kinds of Lonesome retains this listener’s interest. “I Like the Country”- the Jim McCall song- features nice harmony work from Werner’s bandmates. The album closes with a welcome interpretation of The Bluegrass Cardinals’ “Journey to My Savior’s Side.”
Intentionally, Werner pays tribute to the hard-working women who broke ground as bluegrass bandleaders. “Blue Skies and Teardrops” comes from the Lynn Morris Band album The Bramble & the Rose while Larry Cordle’s “My First Mistake” closed Dale Ann Bradley’s East Kentucky Morning album fifteen years ago.
Modern bluegrass is rife with influences and interpretations that expand the music’s definition. Three Kinds of Lonesome is a bluegrass album that couldn’t have been produced twenty years ago; its balance of contemporary sounds within a fairly traditional band setting is most impressive.
The Bee Eaters
3.5 stars (out of 5)
By Donald Teplyske
With no shortage of acoustiblue bands currently creating exceptional instrumental music,
one can be forgiven for having missed the release last fall of The Bee Eaters’ very enjoyable Oddfellows Road. Thinking the band’s name is The Bee Laters is less forgivable, but I continueto swear that ‘that’ is no way to make an ‘E’.
Based within but in no way limited by fiddle-traditions, The Bee Eaters are a California-
based outfit focused around siblings Tashina (fiddle) and Tristan (fiddle and cello) Clarridge. Completing the trio is Simon Chrisman on hammered dulcimer while friend Wesley Corbett contributes banjo. The band’s sound is augmented by Dominick Leslie’s mandolin on three tracks including the atmospheric and aggressive “Dry Shasta, Wet Shasta.”
When listening to this generous, hour-long album, one is simultaneously soothed and challenged by airy yet complex rhythms. The sounds are quite beautiful and feel completely natural, an effect that the band appears to have deliberately worked toward. One instrumental interlude flows easily into the next, all supported by a vision that is as real as it is elusive. If there is a fault to the album, it is that not enough of the songs significantly distinguish themselves from those that surround them.
Some months ago, I mused that “… on Queen of Yesterday the five-piece Houston Jones band is tight and mostly laid back, bringing to mind to what a Tim O’Brien-fronted Bruce Hornsby group might sound like.” In this context, The Bee Eaters sound very much like what an acoustic Tim O’Brien-fronted Bruce Hornsby group might sound like notwithstanding the album’s only vocal track, the Bruce Molsky-led rendition of “The Way It Is.” Mike Marshall contributes mandolin to a single track, “Cumulus.”
The roots of The Bee Eaters music can certainly be found in bluegrass, but as prominent are the elements of jazz, blues, chamber music, and all matter of intricate folk sounds they weave into their repertoire. Sparse banjo notes punctuate an instrumental flow that is at turns gripping and hypnotic.
As someone who has heard precisely seventy-six too many acoustic renditions of Michael
Jackson songs, I was very surprised to find appreciation in The Bee Eaters’ cover of “Thriller.” More than novelty, this playful rendition- built around the group’s instrumental strengths- is naturally one of the more memorable tunes contained within Oddfellows Road.
Oddfellows Road is a mature release that serves as excellent introduction to The Bee Eaters. This writer anticipates hearing more from this promising group.
Various Artists This One’s For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark iTunes download
Some years ago, word of a birthday tape featuring Guy Clark’s Nashville friends performing his songs just for him circulated. I have never been fortunate to locate a dub of that set, but from all accounts it was something quite impressive.
Those of us outside that inner circle will have to satisfy ourselves with this remarkable set featuring 30 songs written (and co-written) by Clark and performed by some of the many performers and fellow writers whose lives he has touched. An incredible undertaking, this tribute to the living poet laureate of Texas songwriters has much to offer both the Clark devotee and the casual Americana appreciator.
Guy Clark has never been the household name that other Nashville-based singers and writers may be. His own albums have seldom charted and it was only with his 16th and most recent live release Songs and Stories that Clark finally cracked the Country Top 30. His singles fare no better, but others- among them Ricky Skaggs, Bobby Bare, Vince Gill, John Conlee, and Steve Wariner- took his tunes to the top of the charts while many more have used his material for album depth.
Still, Clark’s influence as a mentor to Rodney Crowell and Steve Earle is well-documented and his friendship with Townes Van Zandt is the stuff of legend. He paints with lyric, each word and phrase combining to create lasting images and impressions that cross generations. Frequently overlooked is the quality of his identifiable and memorable melodies. While it is always wonderful to hear Clark perform, it is equally enjoyable to experience interpretations of his songs.
Intended as a celebration of Guy Clark’s 70th birthday and opening with an unmistakable belly-laugh from the man himself, the compilers of This One’s For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark waste no time in setting the bar high with frequent Clark collaborators Rodney Crowell (“That Old Time Feeling”) and Lyle Lovett with Emmylou Harris (“Anyhow I Love You”) interpreting two classic songs from his earliest albums.
From there it is two hours of uninterrupted enjoyment. All the expected Clark characters appear: the old man with “brown tobacco stains all down his chin”; the reluctant urban dweller who just wants to “get off this L.A. Freeway without getting killed or caught”; the dreamer who trusts that he can fly; the woman “standing on the gone side of leaving;” the wino who loved a Dallas whore; the Texas six-year old placing a nickel on a train track; and the fellow who recognizes that “there are only two things that money can’t buy, true love and home grown tomatoes.” Clark’s characters are not always right, but much like the man himself they always appear to be true.
Performing are the expected cast of voices, many who have recorded with Clark in the past (Crowell, Harris, Rosanne Cash) or have recorded his songs (Jack Ingram, Willie Nelson, Radney Foster). Not all the participants are on the north side of 50 as relative youngsters Hayes Carll, The Trishas, John Townes Van Zandt II, Ron Sexsmith, and Patty Griffin each take a song for a run, perhaps most remarkably Sexsmith who does his expected beautiful job with “Broken Hearted People.”
But, most of the featured singers are of that generation that came of age in the sixties and early seventies and who worked and traveled the same roads and shared similar experiences as Clark: Ray Wylie Hubbard, Terry Allen, Robert Earl Keen, Jerry Jeff Walker, Kevin Welch, Suzy Bogguss, John Prine, and Steve Earle.
There isn’t a wrong move throughout the set. The core band- featuring frequent Clark sidemen Shawn Camp, Verlon Thompson, and Kenny Malone, among others- provides consistency, creating a comfortable environment for each singer. Some songs swing with frivolity (Rosie Flores’s “My Baby Took A Limo to Memphis”) while others offer melancholy reflection (Terry Allen’s “Old Friends”). It is this balance that most distinguishes Clark’s writing- he builds around the gems that are life’s moments.
Guy Clark’s greatest song may be “The Randall Knife,” as powerful a song about father-son relations ever recorded. Vince Gill, who played on the song’s original session in 1983, sings here with more personality than anything on his mysteriously celebrated Guitar Slinger set of last year. He approach differs from Clark’s original, but the power of the words is maintained.
Another highlight is Joe Ely’s inspired reading of “Dublin Blues;” Ely gets to the core of this song- the regret, the loneliness, the desolation- as few other singers can. When he sings the opening lines “I wish I was in Austin, in the chilly Parlour Bar, drinking mad dog margaritas and not caring where you are,” you are aware that you are listening to someone who feels a connection to Clark’s legacy.
It is fitting that Jerry Jeff Walker closes this wonderful tribute as it was through Walker’s renditions of “L.A. Freeway” and “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train” that most of us were first exposed to Clark’s masterful approach to song writing. Walker sings a new song, “My Favourite Picture of You.” In it Clark’s description of his wife Susanna- “no beginning, no end,” “you never left but your bags were packed, just in case,” “it’s bent and faded and pinned to my wall,” “a curse on your lips but all I can see is beautiful,” “a stand-up angel who won’t back down,” and “a thousand words in the blink of an eye”- resonates powerfully: these are the moments that account our lives, our relationships.
Whether you are just discovering Guy Clark or have long appreciated his writing expertise, This One’s For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark impresses.
A shorter version of this review was published in The Red Deer Advocate January 20, 2012