Archive for the ‘2015 Releases’ Tag
I was asked to contribute some reviews to Lonesome Road Review recently. I am likely writing a little less for LLR and Country Standard Time than I had in the past, but I do find time to get a couple or three done monthly. These days, there is little to no money in freelance writing on the level I do it-back in the early to mid-aughts I had a steady little stream of revenue coming from various publications, but that has pretty much dried up. Fortunately for me, I have a true career to pay the bills, and I am able to leave paying jobs to those who actually are writing for a living…and who are usually a bit better at it than I am.
Anyhow, two new reviews have been posted. The Special Consensus is one of my favourite bluegrass bands going back almost twenty years, and their most recent Compass Records release Long I Ride is another really strong recording. Last year Darrell Scott released 10: Songs of Ben Bullington, a masterful recording that I’ve been listening to monthly if not weekly since it came out. We don’t usually review albums so long after release, but Aaron sent it to me and therefore I did; I hope I did the album justice. I also failed to link in my review of Scott’s latest, Couchville Sessions. Sigh. Here it is. Or, if I did, the search tool isn’t finding it.
In cleaning up Fervor Coulee at year end, I can’t find my review of Josh Williams’ Modern Day Man cross-posted. Country Standard Time had me write about it on release, so if you missed it, there it is.
And finally, I hope- my review of Dori Freeman’s debut was posted at Lonesome Road Review, but I neglected to link it here. I’m not very good at this, am I?
Anyhow, all these albums are worth your consideration, no matter when you locate the reviews. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Danny Paisley & the Southern Grass
Done right, bluegrass sounds simple.
We know it isn’t, of course; anyone who has watched a talented group working up a new song is aware of the incredible complexities that go into making a pure and natural bluegrass song.
Some people are convinced that bluegrass needs to be altered and intensified with additional, progressive elements in order for the music to continue to advance within a broader marketplace, and perhaps they are correct. Still, few things sound as wonderful, as clean, and—yes—simple as a bluegrass band at the top of its game, creating music that is entrenched in a tradition that stretches back seventy years and more.
A bluegrass band that has no pretense about it, one that knows that every song needs to be individual within a sound palate that is as deep as it is wide: is there anything better?
Danny Paisley & the Southern Grass are one sterling example of such a band.
Weary River was released in late 2015, too late to be considered for most year-end lists, but one hopes the album will received its due in this new year. For those who continue to appreciate bluegrass unadorned by passing-fancy, Weary River has much to offer.
It contains several songs from the repertoire of The Southern Grass, a Paisley-Lundy family entity since the 70s, including the spirited lead cuts “Darling Nellie Across the Sea” and “Uncle Ned,” as well as the sentimental “Mother Knows Best.” Three instrumental tunes are sprinkled throughout: “Grey Eagle,” featuring T.J. Lundy sawing a storm, a new one entitled “Fall Branch” from creative banjoist Mark Delaney, and one of Bill Monroe’s signature tunes, “Come Hither to Go Yonder,” featuring each instrumentalist, but none so obviously as the youthful Ryan Paisley on mandolin. Doug Meek plays the majority of the fiddle parts throughout the album, while Russ Hooper adds Dobro in a few places.
As great bluegrass does, Weary River takes listeners on a journey to the pits of despair. The title cut is a new Chris Stuart number: one may recall that Danny Paisley & the Southern Grass performed Stuart’s (with Ivan Rosenberg) 2009 IBMA Song of the Year “Don’t Throw Mama’s Flowers Away” on a previous album. “Weary River” is not only an exceptionally well-written song, but Paisley’s soulful lead vocal performance is equal parts aching (for what is missing) and devastated (by that which has been lost): there is not one iota of joy or light within its four and a third minutes. The fact that “Weary River” could serve as soundtrack to my yet-to-be completed novel of matrimonial strife, idealistic duplicity, and childhood neglect is simply a bonus.
Alongside “Weary River,” “The Letter Edged in Black” almost sounds uplifting, while Ringo Starr’s “Don’t Pass Me By” is positively hopeful: not sure how Del McCoury missed out on ‘grassifying this White Album track. The vocal and bass contributions of Eric Troutman are an outstanding addition to The Southern Grass for this recording, while Paisley remains one of those wonderful, under-heralded bluegrass rhythm guitarists.
Like Road into Town and The Room Over Mine, Weary River is a truly impressive modern, straight-ahead bluegrass recording.
Time for the annual ‘best of’ list which I never title ‘best of.’ I always go with Favourites because that is all I can go by: which albums have I listened to the most this past year, which ones have I most appreciated, and which ones do I feel are of an exceptional quality?
In previous years, I’ve written at length, but this year I am restrained by time (hmmm…Christmas Eve/Christmas Morning) and energy (I am bleeding exhausted!) Instead of separating things into genres, reissues, compilations, and other categories, I am just going to present Fervor Coulee’s Favourite Roots Albums of the Year. I am limiting myself to 15 titles this time out—I started out with a comprehensive list of about 80 titles under consideration, but willowed that down to 12 fair quickly, and from there it seemed like 15 was the right number for this year.
What did I notice over the course of 2015? One, I am really tired of folks—and you know who you are—who do good work, who promote the music, and who seem to care about bluegrass and yet use that term to describe just about any and all mostly acoustic, Appalachian-reminiscent music not mainstream country. It can’t all be bluegrass, folks. It just isn’t. Sam Gleaves? Not bluegrass, although there are a couple bluegrass songs there: nice album, though. Dom Flemons? Not even close. Dave Rawlings Machine? Are you even listening? Here’s the measure: if it is on the front page of The Bluegrass Situation…it’s not bluegrass.
I also noticed that there were fewer exceptional bluegrass albums released this year—plenty of mighty fine ones, but not that many that will go down as classics.
I noticed that I am listening to more 60s and 70s R&B/soul music than ever before, and that does take away time from roots writing. But rabba bing bang, I am loving those sounds, from R.B. Greaves to Gladys Knight & the Pips: pure dynamite.
I’ve also noticed that it is increasingly difficult to find the music I like in even the finest music stores. A real drag, that.
I’m also including the source of the music, in the spirit of full disclosure: some folks do worry about the ethics around receiving music for review without cost. I’m not one of them.
Here we go, with Fervor Coulee’s (Donald Teplyske) Favourite Roots Albums of the Year, 2015.
- John Wort Hannam- Love Lives On (Rebel Tone Records) Still Alberta’s finest contemporary, male troubadour, John Wort Hannam continues to meet the rising expectations that come from a decade of exceptional folk-based releases. Love Lives On has not yet displaced Two Bit Suit and Queen’s Hotel at the top of my Hannam list, but both those albums were also year-end favourites, and I enjoy the textures of his rhymes and the subtleties of his insights more with each listen. Singing of universal pleasures (“Over the Moon,” “Love Lives On,” “Gonna See My Love”) as adeptly as he does of specific moments in time (“Labrador”) and place (“Good Nite Nova Scotia,”) Wort Hannam has become a master of storytelling and songwriting. This sixth album is highlighted by the devastating “Man of God,” the song that will follow the songwriter to the end of his time. A beautifully conceived and recorded album, Love Lives On is a masterpiece. (Purchased at Blackbyrd Myoozik.)
- Dale Ann Bradley- Pocket Full of Keys (Pinecastle Records) While she hasn’t garnered the IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year award for the past three years, there is no arguing the consistency and strength Dale Ann Bradley brings to both her live performances and recordings. This self-produced album is one that I have listened to regularly since its release this summer. As the finest country and bluegrass often does, Pocket Full of Keys’ songs reveal the hardships of others as a panacea to our challenges, either providing a path for enlightenment or a realization that one’s own issues are not completely overwhelming: it could always be worse. Dale Ann Bradley doesn’t churn out albums. Analyse her vast catalog and one doesn’t find many tracks that appear to have been recorded simply out of favor or as filler. She is a bluegrass vocalist and true artist of substance and vision, and mentions in the album’s notes that she has always wanted to do an album herself, her own way. She has done it! Pocket Full of Keys is another in a string of significant recordings from bluegrass music’s finest voice. (Acquired via publicist)
- The SteelDrivers- The Muscle Shoals Recordings (Rounder) The SteelDrivers remain a dynamic, driving bluegrass band, a five-piece with a sound and an approach completely their own. The Muscle Shoals Recordings is their fourth album and the group just keeps getting better. The SteelDrivers are a song band, meaning that their strength doesn’t come from fiery instrumental prowess or sweeping vocal harmonies—although they more than hold their own in both those areas—but from the strength of their material. When they choose a song, they have done so for a reason, and it comes through in the performance. Murder songs, drinking songs, love songs, Civil War songs—The SteelDrivers can do them all, and they do so like no other bluegrass band working the circuit. Excellent. (Acquired via publicist)
- Barnstar!- Sit Down! Get Up! Get Out! (Signature Sounds) This Massachusetts-collective does things differently, and as a result their music isn’t what you are likely to find populating the ‘most played’ bluegrass charts. But, if one is open to something a bit outside, perhaps a little less precise and polished, from a group every bit as talented and instrumentally adept as the ‘name’ bands within the genre, Barnstar! may have something of interest waiting for you within Sit Down! Get Up! Get Out! Comprised of songwriters all of whom have music careers outside the band, Barnstar! continues to define their unusual approach to bluegrass music. They ‘get’ the music and are in no way trading in irony, but their bluegrass has an entirely different feel than , say, the Gibson Brothers or Joe Mullins’ Radio Ramblers—their harmonies are irregular when compared to those premier bands that add just a touch of the modern to their otherwise orthodox approach. Barnstar! is certainly ‘in the pocket,’ but their favored cadence is atypical of mainstream bluegrass and thus doesn’t feel constrained by expectation. They have great songs, the best here perhaps “Cumberland Blue Line,” “Six Foot Pine Box,” and most definitely The Faces “Stay With Me.” Oh, and don’t forget Mark Erelli’s “Barnstable County.” And “Delta Rose.” Dang, it is a terrific bluegrass album; not for everyone, mind. If you are looking for Pretty Bluegrass, it isn’t here. (Acquired via publicist)
- Buffy Sainte-Marie- Power in the Blood (High Romance Music) The winner of this year’s Polaris Music Prize, Power in the Blood is the type of album that either hits you from first listen or completely misses. Without judgement, whichever happens is likely a reflection of the listener. This is a powerful album that speaks across generations and cultures, one that can be appreciated both as a creative production to be experienced as a complete album and individually song-by-song. “It’s My Way,” “Power in the Blood,” and “We Are Circling” start the album off with substance and energy, and things just keep developing. She even pulls in some UB40. A wonderful recording. (Purchased at Wal-Mart; hey, I couldn’t find it in an independent shop.)
- Chris Jones & the Night Drivers- Run Away Tonight (Mountain Home) With an immediately identifiable sound and a burgeoning catalog of stellar albums, Chris Jones & the Night Drivers are possibly bluegrass music’s most underrated band. With Run Away Tonight, that has to change. Front-loaded with six original songs—seldom seen in an industry still tied to the tried, tested, and true—Run Away Tonight is one of the finest bluegrass albums released this decade.
Reminding listeners of no one as much as the legendary Country Gentlemen, Chris Jones & the Night Drivers perform bluegrass music with heart and drive. The heart comes from the depth of intensity revealed in every phrase and note sung by Jones, the New York native who has as rounded a bluegrass resume as one might imagine—expert guitarist, sideman, bandleader, songwriter, producer, broadcaster, gently acerbic humorist, playful photographer. The drive begins with Jones’ strong rhythm and lead work, nicely featured in the mix here, and continues through Jon Weisberger’s propulsive bass rhythm playing off Ned Luberecki’s classic 5-string approach and Mark Stoffel’s exquisite mandolin touch. Kudos to Jones and his co-producer Tim Surrett (Balsam Range) and Scott Barnett for this excellent sounding bluegrass experience—listening to this recording on a solid system is a sonic treat.
With an emphasis on the deceptively upbeat aspect of bluegrass, Chris Jones & the Night Drivers kick things off with the court and spark of “Laurie,” from which the album takes its title. Similarly, “Tonight I’m Gonna Ride” feels lively and freewheeling, but is appears as much about failed aspirations and last chances as it is the fulfilment of a dream. Casey Driessen, a Jones colleague from long ago, contributes vigorous fiddle to these two songs. Every song is worthy of attention, not something I write lightly or often. I have long advocated that Chris Jones’ name needs to be inserted into the conversations around Male Vocalist of the Year. Perhaps next time up, the professional members of the IBMA will agree with me. The Night Drivers are as good a band as there is. (Acquired via publicist)
- Amy Black- The Muscle Shoals Sessions (Reuben) Amy Black has become someone to be counted on to provide balanced and lively collections of contemporary Americana, featuring a blend of influences: folk, country, blues, troubadours of all variety, and—way deep down—hints of southern-flavoured soul. Years ago, I wrote that Black reminded me of Kate Campbell and that she had a singing voice “as natural and welcome as lemonade on a sweltering summer’s day, with an amiable tartness lingering within its sweetness.”
The Muscle Shoals Sessions has that absolutely infectious deep soul groove permeating every song. Spooner Oldham brings emotional and historical depth to the proceedings, laying out funky Wurlitzer and organ. Will Kimbrough is back. Vocal certainty is provided by the McCrary sisters, Ann and Regina. Notable horn players are also present, with Charlie Rose taking the lead and playing trombone, while Steve Herrman (trumpet) and Jim Hoke (saxophone) are featured.
Recorded in the legendary FAME studios, Black compositions like “Get To Me” and “Woman On Fire” sizzle with energy, while “You Gotta Move” and “Bring It On Home” are more passionate and controlled. Classics abound with “You Left Your Water Running” and Arthur Alexander’s “You Better Move On” closing the disc with wisdom found only in the finest of songs.
When she laments, “I know I hurt you deep down inside, I know you’re angry I understand why,” one could be forgiven for believing Black to be interpreting a long forgotten Otis Redding gem. She isn’t, of course—the song is a new one, and is as strong as anything else on the album. Black’s performance here proves all the evidence necessary, should one require it, that she is legitimately a country soul singer of the most significant variety. She smolders without seduction—there is nothing here but genuine, aching need—while the band explores rhythms of the finest order. Black pays tribute to Don Covey and Etta James with a blistering rendition of “Watch Dog,” while her interpretation of “Gotta Serve Somebody” further elevates the album by exploring the more spiritual side of soul music.
Amy Black ‘gets it’ and hopefully we do, too. The Muscle Shoals Sessions deserves to be heard by all who appreciate the funkier, soulful side of roots music. Amy Black just keeps getting better.
- Pharis & Jason Romero- A Wanderer I’ll Stay (Lula Records) One of the most respected old-time duos currently recording, Pharis and Jason Romero create acoustic music in a vein not dissimilar to Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. Without drifting toward mimicry, this couple from Horsefly, British Columbia likewise captures within their finely crafted songs the richness that exists within seemingly uncomplicated songs and arrangements.
I can attest that everything I hear within this album is flat-out faultless. Within “Backstep Indi,” Jason Romero coaxes the gourd banjo to travel from southern traditions to East Indian experimentation, while the instrumental backing for “The Dying Soldier” is as beautifully mournful as anything recently heard. Pharis Romero is an expressive, generous vocalist and impressive songwriter. She has a strong voice that more than holds its own within the aural environment created by the duo and their co-producer David Travers-Smith. Like Welch, she asks universal questions (“Why do girls go steady, when their hearts are not inclined”) and makes stark declarations (“Your father he’s a merchant and a thief”) that immediately establishes perspective while sketching stories and characters that engage listeners’ imaginations. When she sings, “There’s no time, honey there’s no time,” you accept her assertion.
This time featuring Josh Rabie (fiddle), John Hurd (bass), Marc Jenkins (pedal steel), and Brent Morton (drums) on select tracks, A Wanderer I’ll Stay has a full sound although not significantly different from their previous Long Gone Out West Blues; the same intimacy is present and certainly their attention to detail has not wavered. As with that release, the packaging is beautifully executed with all practical considerations accounted. This is a stunning acoustic folk recording. (Acquired via publicist)
- Kathy Kallick Band- Foxhounds (KathyKallick.com) As is Tim O’Brien, Kathy Kallick is always a bit of an adventurer and you can never be sure what her next recorded outing might bring. When she has the band with her, you are assured high-quality, literate and respectful bluegrass music: they never take their audience for granted, never rest on their laurels. Such is the case with Foxhounds, an album that starts off with a new song in tribute to Bill Monroe and continues with an exciting exploration of the range and depth of the bluegrass tradition. There are old songs including “Banjo Pickin’ Girl,” a lively rendition of the first Richard Thompson song I ever encountered (“Tear Stained Letter,”) and a bright and spirited take on a Monroe instrumental, “Kentucky Mandolin.” But the album’s greatest strengths lay within Kallick’s new songs including “So Danged Lonesome,” “Longest Day of the Year,” and “Snowflakes.” Especially enjoyable is the fiery “I’m Not Your Honey Baby Now,” a song to which I will continue to return. The band is top-notch throughout, and all members are featured in a variety of ways including vocally. (Acquired via publicist)
- Corb Lund- Things That Can’t Be Undone (New West Records) Corb Lund’s tenth album of (mostly) rural rooted, countryside music, Things That Can’t Be Undone shows Alberta’s favourite son writing even more concisely than previously while tackling subject matter both heady and impacting (“S Lazy H,” “Weight of the Gun,” and “Sadr City,”) heartfelt (“Goodbye Colorado” and “Sunbeam,”) and slightly frivolous (“Talk Too Much” and “Washed-Up Rock Star Factory Blues.”) While Lund has for years provided engaging music that was obviously influenced by folks like Tom Russell and Ian Tyson, he has increasingly infused his songs with his own individuality. This album continues that journey. (Legal download)
- Ron Block- Hogan’s House of Music (RonBlock.com) One of the most thoughtful minds in bluegrass, and a danged fine banjo and guitar player, Rob Block is best known as one-fifth of Alison Krauss & Union Station. He has recorded a series of well-received albums, in my opinion the first of which (Faraway Land) is a modern classic. Here he goes back to his roots and influences, recording an instrumental bluegrass album filled with classic (but not too overly familiar) songs. Having purchased digitally, I don’t know who is playing what or where, but I suppose I don’t really need to: it is completely wonderful. (Purchased via iTunes)
- Willie Thrasher- Spirit Child (Light in the Attic) Three of Willie Thrasher’s songs were featured on the groundbreaking triple album set of last year, Native North America (Vol. 1): Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966–1985, a release that would have topped my chart last year had I heard it then. Spirit Child is a reissue of Thrasher’s 1981 album, and it spent a solid week in my car once I bought it. I may not understand everything on this album, but I think I get it. Folk, rock, and country influences abut to create a remarkable listening journey. (Purchased via eMusic)
- Jayme Stone- Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project (Borealis Records) With a multitude of collaborators, Jayme Stone cuts a wide swath through the legacy of Alan Lomax: it is much like putting a collection of Smithsonian Folkways albums on random, and one becomes increasingly overwhelmed by the intensity of the wide-ranging performances. There is mountain music here, island and African sounds, English and Scottish folk songs, and blues, ‘grass, and chants all performed to the highest levels of performance that retain the ‘authentic’ (whatever that means) and natural state of the songs. (Purchased via iTunes)
- Jerry Lawson- Just a Mortal Man (Red Beet) As I’ve headed further into the rabbit warren that is vintage R&B and soul, I have found few modern practitioners of the art that appeal to me: even the best seem to try just a little too hard. Not Jerry Lawson. It sounds like the music just flows from him, and when he launches into a song a deep as “Wine” or as sad as “Never Been to Memphis,” you know you are experiencing the real thing. (Purchased via eMusic)
- The Cox Family- Gone as the Cotton (Rounder) Forgive us for thinking we might never again hear new music from The Cox Family. It has been almost twenty years since Just When We’re Thinking It’s Over, and excepting an appearance in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, not much has been heard from Alison Krauss’s favourite Louisianans. Given the quality of the music contained on Gone Like the Cotton, an album started in 1998 and completed within the last year, it is surprising that Krauss and Rounder Records didn’t consider buying the project from Asylum and the Warner’s group at some point in the ensuing years. Eventually, and thankfully, the impedance to unveiling the album was removed, the recorded files were located and freshened with new vocals from the current lineup of the Cox Family siblings Evelyn, Sidney, and Suzanne complementing father Willard’s vocal takes from the late 90s.
The newest song and title track, written by Sidney and Suzanne, is a nearly-unadorned family biography. With only the minimalist of guitar accompaniment, the siblings sing of their grandparents, their parents, and their community with devotion and love. It is a stunning and appropriate closing to a heartfelt recording, one that captures in four minutes a lifetime of experience. The result is a type of country music that is seldom encountered in contemporary times. Beautifully executed with confidence that comes through on every song, Gone Like the Cotton is a masterful recording. (Acquired via publicist)
By limiting myself to 15 titles, I’ve not been able to include folks like Ryan Boldt, The Honey DewDrops, Big Country Bluegrass, Tim O’Brien (for his SOS Series), Rex Hobart, Anna and Elizabeth, Samantha Martin, Dar Williams, Donnie Fritts, Pop Staples, Gordie Tentrees, The Hillbenders, Norma MacDonald, and a whole lot of other very fine artists. A great deal of excellent roots music was released in 2015. Thanks for checking in at Fervor Coulee; hopefully we’ll see you in 2016. Donald
I was planning on being productive today; it isn’t every week I have a five-day weekend, certainly, and one should make use of such to accomplish some writing. But, finding myself in the middle of those five days today, someone on Twitter sent out a link to a 2011 Ray Wylie Hubbard concert on YouTube, and well—you should be able to figure out the rest.
One of the things I was going to do today was write about a nifty little 2-song single put out today by Town Mountain, an Asheville, NC bluegrass band that I quite like. I’ve written about the group a couple times. My review of Leave the Bottle was favourable, and in retrospect, too restrained; I think I was feeling that I had written too many 4- star reviews around then, and pulled them back to 3.5. I was less enthusiastic about their live release of last year.
Town Mountain has devoted considerable effort to producing what appears intended as a one-off, a two-song set entitled The Dead Session. Given the strength of this recording, the talented outfit may be well-advised to consider a full album release of Grateful Dead songs.
The two songs chosen for this set are “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” (just as I was typing ‘Mississippi’ there, Ray Wylie introduced his most excellent song “Mississippi Flush,” saying ‘Mississippi’ just as I typed the third ‘s’…which was awesome enough to mention, me thinks) and “Big River.” Yes, I’m still listening to the live show; how can you turn off Ray Wylie Hubbard mid-show?
I’ll pause Ray Wylie to allow myself to get the soaring sounds of Town Mountain back into my head, not that I really need to because I’ve already listened to the single four or five times since receiving in the mail on Monday.
Okay, I lied; didn’t mean to, though. I was going to pause Ray Wylie, but then he started in on another story—this one about prayer —and I couldn’t…so, I pause the writing of this little blurb for another 30 minutes. The world will survive, and Town Mountain will understand. (BTW, Twitter tells me it is his birthday, too.)
At a mere eleven minutes, one wonders why the group bothered pressing up physical copies of this little pair (hard to imagine they’ll make their money back) but one is glad they did—and even more pleased that their publicist sent a copy my way. The cover art is gorgeous (by a noted Dead poster artist Taylor Swope), and almost nothing beats holding music in your hand.
As sung by Jerry Garcia, “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” is an archetypal Dead song—groovy, flowing (meandering, perhaps, depending on one’s perspective), and lyrically woolly. I’m far from a Grateful Dead connoisseur, and wasn’t familiar with the song until I Googled it the other day; shoot me. I have six or eight of their albums on the shelf, and enjoy them when I play them, but I certainly am no expert.
Town Mountain’s version is even more appealing to me—the incorporation of bluegrass elements like 5-string and harmony parts strengthens the song. Bobby Britt’s fiddle playing also brightens “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo,” and while Garcia’s voice isn’t something one soon forgets, Robert Greer more than holds his own; his distinctive singing is certainly a Town Mountain highlight. Town Mountain stretches out a little here, and I quite like what they’ve done.
The information at the Town Mountain website tells me that The Grateful Dead performed Johnny Cash’s “Big River” almost 400 times. I did not know that. Again, the band does the job on this one. Jesse Langlais’ banjo sets the tone for this rendition, and they keep things concise while providing sufficient instrumental interplay, including pedal steel from Jack Deveraux.
So, for a couple bucks on iTunes you can get a pretty cool listening experience courtesy of Town Mountain. I would certainly suggest the disc, available from the band’s website. Even if you aren’t one for following every dead-end and detour the Dead have sent out, this is a listening journey that I believe is well worth exploring.
Hmmm. I guess I am getting forgetful, but I notice this afternoon that I didn’t link through my review of the Steep Canyon Rangers album Radio here at Fervor Coulee. It was published over at Country Standard Time last month. I likely over-stated my assertion that they are no longer a bluegrass band, at least on this recording, but I truly don’t think Radio is a bluegrass album. And, it isn’t just because they now have a drummer/percussionist as part of their core… not ‘just’ because of that. It is danged good, mind. Just not bluegrass. You may well disagree.
Brady Enslen Beautiful Things www. BradyEnslen.com
North America is blessed (maybe overly blessed) with singer-songwriters. While there are no doubt many who should give up the dream and get on with life, in my experience most of those who get to the level of recording an album have more than a little something to offer.
Listen to WDVX’s Blue Plate Special some morning (or, noon if you are in the eastern time zone) to hear what I mean. Almost daily, they feature an artist I’ve never heard before, and most always I hear something that makes me say, “Yup, he’s (or she’s) good,” or “Now, that’s a fine line.”
Not every singer-songwriter I hear is going to become the next Clark (Guy, Jay, or Brandy), Erelli, Peters, Kane or Welch, but more often than not they can offer insight into the life we find ourselves living.
In Alberta, there are dozens upon dozens of singer-songwriters (fools on stools, I think some have been affectionately dubbed) sharing their stories, witticisms, and musicality with anyone who’ll listen: Buckley, Wort Hannam, Dunn, Moreau, Stack, Coffey, Hus, Lund, Williams, Hawley, Pineo, Patershuk, Johnson, Albert, Nolan, Shore, McDonald, Vickers, McCann, Stagger, Gates, Wylie, Tyson, Phillips, Masters, Bourne, Purves-Smith, Davis, St. John…the cross-generational list goes on and on.
Add Brady Enslen to the list.
“I best be on my way…to better things…before the light goes away…and I lose my way” is the chorus that closes Beautiful Things, and it is a fitting coda.
From Drumheller, Enslen doesn’t get overly fancy on his debut release Beautiful Things. Produced by Winnipeg’s Scott Nolan (himself no slouch in the singer-songwriter department) this album features a core band interpreting Enslen’s songs in a manner that maintains focus on the singer and his songs.
Enslen and Nolan keep things relatively simple. The songs come in at under five minutes, and the musicians—including Matt Filopoulos (lead guitar,) Eric Lemoine (pedal steel,) Ashley Au (bass,) and Dan Bertnick (drums)—are unobtrusive, colouring the songs with just enough sound to accentuate Enslen’s insights.
Enslen’s songs are filled with longing and place, usually simultaneously. “Drive,” the album’s lead track, captures this theme with ideally: “We’ll drive until we can’t drive anymore,” the song closes after dreamlike escape over prairie, through mountains and trees, to the ocean’s edge. “I went looking for a place to hide,” Enslen sings in “Lonesome Winds,” and one senses that he may still be seeking shelter. Certainly, nothing is resolved by the time a mother abandons her children to survive on their own for the summer (“No Whiskey For Mama.”)
Like many, Enslen walks that fine line between having lived his songs and possessing the power to create believable, relatable scenarios. “It’s like you get to the end of a page, and you don’t know how you got there,” he sings. We can relate. We’ve attempted to imagine the land without barbed wire fences, been lost at night, hearing the coyotes’ serenade, and appreciated our ‘beautiful thing,’ aware that we are unworthy.
Brady Enslen has created a brilliant disc, one that is entirely enjoyable on its own merits, but one that also hints at greatness to follow. Folk, country, Americana, singer-songwriter…however label it, Beautiful Things is a success.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Songs of Rain, Snow, & Remembering
Busted Flat Records
I hate coming late to the game, but such is the situation as I first encountered Lynn Jackson this past month.
The Kitchener, ON singer and songwriter is on album number eight with Songs of Rain, Snow, & Remembering and I don’t think I’ve previously heard of her. Given the clarity of her voice and the strength of her material, one would hope I would have remembered had I encountered her music.
Songs of Rain, Snow, & Remembering is (largely) an acoustic album, produced by Norman Blake. Admittedly, I got quite excited when I saw Blake’s name in the album notes, having long been an appreciator of the old-time folk instrumentalist. Who knew Norman Blake is also a Scottish-transplant to Canada most famous as part of Teenage Fanclub, a band I may have heard of without ever having heard?
Well, other than most of the world excepting me?
Lynn Jackson reminds me a lot of Mary-Chapin Carpenter, and yes the hyphen is purposely included as, long ago, that is how I came to know MCC, before the stadiums and theatres, back when she was recording Hometown Girl and State of the Heart and still had a hyphen in her given name. That is the MCC of which Jackson reminds me, along with Cheryl Wheeler, Lynn Miles, and Shari Ulrich.
Jackson writes songs that sound very personal while embracing universal appeal and circumstance. That I am a 50+ white male that can’t play the same chord twice in a row matters not—I can relate to the stories Jackson tells, the emotions she conveys, the longing she communicates. Confessional without discomfort. “Riding Out the Storm” and “Water & Glass” are quite remarkable performances. The autumnal nature of the album is apparent—change, passing our prime, closing of chapters—and are brought to the fore on songs including “Winter Sun,” “Next Best Thing,” and “Long Winter.” Townes Van Zandt’s “Rake” is another highlight.
I don’t like the fret noise apparent on “Ribbons”; to me, such scrapes sound messy and irritating, distracting from the song’s moment. A shame that, as the songwriting apparent here is quite striking.
Folk? Perhaps that is the best label. File under: Good.