Archive for the ‘2017 Releases’ Tag

Murder Murder- Wicked Lines & Veins review   Leave a comment

Murder Murder

Murder Murder Wicked Lines & Veins

Much of a lifetime ago, folks including The Bad Livers, The Meat Purveyors, and Split Lip Rayfield created rock ‘n’ roll inspired bluegrass for a small community of followers who came of age musically with an appreciation for both Tupelo Honey and Uncle Tupelo. For the most part, these groups remained on the fringes of the wider (narrower?) bluegrass community, never substantially breaking through at the bluegrass festival or industry level.

A couple decades later, and on their third album, Murder Murder throw its hat into the ring from Sudbury, Ontario. This is not anything near traditional or contemporary bluegrass, but don’t let that stop you from looking behind those crates and amps stacked in the dark recesses of the music’s ‘big tent.’ If they hailed from Appalachia, Murder Murder would be renowned for their dark, honest, and vivid portrayals of mountain tales of tragedy. They aren’t playing for us grey hairs, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay attention.

Setting the majority of their original numbers at the edges of society and deep in rural backwaters, with Wicked Lines & Veins Murder Murder unleash an abundance of misery upon their audience. At turns deliberately profane (“Reesor County Fugitive” ), violently absurd (“I’ve Always Been A Gambler”), and emotionally cutting (“The Last Daughter”), Murder Murder’s narrative tales of desperation and malevolence place them at the fore of whatever alt-grass circuit currently exists. Their characters are ones who would find Fred Eaglesmith’s urbane and uppity, Little Willie and his historical brethren visionary-thinking, fair-minded and considered rapscallions.

To be fair, the tables are turned in “Goodnight, Irene,” (not the Huddie Ledbetter song) and justified comeuppance dispensed in “The Death of Waylon Green” and “Shaking Off The Dust.” Few are the songs that do not find someone ending up on the wrong side of a gun, knife, or bottle of bleach. Playing the traditional bluegrass instruments, along with organ and drums, Murder Murder isn’t like anyone else I’ve heard: if you enjoy The Earl Brothers and The D.Rangers, you should find this group of Canadian independents of interest. Their songwriting is stellar, and the lead vocals are especially appealing, if not smooth and pretty.

With homage paid to the tradition (in “I’ve Always Been a Gambler,” the cuckoo remains a pretty bird that warbles as she flies, elsewhere there’s a hemlock grove, gallows, and betrayal) in ways both apparent and subtle, Murder Murder have crafted an intentionally abrasive interpretation of bluegrass, one where love songs culminate at the end of a rope and a burned-out barroom (“Abilene”) and a child’s revenge in a rich man’s pasture (“Sharecropper’s Son.”)

In no way do Murder Murder sound like the Clinch Mountain Boys, the Steep Canyon Rangers, or Balsam Range. What they do possess is the spirit of originality willing to break through long-established norms and mores to uncover creative freshness within a genre that, without question, benefits from periodic injections of unbridled energy and influence.

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Lynn Jackson Follow That Fire review   Leave a comment

Lynn Jackson

Lynn Jackson Follow That Fire Busted Flat Records

Every province, state, city, and area has them—the singer or guitar player that everyone loves and respects, but who strikes a collective shoulder-shrug outside their home range. Pay attention, then.

I had never heard of Lynn Jackson before encountering the previous Songs of Rain, Snow, and Remembering a couple autumns ago. The Ontario-based singer-guitarist is very good, and Follow That Fire is her ninth album over the course of two decades. In 2015, I compared her to the likes of Mary Chapin Carpenter and Lynn Miles, and those remain fair, in my way of thinking. Like those songwriters, Jackson gets to the core of the heart fair quickly.

Produced this time by Michael Timmins (a new Cowboy Junkies album would be welcome any time, by the way) Jackson sounds subdued across that album’s three-quarters of an hour, holding her cards close as she shares these song.

Still, there is a hint of playfulness in the way she approaches “Mystery Novels, Short Stories, and Car Songs,” bringing to mind another Timmins sibling, an effect one suspects is deliberately repeated on the closing “No Regrets.” Obviously a narrative songwriter, Jackson’s “Alice” may be the saddest song I’ve heard all year, filled with hope and ache, betrayal and murder. Jayzus, it might not work as a bluegrass song, but I would love to hear Dale Ann Bradley give it a try. As it is, Jackson’s (sounds like) finger-picking gives the song all the atmosphere it needs.

Skydigger Josh Finlayson (bass) and Cowboy Junkie Peter Timmins (drums) form the rhythm section, and combined with Michael Timmins’ production choices, a most compelling and consistent ambiance is created. Andy Maize (The Skydiggers) joins Jackson on “Meet Me In The City,” in a better world a song that would be heard on every country, rock, and pop station across the country. “Meet me in the city for one last go ’round,” she sings. “We’ll take all the time you need” is revised to “I’ll take all the time I need” by song’s end. Another radio-friendly (in an alternate time, perhaps) number is “Tossing & Turning,” a soulful little song about a love that should know better.

Aaron Goldstein’s pedal steel works nicely in concert with Aaron Comeau’s keys (“Night Comes Down,” “Ghosts”) throughout the set. Inspired by the loss of a friend, one of the more introspective numbers is “Random Breakdowns, False Starts, & New Beginnings.” approach.

I know I meant to search out previous Lynn Jackson albums last time I reviewed her. Follow That Fire is a reminder that I need to get onto that project. The rest of the country needs to start paying more attention, too. Damn, she’s good. Great songs, great voice, inspired production: get this one. Fingers crossed: this is Lynn Jackson’s Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.

Chris Hillman- Bidin’ My Time review   Leave a comment

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Chris Hillman Bidin’ My Time Rounder Records

Chris Hillman.

With those two words, Americana is defined.

The fact that he was once in a band called the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers should have told me he was going to be my Americana touchstone, but I didn’t discover that group’s sole recording until years after I fell under his spell. Trace a line through the most significant groups, albums, songs, and moments of Americana and roots music of the last 50 years, and as likely as not one encounters Hillman.

The Hillmen. The Byrds. Turn! Turn! Turn! Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Flying Burrito Brothers. Gilded Palace of Sin. “Sin City.” “Wheels.” Manassas. Souther-Hillman-Furay. McGuinn-Clark-Hillman. Hillman-Pedersen. The Desert Rose Band, maybe the best country band of the 1990s. “One Step Forward.” Rice, Rice, Hillman, Pedersen.

The Byrds were no more before I had heard of them. Ditto The Flying Burrito Brothers. How some feel about Roger McGuinn and more frequently Gram Parsons, that is the esteem in which I hold Chris Hillman.

Two stories: I once stalked Hillman for most of a Wintergrass festival, following him around from stage to workshop to lunch. I stopped myself before it got too creepy. I thought. I once set out to see Hillman and Pedersen at an Edmonton casino show, only to discover 125 kilometres into the drive that I had forgotten my wallet at work. By the time I had retraced 250 km, and added on another 75 to finish it off, it was too late to make the show. I was crushed, and ended up sitting in a hotel parking lot listening to the final 15-minutes of At Edwards Barn at journeys end.

Bidin’ My Time, Hillman’s first album in the dozen years since The Other Side, is a significant return if for no other reason that it features so many of the folks—McGuinn, David Crosby, John Jorgenson, Pedersen, Jay Dee Maness—with whom he in no small way created what we now call Americana. That the album was produced by Tom Petty, and features Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench is icing. It is perfection across 33-minutes.

[I delayed publishing this review as I was waiting for the official release, with full credits, to make its way to me. It hasn’t, so I am unsure of who played exactly where as I am relying on an advance copy lacking notes. In the meantime, of course, Las Vegas was rocked and Petty passed.]

The album’s first track, familiar from Mr. Tambourine Man, is “The Bells of Rhymney,” which quickly swells to an explosion of harmony (courtesy of Crosby and Pedersen) that is unforgettable. Additional numbers from The Byrds are revisited, including the bluegrass-flavoured “The New John Robertson” (“The Old John Robertson,” The Notorious Byrd Brothers) and Gene Clark’s “She Don’t Care About Time.” The classic pop sounding “Here She Comes Again” is a four-decade old McGuinn-Hillman composition that sounds immediately familiar.

“Restless,” “Different Rivers,” “Given All I Can See,” and the title track are all Hillman-Steve Hill co-writes testifying to Hillman’s enduring mastery of song and performance. At 72 years, Hillman remains full-voiced, fully in control as he presides over these songs. The arrangements are full and even lush, ideally suited to complement each other as an album. Closing with “Wildflowers,” Hillman sings familiar words with a gravity magnified by this week’s events:

You belong among the wild flowers,
You belong somewhere close to me,
Far away from your trouble and worry-
You belong somewhere you feel free,
You belong somewhere you feel free.

Bidin’ My Time. The song hints at what Hillman is looking toward, but this album—the seventh released under his name since 1976—allows hope that gig is a-ways in the future.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

 

John Lee Hooker- King of the Boogie boxset review   Leave a comment

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John Lee Hooker King of the Boogie Craft Recordings

There is something ethereal and true about John Lee Hooker that even his contemporaries never quite achieved. Whether getting gritty or fatally romantic, searching for hope among the forlorn or finding joy in the minutiae of the daily struggle, John Lee Hooker brought the real blues, the deep blues, to an expansive listening audience, always sounding as if he were performing to an audience of one—you.

Long ago when I was but a young Fervor Coulee—eighteen and mostly clueless—John Lee Hooker’s Fantasy double compilation Black Snake was the first blues album I discovered. Working at the failing Climax Records in Leduc, Alberta for a few months in the spring and summer of 1983, I started this lifelong journey into roots music discovering most of the Carter-Cash clan—Rosanne, Johnny, Carlene, Rodney, and Nick Lowe—as well as Emmylou Harris, Ricky Skaggs, and The Stray Cats, not to mention George Jones, Deborah Allen, and—eventually—John Lee Hooker: “I’m Prison Bound,” “Good Mornin’ Lil School Girl,” “Come On and See About Me,” and “Tupelo Blues.” It wasn’t long before I found my way to “Boom Boom” and “One Bourbon, One Scotch, and One Beer” via cover versions and a lack of supervision—who knew you weren’t allowed to crack any album you wanted for in-store play?

Once I heard “Boogie Chillen’,” I was done: no other blues would ever top it. The archaic playing style and the repetitive notes appealed to something base within me, and then that voice reaching across and over it all—fueled by desperation—Hooker communicated with a suburban white boy through his music as few —Townshend, Springsteen, and the voices of Three Dog Night—had done to that point. No matter the song, John Lee Hooker was immediately identifiable. His growling vocal timbre reached to a time before measure, his deep talking blues making a journey across race, social strata, generations, and history.

This expansive five-disc set appears to be the ultimate encapsulation of John Lee Hooker’s recorded output. Produced in conjunction with a number of labels and Hooker’s family, the box set distills 40-plus years of recordings into a manageable distillation while retaining all the essentials and incorporating a few previously unreleased necessaries.

Starting with his 1948 recording of “Boogie Chillen’,” with the first three discs we are taken for a three-plus hour ride through Hooker’s recording career. Most of these tracks have been readily available on various collections over the years, but what is most appreciated herein is the care with which they have been collated. Recorded months apart, “Goin Down Highway #51” slides straight out of “Huckle Up Baby” like it was planned, with “John L’s House Rent Boogie” and “I’m In The Mood” waiting around the corner. The sound quality is pristine, and the accompanying notes informative.

JL_Hooker 001After this generous rendering of vintage and essential blues—”My First Wife Left Me,” “Tupelo Blues,” “Stuttering Blues,” “Boom Boom,” and the like—with only a handful of unreleased material—highlighted by the suggestive “Meat Shakes on Her Bones” from 1961—the majority of the rarities surface. Disc Four is comprised of various live takes augmented by a set of five recordings from Berlin, 1983 that have not previously been available commercially. Captured at a time when the older bluesmen were in danger of being forgotten with the advance of popular music that had little connection to roots of rock ‘n’ roll—we all remember new wave, the advance of goth, and the earliest days of hair metal—these live takes reveal the vitality Hooker never lost, no matter with whom he played. Extolling the audience to “Hear me out, here,” Hooker moans his way through “It Serves Me Right to Suffer” as a man who has lived an imperfect life while “Boom Boom” and “One Bourbon, One Scotch, and One Beer” are delivered with the energy and playful verve of a man who has done the songs a couple thousand times and never lost the joy.

Disc Five features collaborations ranging from 1952 and “Little” Eddie Kirkland (“I Got Eyes For You”), the early 70s with Canned Heat (“Peavine”) and Van Morrison (“Never Get Out of These Blues Alive”) through to his days as an elder statesman and Grammy winner with Bonnie Raitt (“I’m In The Mood,”) B.B. King (“You Shook Me,”) and  Los Lobos (“Dimples.”) Nothing new is revealed on these (mostly) readily available cuts, but presented in this manner they are a reminder of Hooker’s versatility and range of influence.

100 songs, nine previously unreleased, over five discs with what appears to be exceptional packaging (unfortunately, I only have the downloads and scans to judge by) King of the Boogie celebrates the 100th Anniversary of John Lee Hooker’s birth, and marks the kick-off of events—including museum exhibits, radio specials, and a film documentary—celebrating this milestone. With a reasonable price point and a hearty dose of indispensable blues, King of the Boogie is not only a brilliant introduction to the blues master, but a suitable testament to his place in modern roots music history.

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Posted 2017 September 30 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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John Reischman & the Jaybirds- On That Other Green Shore review   Leave a comment

Jaybirds

John Reischman & the Jaybirds
On That Other Green Shore
Corvus Records
http://www.thejaybirds.com/

It has long been known that John Reischman & the Jaybirds are one of my favourite bluegrass combos. To my ears, they have everything I expect from a band—vocal complexity and diversity, exceptional instrumentation and harmonic interplay, rock solid material with a curiosity  for the past and the ingenuity of creative originality.

When I was booking bands for the local association, The Jaybirds were the first non-locals I pursued. In subsequent appearances they never disappointed. I have seen them live about as many times as any bluegrass band I have witnessed, and even briefly used their “Jaybird Ramble” as my radio show theme song.

So, I’m a fan. But I am also a critic, and understand perhaps why they have never ‘broke through’ within the bluegrass world. Being based in western Canada has possibly been an impediment. I’ve heard some say that can appear a bit too polished, and maybe have at times appeared a bit ‘stiff’ on stage, especially early on. Still, the quality of their five previous full-fledged albums (and a seasonal EP) are without question—one of the strongest catalogues any bluegrass band can present since their debut of 2001. Why they are still not as recognized as other bluegrass bands—the Balsam Ranges, the Gibsons, the IIIrd Tyme Outs, and others—remains a mystery to my way of thinking.

John Reischman—having played with the Good Ol’ Persons, Tony Rice, John Miller, Kathy Kallick, and more—has long been one of bluegrass music’s most impressive and versatile mandolinists. Deeply influenced by Bill Monroe, Reischman has had the added benefit of being able to not only follow the inspiration of the instrument’s traditional Master, but to hear and work with others to provide guidance as well as the dedication to shape the instrument and its musical presentation in his own image.

Reischman’s bandmates Nick Hornbuckle (a more than impressive 5-stringer playing in an adapted 2-finger style), Trisha Gagnon (a tasteful bassist with an incredible voice in both lead and harmony positions),  Greg Spatz (an immensely sensitive and versatile fiddler and, as an aside, a formidable writer of prose), and Jim Nunally (a man of many hats including producer, absolutely devastating guitarist, and a singer rivaling Del McCoury, in my opinion) are unparalleled on the Canadian bluegrass scene (the fact that two-members of the group are naturalized Canadian citizens and only Gagnon is Canadian by birth doesn’t escape me) and—should this be a competition—could stand mic-to-mic with any of the most prominent bluegrass bands. [Someone will need to be the referee here, but I believe I may have just written a 113-word sentence that is almost grammatically justified.]

With the release of On That Other Green Shore this summer also comes news that Jim Nunally has left the group, the first personnel changeover the group has experienced. As I’ve already noted, Nunally has been one of the five pillars of the group, and his departure is significant. His playing and singing, as well as personality and songwriting, will be missed. For the unfamiliar, sample the two-song burst mid-set on Field Guide: “Arrowhead,” a Hornbuckle composition, features stunning flat-picking from Nunally while “Shackled and Chained,” one of his songs, is one of Nunally’s many fine vocal performances as a Jaybird.

One That Other Green Shore is not terribly different from previous JR&JB releases, and that is no criticism. The group has established an appealing and winning formula. The group boasts five song- and tune-writers, four vocalists, three-part harmonies, an untouchable duo of lead singers in Gagnon and Nunally, and a singular focus on making bluegrass music that is dynamic and memorable. As they typically do, the Jaybirds here refresh under-appreciated (or at least, under-known) songs from the Americana-roots-old time traditions, mix in some gospels and cracking instrumentals, and a handful of instrumentals as well as (this time) a song from The Beatles to create a unified representation of modern bluegrass.

Gagnon’s “I Don’t Want to Say Goodbye,” written upon her father’s passing, is not only emotional but also soothing. Two numbers feature the Jaybirds’ four-part vocal harmony ‘wall of sound.’ “You’ve Got To Righten That Wrong” and “Don’t You Hear The Lambs A-Crying” come from previous times but seem entirely apropos to current world circumstance, perhaps in ways the originators never intended. Spatz doesn’t contribute an original fiddle tune this time out, but brings to the group Caridwen Irvine Spatz’s “Thistletown,” a mournful and introspective piece well-placed within the 13-song set.

Nanually’s “Gonna Walk” features strong guitar lines, and I suppose serves as a fitting farewell nod to the group of which he has been integral the better part of two decades. “Today Has Been a Lonesome Day” is a song we’ve long heard at Jaybird shows, but makes its recorded debut here: interestingly, for a number that the group first worked up long ago, Patrick Sauber (who is the newest Jaybird) joins the group here on baritone.

 

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The ‘new’ Jaybirds: Image borrowed from the internet: no credit apparent, but will correct/remove if requested

 

Reischman has written dozens of memorable instrumentals, and “Daylighting the Creek” (listen to Spatz’s fiddle here—dang!) and “Red Diamond” join the list. His lead take on Paul McCartney’s “Two of Us,” in duet and close harmony with Gagnon, is a highlight of this recording. As they have done before (think “Shady Grove” from Vintage & Unique and “The House Carpenter” on Stellar Jays) the Jaybirds inject new shades to a familiar piece with the closing “Katie Bar the Door.”

As all John Reischman & the Jaybirds albums have been, On That Other Green Shore is beautifully packaged, and for those who still believe such matters, is well-deserving of purchase as a physical CD. Sneaking up on twenty years, John Reischman & the Jaybirds remain a vibrant part of contemporary bluegrass. Search them out.

 

Steve Martin & Steep Canyon Rangers- The Long-Awaited Album review   Leave a comment

SMSCRI apologize to all readers, groups, and promo folks/labels who have been expecting more from me the past few weeks. Work is busy, and I don’t have time to write although I try- I have (in my head) written much of a John Reischman & the Jaybirds review, know I need to get to the Chris Hillman album (how tired am I? It just took me a good ten seconds to come up with Chris Hillman’s name- an original icon of roots and Americana [before those labels were imagined] and a Fervor Coulee favourite, I can’t think of his name!) Anyway, I did- for better or worse- write a review of the new Steve Martin & Steep Canyon Rangers album for Country Standard Time. Find it at http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=6477 if you are so moved. There is much (80%?) to appreciate with just a handful of minutes falling short. As always, your opinion may very well vary from mine- here’s the deal: I won’t tell you what to think when you’re wrong, you don’t tell me what to think when I am right.

The Grascals- Before Breakfast review   Leave a comment

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The Grascals Before Breakfast Mountain Home Music Company

The Grascals can be counted on to deliver, every eighteen months or so, another collection of mountain solid, formidable and smooth bluegrass.

Over nine albums and one very fun EP, The Grascals have consistently been one of bluegrass music’s stellar outfits. While not everything they have ever attempted has resonated with me (I felt their The Grascals and Friends country-hybrid project was—to be generous—uneven) there are few bluegrass bands I would rather encounter than The Grascals.

Before Breakfast is as strong an album as the group has released. From the catchy opener “Sleepin’ With the Reaper,” a fine Becky Buller-Grant Williams addition to the bluegrass canon of fidelity, through to the closing sing-a-long rambunctiousness of “Clear Corn Liquor” The Grascals present a well-rounded collection of bluegrass excellence.

John Bryan has been an outstanding addition to the group. His vocals on not only the lead track, but additional and quite diverse songs including the excellent “Delia” (coming from Jon Weisberger, Charlie Chamberlain, and Charles R. Humphrey III) and “I’ve Been Redeemed” are uniformly impressive.

One of three remaining original members of the group, Terry Eldredge offers up his always appreciated, earthy approach to tender songs. “Demons” faces down the temptations we all face, while “He Took Your Place” is a familiar song of faith worthy of modern interpretation.  “Beer Tree” and “Clear Corn Liquor” (from Tim Stafford and Bobby Starnes) are less weighty, but no less worthy.

Bassist Terry Smith takes the lead position on a single song, “Lonesome,” (co-written with sibling Billy) and one wishes the album had another couple samples of his country-inspired approach to bluegrass singing (without subtracting anything—running 38 minutes, five or six more minutes featuring Smith would have comfortably stretched Before Breakfast.)

I’ve listened the this album fifteen or twenty times this month, and each time I notice another little fill or roll from Kristin Scott Benson. While her 5-string sounds are all over the album, there are places—as on “Beer Tree” and “Delia”—where her contribution is so subtle you almost miss it; once recognized, it is impossible to again miss and one realizes the importance of every single element within the greater expanse of this bluegrass combo—nothing is included out of habit or obligation, each note serves a purpose.

Danny Roberts, with Eldredge and Smith forming the august original core of the group, is like Benson a proverbial master of his instrument if under-recognized, and his mandolin playing is well-featured, never more so on his instrumental romp (co-written with fiddler Adam Haynes) “Lynchburg Chicken Run.” Roberts and Haynes work together well as on “He Took Your Place” and on Kelsi Harrigill’s (Flatt Lonesome) “There Is You” Haynes adds depth to a rather sentimental set of lyrics.

“Pathway of Teardrops” is a well-established bluegrass harmony showcase going back to The Osborne Brothers, and The Grascals’ interpretation goes toe-to-toe with that venerable classic rendition: not better, but equally their own. No matter where The Grascals go, they never stray too far from the foundation.

Before Breakfast, after lunch, and during supper—there is no bad time for The Grascals. Now, would someone bring them to Alberta—it has been a dozen too many years since I’ve seen the group live!