Archive for the ‘2018 Releases’ Tag

Sue Foley- The Ice Queen review   Leave a comment

sue foley

Sue Foley The Ice Queen Stony Plain Records SueFoley.com

When one considers contemporary blues guitarists, naturally several come to mind, and being a bit northern-centric, Sue Foley immediately jumps to the fore. That paisley-bejeweled pink Telecaster wouldn’t be nearly as impressive in lesser hands, and over the course of nearly three decades as a touring bandleader, the Ottawa-native has certainly established a niche all her own.

Finger-picking his Foley’s forte, and the title track is an ideal example of her inimitable style; clocking in at six-plus minutes, the playful and self-deprecating number provides the album with a rock-solid foundation. But, as she has with various international sounds over the years, Foley also extends herself acoustically late in the set when she plays “The Dance,” this time utilizing the flamenco style.

As significant as the guitar playing is throughout the album—from Foley, of course, but also her guests including Charlie Sexton, Billy Gibbons, Jimmie Vaughan, to name the three most familiar—what is even more impressive is the depth she goes to give voice to these songs.

She gets low and bluesy a la Lucinda singing the many and diverse qualities of cruel ol’ “81” (“She’s a two-headed snake, and she winds her tail, from the mighty Appalachians to the gates of Hell”) while roaring above a lively ruckus on “Run,” a free-spirited jam featuring thick bass-notes from Austin’s Johnny Bradley and drumming from George Rains from Vaughan’s Tilt a Whirl band. This trio propels a pair of additional numbers—with help from others—Bessie Smith’s “Send Me To the ‘Lectric Chair” and “If I Have Forsaken You.”

Throughout, Foley’s singing is engaged as she brilliantly slips from one style to the next, each authentic within her blues experience. Foley’s haunting acoustic country-blues treatment of her own “Death of A Dream” is quite simply stunning, while  a lively (and apparently near-elusive) “Cannonball Blues” serves as an ideal conclusion to a collection set in tradition.

Featuring a bevy of Texas heat, The Ice Queen allows several of Foley’s musical friends an opportunity to make significant appearances. Charlie Sexton’s initial contributions—on the opening “Come To Me” and its follow-up “81”—are impressive, and set the theme for the album with masters collaborating in expected ways to yield extraordinary results. I’ve never been a particular fan of Vaughan’s, but he and Foley slip into “The Lucky Ones” with companionable ease. Producer Mike Flanigin’s Hammond B3 punctuates several songs, most effectively on the ramblin’ “Gaslight,” while Billy Gibbons gets fair gritty with Foley on “Fool’s Gold,” another number on which Flanigin is prominently featured.

The Ice Queen is Sue Foley’s first album in six years, and a more welcome, forceful, and confident return couldn’t be imagined. I imagine it is everything fans have been waiting for, and more. Now, to finesse an early-April road trip to Red Deer…

 

 

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Milan Miller- Timepiece review   Leave a comment

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Milan Miller Timepiece MilanMillerMusic.com

Milan Miller is one of contemporary bluegrass music’s most recorded songwriters, with chartbusters Balsam Range having recorded more than fifteen of his songs across their albums. Others who have co-written and/or recorded his songs include Irene Kelley, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice, and Terry Baucom. While he hasn’t yet been named IBMA’s Bluegrass Songwriter of the Year, he certainly can’t be overlooked for very much longer.

Raised in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, Miller put out a well-received album entitled Poison Cove in 2013 and followed that up with an album with Balsam Range’s Buddy Melton. Timepiece is a 6-song EP intended to get a set of songs out in a way Miller desired without interfering with his many other obligations. Terry Baucom plays banjo on three tracks as does Justin Moses, who also contributes Dobro. Aubrey Haynie (fiddle), Jim Lindsey (bass), and Darren Nicholson (mandolin) accompany Miller (acoustic guitar) throughout the recording, with Buddy Melton and Adam Wright contributing harmony.

With such a concise format, it quickly becomes apparent that there is no filler on Timepiece. Three songs co-written with Beth Husband—”Timepiece,” “Isabel Gray,” and “Baby Don’t Bake”—are entirely unlike in structure, theme, and execution, and yet all sound like they could have been written thirty or seventy years ago, and—even with such variety—are decidedly bluegrass.

Within a loping melody, ill-fated bandit Charlie Price meets his comeuppance in “Timepiece,” with the band keeping better time than his pocket watch did. “Isabel Gray,” a melancholic, fiddle-rich number about an seafaring wanderer, couldn’t be more different from the light-hearted, Texas-swing, ‘kissed-off’ homage, “Baby Don’t Bake.” With these three songs, any bluegrass band worth their weight would be off to a good start song-mining.

Co-written with Thomm Jutz, “Coon Dog Cemetery” takes a gentle, slightly eerie approach to man’s best friends’ final resting place. With Jutz and Glenn Simmons, Miller finishes his EP with “I Wish,” a bluegrass ballad that doesn’t get overly sappy: still, it is a bit sappy, and one can’t argue about that since this type of song seems universally popular within the modern bluegrass field.

Rising above these five strong songs is “Brody White,” co-written with Jeff McClellan. With the first verse put to bed, one knows that a father’s retribution will be swift and final. With an attention to detail reminiscent of Chris Knight (think “Down The River” meets “Rita’s Only Fault,” but with a stand-up dad), this song is stellar, and has immediately become my new favourite.

Timepiece is a strong showcase of Milan Miller’s songwriting. Moreover, it serves as evidence of his capabilities as a bluegrass singer. I don’t know if Miller aspires to being a bandleader—I suspect he doesn’t—but based on Timepiece, I’d step up to buy a ticket.

 

Raven and Red- We Rise Up review   Leave a comment

raven-and-red-we-rise-up-album

Raven and Red We Rise Up Line Crossing Records www.RavenandRed.com

Youthful, Raven and Red is a polished Nashville-based acoustic Americana trio. Featuring a pair of classically-trained, recent North Carolina university graduates, Brittany Lynn Jones (vocals, violin, and more) and Mitchell Lane (vocals and guitars), alongside a still-teenaged and high school attending mandolinist/vocalist in Cole King, the group shows great interest in the history and foundations of folk and country music while bridging the past with pop and rock influences and conventions: energetic, sensitive, andmost importantly—interesting.

Without doubt, Lane (the ‘Red’) can flat out sing. With a strong tenor, the Georgia native propels these songs (mostly) co-written with Lynn Jones (the ‘Raven.’) “It Could Have Been You,” “Living and Loving You” and “Lead Me Back to You” may not be lyrically groundbreaking, but they are not obviously formulistic, and their performances are impressive with Justin Collins’ percussion providing a touch of flamboyance to “Lead Me Back to You” not often revealed in similar settings. The affirming “We Rise Up” will provide inspiration, while the New Christy Minstrels’ “Today” is an appropriate throwback to the gentrification of mid-century folk music. Lynn Jones’ powerful, substantial harmonies give Raven and Red’s songs supplementary heft.

Jeffrey Shore and Jonathan Quintero’s “Grandpa’s Beer,” is a strong ‘generation-passing’ song given a fairly homey arrangement with lots of fiddle; Lane’s performance here reminds me of a one-song (“Guy Clark”) favourite of mine, Eric Burton (who, it appears, has disappeared from the Webiverse). “Moonshine and Makeup” and “Another Empty Bottle” (sensing a theme here) are additional superior tracks that work well within Raven and Red’s modern country/folk approach. “Wild Roses” is—arguably—a little wordy, but is works as a tribute to an early love lost to the lure of music. Later, “Wild Roses Reprise: Winter Raven World Traveler” provides Lynn Jones with a violin showcase augmented by her companions.

We Will Rise is a fine debut recording for the trio Raven and Red. It doesn’t have enough gravel to become a Fervor Coulee favourite, but I acknowledge the group’s talents and the quality of their performances. There is something here, and I’ll be keeping these gnarled ears open.

Posted 2018 February 3 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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Crystal Shawanda- Voodoo Woman review   Leave a comment

Crystal_Shawanda_Voodoo_Woman_Album_art (1)

Crystal Shawanda Voodoo Woman New Sun Records/CrystalShawanda.co

Since her debut on both the Canadian and American country charts, it has been obvious that Crystal Shawanda could sing.

Recording largely formulistic, and at times bombastic, country-pop, Shawanda found limited success as a mainstream country singer, touring in support of Brad Paisley across Canada, for example, and ‘almost’ hitting the Country Top Twenty a decade ago with the rather ‘over the top’ emotionally-rife “You Can Let Go.” Still, Dawn of a New Day showed promise and—looking back—“My Roots Are Showing” hinted at the direction Shawanda would eventually follow.

Going the route of independence has proven artistically significant for Shawanda, who released a more personal set of music with Just Like You, but the album’s singles didn’t get significant traction at country radio. The album did garner Shawanda a well-deserved Juno Award as Best Aboriginal Album in 2013.

More recently, she has redefined herself as a blues-rock singer, and this seems to be the genre where she is most comfortable. The Whole World’s Got the Blues was a more than impressive collection of blues standards and original material, including the steaming, self-penned title track and “I’m Not Your Baby.” Revealing herself as an honest blues belter, Shawanda also remained true to her roots. Included on the album was the evocative and powerful rocker “Pray Sister Pray” as a call-to-action for the Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women of Canada.

Fish Out of Water continued Shawanda’s foray into southern blues sounds, with both title track and “When You Rise” showcasing her ability to get to the gritty roots of the music while “Laid Back” showed a softer, more satisfied and companionable side.

Voodoo Woman was released late in 2017, but is only now hitting radio. It is a one hell of a blues album, loaded with memorable vocal performances.

Recording a set of covers for the first time, Shawanda revisits the music that inspired her as a child growing up on Manitoulin Island. Influenced by her brother’s listening habits, the blues spoke to Shawanda—as they do to many of us—as unvarnished reflections of troubled lives.

Somewhat playfully, a hybrid of “Wang Dang Doodle” and “Smokestack Lightning” opens the album, but Shawanda hits her mark from the start. “I’ll Always Love You” previously appeared on The Whole World’s Got the Blues, and in this new rendition is as powerful as a heartfelt, blues ballad can be. Janis Joplin’s, via Big Mama Thornton, “Ball and Chain” is given a fiery arrangement, with a much appreciated extended saxophone break.

Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind”—known to many as the melody for Chris Stapleton’s version of “Tennessee Whiskey”—is an undisputed showstopper, but so are most of these familiar numbers. Co-producer (with Shawanda) Dewayne Stobel, one believes, provides the lead guitar licks, and these are consistently impressive across the album, but maybe just a little more so on the rump-twitchin’ “Trouble” and closing “Blue Train/Smokestack Lightning Revisited.”

Personally, Shawanda’s version of “Misty Blue” is stellar. Written as a country song and a hit for both Wilma Burgess and Eddy Arnold (and later, again for Billie Jo Spears), Dorothy Moore’s 1976 version of the song was likely the first soul/R&B song I fell in love with: I’m discriminating in what I will accept when a singer comes back to this beautifully crafted song. Shawanda further demonstrates her vocal range on this number, pulling back the growl and grit to provide the song with the sensitivity and ‘wanting’ required. Truly masterful.

Voodoo Woman reveals Crystal Shawanda as a blues performer of significance. The musicianship is excellent, the production crisp. And, most importantly, Crystal Shawanda can sing. Give her another listen: you will be missing something important if you don’t.

Caroline Cotter- Home On The River review   Leave a comment

Cotter

Caroline Cotter Home On The River CarolineCotter.com

Bridging the English folk music tradition with a contemporary Americana perspective, Caroline Cotter’s album, Home On the River, is a delightful surprise.

Blessed with a beautiful ‘honeyed soprano’ voice, Cotter is a world traveller finding inspiration for her songs close to home.  Backed by Danish band The Sentimentals (last heard backing Ana Egge) on half the numbers, Cotter has crafted an engaging, compact set of songs searching for truth and comfort.

Notably, the lead song “Peace of Mind” opens with a declaration of “I don’t want to keep up with fashion, I don’t want to pick a fight. I don’t want to say I love you, just to make this feel alright. I don’t want to make a buck, just to spend it to feel fine.” No, she isn’t one for the superficial and artificial. This country-folk song continues with a challenge to set aside our preoccupation with all that is negative in this world—and there is no shortage of that, certainly—and seek something closer to, perhaps, an inner peace.

Having recorded several albums while exploring the world, Cotter’s perspective is informed. She understands what is important to her, and is confident in her vision. There is an appealing assuredness in her writing and singing.

The title track, seemingly inspired by a foundation of love and acceptance, and “1 4 3” (‘I Love You’) are comfortable, warm, and inspiring visions of family legacy. Elsewhere, darkness creeps into “Hey Mama” and “Can’t Stop the Waves,” but they also contain comfort. Not so “My Washroom” which is troubling and stark. Reminiscent of Meg Hutchinson in mood and tone, Cotter’s songs are obviously personal with nothing contrived: she reveals herself throughout the album. “I don’t tell lies,” she sings within “Eternal Light,” and this honesty is apparent and appreciated.

Musically, the album is relatively unadorned. No one goes off with extended solos or breaks, and the collective of musicians provide Cotter with exactly the support her gentle songs require.

Listen to Caroline Cotter’s Home On the River and let its songs take you away to a better place.

 

Posted 2018 January 27 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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The LYNNes- Heartbreak Song for the Radio review   Leave a comment

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The LYNNes Heartbreak Song for the Radio www.TheLynnes.com

Lynne Hanson and Lynn Miles, the two well-established Ottawa singers and songwriters who meld their names as The LYNNes, need no introduction to those familiar with the Canadian folk scene. For the rest:

  • Lynn Miles has been a force within the Canadian music industry, recording more than a dozen albums
  • She received a Juno Award for Best Roots and Traditional Album for Unravel, a recording that has stood the test of time to be regarded in some circles as essential listening, and has been recognized with Canadian Folk Music Awards
  • Nominated for additional Juno Awards, Miles has produced albums for Lynne Hanson, and has toured the country on numerous occasions including with Keith Glass
  • Her “Black Flowers” was a highlight of Claire Lynch’s North By South
  • Lynne Hanson has recorded six albums, including a pair produced by Miles
  • Recognized with nominations at both the Canadian Folk Music Awards and the Kerrville Folk Festival, she received the Colleen Peterson Songwriting Award in 2010
  • Her albums Uneven Ground, River of Sand, and Once the Sun Goes Down are among the finest country-folk/Americana albums one can hope to encounter

Heartbreak Song for the Radio is stellar. The pairing of Miles and Hanson is natural, their harmonies clean and tight (but not staid) and as they take turns in the lead position, their songs have vibrant energy compelling the listener to lean in and absorb each note, word, and phrase.

The title track is an elegy for a broken, impossible relationship, and a better title for the album is hard to imagine: each of the ten tracks captures folks in places best left to the songwriter, as others would crumble under the intensity of the emotions explored.

While some of the experiences may explore emotional darkness, the album isn’t burdensome. Most of the songs maintain that which would be categorized as ‘mid-tempo,’ but there is nothing about Heartbreak Song for the Radio that drags. Like early albums from Mary Chapin Carpenter, Lucinda Williams, and even Guy Clark, the songs are sufficiently balanced to maintain buoyancy.

“It’s only walking through the fire, you learn just who you are,” they sing on “Blame It On the Devil,” just one of many songs that seem to have more than a little duo-ography within it. And Miles and Hanson are certainly self-aware. They play to their strengths—keenly revealed portraits of those gaining forbearance and wisdom from introspection and realization.

“I can’t make a door if you’re only building walls,” Hanson sings in “Blue Tattoo,” perhaps the album’s finest track, embracing the pain of the needle to counteract the numbness of absence. Individual credits aren’t provided, but one guesses it is Kevin Breit’s guitar providing the melancholy lead notes punctuating the number.

“Heavy Lifting,” “Halfway to Happy,” and “Cost So Much” bring additional energy, while “Recipe For Disaster” and “Cost So Much” are unadulterated country. The album is replete with intelligent but never too clever lines, ones that provide uncontrived insight. “Wouldn’t have gone and paid my dues, if I knew it was gonna cost so much” being just one example.

These songs are real, ones that if they haven’t been lived by Miles and Hanson have been experienced by others sitting at lonely tables, contemplating choices made.

Beautiful stuff, this. Seek it.