Archive for the ‘2018 Releases’ Tag

David Davis & the Warrior River Boys- Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poole review   Leave a comment

David Davis

David Davis & The Warrior River Boys Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poole Rounder Records

Even with fewer than a dozen albums featuring his name, David Davis has become a near-legendary member of the bluegrass fraternity, a true follower of The Monroe Doctrine. Having fronted the Warrior River Boys for parts of four decades, Davis has refined and nurtured his vision of traditionally-based bluegrass while consistently presenting among the finest live showcases of the music’s vibrancy.                                                                                                                                            Bill monroe

For his first album in almost ten years, Davis returns to Rounder Records with a well-considered collection of music from the early years of the twentieth century. Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poole is the first Warrior River Boys album since Davis completed his incredible Rebel Records aural triptych in 2009: Troubled Times, David Davis & the Warrior River Boys, and Two Dimes & A Nickel, three of the most impressive bluegrass albums released during the initial decade of this century. [Note to self: dig up and post original reviews of these albums.]

David Davis has the ability to provide insights into the genesis of bluegrass music as few others. He presents as simultaneously intense and affable, a man comfortable with the direction his career has taken him. He has studied the music that informed Bill Monroe’s music, has identified for himself the threads and tendrils that were woven to create bluegrass. These insights inform his music, whether creating impressive interpretations of previously unrecorded songs or crafting fresh understandings of familiar songs, conveying universal experience.

David Davis waskasoo

The music of Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers comes from the post-World War I, pre-Depression era of American history, string band music that influenced generations of professional and amateur pickers and singers. Many of the songs contained within Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poole are well-known, but Davis and co-producer Robert Montgomery have also included less familiar numbers while eschewing proverbial standards such as “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down” and “Take A Drink On Me,” songs already oft recorded in bluegrass.

Still, a spirited and instrumentally well-arranged take on “White House Blues” is included as is “Girl I Left In Sunny Tennessee,” songs every jam regular well knows. Late in the set, a smooth rendition of “If The River Was Whiskey” is offered, with Davis’s voice and light, southern drawl ideally suited to the meandering song.

An album of considerable variation, an acceptance of life’s departures is an apparent theme. Whether pining for a distant love (“Where The Whippoorwill Is Whispering Goodnight”) within a song replete with acute detail (“Around that door the same old ivy vine is clinging,” a vivid image of desolation), cutting off a proposal (“One Moonlight Night”), or acknowledging the ways of a family’s ‘black sheep’ (“He Rambled”), one senses that Davis and Montgomery were attracted to songs where everything wasn’t necessarily going to plan.

The ‘Frankie and Johnny’ lovers of “Leaving Home” reveal different strategies for moving on from their troubled relationship, and the protagonist of “May I Sleep In Your Barn Tonight, Mister?” should have anticipated the ‘fox and henhouse’ outcome of his hospitality.

Does sentimentality get better than the included renditions of “Old and Only In The Way” and “Goodbye Mary Dear,” an enduring war-time tale? I suspect not. The bluesy “Highwayman” fits alongside additional ‘blues’ numbers including “Ramblin’ Blues” and “Milwaukee Blues,” a song previously recorded with a different vocal arrangement on Troubled Times and which led Davis on his Charlie Poole exploration.

Long-time Warrior River Boys Marty Hayes (lead and harmony vocals, bass) and Robert Montgomery (banjo) remain within the fold, with Davis contributing his classic-styled mandolin playing and distinctive voice with Stan Wilemon on guitar. Guest fiddler Billy Hurt is featured across the album. The instrumentation is, as expected, top drawer. The closing “Sweet Sunny South” is extended a mite, allowing  all the players to be showcased to excellent effect. Wilemon’s guitar runs on “Ramblin’ Blues” are especially appealing, as are Hurt’s fiddle fills, while Montgomery gets great tone on the opening title track.

Whatever are the reasons, it has been much too long since David Davis & the Warrior River Boys released an album. Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poole is more than a welcome return; this album allows the listener to travel back in time and witness bluegrass’ evolution from old-timey string band and blues foundations to the music we embrace today. More than academic exercise, Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poole is an exemplary example of modern, traditional bluegrass.

 

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Canadian Blues- three reviews   Leave a comment

Over the last eight weeks, more than a dozen blues albums have made their way through the system to land in the wee metal box down the road.

Lots of electric blues, some with a Chicago feel, others more southern, many guitar-based and a couple pianocentric albums, quite a few featuring female frontpersons, even more with too many wankering guitar solos, a small number featuring fusion attempts, and one more with a ‘trad.’ acoustic blues foundation. All have been listened to, several only once because that is all they seemed to deserve (sorry!) while others have created my personal soundtrack over the past several weeks.

I enjoy blues music, although not as much as some other forms of roots music, but I don’t actively seek it out on a day-to-day basis. I have favourite contemporary artists—Rory Block, Eric Bibb, Paul Reddick, Sue Foley, Watermelon Slim, Colin James, Crystal Shawanda, Maria Muldaur, to name a few—and the likes of John Lee Hooker, Lead Belly, and Alberta Hunter have been a part of my listening since I was a teenager: I recall one summer (I think— after all, when else would I be watching it?) morning becoming transfixed by Alberta Hunter on Good Morning America. Still, it would take a lot to get me off the couch to attend a blues performance.

Here are my thoughts on three really strong blues albums that have recently come my way.

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Suzie Vinnick Shake The Love Around SuzieVinnick.com

From Western Canada, Suzie Vinnick is well-familiar to Alberta blues listeners. Now based in the Niagara area of Ontario, Vinnick continues to make her way to the prairies almost annually. Early in the album opening “Happy As Hell,” Vinnick sings,  “I may complain but I know, I am living a charmed life…I got no reason to ever bitch and moan, but I do sometimes…” It appears life is agreeing with the vibrant singer, songwriter, and bandleader, because across the album’s dozen tracks the positive receives greater emphasis than its opposite.

Blessed with a gorgeous voice, throughout Shake The Love Around Vinnick leads her band through terrific songs filled with rich lyrical insights, smooth arrangements, and stunning and near-overwhelming performances. One example would be “Golden Rule” (“It costs nothing to be kind,” she sings) featuring an almost Laurel Canyon vibe with Vinnick handling all guitars—acoustic, electric, bass, and lap steel—to excellent effect. Truly an indie artist, Vinnick has again released an album without label support, produced herself (with Mark Lalama), and done the bulk of the instrumental heavy lifting.

Unlike the previous favourite Me ‘n’ Mabel, the album that made me a fan, which was largely a solo album, Shake The Love Around is a band album. Still naturally tasteful, this time out the approach is a bit more aggressive (“Watch Me,” and “Lean Into The Light.”) An ideal summer listen, the album is abounding with songs that make this listener think of Bobbie Gentry (all evidence to the contrary, not everything I listen to runs through my Gentry filter) including a sweltering cover of John Fogerty’s “A Hundred and Ten In The Shade” and “Crying A River For You,” featuring Colin Linden; to Linden’s and Vinnick’s collaborative credit, each of their guitar parts are discernible and distinctive.

“Beautiful Little Fool” has a playful vibe and Percy Mayfield’s “Danger Zone” allows Vinnick to carry a song—typically performed with horns and all manner of accompaniment—very ably with just her voice and bass: it may be my favourite performance on the album, and is an ideal selection given the album’s theme of spreading positivity while surrounded by darkness. However, the very next song—”Creaking Pines”—is also a favourite, a wisp of a song equally effective—a little seductive, a lot haunting—bringing to mind the legendary Alberta Hunter.

Shake The Love Around is an excellent blues and roots album from Suzie Vinnick. She never disappoints.

Angel

Angel Forrest Electric Love AngelForrest.ca

If Suzie Vinnick is great—and she is—and well-regarded within the Canadian blues industry—and she is, having been crowned as Female Vocalist of the Year six times by the Maple Blues Awards—Angel Forrest is held in similar high esteem.

Forrest is the reigning and five time Maple Blues Female Vocalist of the Year, and on this double live set, she shows why. The Quebec veteran focuses on vocals, and does with considerable gravelly panache, while leading her four-piece band through a set of standards and I presume, originals—at least songs I am not familiar with (songwriting credits must always be provided within an album package)—from a single concert captured last October in St-Hyacinthe, Quebec.

The show opening “All The Way” (a co-write with guitarist Denis Coulombe, I believe) sets the stage for almost an hour and a half of blues-rock. Forrest is at her strongest belting out her own songs including “Hold On Tight, Mr. I’m Alright” “Spoil Me Up,” and “Mother Tongue Blues.” Not much is held back—or left to interpretation—on the brassy “Move On.”

Realizing she has long sung Janis Joplin songs, I find her versions of “Piece Of My Heart” and “Me and Bobby McGee” a little too on the nose—imitation rather than inspiration—although I am confident there are others who will strongly disagree, and I appreciate the guitar work: it isn’t that I didn’t like Forrest’s versions, it is just I feel I have heard these vocal approaches often enough. Her take of “Turtle Blues” is more impressive, and stronger still are her takes of “House of the Rising Sun” and the extended, set-closing jam “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean”/”Hound Dog”/”Whole Lotta Love” which are full of energy and passion.

Angel Forrest has released a number of albums—and I believe this is her third live release—but this is the first to come to my attention: I’ll be keeping my ears open for more. I’m intrigued.

CALLING_ALL_BLUES_FRONT

Sugar Brown It’s A Blues World: Calling All Blues SugarBrownMusic.com

Speaking of intrigued.

When was the last time a Ph. D. released a blues album? Not intriguing enough? Okay, when was the last time a University of Toronto associate professor of East Asian Studies, born in Bowling Green, Ohio into a Japanese-Korean family released a blues album?

That’s what I thought.

Proving that the blues is a force of nurture as much as nature, Sugar Brown has unleashed a powerful blues missive upon an unsuspecting populace.

Man, Sugar Brown plays my kind of blues. Influenced by the Chicago blues, a sound well familiar to Ken Kawashima as that is where he got his start blowing harp in blues bands. Now fronting a band on both guitar and harmonica, Sugar Brown has created thirteen new songs—some of them based around and reinventing familiar songs of various extract—that kept this listener rapt for the entirety of their 48-minute run. Some of his lyrics are hopeful, some are rather darka balance I can certainly appreciate.

Fronting the likes of Michelle Josef (mostly) and Chuck Bucket (three tracks) (drums), Russ Boswell (basses), Minnie Heart and Nichol Robertson (various string instruments), and Julian Fauth (piano and organ), Sugar Brown has captured his blues in a warm and inviting atmosphere utilizing some vintage equipment and a knack for a variety of blues structures. As stated in the accompanying press material, here Brown “mines the various strata of the blues genre.” Taking full advantage of the broad blues palate, no two songs sound too much alike even as they may explore a common thematic spectrum.

Highlights include the finger-picking grounded “Hard to Love” and “Lousy Dine,” a song built around the adroit lyric “everybody’s scrambling for the same lousy dime.” “It’s A Blues World” is a song for the times, an old-timey sounding lamentation with a bit of “The House of the Rising Sun” in its foundation.

For an album rich in reflection, Sugar Brown doesn’t let the listener soak in misery for too long. Numbers including “Dew On The Grass,” “Out Of The Frying Pan”, and “Those Things You Said” are lighter and livelier. “Sure As The Stars” is a sassy, kiss-off piece, while “Tide Blues” reminds me of something Doc Watson might have played around with on the porch with Merle or grandson Richard. By the time we reach the closing “Brothers,” we have been fully immersed in a fully satisfying blues session.

From its striking, etched cover art through to the clarity of the recording itself and the strength of the songs, Sugar Brown has created a memorable album. When he wants to, he puts a fine growl in his voice, while elsewhere his approach is pure, natural, and clear (“Love Me Twice.”)

It’s A Blues World: Calling All Blues is my introduction to Sugar Brown. I’ll be hearing more.

 

 

Horseshoes & Hand Grenades- The Ode review   Leave a comment

the ode

For a variety of reasons, this review was a long time coming: apologies all around. A strong roots album, more bluegrass than not, but not the father-in-law’s bluegrass certainly…and only barely mine. I would rather refer to them as an acoustiblue band (man, how I wish that term had taken off!) or the term I had played with about the same time, acoustigrass: still, the term currently getting traction is Grassicana, which also works. My review is published at Country Standard Time.

Joyann Parker- Hard To Love review   Leave a comment

Joyann

Joyann Parker Hard To Love Hopeless Romantics Records

When I reflect on the joys writing about roots music bring me, I can itemize many elements that inject pleasure in my life. Among them, and perhaps in the Top 3, is that in writing about music in the way I do—off the mainstream grid, without the day-to-day constrictions more widely read writers must traverse—I am exposed to musicians doing their thing within similar circumstances.

In this way and over the last two decades I have been exposed to ‘local heroes’ I might never have heard otherwise, be they John Paul Keith, Jay Clark, Brigitte DeMeyer, Jeffrey Halford, James Reams, Murder Murder, Diana Jones, and too many more to mention. Along the way, my definition of roots music has expanded to include more than ‘fools on stools,’ roots rock, and bluegrass.

So after a few hundred newspaper columns, dozens of bluegrass radio broadcasts, and likely a thousand or so reviews and posted ramblings, Joyann Parker comes to my attention.

The immense, propulsive bass notes that open the album are the first hint that we are in for a treat with Hard To Love, the Minneapolis singer’s second album. Promising that, “By the time I get to Memphis, you’ll be gone,” Parker (producer, guitar, piano, and trumpet) wastes no time establishing her power as a vocalist and bandleader. Her blend of blues and roots includes plenty of Memphis-Muscle Shoals spirited soul, and with just a hint of country in her voice, Joyann Parker is perfect for those of us who have come to appreciate music originating from the south. “I got to keep on rolling on down,” she sing as a bridge to the album’s opening track, “Memphis” and for the next forty-five minutes, she doesn’t let up.

If that wasn’t enough, she next slides into “Envy,” a slick and sassy Dusty Springfield/Marlena Shaw styled workout: Parker is taking no prisoners. Buoyed by a killer-tight band—Mark Lamoine (co-producer, guitar, and background vox), Tim Wick (piano and organ), Michael Carvale (co-producer and bass), and Alec Tackmann (drums and percussion), Parker asks the eternal question: “Do you love her like you love me?” One gets the sense the answer isn’t going to much matter: she is moving on!

Like the best soul-enriched blues, Hard To Love contains tales of trouble, misplaced devotion, and broken vows and shattered hearts. Some songs simmer with desire (“Jigsaw Heart” and “Home”) while other songs shade their passions behind a danceable beat that few this side the late Sharon Jones can manage (“Dizzy”, for example). Like the best of songwriters, Parker takes her experiences and threads them through those of others, creating relatable songs containing universal truths.

And, you can dance to it! Without attempting to sound retro, Parker brings to mind rarely encountered Stax artists including Barbara Stephens and Linda Lyndell on groovers such as “Who What When Where Why” and “What Happened To Me,” while “Bluer Than You,” “Hard To Love,” and “Evil Hearted” take more subtle tracts. New Orleans sounds are explored in the free-spirted “Ray” and the lively “Your Mama.”

Alongside other ‘big voices’ such as Ann Vriend, Erin Costelo, and Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar (speaking of local heroes) Joyann Parker has become an immediate Fervor Coulee favourite. Love it!

 

 

Dulcie Taylor- Better Part of Me review   Leave a comment

Dulcie-Taylor-Better-Part-Of-Me-Cover-Square-1500x1500-F-1024x1024

Dulcie Taylor Better Part of Me Black Iris Records/DulcieTaylor.com

While California-based Dulcie Taylor’s music is new to this listener, the veteran singer-songwriter has numerous albums released over the past two decades. Taylor’s music reminds us of when we first heard Kimmie Rhodes, Shawn Colvin, and yes, even Lucinda Williams long ago. That Taylor isn’t the household name those artists are has nothing to do with the quality of her writing or singing.

“Watch Me Hurt” was the first song to grab my attention: the anguish of the lover being taken advantage of by a malicious heart is palatable. “I thank you for the lesson learned, people can be cruel—set you on fire just to watch you burn” she sings in the song’s final stanza, one replete with a refrain that reveals the casual infliction of cruelty—”I know you broke my heart on purpose, you needed to watch me hurt.”

Taylor doesn’t have too many songs of satisfaction and bliss on Better Part of Me, her seventh release (as best as I can tell). For some, the song titles tell part of the tale—”Long Gone,” “Hearts Have to Break” (a rustic, homey duet with producer and long-time collaborator George Naufel), and “The Moon Is Cold”—but Taylor’s songs go beyond the simple hook and cutting catch phrase, revealing the nuance and complexity of relationships.

To counterbalance the darkness, Taylor offers “I Do” (“You don’t ever have to wonder who has got your back—I promise you, I do”) and “God Did Me A Favor.” The lucidity of her voice is striking throughout the album, perhaps no more so than on the closing title track. Unlike some singers—and here, the last decade or more of Williams’ music comes to mind—Taylor artfully presents her words as important enough to articulate fully. Singing of understanding, struggles, hope, and honesty, Taylor conveys her regard for her art and her audience.

Having been inopportunely called away just as the album started its initial play a couple weeks ago, I missed the immediately satisfying opening number “Used To Know It All,” a terrific lead track. Like much of the album, this is a guitar-rich song that pulls in the listener, reminding me a little of Marshall Chapman’s most recent music: aware, self-deprecating, and absolutely stellar.

Sticking largely to what used to be sometimes referenced as folk or MOR sounds, Taylor saves her greatest rancour for us and the world we have created. On the country-ish “Halfway To Jesus,” Taylor takes us all to task for a world that is suffering from our influence, preaching “It ain’t like we haven’t been warned, now we’re living through thousand years storms; looking back, where does that leave us?” The answer is, naturally, on a journey to the ever after.

Dulcie Taylor is a new voice, to me. Discover her if you haven’t; she is worth the search.

Vivian Leva- Time Is Everything review   Leave a comment

Vivian Leva

Vivian Leva Time Is Everything Free Dirt Records

“I don’t believe my papa meant for me to be the last of my kind
It seems the keenest pioneers disappear at the worst time…”

“Last Of My Kind,” Paul Burch

When I was but a wee roots writer in (I think) early 2001, I recall seeing an ad in No Depression for an album that—unheard—spoke to me. The album was Paul Burch‘s Last Of My Kind, an audio tribute and companion to Tony Earley‘s (also unknown to me at the time) outstanding novel Jim the Boy. I wrote to the label, or to Burch, requesting a review copy, which in short order made its way north, and I wrote the requisite review. Last Of My Kind became my favourite roots album of the 2000-2009 period; the album mesmerized me, and I have waited for someone to dig into the album and record one of its songs: finally, it has happened.

Not that Burch’s versions weren’t ideal, they are. But as a wise man once said, for a song to live forever, it needs to be sung by others. And now “Last of My Kind” has been, by Virginia’s Vivian Leva as one of ten songs contained on her very strong debut recording, Time Is Everything.

As the daughter of noted old-time roots musicians James Leva and Carol Elizabeth Jones, one might well-believe that Appalachian inspired music would come naturally to Vivian Leva, and one wouldn’t necessarily be incorrect. After all, one imagines, she was surrounded by folk music as a child, and when your mom records with Hazel Dickens, yeah—you’ve got a head start. But that only gets your foot in the door: you have to do the wood-shedding yourself. It is obvious within the eight originals included and across the album’s entirety, that the younger Leva indeed has done the work necessary to develop her talents.

Working with multi-instrumentalist Riley Calgagno (The Onlies), Leva hits the folk world seemingly fully realized. As did Last Of My Kind, Time Is Everything speaks to me.

Similar in spirit if not execution to Dori Freeman first album of a couple years back, Time Is Everything is a most compelling collection of old-time infused modern folk music. Echoes of honky tonk troubadours find their way into Leva’s songs (“Bottom Of The Glass” and maybe my favourite among favourites “Why Don’t You Introduce Me As You Darlin’?”) without overwhelming her controlled vocal delivery. “Every Goodbye” and “Time Is Everything” are more contemporary in execution, bringing to mind the music of Sarah Jarosz and, on “Here I Am,” Sara Watkins.

“Sturdy As The Land” reveals connections to the past in both lyric, melody, and execution: the phrase “wedding bands” has seldom sounded so lonesome, and when she strains to sing, “Where did our love go?” the listener’s heart beats amid the ache of her breath’s rhythm.

Kicking off with some lively fiddle, “No Forever” takes us deeper into old-time and even bluegrass territory, where “Cold Mountains,” a hurtin’ Texas Gladdens number found within the Alan Lomax collections, is extended both lyrically and musically.

Still, the song I can’t stop listening to—as indicated in the opening paragraphs—is “Last Of My Kind.” Old-time mountain music is nothing without emotion, and Leva wrings every bit of regret and anguish Burch placed in this song of significance. Never overwrought, Leva connects with the song in a natural manner, allowing darkly-laden fiddle to work with her voice to communicate funereal reflections.

Time Is Everything. There’s a true life fact. Vivian Leva’s time has arrived. Listen.

Sideline- Front and Center review   Leave a comment

Sideline

Sideline Front and Center Mountain Home Music Company

Well, there’s thirteen hundred and fifty two
Guitar pickers in Nashville
And they can pick more notes than the number of ants
On a Tennessee ant hill…       
John Sebastian, 1966

The same could be said for North Carolina, home base of Sideline.

With three of the original members of this ‘sideline’ band of musical buddies remaining, the invigorated group has evolved from an occasional  novelty to full-time bluegrass force.

Steve Dilling (banjo), Jason Moore (bass), and Skip Cherryholmes (guitar and banjo)have developed Sideline into as strong a bluegrass outfit as one encounters. With charting hits and a touring slate including some of the most significant festivals, the sextet has moved to the fore.

Front and Center features recently departed, but expertly featured, fiddler Nathan Aldridge as well as mando player Troy Boone and Bailey Coe—limited to vocals, lead and harmony—who joined the group early last winter.

Three of the album’s most obviously appealing songs are character studies of prototypical bluegrass variety, in spirit, words, and instrumentation.

Already a chart-topper, “Thunder Dan” recollects a succession of untoward events culminating in an unresolved climax; I’ve never fully understood the desire to normalize anti-social behaviour within bluegrass, but it appears to be part of the ‘outlier’ tradition. Good song, if you don’t think about it too much, and Boone’s approach to the song is well-considered.

“Lysander Hayes” is that immature and impulsive someone we would rather avoid, despite his song’s galloping, engaging groove; Moore’s bass choices throughout this one are notable . My favourite may well be “Bluefield WV MTN. Girl” which concisely (see what I did there!), but rather superficially describes—as per tradition— the object of the singer’s desire as the one “who always stood beside me when the times got tough and hard…wouldn’t trade her for the world.”

Individual singer credits are not provided (sigh!), but Cherryholmes reveals his soul in the gentle meditation that is Gordon Lightfoot’s “Song For A Winter’s Night;” his guitar playing here and elsewhere is classy, never showy. “Memories That We Shared,” a Marshall Wilborn composition  originally found on the Johnson Mountain Boys’ Let The Whole World Talk album, has long deserved a contemporary update, and the version Sideline has recorded does the song justice.

 “Frozen In Time” is the type of song that is overdone in the bluegrass world—revisiting the home place long left behind—but the performance is excellent, and Coe’s vocal ability is showcased; Mark Brinkman is a terrific songwriter, and the quality of his lyrics brings this familiar topic to life. “Old Time Way” is a very appealing romp through classic sounds, with a bit of “Groundhog” bouncing about the edges, but I am fully confident no one needs to hear “Cotton Eyed Joe” ever again.

A pair of religious songs are included. The four-part harmony of “I Long to See His Face,” with Coe taking the lead, is an impressive and traditional-sounding performance, but “Satan’s Chains” is even more attractive. The harmony on the chorus of this song—coming from Ralph Stanley and The Isaacs—is most striking.

Sideline is not out to redefine bluegrass: it is music that is rooted in the vibrant, front-loaded music of the ’90s—IIIrd Tyme Out, Lonesome River Band, and the rest of the untucked. They do it well, and there is much within Front and Center for bluegrass listeners to enjoy.