Archive for the ‘2018 Releases’ Tag

Craig Moreau- A Different Kind of Train review   Leave a comment

Craig Moreau

Craig Moreau A Different Kind of Train

Ever since Kitty Wells sang “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” there have been those who have chased that perfect “country song” balance between complexity of thought and lyrical clarity Jay Miller captured in 1952.

From Mariel Buckley to Leeroy Stagger, Alberta has no shortage of singing songwriters who flirt with country music. Then there is Craig Moreau, a Calgary artist who is straight-up, blatantly and unapologetically, Country. Songwriting, and country songwriting specifically, forms the thematic core of Craig Moreau’s masterful album, A Different Kind of Train.

Early in this forty-minute album, he sings:

And there never was a pot of gold,
At the rainbow’s end—
Just another empty hole to fill,
And another fence to mend.

That’s a country lyric, no argument, and it comes in one of Moreau’s gentler songs, a reflective and seemingly ‘lost-love’ song filled with self-recrimination directed—ultimately—toward the artist’s pursuit of inspiration. Like the greatest songwriters, Moreau presents inventive dichotomy in select songs, revealing different messages to listeners. “Thirsty Soul” is about songwriting, not drinking, “The Muse” is as much a woman as artistic stimulation.

Moreau’s grizzled voice—somewhere between Waylon, Billy Joe Shaver, and Darrell Scott—appears a living thing. It carries gravity on the challenging title track, a lament to a depressed, hotel room inhabitant facing (figurative? literal?) death, presents desperate acceptance within “Best Of Me,” a song equally downbeat in subject, but not in mood. “We all got our demons, failed ambitions, guilty feelings” Moreau sings in “Old Man and the Fiver”—a song that reveals shades of Guy Clark in its lyrical choices— recognizing we are all trying to get by today with decisions previously made.

It is with this vocal gravitas through which Moreau communicates—the melding of sage, artist, and Everyman—that is his strength. He sings with a profound understanding that happiness is fleeting, struggle a constant, forward momentum a dream. No accident one of A Different Kind of Train‘s charged realizations, found in “Shadows Left Behind,” is “I’ve had my illusions of control, holding fast to nothing for fear of losing all.”

There is no little bit of “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way”‘s frustration of reality woven into within “Off The Rack”:

I can’t help to think about the ones who’ve gone before me,
As I rush to take my place among the line.
Hard work and sacrifice just to build ourselves a little life,
That fades and changes colours with the times.

Crafted in both Austin and Lethbridge (at Stagger’s studio, with Leeroy co-producing), Moreau’s third album of hardwood hewn, homespun Americana is as surprising as it is comforting. The drumming that opens the album’s sole cover—an otherwise faithful rendering of Jean Ritchie’s “The L & N Don’t Stop Here Anymore”—starts with several seconds of forceful drumming that had me asking, ‘Are you ready, Steve?’

Craig Moreau continues to hold faith that, one way or another, his country dream is bound to be realized, even if he “hasn’t seen the sunshine in a while.” With cover art courtesy a Steve Coffey painting (himself a terrific Alberta singer-songwriter) A Different Kind of Train allows Craig Moreau opportunity to continue his journey, “waiting on a rhyme.”

 

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Mickey Galyean & Cullen’s Bridge- Songs From the Blue Ridge review   Leave a comment

Gaylean

Mickey Galyean & Cullen’s Bridge
Songs From the Blue Ridge
Rebel Records

Unheralded bluegrass bands performing music to the highest quality abound.

Hailing from the Blue Ridge Mountain area of Virginia and North Carolina, Mickey Galyean & Cullen’s Bridge have been performing and developing without the benefit of overbearing promotional folks and management. They are doing it honestly: woodshedding, performing, and recording. Their previous release, My Daddy’s Grass, was an impressive collection of new songs (“I Found My Daddy’s Grass,” “Brother Paul,” and “I’d Have A Dime”) via Rick Pardue (and his collaborators) and bandleader Galyean (“Home With The Blues”) further strengthened with powerful interpretations of familiar chestnuts (“It’s A Cold, Cold World,” “Dark As A Dungeon,” and “We’ll Be Sweethearts in Heaven.”)

Songs From the Blue Ridge is every bit its equal.

Recorded ‘the old fashioned way’ by the band members—Galyean (guitar, lead vocals), Pardue (banjo, tenor vocals), Brad Hiatt (acoustic bass, baritone vocals), and Billy Hawks (fiddle)—in a single studio without guest appearances, Songs From the Blue Ridge is a collection of songs that will provide endless entertainment.

While few of us ever need to hear “Dixieland For Me” again, the remaining eleven selections are without fault—and “Dixieland For Me” suffers only because it is overly familiar. The album’s centerpiece is a driving rendition of the Johnson Mountain Boys’ “Too Late to Say Goodbye,” a Dudley Connell song that we haven’t heard recorded in much too long. Another classic seldom encountered is John Duffey’s hopeful (and somewhat self-centered, demanding, and presuming) “Wear a Red Rose,” while “The Drunkard’s Dream” is oft-heard, but seldom with such musically dark overtones. Nice.

The new material is as inspiring. Pardue again comes through for his cohorts with both “You Can Go to Heaven” and a song many of us can relate to, “No Candy in My Bluegrass.” Over a strong bass rhythm and a mess of impressive banjo rolls, we hear words like an elixir:

He was standing in the back row shaking his head,
Considering the fact all his heroes were dead.
He was hearing something that he didn’t rightly know—
Was it souped-up country or bad rock and roll.
Don’t put no candy in my bluegrass,
I don’t want my whiskey watered down.
Don’t give me no electrified baloney—
I just want to hear that mountain sound!

Preachin’ to the converted, and no complaints about it.

Galyean’s songwriting contribution is similarly well-conceived. “Now I’m Losing You” is a ‘woe, you’re leaving me’ number with some flair, not the least of which is Hawks’ fiddle work. His father Cullen’s “The Blue Ridge Mountains” ties the project together amid “tall lonesome old pines.” Brad Hiatt’s “She’s Gone” is memorable, a somewhat empowering tale of self-determination, and Hawks’ fiddle showcase “Outback” is more than filler—Hiatt’s rhythm sets the pace, but it is the interplay of Hawks and Pardue that sets the tune apart.

Filled-out by terrific readings of the thematically linked “The Convict and the Rose” and “These Old Prison Bars,” Mickey Galyean & Cullen’s Bridge have created an intriguing, lasting bluegrass recording. Rebel Records has done it again!

As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road- True Grass Again review   Leave a comment

True Grass

Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road
True Grass Again
Pinecastle Records

When we last heard from venerable bluegrass vets Carolina Road, the Lorraine Jordan-led group was teaming with 70s and 80s country chart toppers including Eddy Raven, John Conlee, Lee Greenwood, Crystal Gayle, and John Anderson for a disc of ‘grassified, rearview-mirror country imaginings. The results were enjoyable if not breathtaking; such projects suffer an uneasy dichotomy featuring singers unwilling or unable to divert from the vocal cadence they’ve employed for forty years—the music is bluegrass, but the singing remains within a familiar country mold.

While capable and comfortable finding veins between country and bluegrass, Carolina Road has always been strongest following Jordan’s keen vision of bluegrass. Songs such as “Can’t You Hear the Mountains Calling,” “Back to My Roots,” “Cold Kentucky Snow,” and “A Stop in Southport Towne” are bluegrass, through and through. Fully realized with True Grass Again, Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Dream create a faithful, refreshing representation of the ever-evolving genre by ensuring a secure grounding in the traditional substratum of bluegrass.

Carolina Road remains Jordan (mandolin, vocals), Ben Greene (banjo, vocals), Josh Goforth (fiddle, vocals), Tommy Long (guitar, vocals), and Matt Hooper (fiddle), with bluegrass veteran Randy Graham (Bluegrass Cardinals, Quicksilver, Continental Divide) now joining on bass and vocals. All appear throughout True Grass Again, although not all the band members are featured instrumentally. Jason Moore and Terry Smith share bass duties, while Will Jones handles the majority of the guitar parts, with several guest vocalists—including Graham—featured.

The North Carolina-based group doesn’t waste any time laying down their manifesto. Joined by traditional stalwarts Danny Paisley and Junior Sisk, Tommy Long and his cohorts flat declare:

Well ol’ Cord had it right about crime down on the Row,
They murdered country music, tore out its heart and soul.
Now they’re trying to kill the ‘grass handed down by Bill Monroe,
Maybe someday they’ll find their way to just leave us alone.

“True Grass” isn’t the first song declaring a bluegrass reconfiguring is desired in this ‘big tent,’ all-encompassing industry, one which appears to continually attempt to redefine itself. The C. David Stewart song nails the conviction while ignoring the reality: to pay the bills, the genre must evolve. And there’s the rub: how do those who love the traditions of bluegrass compete within a crowded Americana-dominated world?

If bluegrass has taught us anything over its seventy-plus years, it is that we are great at ignoring financial reality: bluegrass isn’t about paying a mortgage as much as it is the sweet harmonies, “old fiddles, a guitar and mandolin, with a banjo, a Dobro, and an old bass walkin’ in.” And True Grass Again delivers on this promise.

“Run Little Fox,” “Little Country Home,” and “Portrait of the Blues” are they types of songs and performances that have made bluegrass what it is and always should be. This tradition is further entrenched by a terrific, lively rendition of “Preaching, Praying, Singing” and the more temperate “I Hear Angels Calling Your Name.” Randy Graham is given three leads, including “Pickin’ Rock Out of the Bluegrass” and “Poor Monroe.” Jordan’s “Another Soldier,” sung by Goforth, is a song that could find itself becoming a bluegrass standard.

Within “True Grass,” the lyric, “If we are true to our roots, our music might survive” closes the final verse. Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road appear to have recommitted themselves to this mission as their bluegrass promise. True Grass Again is a fine return to form for this well-established and soulful bluegrass outfit.

As always, thank you for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

 

 

Kat Danser- Goin’ Gone review   Leave a comment

KatKat Danser Goin’ Gone Black Hen Music KatDanser.com

“Jumpin’ on the IV and II, hanging on the voodoo groove,” Dr. Kat Danser sings just a few moments into Goin’ Gone, her fifth album and second in a row in partnership with Steve Dawson—and first for his Black Hen label.

With the declaration made within “Voodoo Groove,” Alberta’s undisputed Swamp Blues Queen puts forth her road hewn CV: she is grindin’ it smooth and castin’ a juju spell…whatever that exactly means. To me, it is an assurance of razor-sharp, unabashed southern-influenced blues.

Individual credits are not provided, but between Danser and Dawson, the pair float their guitars over and through deep grooves established by Jeremy Holmes (bass and mandolin) and Gary Craig (drums and percussion) with substantial accoutrement from Jim Hoke (saxophone and harmonica) and Matt Combs (fiddle and mandolin). One can lose oneself in this meaty gumbo, overcome with the variety of aural flavours spicing their collaborative concoction.

Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Train I Ride” is transformed, with Hoke’s brass notes playing off extended slide phrases and Danser’s sultry, yearning vocal. “Memphis, Tennessee” is a challenge, the city defending itself despite troubled history: “I made the blues on Beale Street when cowards covered their heads in sheets, and I do as I please because I am Memphis, Tennessee.”

I can’t figure out what the hell “Kansas City Blues” is about—a city ill-prepared for a snowstorm? Hattie McDaniel? A lover crushed by heartbreak? No matter, Danser’s voice is in top form on this crooning blues, as she is on the more straightforward title track and the light yet feisty “Chevrolet Car.”

Nothing is left to interpretation within “Hol’ Up Baby;” Danser ain’t done with her lover quite yet: “Maybe I ain’t always been true, but I ain’t over you.” Danser comes home on “My Town,” capturing the dichotomy of knowing (and loving) a place so well that it hurts to see its truths.

Reflecting the current political and social climate, “Light the Flame” is as close to rock ‘n’ roll as I think Danser comfortably ventures, and it is a compelling call to action —neither myopic nor ham-fisted. A coda of sorts, “Time For Me To Go” eases her listeners into the night, a farewell until we next hear from this northern master of the natch’l blues.

With Baptized By The Mud of 2013 establishing her bone fides to a more prominent degree, Kat Danser had a high mark to achieve with its follow-up recording. She has met and exceeded any expectations with Goin’ Gone, a testament to her maturity as a vocalist, songwriter, and guitarist. Teaming with the likes of Steve Dawson is seldom a regretful decision; together they have created a unified and convincing argument that further elevates Danser within the crowded blues field.

 

Sister Sadie II review   Leave a comment

Sister Sadie wSister Sadie II Pinecastle Recording Company

There are a lot of great bluegrass bands working today, and I would put Sister Sadie up against any single one of them.

There remains novelty being an all-female bluegrass group. We should be beyond it, but as an industry we aren’t near there yet. We are not yet past the point where festival bookers tell prospective acts, “Sorry, we already have our girl act for the weekend.”

Sister Sadie may well be on a mission to slap the hell out of that worn, blinkered attitude. When skills are to the level of distinction found within this quintet, gender should not and cannot be a factor of limitations. Sister Sadie’s debut album was among the finest to be released in 2016, and II is stronger—even more unified, the group has melded into a seamless force greater than its exceedingly impressive parts. There is sufficient polish provided to the recordings, produced by the band and engineered, mixed, and mastered by Scott Vestal, but not so much shine is applied that the music sounds artificial or over-produced. The quartet’s natural essence is given prominence, a traditional vision bolstered by contemporary approaches.

With Dale Ann Bradley (guitar) and Tina Adair (mandolin and guitar) leading the way, and Gena Britt (banjo) singing a couple, Sister Sadie has a lead and harmony vocal presence no bluegrass combo can match.

Tina Adair sings lead on four numbers. The album’s lead track is the no-nonsense and soulful “Losing You Blues,” written by Adair and Doug Bartlett. Throughout the album, Adair proves that she hasn’t finished defining herself as a bluegrass singer and songwriter; her “Jay Hugh” is an old-time bluegrass character study of multi-dimensional complexity. The sorrow conveyed in Woody Guthrie’s “900 Miles” is palatable, honest and profound, and neither Linda Ronstadt or Bonnie Raitt sang “Love Has No Pride” with greater intensity than does Adair.

Listening to Dale Ann Bradley sing is always a treat, and she clears her very high bar of performance on this recording. Her temperate approach is ideally suited to these songs including the formidable “I’m Not a Candle in the Wind” and “No Smoky Mountains,” while the group picks things up for Dan Fogelberg’s “Morning Sky.” Bradley’s interpretation of newly inducted Bluegrass Hall of Fame member Tom T. Hall’s “I Washed My Face in the Morning Dew” is as fine as any recorded within the genre, with Deanie Richardson’s mournful fiddle adding atmosphere. Bradley’s guitar playing on this country classic is also impressive.

Richardson also takes a prominent position within “When I Lay My Burden Down,” with Bradley’s inspired lead voice complemented by Britt and Adair’s harmony.

Gena Britt doesn’t possess the vocal heft of Bradley and Adair, and her considerable charm emanates from the lightness of her approach. “It’s You Again” is a fairly grave song of longing and distance, but Sister Sadie’s rendition—sung by Britt—has a gentle hopefulness that Skip Ewing’s lacked. “Something to Lose” has a Bradley-like feel, and Britt delivers this sermon to maturity with worldly awareness. Her “Raleigh’s Ride” is well-named, a jaunty traverse through traditional sounds. Beth Lawrence’s steady bass rhythm, here and throughout the album, provide Sister Sadie their rock-solid foundation.

Sister Sadie is no novelty or off-season ‘super-group.’ They are a bona fide bluegrass force, more than capable as festival headliners. That they have now released a second album of soon-to-be classic performances is testimony to their ascension within the ever-expanding bluegrass field. Hopefully II forever retires the phrase, “pretty good for a girl.”

 

J. P. Harris- Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing review   Leave a comment

JP Harris

J. P. Harris Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing Free Dirt Records

Quick: Name your three favourite country albums of the 70s. Go.

That was easy: Emmy’s Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town, Townes’ High, Low, and In Between, and Tom T. Hall’s Rhymer and Other Five and Dimers.

And Waylon’s Honky Tonk Heroes. And Guy’s Texas Cookin’. Okay, five favourite country albums of the 70s.

Now, just as quick: Name your three favourite Americana albums of the last decade. Go.

The second is tougher and I couldn’t narrow it if I tried. I suspect for many of us, names like Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, and Rosanne Cash would be mentioned, along with folks as disparate as Gurf Morlix, Rodney Crowell, Jim Lauderdale, and Lucinda, Emmylou, Marty and the like: Dave Alvin, Otis Gibbs, Carlene Carter, Robbie Fulks, Drive-By Truckers, Reckless Kelly…

Listening to J. P. Harris’s Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing, all those artist and their albums come to mind, and not necessarily because he sounds like any of them or even presents his music as they do (or did): what simmers in the back of this wee brain is that Harris has listened to and learned from master songwriters and song presenters. There are many ways to nurture yourself as a country music artist, and one of them is to fully immerse yourself in the artistry, in the craft, that has flourished within a fertile community, much as Florentine artists once studied under master practitioners of visual arts.

It appears J. P. Harris has taken this path. He seems to have asked himself, What have the best singer-songwriters done? How have they accomplished it? and What do I need to do to get myself there? The answer is, of course, Be Yourself. And blast, if he hasn’t done just that. Oh, and barley pops.

J. P. Harris sounds like an artist who has finally figured out his life. He has been making music for a lot longer than I’ve been paying attention, but this new album has forced me to focus on the Alabaman who was born around the same time I last walked out of high school. We are of completely different generations and experiences, but like Tom T. Hall, Rosanne Cash, Rodney, and Marty have and still do, he connects his experiences—real and imagined—with those who hear them, creating a natural relationship that cannot be co-opted through shortcuts, artifice, PR finery, or a rhyming dictionary.

Alcohol figures prominently in Harris’ songs, a product of a misspent youth I’ve been led to understand. His songs do not glorify excess; rather “I Only Drink Alone” and “When I Quit Drinking” (“I start thinking about starting up again…”) more than hint at the never-ending contest of wills and misery alcoholism entails.  “Why did I go out looking for answers a the all-night bars with pole dancers,” he asks within “Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing.” [My favourite line on the album may be, “Why does a pecker bang his head on your stovepipe, when he’s got himself a perfectly good pine log of his own?”]

And the cycle doesn’t stop here. “Runaway” captures the need for the fallen to find a new start, one with “no old memories hanging around” where he can tell “lies on an old guitar.” J. P. Harris is Waylon on a bad Tuesday night, singing into a “bottle filled with tears” (“When I Quit Drinking,” again) or perhaps Johnny sorting out “reds and blues, uppers, downers,” a no-good rounder trying to hold on to “what little bit of soul I’ve got” (“J. P.’s Florida Blues”).

Harris’ vocal and instrumental approach is classic, hardcore 70s country—Paycheck, Jennings, Bare, and Van Zandt: nothin’ fancy to hear here, but just try to stop listenin’.

Van Zandt and especially Guy Clark is most apparent within “Hard Road,” a tale of heartworn highways and failed decisions. Guy didn’t often cut loose as Harris does here, but Crowell learned his tricks at the same table Harris would have found welcome. Still, as appealing as the initial eight songs are, it is on the final two that Harris truly establishes himself as a well-inspired, original individual.

“Miss Jeanne-Marie” and “Jimmy’s Dead and Gone” are pure hardwood poetry, and mark the place where influence is eclipsed by talent, skill, and wood-shedding. In the former and over a base of piano and steel, Harris pines for the girl whose name he longs to change, while in the latter—and wasting no time on particular niceties—he tells a hobo tale told “a hundred times.”

While there are exceptions, many of the great country albums I admire are relatively short- 30 to 35 minutes of perfection. Harris appears to think similarly, bringing this one in at around 31 minutes with ten exquisitely executed songs.

J. P. Harris has It, whatever It is. He can sing a storm and provides hard-spun, dirty-collar scholarship like few others. No pretender, Harris just does it like he knows: that sort of authenticity can’t be bought with a pair of jeans or a beat-up flat top.

Hey, y’all- thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee: it would be real cool if my Georgia friend Sheri found this note one day!

Jerry Wicentowski- …Thanks, Mac! review   2 comments

Jerry Mac

Jerry Wicentowski …Thanks, Mac! Songs of Mac Wiseman www.WizGrass.com

If not for Mac Wiseman and a pair of brothers named Osborne, I am not certain we would have living ties  to the first generation of bluegrass performers. While Bobby continues to book shows and record, Sonny and Mac have largely eased into retirement to only make rare appearances. More than a year ago, Wiseman was the subject of the incredible collection I Sang the Song: Life of the Voice With a Heart. Next up is Jerry Wicentowski’s well-considered set, …Thanks, Mac! Songs of Mac Wiseman.

I am sure Wicentowski, a long-time member of the Milwaukee bluegrass community, would prefer to hear Mac Wiseman singing his own songs with the strength and clarity evidenced herein, and most certainly so would I. While we have old recordings on various formats to enjoy (until they become further obsolete) Mr. Wiseman’s voice—with all respect—isn’t what it once was, and neither should we expect it to be. To give his many fine songs the ongoing attention they deserve, they must be sung by the generations which follow. And in this regard, and others, …Thanks, Mac! Songs of Mac Wiseman is a complete success.

Wicentowski, while emphasizing the distinctive characteristics of Wiseman’s voice—the rise within a vowel, and the fall at the end of a phrase, along with the immediately familiar phrasing—hasn’t allowed the instrumentation to take a back seat. Supported by bluegrass veterans including Joe Mullins (tenor vocals) and Shad Cobb (fiddle), Wicentowski surrounds himself with names that may not be as familiar: the immensely talented Jeremy Stephens (5-string), the adventurous Paul Kowert (bass), and Jennie Obert (fiddle) augment the collective, as does Marc MacGlashan (mandolin) who appeared on those very fine, Sugar Hill-era Gibson Brother recordings.

Wicentowski can flat sing. Endorsed by Wiseman, Wicentowski’s interpretations of these fifteen timeless songs surprise only in the quality of the interpretation. I haven’t compared Wiseman’s and Wicentowski’s approaches side-by-side (as I write, I am two thousand kilometres from the Bluegrass Bunker and home), but most certainly nothing sounds ‘off.’ Each and every vocal note sounds fitting to the context of songs originating from the 50s, 60s, and earlier. The production presentation is fresh and contemporary; not overly slick, no one is going to mistake these for tracks ripped from 78s long ago.

Wicentowski, no youngster himself,  has his own voice, but—whether by nature or design—is near a dead ringer for Wiseman. To his credit, he isn’t attempting to imitate the bluegrass legend (as a jam singer may do) and I am quite comfortable with “Love Letters in the Sand,” “‘Tis Sweet to be Remembered,” and “Travelin’ This Lonesome Road” being presented in this manner, and as they should ever be. These are songs of another time, and while they should appeal to modern listeners, and Wicentowski realizes they do so best within honest and true structures.

I must say, listening to Stephens ripping through these songs is a true treat. Approaching the instrument in a traditionally-rooted manner, in just over a year Stephens has become one of my favourite banjoists. “Are You Coming Back to Me” “We Live In Two Different Worlds,” and “Homestead on the Farm” contain shining examples of his playing. “We Live In Two Different Worlds,” “‘Tis Sweet To Be Remembered,” and “Four Walls Around Me” are fiddle-centric songs, featuring twin fiddles, I believe (and could very well be wrong!)

A balanced, enjoyable bluegrass listen, I can’t imagine many folks finding fault with these fabulous, faithful interpretations of classic songs.