Archive for the ‘2018 Releases’ Tag

Rory Block- A Woman’s Soul: A Tribute to Bessie Smith review   Leave a comment

Rory Block

Rory Block A Woman’s Soul: A Tribute to Bessie Smith Stony Plain Records

What was the name of the Maria Muldaur album a decade or so ago? Naughty, Bawdy, & Blue, that’s it.

That would also work for this new set from Rory Block, the latest in her ongoing mission tracing the historical importance and continuing influence of the blues masters.

While the previous six volumes of her Mentor Series honoured “founding fathers of the blues” she encountered as a teenager, Block has now turned her vision to the ladies with the “Power Women of the Blues.” No better singer to feature on the initial set than Bessie Smith, the Empress of the Blues.

This is how I like my blues. Entirely acoustic with multi-tracked accompaniment (Block also offers unconventional percussion from hat boxes, guitar bongos, plastic tubs, and wooden spoons to go along with her gorgeous, masterful guitar playing) allowing the character of the music to reverberate internally. Stripped of any finery, we are left with the essentials: guitar, bass, voice, and fervent passion.

There is no shortage of double entendre across these ten songs including “Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl,” “Do Your Duty,” and “Kitchen Man.” Other songs offer additional vital relationship insight. “Black Mountain Blues” suggests a razor and a gun, while advising “the bullet will get you if you start your dodging too late.” Little highbrow here with “Gimme a Pigfoot and A Bottle of Beer” and an extended and groovy “Empty Bed Blues” receiving relaxed but riveting, powerful performances. Within “Empty Bed Blues,” Block reveals the ache and hunger of the protagonist in every note she sings.

As appealing as those songs are, and Block’s execution is stellar, I find greater interest in songs like “Weeping Willow Blues” and “I’m Down In The Dumps.” While there is much to dissect within the ‘naughty, bawdy, and blue’ songs—culturally, socially, even politically—when Block presents a more nuanced song, she is at her strongest. Of course, no one advocates wrapping chains around oneself and jumping into the river over the loss of a man, but Block plums the emotional depths of these songs so effectively they sound inspirational. Naturally, Block’s “On Revival Day” is uplifting and heartening.

Bessie Smith was a prolific artist, and volumes have been written of her influence on twentieth century music. That continues today with prominent performers like Rory Block (and Bonnie Raitt and Muldaur) doing their duty in keeping this vibrant music relevant ninety-five years after Smith’s first recording session.

 

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Favourite Roots Albums of 2018, so far   Leave a comment

It’s July 1. The year is half over and during the past six months some terrific music has been released. While I have heard my share of the roots music that has come out, I haven’t heard it all. I do have my favourites and that is what I share today: Fervor Coulee’s Favourite Roots releases of 2018, so far. In no particular order…

GauthierMary Gauthier- Rifles & Rosary Beads An ambitious undertaking that has received its fair share of attention. Co-writing with American veterans and their families, Gauthier has created a piece of art greater than its parts. Of course, none of it would be as significant if the songs themselves were weak or if Gauthier faltered in their delivery. No worries. Gauthier’s indomitable performances bridge the gap between those of us who have never considered serving in the military, and those whose lives have inalterably changed because of their sacrifices. Key tracks: “Got Your Six” “The War After the War” “Brothers” (purchased download)

JohnnyCash-ForeverWordsVarious Artists- Johnny Cash Forever Words: The Music Excepting the typically overwrought Elvis Costello track (When he sang—prior to about 2000—there were few who had greater regard for him, but he lost me a long time ago—his voice is shot, he mistakes emoting for expression, and has completely lost the plot on what even sounds ‘good’) this collection provides an hour of entertainment and contemplation. Comprised of unrecorded Cash ‘songs’—lyrics, poems, or musings, depending—that were—for the most part—fleshed out by the various performers, one is transported into a series of ethereal collaborations that is very affecting. Again, like the Gauthier album, what matters is more than the process, it’s the music: this album enhances the Cash legacy, unlike some other more exploitive sets that have been released. Key tracks:    Alison Krauss & Union Station’s interpretation of Robert Lee Castleman’s “The Captain’s Daughter” Rosanne Cash’s “The Walking Wounded” Carlene Carter’s “June’s Sundown” Jamey Johnson “Spirit Rider” (purchased CD)

GebtryBobbie Gentry- Live At The BBC A Record Store Day release, this 12-track compilation of cuts from 1968 and 1969 are simply a fan’s greatest attainable wish. Performances—excepting “Ode to Billie Joe”—unheard since their original broadcast (so, brand new to most of us) that add to Gentry’s legacy. Her voice is huskier on these numbers, the arrangements sparser, the mood slightly playful: the effect is  even greater intimacy that that expressed through the album versions of the songs. Key tracks: “Papa Won’t You Let Me Go To Town With You” “Recollection” “Nikki Hokey” in a medley with Robert Parker’s “Barefootin'” name-checking Long John Baldry. (purchased vinyl)

Motel MirrorsMotel Mirrors- In The Meantime The second collaboration between Amy LaVere and John Paul Keith is every bit as satisfying as their first, with the added bonus of having folded Will Sexton and Shawn Zorn into the mix to become a genuine band. Americana with a heavy dose of Memphis heart, this is a country-rock album that owes much to the music that influenced it. Key tracks: “Things I Learned” “Do With Me What You Want” “The Man Who Comes Around” (purchased download)

MarielMariel Buckley- Driving In The Dark I would have felt bad had I not been able to include an Alberta artist on this list, and Mariel Buckley doesn’t place out of any obligation. I wasn’t familiar with her until late last year, but she has quickly become a Fervor Coulee favourite. Produced by Leeroy Stagger, these ten songs contain lyrical and instrumental nuances that make them individually appealing and collectively stout. There isn’t much polish herein, just as it should be. I avoid using the word ‘authentic,’ but that is what works here. Straight-forward, modern country (think Kelly Willis) for those of us who live in the past. Key tracks: “Rose Coloured Frames” “Heart Is On Fire” “Pride” (purchased download)

David DavisDavid Davis & the Warrior River Boys- Didn’t He Ramble: The Songs of Charlie Poole A welcome return for one of bluegrass music’s most consistently satisfying bands with a traditional bent (serviced with CD). My full review here. 

DuffeyVarious Artists- Epilogue: A Tribute to John Duffey A bluegrass legend and innovator gets his due, more than two decades after his passing (Serviced with download). My full review here.

JoyannJoyann Parker- Hard To Love Soulful and blue (serviced with CD). My full review here.

dancing500Gretchen Peters- Dancing With the Beast Americana/folk doesn’t get better than this, the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member’s ninth album of original material (purchased CD). My full review here.

HMT-Cover-862x785Hadley McCall Thackston- Hadley McCall Thackston A beautiful, stunning debut: like Venus, she emerges fully realized (serviced with CD). My full review here.

marewakefieldnomad_largeMare Wakefield & Nomad- Time to Fly There is so much good music, we can only hope that the best of it finds its way to us. Sometimes it is up to us to do the work. Search out this Nashville-based duo: they are worth it (serviced with CD). My full review here.

smds-album-cover-768x767Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar- Run To Me Southern Ontario’s soul revue gift to the world- lively, bright, and brassy (serviced with CD). My full review here.

DocWatson_LiveAtClub47_COVER-494x494Doc Watson Live at Club 47 There is no end to the live Doc Watson albums available, and some (Doc Watson On Stage, for one) are definitely more well-rounded than this set. However, this 1963 set recorded in Massachusetts is a welcome and indispensable addition for those of us who just can’t get enough of the deft, affable roots legend. Several of the songs contained here would remain staples of his live and recorded repertoire for the next five decades (“Little Sadie,” “Deep River Blues,” “Sittin’ On Top Of The World”) while others are less frequently encountered (“Little Margaret,” “Hop High Ladies The Cake’s All Dough,” and “Blue Smoke, for example.”) Watson’s connection to his audience would not waver throughout his career, and this early archival recording- coming in at almost 80 minutes- is riveting. (Purchased download)

 I limited myself to a  baker’s dozen albums. Look around Fervor Coulee- I have reviewed a lot of great roots music since January, and many wonderful albums just wouldn’t fit on this list: the latest from Peter Rowan, Sylvia, John Prine, Bob Rea, Sue Foley, The Lynnes, John Paul Keith, Mary Chapin Carpenter, The Travelin’ McCourys…

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

Epilogue: A Tribute to John Duffey review   Leave a comment

Duffey

I don’t get to review as much bluegrass as I once did. Over the last ten years, record companies seem to have fewer resources to ‘service’ freelance writers, and it appears select labels have simply chosen to ‘drop’ some writers from their contacts. Also, bands are less willing and able to send out review copies. It isn’t unusual then, when googlating in search of bluegrass reviews to locate only a small handful of opinions. I believe that weakens the industry. I appreciate those of you who do take the time to read reviews at Fervor Coulee, and I hope I don’t guide you wrong too often.

In anticipation of writing my review of Epilogue: A Tribute to John Duffey, I took the time to dive into his expansive catalogue of classic bluegrass recordings. I never had the chance to see Duffey ‘on stage’, and in fact he had passed by the time I started to explore the world of bluegrass with sustained focus. But since at least 1998 I have deeply appreciated his contributions to developing and guiding the music I love. My regard for John Duffey remains strong.

This month I was pleased to receive the assignment from Country Standard Time to review this incredibly enjoyable collection of music. I believe this is an album which should receive IBMA Album of the Year consideration.

Here is Duffey singing his signature song with Charlie Waller’s Country Gentlemen years after he left the group. The pants, oh good gosh, the pants!

Gretchen Peters- Dancing With The Beast review   1 comment

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Gretchen Peters Dancing With the Beast Scarlet Letter Records

I’m a fan of Gretchen Peters, and have been from the first time I heard “On A Bus To St. Cloud” more than two decades ago. Not an ardent enthusiast as I am for others—Del McCoury, Steve Forbert, Kirsty MacColl, The Go-Go’s—perhaps, where I keep/kept up on every twist and turn of their careers and purchased everything I could get my hands on, but a devotee nonetheless. I lost track around when Halcyon was released, but started catching up again with the Tom Russell album several years ago. I ordered my copy of Dancing With The Beast on the strength of her previous Blackbirds and a few minutes of listening online. Like contemporaries Eliza Gilkyson and Darrell Scott, Peters has never made an album I didn’t thoroughly enjoy.

Upon first listen yesterday, I thought “Man, these first two songs are great…they alone make the album a worthwhile purchase.” (I had unsuccessfully searched the city stores for a copy before succumbing to the ease that is Amazon.) And then songs three, four, and five played and I knew Peters had created a modern masterpiece of folk-tinged Americana. Four complete plays within 15 hours has done nothing to dampen my enthusiasm.

While Peters hasn’t done a lot of co-writing historically, like Guy Clark did she sees the benefit of collaboration within established relationships. Working up with “Blackbirds” co-writer Ben Glover for a few songs here, Peters continually raises her game crafting engaging and poetic songs of visionary substance.

Teaming with Matraca Berg (another long-time Fervor Coulee fave) and Glover for “Arguing With Ghosts,” this dark song could be about the descent toward dementia, but it could also be about depression, isolation, or the frustration many feel with a world that is moving too quickly. It is the universality of the images that impacts the listener across this song of wistful reflection. “I get lost in my home town, since they tore the drive-in down”—opens the song (and album)–before smacking it home with the honest truth of “The years go by like days; sometimes the days go by like years, and I don’t know which one I hate the most.”

The weariness of the troubadour’s road is captured without sentimentality or rancour in “The Show,” and I was so enamoured with the sound of this song I got out the specs to read the near-indistinct musician credits (white on light pink!) to again find Will Kimbrough’s name! Is there anything thing this guy doesn’t play on? Like a lucky penny, he is. Scanning the remaining notes, I see him listed on most of the other tracks, along with Barry Walsh (piano, Hammond B3), naturally, Dave Roe (bass), and Jerry Douglas (Dobro) on a couple.

The title track is more pointedly about the grip of the black dog, while “Lowlands” and “Disappearing Act” both explore the theme of seclusion.

The loneliness of “Disappearing Act” morphs into a “dark cocoon,” a result of years living with diminishing returns: “People leave and they don’t come back, life is a disappearing act” Peters sings in her perfectly downy voice, revealing that “you can travel the world, you can sail the seas…still you end up cryin’ at your kitchen sink.” Within an album full of artful and challenging lyrics, I think my favourite line on the album may be “We had 40 good years, then 10 more!”

“Lowlands” is the place Peters finds herself inhabiting—”making do” with her friends—a place where “a little light gets through.”  Coloured by current circumstances in her country, Peters sings that she doesn’t “burn one with my neighbour anymore, ever since he put that sticker on his bumper,” while acknowledging “Goddamn, it sure got quiet on the high road, as it led us straight down into hell.”

Peters is one of the finest contemporary singer-songwriters, and while the songs of Dancing With The Beast don’t pulse with vigour, their energy is found within lyrical magic and incredible instrumentation. Those of us missing Nanci Griffith will want to give Dancing With the Beast a listen, if only to hear a line from “Lay Low” that should have been sung by the now silent mistress of the melancholy:

“It’s a good three hours to Aberdeen, and I’ve read all the magazines,                                 and the jokes are all played out or wearin’ thin.
So I lie back and close my eyes and I let that old sadness rise,
and I listen to ‘Hello In There’ again.”

A coming-of-age summer of teenage torment and manipulation is highlighted with wistful regret in “The Boy From Rye,” another song with enough universality to be appreciated from a distance of years, while the late night vignette of “predator or prey” plays out not without hope in “Truckstop Angel.” The vividly potent line “I swallow their indifference, but I choke on my regrets” is going to stay with me.

Across its fifty-minutes, there is so much here that resonates, and the album’s finest song may be “Wichita,” a lively-sounding Peters-Glover co-write. The combination of Doug Lancio’s and Kimbrough’s guitars complement the emotional starkness of this tale of abuse and reckoning, with Douglas’ contributions ratcheting up the tension. Long before the protagonist declares “Mama always told me if you want something done, you do it for yourself so I loaded up her gun…” the outcome of the song is apparent.

I don’t regularly review albums I purchase: there is little enough time to get to projects I am obligated to write about. Sometimes though, an album reaches across space and just grabs on. Dancing With The Beast is one of those collections, an album that will find itself on my year-end list of favourites. Gretchen Peters may sing of shades of gray, but her voice is always replete with colour. Listen.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

 

 

Hadley McCall Thackston- review   5 comments

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Hadley McCall Thackston Hadley McCall Thackston Wolfe Island Records

When was the last time an album reminded you of both Elle King and the Handsome Family?

Welcome Hadley McCall Thackston!

McCall Thackston has a bright, buoyant voice ideal for bittersweet love ballads and moodscapes of melody and melancholy.  Certainly as playful as King—it has something to do with how they roll their rhymes—but with depth enriched by lyrical litheness  reminiscent of Rennie Sparks, McCall Thackston has unleashed one hell of a debut album, a timeless iteration of Americana, alt-country, or whatever the heck we are calling it this month.

Whereas King sings of “Exs and Ohs”, McCall Thackston takes on “Ellipsis,” perhaps the first time this particular punctuation has had a ‘love’ song built around it: not even Dan Baird and Terry Anderson went there. “Wallace’s Song (Sage Bush)” rubs against country sentimentality—that’s a positive from where I stand— with “Ghost” delving into more introspective territory. Jane Scarpanoni’s cello serves as counterpoint in duet with McCall Thackston’s voice in “Somehow,” a tremendous song and performance.

It is on songs like “Ghost”—and “Redbird”, “Devil or Angel,” and “Last Mountain Waltz”— that the Handsome Family come to mind. Lyrically evocative with distinctive, atmospheric melodies, these songs establish Hadley McCall Thackston’s mystical montage, each rooted in her experience. Producer (and more) Hugh Christopher Brown has surrounded McCall Thankston with incredible, intuitive instrumentalists—including Elijah, James, and John Abrams, Gregor Beresford, Burke Carroll, Joey Wright, and Teilhard Frost who further embellish the ten songs with texture and colour.

She also explores the immediacy of contemporary circumstance. “Change” challenges current events head-on, concluding with “Another black man’s life cut short by police,” while “No” is only slightly more circumspect in its imagery: “You cannot board a boat to sail upon my land, because I’ve already claimed it for myself. So there you’ll stand, while you’re begging me for refuge cuz you got no place to go…”

Hadley McCall Thackston is a product of the south, Georgia specifically, and has musically matured within the emergent Wolfe Island community. She came to my attention through vocal contributions to Stephen Stanley Band’s outstanding (and unfortunately overlooked by Polaris Prize jurors) Jimmy & the Moon album, and this splendid self-titled album has elevated my regard for this delightful and strong singer, songwriter, and artist.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

 

Steve Dawson- Lucky Hand review   Leave a comment

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Steve Dawson Lucky Hand Black Hen Music

Immersing myself in Steve Dawson’s impressive catalogue these past weeks, I wasn’t surprised as much reinvigorated by the intensity and diversity of the music he has chosen to create over the past decade and a half. There are certainly commonalities linking his recordings—the quality of his playing, naturally, but also his obvious appreciation for the history of all roots-based music—but what becomes most apparent is Dawson’s incredible versatility. When one encounters music from a Steve Dawson album, one is never quite sure what will be heard: blues, folk, country, string-band, and jazz, it is all there. Equally evident is that there is no doubt that one is listening to a master.

Steve Dawson is one of Canada’s most significant roots musicians and producers. Now based in Nashville, Dawson continues to develop his own songwriting while honing his studio and instrumental chops.

I’ve admitted it before, and I am comfortable stating it again: most instrumental roots music albums—bluegrass, blues, folk, and the all-encompassing Americana—bore me. Wait, that is a little strong, and ‘bore’ is a lazy word. Still, instrumental albums certainly don’t engage me to the degree that music with verses and rhyme does. Still, I’ll listen to Doc Watson and Flatt & Scruggs’ Strictly Instrumental or the Tony Rice Bluegrass Guitar Collection anytime; I guess it just depends on the presentation—noodle incessantly or aimlessly and you lose me before the third cut.

No fear of that with Steve Dawson’s Lucky Hand. Mr. Black Hen Music has created, with a handful of guests, a compelling collection of—alternately—lively, moody, and progressive acoustic, instrumental roots tunes.

Across the 45-minute set are expansive and airy solo and duet pieces as well as a few full-blown string wizard combo collaborations. What is especially appealing (but not terribly surprising) is the multiplicity of sounds Dawson brings to his compositions. There is a subtle bluegrass groove to “Hollow Tree Gap,” while the atmospheric “Lucky Hand,” “Bentonia Blues,” and “Hale Road Revelation” have blues foundations, the latter featuring an impressive slide performance. Dawson lays out a fitting and inspired tribute to Doc Watson-styled phrasing and picking on “Lonesome Ace.”

Dawson also circles back to long-time partner Jesse Zubot on several string-rich pieces including the playful “Old Hickory Breakdown” and the musical imagery that is “Bone Cave.” Dawson is further complemented by Josh Zubot (violin), Peggy Lee (cello), and John Kastelic (viola).  John Reischman joins Dawson for the slide and mandolin duet “Little Harpeth,” a piece that (to these abused and untrained ears) weaves into near neoclassical territory.

The cinematic opening “The Circuit Rider of Pigeon Forge” is an expansive suite effectively incorporating ostensibly discordant essentials of western film scores of the 50s, chamber music, and intimate late-night guitar progressions with rock ‘n’ roll fervor. Somehow, it all works, and sets the tone for a musical journey that is consistently challenging, surprising, and unblemished.

Lucky Hand is Steve Dawson’s eighth ‘solo’ album. It stands comfortably beside his best albums including Solid States & Loose Ends and Nightshade.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee.

 

 

 

 

Flashback- Denver Snow review   Leave a comment

flashback

My review of Flashback’s second album is published at Country Standard Time. Flashback is a ‘bluegrass supergroup’, three-quarters of whom played on J. D. Crowe’s Flashback album of almost 25 years ago. It is a strong outing. If you like bluegrass, you should find a lot to appreciate here.