Archive for the ‘Alberta’ Tag

Fervor Coulee’s Favourite Roots & Bluegrass Albums of 2017   1 comment

Mac WisemanWhat is roots music?

I frequently have to remind myself that not everything I seek out is ‘roots.’ When I start considering Little Steven or Danko Jones (Wild Cat might have been my favourite album of 2017) albums as ‘roots’ music, I may be starting to lose the plot. So I pull myself back.

However, looking over the many lists of ‘the best of Americana, roots, folk, and bluegrass albums of 2017’ I wonder if many of us need to go back to the blackboard, and reconsider the definition of roots music. Right, there is no definition.

I started my ‘favourite roots albums of 2017’ with a list of 60 or so albums, and slowly started winnowing them to a manageable twenty. In the process most of the albums I’ve seen on other published lists fell aside (Willie Nelson’s God’s Problem Child and Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit’s The Nashville Sound among them.)

It was an excellent year for roots music, in my opinion. I know that when I mull over who else didn’t make the cut: Steve Earle, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Scott Miller, Sharon Jones, Slaid Cleaves, Rhiannon Giddens, Matt Patershuk, Doc & Merle Watson (the truncated version of the live Bear’s Sonic Journals set), Chris bleeding Hillman and Northern Cree (my final cuts), David Rawlings, Mark Erelli, Josh Ritter, Jeb Loy Nichols, Kim Beggs, Radney Foster, Dustbowl Revival, Amy Black…each album removed from consideration was naturally more difficult than the one before.

I’ve been sitting on this final version of Fervor Coulee’s Favourite Roots Albums of 2017 for a few days now, and I know I will cry out with frustration about an hour after it is published: chances are I’ve missed something special, an album of significance that fell behind a cupboard. I only discovered the latest from Eric Brace, Peter Cooper, and Thomm Jutz this week, and while I am loving it, in no way could it be fairly placed ahead of albums I’ve been appreciating for months. (Also discovered this week: this.)

As always, I have not heard every roots album released in 2017 and that is why I always refer to the list as ‘favourites,’ not best. As well, since I refuse to stream (beyond WDVX and CKUA) I can only consider that which I’ve either purchased or been serviced with from labels, artists, and PR types. I’ve chosen to roll bluegrass into the roots albums this year, eschewing a separate lists this year: that may or may not be indicative of how I’m feeling about most bluegrass releases.

Here we go: as always, no wagering.

  1. Mac Wiseman- I Sang the Song (Mountain Fever Records) While #2 came close, it couldn’t overtake this early favourite. Produced and written with care and consideration, Mac Wiseman’s story is told through carefully crafted songs performed by some of Americana, roots, and bluegrass music’s finest performers. Kudos to Peter Cooper and Thomm Jutz for fully involving ‘the voice with a heart’ in this production. Full review here. (Provided by label/PR)
  2. OtisOtis Gibbs- Mount Renraw (Wanamaker) East Nashville sage Otis Gibbs is perhaps America’s coolest working folk musician. Mount Renraw has held up over countless listenings. Full review here. (Provided by label/PR)
  3. K and CKacy & Clayton- The Siren’s Song (New West) Seldom have I been so wrong about an artist. These Saskatchewan cousins’ previous album didn’t impress me when it was released. Thankfully, I listened to both Strange Country and this most recent album with fresh ears this summer. The Siren’s Song is masterful. Full review here. (Provided by label/PR)
  4. gibson_2The Gibson Brothers- In the Ground (Rounder) The group’s finest album yet, and that is saying a lot. That it contains an entirely original set of songs makes the feat even more impressive. Full review here. (Provided by label/PR)
  5. DABDale Ann Bradley- Dale Ann Bradley (Pinecastle Records) When a Dale Ann Bradley album isn’t in my ‘top two’ of the year, you know either she has slipped or the year is particularly strong. No slip on the part of Bradley here: another masterful album of bluegrass music. Full review here. (Provided by label/PR)
  6. CrowellRodney Crowell- Close Ties (New West) Somewhere along the line, Rodney Crowell went from a compelling Americana singer and damn terrific songwriter to a walking legend: it may have happened with Close Ties, an album that saw him dig even deeper to find the heart of ten masterfully crafted songs that are more than enough for him to assume Guy Clark’s abandoned mantle. It goes beyond “It Ain’t Over Yet” and “Life Without Susanna,” as masterful as those tracks are. Every moment resonates, especially live, and the anguish with which he sings is genuine. Purchased
  7. TyminskiDan Tyminski- Southern Gothic (UMG) Along with Buffy Ste. Marie’s album, this is the one that sounds best loud. “We have a church on every corner, so why does heaven feel so far away?” Union Station’s ‘other’ main singer asks on the title track, and it just keeps going. Certainly more “Hey Brother” than “O Brother,” with Southern Gothic the bluegrass stalwart steps away from the traditional sounds he has long favoured to head toward a full-bodied rock and roll country approach that is wholly effective. The album is deep, no filler—song after song of surprisingly strong vocal and instrumental performances. Other standout tracks include “Perfect Poison,” “Temporary Love” and “Breathing Fire.” Southern Gothic has spent a solid day in my CD player on repeat on more than one occasion. Purchased
  8. ronsexsmith_3Ron Sexsmith- The Last Rider Continuing a streak of excellence, Sexsmith’s 16th (!) album may just be his finest. Excellent songs, catchy melodies, accessible production…I’ve seldom been so proud to have shown support for a musician. A very strong album, just the latest in a series of memorable, standout recordings. The songs alternate between playful and introspective, catchy and maudlin. Layered, but not flamboyant. I am really glad that I bought the album, and even more glad that I took the time to make the trek to see Ron and the band in Edmonton. Surprised and disappointed that this one didn’t receive deserving Polaris Music Prize attention. “Radio” is my favourite song of the year. Purchased
  9. Murder MurderMurder Murder- Wicked Lines and Veins (self-released) Canadian bluegrass with a side of grievous bodily harm. One of my Polaris Music Prize suggestions for this year. Full review here. (Provided by band)
  10. JaybirdsJohn Reischman & the Jaybirds- On That Other Green Shore (Corvus) Long Canada’s finest and most entertaining bluegrass band, the west coast-based band has again delivered a superior recording. Full review here. (Provided by band)
  11. JMJohn Mellencamp with Carlene Carter- Sad Clowns and Hillbillies (Republic) Full review here. (Purchased)
  12. Chris-stapleton-from-a-room-volume-1Chris-stapleton-from-a-room-volume-2Chris Stapleton- From A Room, Volumes 1 and 2 Country music’s last hope? Maybe. Not sure how he is doing it without radio support, but glad he is. Like no one else, of course, Stapleton doesn’t limit himself, reaching out to Kevin Welch (“Millionaire”), the music’s past (“Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning,” “Friendship”) and his own (“Broken Halos,” “Drunkard’s Prayer,” “Midnight Train to Memphis”) to make his new albums even stronger. (Purchased)
  13. made_to_moveChris Jones & the Night Drivers- Made to Move (Mountain Home) Full review here. (Provided by artist/label)
  14. Ann VriendAnn Vriend- Anybody’s Different EP (Aporia Records) Building on the immense power of her Love and Other Messes and For the People in the Mean Time albums, this six-track treat is on all my devices, and continues to get played regularly. A lively combination of soul, rock, and roots from a voice all should hear. (Purchased)
  15. Stax_Country_COVER_RGBVarious Artists- Stax Country (Craft Recordings/Concord Music) A deep dive into Stax’s associated country labels. Full review here. (Provided by label/PR)
  16. Akinny DyckSkinny Dyck & Friends- Twenty One-Night Stands Alberta country music is alive and well. Just not on the radio. Full review here. (Provided by Skinny Dyck)
  17. Lynn JacksonLynn Jackson- Follow That Fire (Busted Flat) My second 2018 Polaris Music Prize recommendation. Full review here. (Provided by label/PR)
  18. steve_forbert_flying_at_nightSteve Forbert- Flying at Night (Rolling Tide) I once wanted to be Steve Forbert. It didn’t happen. Forty years later, he continues to impress with each album. A bit brief for my liking, but better that than too long. Purchased
  19. buffy_3Buffy Sainte-Marie- Medicine Songs (High Romance) On which one of the most transformative Canadian artist re-imagines her catalogue, coming off her (perhaps) surprising Polaris Prize winning Power In The Blood. Collaborating with Tanya Tagaq on the powerful and catchy “You Got To Run (Spirit of the Wind,)” Sainte-Marie helps the uninitiated play catch up to 50 years of influential music. Play loud. Purchased
  20. becky warrenBecky Warren- War Surplus (Deluxe Edition) (self-released) War Surplus came out in 2016, but didn’t come to my attention until the Deluxe Edition was released this summer. A concept album (war veteran and the woman he loves), Warren has made a record to be remembered; the narrative is apparent, the instrumental and vocal changes keep us engaged, and it holds up over time. With an approach not dissimilar to Lucinda Williams although with better annunciation than we’ve experienced from LW this past decade, Warren allows listeners to become invested in her creations; the characters become real, without any of the bravado or self-satisfaction that sometimes hamstrings this type of recording. (Provided by label/PR)

That’s pretty much it for 2017 here at Fervor Coulee. I still have a couple projects sitting on my desk requiring my attention, and I will get to them next week…I hope.

It has been a great year- let’s see what the future brings.

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A ballad of three Alberta bluegrass DJs   Leave a comment

This is the brief tale of three Alberta bluegrass radio hosts, one failed, one successful, and one nearing status reserved for legends.

About six weeks ago, I received a call out of the blue: would I be interested in auditioning as host of CKUA’s long-running bluegrass program? My immediate reaction was, Yes.

Years ago I had hosted a bluegrass radio show on an area commercial country station, and while I was never very good at the job, I was persistent; when I listen to the recordings of those shows, I frequently cringe, but not so much as to distract from what I thought was a good representation of bluegrass music.

In receiving the call last month, I was pleased that the work I had done (and continue to do) on behalf of bluegrass music in Alberta was deemed significant enough to be asked to audition. For the next several days following the phone call and bubbling with excitement at the possibility, I scrambled to put together an audition recording (What the heck should be in that?) using my vaguely remembered knowledge of Audacity and my even more limited understanding of file-sharing. This was truly professional broadcasting: the music wouldn’t be the problem: trying to have a natural-sounding conversation with non-existent listeners from my basement would be.

My second reaction when called was, What about Darcy?

Ultimately, the station’s management decided to go with Darcy Whiteside, a veteran of Alberta’s bluegrass scene as a banjo player, singer and front-man for the Bix Mix Boys, and a much more experienced radio host than me. Whiteside is hosting CKUA’s The Bluegrass Show at noon (MST) on Sundays, and four weeks in is presenting a nice cross-section of the music: his latest show featured the McCormick Brothers, Laura Love, Town Mountain, Front Country, Boone Creek, the Dead South, Joe Val, and Larry Sparks, as fine a blend of the music as one could hope for within the constraints of a 60-minute broadcast.

I am confident I was up to the task, but knowing how much CKUA means to the province I also believe I have some knowledge of the pressure that comes with hosting such a show: maybe I’m better off without it! Or, as my father-in-law observed, with a shake of his head, “So, you recommended the guy who beat you out?” Naturally. (And, for all I know, I could have been fifth on a three-person list.)

I highly recommend all bluegrass fans give Darcy a listen next Sunday.

This last week, SiriusXM was again been offering a free taste of their wares; as a result, my car was tuned to Bluegrass Junction, broadcasting out of the northern Alberta studio, over the extended (American) Thanksgiving weekend. The opportunity to again appreciate the venerable Chris Jones has solidified my opinion that there is no finer bluegrass broadcaster.

Unlike some who make themselves the center of attention or ramble while delivering little substance, Jones always maintains a conversational tone in his broadcasts, letting the music speak for itself as often as interjecting his own insights into the songs. And when he does share an extended anecdote, you can be guaranteed it is relevant and informative, not self-serving or artificial. I can think of no better voice bringing bluegrass music to listeners.

With folks like Darcy and Chris bringing bluegrass to the airwaves-broadcast, online, and satellite-listeners are being well-served.

And, when the opportunity next arises, I hope CKUA again give me a call!

Posted 2017 December 9 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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Winnie Brave- Cheap Gin review   Leave a comment

Winnie Brave

Winnie Brave Cheap Gin www.WinnieBrave.com

Alberta music duo Winnie Brave return with their second EP of acoustic-based (but not exclusively unplugged) original roots music. Unlike their largely acoustic 2014 debut, the presence of synthesizer and electric guitar pull Cheap Gin significantly from the realm of the Welch-Rawlings and the Romeros; still, the subject matter of their songs—relationships and folks—and their construction have more in common with the aforementioned than not.

Based in Holden, Alberta (on Highway 14 between Viking and Tofield, if that helps), the rambling husband and wife duo of Brad and Amy MacIsaac, one imagines, find inspiration for songs in the people, places, and circumstances encountered travelling North America in their Winnebego.

Winnie Brave’s music is delightful.

Amy MacIsaac—I would suggest—knows she has a voice that reminiscent of Maria McKee, before the long-ago Lone Justice vocalist was distracted by other sounds, and doesn’t shy away from stomping her way through “Moonshine” and “Spicey Waters.” Reigning herself in on “Lover On The Side” and the title track, MacIsaac also stretches herself vocally, demonstrating control while infusing passion. “Wear You Down,” smothered in biscuits, gravy, synthesized horns, and a “snug-huggin’ George Jones tee shirt,” is a definite keeper not soon forgotten.

Brad MacIsaac provides the keyboard effects and bass, and in various places but especially “New Mexico” he fleshes out their sound to near Giant Sand territory. Christine Bougie’s lap steel adds a welcome warmth to the arrangements, with Adam Cannon’s drumming providing propulsive energy. If Ann Vriend chose to meld country and soul, it would probably come out sounding similar to what Winnie Brave offer here: for those who don’t know, that’s a very good thing! Albert Carraro’s extended jam on “Digging For Fire” provides a different and aggressive flavour.

This seven song set comes in at 28 minutes, and together with their previous release, we now have an hour of Winnie Brave on record, ample opportunity to recognize that this duo possesses the skill and vision to be considered when discussing notable, emerging Americana talent.

Cheap Gin is an excellent mini-album.

Matt Patershuk- Same As I Ever Have Been review   1 comment

Matt Patershuk Same As I Ever Have Been Black Hen Music

PatershukDon’t accuse Alberta’s Matt Patershuk of resting on laurels well-deserved.

While his previous album I Was So Fond of You was one of the finest country albums of 2016—regardless country of origin—this time out La Glace’s great hope has injected a whole lot of blues’ grit into his songs, especially early in the set. The David Lindley-esque guitar opening of the lead track “Sometimes You’ve Got to Do Bad Things to Do Good” is only the first hint that there’s something different this time out.

One suspects this was a mutual decision by Patershuk and producer Steve Dawson, and while I might prefer a more ‘straight-forward’ country approach, one cannot criticize the execution of this change of direction.

“Memory and the First Law of Thermodynamics” (there is a country title I never expected to type) starts out reminding us a little of “I’m Not Lisa,” but soon shifts deep into metamodern, esoteric Sturgill Simpson territory. “Boreal” makes a turn toward the type of songs this listener most appreciates, ones which remind us that there is beauty all around us, and no little bit of troublesome drama available if we make an effort. It and “Hot Knuckle Blues” reveal, perhaps—and I’m guessing here—a Hoyt Axton influence. “Sparrows” is an elegant and beautiful slice of country, a sentimental piece that slowly reveals a composition rich in emotional detail.

“Cheap Guitar” finds Paterchuk somewhere between the blues and Dave Alvin rock’n’roll (never a bad place to be), as do “Good Luck” and “Gypsy.” “Blank Pages and Lost Wages” cuts a little too close to home for anyone who has sat staring at their fifth cup of coffee going cold. While this might have been presented as a unabashed country song, robust blues flourishes offer a darker finish.

Patershuk experiments with an even deeper register on the title cut, and while it takes a moment to become familiar, by the time he hits the one-minute mark one has adjusted and eases into the comfort provided. The spoken-word recitation “Atlas” is another risk taken, and like the others Patershuk  takes across Same As I Ever Have Been, it works. These decisions serve as reminder of the greatness possible within country music: seldom did Waylon Jennings, Marty Robbins, or Johnny Cash ever record an album where all ten or twelve songs sound like they came from a Music Row algorithm. Patershuk demonstrates he isn’t fearful of taking chances, and if something rubs the listener a bit raw, he is confident enough in his material and presentation that the next song will bring ’em back.

Billed as Songs for Regretful Brutes and Sentimental Drunkards, Matt Patershuk’s Same As I Ever Have Been takes the emerging artist in directions one hadn’t expected. Such is the artist’s journey, following his muse to places unexplored. With a one-hour running time, this is a rich passage with Patershuk guiding the way.

Skinny Dyck & Friends- Twenty One-Nighters review   1 comment

Akinny Dyck

Skinny Dyck & Friends Twenty One-Nighters skinnydyck.bandcamp.com

For as long as I can recall, the Alberta roots music environment has been healthy and exciting. From the big-ticket folk festivals in Edmonton and Calgary, and the more regional events held annually in Fort McLeod, Driftpile, East Coulee, and innumerable other sites, to a radio network that supports Alberta roots artists to an incredible level, a roots musician in Alberta seemingly has an entire province at the ready. Still, mainstream success remains rare, and while folks can make a living with their guitars, vans, and songs, breakouts are few—we can count the Corb Lunds and k. d. lang’s on one hand.

Not every artist contained on Ryan Dyck’s visionary Twenty One-Nighters collection is from Alberta, but all are western Canadian and the vast majority call the Wild Rose province home. Recorded adjacent to a Lethbridge pizza place over a series of evenings across nine months of 2016 and 2017, twenty folk and country troubadours answered Skinny Dyck’s call to share their songs, all original and most previously unreleased.

A core band is featured, primarily Skinny Dyck, Tyler Bird, Evan Uschenko, Jon Martin, and Paul Holden on a variety of stringed instruments and drums in various configurations. With twenty different focus acts, the approaches to the music and songs are as varied as the lineups, but each of the seventy minutes the music envelopes the listener with waves of familiarity that are most welcome.

Picking highlights is the chore of a fool. The godfather of southern Alberta roots scene, Lance Loree  kicks things off with “Watching Daddy Dance,” definitely a noteworthy performance, but so is that of Leeroy Stagger and Mariel Buckley (the gorgeous and devastating “New Pair of Shoes”) and Fervor Coulee-mainstay John Wort Hannam (“Acres of Elbow Room,” a preview of the album coming in early spring.)

Sentinels of the pubs, bars, stages, and community halls abound: Tom Phillips, Kent McAlister, Sean Burns, Scott MacLeod, and Dave McCann offer-up terrific numbers, with McAlisters’s “Hall of Shame” and McCann’s “Sticks and Stones” weaving their way into the audio-memory. The legion of Carolyn Mark fans will be interested in “My Love For You,” a two-minute ditty that pulls in ’bout every rural Alberta cliché you would dare drop into a country song.

Many a clever turn of phrase are included on this wide-cut country collection, as are a number of folks we had not previously encountered, although they are certainly known to others—we can’t hear everything! Folks from whom I will be looking for more include Shaela Miller (The Virginian era Neko Case-y sounding “Willow Tree”) Justin Smith (“Seedin’ Time”), and Taylor Ackerman (“Layin’ By Your Side.”) Terrific stuff. Carter Felker offers up an outstanding new song, “I Can’t Believe”—a gem among jewels—and Steven Foord’s “Sweet Alberta” is deserving of airplay.

If there is a single discovery to be found on this album (and there isn’t—unless you were part of the core group putting this set together, I doubt many have heard everyone on this wide-ranging set: there is a lot to discover!) I would suggest it may be George Arsene who delivers a stunning song, “‘Ol #6,” a diner tale that brings to mind the master of the dusty road song, Robert Earl Keen.

Rather than reading my ramblings about this important set capturing the contemporary southern-Alberta roots scene, head over to https://skinnydyck.bandcamp.com/, give a listen, and then pick up a copy there or at one of the upcoming shows Skinny Dyck has planned for November. Original roots music appears live and well in the home province: support it, dammit!

Winnie Brave- Moonshine   Leave a comment

winniebrave-0309Winnie Brave is an Americana/roots duo from the mighty metropolis of Holden, Alberta. That’s north of Camrose, y’all- making them almost neighbours to Fervor Coulee. If I knew how to embed a video, I would…I don’t think I do. So, follow the link and give it a look and listen. Good sound- gets the Fervor Coulee approval of not being shut off upon first listen. Yes, that is enthusiasm coming from me! Winnie Brave- Moonshine video.

Posted 2017 September 22 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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Maria Dunn- Gathering review   2 comments

MD_gathering_cover-hi-res

Maria Dunn Gathering Distant Whisper Music

One of Alberta’s foremost folk musicians—I believe only John Wort Hannam is her equal—returns with her sixth collection of lyrically-rich gems. An artist who places her convictions and heart on display in complementary proportions, Dunn has found balance between sharing the inspirational and compelling within songs that are insightful, artfully constructed, and just plain enjoyable.

There will always be more than a bit of the Celtic lands in Dunn’s music, and throughout Gathering African, Asian, and Canadian First Nations influences can also be heard. An overarching theme of community connection is woven into each number, ably achieved through Dunn’s soulful lyrics and the contributions of collaborators including long-time partners Shannon Johnson, Jeremiah McDade, and Solon McDade. As always, one comes away from this Dunn recording knowing more about the world than one was previously aware.

Like the finest troubadours, Dunn communicates: she is the vessel through which others exist. She reveals the innermost, personal, and captivatingly universal perspectives and insights of devoted parents, the down-trodden challenged by circumstance, those connected to the land by more than choice, and the youthful who rise above.

Beautiful stuff Gathering is, certainly one of the finest recordings to be released this year. Those who compare Maria Dunn to Woody Guthrie, Hazel Dickens, Jean Ritchie, and Buffy Sainte-Marie aren’t taking the easy way out: with the release of Gathering she demonstrates that she is an international folk artist of significance.

Video of “When I Was Young” from Gathering. Several other videos from other projects, too.