Archive for the ‘Alice Gerrard’ Tag

Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands- The Hazel and Alice Sessions review   1 comment

untitledLaurie Lewis & the Right Hands The Hazel and Alice Sessions Spruce and Maple Music

I don’t remember exactly when I first heard Hazel Dickens. Odd that, because one can’t really listen to Hazel Dickens without knowing you’ve heard Hazel. Her voice is one that isn’t confused with anyone else’s; there is power in her words and melodies—they communicate to the listener the experiences, convictions, and insights of a powerfully strong woman, one who excelled within an industry dominated by men.

Dickens left her home in West Virginia while still a teen, moving to work in the factories and stores of Baltimore. She used her early experiences to inform the realism readily apparent in her songs, be it the emotional turmoil of leaving home (“Mama’s Hands,”) the longing of home from away (“West Virginia, My Home,”) and a sense of place that few writers could capture (“Hills of Home.”) Within “West Virginia, My Home” Hazel captures in ten syllables, seven straight-forward words what others have struggled to communicate in entire essays: “I can sure remember where I come from.”

She was long involved in expressing the struggles and lives of miners in any number of ways, not the least of which are her songs including “Black Lung,” “Coal Miner’s Grave,” and “They’ll Never Keep Us Down,” to name but three. She came to tell these songs in the most natural of ways, having had brothers and family working in the deep, dark mines of West Virginia.

Importantly, Dickens was part of the migration of mountain music to the eastern seaboard, one of thousands who moved from rural communities in search of work and bringing with them the music of their home counties. She championed the music, keeping it at the fore of not only her own life but communicating a relevancy with which the urban community could connect.

That she has written some of the finest bluegrass songs is without challenge. These songs have advanced the cause of women and the working poor in immeasurable ways, bringing strength and dignity to places and circumstances where such was often in short supply. Dickens never shied away from subject matter that some would avoid, be they the protagonists of “It’s Hard to Tell the Singer From the Song” and “Don’t Put Her Down, You Helped Put Her There,” the conditions of the mines (“Mannington Mine Disaster,”) or detailing the impact of miner organization in “The Yablonski Murder.”

So powerful is the Hazel Dickens catalogue that none of these essential songs found their way onto this collection from Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands. And, while they are noticeably absent, they are not missed.

Hazel Dickens left a legacy in song.

And Alice.

Alice Gerrard is one of the living legends of bluegrass music; combined with her decades of recording and performing old-time and folk music, Gerrard has a stout resume that is as varied and dynamic as any you can mention. When Gerrard has completed a song, it has truly been sung. I am so glad that she remains a formidable and important element within folk music. While Gerrard has an extensive resume as a recording artist within several different configurations, as a guardian of old-time music, as founder and past editor-in-chief of The Old-Time Herald, and as a touring musician, she has recorded as a ‘solo’ artist only intermittently.

1994’s beautiful Pieces of My Heart and 2004’s equally resonant Calling Me Home: Songs of Love and Loss appeared on the Copper Creek label. As on those recordings, Gerrard’s voice on her contemporary releases (Bittersweet, Follow Me Home) is pure and powerful: Gerrard’s voice is multi-dimensional, and as Lee Smith wrote two decades ago, she can sing anything: “holler, shout, belt it out, swing a little, croon a little, and then flat-out break your heart.

My appreciation for Alice Gerrard is as firm as my admiration of Hazel Dickens. Together, they were incredible.

Well-documented elsewhere, Hazel and Alice met and began singing at Washington, DC/Baltimore house parties, moving onto coffeehouse performances within a burgeoning bluegrass environment. Their collaborative recording output—four albums as a duo as well as a fifth as the Strange Creek Singers with Mike Seeger and Tracy Schwarz—was limited, but highly significant and exceedingly impressive.

One of their greatest admirers is Laurie Lewis. Like many of us, upon first hearing Dickens and Gerrard, Lewis realized that the hard side of bluegrass need not be the domain of men. Laurie Lewis is no newcomer to bluegrass music, having played almost every festival there is and having recorded excellent albums over the years, The Golden West and Laurie Lewis & Her Bluegrass Pals being just two. However, she has never narrowed her field and has recorded some of the finest folk-inspired music of the past three decades, among them her incredible collaborations with Tom Rozum The Oak and the Laurel and the under-heralded Guest House. Her wide-ranging tribute to Bill Monroe (Skippin’ and Flyin’) was one of 2011’s finest bluegrass albums, and possibly the strongest Monroe tribute released since the bluegrass master’s death.

Lewis has always been versatile, performing as a duo with Rozum or leading a full-fledged bluegrass band with equal effectiveness and charisma. As a musician, she is frequently called on to provide session fiddle and vocal performances and to augment an established group. In a one week period years back I saw her with Kathy Kallick- a frequent singing partner- in a Red Deer bluegrass setting and the next weekend filling in with Dave Alvin’s hard-hitting Guilty Women at Hardly Strictly.

She has at least one signature song, “Who Will Watch the Home Place?” Kate Long’s exceptional song awarded the IBMA’s Song of the Year award in 1994. She has also been awarded the same organization’s Female Vocalist of the Year award twice and has been nominated frequently.

Like Hazel & Alice, Laurie Lewis is bonafide.

I’m told that Laurie Lewis has, with others, led the charge to have Hazel and Alice inducted into the IBMA Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, that induction hasn’t yet happened. One wonders, why?

I’ve been told there is a faction who believes Alison Krauss must be the first female artist/bandleader elected to the Hall. Fair perhaps, but dang short-sighted. Hazel and Alice definitely deserve a place among the heroes of the music, and one could make a convincing argument that Lewis herself also deserves consideration for inclusion in bluegrass music’s most hallowed hall.

These powerful bluegrass forces come together on Laurie Lewis & the Right Hand’s The Hazel and Alice Sessions, surely one of the most eagerly anticipated releases of this year.

No disappointment here.

With songs drawn from 1965’s Who’s That Knocking through to Gerrard’s 2002 masterpiece Calling Me Home, a full half of the songs are from the Pioneering Women of Bluegrass anthology (a collection of their 1965 and 1973 recordings,) with a spattering culled from two ‘70s Rounder albums and an additional Dickens’ release.

The album kicks off with the energy of “Cowboy Jim,” a song Dickens wrote for the first album based around a scattered lyric partially remembered by her father. The album continues on, exploring the many shades of love, devotion, loss, faith, and heartbreak one would expect from a classic bluegrass set. “James Alley Blues,” one of the few songs here not written by either Dickens or Gerrard, contains a couple brilliant lines of insight including, “Could have a much better time if men weren’t so hard to please;” joined by vocal guest Aoife O’Donovan, Lewis retains the acapella arrangement to most excellent effect.

Tom Rozum is not only one of bluegrass’ most secure mandolinists, but he is a fine vocalist. He is featured taking a couple leads, doing justice to “Who’s That Knocking?” This decision confirms the gender-neutrality of the finest music, songs that reveal themselves no matter who is taking the lead and conveying the story. He also fair nails “I Hear a Sweet Voice Calling,” a tipping of the collective hat to Mr. Monroe.

Hazel Dickens is quoted once saying, “My relationship was always with the words and the story.” The songs Lewis has chosen give truth to the statement. Perhaps Dickens’ greatest achievement, is there a finer song capturing the truth that is the “Working Girl Blues?” Lewis’ rendition is stellar, mournful yet spirited with Lewis’ fiddle conveying equal parts pride and misery. That Gerrard offers up the harmony here makes the experience that much more fulfilling; not surprisingly, it is this song that best captures the spirit of the original recordings. The further treat here is a previously unheard third verse that Dickens once recited to Lewis.

Chad Manning contribute fiddle to a few tunes including “You’ll Get No More of Me,” one of those songs that Dickens might have been referencing in the previous quote; the liner notes don’t make it apparent, but this one must be sung by Patrick Sauber,  the Right Hands’ banjo man. “Pretty Bird,” previously released on a Linda Ronstadt compilation a couple years back, comes from sessions for a Rounder Dickens’ tribute album that never emerged.

The Right Hands are Rozum (mandolin, mandola, and guitar) as well as Sauber (banjo and lead guitar on a single track) and Andrew Conklin (bass.) Fiddler Natiana Hargreaves is on five tracks, with Dobro from Mike Witcher on three, including “Working Girl Blues” and Gerrard’s “Mama’s Gonna Stay.”

The album’s vocal showpiece is “Let That Liar Alone,” a song featured on the 1975 Rounder album Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard. With Rozum driving the bus, this four-part vocal gospel song will leave listeners mesmerized; Harley Eblem drops in some bass vocals that are impressive. Avoid the devil, folks.

Laurie Lewis places Hazel Dickens with the bluegrass vocal big-three: Bill Monroe, Carter Stanley, and Lester Flatt. Alice Gerrard is a fearsome master of vocal folk, old-time, and bluegrass. The Hazel and Alice Sessions is not only a worthy tribute to a key bluegrass partnership, but an entertaining and formable collection of music. It’s early of course, but doubtless a strong contender for bluegrass album of the year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Recent Roots Writing   Leave a comment

I haven’t done a great deal of writing during the past month, but I have placed a few pieces recently.

I posted my review of Phil Leadbetter’s new album The Next Move over at Fervor Coulee untitledBluegrass. With a bluegrass heart at the core of the album, Leadbetter and his many collaborators have created a wonderful disc that should find favour with those who are open to strong country influences. The reigning IBMA Dobro Player of the year has done very well here, and has enlisted strong singers including John Cowan, Steve Gulley, Dale Ann Bradley, Con Hunley, and especially Shawn Camp to give voice to the songs.

A few reviews went up at the Lonesome Road Review over the last month.

My take on Alice Gerrard’s new album Follow the Music is something you may be interested in if you appreciate strong folk music with an old-time bent. If you are not familiar with Gerrard, she has been a mainstay in the old-time music world for more than forty years, and prior to alicethat was without a doubt ‘a pioneering woman of bluegrass’ through her long association with the dearly missed Hazel Dickens. Not one to rest on her laurels, Gerrard has teamed with the principals of Hiss Golden Messenger to produce an album every bit as compelling as last year’s Bittersweet.

Fayssoux McClain may not be familiar to you, but if you have listened to the early albums from Emmylou Harris, you’ve heard her voice. Recording under her given name, Fayssoux has found a homealbumart with the Red Beet Records conglomeration- Peter Cooper and Eric Brace. If you are missing country sounds and tradition in the ‘country’ music of today, I Can’t Wait may be what you should be seeking.

Dublin’s I Draw Slow, beyond having a non-traditional sounding name for a bluegrass band also have a rather non-traditional draw slowapproach to the music. Still, there is something here that will be of interest to those who come to the music with rather open ears. I won’t be listening to this album as frequently as I do the music of James Reams, Flatt & Scruggs, or Dale Ann Bradley, but I found a great deal to appreciate within their album White Wave Chapel.

Walter Salas-Humara has been a central figure within the world that was once (for a few years) classified as alt.country, roots rock, or No Depression music. As the mainstay and chief songwriter for The Silos, Salas-Humara has released a whole lot of music walterover the last (almost) 30 years. Curve and Shake is his latest solo release, and it is a grand recording that I find myself returning to weeks after writing the review, a rare occurrence.

On second thought, I guess I have been doing enough writing these past weeks! Still, there are many albums sitting on the pile awaiting my attention- just need to find the time.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

 

 

Fervor Coulee’s Favourite Roots Music Albums of 2013   2 comments

These types of lists are fairly self-indulgent, but most things we do seem to be. What the heck, then?

I am fairly confident in my choices this year- I created lists as the months passed, and have considered well in excess of a hundred albums for placement.  Here then are my favourite roots music albums of the year, accompanied by links to longer pieces I’ve written or, alternately when I didn’t write about a particular album, video.

[Update: #25 has been revised. Someone asked why so little mainstream country. Answer, I don’t listen to most of what would be considered modern country. I didn’t listen to the Brandy Clark album enough yet to place it in my Top 25, but I am really enjoying it. Whether that is mainstream…]

Favourite Album Covers-

skaggs1. Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby- Live Cluck Ol’ Hen

2. Guy Clark- My Favorite Picture of You– Great story behind this one. Well executed.

3. Noam Pikelny- Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe– some concert posters in the background may have pushed it over the top

4. Sturgill Simpson- High Top Mountain

5. Jack Lawrence- Arthel’s Guitar

Favorite Covers and Tribute Albums-

1.Don Rigsby- Doctor’s Orders: A Tribute to Ralph Stanley http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0MNcu_x6_xY

2. Let Us In Americana- The Music of Paul McCartney

3. Unsung Hero : A Tribute to the Music of Ron Davies

4. Joe Mullins & Junior Sisk- Bluegrass Hall of Fame https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/junior-sisk-joe-mullins-hall-of-fame-bluegrass-review/

5. Jack Lawrence- Arthel’s Guitar arthel

6. Martyn Joseph- Tires Rushing By in the Rain

7. Ben Sollee- The Hollow Sessions

8. You Don’t Know Me: Rediscovering Eddy Arnold

9. Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs- Under the Covers, Vol.3

Favourite Reissues and Archival Releases of the Year-

1. George Jones- The Complete United Artists Solo Singles george

2. Steve Forbert- Early On: The Best of the Mississippi Recordings and the Alive on Arrival/Jackrabbit Slim twofer, more concise and accessible than the previous Rolling Tide reissues

3. Townes Van Zandt- Sunshine Boy: The Unheard Sessions & Demos 1971-1972

4. Guy Clark- Dixie’s Bar & Bus Stop

5. The Bottle Rockets- The Bottle Rockets/The Brooklyn SideThe Bottle Rockets was and is one of the greatest Americana/alt.country albums ever recorded. The bonus tracks provide further context for the days that I wasn’t aware of until they were over. So enthralled with that album, I’ve allowed The Brooklyn Side to sit on the shelf untouched since the first and only time I played it all those years ago. My mistake. One I won’t allow to be repeated.

6. Billy Bragg Life’s A Riot with Spy vs Spy, 30th Anniversary Edition A most concise vision of the power of words and music; comes with a recent live encore of the 7-track e.p.

7. James Keelaghan History: The First 25 Years

Favourite Various Artists and Compilation Albums-

1.  Divided & United: The Songs of the Civil War imagesJ2S505VN

2. The Daughters of Bluegrass- Pickin’ Like A Girl https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/07/18/daughters-of-bluegrass-pickin-like-a-girl-review/

3. God Didn’t Choose Sides

4. Classic Banjo from Smithsonian Folkways

5. Ghost Brothers of Darkland County

The following are my favourite stand-alone albums of 2013, often the albums I spent the most time with this past year (or, in the case of late year releases, the albums I feel I will end up spending the most time with):

1. Guy Clark- My Favorite Picture of You: The elder statesman does it again, producing another exceptional collection of songs, all but a cover of a Lyle Lovett song co-writes. Beautifully sung and played. Clark’s thirteenth album of new material, recorded at age 71, was head and shoulders this past year’s finest roots music album. If there is justice, and voters were actually listening, he’ll receive a Grammy in January. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qIftiMZPVsE&list=RDntpyFfef-NA

2. John Reischman- Walk Along John https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/07/27/john-reischman-walk-along-john-review/

3. J. R. Shore- State Theatre https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/05/26/j-r-shore-state-theatre-review-the-polaris-music-prize/

4. Slaid Cleaves- Still Fighting the War: Gives ol’ Guy a run for his money. http://slaidcleaves.com/category/videos/

5. Mike Plume- Red and White Blues: Following up the very excellent 8:30 Newfoundland, Mike Plume returned not only with a most sincere Stompin’ Tom Connors tribute, but a set of songs- almost equal parts Maritime stomper and prairie balladry- that will soon stand with his best. http://mikeplume.com/steelbeltedwebsite/?page_id=19

6. Kimberley Rew- Healing Broadway: Pub roots. http://www.kimberleyrew.com/

7. Bruce Foxton- Back in the Room: If by roots you mean rock n roll. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=syxMnWmrACM

8. The Gibson Brothers- They Call It Music https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/the-gibson-brothers-they-call-it-music-review/

9. Chris Jones & The Night Drivers- Lonely Comes Easy https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/08/24/chris-jones-the-night-drivers-lonely-comes-easy-review/

10. D. B. Rielly- Cross My Heart & Hope to Die https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/d-b-rielly-cross-my-heart-hope-to-die-review/

11. Darden Smith- Love Calling https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/darden-smith-love-calling-review/

12. Robbie Fulks- Gone Away Backward http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T00vjRCmf3g

13. The Del McCoury Band- The Streets of Baltimore: Experience counts for a whole lot. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_K_7pcdvck

14. Leeroy Stagger- Truth Be Sold  https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/11/23/leeroy-stagger-truth-be-sold-review/ http://exclaim.ca/MusicVideo/ClickHear/leeroy_stagger-cities_on_fire_video

15. Alice Gerrard- Bittersweet https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/08/10/alice-gerrard-bittersweet-review/

16. Noam Pikelny- Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iqys8Ez7Cno

17. Marshall Chapman- Blaze of Glory: Another great album of honest roots rock. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azPRk89nKaQ

18. Holly Williams- The Highway: Purchased after reading a couple reviews and having never heard her; glad I did. http://www.hollywilliams.com/portfolio-items/the-highway/

19. Sturgill Simpson- High Top Mountain: I’m glad all music isn’t this well-grounded in the country tradition. Makes it all the more special when you find it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNV16tz1NK0

20. John Paul Keith- Memphis 3 A.M.: A long-time favourite singer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TWk5Yo9dIG0

21. James King- Three Chords and the Truth: Only bought this one before Christmas; need to listen more, but nothing to lead me to believe it isn’t going to stay with me for a long time. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWnKoIXS1KU

22. Kim Beggs- Beauty and Breaking: an exceptional collection of song that are already familiar. With more listens, I’m confident  it will become even more appreciated. http://www.kimbeggs.com/videoplay.html?video=http://www.youtube.com/v/mL45VqBql00

23. Jeff Black- B-Sidea and Confessions, Volume Two https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/05/20/jeff-black-b-sides-and-confessions-volume-two-review/

24. Peter Rowan- The Old School https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/05/20/peter-rowan-the-old-school-review/

25. Blue Mafia- My Cold Heart https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/blue-mafia-my-cold-heart-review/ Was in consideration right up until I wrote the final draft. Another listen brought it forward, knocking Emmylou & Rodney out of the 25th spot. I’m sure they will recover.

Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell- Old Yellow Moon: Once upon a time, an album this stunning would be much higher that #25; that is one indication of how great the last year has been. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0MNcu_x6_xY

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee so often in 2013, and I hope you will continue to find roots music opinion of interest in 2014 and beyond.

As always, Donald @FervorCoulee on the Twittering thing.

Alice Gerrard- Bittersweet review   1 comment

artworks-000048600041-d63c0k-t500x500Alice Gerrard is one of the living legends of bluegrass music; combined with her decades of recording and performing old-time and folk music, Gerrard has a stout resume that is as varied and dynamic as anyone you can think of…sorry for the dangling participle.

My review of Bittersweet, her new Laurie Lewis produced album, has been posted at the Lonesome Road Review.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

Now on Twitter @FervorCoulee

Alice Gerrard
Bittersweet
Spruce and Maple Music
5 stars (out of 5)

By Donald Teplyske

The current matriarch of the bluegrass-infused, old-time, and folk-rich branch of the roots music family, Alice Gerrard has been prominent since the 1960s when her early and continually influential recordings with Hazel Dickens significantly shifted the bluegrass world.

Prior to that, and well-documented elsewhere, Hazel and Alice had met and began singing at Washington, DC/Baltimore house parties, moving onto coffeehouse performances within a burgeoning bluegrass environment. Their collaborative recording output—four albums as a duo as well as a fifth as the Strange Creek Singers with Mike Seeger and Tracy Schwarz—was limited, but highly significant and exceedingly impressive.

While Alice Gerrard has an extensive resume as a recording artist within several different configurations, as a guardian of old-time music, as founder and past editor-in-chief of The Old-Time Herald, and as a touring musician, she has recorded as a ‘solo’ artist only intermittently, on approximately a ten-year cycle.

1994’s beautiful Pieces of My Heart and 2004’s equally resonant Calling Me Home: Songs of Love and Loss appeared on the Copper Creek label. As on those recordings, Gerrard’s voice on the new Bittersweet, released on producer Laurie Lewis’ Spruce and Maple imprint, is pure and powerful: Gerrard’s voice is multi-dimensional, and as Lee Smith wrote two decades ago, she can sing anything: “holler, shout, belt it out, swing a little, croon a little, and then flat-out break your heart.”

Significantly, Bittersweet is comprised entirely of original material; an exceptionally talented interpreter of others’ music, Gerrard has ably demonstrated that she takes things to another level when singing one of her rare compositions. Her catalog is laden with jewels, be they “Agate Hill” or “Calling Me Home” from the previous solo recordings, or “Custom Made Woman Blues” from the Hazel & Alice album; Gerrard cuts to the emotional core.

The thirteen songs included herein are each of great quality, and their execution is equally remarkable. “The Stranger” and the title cut show Gerrard examining the echoes of memory, the passage of time and the passing of history, a theme that can also be found within “Tell Me Their Story.” The unaccompanied opening song, “Lonely Night” establishes the otherworldly qualities much of the album reveals.

The banjo-based “Borderland” possesses a haunting sound and lyrics that could be a few hundred years old; ‘Polly’ even makes an appearance. “Payday at the Mill” is the only slightly more lighthearted companion to Dickens’ “Working Girl Blues” and her own “Custom Made Woman Blues.” Well known for being a bit maudlin, Gerrard shows her other side on the positively buoyant rebound song “Sun Keep Shining On Me.”

Surrounded by some of the finest acoustic musicians working today—Bryan Sutton, Stuart Duncan, Todd Phillips, Rob Ickes, and Tom Rozum—Gerrard’s voice, both literally and figuratively, is given the opportunity to be clearly expressed. One hears the wondrous ache within “Tell Me Their Story,” feels the mystical joy of the blues “Somebody Have Mercy” offers, and the faint hopefulness of “Maybe This Time” and “Unexpected Love.”

Bittersweet is a timeless recording, one that dynamically reinforces Alice Gerrard’s position within the Americana/roots music communities, not only as a ‘pioneering woman of bluegrass’ but as a formidable force as a contemporary songwriter, musician, and singer. Gerrard turned 79 last month; with Bittersweet she acutely delivers the message that she continues to have a great deal to offer, providing songs you can cry to as well as offering hope when it can be most appreciated.