Archive for the ‘Alice Gerrard’ Tag

Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard- Sing Me Back Home: The DC Tapes, 1965-1969 review   Leave a comment

Hazel and Alice

Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard Sing Me Back Home: The DC Tapes, 1965-1969
Free Dirt Records

Rare, archival material from the most important female duo in bluegrass history will always be welcomed.

The contributions made by Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard have long been acknowledged by people who have chosen to delve into their music and the events surrounding their recording and performing careers, both individually within bluegrass and old-time music and as a pioneering duo. That it took the International Bluegrass Music Association until 2017—six years after Dickens’ passing—to welcome them into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame was nothing short of shameful.

Recorded rehearsal tapes captured between jobs and child-rearing responsibilities—and at times with children running about—illuminate the process the musical partners engaged in to develop their raw and unblemished interpretation of bluegrass. Considering the intent and circumstance of the recording, the fidelity of the nineteen included songs is surprisingly acute. Recorded contemporaneously and subsequently to their initial Folkways set, these songs and recordings provide a hint into the woodshedding the pair undertook while developing their identifiable sound.

Only “James Alley Blues” has previously been released by Hazel and Alice (on the second Rounder album), and the accompaniment on these songs is minimal. We are invited guests into intimate, unfettered, and still intense rehearsals; one can easily imagine sitting at a Formica table with a cup of black coffee while watching these proceedings. Gerrard’s autoharp can be heard, setting the pace for songs as diverse as Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home” and Felice and Boudleaux Bryant’s “Bye Bye Love.” While most of the instrumentation is guitar, banjo leads the way on the spirited “Let Me Fall” and “Bound to Ride.”

Hazel and Alice never had much time for trifflin’, and that is clearly communicated in “I’ll Wash Your Love From My Heart,” “Why Not Confess,” and “Will You Miss Me.” “Tell Me That You Love Me” and “Are You All Alone” finds them softening their stance, while “This Little Light of Mine,” “No Telephone In Heaven,” and “No One To Welcome Me Home” have Hazel and Alice exploring the folk and country songbooks. On “No One To Welcome Me Home,” their voices blend and blur, with Hazel cutting through in supporting harmony. Hard times—a frequent Hazel and Alice subject—are explored in a rough take of “In The Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad).” “Cannonball Blues” and “Seven Year Blues” are exceptional takes.

While definitely adding to the Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard canon, these rehearsal takes also reveal the development of the singers; several tracks begin almost hesitantly, their confidence developing over the course of two or three minutes. A very welcome addition to my collection.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

 

 

 

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The Albums That Shaped Me, August 2018   Leave a comment

Over at Fervor Coulee Twitter  I am spending August exploring my music roots with Thirty-Two Albums That Shaped Me/Thirty-One Days

Inspired by a summer of sorting (not that you would notice) and tidying (again, obvious only if you knew what it looked like before) I am going to try to explain my music journey in a series of tweets over the month of August. Thirty-Two Albums That Shaped Me/Thirty-One Days will not include (necessarily) my favourite albums, but 32 that were most impactful, at least in memory and in approximate chronological order. I will memorialize this thread here, updating daily.

Thirty-Two Albums That Shaped Me/Thirty-One Days

Day 1: Various Artists Music Express A K-Tel 8-track heard via my older brothers; the trilogy of “Wildfire,” Austin Roberts’ “Rocky,” and “Run Joey Run” have forever been linked in my mind as a result. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkI5q6UmjpY

And, Phoebe Snow.

Music Express

Day 2: Crosby Stills Nash & Young Deja Vu; Rod Stewart Every Picture Tells A Story Purchased for 25 ₵ each at Willow Park School’s ‘white elephant’ sale, the start of a collection hobby (addiction) that has only got worse. How did I ever luck out to have two classic, blemish-less albums as my first? As they were my only albums, I must have listened to them fifty times each the summer between grade 7 and 8, and maybe the first place I ever heard a mandolin. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AlCLTWRFVyI and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4sDPeLsinQ 

CSNYRod Stewart

Day 3: The Who By Numbers For most of my life, when asked, “Who’s your favourite band?” my answer was The Who. While I purchased Who Are You first, this was the album by the band about which I said, “This is my favourite.” Maybe their least popular album commercially, but it meant a lot to me and it holds up, “Squeeze Box” notwithstanding—maybe even better in late, middle age. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLWnVxuqvY7Jjpv0CqfMown25u1bHBR5ps

By Numbers

Day 4: Bruce Springsteen Darkness on the Edge of Town Perhaps the first time I heard Bruce Springsteen, late night 630 CHED, and someone (Len Thuesen?) played several songs from this just-released album. My world shifted: songs that created movies in my head. “Factory” knocked me out, bringing my dad’s work life alive—not that he worked in a factory, but the effort it must have taken to get up, go to work, support a (suddenly) larger family: no wonder he drank! Bought the cassette from the main street hobby and pet store, and eventually bought on vinyl twice, CD, remastered box set CD, and then the next remastered, 7-album box set CD. No 8-track, tho. His best album, no arguments tolerated. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S8dCdiDk2ew

Darkness

Day 5: Three Dog Night The Best of Three Dog Night Another K-Tel set, and also from the Leduc pet/hobby store…Henke’s? This was the only 3DN album I had for 20 years; wore it out. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YyChmkPKi0I Evidence I have never been ‘cool.’ A singles band that made terrific albums- have had all their available music on the iThingy for a couple years, and never grow tired of it.

Three Fog Night

Day 6: Trooper Hot Shots If you lived in Leduc during the mid-to late 70s, Trooper was inescapable. This compilation was a ‘must have’. I couldn’t understand why they never broke thorough in the US. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLSGVVEAakzy79QEyyyjf-oeou1uUUrDr-

Trooper

Day 7: John Stewart Bombs Away Dream Babies High school albums endure. A radio favourite the summer I turned 15, “Gold” was my gateway. 40 years later, I am still listening to Stewart, from the Kingston Trio through California Bloodlines and onto his final album, The Day the River Sang. This album started it all, and like other albums of the day, I can sing with it all the way through, not that you want me to. I absorbed the lyrics, trying to see the meaning within the poetry. Maybe the best thing Lindsay Buckingham was ever associated with. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjxRx9gzGZk

Stewart

Day 8: Rachel Sweet Fool Around CREEM Magazine, October 1979 The cover feature was “Is Heavy Metal Dead?” As an impressionable Grade 10 student trying to find his way, I thought the issue would teach me about the bands the older kids were listening to—Nugent, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, etc. Instead I discovered Dave Edmunds, Lene Lovich, Moon Martin, The B-52’s, Nick Lowe, and the Queen of Akron, Rachel Sweet. Her story appealed—she liked Springsteen (girls like Springsteen?), was compared to Brenda Lee, and wasn’t that much older than me—and I went searching for this album without having heard her sing. I fell in love with her country-influenced, modern but 60s-washed rock ‘n’ roll, and stuck with her despite being the only kid in town who knew her name. Can sing-a-long with every song almost 40 years later. This was also my first issue of CREEM, my introduction to acerbic, smart-ass music writing and all things Boy Howdy! https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLRRe_urOjL_9-7GTACGIx-aZyJM6KPYSI

RachelBoy Howdy

Day 9: Steve Forbert Jackrabbit Slim  I wanted to be Steve Forbert for about a week during grade 10; I couldn’t figure out how to keep my hair looking wet. With Pete Townshend, John Stewart, and Springsteen, Forbert taught me the importance of lyrics. And it came with a bonus 45. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJLK-7YwHjw

Steve Forbert

Day 10: The Inmates First Offence Caught the Greyhound after school and was in Edmonton as daylight disappeared; walked to Kellys downtown expressly to purchase this album: was mocked by the clerk because they were ‘trying to be the Stones.’ Didn’t care. “Domp, domp, domp, daa-daa-daa…” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_NrhE4FtqSc An album full of memorable songs and grooves, it led me to The Standells and further opened my ears to blues and soul-influenced music.

Inmates

Day 11: Boomtown Rats Fine Art of Surfacing I had to discover punk eventually. By thisBoomtown rats time, The Rats were more rock than punk, but what did I know? The single made me buy the album; the album made me a fan for life. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxRVMzkQ3hE Saw them live twice: brilliant.

Day 12: Ramones Rocket to Russia Music culture came to Leduc via the Gaiety Theatre. Saw Rock and Roll High School. Bought the albums one-by-one at Sound Connection over the next year. None were better than this one, until Subterranean Jungle. http://ultimateclassicrock.com/ramones-release-rocket-to-russia/ Ramones_-_Rocket_to_Russia_cover

Day 13: Pat Travers Band Live! Go For What You Know The classic line-up—Tommy, Mars, and the two Pats—featuring their essential songs to the time…I will never forget the words: “Hello music lovers -From the streets of Toronto, to the streets of London, now here’s to kick your ass, The Pat Travers Band.” And they did. They were never better. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQs2eHGrc-c  Travers

Day 14: Go-Go’s Beauty and the Beat No words necessary, but… First heard/saw on a late night television video show (in a clip I’ve never been able to find since). I ordered the Stiff 45 right away, and was a fan before the album even appeared. Still am. Magic. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLbCk0A4nqITPzJZ7OF186wUB5I460NKVh

GogOzGogos backSingle

Day 15: Emmylou Harris Last Date First record store job, spring 1983. Poster for this album was up in the backroom. Intrigued, I put the ‘play copy’ on the stereo. She sang “Racing In The Street.” From her to Skaggs, Parsons, Crowell,  Rosanne and Carlene…the road goes on forever. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6efV8-Gve50 Emmylou

By coincidence, today I found the vinyl reissue of Live at the Ryman on sale and snapped it up. Beautiful cover art, already framed and displayed.

Day 16: Jason and the Nashville Scorchers Fervor Always in my head, ‘the Nashville’ is added. Until I heard the Fervor EP, I had never heard the term ‘roots rock.’ This defined it. I had found my path, and my fervor. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wtTyOa8kVTY Jason

Day 17: Various Artists Will the Circle Be Unbroken Found at the Edmonton Public Library circa 1984. I couldn’t believe my ears the first time I heard Doc, Mother Maybelle, Earl Scruggs, Jimmy Martin, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band all together. I taped the album, as well as Stars and Stripes Forever, Dirt, Silver, and Gold, Uncle Charlie…I was starting to explore the roots. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1fCDDpWenMWill the circle

Day 18: The Rainmakers- The Rainmakers Thanks to Much Music I discovered this band. Bought first chance when it arrived at ROW in WEM. It perfectly into my university listening space. Roots and rock found a perfect home with KCMO’s favourite sons. A lifetime later, I made the pilgrimage (twice) to see Bob Walkenhorst at the Record Bar: worth it! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QLNahXqKAvk The_Rainmakers_The_Rainmakers_Album_Cover

Day 19: Katrina and the Waves Katrina and the Waves From early 1983 (when I started working in my first record store, Climax Records in Leduc) to 1987 (when I finished my university degree) I went down a rabbit hole of roots. I learned so much about country music especially, from the Statler Brothers and “Atlanta Blue” to The Judds initial EP, George Jones, John Anderson, Loretta Lynn and Gus Hardin to Jason & the Scorchers, Dwight, Steve Earle, and Emmylou.

But, I still liked my pop and rock. One of my most successful assignments for the U of A newspaper The Gateway was interviewing Katrina Leskanich; Attic Records had provided the first two albums for background. I fell hard for the group. Katrina invited Deana and I backstage- but we couldn’t find the band in the labyrinth of halls behind Dinwoodie! This is the hit version from a couple years later, but that original album with the understated, bold cover is the one that done it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-87SJXMpRfE Katrina Waves

 

 

Day 20: Highway 101 Highway 101  I had learned the difference between good country music and bad country music fairly quickly. This album is half a hour of perfection, released during an era when strong country music could be found on the radio- perhaps for the final time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bd7ZEVT6bL0 Highway101Highway101

Day 21: Kashtin Kashtin Again thanks to Much Music, I heard Kashtin. My first connection to Indigenous rock ‘n’ roll; not my last. When I listened to the album this month, I was transported back to life in a northern town. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etPqwfCZP18 Kashtin

Day 22: Neville Brothers Yellow Moon And we take another shift. I had listened to soul and R&B music, but mostly at a distance—Warner Brothers/Atlantic compilations, Motown, William Bell—and usually not contemporaneously to release (outside of post-disco 12″ers during the record store years—I’m looking at you “Juicy Fruit.”). I learned a lot of lessons, too late, from this album. “My Blood,” “Sister Rosa,” “Hollis Brown”…my perspective widened…again. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKCsZc37esU Neville

Day 23: Marty Stuart Love and Luck This album got me through a really hard summer. Listened to it on the cassette deck in the green Mazda pick-up over and over again. Almost every song— from Billy Joe Shaver, Harlan Howard, Parsons and Chris Hillman, and Stuart—expressed my confusion. I got over myself. Eventually. I consider it the most complete album of the ‘Marty Party’ years. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ivVv0z0jk8c  Marty

Day 24: Guy Clark Dublin Blues The first time my father-in-law influenced my music listening. Not the last time. Like John Stewart almost two decades earlier, a deep dive began. I can’t believe I went 31 years without knowing who Guy Clark was: seems unfathomable now. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7SXlSjco8J4Guy Clark

Day 25: Del McCoury Band The Cold Hard Facts How many folks can say that when attending their first bluegrass festival, they saw three sets from the Del McCoury Band (minus Bub, who was ill)? This was the album they were supporting. If Will The Circle, Jerusalem Ridge, and the David Grisman set Home Is Where The Heart Is started me down the bluegrass path, this album cemented my feet. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1kBSiSj9M0s Del

Day 26: Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard Pioneering Women of Bluegrass I have been lucky with music over the years, never more so when I happened to be attending the Calgary Folk Music Festival and came across a backstage rehearsal of Hazel and Alice working up their set with Ron Block and a few others. I had never heard anything like it, and near ran to the record tent to find their music. This compilation of their Folkways recordings was what I found. I have yet to recover. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hAupTYvPREHAzel and Alice

Day 27: Paul Burch Last of My Kind Written to complement a novel, this album was peak mountain Americana for me, connecting family, place, and loss with sparse songs whose characters spoke with candour.. https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2009/12/31/my-favourite-albums-of-the-aughts-part-four-of-four  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T87qhEYaToEPaul Burch

Day 28: Bobbie Gentry Chickasaw Country Child  Beyond “Ode to Billie Joe,” I may not have heard a Bobbie Gentry song prior to reading a review of this compilation in No Depression. So enthusiastic was the writer, I had to find out what I was missing: I did. Some of the most remarkable songwriting and performances I have experienced. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzd8yP72A6k Bobbie

Day 29: James Reams & the Barnstormers Troubled Times When I was in my early years writing and was gearing up for my bluegrass radio debut, my soon-to-be friend Tina Aridas got this album into my hands. She quickly became my closest bluegrass confidante, someone who- from a distance of thousands of kilometres- cut through the bluegrass blather with me, a person I knew I could trust, and a friend I could conceptualize with in an honest and intriguing manner. I miss her. But, back to the CD: James Reams’ approach to bluegrass is unique, and I love it. This album taught me a lot, and it is as enjoyable as any bluegrass album I’ve ever encountered. https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2009/12/31/my-favourite-albums-of-the-aughts-part-four-of-four/ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOdZZC1kn88 jreams

Day 30: Larry Jon Wilson New Beginnings Heartworn Highways, for all the great footage of Guy Clark, Townes, Steve Earle, and Rodney Crowell, my big take away was Larry Jon Wilson. “Ohoopee River Bottomland” led me toward music I had never heard: country soul. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-3orYE9BsoLJW

Day 31: Maria Dunn- Piece By Piece A song cycle focused on female immigrant garment factory workers, this album pushed me to better understand the purpose of music, of folk music, and the impact multiculturalism has had on Canada. https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2012/08/26/maria-dunn-piece-by-piece-review/ http://www.mariadunn.com/projects/gwg-piece-by-pieceMaria

There it is: 32 pivotal albums across the month of August. I hope I have exposed you to, or reminded you of, some fine albums for you to explore. From pop and rock, through singer-songwriter, folk, bluegrass, Americana and more, my music journey has helped me better understand and appreciate the world. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee.

And, because sometimes counting can be a challenge…it was about day 16 that I noticed I had two Day 16s…so I had to adjust and bump everyone done one slot, which caused my final two albums to lock themselves in a series of painful rounds of knuckles and comb, until one emerged victorious. Maria ‘won out,’ knocking this album into ‘honourable mentions,’ but what an album it was and remains. As John Wort Hannam prepares for the release of his 7th long player, I present this final album that helped shape my music listening:

Honourable Mention: John Wort Hannam Queen’s Hotel Released almost a decade ago, I thought this album would bring southern Alberta’s great folk singer to the world. I really did. Thankfully, enough of us ‘get him’ that he has continued to release increasingly impressive albums. There are so many outstanding moments on this album, none better than when he sings of small town happenings, “In the back seat stealing kisses from somebody else’s missus…”

https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2009/10/16/roots-music-column-october-16/ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kU0l2MKDu4&index=3&t=0s&list=OLAK5uy_n4CUhxeWjLgRQ9HweZtiwRMLerbWpFIyc

johnworthannam_queenshotel_grande

Big Bend Killing: The Appalachian Ballad Tradition review   Leave a comment

Big Bend I had to take much of the past month away from writing, but I continued to listen to music. I can’t count the number of hours I spent listening to this amazing two-disc set. It is absolutely splendid, ideal for those of us who appreciate the old songs and the artists who keep them alive. My review has been posted at Country Standard Time. 

Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands- The Hazel and Alice Sessions review   2 comments

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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   2 comments

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.