Archive for the ‘Alison Krauss’ Tag

Mac Wiseman & Various Artists- I Sang the Song review   Leave a comment

Mac Wiseman

Mac Wiseman I Sang The Song Mountain Fever Records

With all due respect to the folks who have released excellent bluegrass and country albums this year, and those who will undoubtedly do so in the coming months, we have our 2017 Americana/Roots album of the year.

An incredible undertaking by Peter Cooper and Thomm Jutz, the most important element of the thirteen songs comprising I Sang the Song: Life of The Voice With A Heart is the source material, Mac Wiseman himself. Nearing 92, Wiseman was born in 1925 and recalls a time few of us can picture outside history books and re-runs of The Waltons. Wiseman is a man who knew A. P. Carter and has now had Sierra Hull share a song with him. Think about that for a half-a-moment.

“It ain’t bragging if you’ve done it,” asserts John Prine gently within the title track, revealing for the unaware that Wiseman performed alongside the acknowledged masters of 20th century roots music. A member of both The Foggy Mountain Boys and The Blue Grass Boys, as well as a charting, featured performer in his own right, Wiseman is a founder of the Country Music Association, and inductee to both the International Bluegrass Music Association Hall of Fame and the Country Hall of Fame.  A label executive and producer—and one of the finest bluegrass gentlemen I’ve had the pleasure of encountering, however briefly— Wiseman was always far more than “just another young hillbilly.”

The majority of these songs are obviously bluegrass, a few clearly country, and others find that sweet, magical spot between the two. Cooper and Jutz had the inspiration and wisdom to listen to and converse with Wiseman, finding in his stories threads to embroider  the ten new songs created together to communicate a compelling narrative of anecdote.

Naturally, the singing is incredible throughout. Recent IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year Shawn Camp is given a pair of songs, as is Milan Miller who appears with Buddy Melton (another IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year) and Andrea Zonn. Junior Sisk, yet a third IBMA vocalist recipient, also has two lead appearances, “Crimora Church of the Brethren,” on which he is joined by Ronnie Bowman (yes, another IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year) and “The Wheat Crop”—with the ladies of The Isaacs—which laments the lot of the poor farmer. These performances are expectedly outstanding, and the history-rich lyrics and eternal melodies provide galvanizing framework for blessed voices.

Justin Moses (fiddle, banjo, and Dobro) and Hull (mandolin) work with Jutz (guitar) and Mark Fain (bass) to serve as the house band, uniting to create a consistent instrumental environment. Cooper and Jutz harmonize on several tracks, providing further uniformity.

Within a song, Wiseman (“The Guitar,” via Moses and Hull) takes us from receiving his first Sears Roebuck, ragtop box, to the eventual day he stopped “playing in G and singing in C” to nail “There’s An Empty Cot in the Bunkhouse  Tonight” for an audience of one. As the album unfolds, his experiences through to the hardships of the depression (“Barefoot ‘Til After the Frost”, “Three Cows and Two Horses”) are revealed in a natural, homespun manner capturing the vernacular of his rural upbringing down to cold “feet just as red as a gobbler’s snout.” In the universal and frustrating balance poverty, even when things improve for Wiseman’s family (“Manganese Mine,”) another discovers only hardship and tragedy.

“Simple Math,” one of two sang by Americana icon Jim Lauderdale, details further experiences from Wiseman’s youth following him into early gigs as a professional musician including his big break playing Molly O’Day sessions. Lauderdale, one of the most prolific and versatile vocalists working today, adroitly relates the simple truths of Wiseman’s observations.

As compelling as the connections to Wiseman’s life are across the album, the fact that each song stands independent released from context is indicative of their significance. The bluegrass chart hit “Going Back to Bristol,” sung by Camp, radiates universal appeal, whether you’ve ever been near the border community, cut a side with Flatt & Scruggs, been near a Studebaker, or not.

Alison Krauss joins Wiseman on the closing benediction “‘Tis Sweet to Be Remembered,” one of his earliest successes, for a performance joining generations in hopeful love of music and life. Wiseman drops in on a few of these numbers, providing a foundation for the lyrics and music, but also allowing those with the greatest of admiration to communicate his story through the voices of generations influenced by “The Voice With A Heart.”

For thirty-eight minutes, timeless memories are communicated. Through time, these performances will be shared to become part of our collective memory.

Visit https://mountainfever.com/ to order.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. @FervorCoulee

 

The Cox Family- Gone Like the Cotton review   Leave a comment

81zD-OoMrTL__SY355_The Cox Family- Gone Like the Cotton Rounder Records/Warner Music Nashville/Elektra Nashville

Forgive us for thinking we might never again hear new music from The Cox Family. It has been almost twenty years since Just When We’re Thinking It’s Over, and excepting an appearance in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, not much has been heard from Alison Krauss’s favourite Louisianans. Given the quality of the music contained on Gone Like the Cotton, an album started in 1998 and completed within the last year, it is surprising that Krauss and Rounder Records didn’t consider buying the project from Asylum and the Warner’s group at some point in the ensuing years; perhaps the financial commitment wasn’t realistic given the changes that have occurred within the recording industry.

Having sat on the shelf of a storage facility for more than a decade, the back story of this recording is more than interesting. Scrapped in 1997 by Asylum amidst changing management structures, The Cox Family faded into fond memory. In frustration, the original vocals had been erased from the tracks when the masters were turned over to the label, with the ‘safeties’ retained by Krauss and engineer Gary Paczosa.

Years later, Kyle Lehning finally convinced current Warner Music Nashiville management that the recording merited completion, and so the recorded files were located and freshened with new vocals from the current lineup of the Cox Family siblings Evelyn, Sidney, and Suzanne complementing father Willard’s vocal takes from the late 90s.

The result is a type of country music that is seldom encountered in contemporary times. Beautifully executed with confidence that comes through on every song, Gone Like the Cotton is a masterful recording.

The album simmers in a way ‘family’ country albums seldom do—there is a desire within these tracks, a passion for life and music that is palatable. Harmonies have always been at the core of The Cox Family, and these have never sounded better. Go back to those dusty cassettes and give I Know Who Holds Tomorrow and Beyond the City a listen, and as great as those recordings are, this is better.

My copy didn’t come with specific notes, so I don’t know who is playing the opening guitar notes on “Let It Roll,” but it sounds terrific; Pat Bergeson, Krauss’ ex-, Rob Block, and Sonny Landreth receive credit for guitar on the album. Sidney Cox’s Dobro touches (“Let It Roll”) are brilliant while the mandolin on “Good News”—Dan Tyminski? Sam Bush?—is stellar.

As wonderful as the instrumentation is on this album, one comes to The Cox Family for the vocals and boy, do they deliver. Patrick Bryer’s oft-recorded “Good Imitation of the Blues” (Larry Cox, Alan Jackson, B.C.’s Tumbleweed) leads off the album and I don’t know if Suzanne Cox has ever sounded better; it has been said that life informs a great singer’s voice, and if such is true, the evidence can be found on Cox’s performance of this song. Man, she is strong.

Krauss’ love for 70s schmaltz rock is well-documented, and somehow her playing combines with the lead vocal performance (Suzanne? Evelyn?) bringing meaning to Bread’s “Lost Without Your Love,” a song most of us switch off when it comes on the radio. “Too Far Gone” is affecting with memories of lost opportunity, while “In My Eyes” is the most flamboyant, ‘modern’ country sounding song on the album; with big production values, this track isn’t as appealing as the more natural sounding songs are.

Family patriarch Willard is no longer able to sing following a road accident at the height of the O Brother days, but his voice was captured during the original recordings. We don’t really need another version of “Cash on the Barrelhead,” but one isn’t going to quibble. Willard Cox was and is an essential of the Cox Family sound, a connection to the oil patch towns and halls in which he and his family once played.

The newest song and title track, written by Sidney and Suzanne, is a nearly-unadorned family biography. With only the minimalist of guitar accompaniment, the siblings sing of their grandparents, their parents, and their community with devotion and love. It is a stunning and appropriate closing to a heartfelt recording, one that captures in four minutes a lifetime of experience.

Gone Like the Cotton more than completes an interrupted chapter of southern country music history. It again brings The Cox Family, one of the most significant and beloved of roots recording groups, to the fore of Americana culture. Someone may find the recording lacking; not me. A welcome and triumphant return some seventeen years in the waiting.

Thank you for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

The 12 Roots Songs of Christmas- #9   Leave a comment

I’m posting a few hours early because tomorrow is already full. This is Sunday’s Roots Song of the Day.

For today’s Roots Song of Christmas, I want to feature a song that speaks directly not so much to Christmas but toward the feelings of isolation and longing for community that so many experience as everything and everyone (else) focuses on the closing of one year and the beginning of another.

Merle-Haggard-Christmas-Present-300x297Merle Haggard’s “If We Make It Through December” cuts like few other songs do at this time of year. Innumerable artists have covered the song, making it a seasonal staple. I would imagine it is a difficult song to sing, given the quality of the original, but I also figure it should be pretty hard to mess up because of the depth of the writing. My favourite cover of the song is found on Laurie Lewis and Tom Rozum’s Winter Grace album of a few years ago; Rozum nails it.

Haggard’s is not only is it a masterful vocal performance; the instrumentation is understated but perfect for the mood. No pretentious sleigh bells or sugary effects to mask the pain of the protagonist here; this is reality. With some south-of-the-border guitar flavours, reminiscent of Marty Robbins’s recordings, a bit of background vocals to soften the blow, and a touch of piano, Haggard carves a lyrical masterpiece:

“Got laid off down at the factory,
And their timing’s not the greatest in the world;
Heaven knows I been working hard
Wanted Christmas to be right for daddy’s girl.
I don’t mean to hate December,
It’s meant to be the happy time of year;
And my little girl don’t understand
Why daddy can’t afford no Christmas here.”

There is an entire movie of the week in those eight lines, but it is saved from sentimentality by the honesty of Haggard’s voice, an honesty that is apparent and true in the words and tone when heard today as it was the early seventies. Capping the verse is a chorus striking in its simplicity:

“If we make it through December,
Everything’s gonna be alright, I know.
It’s the coldest time of winter,
And I shiver when I see the falling snow.”

Recorded in January 1973, the song topped the country charts and even broke into the Billboard Top 30. It is a song that transcends the Christmas season, making it the rare ‘Christmas’ song that can be heard and appreciated year-round. Its essential theme- just get me through the next little tough bit and everything will be better- has likely been a mantra for working class people forever. Listen to Merle here, a ‘live’ 1985 clip.

Now, I need to admit- things get jumbled in my brain and “If We Make it Through December” wasn’t the song I was planning on writing about when I started an hour or so ago. I thought it was, but it wasn’t. It was in my mind, I know and I had listened to Laurie and Tom’s version last night just to make sure their performance was everything I remembered it to be: it is.

No, the song I really wanted to focus on is the similarly titled “Get Me Through December,” written by Gordie Sampson and Fred Lavery and recorded by Natalie MacMaster and Alison Krauss on the splendid little In My Hands of 1999. However, when I was thinking of the MacMaster/Krauss song, for some reason I thought it was a version of the Haggard song. And I knew it wasn’t- and had confused this previously in another moment of befuddlement- but still, today…it happened again. That is, until I actually took the disc off the shelf.

Unlike the Haggard song, which is centered around the disappointments and challenges of the Christmas season, “Get Me Through December” is so harsh that Christmas doesn’t even come into things to lighten the load. It is a very heavy song. As I wrote in the introduction to this piece, I wanted to feature a song today that speaks directly not to Christmas but toward the desperate feelings so many experience as everything is focused on the closing of one year and the promises of the next.

This is one of my favourite vocal performances from Alison Krauss. We all know she can sing anything and make it soundnat beautiful. But I think she really outdoes herself on this track. When she sings, “I’ve taken the pain no girl should endure” my heart aches for her misfortune. The pleading message, conveyed without self-pity but loaded with need, a cry for help, of “Get me through December, just so I can start again” is compounded by the intensity of the rest of the song, the hint that she isn’t going to make it through the month. It makes me sad because I know there is nothing I can do to stop her pain, or the pain of others suffering from depression.

Years later, the track appeared on the Krauss compilation A Hundred Miles or More, slightly remixed, but I can’t tell the difference beyond it seems louder than on In My Hands. Hear it here.

My non-roots Christmas song of the day is what I consider the third best rock Christmas song, The Pretenders’ (II) “2000 Miles;” it is only #3 because I already jumped the gun and named “Father Christmas” #2- truthfully, if forced to choose, I go with Chrissie and the boys. I went with this Top of the Pops clip because the original video is blocked on YouTube in Canada, or at least that is what it says on my screen.

Thanks for keeping up with Fervor Coulee. I hope you are finding something of interest. Donald

Starting the bluegrass journey…parts 2 and 3   Leave a comment

Regular visitors may recall in March I shared some listening suggestions for those just beginning to explore the dusty backroads of the bluegrass world. Now that the Summer edition of That High Lonesome Sound is available, I’ll post the continuation and conclusion of the piece; the full newsletter is available at http://www.waskasoobluegrass.com/nl/waskasoo_sum10.pdf

I don’t expect anyone to necessarily agree with my opinion, nor do I claim that my list is definitive. We each have to find our way on the bluegrass track- I’m just hoping some readers will benefit from my advice and find some music they may not have otherwise discovered.

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In our last issue, I provided suggestions for bluegrass fans who are just beginning to explore the music, CDs that were from the ‘classic’ era of bluegrass (more or less) that I believe provide an introduction to my favourite music. This time I provide additional suggestions– remember, this listing is not definitive and I certainly welcome the ideas of others; if you have opinions on bluegrass albums that are readily available, we’d love to publish your thoughts.

             Continuing our bluegrass journey with:

Yesterday meets today:

David Grisman- Home is Where the Heart Is (Rounder, 2008- originally released in 1988) David Grisman went back in time to have the second- and third-generation pay tribute to the music that forged their careers. Probably the first place I heard Del McCoury, 23 of the 24 songs are darn near perfect; I refuse to give any credit to the second worst song in the bluegrass canon, “I’m My Own Grandpa.”

Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder- Bluegrass Rules! (Rounder, 1997) Still my favourite Skaggs album since he came back to bluegrass from country music stardom. The album doesn’t let up even when it slows down; from the mando kick-off of “Get Up John” through to the closing notes of “Rawhide” we have a survey of bluegrass history served up by one of the most talented bluegrass groups ever assembled. Likely easiest to find at the Skaggs Family Records website.

Del McCoury Band- Del & the Boys (McCoury, 2007- originally released on Ceili, 2001) Any place is a good place to start with Del McCoury. I chose this recording because it served as a bit of a break-through for Del and his sons, giving them a signature song in Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning”, and served as a pinnacle for the group. It’s Just the Night (McCoury, 2003) is as strong, and has more blues and folk influences while The Cold Hard Facts (Rounder, 1996) is a pure, stone classic.

Steve Earle & The Del McCoury Band- The Mountain (2009, New West- originally issued E-Squared, 1999) Steve Earle isn’t a bluegrass singer, but he does know bluegrass. In what could have been a vanity project, Earle composed more than a dozen solid bluegrass songs to sing and pick with the finest bluegrass band working at the time. That the partnership was short-lived and dissolved in acrimony doesn’t take anything away from the recording with songs like “Carrie Brown,” “The Mountain,” and “Yours Forever Blue” entering the bluegrass repertoire. The place to start if you are a Steve Earle fan just encountering bluegrass.

David Davis & The Warrior River Boys- Two Dimes and a Nickel (Rebel Records, 2009) Really, any one of his three most recent albums is an excellent introduction to David Davis’ particular brand of bluegrass music. Seldom does one think of the literary aspects of bluegrass, but when encountering Davis one isn’t offered any other course. He doesn’t seem to have the populist appeal that others may, but he possesses an artistic vision as defined and assured as anyone. The album’s strongest track is Tommy Freeman’s “The Brambles, Briars and Me.” The song is positively spooky in its matter-of-factness, and the Warrior River Boys- especially Owen Saunders’ fiddle contributions- make it haunting. A classic album.

Modern Bluegrass:

Alison Krauss & Union Station- Every Time You Say Goodbye (Rounder, 1992) The ‘coming of age’ album for both Alison and Union Station. Every song is a winner, from the sacred (“Shield of Faith,” sung by Ron Block) and the traditional (“Cluck Old Hen”) to the unexpected (“Lose Again” from the Karla Bonoff folio) and the familiar (“Another Night.”) A classic recording that spoke to future greatness. Can’t find this one? No problem. Give Two Highways (Rounder, 1988) or So Long, So Wrong (Rounder, 1997) a try. The 2002 album Live would also be a fine introduction to one of bluegrass music’s most successful, multi-dimensional, and loyal outfits.

Rhonda Vincent- One Step Ahead (Rounder, 2003) All of her albums have something to offer, and Vincent has been consistent over time. I favour this one because it didn’t feel as over-polished as some of her later work would, it has some fiery bluegrass picking throughout, and it came at a time when there were few bands as exciting as The Rage. That “Ridin’ the Red Line” mentions Alberta didn’t hurt.

Steep Canyon Rangers- Deep in the Shade (Rebel Records, 2009) Contemporary bluegrass doesn’t get much better than this. From a youthful band of veterans, Deep in the Shade is the group’s fifth release, but the band hasn’t significantly altered their approach or sound. And while on some bands this may appear stagnant or limited, with the Rangers the impression is of consistency and capability. As they did on Lovin’ Pretty Women, the Steep Canyon Rangers demonstrate that a band can be musically innovative while reaching into the past. Steep Canyon Rangers straddle the blurred edges of traditional and progressive bluegrass.

Dale Ann Bradley- Don’t Turn Your Back (Compass Records, 2009) A mountain soprano of rare talent, Dale Ann Bradley has been wearing a path from the hills of Eastern Kentucky to Music City for two decades. With Don’t Turn Your Back she has not only created an album featuring rare musicianship and vocal harmonies, she has continued her ascendancy to the highest reaches of the bluegrass vocal world. Don’t Turn Your Back is a masterful recording, one that falls solidly within the most stringent of bluegrass definitions, yet is country enough that all roots fans should embrace its rich, melodic tones. With albums like Don’t Turn Your Back and singers like Dale Ann Bradley, the bluegrass community continues to shake off back wood images. If you can’t find this one, any Dale Ann album is worthy of consideration.

Ernie Thacker- The Hangman (Pinecastle, 2009) If you listen to the satellite radio, you likely know the name and voice, Ernie Thacker. If he has escaped your notice, change that right away. Thacker has natural bluegrass country voice that is memorable and distinctive. Listen to the way he bends his voice when singing the single word ‘throttle’ in “This Drinkin’ Will Kill Me.” Thacker was severely injured in a car accident several years ago, but has found a way to continue to make wonderful bluegrass music. His is a rare talent. Order CDs, including the excellent and hard-to-find The Chill of Lonesome (Doobie Shea, 2002), directly from his family at http://www.erniethackerroute23.com/

Adam Steffey- One More for the Road (Sugar Hill, 2009) A satellite radio favourite, Steffey’s (formerly Mountain Heart, Union Station, Dan Tyminski Band) second solo project is powerful from start to finish. While his lead voice isn’t the strongest, when listening to the first vocal track on the album I remarked to myself- because who else is listening inside my head- “I’ve missed that.” Throughout the album, Steffey is accompanied by the finest players, including Union Station mates Barry Bales, Ron Block, and Dan Tyminski. Heck, there’s even a Union Station circa 1997 reunion on “Warm Kentucky Sunshine,” with Alison taking the lead; evidence of her generosity and the ties that bind the bluegrass community, that one is a keeper. The featured mandolin breaks are demonstration that Steffey isn’t ready to rest on his laurels. My musical vocabulary isn’t strong enough to give justice to “Let Me Fall,” “Durang’s Hornpipe,” or “Half Past Four,” but the boys know what they’re doing.

James Reams & The Barnstormers- Troubled Times (Mountain Redbird, 2005) and James Reams, Walter Hensley & the Barons of Bluegrass- Wild Card (Mountain Redbird, 2006) Finally, to wrap up this selection of bluegrass starting points, two exceptional albums from James Reams. The first features hard-scrabble bluegrass with Kentucky roots, songs of salvation, hollers, trains, storms, home places, and mountains that disappear. The second is punctuated by the banjo of bluegrass pioneer Walter Hensley and is perhaps an even more clearly articulated of what bluegrass can be in the right hands. Visit http://www.jamesreams.com/ to find these recordings- because the packaging of both is exceptional- or iTunes and eMusic for downloads.

There they are, the places I recommend you use as starting places as you being to delve into the wonderful world of bluegrass. Words of caution– avoid the ‘bargain bin’ collections found in some stores. Often what you find will be shoddily compiled sets that are less than satisfying. Enjoy your bluegrass journey!

Alison Krauss- A Hundred Miles or More: Live from the Tracking Room   Leave a comment

Alison Krauss

A Hundred Miles or More: Live from the Tracking Room

Rounder

 

On this DVD, the bluegrass chanteuse performs a number of tracks from her successful compilation of last year. Joining Krauss for these live, in-studio takes are James Taylor (How’s the World Treating You), Brad Paisley (Whiskey Lullaby), John Waite (Lay Down Beside Me) and Tony Rice (Shadows and Sawing on the Strings), reprising their roles in duet with or supporting the now legendary singer. The boys from Union Station are on hand, as are Sam Bush and Stuart Duncan.

 

Personally, I find the numbers with Taylor and Waite sleepy, but the balance more than makes up for them. The dreadfully impacting Jacob’s Dream is the showstopper.

 

Watching (and listening to) the members of Union Station play up close is awe inspiring. The sound quality is impressive, the camera work intimate, and the visuals beautifully framed. While the show doesn’t have a lot of jump, the quality of the performances is striking. Created for broadcast, the relaxed set runs under an hour, with interviews fleshing out an experience that transcends bluegrass.