Archive for the ‘Americana’ Tag

Craig Moreau- A Different Kind of Train review   Leave a comment

Craig Moreau

Craig Moreau A Different Kind of Train

Ever since Kitty Wells sang “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” there have been those who have chased that perfect “country song” balance between complexity of thought and lyrical clarity Jay Miller captured in 1952.

From Mariel Buckley to Leeroy Stagger, Alberta has no shortage of singing songwriters who flirt with country music. Then there is Craig Moreau, a Calgary artist who is straight-up, blatantly and unapologetically, Country. Songwriting, and country songwriting specifically, forms the thematic core of Craig Moreau’s masterful album, A Different Kind of Train.

Early in this forty-minute album, he sings:

And there never was a pot of gold,
At the rainbow’s end—
Just another empty hole to fill,
And another fence to mend.

That’s a country lyric, no argument, and it comes in one of Moreau’s gentler songs, a reflective and seemingly ‘lost-love’ song filled with self-recrimination directed—ultimately—toward the artist’s pursuit of inspiration. Like the greatest songwriters, Moreau presents inventive dichotomy in select songs, revealing different messages to listeners. “Thirsty Soul” is about songwriting, not drinking, “The Muse” is as much a woman as artistic stimulation.

Moreau’s grizzled voice—somewhere between Waylon, Billy Joe Shaver, and Darrell Scott—appears a living thing. It carries gravity on the challenging title track, a lament to a depressed, hotel room inhabitant facing (figurative? literal?) death, presents desperate acceptance within “Best Of Me,” a song equally downbeat in subject, but not in mood. “We all got our demons, failed ambitions, guilty feelings” Moreau sings in “Old Man and the Fiver”—a song that reveals shades of Guy Clark in its lyrical choices— recognizing we are all trying to get by today with decisions previously made.

It is with this vocal gravitas through which Moreau communicates—the melding of sage, artist, and Everyman—that is his strength. He sings with a profound understanding that happiness is fleeting, struggle a constant, forward momentum a dream. No accident one of A Different Kind of Train‘s charged realizations, found in “Shadows Left Behind,” is “I’ve had my illusions of control, holding fast to nothing for fear of losing all.”

There is no little bit of “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way”‘s frustration of reality woven into within “Off The Rack”:

I can’t help to think about the ones who’ve gone before me,
As I rush to take my place among the line.
Hard work and sacrifice just to build ourselves a little life,
That fades and changes colours with the times.

Crafted in both Austin and Lethbridge (at Stagger’s studio, with Leeroy co-producing), Moreau’s third album of hardwood hewn, homespun Americana is as surprising as it is comforting. The drumming that opens the album’s sole cover—an otherwise faithful rendering of Jean Ritchie’s “The L & N Don’t Stop Here Anymore”—starts with several seconds of forceful drumming that had me asking, ‘Are you ready, Steve?’

Craig Moreau continues to hold faith that, one way or another, his country dream is bound to be realized, even if he “hasn’t seen the sunshine in a while.” With cover art courtesy a Steve Coffey painting (himself a terrific Alberta singer-songwriter) A Different Kind of Train allows Craig Moreau opportunity to continue his journey, “waiting on a rhyme.”

 

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Jenny Whiteley (2000) review   Leave a comment

From the extensive Fervor Coulee archives

J WhiteleyJenny Whiteley Jenny Whiteley Self-released (2000)

Jenny Whiteley is a treasure for roots music fans.

Her debut solo album is a recording of rare qualities. She successfully blends elements of traditional, hurting country with folk boldness and bluegrass virtuosity.

Whiteley was recently honoured at the Juno Awards for best roots/traditional solo recording, and for once the industry got it right.

The album begins with the depressing image of an outsider who “lives alone in the old family home” with “a dog that’ll chase you back down the road.” The tasteful playing of a band featuring her brother Dan on mandolin perfectly captures the spirit of a person caught up in his own self-fulfilling image.

Whiteley displays remarkable abilities for creating characters in a few well-crafted lines. The protagonist of “Lived It Up” reflects on a past where a “cheating heart has brought me the trouble I’ve found; I lived it up and I can’t live it down.”

Equally comfortable assuming the roles of male and female characters, Whiteley, in both “Gloria” and “Train Goin’ West,” successfully captures the longing, bravado, and regret known to everyone.

Comprised largely of originals, these cuts stack up favourably with those written by Emmylou Harris for her recent Red Dirt Girl.

Whiteley has included three brilliant songs either written or co-written by Canadian alternative country legend Fred Eaglesmith. “Soda Machine,” from Eaglesmith’s Drive-In Movie album, has a stark, Cowboy Junkies sound emphasized by atmospheric acoustic bass. “’75” is simply a brilliant song waiting for a screenplay; Whiteley and her co-writers capture the exuberance and self assurance of teenagers while recognizing the inevitable folly of their confidence.

Jenny Whiteley is a major talent. Her Juno Award must help attract attention to the radio power brokers of this country. This is the most impressive collection of original material I’ve stumbled across in months.

(originally published March 16, 2001 Red Deer Advocate) Side note: This was the first album placed in my hand by an artist; I appreciated Jenny’s confidence in me at Wintergrass ’01, and continue to thank all artists who get music into my hands. Additional side note: Shortly after publishing this piece, I pitched a Jenny Whiteley mini-feature to No Depression. Check their website. Can’t find it? Yes, it was rejected.

 

J. P. Harris- Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing review   Leave a comment

JP Harris

J. P. Harris Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing Free Dirt Records

Quick: Name your three favourite country albums of the 70s. Go.

That was easy: Emmy’s Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town, Townes’ High, Low, and In Between, and Tom T. Hall’s Rhymer and Other Five and Dimers.

And Waylon’s Honky Tonk Heroes. And Guy’s Texas Cookin’. Okay, five favourite country albums of the 70s.

Now, just as quick: Name your three favourite Americana albums of the last decade. Go.

The second is tougher and I couldn’t narrow it if I tried. I suspect for many of us, names like Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, and Rosanne Cash would be mentioned, along with folks as disparate as Gurf Morlix, Rodney Crowell, Jim Lauderdale, and Lucinda, Emmylou, Marty and the like: Dave Alvin, Otis Gibbs, Carlene Carter, Robbie Fulks, Drive-By Truckers, Reckless Kelly…

Listening to J. P. Harris’s Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing, all those artist and their albums come to mind, and not necessarily because he sounds like any of them or even presents his music as they do (or did): what simmers in the back of this wee brain is that Harris has listened to and learned from master songwriters and song presenters. There are many ways to nurture yourself as a country music artist, and one of them is to fully immerse yourself in the artistry, in the craft, that has flourished within a fertile community, much as Florentine artists once studied under master practitioners of visual arts.

It appears J. P. Harris has taken this path. He seems to have asked himself, What have the best singer-songwriters done? How have they accomplished it? and What do I need to do to get myself there? The answer is, of course, Be Yourself. And blast, if he hasn’t done just that. Oh, and barley pops.

J. P. Harris sounds like an artist who has finally figured out his life. He has been making music for a lot longer than I’ve been paying attention, but this new album has forced me to focus on the Alabaman who was born around the same time I last walked out of high school. We are of completely different generations and experiences, but like Tom T. Hall, Rosanne Cash, Rodney, and Marty have and still do, he connects his experiences—real and imagined—with those who hear them, creating a natural relationship that cannot be co-opted through shortcuts, artifice, PR finery, or a rhyming dictionary.

Alcohol figures prominently in Harris’ songs, a product of a misspent youth I’ve been led to understand. His songs do not glorify excess; rather “I Only Drink Alone” and “When I Quit Drinking” (“I start thinking about starting up again…”) more than hint at the never-ending contest of wills and misery alcoholism entails.  “Why did I go out looking for answers a the all-night bars with pole dancers,” he asks within “Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing.” [My favourite line on the album may be, “Why does a pecker bang his head on your stovepipe, when he’s got himself a perfectly good pine log of his own?”]

And the cycle doesn’t stop here. “Runaway” captures the need for the fallen to find a new start, one with “no old memories hanging around” where he can tell “lies on an old guitar.” J. P. Harris is Waylon on a bad Tuesday night, singing into a “bottle filled with tears” (“When I Quit Drinking,” again) or perhaps Johnny sorting out “reds and blues, uppers, downers,” a no-good rounder trying to hold on to “what little bit of soul I’ve got” (“J. P.’s Florida Blues”).

Harris’ vocal and instrumental approach is classic, hardcore 70s country—Paycheck, Jennings, Bare, and Van Zandt: nothin’ fancy to hear here, but just try to stop listenin’.

Van Zandt and especially Guy Clark is most apparent within “Hard Road,” a tale of heartworn highways and failed decisions. Guy didn’t often cut loose as Harris does here, but Crowell learned his tricks at the same table Harris would have found welcome. Still, as appealing as the initial eight songs are, it is on the final two that Harris truly establishes himself as a well-inspired, original individual.

“Miss Jeanne-Marie” and “Jimmy’s Dead and Gone” are pure hardwood poetry, and mark the place where influence is eclipsed by talent, skill, and wood-shedding. In the former and over a base of piano and steel, Harris pines for the girl whose name he longs to change, while in the latter—and wasting no time on particular niceties—he tells a hobo tale told “a hundred times.”

While there are exceptions, many of the great country albums I admire are relatively short- 30 to 35 minutes of perfection. Harris appears to think similarly, bringing this one in at around 31 minutes with ten exquisitely executed songs.

J. P. Harris has It, whatever It is. He can sing a storm and provides hard-spun, dirty-collar scholarship like few others. No pretender, Harris just does it like he knows: that sort of authenticity can’t be bought with a pair of jeans or a beat-up flat top.

Hey, y’all- thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee: it would be real cool if my Georgia friend Sheri found this note one day!

Edward David Anderson- Chasing Butterflies review   Leave a comment

CHASING+BUTTERFLIES+COVER+w.+BORDER

Edward David Anderson
Chasing Butterflies
Black Dirt Records www.EdwardDavidAnderson.com

First off, I am not placing this album on the pedestal the next paragraph may be interpreted as referencing to.

But.

I remember the first time I heard Darrell Scott. And Lucinda Williams. And Emmylou, Tim O’Brien, Joy Lynn White, and George Jones. And Jay Clark, Guy Clark, Gene Clark, Nobby Clark, Old Joe, and all the rest of the Clarks. Sometimes music heard seeps into your soul, and hunkers in for a stay—it locates a special warm and inviting place, curls up, and becomes part of you. Know what I mean?

Listen to Edward David Anderson’s Chasing Butterflies and you may start deciphering what I am attempting to communicate: hopefully the next few paragraphs don’t get in the way.

I haven’t yet explored the rest of Anderson’s catalogue: that will come next, as soon as I find a few bucks for an iTunes card. But I can say with some confidence that I will locate those dollars and will purchase his previous albums, 2014’s Lies & Wishes and its follow-up Lower Alabama: The Loxley Sessions. I can only hope they contain songs as well-structured, complete, and intriguing as those within Chasing Butterflies.

There are a handful of songs spread throughout the 40-minute disc that would make Chris Stapleton sit up and notice, and that is not a slight toward one of my favourite contemporary country singers. But, beat me hard—this is how the album opens:

She’s been singing songs with her mama since the age of three,
She learned to sing the high parts sitting on there on mama’s knee;
Well, they love to sing together, it came natural—it was fun,
Sang so many songs, that their voices were like one.
It’s a beautiful thing, when two people sing in Harmony.

“Harmony” grabs the listener, pulling us into Anderson’s world of relationships, dovetailing—one hopes—with one’s own experiences. He massages rhyme and melody into a gentle creation replete with life, light, and trust so significant that one cannot resist its pull.

Similarly, “The Best Part” captures the strength of romantic relationships enduring—and strengthening with—the weathering of time and shared experience. “Sittin’ Round At Home”—in a chair that fits your “ass just right”—is as important and life affirming as living while the “Seasons Turn” with a faithfulness matched only by the one sharing your life.

It is Anderson’s awareness of hearth, home and domestic happiness that is immediately appealing, but the second track takes things in an entirely different direction. “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” “Strange Fruit,” “Jena,” and far too many other songs have revealed for us the pain and suffering associated with inequalities of the North American south. Add to the list “The Ballad of Lemuel Penn,” the artfully constructed tale of army reservist murdered for the crime of driving through the Georgia night. The song is stark, striking in its matter-of-fact composition, never more so within its final line of his murderers: “And one still lives in Athens today.”

Musically, the album has a deep southern soul feel, perhaps in part for being recorded with Jimmy Nutt in the Muscle Shoals region. Grooves are deep, guitar breaks are extended (but not exaggerated), and emotion is palatable.

Chasing Butterflies is a stunning collection of modern Americana. Poetic and fresh with a deceptively laconic quality making it all the more momentous. I don’t use the word often: brilliant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m With Her- Overland video   Leave a comment

I’m With Her have just released an intriguing video for their song “Overland.” In the hopes of driving tens of folks to Fervor Coulee, I am embedding it here:

Here is the press release, explaining more about the vid.

October 2, 2018 – New York, NY – I’m With Her, the band of Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O’Donovan is releasing a video for “Overland” which features magnificent stop-motion animation painstakingly created by award-winning filmmaker Tobias LaMontagne. “Having the opportunity to create a video for ‘Overland’ was really quite exciting for me. But the process did not come without its challenges,” he said.

LaMontagne describes the process: “Working with paper and shadows in stop-motion is a unique process, ultimately requiring extensive pre-production and running meticulously through all the details before shooting began. Lighting and angles were key in properly achieving the desired effect, often taking days to nail down the look and feel for certain shots. The project offered the perfect balance of time versus schedule, with principal photography broken into two blocks over eight weeks of shooting.”
“The sets were all built by hand from the bottom up. Each shot was often a mix of various elements filmed on the day that I then blended together in post-production. Because of the two-dimensional aspect of the film, there was quite a bit of flexibility with visuals and compositing. The opportunity to take this song and bring it to life in animation was truly magical. As a filmmaker and animator, “Overland” was one of the most challenging and fulfilling projects I’ve had the pleasure to work on.
The ballad’s plaintive, wistful lyrics mourn the narrator’s losses while looking ahead to the promise of a better life out west:
Goodbye brother, hello railroad
So long, Chicago
All these years, thought I was where I ought to be
But times are changing
This country’s growing
And I’m bound for San Francisco
Where a new life waits for me
 
The group is currently in the midst of a headlining tour of North America which includes several stops in New York and California and three Canadian dates. They will tour Australia in the early part of 2019.
See You Around has received accolades on both sides of the Atlantic.
Writing in The Guardian, Emma John observed, “Together their sound is both ethereal and purposeful, a combination of searing musicianship and tender vocals,” while Randy Lewis of the Los Angeles Times noted, “The trio’s vocals and instrumentals share an intimate sonic environment, closely recorded so listeners can almost feel their breath as they trade lines and blend voices.”
The New York Times‘ Jon Pareles wrote, “I’m With Her’s songs are folky on the surface and skeletal, yet intricate within. They carry tales that are both intimate and far-reaching, involving heartbreak, separation, resilience, mortality and constant, restless travels.” He continued, “Sharing one microphone onstage was a subtle show of mastery, exposing every musical detail. The balance depended entirely on the trio’s meticulously plotted arrangements and intent listening.”
Bob Boilen of NPR Music summed it up succinctly: “Purity is the brilliance behind I’m With Her.”

Posted 2018 October 2 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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From the extensive if not valued Fervor Coulee Archive:

Hillman

The Coal PortersThe Chris Hillman Tribute Concerts (Prima SID 013) 52:03

Within a band of fascinating characters, Chris Hillman was, for me, always the most cool of the Flying Burrito Brothers.  I would like to think it was because I sensed the soulful spirit of bluegrass he brought to their albums.  Perhaps it was the solid sense of musicianship and stability he projected while surrounded by an occasionally raggle-taggle group of musicians.  Maybe it was simply because he co-wrote “Wheels.”  It could have been the hair.

Whatever his reasons, Sid Griffin was similarly taken by the California-born Hillman.

The Coal Porters, Griffin’s (ex-Long Ryders, current music journalist and performer) long running England-based group seemingly dedicated to promoting all things Gram Parsons, turn their collective heads in a respectful nod to Hillman- ex-Byrd, ex- Flying Burrito, ex- Desert Rose Band, and current member of Out Of The Woodwork.

Despite being recorded at various gigs in London, Nashville, Louisville, and New York City and with a variety of sidemen, this album is remarkably cohesive and provides a tremendous overview of the bluegrass tinged legacy and being that is Chris Hillman.

Completely acoustic, there is no arguing the instrumental chops and motivation of eighth generation (both sides) Kentuckian Griffin and his compatriots of Irish, Scottish, and English ancestry.   This is an entertaining, high-octane bluegrass homage to a country-rock pioneer.

The playing is loose- comfortably relaxed, never sloppy- without the gloss of a precision bluegrass band.  The heartfelt intent is to pay tribute to an idol and icon.

The banjo playing of Pat McGarvey is at the forefront of most numbers including a version of Leon Payne’s “The Lost Highway” (sung here by Neil Robert Herd) and “I Am A Pilgrim,” a cut Hillman sang on the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo album.  Griffin’s mandolin performance, while not stellar in the sense of a Thile or Bush, is enthusiastic and spot on.

For those who remember Hillman from the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers (or at least have heard the reissued disc) to those who thought the Desert Rose Band was the brightest spot in the late-eighties neo-traditional country landscape, The Chris Hillman Tribute Concerts is a must purchase.

In true bluegrass spirit the album closes with Griffin’s voice over the P.A.- “CDs in the lobby!”

Originally published 2001, Bluegrass Now; I am fairly certain the editor worked overtime to turn this into something publishable. One day, I will be brave enough to compare the printed copy (in a box somewhere) and what I submitted, this.

 

O Brother, Ralph Stanley, & Dolly Parton reviews   Leave a comment

More roots review from the extensive if not valued Fervor Coulee Archive:

O_Brother,_Where_Art_Thou__(soundtrack)Various Artists O Brother, Where Art Thou? Soundtrack Mercury Universal (2000)

Musical luminaries diverse as John Hartford, Norman Blake, Dan Tyminski, and the Fairfield Four came together to record the music for the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, providing stellar performances of early bluegrass, traditional country, and Appalachian ballads.

Highlights include songs by strong female vocalists such as the Whites, the Cox Family, and Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, and Gillian Welch which are important as glorious performances of historical songs for a new generation. The inclusion of Ralph Stanley’s chilling a cappella rendition of “O Death” solidifies the album.

(originally published February 16, 2001 Red Deer Advocate)

RalhoRalph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys Man of Constant Sorrow Rebel Records (2001)

Long associated with the song “Man of Constant Sorrow,” featured prominently in O Brother, Where Art Thou? , Ralph Stanley lends legitimacy to the soundtrack. Stanley was a contemporary of Bill Monroe, and was elemental in establishing the sound of bluegrass.

Man of Constant Sorrow, Stanley’s latest, is a compilation of recordings from the last 25 years, and serves as a companion piece to the O Brother soundtrack.

Bluegrass gospel numbers such as “I Am Weary (Let Me Rest)” and “I Have Seen The Rock of Ages” find Stanley and his band in fine form. Alongside these are “Old Richmond Prison” and “Poor Rambler” which capture the pain and depth of bluegrass.

(originally published February 16, 2001 Red Deer Advocate) Side note: This was the first album I received for review from Rebel Records; I was completely chuffed that they took a chance on me in 2001. Still am each time a disc shows up in the mail!

DollyDolly Parton Little Sparrow Sugar Hill Records (2001)

Little Sparrow continues the path Dolly Parton has been on recently bringing spirited vocals to several traditional sounding numbers including “Seven Bridges Road” and “Marry Me.”

She has also assembled a crack selection of the bluegrass elite to give her self-penned numbers an authentic instrumental base. Parton continues to resurrect her career by harvesting the sounds of her childhood.

Superior releases such as Little Sparrow broaden and enrich the audience of traditional music forms while further establishing a commercial presences for roots music.

(originally published February 16, 2001 Red Deer Advocate)