Archive for the ‘Americana’ Tag

Kacy & Clayton- The Siren’s Song review   Leave a comment

K and C What an amazing sound! My review of Kacy & Clayton’s new album is posted at CST. Safe to say, I liked it. When their previous album made its way to me a year or so ago, I was not impressed. I listened to it several times, and it didn’t move me, didn’t draw me in. I recall a brief conversation with the publicist handling the album, and all I could say for not reviewing it was (words to the effect of) “Meh, I don’t hear it.” I read the reviews, and couldn’t figure out what I was missing.

Fast forward to earlier this month when CST asked me to review the new album. When it arrived in all its retro-grooviness packaging, I first went to the drawers and gave Stranger Country a fresh listen. And then another one. What had I been thinking? It is masterful, a beautiful and fresh approach to modern Americana folk. Then I listened to The Siren’s Song, and to my amazement it was even better. I went back-and-forth between the two albums for about three hours (each runs just over 30 minutes) and kept getting pulled in further and further.

There is so much to appreciate, including a terrific rhythm section of (former) Old Reliable mainstay Shuyler Jansen and Mike Silverman, intricate guitar harmonies, and exquisite vocals.

All I can say is music finds you when you need it to. Kacy & Clayton found me this summer. And I needed it. So do you. Read my review if you like, but explore this group and these albums.

Favourite Roots Albums of 2017, so far   Leave a comment

School ended two weeks ago, and I have been able to take the last week to relax, read, and listen—a great start to this summer. It appears that almost every online outlet has released their ‘best of 2017 (so far) list,’ so I figure I might as well get in on the action. If nothing else, hopefully someone reading will find an album they haven’t previously heard, and will be inspired to purchase it.

Americana, bluegrass, and their associated roots music are what I love, and I’ve been fortunate this year to listen to some amazing albums. Here is a list of my favourite fifteen roots albums of 2017 (so far)—and I found it difficult to narrow it down: I have no idea what I will do if this pace continues through the end of the year.

Whose albums didn’t make the list? Jason Isbell, Willie Nelson, Angeleena Presley, Jim Lauderdale, Fred Eaglesmith, Chuck Prophet, Amy Black, Slaid Cleaves, Jesse Waldman, Ray Davies, Jeffrey Halford…

Links are to my review or, where I haven’t reviewed, to the artist site.

  1. Mac WisemanMac Wiseman & Various Artists- I Sang the Song (Life of the Voice With A Heart) Yes, it is that good. My review.
  2. ronsexsmith_3Ron Sexsmith- The Last Rider Continuing a streak of excellence, Sexsmith’s 16th (!) album may just be his finest. Excellent songs, catchy melodies, accessible production…I’ve seldom been so proud to have shown support for a musician. A very strong album, just the latest in a series of memorable, standout recordings. The songs alternate between playful and introspective, catchy and maudlin. Layered, but not flamboyant. I am really glad that I bought the album, and even more glad that I took the time to make the trek to see Ron and the band in Edmonton. Surprised and disappointed that this one didn’t receive deserving Polaris Music Prize attention. “Radio” is my favourite song of the year.
  3. OtisOtis Gibbs- Mount Renraw I have been listening to Gibbs for a close to a decade, but never have I attended to this degree; a singer who was always on the periphery for me has eased himself onto my ever-narrowing list of favourites. My review.
  4. made_to_moveChris Jones & the Night Drivers- Made to Move Another excellent album from Chris Stuart & the Night Rangers. My review.
  5. CrowellRodney CrowellClose Ties With the passing of Guy Clark, Crowell heads to the front of the line of Texas songwriters. A masterful creation.
  6. demeyer_and_will_kimbrough-mokingbirdBrigitte DeMeyer and Will Kimbrough- Mockingbird Soul Largely taking the lead on alternating songs, they have produced an ideally balanced duet recording, with DeMeyer’s Side One Melissa Etheridge passionate huskiness pairing with Kimbrough’s restrained, telling honesty. Spirited, swampy, and Southern-country soul at times, in other places the songs more closely resemble what country music once was and could be again given a shot of 3614 Jackson Highway swagger. The arrangements are straight-forward rather than minimalistic, allowing the duet vocals prominence. The rest of my review.
  7. billBill Scorzari- Through These Waves Bill Scorzari lives where the Blues meets Texas Sam Baker. My review.
  8. gibson_2The Gibson Brothers- In the Ground Bringing their release total to thirteen, I believe, Eric and Leigh Gibson are at the top of the bluegrass world, a pinnacle at which they’ve resided for a decade. In The Ground may be their finest yet. An album of self-written songs, it isn’t like anything they’ve before accomplished. Still bluegrass, of course, but taking things to yet another level. My review.
  9. AMANDA-ANNE-PLATT-HONEYCUTTERS-ON-WALLAmanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters- Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters Platt is a strong songwriter and an impressive and memorable vocalist. She has that important capability to write in a variety of voices, making each genuine and authentic to the experiences conveyed. My review.
  10. richardRichard Laviolette- Taking the Long Way Home Earnest country records are few and far between. Ignoring the trappings of modern country recording, Laviolette has created a natural-sounding album, balancing the beauty and fidelity of old-time country and folk music (think Clarence Ashley and Doc Watson recordings with the refinement of original songs and expanded instrumentation) with the gravity of personal exploration and experience. My review.
  11. NellNell Robinson & Jim Nunally BandBaby, Let’s Take the Long Way Home One of my favourite guitarists and singers has teamed, over the course of four albums, with an impressive and natural vocalist, writing killer songs well-founded in the traditions of Americana.
  12. BIBB_MigrationBlues_livretEric Bibb- Migration Blues My review.
  13. brock zemanBrock Zeman- The Carnival Is Back in Town My review.
  14. lk-a-calm-sun-cover-webLesley Kernochan- A Calm Sun A bold, mature recording, free of gimmick and insincerity. My review.
  15. JebJeb Loy NicholsCountry Hustle Soulful country, as he has been doing for a very long time. Maybe my favourite album cover so far in 2017 (tho’ The Monkees Forever is giving it a run.)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              There you have them, my favourite roots albums of 2017, January to June.

 

Jeffrey Halford & the Healers- Lo-Fi Dreams review   Leave a comment

Jeffrey Halford and the Healers
Lo Fi Dreams
Shoeless Records/Floating Records
www.JeffreyHalford.com

j lo fiIt is usually painful to review your writing from a distance of years. Or, maybe it is just me who finds that to be the case. Might mean something…

No amount of prodding can make me re-read what I wrote for The Gateway beginning some 33 years ago, although I am tempted: I remember the Katrina Leskanich interview I did as being pretty good. However, the majority of what I wrote was—I am confident—awkward, artless, and anguish-inducing; my patient editors could only do so much. Going back into the Fervor Coulee vault then…

When I first heard Jeffrey Halford’s music over fifteen years ago, I knew I like it. I wasn’t sure how to write about it, but I tried. Here is what I wrote about Hunkpapa in February, 2002:

j hunkpapa

Jeffrey Halford is my latest new, favourite singer-songwriter.  I vividly remember the moment Guy Clark became my new, favourite songwriter.  And Steve Forbert. And Steve Pineo.  Years from now, I’ll look back on the day I first heard Jeffrey Halford.

I was nothing if not enthusiastic.

A coalescence of Mike Plume energy and Lucinda Williams’ poetic gifts, Jeffrey Halford is more concerned with authentic mood and melody than contrived slickness.  Writing primarily bluesy-country shaded story songs, Halford doesn’t allow introspection to interfere with a rock-propelled groove.  Coloured by Chuck Prophet’s guitar, “Radio Flyer”—a love song about a dad, son, and wagon that documents the passage of time—is but one of Hunkpapa’s standout tracks: “we look beat up but we work just fine.” “Satchel’s Fastball” and “Memphis” are songs for a warmer season, music that roars down Highway 1 while “Oh, Susanna” and “.44” recount impetuous acts of regret. 

 Writing for the local daily, space was at a premium, but attempting to be succinct allowed me to a freedom to experiment with stylistic writing I would have otherwise avoided. Reading this today, for the first time in a decade and a half, I do cringe a little. But, I am comfortable with that because—on a positive note— a new Jeffrey Halford album has arrived for me to review! And it is playing as I try to recall why I haven’t listened to Halford nearly enough in the intervening years.

Three years later, Railbirds was released, and I again had a chance to write about Halford for the Red Deer Advocate and its seven readers who cared about my kind of roots music:

j railbirds

Emphasizing guitar based roots-rock over narratives, Halford’s imagery rich release lacks the lyrical breadth of his previous disc Hunkpapa.  Wielding a variety of six-strings- acoustic, electric, resophonic- and dropping some tasty slide into a couple tunes, Halford delivers a satisfying album of blues-based rock tunes that bring to mind mid-career Tom Petty and Blackie & the Rodeo Kings.  Augie Meyers adds atmospheric Hammond B-3 organ to a pair of tunes.

Wow! Even fewer words. I listened to Railbirds again this week, and I still enjoy it, more than the middlin’ review above would suggest. And, I notice at Halford’s website, another writer has made the Tom Petty connection: beat ya to it!

But then that was pretty much it. I listened to the albums (maybe) two or three times in the ensuing years, and I am pretty sure I played a track on the radio one July at the University of Lethbridge station while working on my Masters. However, and as new music continually arrived to be reviewed, Halford faded in my memory. I continued to associate positive thoughts with his music, I just didn’t bother to search it out.

Then Lo-Fi Dreams arrived in my mailbox, sent by the same publicist who got Hunkpapa into my hands in the first place; thanks, Martha. To catch up, earlier this month I purchased the downloads of Broken Chords and Rainmaker, and recalled as if fresh my enthusiasm for this singer and guitarist. (Yes, again, writing a review costs me money! How was I able to pay bills writing in 2001-2012? Oh, yeah…back then, outlets paid. I digress.)

j brokej rainmaker“Thunderbird Motel,” “Vinyl,” “Dead Man’s Hand,” and “Ninth Ward” have quickly become favourites. With the exception of Halford, all the names associated with The Healers have changed while I was otherwise occupied. Co-producer (with Halford) Adam Rossi handles drums, keys, and percussion as well as harmony vocals, with Bill MacBeath handling the deep notes. What hasn’t altered are Halford’s obvious strengths.

His voice is only slightly different than it was fifteen years ago, seasoned by time as some like to say, but definitely not harsh or haggard. Consistent is his ability to strengthen his country-blues-rock sound with lyrics that appear like precious pearls of poetry. In “Two Jacksons,” Halford captures the power of positive changes as acutely as anyone since Springsteen railed about needing to change his clothes, his hair and face in 1984: “torn and frayed, and in need of repair” our hero reveals, but with a new jacket, anything seems possible. Similarly, waiting “behind ‘Door #3′” may just be what you’ve been looking for.

Emphasizing the groove, ‘the feels’ of his songs, Halford eases slide into several tracks, and that National sure has a big sound. The bluesy “Elvis Shot the Television,” as did songs on Railbirds and Broken Chords, favourably brings to mind Colin Linden. “Bird of Youth” is close to rock ‘n’ roll, and “Good Trouble” gets similarly raucous. I am really awful at being able to identify specific songs/singers that new songs remind me of (like, mental blockage bad) but “Sweet Annette,” has my brain spinning. Antsy McClain, perhaps? Auditory allusions aside, this is a crackerjack performance—a slice of Americana that honours all meanings of the word.

Featuring some of the album’s finest guitar sounds, “Great Divide” takes us gently to the end of Lo-Fi Dreams, a soothing, challenging listen from start through completion. It isn’t a lot different from Rainmaker, a bit louder perhaps—a production choice? The one-sheet mentions the use of “vintage lo-fi amplifiers and guitars like the Sears Silvertone, Danelectro, and Harmoney brands from the 1950s and ’60s…” none of which means much to me. It does hint that Halford was searching for a specific sound on Lo-Fi Dreams, and I would suggest he was successful in the pursuit.

Lo-Fi Dreams is a welcome reminder of, as if we needed it, how many roots and Americana artists there are that we haven’t before encountered…or who we have neglected for far too long. Jeffrey Halford and the Healers are again at the fore of my thinking: this time, I’m going to make sure they stay there.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. See me on the tweetsite @FervorCoulee.

Donald

 

 

Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters- review   Leave a comment

Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters
Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters
Organic Records

By Donald Teplyske

AMANDA-ANNE-PLATT-HONEYCUTTERS-ON-WALLHaving recorded four impressive albums as The Honeycutters, including the masterpiece that was 2016’s On The Ropes, Asheville, NC’s outstanding roots outfit has re-branded themselves as Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters.

Featuring the consistent Honeycutters line-up of Matthew Smith (pedal steel and electric guitar), Rick Cooper (bass), Josh Milligan (drums and percussion), and Platt (lead and harmony vocals and acoustic guitar), with the addition of Evan Martin (keyboard including Hammond B3), the group’s approach to music has continued to evolve, becoming increasingly mainstream while retaining the appealing and authentic qualities that have made them one of the most satisfying Americana outfits recording.

Platt is a strong songwriter and an impressive and memorable vocalist. She has that important capability to write in a variety of voices, making each genuine and authentic to the experiences conveyed.

Again co-produced with roots and bluegrass veteran Tim Surrett, Platt gently establishes the group as a vehicle under her control launching into “Birthday Song” as the self-titled album’s lead track, a song that brings to the fore Platt’s command of writing, singing, and song arrangement. Deceptively languid in atmosphere, and sounding like no one as much as Natalie Maines, the introspective Appalachian honky tonk singer observes that with the passage of years and the compounding of commitments, “some days the answers just get farther.” Similarly, one observes initial forays toward adulthood with “Late Summer’s Child.” The group could do worse than to seek inspiration from the likes of the Dixie Chicks.

One of the most acutely realized examples of country-based Americana recently released, Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters comes in at a generous 54-minutes, and doesn’t waver in focus or intensity. Utilizing a focus on lyrical rhythm similarly to Zoe Muth’s modern classic “If I Can’t Trust You With A Quarter,” “The Guitar Case,” with an impressive guitar and keys instrumental foundation, finds our road warrior focusing on the positives of the chosen life. Platt doesn’t take the easy way and bask on the weary harshness of life, preferring to find positives when possible. A relationship has crumbled amicably within “The Road,” and “Diamonds in the Rough” looks at various observed circumstances through warmly colored lenses.

Consistently across the album, The Honeycutters demonstrate their ability to ideally frame songs to complement Platt. As she’s the group’s songwriter, this is obviously by design but that doesn’t detract from its effectiveness. Intriguing and timely progressions of notes highlight songs at just the right moment, as when Platt is contemplating the last five years of a relationship (“Brand New Start”) and with a bit of Don Rich-inspired flavor on “The Things We Call Home.”

Another welcome offering from Amanda Anne Platt and her group; as always true, country music is in fine hands.

Rescue Me! A Cause for Paws- feature review   Leave a comment

rescue me

Various Artists Rescue Me! A Cause for Paws Blue Night Records

We all love our pets, and we can feel a bit better about ourselves when we rescue an unwanted gem from shelter life, and worse.

We have raised seven cats, not counting Hazel Dickens—our first tortie who couldn’t transition to house life (she’s fine, having ruled the in-laws’ farm for seven years now)—and all but one has been in one way or another a rescue pet. Snow White was adopted from the Edmonton SPCA, Bailey and Misty from farms, T came from a couple who had grown unable to care for her, and our current delights—Bailey II and Mazey—are sisters from the in-laws farm, previously been rescued from town folks getting rid of an entire litter. Our cats, to a one, have been distinctive in their outlooks, behaviour, and personality, and we have enjoyed our many years with each of them.

Rescue Me! A Cause for Paws is a twelve-track set of roots songs for our pets, with all profits being donated to animal welfare organizations. Several of the songs are poignant, while others are considerably more light-hearted. All tracks are culled from previously released, largely independent projects. Songs are evenly split between odes to felines and canines.

Mary Ann Kennedy’s “Barn Cat” struts its way into our hearts from the start: “I’m a barn cat, not an alley cat, or a house cat—I don’t sit in laps: I got a real job- I catch mice; it’s a tough life.” Kennedy, known as a songwriter (“Dixie Road” and “Safe in the Arms of Love,” among others), as a member of Kennedy-Rose, and a frequent Emmylou Harris collaborator, develops a confident character study within her verses. Heidi Muller’s “My Old Cat,” sparked by dulcimer, is a comfortable tune about an appreciated companion, one whose habits may be familiar.

Jamie Anderson wins over this listener right off, lamenting the loss of a significant relationship: “I miss the dog more than I miss you; she’s glad to see me, for you that’s not true.” A country-folk tune drifting toward old-time, Anderson recounts the attributes and escapades of a mutt who will stay with her long after the image of He Who is Not Lamented has faded. Amy White’s gentle “The Best Dog” is a picture-perfect tale of a rescue dog and her companion.

Long-time Fervor Coulee favourite Kathy Chiavola cuts loose on a near-bluegrass romp entitled “Possum and Pearl,” while Joel Mabus’ “The Kitty Ditty” swings more than a little. Effron White’s “Cattitude” isn’t so much about the cat—although he is there on the couch—as it is about the fellow getting on with his life, with a new, fresh outlook. Mark Weems assumes the persona(!) a faithful companion within the piano piece, “My Best Friend.”

As a collection, the music is diverse. Beyond that already mentioned there is jazzy acappella (“Our Cats,” from Cindy Mangsen), funky guitar-based folk (Annie Lalley’s “Get A Dog”), ballsy barrelhouse (“Kitty Kitty,” by Ashely Jo Farmer), and straight-up country (Aidan Quinn and Christine Stay’s clever “Why, Why, Why.”)

Unified as it is by common purpose, Rescue Me! A Cause for Paws is worthy of your support. Available through Elderly Instruments, CD Baby, and other online and digital outlets. A benefit concert and CD release show is slated for Isis in Asheville, NC on June 16.

Lesley Kernochan- A Calm Sun review   Leave a comment

lk-a-calm-sun-cover-webI received this album from the publicist a month or so back, listening to it a couple times right off, and knew I needed to write about it. I have since listened to A Calm Sun seven or eight more times- driving, while resting, and as I was writing- and could not be more impressed. It is a bold, mature recording, free of gimmick and insincerity. Give it a listen. My review is at LRR http://lonesomeroadreview.com/calm-sun-lesley-kernochan/

You can listen to “Country in the City” here.

 

Brock Zeman- The Carnival Is Back In Town review   Leave a comment

brock zemanBrock Zeman is an artist I’ve reviewed a few times now, (I could only find one on-line; if I can locate the previous review, and it is readable, I may add it in down below) and he has always impressed me. Like the best roots artists, he has grown with time, and his latest is the most complete album I’ve yet encountered- realizing I haven’t heard all of his discs. The Carnival Is Back In Town may be groundbreaking, and there certainly won’t be another album like it this year. I wouldn’t want to live within Zeman’s carnival atmosphere, but I sure am enjoying listening to the music has allowed it to create. Here’s the thing: I’ve been listening to it regularly for a couple months, and after ten or twelve complete listens, I am more than ready to put most albums on the shelf and leave it for the next ten years…or until I have to review the latest release. I am still listening to The Carnival Is Back In Town, and I don’t believe I am going to be putting it away any time soon. My review has been published at Lonesome Road Review.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald