Archive for the ‘Americana’ Tag

Favourite Roots Albums of 2018, so far   Leave a comment

It’s July 1. The year is half over and during the past six months some terrific music has been released. While I have heard my share of the roots music that has come out, I haven’t heard it all. I do have my favourites and that is what I share today: Fervor Coulee’s Favourite Roots releases of 2018, so far. In no particular order…

GauthierMary Gauthier- Rifles & Rosary Beads An ambitious undertaking that has received its fair share of attention. Co-writing with American veterans and their families, Gauthier has created a piece of art greater than its parts. Of course, none of it would be as significant if the songs themselves were weak or if Gauthier faltered in their delivery. No worries. Gauthier’s indomitable performances bridge the gap between those of us who have never considered serving in the military, and those whose lives have inalterably changed because of their sacrifices. Key tracks: “Got Your Six” “The War After the War” “Brothers” (purchased download)

JohnnyCash-ForeverWordsVarious Artists- Johnny Cash Forever Words: The Music Excepting the typically overwrought Elvis Costello track (When he sang—prior to about 2000—there were few who had greater regard for him, but he lost me a long time ago—his voice is shot, he mistakes emoting for expression, and has completely lost the plot on what even sounds ‘good’) this collection provides an hour of entertainment and contemplation. Comprised of unrecorded Cash ‘songs’—lyrics, poems, or musings, depending—that were—for the most part—fleshed out by the various performers, one is transported into a series of ethereal collaborations that is very affecting. Again, like the Gauthier album, what matters is more than the process, it’s the music: this album enhances the Cash legacy, unlike some other more exploitive sets that have been released. Key tracks:    Alison Krauss & Union Station’s interpretation of Robert Lee Castleman’s “The Captain’s Daughter” Rosanne Cash’s “The Walking Wounded” Carlene Carter’s “June’s Sundown” Jamey Johnson “Spirit Rider” (purchased CD)

GebtryBobbie Gentry- Live At The BBC A Record Store Day release, this 12-track compilation of cuts from 1968 and 1969 are simply a fan’s greatest attainable wish. Performances—excepting “Ode to Billie Joe”—unheard since their original broadcast (so, brand new to most of us) that add to Gentry’s legacy. Her voice is huskier on these numbers, the arrangements sparser, the mood slightly playful: the effect is  even greater intimacy that that expressed through the album versions of the songs. Key tracks: “Papa Won’t You Let Me Go To Town With You” “Recollection” “Nikki Hokey” in a medley with Robert Parker’s “Barefootin'” name-checking Long John Baldry. (purchased vinyl)

Motel MirrorsMotel Mirrors- In The Meantime The second collaboration between Amy LaVere and John Paul Keith is every bit as satisfying as their first, with the added bonus of having folded Will Sexton and Shawn Zorn into the mix to become a genuine band. Americana with a heavy dose of Memphis heart, this is a country-rock album that owes much to the music that influenced it. Key tracks: “Things I Learned” “Do With Me What You Want” “The Man Who Comes Around” (purchased download)

MarielMariel Buckley- Driving In The Dark I would have felt bad had I not been able to include an Alberta artist on this list, and Mariel Buckley doesn’t place out of any obligation. I wasn’t familiar with her until late last year, but she has quickly become a Fervor Coulee favourite. Produced by Leeroy Stagger, these ten songs contain lyrical and instrumental nuances that make them individually appealing and collectively stout. There isn’t much polish herein, just as it should be. I avoid using the word ‘authentic,’ but that is what works here. Straight-forward, modern country (think Kelly Willis) for those of us who live in the past. Key tracks: “Rose Coloured Frames” “Heart Is On Fire” “Pride” (purchased download)

David DavisDavid Davis & the Warrior River Boys- Didn’t He Ramble: The Songs of Charlie Poole A welcome return for one of bluegrass music’s most consistently satisfying bands with a traditional bent (serviced with CD). My full review here. 

DuffeyVarious Artists- Epilogue: A Tribute to John Duffey A bluegrass legend and innovator gets his due, more than two decades after his passing (Serviced with download). My full review here.

JoyannJoyann Parker- Hard To Love Soulful and blue (serviced with CD). My full review here.

dancing500Gretchen Peters- Dancing With the Beast Americana/folk doesn’t get better than this, the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member’s ninth album of original material (purchased CD). My full review here.

HMT-Cover-862x785Hadley McCall Thackston- Hadley McCall Thackston A beautiful, stunning debut: like Venus, she emerges fully realized (serviced with CD). My full review here.

marewakefieldnomad_largeMare Wakefield & Nomad- Time to Fly There is so much good music, we can only hope that the best of it finds its way to us. Sometimes it is up to us to do the work. Search out this Nashville-based duo: they are worth it (serviced with CD). My full review here.

smds-album-cover-768x767Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar- Run To Me Southern Ontario’s soul revue gift to the world- lively, bright, and brassy (serviced with CD). My full review here.

DocWatson_LiveAtClub47_COVER-494x494Doc Watson Live at Club 47 There is no end to the live Doc Watson albums available, and some (Doc Watson On Stage, for one) are definitely more well-rounded than this set. However, this 1963 set recorded in Massachusetts is a welcome and indispensable addition for those of us who just can’t get enough of the deft, affable roots legend. Several of the songs contained here would remain staples of his live and recorded repertoire for the next five decades (“Little Sadie,” “Deep River Blues,” “Sittin’ On Top Of The World”) while others are less frequently encountered (“Little Margaret,” “Hop High Ladies The Cake’s All Dough,” and “Blue Smoke, for example.”) Watson’s connection to his audience would not waver throughout his career, and this early archival recording- coming in at almost 80 minutes- is riveting. (Purchased download)

 I limited myself to a  baker’s dozen albums. Look around Fervor Coulee- I have reviewed a lot of great roots music since January, and many wonderful albums just wouldn’t fit on this list: the latest from Peter Rowan, Sylvia, John Prine, Bob Rea, Sue Foley, The Lynnes, John Paul Keith, Mary Chapin Carpenter, The Travelin’ McCourys…

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

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Gretchen Peters- Dancing With The Beast review   1 comment

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Gretchen Peters Dancing With the Beast Scarlet Letter Records

I’m a fan of Gretchen Peters, and have been from the first time I heard “On A Bus To St. Cloud” more than two decades ago. Not an ardent enthusiast as I am for others—Del McCoury, Steve Forbert, Kirsty MacColl, The Go-Go’s—perhaps, where I keep/kept up on every twist and turn of their careers and purchased everything I could get my hands on, but a devotee nonetheless. I lost track around when Halcyon was released, but started catching up again with the Tom Russell album several years ago. I ordered my copy of Dancing With The Beast on the strength of her previous Blackbirds and a few minutes of listening online. Like contemporaries Eliza Gilkyson and Darrell Scott, Peters has never made an album I didn’t thoroughly enjoy.

Upon first listen yesterday, I thought “Man, these first two songs are great…they alone make the album a worthwhile purchase.” (I had unsuccessfully searched the city stores for a copy before succumbing to the ease that is Amazon.) And then songs three, four, and five played and I knew Peters had created a modern masterpiece of folk-tinged Americana. Four complete plays within 15 hours has done nothing to dampen my enthusiasm.

While Peters hasn’t done a lot of co-writing historically, like Guy Clark did she sees the benefit of collaboration within established relationships. Working up with “Blackbirds” co-writer Ben Glover for a few songs here, Peters continually raises her game crafting engaging and poetic songs of visionary substance.

Teaming with Matraca Berg (another long-time Fervor Coulee fave) and Glover for “Arguing With Ghosts,” this dark song could be about the descent toward dementia, but it could also be about depression, isolation, or the frustration many feel with a world that is moving too quickly. It is the universality of the images that impacts the listener across this song of wistful reflection. “I get lost in my home town, since they tore the drive-in down”—opens the song (and album)–before smacking it home with the honest truth of “The years go by like days; sometimes the days go by like years, and I don’t know which one I hate the most.”

The weariness of the troubadour’s road is captured without sentimentality or rancour in “The Show,” and I was so enamoured with the sound of this song I got out the specs to read the near-indistinct musician credits (white on light pink!) to again find Will Kimbrough’s name! Is there anything thing this guy doesn’t play on? Like a lucky penny, he is. Scanning the remaining notes, I see him listed on most of the other tracks, along with Barry Walsh (piano, Hammond B3), naturally, Dave Roe (bass), and Jerry Douglas (Dobro) on a couple.

The title track is more pointedly about the grip of the black dog, while “Lowlands” and “Disappearing Act” both explore the theme of seclusion.

The loneliness of “Disappearing Act” morphs into a “dark cocoon,” a result of years living with diminishing returns: “People leave and they don’t come back, life is a disappearing act” Peters sings in her perfectly downy voice, revealing that “you can travel the world, you can sail the seas…still you end up cryin’ at your kitchen sink.” Within an album full of artful and challenging lyrics, I think my favourite line on the album may be “We had 40 good years, then 10 more!”

“Lowlands” is the place Peters finds herself inhabiting—”making do” with her friends—a place where “a little light gets through.”  Coloured by current circumstances in her country, Peters sings that she doesn’t “burn one with my neighbour anymore, ever since he put that sticker on his bumper,” while acknowledging “Goddamn, it sure got quiet on the high road, as it led us straight down into hell.”

Peters is one of the finest contemporary singer-songwriters, and while the songs of Dancing With The Beast don’t pulse with vigour, their energy is found within lyrical magic and incredible instrumentation. Those of us missing Nanci Griffith will want to give Dancing With the Beast a listen, if only to hear a line from “Lay Low” that should have been sung by the now silent mistress of the melancholy:

“It’s a good three hours to Aberdeen, and I’ve read all the magazines,                                 and the jokes are all played out or wearin’ thin.
So I lie back and close my eyes and I let that old sadness rise,
and I listen to ‘Hello In There’ again.”

A coming-of-age summer of teenage torment and manipulation is highlighted with wistful regret in “The Boy From Rye,” another song with enough universality to be appreciated from a distance of years, while the late night vignette of “predator or prey” plays out not without hope in “Truckstop Angel.” The vividly potent line “I swallow their indifference, but I choke on my regrets” is going to stay with me.

Across its fifty-minutes, there is so much here that resonates, and the album’s finest song may be “Wichita,” a lively-sounding Peters-Glover co-write. The combination of Doug Lancio’s and Kimbrough’s guitars complement the emotional starkness of this tale of abuse and reckoning, with Douglas’ contributions ratcheting up the tension. Long before the protagonist declares “Mama always told me if you want something done, you do it for yourself so I loaded up her gun…” the outcome of the song is apparent.

I don’t regularly review albums I purchase: there is little enough time to get to projects I am obligated to write about. Sometimes though, an album reaches across space and just grabs on. Dancing With The Beast is one of those collections, an album that will find itself on my year-end list of favourites. Gretchen Peters may sing of shades of gray, but her voice is always replete with colour. Listen.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

 

 

Hadley McCall Thackston- review   5 comments

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Hadley McCall Thackston Hadley McCall Thackston Wolfe Island Records

When was the last time an album reminded you of both Elle King and the Handsome Family?

Welcome Hadley McCall Thackston!

McCall Thackston has a bright, buoyant voice ideal for bittersweet love ballads and moodscapes of melody and melancholy.  Certainly as playful as King—it has something to do with how they roll their rhymes—but with depth enriched by lyrical litheness  reminiscent of Rennie Sparks, McCall Thackston has unleashed one hell of a debut album, a timeless iteration of Americana, alt-country, or whatever the heck we are calling it this month.

Whereas King sings of “Exs and Ohs”, McCall Thackston takes on “Ellipsis,” perhaps the first time this particular punctuation has had a ‘love’ song built around it: not even Dan Baird and Terry Anderson went there. “Wallace’s Song (Sage Bush)” rubs against country sentimentality—that’s a positive from where I stand— with “Ghost” delving into more introspective territory. Jane Scarpanoni’s cello serves as counterpoint in duet with McCall Thackston’s voice in “Somehow,” a tremendous song and performance.

It is on songs like “Ghost”—and “Redbird”, “Devil or Angel,” and “Last Mountain Waltz”— that the Handsome Family come to mind. Lyrically evocative with distinctive, atmospheric melodies, these songs establish Hadley McCall Thackston’s mystical montage, each rooted in her experience. Producer (and more) Hugh Christopher Brown has surrounded McCall Thankston with incredible, intuitive instrumentalists—including Elijah, James, and John Abrams, Gregor Beresford, Burke Carroll, Joey Wright, and Teilhard Frost who further embellish the ten songs with texture and colour.

She also explores the immediacy of contemporary circumstance. “Change” challenges current events head-on, concluding with “Another black man’s life cut short by police,” while “No” is only slightly more circumspect in its imagery: “You cannot board a boat to sail upon my land, because I’ve already claimed it for myself. So there you’ll stand, while you’re begging me for refuge cuz you got no place to go…”

Hadley McCall Thackston is a product of the south, Georgia specifically, and has musically matured within the emergent Wolfe Island community. She came to my attention through vocal contributions to Stephen Stanley Band’s outstanding (and unfortunately overlooked by Polaris Prize jurors) Jimmy & the Moon album, and this splendid self-titled album has elevated my regard for this delightful and strong singer, songwriter, and artist.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

 

Bob Rea- Southbound review   1 comment

Bob Rae

Bob Rea Southbound Shiny Dime Records/ BobRaeMusic.com

Recently a friend mentioned that he continued to enjoy a mix CD I had made for him several years ago. He went on to mention that the folks whose music was featured on that burned disc—Billy Joe Shaver, Guy Clark, Larry Jon Wilson, Billy Swan, and the like—were of a special ilk, the “kind they don’t make anymore.”

I guess I’ll next have to introduce him to Nashville’s Bob Rea. Turns out, they do still make heartworn troubadours of the type we have come to appreciate over the last forty-plus years of listening to roots music of all its various shades.

Like many of the albums produced by any of those mentioned, with Southbound the listener is three-songs deep before even thinking about moving: these songs captivate. When Rea sings, in “Say Goodnight,”

When you’re standing on the platform,
Waiting on that midnight train
You know if you hold your ear close to the track
You can almost smell the rain

you know you have heard a stanza you will never forget, whether or not you’ve ever driven through a Mississippi night, read a Faulkner novel, or even thought about letting go. Absolutely brilliant.

And don’t let me go on too much about his voice! Perhaps not since Darrell Scott convinced his father Wayne that it was time to make a recording have I been so pleasantly surprised by a singer’s gravel-lined voice, soulful and strong. Bob Rea is the real deal, the kind of singer I would be thrilled to have discovered when I was first searching out the influences and contemporaries of Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, and Lyle Lovett.

The deeper one delves into Southbound, the stronger the songs become. “Screw Cincinnati” is a humourous, biting tale of disappointing enchantment ending with the twist of a lipstick, while “The Law” is perhaps inspired by our current state of political and world affairs, and yet is more than twenty years old. “Vietnam” has a novel hidden within twenty-four lines, and I can well-imagine Guy Clark exclaiming, ‘Jesus Christ’ upon hearing “A Place In Your Heart.” The title track is an ode to a free-wheeling lover who has just hit the road, an alternative to John Hiatt’s “Drive South,” perhaps.

Beyond the voice, lyrics, and melodies—all of which are impressive to the nth degree—the musicianship is also stunning. There is some guitar work within “The Law” that is every bit as impressive as anything Mark Knopfler has laid out: beyond atmospheric, these measured chords colour Rea’s intention with vibrancy.

Call it country. Call it Americana. Call it folk. Southbound is roots music. And a damn fine example of it.

 

 

Posted 2018 April 15 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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Wylie & the Wild West- 2000 Miles From Nashville review   Leave a comment

Wylie

I am really pleased with this review. I enjoyed listening to the album, not a real surprise since I like my country actually to sound like country music. But I also enjoyed writing the review, something that doesn’t always happen. I was able to weave in a couple words and phrases that brought a smile to my increasingly gnarled face. I also received a real nice note of feedback about the review, one that included the words “You are an exceptional writer…” Yeah, that never happens, so some positive feedback love was most appreciated. Regarding my writing, your kilometreage may vary, of course, but 2000 Miles From Home is a darned fine album, filled with memorable songs and performances. Check it out at Country Standard Time.

Mare Wakefield & Nomad- Time To Fly review   1 comment

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Mare Wakefield & Nomad Time To Fly MareWakefield.com

Not all songs need be short stories, narratives replete with finely crafted characters and motivations, secrets revealed, and veiled, within and between the lines. But listening to Mare Wakefield’s most recent compositions comprising Time to Fly, I am reminded that I am glad when they occasionally are.

I love me an Alice Munro story, and more than once—on the multi-dimensional “Time To Fly” and certainly during “Bernice & Bernadette”—Munro’s exquisite style came to mind, an economy of words magnifying precious rhythms of daily minutiae. So too did folks like Dar Williams (“With Your Heartbeat” and even more so on “The Day We Buried Mama (& Cousin Bobby Joe Got Wed”))  and Tracy Grammer (“Breathe.”)

The light-hearted opener “Real Big Love” and it’s more (it would seem) rural cousin “Henry” are appropriately boppy bits of wordplay, and appeal greatly to my 60s and 70s AM rock ‘n’ roll/country radio roots.  Nomad Ovunc drops in all matter of audio ancillaries including keys and accordion (and on “Closer to God,” melodica,) while Will Kimbrough supplies the electric guitar leads and Brian Allen (not that Brian Allen, Toronto fans) bass.  On the closing “Falling,” Wes Little’s drumming encourages images of long-ago shuffles, while it goes in an entirely different direction on the jazzy (and duplicitous) “The Boxer & the Beauty Queen.”

“Bernice & Bernadette” celebrates the love of a lifetime, bonds of childhood innocence coalescing into a unconsummated romance. It is a tale of not-so-much unrequited attraction and love as it is of one which remained unstated, and coming as it does from Wakefield’s grandmother’s letters, all the more authentic and candid.

“Bernice & Bernadette” communicates a poignant melancholy—although lovely—through sepia-toned images, and “The Day We Buried Mama (& Cousin Bobby Joe Got Wed)” paints a lighter but no less significant depiction of family ties. Jubilantly, Wakefield proclaims, “Raise a glass for those who pass and those who are on the way,” as fine an epitaph as one might hope to have ascribed to them.

Mare Wakefield has been making albums for twenty years, and this is the second on which Nomad has billing. However, it is my first exposure to these Nashville-residents, and as such, proves—once again—that there is way too much ‘good stuff’ out there for any one person to hear. Take the time, then, to check out Time To Fly: it will be worth it.

 

 

Raven and Red- We Rise Up review   Leave a comment

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Raven and Red We Rise Up Line Crossing Records www.RavenandRed.com

Youthful, Raven and Red is a polished Nashville-based acoustic Americana trio. Featuring a pair of classically-trained, recent North Carolina university graduates, Brittany Lynn Jones (vocals, violin, and more) and Mitchell Lane (vocals and guitars), alongside a still-teenaged and high school attending mandolinist/vocalist in Cole King, the group shows great interest in the history and foundations of folk and country music while bridging the past with pop and rock influences and conventions: energetic, sensitive, andmost importantly—interesting.

Without doubt, Lane (the ‘Red’) can flat out sing. With a strong tenor, the Georgia native propels these songs (mostly) co-written with Lynn Jones (the ‘Raven.’) “It Could Have Been You,” “Living and Loving You” and “Lead Me Back to You” may not be lyrically groundbreaking, but they are not obviously formulistic, and their performances are impressive with Justin Collins’ percussion providing a touch of flamboyance to “Lead Me Back to You” not often revealed in similar settings. The affirming “We Rise Up” will provide inspiration, while the New Christy Minstrels’ “Today” is an appropriate throwback to the gentrification of mid-century folk music. Lynn Jones’ powerful, substantial harmonies give Raven and Red’s songs supplementary heft.

Jeffrey Shore and Jonathan Quintero’s “Grandpa’s Beer,” is a strong ‘generation-passing’ song given a fairly homey arrangement with lots of fiddle; Lane’s performance here reminds me of a one-song (“Guy Clark”) favourite of mine, Eric Burton (who, it appears, has disappeared from the Webiverse). “Moonshine and Makeup” and “Another Empty Bottle” (sensing a theme here) are additional superior tracks that work well within Raven and Red’s modern country/folk approach. “Wild Roses” is—arguably—a little wordy, but is works as a tribute to an early love lost to the lure of music. Later, “Wild Roses Reprise: Winter Raven World Traveler” provides Lynn Jones with a violin showcase augmented by her companions.

We Will Rise is a fine debut recording for the trio Raven and Red. It doesn’t have enough gravel to become a Fervor Coulee favourite, but I acknowledge the group’s talents and the quality of their performances. There is something here, and I’ll be keeping these gnarled ears open.

Posted 2018 February 3 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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