“One of the greatest songwriters I’ve never heard.” Jonah Tolchin, Through These Waves’ producer
“I enjoyed playing on Bill Scorzari’s record…Boy, did it turn out fine—thoughtful, soulful songs, with—by God—real music to back them up. Top notch.” Will Kimbrough, musician and current Fervor Coulee man-crush
“He looks like Steve Earle would if he hadn’t taken care of himself.” Albertan wit
In 2014, New York’s Bill Scorzari released his debut album, Just the Same.
Don’t feel bad—I didn’t hear it either. Upon receiving Through These Waves, his follow-up release, I’ve changed that, of course. Until you can purchase it, feel free to stream Just the Same at Scorzari’s website. It is a good listen, and reveals the promise that first albums often do.
But, go buy Through These Waves right now. Because while the sophomore album is supposed to be weaker than the one the artist had a lifetime to create, this one isn’t. It is February 19th as I write this review, and I am betting that when December 15th comes along and I am paring down my list of favourite roots albums of 2017 Through These Waves will be there. And it isn’t going to be whittled off the list.
Scorzari has been compared to everyone from Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, and Blind Willie McTell. Hey, don’t shoot me—I didn’t fall back on those clichés. [Not that I don’t fall back on clichés. Just not those particular ones. Today.] Here is where I am going: Bill Scorzari lives where the Blues meets Texas Sam Baker.
Alberta readers might understand that sentence. I hope others do as well, ’cause that is about as good as I get.
Whereas on Just the Same Scorzari did sound like he was trying to find his inner Waits, especially on songs such as “Baby’s Got a New Blue Dress,” and his Magic-era Springsteen on “It Is Hard to Know,” with Through These Waves Scorzari has found himself.
Scorzari sings, but his version of singing is more of the spoken poetry with a pulsating vibration timbre that Sam Baker has perfected over the course of four albums and innumerable gigs. He connects with listeners by creating soundscapes that reveal descriptions of mood and atmosphere more than character. You listen and think, Yes—I’ve felt that: why didn’t I understand?
Scorzari and producer Jonah Tolchin gathered some of the finest available talents to record to tape at the Bomb Shelter in East Nashville. Will Kimbrough plays mandolin and piano, while Jon Estes contributes both bass and acoustic guitar as well as organ and even a bit of percussion. Joachim Cooder is the featured drummer and Chris Scruggs handles the steel guitar. Additional familiar names including Brent Burke (Dobro,) Laur Joamets (guitars,) Matt Murphy (bass,) and Kyle Tuttle (banjo) appear.
Singing with Scorzari on particular tracks are Kim Richey (on “Holy Man”) and Annie Johnon (on “More of Your Love”) as well as Cindy Walker and Marie Lewey singing beautiful backing on “I Can Carry This” and “Hound Dog Diggin’,” lending some lightness to Scarzari’s dark places.
“I got no answers to my questions why,” he declares in “Holy Man.” As Joamets let loose with a string of slide guitar notes, Scorzari comes back to the realization that one doesn’t need answers, one just needs to question. Supported by Richey, this track features Scorzari’s most complete vocal performance (although, not my favourite which come next.)
Scorzari captures a moment in time to craft a portraits of life that can be aching. In “She Don’t Care About Auld Lang Syne” a woman “won’t slow down” as she leaves. Gentle, sparse guitar notes provide the meditative atmosphere, with just a taste of Eamon McLoughlin’s fiddle seasoning the desperate atmosphere. Scorzari mourns her loss—or perhaps, the idea of her being gone—using disjointed phrases to bring sense to the revealed lack of faith. A similar approach is taken on the album’s penultimate number, “It’s Time.”
“Shelter From the Wind,” “A Dream of You,” and “For When I Didn’t See” are songs that would fit into more challenging Americana playlists, and I’m talking to y’all at WDVX—if you aren’t giving Scorzari some love, I think you should be.
Through These Waves keeps the listener keen right though to its concluding songs—no filler apparent. A joker among aces laments his lot in “Loser At Heart,” while “I Can Carry This” hints that we can’t do it in isolation. In closing with “Riptide,” another meditative composition, Scorzari pulls it all together—through these waves, as we are searching for rescue and as we are tested, if we keep our wits about us and trust in others, we just might survive.
A complete album, one that is going to go on the shelf next to classics such as Lucinda Williams, Mercy, and Cannons in the Rain.
Will Kimbrough is just too talented and inspiring. I know it is irrational jealousy as I have no musical talent, and I am sure I am better at a couple things that Kimbrough is—not much market for ability to recite random facts from the backs of 70s O-Pee-Chee hockey cards, though.
Equal parts Buddy Miller, Larry Jon Wilson, and Darrell Scott, Kimbrough churns out albums of excellence and depth like few I can think of in the broad Americana world. He is a guitarist of significance, coaxing notes and moods that are, depending on the context, soulful country or rapid-fire rock. It seems like he always has a new recording out whether with one of his bands—Daddy and Willie Sugarcapps— or as a solo artist. He has produced dozens (including Fervor Coulee favourites Doug Seegers, Kate Campbell, and Todd Snider) and collaborated with more (Amy Black, Tom Russell, Rodney Crowell, Greg Trooper, Billy Joe Shaver, and Gretchen Peters) always bringing impressive qualities to projects. His songs have been recorded by Jack Ingram, Jimmy Buffett, Little Feet, and the Hard Working Americans.
It seems that every time I turn around I am dropping dollars on a Kimbrough-associated recording, and that gets expensive. I know I’m not the only one who appreciates Kimbrough as I’ve purchased Kimbrough recordings that are no longer on my shelves: to my consternation, they’ve been lent out and not returned.
No, I don’t like Will Kimbrough. I kinda love him.
I’m starting to feel the same way about Brigitte DeMeyer. Unfortunately, I had never heard of her prior to finding out she was releasing Mockingbird Soul with Kimbrough, the album shortly to be under discussion. I`ve dropped dollars on three of her albums since receiving this album for review, and I still have a number to explore—like Kimbrough, she is costing me money. Additionally, DeMeyer can sing. Man, can she sing.
Having appeared on each others’ albums and performed together, the pair have released their debut recording, one that is certainly going to be considered on many year-end, ‘best of’ lists when the time comes.
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.
Tracks three through five (“The Juke,” “Running Round,” and the title track) are about as spirited, swampy, and Southern-country soul as the album gets, while in other places the songs more closely resembles what country music once was and could be again given a shot of 3614 Jackson Highway swagger. Not as full-blown but every bit as funky as Bobbie Gentry’s best work, each track has more soul than 98% of what any of us have heard on modern country radio this decade. The arrangements are straight-forward rather than minimalistic, allowing the duet vocals prominence.
Mid-set, family relations courses through numbers including “Rainy Day” (inspired by a child’s struggle,) “Little Easy,” (an atmospheric expression of a wanderer, perhaps), “I Can Hear Your Voice” (vivid memories of a father approaching the end) and even “Honey Bee,” with a no-nonsense mama of a different stripe. It is this intimacy of subject matter that allows Kimbrough and DeMeyer to positively shine throughout the 43-minute set: their musical, artistic bonding complete.
“Broken Fences” allows Kimbrough more latitude vocally and instrumentally, and is among the finest of his recorded performances I’ve encountered. The Incredible String Band’s venerable “October Song” is the set’s sole cover, and this ode to time’s passing is a suitable and compelling closing to a remarkable album. Ah, those doors behind our mind, indeed.
Long before my tenth or twentieth listening of Mockingbird Soul was completed, I was reinvigorated, having found another album to get me through this horrid January of upset and turmoil. Will Kimbrough and Brigitte DeMeyer. Remember them, and buy their album—you won’t be disappointed.
In preparation of writing the review, I went back to the shelves and was surprised to find that I had only three of their previous albums, the debut Fork in the Road and its follow-up The Infamous Stringdusters as well as both the download of Silver Sky and the deluxe edition which came with the live album We’ll Do It Live.
I must have misplaced their third album somewhere, because when I purchased the download earlier this month, it sounded immediately familiar. I share this because I think sometimes folks feel that writers, even we of the freelance variety, get all their music free. I certainly don’t. [I was serviced with Laws of Gravity; that is why I wrote about it.]
In order to write this review, I purchased downloads of Things That Fly, Let It Go, Undercover, and Ladies & Gentlemen. I did that to ensure that my perspective on Laws of Gravity was fully informed. I will never, ever make back that $3o from my review of Laws of Gravity (once upon a time…O, how I sometimes long for 2005!), but in order to write about a band I need to understand their music.
Apparently, I stopped intently listening to The Infamous Stringdusters some time ago, and I am now- having listened to their albums for the past three weeks- regretful of that: won’t happen again. I am listening to their set from last year’s DelFest as I type these words, and I am reminded of how impressed I was the first time I heard them live- maybe on WDVX- and how incredible their concert in Red Deer was almost a decade ago. They are a great band- not necessarily ‘bluegrass’ as I understand it, but a damned fine group of musicians and singers. Check out my review over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass, and feel free to let me know what you think.
If every artist I admired as much as I do Emmylou Harris were on a stage, there would only be a handful present. For me, she is one of those that the Americana conversation should start and end with. Regal and responsive, she is a vocalist with few peers and as an interpreter of song she may be the finest I’ve heard.
At the end of each year, writers and broadcasters get to indulge themselves and—one hopes—their readers and listeners with their judgements on the year past.
I’ve spent substantial time reviewing the roots/Americana/whatever you want to call them, if they are on the No Depression list I might have considered them, and even if they aren’t I still may have albums I heard during the past year, and have come up with my definitive (at least for today) list of Favourite Roots Albums of 2016. Of course, your kilometreage will vary: I once received a cranky email from the father of a fairly prominent bluegrasser whose album I didn’t include on such a list several years ago. For those such inclined, I repeat—these are my favorite roots albums of the year. Not the best, ’cause that is silly. And all I can base it on is those albums I’ve heard, and maybe I somehow missed your son’s album…talk to his publicist.
The number rankings, once past four or five, don’t mean much more than a way for me to stay organized: feel free to move your favourite up a spot or three. Full reviews are linked as artist/title.
My Favourite Roots Albums of 2016 are…
1.Mark Erelli- For a Song Likely the album I listened to second most all year. Erelli has been at the top of his game over the past number of years, both with his bluegrass band Barnstar!, as an interpreter of others’ music (his Bill Morrissey album of a couple years back, Milltowns,) as a pissed off (alternately, disappointed) topical folkie of the Woody Guthrie vein (“By Degrees,”) and on his latest full length release, For A Song. For a Song is a quiet album, yearnsome and blue in turn, reflective, observant, and above all honest; the album wove its way into my soul, making me appreciate what I understand and consider that which I don’t. I just wish he would show up in Alberta some time.
2.Maria Dunn- Gathering One of Alberta’s foremost folk musicians returns with her sixth collection of lyrically-rich gems. An artist who places her convictions and heart on display in complementary proportions, Dunn has found balance between sharing the inspirational and compelling within songs that are insightful, artfully constructed, and just plain enjoyable. There will always be more than a bit of the Celtic lands in Dunn’s music, and throughout Gathering African, Asian, and Canadian First Nations influences can also be heard. Like the finest troubadours, Dunn communicates: she is the vessel through which others exist. She reveals the innermost, personal, and captivatingly universal perspectives and insights of devoted parents, the down-trodden challenged by circumstance, those connected to the land by more than choice, and the youthful who rise above.
Certainly one of the finest recordings to be released this year. Those who compare Maria Dunn to Woody Guthrie, Hazel Dickens, Jean Ritchie, and Buffy Sainte-Marie aren’t taking the easy way out: with the release of Gathering she demonstrates that she is an international folk artist of significance.
3.Jenny Whiteley- The Original Jenny Whiteley On this recording, Whiteley satisfies a desire to more fully explore the music that provided the foundation for her development—old-time folk sounds that have existed and thrived for generations. A recognition of her rich and diverse Americana/Canadiana upbringing within the venerable Whiteley clan, this fifth recording is a rootsy masterpiece. In a lesser artist’s hands such a multi-dimensional homage might sound disjointed; The Original Jenny Whiteley is united in its eccentric melding of the rich traditional and roots tapestry—folk, jugband, bluegrass, early jazz and ragtime, Francophone, Dylan, and the blues.
4.The Honeycutters- On The Ropes Fronted by Amanda Anne Platt, the Honeycutters offer up country sounds that have a bit of rock ‘n’ roll push, a combination that enhances rather than detracts from their honky-tonk foundation. Their instrumental interplay is excellent, and Platt has an incredible voice, as powerful as needed and as tender as desired. There exists an intimacy within these songs, all but one written by Platt, and that intensity allows the songs (and their performance) to make personal connections with listeners.
The Dixie Chicks seem a reasonable comparison. Playfully rambunctious and justly pointed, a song like “Let’s Get Drunk” resonates: “…and if the ship is really sinking what’s the use in waiting til it’s sunk? Baby, we’re already drinking, so we might as well get drunk.” Where was she 35 years ago?!
5.Western Centuries- Weight of the World I am sure it is no coincidence that the debut album from Western Centuries vaguely resembles the self-titled release from a late 60s band of considerable Americana-roots influence. Fronted by a trio of songwriters, each singing their own songs with distinctiveness, Western Centuries is a modern country band that encourages cerebral shifts as readily as it does two-stepping shuffles. Drawing inspiration from generations of country honky tonk singers and their bands, Western Centuries is something many of us are continually pursuing—a genuine country band that doesn’t take the easy way reinterpreting familiar songs, but rather pushes their talents toward creating modern classics. Weight of the World is pert darn special.
6.Robbie Fulks- Upland Stories Stone classic this one is. Nominated for a Grammy for “Alabama at Night”—wait a second, Robbie Fulks is nominated for a Grammy! Let that percolate for a minute. Maybe 2016 wasn’t an entirely awful year! There are a dozen memorable songs on Upland Stories, none indistinguishable from those surrounding it. Maybe not Fulks’ most exciting or dynamic album (tough to beat those early albums,) but maybe his best.
7.William Bell- This Is Where I Live I have to admit, when I saw a tweet from Rosanne Cash about a new William Bell album, my first thought was “Is that like the Pop Staples album of last year?” Because I truly thought William Bell was dead. Idiot, me. I first heard William Bell after Billy Idol covered “To Be A Lover,” playing the crap out of that pink Soul of a Bell album in the mid-to late-80s. I’ve now played This Is Where I Live as many times. A beautiful sounding, complete album. Another Grammy nominee. Tied with #8 for Comeback of the Year.
8.The Monkees- Good Times! Hands down, my most played album of the year. No Depression has it on their year-end list, so that makes it roots enough for me. “She Makes Me Laugh,” “You Bring the Summer,” and “Love to Love” are just great songs. Pure pop for old people.
9.Caleb Klauder and Reeb Willms- Innocent Road Featuring the Caleb Klauder Country Band, Innocent Road is comprised of a half-dozen Kluader songs, a few obscure covers, and a healthy dollop of familiar country classics from the likes of Buck Owens and George Jones. The kicker is a track from Paul Burch’s stunning Fool For Love album, “C’est le Moment (If You’re Gonna Love Me,)” artfully sung by Willms.
As much as I enjoy Prine and DeMent and Robison and Willis, I think I might just prefer what this duo accomplishes. There is no artifice within these recordings, no hint of sly aside.
10.Northern Cree- It’s A Cree Thing North America’s original roots music perhaps? Northern Cree are a drum group from Alberta, and It’s A Cree Thing has also been nominated for a Grammy, the seventh time this group from Saddle Lake has been recognized in this manner. It’s A Cree Thing is a powerful collection of round dance songs full of energy, personality, and history. “Oh, That Smile” should be a hit single! Gorgeous.
11.Darrell Scott- Couchville Sessions With consistency his strong suit, and similar in most ways to his breakthrough album Family Tree, Couchville Sessions is a welcoming listening experience highlighted by Scott’s warmly distinctive voice and diverse presentation choices. Recorded around the same time Scott was starting to ‘break’ 15 years ago—working with Tim O’Brien and Guy Clark then—this is a set of well-aged performances captured in Scott’s living room, the gestation of which are disguised within the sultry “Come Into This Room.” It provides continuing evidence that Scott is one of Americana’s most vibrant visionaries.
12.Matt Patershuk- I Was So Fond of You Back in January or so of this year, I was listening to the radio and a four-song set was played-some combination of Corb Lund, Guy Clark, John Fulbright, and Patershuk, and I recall realizing that I couldn’t tell which of those guys was from La Glace, Alberta and making his living in construction. Put his songs on WDVX, and Patershuk would sound as comfortable alongside Darrell Scott, Fred Eaglesmith, and Chris Stapleton. Heck, add Sturgill Simpson, Hayes Carll, and the rest to the list. Patershuk is the real deal, folks. If you are missing the country, the kind of country music recorded in the days when there was more grease and a little less gloss, check out I Was So Fond of You.
13.Eric Brace & Peter Cooper- C & O Canal I suspect that I would enjoy passing time about a round table with a cool beverage in my hand in the company of either Eric Brace or Peter Cooper. Two of my favourite musicians, songwriters, and wordsmiths, Cooper and Brace have released a strong slate of albums over the past decade. C & O Canal, their latest, pays homage to the folk and bluegrass music the two encountered in Washington, DC in the 70s and 80s.
14.Rory Block- Keepin’ Outta TroubleA tribute to Bukka White, this set is so strong that it deserves a place in my Top 20 rather than as part of my tributes/collections list that is still being assembled. Block goes beyond White’s music, creating original music inspired by his life and his approach to the blues. With attention to detail, but an even greater sense of purpose, Block enlivens these performances with a balance of passion and precision that breathes life into oft-encountered numbers. Her voice is magic, and her approach to blues guitar is clean, restrained, and just damn fine beautiful.
15.Dori Freeman- Dori Freeman Freeman isn’t interested in presenting herself as some social archeology project, the mountain singer untouched by modern sway. She is a contemporary vocalist, one touched by the influences of her rural mountain upbringing as well as less-rustic contributions. She is a folk singer, a country singer, and a pop singer, all rolled into one appealing vocal package. Having written these ten songs, Freeman most obviously has her own viewpoint and voice, one that has been honed by producer Teddy Thompson; the focus of the arrangements, musicians, and production choices remain on Freeman and her songs.
16.Red Tail Ring- Far Away Blues How did this relatively unheralded set have such a significant impact on me that it took about two months to (barely) uncover the words to attempt a review? It is danged freakin’ good. This Michigan duo of Laurel Premo and Michael Beauchamp is incredible. They have the rare ability to inhabit songs, removing the barrier of time, place, and reality between their performance of ancient tunes “Yarrow” and “Come All Ye Fair & Tender Ladies,” their own timely compositions, the recorded medium, and the audience. You are transported into the recording, watching the pair lean into their songs as they maintain eye contact to communicate chords and progressions.
17.Chicago Farmer- Midwest Side Stories Cody Diekhoff—okay, Chicago Farmer—doesn’t set out to do anything fancy on Midwest Side Stories. He has insight into the experiences and internal dialogues of contemporary working class folks, and has the artistic ability to convert these into songs of substance and interest. “Skateboard Song” touches on a whole lot of stuff—youthful disenchantment, small-mindedness, finger-pointing, and police harassment, just to start—over a hard-beaten melody that would do both Weezer and Dan Bern proud. Chicago Farmer’s mid-western insights do not limit these songs: they appeal whether you are rural or urban, upstate or down, blue- or white- collar, Canadian or American. “Rocco N’ Susie” are our neighbours, the ones we don’t really know, but are more like us than we care to admit—a couple pay cheques away from foreclosure, a few months from desolation, several bad decisions from remand. The gradual journey from independence to dependence is identified in “Farms & Factories,” suspicion thrives in “Revolving Door,” and the night shift margins are explored on “9 pm to 5.”
18.Margo Price- Midwest Farmer’s Daughter I had several albums circling around these final spots, and I went with the ones I did because of their genuineness, their apparent authenticity. There is little to suggest Price considered market configurations or sales ramifications when compiling the songs for this release. Like Hazel Dickens did and Brandy Clark does, Price sings and writes of true life situations, and like Dickens (but not so much Clark) she doesn’t add a lot of spit and polish to the music. When I hear “Four Years of Chances,” “Hurtin’ On the Bottle,” “Desperate and Depressed,” and “This Town Gets Around,” I imagine I’m experiencing something similar to what folks felt listening to Loretta Lynn for the first time more than fifty years ago; still, I don’t think Loretta ever sang of blow jobs.
19.Corey Isenor- A Painted Portrait (Of the Classic Ruse) This is country music. Just not country music. There are times, as in “From Towers to Windmills,” that I am reminded of New Order (“Love Vigilantes.”) At other points Isenor’s approach reminds me of Matthew Lovegrove’s Woodland Telegraph: sparse, minimalist and achingly poignant (“Queen of Calgary” and “Diamonds on the Moon.”) “The Navy Blues” is catchy and complex, with Andrew Sneddon’s pedal steel providing additional melancholy. Rebecca Zolkower and Desiree Gordon’s vocals lend depth to several songs, as do Liam Frier’s guitar contributions. Alt-country continues with Corey Isenor.
20. Grant-Lee Phillips- The Narrows Sometimes you locate an album never realizing you were looking for it. The Narrows is one of those albums. I have a couple Grant-Lee Phillips albums, ones I listened to a few times upon purchase and then filed away in the drawers. I was looking around the internet one night a few months back and clicked on a video link for “Tennessee Rain.” Before the song was finished playing, I had gone into iTunes and hit Buy. Raucous in places (“Rolling Pin”) and atmospheric elsewhere, the deluxe edition of the album provides additional takes that extend the pleasure of the listen. While the Drive By Truckers delivered a more timely and angry disc, GLP produced the more enduring one.
I’m out of words, but also enjoyed these discs:
21. Brandy Clark- Big Day in a Small Town
22. Mary Chapin Carpenter- The Things That We Are Made Of
23. Parker Millsap- The Very Last Day
24. Lori McKenna- The Bird & the Rifle
25. Paul Gauthen- My Gospel
As an aside or addition, my favourite Roots Compilations/Tributes/Reissues of the year are, in no particular order:
(Not included in the above list are excellent tribute [or tribute-ish] albums from Del McCoury Band, Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands, The Earls of Leicester, Rory Block, Jenny Whiteley [tribute to her family’s musical roots,] and Eric Brace/Peter Cooper, all of which made my top Bluegrass or Roots album lists.)
Finally, some 2015 albums didn’t get as much attention from me last year as they did in 2016, for a variety of reasons. But, man- did I play the heck out of them this year: Linda McRae- Shadow Trails; Chris Stapleton- Traveller; Josh Ritter- Sermon on the Rocks; Sam Baker- Say Grace; and Steve Forbert- Compromised.
BUY SOME MUSIC, DAMMIT! Roots musicians deserve our support.
Back in the halcyon days of alt.country (damn it, I am old), No Depression was one of the few publications one could turn toward to be informed on the kind of music ‘we’ liked. Discount the occasional foray into areas that had little to do with country, no matter how alt. (The Shins, anyone? Black Keys?) and ongoing fascination with all things Jayhawks, No Depression allowed a continent of left-of-center music to find its way to my attention.
To the best of my remembering, the first issue I purchased was the one with Robbie Fulks on the cover. It was a thing of beauty, from the striking orange/yellow/green cover to the features of Ray Wylie Hubbard and Jesse Dayton, live reviews of Jimmie Dale Gilmore/Ana Egge and George Jones, and reviews of recent bluegrass and country releases: I felt I had finally found ‘my people.’
I didn’t love everything about the magazine, naturally. I found several of their reviews fawning and some of their writers calculatingly obscure (or obtuse, depending.) But, much more often than not over the next 60+ issues, they kept me coming back to discover and re-examine music I may have otherwise missed, overlooked, or disregarded.
Why have I written the above three paragraphs to open a review of Corey Isenor’s sixth album, A Painted Portrait (of The Classic Ruse)? Much as I might have a almost two decades ago, when I first listened to the album it brought back that rare, sparkling novelty of hearing an artist for the first time whom I felt l had been listening to forever. Part of the attraction, without a doubt, is that Isenor sounds not a little bit similar to Paul Burch, one of the many artists I ‘discovered’ via No Depression. It goes deeper.
For me, alt-country was less about wannabe rock ‘n’ rollers injecting Haggard and Williams into their raucous mix, and more about finding a way to expand the finest qualities of country music—story, melody, hooks, familiarity, history, and wordplay, rhymes, and puns—to something that was more than hair, sparkly suits, and Hee Haw cornpone. That’s what attracted me to the likes of Hubbard, Eaglesmith, Harris, Russell, Lynne, Fulks, and the Bottle Rockets from the first time I heard each, whether that was early 80s Emmylou or years later when I heard the most desperate words of ignorance I could imagine: “If kerosene works, why not gasoline?”
Isenor brings all that and more to this collection. There are times, as in “From Towers to Windmills,” that I am reminded of New Order (“Love Vigilantes.”) At other points Isenor’s approach reminds me of Matthew Lovegrove’s Woodland Telegraph, sparse, minimalist and achingly poignant (“Queen of Calgary” and “Diamonds on the Moon.”)
“The Navy Blues” is catchy and complex, with Andrew Sneddon’s pedal steel providing additional melancholy. Rebecca Zolkower and Desiree Gordon’s vocals lend depth to several songs, as do Liam Frier’s guitar contributions.
I hadn’t previously encountered Isenor prior to hearing A Painted Portrait (of The Classic Ruse.) Listening to his songs on Bandcamp, I know I have much exploring to do. “The Ballad of Emily” is already a favourite. Isenor is from Nova Scotia and in addition to being an incredible roots music talent as a songwriter, singer, instrumentalist, and producer, he is an accomplished artist, photographer, and graphic designer. I hate him.
A Painted Portrait (of The Classic Ruse) has become one of my favourite country/folk what-have-you albums of 2016. Had I read a review of it in No Depression, I might have been intrigued. Having heard it, I am significantly enthralled.
Thank you for sticking with me at Fervor Coulee for these many years: hopefully you are finding roots music opinions of values as you traverse the crowded modern music landscape. Join me at @FervorCoulee for additional unremarkable insights.