Archive for the ‘Black Hen Records’ Tag

The Original Jenny Whiteley review   3 comments


Jenny Whiteley The Original Jenny Whiteley Black Hen Music

I first encountered Ontario’s Jenny Whiteley as a member of Heartbreak Hill, a bluegrass band featuring Dottie Cormier, Christopher Quinn, Victor Bateman, and Danny Whiteley. I don’t recall too much about their performance at that Blueberry Bluegrass fest appearance outside the impact of a single Whiteley song: “John Tyrone” remains one of the finest bluegrass songs that have come out of Canada, and from the first time I heard the song I knew Whiteley was someone I wanted to learn more about.

I didn’t get the opportunity at the time, but months later Whiteley found me at Wintergrass and offered me a copy of her debut self-titled album. That independently released disc displayed Whiteley’s remarkable ability for creating characters within a few well-crafted lines, and earned comparison to Emmylou Harris’ recent Red Dirt Girl. Whiteley was revealed as a major talent, and was rewarded with the first of two Juno Awards for best solo roots/traditional recording. With sultry vocal sophistication, Whiteley has previously released four albums (Hopetown, Dear, and Forgive or Forget followed the debut, with Hopetown also picking up a Juno) filled with love, loss, and regret.

In 2010, I wrote of Forgive or Forget that is was more universally palatable than her rootsy initial offering, but one missed the narrative intensity and youthful fragility of songs such as “Gloria” and “Train Goin’ West.” As one who frequently better enjoys musicians early, developing years than their fully-realized artistic selves (Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Jack Ingram, Dolly Parton, and many others fit into that frame) while still appreciating what they do, The Original Jenny Whiteley appears designed expressly for me.

On this recording, Whiteley seemingly 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. She even goes back to a song previously recorded on Dear, “Banjo Girl.” 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.

Singing “Groundhog” accompanied by producer Sam Allison’s old-time banjo and Teillard Frost’s percussion (harp, bones, etc.,) Whiteley isn’t striving for cultural appropriation or cornpone authenticity. Rather, she is singing of rural experiences that are as genuine as the acoustic sounds comprising the song. For “Stealin’ Stealin'” Whiteley goes back to the Memphis Jug Band, but doesn’t stay there infusing the timeless tune with nine decades of patina via The Grateful Dead, Taj Mahal, and her own danged self.

Whiteley explores the school of hard knocks in “Higher Learning” while acknowledging (via Chris Coole) the thousands of fools on stools eking out a living (of sorts) playing for “$100” a night. “In the Pines” (Bill Monroe, not Huddie Ledbetter or Nirvana) provides a welcome old-time (not bluegrass) connection to Heartbreak Hill, while The Incredible String Band’s “Log Cabin in the Sky” (perhaps) serves as a connection to the generation of players surrounding father Chris and his brother Ken.

The Original Jenny Whiteley is beautiful. By going to her past and rooting around in her trunk of influences, Jenny Whiteley has found the inspiration to create an uncompromising, uncluttered representation of what (mostly) acoustic folk music is all about. In this case, you can judge an album by its cover, a lovely, unadorned sketch by Stewart Jones.

As she sings in “Things Are Coming My Way”—”O me, How good I feel.” After spending thirty minutes listening to this album, you will be singing the same. It is early, of course, but I can’t see a way this album doesn’t make my Polaris Music Prize ballot.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. I hope you are inspired to purchase the music of the artists featured because they deserve it!


Matt Patershuk review   Leave a comment

untitledMan, Matt Patershuk is good. I’m not sure exactly when I first heard of Patershuk, but I’m guessing it was during an episode of CKUA’s Wide Cut Country a couple years back. 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 from that listening which of those guys was from La Glace, Alberta making his living in construction. Put his songs on WDVX, and Patershuk would sound as comfortable alongside Darrell Scott, Fred Eaglesmith, and Chris Stapleton. Patershuk is the real deal, folks. If you are missing the country, the kind of country music recorded in the days when their was more grease and a little less gloss, check out his new album I Was So Fond of You. My review has been published at Country Standard Time:

As always, thank you for visiting Fervor Coulee. More reviews and roots music opinion are in the pipeline.

Jim Byrnes and Jeff Morris reviews   Leave a comment

Jim Byrnes's Juno Award-winnning album- Blues Album of the Year

238 columns, somewhere around 500 albums and even more live shows, with today’s column Roots Music has been promoting my kind of music in Central Alberta for 10 years.

I’ve made mistakes, I’ve made a couple enemies, and I’ve fostered connections I would never have experienced otherwise. Some labels have disappeared while others remain viable. The landscape of the music business has changed greatly in a decade. What has remained solid is the core of devoted musicians and artists, publisists and label owners, and local promoters who see the importance of supporting and advancing the cause of roots music. I’ve been glad to be part of it, in my small way, for a decade. Let’s keep it going!

In today’s column I advance a few December shows and feature albums from Jim Byrnes and Jeff Morris, an Alberta musician and songwriter. I still remember the day in 1983 when I almost cracked Jim Byrnes’ debut album Burning, an album I only finally heard this past week. I was at Climax Records in Leduc, a store that gave me my first volunteer record store job. The store’s owner had fallen behind in payments to his distributor and the company had come in and taken over the shop. For some reason, they hired me to assist in running the shop and for a few staggering months of independence, I had my run of the place, not really having any clue as to what I was doing but having a heck of a time doing it.

For some reason, Burning drew my attention one day as I was unpacking a shipment and I almost slit it open to give it a listen, but got distracted by something else- How might the course of my music listening changed had I succumbed to the temptation to open that Polydor album years ago. Hopefully you’ll find something of interest.

Roots music column, originally published December 3, 2010 in the Red Deer Advocate

With this column, Roots Music marks 10 years on these pages. The area roots music scene has ebbed and flowed during the past decade, with local venues for live music coming and going in equal measure. The environment remains quite healthy with touring musicians and locals alike finding outlets for their sounds.

Jeff Morris Original Songs on a Borrowed Guitar Self-released

Hailing from Sherwood Park, Jeff Morris’s debut album is a pleasant, unexpected surprise.

An intimate recording with unobtrusive, vibrant support, comparisons to Jack Johnson are a bit too apparent- Morris’s voice has an inflective catch that is similar to the surfing guitarist, and he favours gentle introspective pieces that examine feelings and relationships. Okay, sometimes the obvious tract is entirely justified.

Morris’s guitar playing isn’t primitive but neither is it overly elaborate. Sparse strumming and delicately picked notes provide the canvas against which Morris constructs his uncomplicated rhymes and reflections. Especially appealing is the percussive element of his playing, obvious on tracks including the standout Hold On.

Blue Sky Falls is another song that captures the imagination: one is drawn into the impassioned possibilities suggested.

This recording captures not only listeners’ attention but their intellect and soul. Coffeehouse music that doesn’t slink into the background as much as it enfolds with comfort and warmth-think Dan Mangan crossed with Brett Dennam, perhaps.

2010 has been a very good year for Alberta roots recording artists. Add Original Songs on a Borrowed Guitar to the list of standouts.

Jim Byrnes Everywhere West Black Hen Music

British Columbia-based for thirty-plus years, Missouri native Jim Byrnes sings the blues with relaxed confidence, leaving no room for over-emoting or grandiose showmanship. Simply put, Byrnes is the real deal, bridging the distance of decades and space between childhood heroes like Big Joe Turner and his west coast home.

I’ve listened to Byrnes’ most recent recordings with growing admiration, and his performance at August’s Central Music Festival- where many of the tracks included here were previewed- was exceptional.

Amongst Everywhere West’s dozen tracks are a handful of fresh, original tunes from Byrnes and compatriot-producer Steve Dawson. The majority of the material comes from a previous time and place: Bootlegger Blues from the Mississippi Sheiks, Take Out Some Insurance On Me from Jimmy Reed, and He Was A Friend of Mine and No Mail Blues from the folk tradition.

Purists may not appreciate the New Orleans overtones inserted into the lively reimagining of Robert Johnson’s From Four Until Late, but one can’t argue that the tune positively shimmies. Obvious is the reverence Byrnes has for his material, as well as the enjoyment he takes from playing and singing these songs.

The four fresh tunes are all impressive with Dawson’s Walk On providing a showcase for the album’s resident band. Byrnes’s Me and Piney Brown takes us back to the 30s to explore a world that existed before his youthful excursions scouting the nightclubs of Missouri.

As he sings in the old Louis Jordan tune, You Can’t Get that Stuff No More. But for 50-plus minutes, Byrnes makes a solid argument that he is willing to bring blues songs to a contemporary audience without sacrificing the soul rooted within each number.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee- Donald

Mary Kastle- Beneath the Folds   Leave a comment

I’ve listened to Mary Kastle’s album several time this summer but only truly appreciated it this past week. One of the reasons music is so important to me is that it is so attached- to me- to where I am when I hear it: mentally, physically, socially… Sometimes music has to find you where you are- no matter how hard one seeks to undestand the music, it has to find a way to get within the listener. This album does that- heartily recommended.

Mary Kastle Beneath the Folds Black Hen Music

Mary Kastle, I’ve learned, is a respected fixture within the Vancouver jazz community, and Beneath the Folds is her first, full-length album. An album that ebbs and flows comfortably between generously-defined genres, the constant is the bridled joy that is Kastle’s voice.

Beneath the Folds is honest- an album that unabashedly embraces Kastle’s many and varied musical interests. With a full-album’s worth of original, creatively polished music, it is a surprisingly fluid and defined mix of soul, jazz, and roots sounds. A diverse listen, the album hangs together remarkably well. Whether this is due to Kastle’s vision or producer Steve Dawson’s acumen is moot; it works. While it may be of interest to jazz types, to these ears Beneath the Folds fits comfortably in the roots world.

In addition to Kastle’s appealing, powerful, and lively vocals, the saxophones of Karen Graves and trumpet of Kent Wallace make their presence known with regularity, providing the album with an even richer dimension.

Tracks move from sultry jazz-pop (“Julia” and “Beneath the Folds”) to light shivers of soul (“False Alarm” and “Do It For A Day”)and even more impressive brushes of Memphis-shaded country R & B (“Little Bird,” “Beggin’,” and “Underwater”). Dusty in Memphis meets I Am Shelby Lynne, perhaps. But while comparison to albums that themselves served as tributes to a style of music may suggest limitation, within Kastle’s hands- and voice- such association doesn’t imply that the sound is watered down. From retro 2-Tone dub effects on the album’s up-tempo revisiting of “Drop Your Cover,” to drops of blues elsewhere, Beneath the Folds is a project that reveals additional textures and appealing sounds with every listen.

Comprised of introspective, challenging lyrics exploring personal themes of universal appeal, Kastle and Dawson don’t allow things to get bogged down by heaviness. As is implied by the fabric fluttering in the breeze within the gatefold jacket, Beneath the Folds has a lightness that contains delicate beauty.

Kim Beggs- Blue Bones   Leave a comment


In this week’s column I review the excellent new album- out this coming Tuesday- from Yukon-based singer-songwriter Kim Beggs. It’s a corker; spend some money on a singer who is well deserving of the support. Albums only occassionally impact me the way this one did; from first listen, I knew Beggs was a singer I want to hear more from. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

Roots music column, originally published July 16, 2010  in the Red Deer Advocate

Kim Beggs Blue Bones Black Hen Music

Based in Whitehorse, Kim Beggs has lived across our country and her music captures the influences that have contributed to her development as a singer and writer.

Apparent from the opening track, the organ-fueled road warrior lament “Honey and Crumbs”, is that Beggs has more homespun charm in her voice than many Appalachian-born singers. Not only does her voice contain attractive, easy warmth, but it has strength and depth lending Beggs the power to authentically convey intense emotions.

Based in folk traditions, Beggs’ third release defies easy categorization. The instrumentation is roots rock with country overtones. Lyrically, lively wordplay reminiscent of Loretta Lynn is customary. Has anyone attempted the following in a country song, as Beggs does within “Terrible Valentine”?: “Huck-tuu to you for making me blue, I wanna spit in your shoe!”

Beggs and producer Steve Dawson have structured this collection wisely. The original songs blast out of the gate, establishing Beggs’ voice and perspective. It is only midway that covers are sprinkled in, beginning with Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”; it is difficult to imagine a finer interpretation of the John Wesley Harding classic.

There is a spry loneliness filling these songs. The bitterness, however, doesn’t overwhelm either Beggs or the listener; in the finest country tradition, she sounds plum pleased to be singing these occasionally mournful tales. She hits the mark throughout the collection, perhaps never more accurately as when singing of her lost brother in “Firewater Bones.”

Available Tuesday, Blue Bones maintains the new standard for western Canadian folk music established by John Wort Hannam, Maria Dunn, and Rae Spoon.

Also in rotation: Jimmy Webb- Just Across the River; The Wilderness of Manitoba- When You Left the Fire; Mississippi Live- Mississippi Live ; Various Artists- Putumayo Presents Tribute to a Reggae Legend; Great American Taxi- Reckless Habits

Jenny Whiteley- Forgive or Forget   Leave a comment

 Jenny has been a favourite since 2001 when I met her at Wintergrass. I had previously seen and heard her with a bluegrass band called Heartbreak Hill but it was only listening to Jenny’s debut album that she reached out and grabbed me. This one is a keeper, but very different from that largely narrative album. Give it a listen; I think you’ll be pleased. (Originally published in the Red Deer Advocate, April 2, 2010)

Jenny Whiteley Forgive or Forget Black Hen Music

Ontario’s Jenny Whiteley isn’t afraid to take risks while evoking emotional connections through her music.

A two-time Juno Award-winner for Roots Album of the Year, Whiteley patiently crafts albums with the assistance of producer Steve Dawson and top-drawer session instrumentalists; Forgive or Forget is her fourth effort since 2001.

With each album, Whiteley has evolved and this time out has created a mature, multi-layered, and vastly entertaining album.

Forgive or Forget’s only non-original, Boudleaux and Felice Bryant’s “Raining in My Heart” sets the pace, a collection of mid-tempo ballads that sway more than swing.  This album is gentler than anything Whiteley has previously attempted, extending the explorations of Dear. The ten songs continue her career-long examination of love, regret, and loss.

Whiteley’s voice remains her strongest asset. She continually expands her vocal repertoire, this time injecting a soft bluesy quality to her phrasing. Despite imagining a loss of significance singing “I can’t live without you,” Whiteley sounds like she’s enjoying the reflection of “Ripple Effects”, the first of three songs that picks up into anything resembling a country-pop song.

An able collaborator, Whiteley mostly keeps things in-house this time out writing the vast majority of the album herself while sharing songs with husband Joey Wright (a featured performer on various stringed instruments) and Chris Coole.

The album’s signature song is “Cold Cold Kisses”, maybe the best song you’ll hear this month; Whiteley’s approach to the song is sultry, and the song’s warmth belies its title. The instrumentation from producer Steve Dawson provides countrypolitan touches without descending into parody. On this number, as elsewhere, drummer John Raham’s contributions are ideal.

Jenny Whiteley doesn’t get the attention that many of her contemporaries garner. With Forgive or Forget, Whiteley again demonstrates that there are few who can match her for producing balanced, appealing albums that engage diverse listeners.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

Kent McAlister & the Iron Choir / Things About Comin’ My Way   Leave a comment

Thanks for visiting this week. In Friday’s Red Deer Advocate I was fortunate to review two exceptional roots music releases; I’ve listened to both countless times this autumn and discover something new to appreciate each time. Kent McAlister & the Iron Choir recently released How I’ll Remian and it is a splendid collection of songs. Meanwhile, Steve Dawson & Co. have done it again with a fabulous tribute to the music of the Mississippi Sheiks. I’ve been spending a bit of time of late listening to old blues and jug band collections I’ve found myself tripping across and much of the impetus to do so has come from this remarkable album.

Kent McAlister & The Iron Choir

How I’ll Remain


Based in Vancouver, Kent McAlister has quietly over a pair of whiskey-drenched albums established a nice portfolio of working man tales and jaded dreams.

Ballad of the Oar & Chain features primitive percussion of a style seldom heard within dusty roots music. Elsewhere, McAlister delivers in a talking blues manner not dissimilar to Corb Lund (Crossing Arm Blues) but with less novelty and even a bit more sophistication, as on What is this Evil?

How I’ll Remain is sparse and haunting, while Another Bridge lopes along like a Shawn Jonasson-Waylon tribute. Gillian Welch would be proud to call The Cane & The Switch her own- an abusive husband, a deep, dark well, retribution, and nervous horses all in five minutes.

McAlister’s voice is sturdy and smooth, lacking even a hint of slickness. 

Various Artists

Things About Comin’ My Way- A Tribute to the Music of The Mississippi Sheiks

Black Hen

Perhaps the roots tribute of the year, Steve Dawson and his spouse Alice have assembled a masterfully balanced collection of blues, folk, and unclassifiable renditions of music recorded by the Mississippi Sheiks during the early ’30s.

Picking highlights from such a storied collection is a fool’s game, but listeners are certain to be impressed by Oh Susanna’s take on Bootlegger’s Blues, The North Mississippi Allstars’ fiery We’re Backfirin’ Now, and Bruce Cockburn’s Honey Babe Let the Deal Go Down.

Rare is the tribute album that possesses the consistency and unity of Things About Comin’ My Way; from soulful sounds (The Sojourners’ He Calls that Religion) to softer vocal treatments (Please Baby  from Madeleine Peyroux) and banjo showcases (Too Long from Danny Barnes), every track resonates and no two sound alike.

Thanks again for dropping in, and I hope you’ll find some music to investigate- support the artists and the labels…no one is getting rich on our music! Donald