Archive for the ‘Bluegrass’ Tag

Sister Sadie II review   Leave a comment

Sister Sadie wSister Sadie II Pinecastle Recording Company

There are a lot of great bluegrass bands working today, and I would put Sister Sadie up against any single one of them.

There remains novelty being an all-female bluegrass group. We should be beyond it, but as an industry we aren’t near there yet. We are not yet past the point where festival bookers tell prospective acts, “Sorry, we already have our girl act for the weekend.”

Sister Sadie may well be on a mission to slap the hell out of that worn, blinkered attitude. When skills are to the level of distinction found within this quintet, gender should not and cannot be a factor of limitations. Sister Sadie’s debut album was among the finest to be released in 2016, and II is stronger—even more unified, the group has melded into a seamless force greater than its exceedingly impressive parts. There is sufficient polish provided to the recordings, produced by the band and engineered, mixed, and mastered by Scott Vestal, but not so much shine is applied that the music sounds artificial or over-produced. The quartet’s natural essence is given prominence, a traditional vision bolstered by contemporary approaches.

With Dale Ann Bradley (guitar) and Tina Adair (mandolin and guitar) leading the way, and Gena Britt (banjo) singing a couple, Sister Sadie has a lead and harmony vocal presence no bluegrass combo can match.

Tina Adair sings lead on four numbers. The album’s lead track is the no-nonsense and soulful “Losing You Blues,” written by Adair and Doug Bartlett. Throughout the album, Adair proves that she hasn’t finished defining herself as a bluegrass singer and songwriter; her “Jay Hugh” is an old-time bluegrass character study of multi-dimensional complexity. The sorrow conveyed in Woody Guthrie’s “900 Miles” is palatable, honest and profound, and neither Linda Ronstadt or Bonnie Raitt sang “Love Has No Pride” with greater intensity than does Adair.

Listening to Dale Ann Bradley sing is always a treat, and she clears her very high bar of performance on this recording. Her temperate approach is ideally suited to these songs including the formidable “I’m Not a Candle in the Wind” and “No Smoky Mountains,” while the group picks things up for Dan Fogelberg’s “Morning Sky.” Bradley’s interpretation of newly inducted Bluegrass Hall of Fame member Tom T. Hall’s “I Washed My Face in the Morning Dew” is as fine as any recorded within the genre, with Deanie Richardson’s mournful fiddle adding atmosphere. Bradley’s guitar playing on this country classic is also impressive.

Richardson also takes a prominent position within “When I Lay My Burden Down,” with Bradley’s inspired lead voice complemented by Britt and Adair’s harmony.

Gena Britt doesn’t possess the vocal heft of Bradley and Adair, and her considerable charm emanates from the lightness of her approach. “It’s You Again” is a fairly grave song of longing and distance, but Sister Sadie’s rendition—sung by Britt—has a gentle hopefulness that Skip Ewing’s lacked. “Something to Lose” has a Bradley-like feel, and Britt delivers this sermon to maturity with worldly awareness. Her “Raleigh’s Ride” is well-named, a jaunty traverse through traditional sounds. Beth Lawrence’s steady bass rhythm, here and throughout the album, provide Sister Sadie their rock-solid foundation.

Sister Sadie is no novelty or off-season ‘super-group.’ They are a bona fide bluegrass force, more than capable as festival headliners. That they have now released a second album of soon-to-be classic performances is testimony to their ascension within the ever-expanding bluegrass field. Hopefully II forever retires the phrase, “pretty good for a girl.”

 

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Jerry Wicentowski- …Thanks, Mac! review   2 comments

Jerry Mac

Jerry Wicentowski …Thanks, Mac! Songs of Mac Wiseman www.WizGrass.com

If not for Mac Wiseman and a pair of brothers named Osborne, I am not certain we would have living ties  to the first generation of bluegrass performers. While Bobby continues to book shows and record, Sonny and Mac have largely eased into retirement to only make rare appearances. More than a year ago, Wiseman was the subject of the incredible collection I Sang the Song: Life of the Voice With a Heart. Next up is Jerry Wicentowski’s well-considered set, …Thanks, Mac! Songs of Mac Wiseman.

I am sure Wicentowski, a long-time member of the Milwaukee bluegrass community, would prefer to hear Mac Wiseman singing his own songs with the strength and clarity evidenced herein, and most certainly so would I. While we have old recordings on various formats to enjoy (until they become further obsolete) Mr. Wiseman’s voice—with all respect—isn’t what it once was, and neither should we expect it to be. To give his many fine songs the ongoing attention they deserve, they must be sung by the generations which follow. And in this regard, and others, …Thanks, Mac! Songs of Mac Wiseman is a complete success.

Wicentowski, while emphasizing the distinctive characteristics of Wiseman’s voice—the rise within a vowel, and the fall at the end of a phrase, along with the immediately familiar phrasing—hasn’t allowed the instrumentation to take a back seat. Supported by bluegrass veterans including Joe Mullins (tenor vocals) and Shad Cobb (fiddle), Wicentowski surrounds himself with names that may not be as familiar: the immensely talented Jeremy Stephens (5-string), the adventurous Paul Kowert (bass), and Jennie Obert (fiddle) augment the collective, as does Marc MacGlashan (mandolin) who appeared on those very fine, Sugar Hill-era Gibson Brother recordings.

Wicentowski can flat sing. Endorsed by Wiseman, Wicentowski’s interpretations of these fifteen timeless songs surprise only in the quality of the interpretation. I haven’t compared Wiseman’s and Wicentowski’s approaches side-by-side (as I write, I am two thousand kilometres from the Bluegrass Bunker and home), but most certainly nothing sounds ‘off.’ Each and every vocal note sounds fitting to the context of songs originating from the 50s, 60s, and earlier. The production presentation is fresh and contemporary; not overly slick, no one is going to mistake these for tracks ripped from 78s long ago.

Wicentowski, no youngster himself,  has his own voice, but—whether by nature or design—is near a dead ringer for Wiseman. To his credit, he isn’t attempting to imitate the bluegrass legend (as a jam singer may do) and I am quite comfortable with “Love Letters in the Sand,” “‘Tis Sweet to be Remembered,” and “Travelin’ This Lonesome Road” being presented in this manner, and as they should ever be. These are songs of another time, and while they should appeal to modern listeners, and Wicentowski realizes they do so best within honest and true structures.

I must say, listening to Stephens ripping through these songs is a true treat. Approaching the instrument in a traditionally-rooted manner, in just over a year Stephens has become one of my favourite banjoists. “Are You Coming Back to Me” “We Live In Two Different Worlds,” and “Homestead on the Farm” contain shining examples of his playing. “We Live In Two Different Worlds,” “‘Tis Sweet To Be Remembered,” and “Four Walls Around Me” are fiddle-centric songs, featuring twin fiddles, I believe (and could very well be wrong!)

A balanced, enjoyable bluegrass listen, I can’t imagine many folks finding fault with these fabulous, faithful interpretations of classic songs.

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Come See About MeMy review of the very well-intended and expertly executed benefit disc for the IBMA Trust Fund is up at Country Standard Time/Fervor Coulee Bluegrass.

I certainly think the album is more than worth your time.

The Start- Kieran Kane & Johnny Staats reviews   Leave a comment

Late in 2000, buoyed by a seemingly growing and increasingly vibrant local roots music ‘scene’, I approached the local daily about writing a column on roots music. Intended to promote upcoming events and to feature reviews of important roots music recordings—and to allow me a way to get ‘free’ music—the paper (for some bleeding reason I still don’t understand) bit, and Rural Roots (renamed Roots Music soon after) made its debut as a monthly feature. Three months in, they moved me to twice-monthly, where I remained—usually on the front page of the entertainment section—for the next twelve years. Like a lot of freelancers, I didn’t get a great deal of (or any) guidance or coaching so I had to learn my craft the hard way: in front of everyone! It wasn’t always pretty, but it was a great ride, and only ended when I moved from Red Deer.

Shortly after I started writing for the Advocate, I approached Bluegrass Now about writing for them. With the infinite patience of their editorial team, I wrote for them for seven years, until the Internet and the challenging economic forces it wrought on publishing claimed the publication.

I have dug through the archives and found digital files for those columns, and will post them at Fervor Coulee irregularly as I waste time in front of the television, watching the world fall to pieces: consider these my contribution. For the oldest reviews, I have re-typed them from the paper copies I retained. They may not reflect any editorial revisions made upon publication.

KieranKieran Kane The Blue Chair Dead Reckoning Records (2000)

New York-born, Nashville-based singer-songwriter Kieran Kane has quietly established himself as one of North America’s steadiest performers of folk-inspired country music.

Having recently played to a full house at Red Deer’s 49th Street Cafe, Kane’s latest album solidifies his status as a premier troubadour.

Kane’s fifth original release is a quiet affair containing fewer lighter songs and catchy hooks than his previous albums. The somber mood of the album, hinted at in both the title and cover art, is prevalent throughout.

The album’s standout track is “Four Questions.” Expressing the frustrations of love, Kane quietly evokes the tribulations and joys of fidelity and life.

The Blue Chair is, without exaggeration, masterful. Each track extends the theme of mature love—stretching and cracking with age but always renewing its strength.

“I’ll Go On Loving You,” recently recorded by Alan Jackson, concisely establishes this element. “I’m reminded that what I feel for you, will remain strong and true.” Simple phrases, lasting images.

(originally published December 15, 2000 Red Deer Advocate)

Johnny StaatsThe Johnny Staats Project Wires & Wood Giant Records (2000)

John Cowan writes, in the liner notes to this fine debut album, that “the mandolin is a mysterious, earthy, and beautiful instrument.”

Bluegrass music’s quintessential instrument sounds like no other, and the mandolin has seldom sounded stronger than in the hands of Johnny Staats.

Wires & Wood, released earlier this year, is a stellar collection of largely original material. Guests include such bluegrass and country torchbearers as Jerry Douglas, Scott Vestal, Tim O’Brien, and the aforementioned Cowan.

Alternately spirited and sensual, the instrumentals fully display the versatility of Staats’ mandolin playing while the vocals, complemented by those of Cowan, O’Brien, and Kathy Mattea, are strikingly strong.

Key songs include “Coal Tattoo,” on which Staats’ voices has its finest workout, and the un-rehearsed studio outtake “John Hardy/Fox On The Run.”

No better introduction to a newcomers talents could be envisioned. Wires & Wood deserves a place in every bluegrass music lover’s collection.

(originally published December 15, 2000 Red Deer Advocate)

Claire Lynch- Coming close to us in the west   Leave a comment

CLBNorth 3272a2 COLOR.jpgI don’t normally reprint press releases here at Fervor Coulee, but…I don’t mind promoting the (increasingly bleedin’) rare top-flight bluegrass act making their way to Alberta and western Canada. I don’t have time to do a real article, so here are the details:

September 27th through October 10th Western Canada Tour For Bluegrass Grammy Nominee Claire Lynch 
 – With Her Canadian Band!
 
Dolly Parton credits singer-songwriter Claire Lynch as having “one of the sweetest, purest and best lead voices in the music business today.” 
 
From Thursday September 27th through Wednesday October 10th, Nashville (soon to be Toronto-based) Bluegrass Grammy nominee Claire Lynch will be touring Western Canada with her “North” band, comprised of three of Canada’s finest bluegrass musicians! The band areJoe Phillips (upright bass, backing vocals), Shane Cook (fiddle), and, Darrin Schott (mandolin, acoustic guitars, backing vocals)
Tour Dates, Venues & Ticket Ordering Links Below:
 
Long-recognized and praised as a creative force in acoustic music, Claire Lynch is a pioneer who continually pushes the boundaries of the bluegrass genre. Her career has been decorated with many accolades including three GRAMMY nominations, six International Bluegrass Music Association awards and the prestigious United States Artists Walker Fellowship. Her harmonies have graced the recordings of many stellar musicians. Equally gifted as a writer, her songs have been recorded by The Seldom Scene, Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea, Cherryholmes, The Whites and many more.
 
On her latest CD “North by South” (2016), Lynch has paid homage to her favourite Canadian songwriters on a set of bluegrass and new acoustic tracks. After her recent marriage to a Canadian (she becomes a permant resident here this November), she began to dig into the vast catalog of songs written by Canadian songwriters and found the inspiration for this project. Working with Alison Brown in the producer’s chair, she delivers standout versions of Ron Sexsmith’s “Cold Hearted Wind” with Jerry Douglas on Dobro, the catchy “Kingdom Come” written by Old Man Luedecke featuring Béla Fleck (banjo) and Stuart Duncan (fiddle) and the gorgeous maritime ballad “Molly May” written by Cape Breton’s JP Cormier.  Lynch also offers thoughtful reinterpretations of songs by Lynn Miles (“Black Flowers”), David Francey (“Empty Train”) and Gordon Lightfoot (“Worth Believing”) and contributes the lighthearted, self-penned “Milo” to the project.

Posted 2018 September 25 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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Recent reviews at CST- Junior Sisk, Larry Cordle, & Jim Lauderdale, incl. w. Roland White   Leave a comment

Jim Lauderdale- Time Flies http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=6762

Jim Lauderdale & Roland White- self-titled, from 1979 http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=6763

Larry Cordle- Tales From East Kentucky http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=6753

Junior Sisk- Brand New Shade of Blue http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=6747

 

Three country albums I recommend   Leave a comment

The dearth of quality country music has been examined sixteen ways from Sunday over too many years. Yes, there is good stuff to be found and sometimes even on the charts—Chris Stapleton, Margo Price, Elizabeth Cook, to name three—but so much of what passes for country today…okay, you stopped me: thanks—you’ve heard this one before.

This weekend the annual ‘country music jamboree’ happens about a hundred kilometres from me, and that means the mainstream media will trip over themselves to profile the tens of thousands who travel, camp, and party for three or four days. All this for a lineup that I wouldn’t walk across the field to listen to, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band excepted. (I’ll be heading a hundred klicks down different highways for a bluegrass fest that will be largely ignored by the MSM. And that’s okay—who am I to judge? Although I will.)

Today, three country albums that I think you should consider. Country music isn’t any one thing, but dammit it has to be good. What’s the point otherwise?

YvetteLandry_LouisianaLovin_front-510x452Yvette Landry & the Jukes featuring Roddie Romero Louisiana Lovin’ Soko Music

Coming from Louisiana, Yvette Landry & the Jukes featuring Roddie Romero’s debut album is a platter that will appeal to anyone who craves a modern spin on ‘fifties and early ‘sixties rock ‘n’ roll filtered through a country foundation. Think Brenda Lee with the Everlys or Bobby Charles with Mandy Barnett. This isn’t hayseed country (much as I can love that) but Ameripolitan (is that how Dale Watson spells it?) with a heavy dose of the vibe I associate with Memphis soul, not to mention a bit of a Cajun kick.

Fronting a crackerjack band including Derek Huston (saxophones) and Josef Butts (deep bass), Landry (“Three Chords and the Truth,” the Sara Evans song from two decades ago) and Romero (“Homesick Blues,” the first of four Bobby Charles covers, and that ain’t too many) trade off on the leads while coming together on several sweet songs (“I Almost Lost My Mind” among them) in duets from which honey drips. The album notes label it ‘Louisiana swamp pop,’ but to my ears it nuzzles up to that warm and troubled place that only true country music reaches.

The guitar work from Romero is especially lively, whether on plaintive tracks including Charles’ “Grow To Old,” one which Huston again shines, and Jermaine Prejean is a tasteful drummer, ideal for this set. Eric Adcock adds various keys including Wurlitzer.

Louisiana Lovin’ is an exceptional album that is most obviously an endeavour of passion and heart. Yvette Landry & the Jukes featuring Roddie Romero love this type of music, delivering a set of music that is firmly rooted in traditions while sounding eminently appealing for contemporary audiences.

Blue YonderBlue Yonder Rough and Ready Heart New Song Recordings

Traditional-based (think Merle, Buck, George, and Johnny Darrell) country music isn’t frequently encountered unless you search it out, and it takes some effort to find the good stuff. Good thing folks like these populate the hither and yon. Trust me, here: Blue Yonder deserves a listen, or seven.

West Virginia-based Blue Yonder, a trio comprised of songwriter John Lilly (rhythm guitars and lead vocals), Robert Shafer (electric), and Will Carter (bass and harmony) augmented by Tony Creasman (drums), have released a strong, wide-ranging country album.

With the twang of Billy Cowsill and Marty Brown mixed with Rex Hobart’s honky tonk attitude, John Lilly is a force to be appreciated. Blue Yonder’s efforts are made more significant comprised as they are by original songs of quality including “Lonely Hour,” “Rough and Ready Heart,” and Memories and Moonlight.”

With the spirit of “Me and Bobby McGee” running through it, the lead track “Standing On the Side of the Road” highlights the freedom of specific moments in time. Elsewhere, emotional connection and responsibility are lost, as in “Windswept.” “Well-Acquainted with the Blues” has Lilly making considered word choices to advance his hardwood testimony, in shuffle time. “Tombstone Charlie” and “Green Light,” with a rockabilly beat, speed things up from the album’s mid-tempo majority.

Rough and Ready Heart is a magnificent little album of throwback country. Love it.

DuffDennis K. Duff Songs from Lyon County Gracey Holler Music

A connection to place is as essential to songwriting as it is to literature. That Dennis Duff relates to his home area is obvious listening to this songwriter’s showcase.

Anyone can hire a band, just make sure you have cash on hand. But, Duff has outdone himself here: Colby Kilby (co-producer, guitar, banjo, mandolin, Dobro) [and, as an aside, should be at Blueberry this weekend with the Travelin’ McCourys], Jason Carter (fiddle) [also, all things McCoury], Alan Bartram (bass, harmony) [ditto, McCourys] and Andy Leftwich (fiddle.) A finer bluegrass band possible? And more than being ‘slingers for hire,’ these musicians fully commit to Duff and his songs.

Now, all that talent can also be easily wasted. Not so here. Duff has the songs, and a home-hewn voice as natural as his subject matter. I quite like his singing style, unpolished as it may be. “Mr. TVA” looks at the effect of moving people off their land, and “Road to Dover” explores the land of memory. “When the river took the barn, the crib and all the corn, Daddy finally said, ‘It’s time to leave,'” shows the ties that bind people to their home in  “37 Flood.” Duff’s take on betrayal, revenge, and incarceration “Castle on the Cumberland” is outstanding.

Additionally, Duff calls on guests to give voice to a few of his songs, an unconventional approach to be certain as he doesn’t appear on five of the album’s nine songs.

 Far as I am concerned, Brooke and Darin Aldridge haven’t taken a wrong step in almost ten years. That continues with their taking charge of “TC and Pearl,” a telling of familial bonds and faith. Paul Brewster [who should also be at Blueberry this weekend with Kentucky Thunder] take a couple leads, the spirited lead track “Wilson Holler” and “Iron Hill.” Bradley Walker is joined by Holly Pitney on another song revealing a strong bond with the land, this one the gentle closing number “When I Leave Kentucky.”

One of the album’s strongest performances is delivered by Mountain Heart’s Josh Shilling. “Night Riders” is a historically-based tale of tobacco farmers working collectively against the force of ‘big tobacco’ to monopolize the industry, and Shilling nails the desperation of those protecting their own and facing down a foe with injustice on their side.

Also worthy of note is the strong artwork by Leeah Duff. Song samples available.

Bluegrass is country music, and on this concise album Dennis K. Duff delves into his family’s experiences to bring the past out of faded memories. At its best, bluegrass (and country music and literature) do this consistently, teaching listeners about events and lives that can be far outside our own. It isn’t ham-fisted at all, it’s taking a slice of someone’s life and making it relevant for others. Songs From Lyon County, featuring several world-class voices- including Duff’s- stellar bluegrass instrumentation, and high quality, original songs can’t be lost in the shuffle. Find it. Now. (Okay, you can be forgiven for waiting until it is available September 7.)

There you go, three country music albums that I suggest will be better than anything heard at Big Valley Jamboree this coming weekend. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee.