Archive for the ‘Bluegrass Music’ Tag

A ballad of three Alberta bluegrass DJs   Leave a comment

This is the brief tale of three Alberta bluegrass radio hosts, one failed, one successful, and one nearing status reserved for legends.

About six weeks ago, I received a call out of the blue: would I be interested in auditioning as host of CKUA’s long-running bluegrass program? My immediate reaction was, Yes.

Years ago I had hosted a bluegrass radio show on an area commercial country station, and while I was never very good at the job, I was persistent; when I listen to the recordings of those shows, I frequently cringe, but not so much as to distract from what I thought was a good representation of bluegrass music.

In receiving the call last month, I was pleased that the work I had done (and continue to do) on behalf of bluegrass music in Alberta was deemed significant enough to be asked to audition. For the next several days following the phone call and bubbling with excitement at the possibility, I scrambled to put together an audition recording (What the heck should be in that?) using my vaguely remembered knowledge of Audacity and my even more limited understanding of file-sharing. This was truly professional broadcasting: the music wouldn’t be the problem: trying to have a natural-sounding conversation with non-existent listeners from my basement would be.

My second reaction when called was, What about Darcy?

Ultimately, the station’s management decided to go with Darcy Whiteside, a veteran of Alberta’s bluegrass scene as a banjo player, singer and front-man for the Bix Mix Boys, and a much more experienced radio host than me. Whiteside is hosting CKUA’s The Bluegrass Show at noon (MST) on Sundays, and four weeks in is presenting a nice cross-section of the music: his latest show featured the McCormick Brothers, Laura Love, Town Mountain, Front Country, Boone Creek, the Dead South, Joe Val, and Larry Sparks, as fine a blend of the music as one could hope for within the constraints of a 60-minute broadcast.

I am confident I was up to the task, but knowing how much CKUA means to the province I also believe I have some knowledge of the pressure that comes with hosting such a show: maybe I’m better off without it! Or, as my father-in-law observed, with a shake of his head, “So, you recommended the guy who beat you out?” Naturally. (And, for all I know, I could have been fifth on a three-person list.)

I highly recommend all bluegrass fans give Darcy a listen next Sunday.

This last week, SiriusXM was again been offering a free taste of their wares; as a result, my car was tuned to Bluegrass Junction, broadcasting out of the northern Alberta studio, over the extended (American) Thanksgiving weekend. The opportunity to again appreciate the venerable Chris Jones has solidified my opinion that there is no finer bluegrass broadcaster.

Unlike some who make themselves the center of attention or ramble while delivering little substance, Jones always maintains a conversational tone in his broadcasts, letting the music speak for itself as often as interjecting his own insights into the songs. And when he does share an extended anecdote, you can be guaranteed it is relevant and informative, not self-serving or artificial. I can think of no better voice bringing bluegrass music to listeners.

With folks like Darcy and Chris bringing bluegrass to the airwaves-broadcast, online, and satellite-listeners are being well-served.

And, when the opportunity next arises, I hope CKUA again give me a call!

Advertisements

Posted 2017 December 9 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

Tagged with , ,

Gold…In A Way- Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys- Live at Mechanics Hall   Leave a comment

More than 15 years ago, I started a feature in the local bluegrass association’s newsletter that I called “Gold…In A Way.” Each issue I would examine a bluegrass ‘back catalogue’ title that I appreciated. In this way, I looked at albums that either I missed writing about ‘the first time around’ or albums that pre-dated the time I began writing about roots music. These were albums that I thought were important, albums I cared about for some reason. Of course, the only way these albums would ever be ‘gold’ is in their musical value, not in copies sold. This time out, I look at a vintage release from the Father of Bluegrass music, Bill Monroe.

Bill Monroe
Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys- Live at Mechanics Hall (Acoustic Disc) Released 2004

I’ve written it before, and I hope to write it again: Thank goodness a teenaged David Grisman could think of nothing more exciting than to haul his recording machine up and down the east coast of the United States recording bluegrass ham sessions and concerts.

Captured live in November 1963, the Blue Grass Boys in this Worcester, MA set are Del McCoury (IBMA Hall of Fame class of 2011), coming near the end of his brief tenure as Monroe’s lead vocalist and guitar player, Bill Keith (IBMA Hall of Fame 2015), the innovative 5-stringer who gave up his first name for Brad when the authoritative Monroe decried there was to be one ‘Bill’ in the band, and the ever reliable Joe Stuart on fiddle. Bessie Lee Maudlin holds down the bottom.

For those of us who cannot get enough live Monroe (IBMA Hall of Fame 1991), this 40-plus minute set was a welcome addition to our collections when it was released by Grisman’s Acoustic Disc label. Monroe shines on near every number with “Devil’s Dream” being especially fiery on this evening, and “Rawhide” sounding flawless despite Monroe’s assertion otherwise. McCoury takes a few leads, and while his voice had not yet fully acquired its unique qualities, greatness peaks through. What is in evidence, on “Footprints in the Snow” for instance, is McCoury’s ability to carry a song.

The mix doesn’t do justice to Keith’s playing, but Stuart is clearly heard throughout. The vocals are largely duos, with a couple trios and a quartet (“I Saw the Light.”) A pair of numbers featuring Monroe’s daughter Melissa are situated mid-set, and serve only to illustrate the foibles of nepotism; while not unlistenable, one doubts they will ever be considered essential except as part of the historical record.

The heart of the show includes some of Monroe’s most enduring numbers-“Mule Skinner Blues,” “Footprints,” “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” “Rawhide,” and “John Henry.” While not surpassing the more familiar studio renditions, these takes are all excellent live performances.

Bea Lilly (IBMA Hall of Fame 2002). of the Lilly Brothers who were features in this ‘package’ show, comes to the stage to sing a duet of “What Would You Give in Exchange” with Monroe. Lilly accepts and meets the challenge of singing Charlie Monroe’s parts. With “Uncle Pen” and “Blue Ridge Mountain Blues” the historic (largely because it was recorded) show comes to a close much too soon.

For a recording of some age, the audio quality is simply terrific, and even casual listeners should be able to appreciate the performance. The 24-page booklet is loaded with information, as well as numerous photographs of the 1963 edition of the band.

The liner notes by IBMA Hall of Fame 2014 member Neil Rosenberg are typically insightful and clearly communicated, reading as comfortable reflection of a special time in bluegrass history. The folk boom was just beginning, but much of the scene had not yet discovered bluegrass music; Monroe was, as Rosenberg writes, “on the threshold of recognition that would transform him into an icon of American music.”

This release is heartily recommended. I’ve been listening to it at least annually since its release and never tire of its sparkling liveliness.

Murder Murder- Wicked Lines & Veins review   Leave a comment

Murder Murder

Murder Murder Wicked Lines & Veins

Much of a lifetime ago, folks including The Bad Livers, The Meat Purveyors, and Split Lip Rayfield created rock ‘n’ roll inspired bluegrass for a small community of followers who came of age musically with an appreciation for both Tupelo Honey and Uncle Tupelo. For the most part, these groups remained on the fringes of the wider (narrower?) bluegrass community, never substantially breaking through at the bluegrass festival or industry level.

A couple decades later, and on their third album, Murder Murder throw its hat into the ring from Sudbury, Ontario. This is not anything near traditional or contemporary bluegrass, but don’t let that stop you from looking behind those crates and amps stacked in the dark recesses of the music’s ‘big tent.’ If they hailed from Appalachia, Murder Murder would be renowned for their dark, honest, and vivid portrayals of mountain tales of tragedy. They aren’t playing for us grey hairs, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay attention.

Setting the majority of their original numbers at the edges of society and deep in rural backwaters, with Wicked Lines & Veins Murder Murder unleash an abundance of misery upon their audience. At turns deliberately profane (“Reesor County Fugitive” ), violently absurd (“I’ve Always Been A Gambler”), and emotionally cutting (“The Last Daughter”), Murder Murder’s narrative tales of desperation and malevolence place them at the fore of whatever alt-grass circuit currently exists. Their characters are ones who would find Fred Eaglesmith’s urbane and uppity, Little Willie and his historical brethren visionary-thinking, fair-minded and considered rapscallions.

To be fair, the tables are turned in “Goodnight, Irene,” (not the Huddie Ledbetter song) and justified comeuppance dispensed in “The Death of Waylon Green” and “Shaking Off The Dust.” Few are the songs that do not find someone ending up on the wrong side of a gun, knife, or bottle of bleach. Playing the traditional bluegrass instruments, along with organ and drums, Murder Murder isn’t like anyone else I’ve heard: if you enjoy The Earl Brothers and The D.Rangers, you should find this group of Canadian independents of interest. Their songwriting is stellar, and the lead vocals are especially appealing, if not smooth and pretty.

With homage paid to the tradition (in “I’ve Always Been a Gambler,” the cuckoo remains a pretty bird that warbles as she flies–elsewhere there’s a hemlock grove, gallows, and betrayal–in ways both apparent and subtle, Murder Murder have crafted an intentionally abrasive interpretation of bluegrass, one where love songs culminate at the end of a rope and a burned-out barroom (“Abilene”) and a child’s revenge in a rich man’s pasture (“Sharecropper’s Son.”)

In no way do Murder Murder sound like the Clinch Mountain Boys, the Steep Canyon Rangers, or Balsam Range. What they do possess is the spirit of originality willing to break through long-established norms and mores to uncover creative freshness within a genre that, without question, benefits from periodic injections of unbridled energy and influence.

IBMA Awards 2017- Hopes & Predictions   Leave a comment

Over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass, I ramble on a bit about the International Bluegrass Music Association awards to be handed out in less than a day. May be of interest…probably not.

Posted 2017 September 27 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

Tagged with ,

John Reischman & the Jaybirds- On That Other Green Shore review   Leave a comment

Jaybirds

John Reischman & the Jaybirds
On That Other Green Shore
Corvus Records
http://www.thejaybirds.com/

It has long been known that John Reischman & the Jaybirds are one of my favourite bluegrass combos. To my ears, they have everything I expect from a band—vocal complexity and diversity, exceptional instrumentation and harmonic interplay, rock solid material with a curiosity  for the past and the ingenuity of creative originality.

When I was booking bands for the local association, The Jaybirds were the first non-locals I pursued. In subsequent appearances they never disappointed. I have seen them live about as many times as any bluegrass band I have witnessed, and even briefly used their “Jaybird Ramble” as my radio show theme song.

So, I’m a fan. But I am also a critic, and understand perhaps why they have never ‘broke through’ within the bluegrass world. Being based in western Canada has possibly been an impediment. I’ve heard some say that can appear a bit too polished, and maybe have at times appeared a bit ‘stiff’ on stage, especially early on. Still, the quality of their five previous full-fledged albums (and a seasonal EP) are without question—one of the strongest catalogues any bluegrass band can present since their debut of 2001. Why they are still not as recognized as other bluegrass bands—the Balsam Ranges, the Gibsons, the IIIrd Tyme Outs, and others—remains a mystery to my way of thinking.

John Reischman—having played with the Good Ol’ Persons, Tony Rice, John Miller, Kathy Kallick, and more—has long been one of bluegrass music’s most impressive and versatile mandolinists. Deeply influenced by Bill Monroe, Reischman has had the added benefit of being able to not only follow the inspiration of the instrument’s traditional Master, but to hear and work with others to provide guidance as well as the dedication to shape the instrument and its musical presentation in his own image.

Reischman’s bandmates Nick Hornbuckle (a more than impressive 5-stringer playing in an adapted 2-finger style), Trisha Gagnon (a tasteful bassist with an incredible voice in both lead and harmony positions),  Greg Spatz (an immensely sensitive and versatile fiddler and, as an aside, a formidable writer of prose), and Jim Nunally (a man of many hats including producer, absolutely devastating guitarist, and a singer rivaling Del McCoury, in my opinion) are unparalleled on the Canadian bluegrass scene (the fact that two-members of the group are naturalized Canadian citizens and only Gagnon is Canadian by birth doesn’t escape me) and—should this be a competition—could stand mic-to-mic with any of the most prominent bluegrass bands. [Someone will need to be the referee here, but I believe I may have just written a 113-word sentence that is almost grammatically justified.]

With the release of On That Other Green Shore this summer also comes news that Jim Nunally has left the group, the first personnel changeover the group has experienced. As I’ve already noted, Nunally has been one of the five pillars of the group, and his departure is significant. His playing and singing, as well as personality and songwriting, will be missed. For the unfamiliar, sample the two-song burst mid-set on Field Guide: “Arrowhead,” a Hornbuckle composition, features stunning flat-picking from Nunally while “Shackled and Chained,” one of his songs, is one of Nunally’s many fine vocal performances as a Jaybird.

One That Other Green Shore is not terribly different from previous JR&JB releases, and that is no criticism. The group has established an appealing and winning formula. The group boasts five song- and tune-writers, four vocalists, three-part harmonies, an untouchable duo of lead singers in Gagnon and Nunally, and a singular focus on making bluegrass music that is dynamic and memorable. As they typically do, the Jaybirds here refresh under-appreciated (or at least, under-known) songs from the Americana-roots-old time traditions, mix in some gospels and cracking instrumentals, and a handful of instrumentals as well as (this time) a song from The Beatles to create a unified representation of modern bluegrass.

Gagnon’s “I Don’t Want to Say Goodbye,” written upon her father’s passing, is not only emotional but also soothing. Two numbers feature the Jaybirds’ four-part vocal harmony ‘wall of sound.’ “You’ve Got To Righten That Wrong” and “Don’t You Hear The Lambs A-Crying” come from previous times but seem entirely apropos to current world circumstance, perhaps in ways the originators never intended. Spatz doesn’t contribute an original fiddle tune this time out, but brings to the group Caridwen Irvine Spatz’s “Thistletown,” a mournful and introspective piece well-placed within the 13-song set.

Nanually’s “Gonna Walk” features strong guitar lines, and I suppose serves as a fitting farewell nod to the group of which he has been integral the better part of two decades. “Today Has Been a Lonesome Day” is a song we’ve long heard at Jaybird shows, but makes its recorded debut here: interestingly, for a number that the group first worked up long ago, Patrick Sauber (who is the newest Jaybird) joins the group here on baritone.

 

new jaybirds

The ‘new’ Jaybirds: Image borrowed from the internet: no credit apparent, but will correct/remove if requested

 

Reischman has written dozens of memorable instrumentals, and “Daylighting the Creek” (listen to Spatz’s fiddle here—dang!) and “Red Diamond” join the list. His lead take on Paul McCartney’s “Two of Us,” in duet and close harmony with Gagnon, is a highlight of this recording. As they have done before (think “Shady Grove” from Vintage & Unique and “The House Carpenter” on Stellar Jays) the Jaybirds inject new shades to a familiar piece with the closing “Katie Bar the Door.”

As all John Reischman & the Jaybirds albums have been, On That Other Green Shore is beautifully packaged, and for those who still believe such matters, is well-deserving of purchase as a physical CD. Sneaking up on twenty years, John Reischman & the Jaybirds remain a vibrant part of contemporary bluegrass. Search them out.

 

Steve Martin & Steep Canyon Rangers- The Long-Awaited Album review   Leave a comment

SMSCRI apologize to all readers, groups, and promo folks/labels who have been expecting more from me the past few weeks. Work is busy, and I don’t have time to write although I try- I have (in my head) written much of a John Reischman & the Jaybirds review, know I need to get to the Chris Hillman album (how tired am I? It just took me a good ten seconds to come up with Chris Hillman’s name- an original icon of roots and Americana [before those labels were imagined] and a Fervor Coulee favourite, I can’t think of his name!) Anyway, I did- for better or worse- write a review of the new Steve Martin & Steep Canyon Rangers album for Country Standard Time. Find it at http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=6477 if you are so moved. There is much (80%?) to appreciate with just a handful of minutes falling short. As always, your opinion may very well vary from mine- here’s the deal: I won’t tell you what to think when you’re wrong, you don’t tell me what to think when I am right.

The Grascals- Before Breakfast review   Leave a comment

GrascalCov9-2-1

The Grascals Before Breakfast Mountain Home Music Company

The Grascals can be counted on to deliver, every eighteen months or so, another collection of mountain solid, formidable and smooth bluegrass.

Over nine albums and one very fun EP, The Grascals have consistently been one of bluegrass music’s stellar outfits. While not everything they have ever attempted has resonated with me (I felt their The Grascals and Friends country-hybrid project was—to be generous—uneven) there are few bluegrass bands I would rather encounter than The Grascals.

Before Breakfast is as strong an album as the group has released. From the catchy opener “Sleepin’ With the Reaper,” a fine Becky Buller-Grant Williams addition to the bluegrass canon of fidelity, through to the closing sing-a-long rambunctiousness of “Clear Corn Liquor” The Grascals present a well-rounded collection of bluegrass excellence.

John Bryan has been an outstanding addition to the group. His vocals on not only the lead track, but additional and quite diverse songs including the excellent “Delia” (coming from Jon Weisberger, Charlie Chamberlain, and Charles R. Humphrey III) and “I’ve Been Redeemed” are uniformly impressive.

One of three remaining original members of the group, Terry Eldredge offers up his always appreciated, earthy approach to tender songs. “Demons” faces down the temptations we all face, while “He Took Your Place” is a familiar song of faith worthy of modern interpretation.  “Beer Tree” and “Clear Corn Liquor” (from Tim Stafford and Bobby Starnes) are less weighty, but no less worthy.

Bassist Terry Smith takes the lead position on a single song, “Lonesome,” (co-written with sibling Billy) and one wishes the album had another couple samples of his country-inspired approach to bluegrass singing (without subtracting anything—running 38 minutes, five or six more minutes featuring Smith would have comfortably stretched Before Breakfast.)

I’ve listened the this album fifteen or twenty times this month, and each time I notice another little fill or roll from Kristin Scott Benson. While her 5-string sounds are all over the album, there are places—as on “Beer Tree” and “Delia”—where her contribution is so subtle you almost miss it; once recognized, it is impossible to again miss and one realizes the importance of every single element within the greater expanse of this bluegrass combo—nothing is included out of habit or obligation, each note serves a purpose.

Danny Roberts, with Eldredge and Smith forming the august original core of the group, is like Benson a proverbial master of his instrument if under-recognized, and his mandolin playing is well-featured, never more so on his instrumental romp (co-written with fiddler Adam Haynes) “Lynchburg Chicken Run.” Roberts and Haynes work together well as on “He Took Your Place” and on Kelsi Harrigill’s (Flatt Lonesome) “There Is You” Haynes adds depth to a rather sentimental set of lyrics.

“Pathway of Teardrops” is a well-established bluegrass harmony showcase going back to The Osborne Brothers, and The Grascals’ interpretation goes toe-to-toe with that venerable classic rendition: not better, but equally their own. No matter where The Grascals go, they never stray too far from the foundation.

Before Breakfast, after lunch, and during supper—there is no bad time for The Grascals. Now, would someone bring them to Alberta—it has been a dozen too many years since I’ve seen the group live!