Archive for the ‘Blues’ Tag

Between the Cracks, Summer 2017: what have we missed? reviews   Leave a comment

A selection of albums that have worked their way my direction these last few months. Americana of a variety of flavours.

RERailroad EarthCaptain Nowhere One recalls RRE as one of the first ‘big tent’ bands to be selectively-shunned by bluegrass festivals. Lost track of them somewhere around The Good Life (2004), but became reacquainted early this summer when this six-track EP was released. Groovy, acoustic-Dead inspired rock’n Americana, Captain Nowhere is a concise encapsulation of the group’s drum-propelled music. “Adding My Voice” is especially relevant given recent political/civil events, while one can easily imagine “The Berkeley Flash” inspiring an extended live jam. [Review based on download.]

MOMatthew O’NeillTrophic Cascade (Underwater Panther Coalition) More natural-sounding and perhaps a little less rambunctious than previous music sampled from this upper New York-state resident, Trophic Cascade is no gentle beach listen. Imagine, if you will bear the indulgence, Bon Iver and Shakey Graves coming together in the forests of the Catskills with Crosby, Stills, Nash, & mostly Young to create a modern southern soul album. Lots of wailing guitars, layered vocals, some horns, and trance-inducing rhythms and melodies that soar and twist. Tapping into topic s associated with his evolving beliefs of Earth and our relationships with its people, O’Neill kept this listener engaged through 50 minutes. [Provided CD version reviewed.]

JMJohn Mellencamp featuring Carlene Carter- Sad Clowns & Hillbillies The Lonesome Jubilee came out 30 years ago, and still battles it out with Scarecrow for top spot among my favourite Mellencamp albums; don’t read too much into that—don’t most of us have greatest appreciation for music we’ve lived with for several decades? Among his 23 (twenty-three!) albums (yeah, I’ve got them all going back to Chestnut Street Incident) there is no shortage of evidence of greatness, with even his more dire albums (1994-1999, maybe) revealing gems of considerable genius. [I long ago forgave his re-writing of Wreckless Eric’s “Broken Doll” as “Rodeo Clown.”] Teaming with touring partner Carlene Carter for several tracks, there is plenty of patented Mellencamp swagger and rhythm—that immediately recognizable groove—within these forty-seven minutes, and a number of songs (“Battle of Angels, “My Soul’s Got Wings,” “Damascus Road,” and a cover of “Early Bird Cafe”—don’t pretend you know the original) that stand with his finest.  Carter shines both as a featured vocalist and in a harmony role with “Indigo Sunset” and “Sugar Hill Mountain” ringing true. [Purchased CD version reviewed.]

bhBen Hunter & Joe Seamons, with Phil Wiggins A Black & Tan Ball An exquisite black & tan is a tough pour, I’ve found. Good thing this trio understands their art. Well-grounded in the various blues traditions, Seattle’s Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons along with touring partner Phil Wiggins don’t need me to tell them they know what they are doing. Pulling together all their influences—broad folk traditions, ragtime and jazz, even hints of country and mountain fiddle music, and always the blues—and both the good and bad of their (and previous) times, Hunter & Seamons hold a mirror to that which surrounds them, bask in that reflection, and give respect to the Black Americana tradition. Life may not get better than “Struttin’ With Some Barbeque,” “Longin’ For My Sugar,” or “How’m I Doing?” but it sure can get worse; the songs selected for this set keep things mostly breezy, and don’t delve on the most significant of matters, although “Bad Man Ballad” (recognizable as a derivation of “Little Sadie”) and “Hard Time Blues” acknowledge hardship. Loose/tight is a phrase I love for music making—allow for the joy and fun, but keep the quality—and A Black & Tan Ball captures it perfectly. [Provided CD reviewed.]

GGR SINGLE POCKET JACKET UPDATED 032112Amy BlackMemphis Featuring members of The Bo-Keys and those intimately familiar with the Stax and Hi Records Memphis traditions, Amy Black returns with an even stronger album than her most stout Muscle Shoals Sessions. Beautifully gritty and gloriously soulful, Black has written some terrific songs (“The Blackest Cloud,” “Without You,” and “Nineteen”) that fit ideally with her voice and approach, and selected tasteful and timely covers, notably Otis Clay’s “If I Could Reach Out (and Help Somebody).” With lots of guitar and B3, killer rhythm section support, plenty of horns, and a song for the ages in “It’s Hard to Love An Angry Man,” it is time to stop mentioning the likes of Dusty Springfield, Bonnie Raitt, and Shelby Lynne in reviews of Black’s albums, and realize she needs to be discussed on the same terms as these soulful singers. [Provided download only reviewed.]

zz andy hall roosevelt Andy Hall & Roosevelt Collier- Let the Steel Play Someone is playing a cruel joke on me. I will tolerate the resonator guitar in (very) select bluegrass situations, and I can appreciate it (in moderation) within a blues-setting, but it will never be an instrument I reflect upon and think, ‘Man—what this song needs is some hub-cap guitar.’ Imagine my surprise (chagrin?) to discover one of my favourite albums of this Summer of 2017 is the debut recording of Hall (The Infamous Stringdusters) and Collier, and it features NOTHING but reso. “Reuben’s Train” and “Power In the Blood” are trad. arr all should recognize, but I dare say we haven’t heard them like this. Coming from the Sacred Steel tradition, Collier approaches these tunes differently than I imagine Hall would on his own, and their collaboration is mind-blowing. Their originals (“The Darkest Hour” and “Rosebud” especially) mix well with the familiar pieces including The Grateful Dead’s seductive “Crazy Fingers.” [Provided CD reviewed.]

the_savage_radley_kudzu_DK_BrownThe Savage Radley- Kudzu Get ready: this one is going to club ya between the eyes and knock you on your arse. Kentucky’s The Savage Radley is an explosive slice of the modern south, not country, rock, or ‘grass, but a sweet distillation of all three, and a potent concoction it is. Shaina Goodman writes the songs and gives them voice while S Knox Montgomery keeps things moving from the drum kit. Also featured are multi-instrumentalist Eddy Dunlap (pedal steel, guitar, and bass), Ryan Cain (bass), and producer Skylar Wilson (piano). Rural tales of hardship and darkness abound, and while one might be reminded of the way Bobbie Gentry, Larry Jon Wilson, and even Rodney Crowell construct songs around ones’ experiences and ancestry, one hears flecks of The Alabama Shakes in the production choices: time-tested testimony, new approaches. “Blood Money” and “Little River Town” provided the narrative threads I appreciate. “Don’t call me honey, Honey,” Goodman sings in “Milk and Honey,” “It don’t mean nothing when you say it.” Harsh, but in keeping with the mood of the collection, where hope and dreams have been corroded with reality. [Provided CD reviewed.]

Some of what I’ve been listening to this summer. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Now, go BUY some music: keep the roots alive. Donald

 

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Jeffrey Halford & the Healers- Lo-Fi Dreams review   Leave a comment

Jeffrey Halford and the Healers
Lo Fi Dreams
Shoeless Records/Floating Records
www.JeffreyHalford.com

j lo fiIt is usually painful to review your writing from a distance of years. Or, maybe it is just me who finds that to be the case. Might mean something…

No amount of prodding can make me re-read what I wrote for The Gateway beginning some 33 years ago, although I am tempted: I remember the Katrina Leskanich interview I did as being pretty good. However, the majority of what I wrote was—I am confident—awkward, artless, and anguish-inducing; my patient editors could only do so much. Going back into the Fervor Coulee vault then…

When I first heard Jeffrey Halford’s music over fifteen years ago, I knew I like it. I wasn’t sure how to write about it, but I tried. Here is what I wrote about Hunkpapa in February, 2002:

j hunkpapa

Jeffrey Halford is my latest new, favourite singer-songwriter.  I vividly remember the moment Guy Clark became my new, favourite songwriter.  And Steve Forbert. And Steve Pineo.  Years from now, I’ll look back on the day I first heard Jeffrey Halford.

I was nothing if not enthusiastic.

A coalescence of Mike Plume energy and Lucinda Williams’ poetic gifts, Jeffrey Halford is more concerned with authentic mood and melody than contrived slickness.  Writing primarily bluesy-country shaded story songs, Halford doesn’t allow introspection to interfere with a rock-propelled groove.  Coloured by Chuck Prophet’s guitar, “Radio Flyer”—a love song about a dad, son, and wagon that documents the passage of time—is but one of Hunkpapa’s standout tracks: “we look beat up but we work just fine.” “Satchel’s Fastball” and “Memphis” are songs for a warmer season, music that roars down Highway 1 while “Oh, Susanna” and “.44” recount impetuous acts of regret. 

 Writing for the local daily, space was at a premium, but attempting to be succinct allowed me to a freedom to experiment with stylistic writing I would have otherwise avoided. Reading this today, for the first time in a decade and a half, I do cringe a little. But, I am comfortable with that because—on a positive note— a new Jeffrey Halford album has arrived for me to review! And it is playing as I try to recall why I haven’t listened to Halford nearly enough in the intervening years.

Three years later, Railbirds was released, and I again had a chance to write about Halford for the Red Deer Advocate and its seven readers who cared about my kind of roots music:

j railbirds

Emphasizing guitar based roots-rock over narratives, Halford’s imagery rich release lacks the lyrical breadth of his previous disc Hunkpapa.  Wielding a variety of six-strings- acoustic, electric, resophonic- and dropping some tasty slide into a couple tunes, Halford delivers a satisfying album of blues-based rock tunes that bring to mind mid-career Tom Petty and Blackie & the Rodeo Kings.  Augie Meyers adds atmospheric Hammond B-3 organ to a pair of tunes.

Wow! Even fewer words. I listened to Railbirds again this week, and I still enjoy it, more than the middlin’ review above would suggest. And, I notice at Halford’s website, another writer has made the Tom Petty connection: beat ya to it!

But then that was pretty much it. I listened to the albums (maybe) two or three times in the ensuing years, and I am pretty sure I played a track on the radio one July at the University of Lethbridge station while working on my Masters. However, and as new music continually arrived to be reviewed, Halford faded in my memory. I continued to associate positive thoughts with his music, I just didn’t bother to search it out.

Then Lo-Fi Dreams arrived in my mailbox, sent by the same publicist who got Hunkpapa into my hands in the first place; thanks, Martha. To catch up, earlier this month I purchased the downloads of Broken Chords and Rainmaker, and recalled as if fresh my enthusiasm for this singer and guitarist. (Yes, again, writing a review costs me money! How was I able to pay bills writing in 2001-2012? Oh, yeah…back then, outlets paid. I digress.)

j brokej rainmaker“Thunderbird Motel,” “Vinyl,” “Dead Man’s Hand,” and “Ninth Ward” have quickly become favourites. With the exception of Halford, all the names associated with The Healers have changed while I was otherwise occupied. Co-producer (with Halford) Adam Rossi handles drums, keys, and percussion as well as harmony vocals, with Bill MacBeath handling the deep notes. What hasn’t altered are Halford’s obvious strengths.

His voice is only slightly different than it was fifteen years ago, seasoned by time as some like to say, but definitely not harsh or haggard. Consistent is his ability to strengthen his country-blues-rock sound with lyrics that appear like precious pearls of poetry. In “Two Jacksons,” Halford captures the power of positive changes as acutely as anyone since Springsteen railed about needing to change his clothes, his hair and face in 1984: “torn and frayed, and in need of repair” our hero reveals, but with a new jacket, anything seems possible. Similarly, waiting “behind ‘Door #3′” may just be what you’ve been looking for.

Emphasizing the groove, ‘the feels’ of his songs, Halford eases slide into several tracks, and that National sure has a big sound. The bluesy “Elvis Shot the Television,” as did songs on Railbirds and Broken Chords, favourably brings to mind Colin Linden. “Bird of Youth” is close to rock ‘n’ roll, and “Good Trouble” gets similarly raucous. I am really awful at being able to identify specific songs/singers that new songs remind me of (like, mental blockage bad) but “Sweet Annette,” has my brain spinning. Antsy McClain, perhaps? Auditory allusions aside, this is a crackerjack performance—a slice of Americana that honours all meanings of the word.

Featuring some of the album’s finest guitar sounds, “Great Divide” takes us gently to the end of Lo-Fi Dreams, a soothing, challenging listen from start through completion. It isn’t a lot different from Rainmaker, a bit louder perhaps—a production choice? The one-sheet mentions the use of “vintage lo-fi amplifiers and guitars like the Sears Silvertone, Danelectro, and Harmoney brands from the 1950s and ’60s…” none of which means much to me. It does hint that Halford was searching for a specific sound on Lo-Fi Dreams, and I would suggest he was successful in the pursuit.

Lo-Fi Dreams is a welcome reminder of, as if we needed it, how many roots and Americana artists there are that we haven’t before encountered…or who we have neglected for far too long. Jeffrey Halford and the Healers are again at the fore of my thinking: this time, I’m going to make sure they stay there.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. See me on the tweetsite @FervorCoulee.

Donald

 

 

Lee Palmer- Bridge review   Leave a comment

album-cover-bridge-339m4egxkz8wv3wgz30g00Lee Palmer Bridge On The Fly Music www.LeePalmer.ca

Ontario’s Lee Palmer has made a string of satisfying albums in recent years, but with Bridge the prolific musician has raised the bar for himself and independently-produced, guitar-based roots music.

With a musical approach similar to that of Ray Materick a generation ago, Palmer explores a variety of topics within his mix of folk, country, and blues. Paying tribute to Glen Campbell on “That’s No way to Go” and J. J. Cale in “Tulsa Sound,” Palmer seamlessly bridges the variety of music that has influenced him, and allowed him the opportunity to explore the breadth of sounds he has over several recordings.

Concentrating his efforts to the vocals on Bridge, Palmer has elected to leave the guitar work to Alec Fraser, Jr. and Kevin Breit. Along with additional members of the “One-Take Players”—Al Cross (drums) and Mark Lalama (various keys and accordion)— as well as co-producer Elmer Ferrer (more guitars and such) this duo craft an unstoppable foundation on which Palmer builds his homespun truths and heartfelt observances. Among the standout tracks are mid-set triumphs “My Town” and “My Old Man.”

Mary McKay provides background vocals throughout, and duets with Palmer on “Did It Feel Like This,” one of the album’s most memorable numbers. Of note are Lori-An Smith and Patricia Shirley’s complementary vocals on “Tulsa Sound.” Radio-friendly (in a different, more open time) and mature, Palmer’s approach to roots music is welcome. A song such as “Well, Well, Well, Well” or even “Back to Lonely” might have expected consideration at radio back in the time when David Wilcox, Downchild, and Powder Blues received FM exposure.

But, those days are far and gone. Left to his own devices at independent and university radio outlets, Palmer likely doesn’t expect a grand break-through any time soon. He appears to be making music because he must, and we can be thankful for that. Fresh and flavourful, Lee Palmer’s Bridge is an album that should provide listeners with hours of pleasure.

Eric Bibb, Tom Ewing, Rob Benzing reviews   Leave a comment

I was busy writing last weekend, and the products of my efforts have been published over at Lonesome Road Review.

Eric Bibb’s Migration Blues from Stony Plain Records: it is as good as you hope.

Bill Monroe’s last lead singer, Tom Ewing, has put together a compilation of tracks from his late 80-early 90 cassette tapes: Tom knows bluegrass.

Rob Benzing is a DC area banjo talent.

BIBB_MigrationBlues_livretTom Ewingrob benzing

 

 

Manitoba Hal- Live in Ghent review   Leave a comment

manitoba

Manitoba Hal Live in Ghent

www.ManitobaHal.com

The world has never been smaller. The musical world has never been larger.

I’ve been writing about roots music for sixteen years. Manitoba Hal has been releasing albums for a little more than that. We’ve never crossed paths. Until now.

Manitoba Hal Brolund has been making music for several decades, has released 15 albums, and has travelled the world playing the blues on his ukulele. See…that last world surprised you, too—proving again that there is always someone new to hear and something worthwhile to discover.

Manitoba-raised, Nova Scotian by choice, Brolund traveled to Belgium a year ago, and this two-disc set sounds like a fairly true representation of the performance he did that April evening at the Missy Sippy Blues & Roots Club in Ghent. It is well-worth investigating.

Establishing himself from the start, Manitoba Hal cuts through “Come On In My Kitchen” before easing into the darkness of Tom Waits’ finest song, “Way Down in the Hole.” Manitoba Hal performs unaccompanied, so it rests entirely on his own musicianship, looped rhythms, gravel-worn voice, and charm to keep the listener enthralled, and from the enthusiastic audience response recorded herein, one has to suggest that he succeeded.

The set is a mix of covers and originals, but since I am by no means a blues expert—and I’ve only just been introduced to Manitoba Hal—I can’t be definitive in which is what. Well-known sounds abound as “St. James Infirmary,” “They’re Red Hot,” “My Creole Belle,” “Let the Mermaids Flirt With Me,” and “Baby, Please Don’t Go” are intermixed with material with which I am less familiar.

Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago” allows Manitoba Hal to explore the range of his instrument on a number with which all blues listeners are cognizant. “Ain’t No Grave” is sparsely played, but effectively delivered. One of the more hypnotising numbers featured is “Dancing in the Moonlight” (not the King Harvest song.)

The featured evening closes with two indispensable blues of very different derivation, “Who Do You Love” and “The Thrill is Gone.” Within these ten minutes, the measure of Manitoba Hal is confirmed. Keeping a steady bass line going via looping while playing the notes over-top, Hal gets pretty gritty on “Who Do You Love.” Closing with “The Thrill is Gone,” Hal visits uptown for a few moments, demonstrating his dexterity and aptitude in revealing different aspects of the blues.

On a ukulele.

Posted 2017 February 19 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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Rory Block- Keepin’ Outta Trouble review   2 comments

block

Rory Block Keepin’ Outta Trouble: A Tribute to Bukka White Stony Plain Records

Indisputably, Rory Block is one of the most impressive contemporary blues artists. Rooted so deeply in country blues traditions, Block can’t be anything but authentic. Unfortunately, I’ve not caught every installment of her Mentor Series, which started with her tribute to Son House in 2008 and now stands at six volumes, but I’ve heard enough to know that she does nothing in half-measures.

As Block writes in her liner notes, “More than any artist in my Mentor Series, Bukka inspired me to write new songs.” With that, one shouldn’t be surprised that Block has done a true tribute here; not only has she crafted five Booker T. Washington “Bukka” White songs in her own individual, immitigable style, but she has created a further five originals capturing the time and mythologies of White’s life and career.

An exciting album from start to finish, Block—who plays everything on this disc, including percussive Quaker Oats boxes—and co-producer Rob Davis establish a sparse, natural sound.

Opening with a pair of originals setting the table as a frame of reference for both the uninitiated and the connoisseur, in short order Block nails standards including “Aberdeen Mississippi Blues,” “Fixin’ To Die Blues,” and “Parchman Farm 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.

Masterfully, she closes the set with the album’s most significant performances. Built upon “Bukka’s Jitterbug Swing,” Block’s “Gonna Be Some Walkin’ Done” captures not only the reality of White’s circumstance, but envelopes the traditions of finding something new in what has come before. “Back to Memphis” pulls everything together, encapsulating eighty years of blues history and development in five minutes.

As someone who doesn’t have much patience for raucous noisy blues, Rory Block’s interpretation of the music’s foundation is always welcome. Her voice is magic, and her approach to blues guitar is clean, restrained, and just damn fine beautiful. Keepin’ Outta Trouble: A Tribute to Bukka White is an excellent album.

Thank you for your interest in Fervor Coulee. Donald

 

 

MonkeyJunk- Time to Roll review   Leave a comment

monkeyjink

MonkeyJunk Time to Roll Stony Plain Records

There is an American band starting to make a bit of noise south of the border with an aggressive, swampy blend of rhythm & blues that is as deeply entrenched in tradition as it is forward looking. They are called The Blue Shadows (Canadian readers pause—they have nothing to do with our Blue Shadows, natch) and if I didn’t know better I would suspect they’ve spent their time cribbing from MonkeyJunk.

MonkeyJunk, the preeminent Canadian power trio not named Rush, never have messed around. Give them a stack of amps and a stage, and the Ottawa-based group are happy to deliver their spirited blues-rock to whomever is willing to listen. Time to Roll is their fifth set of music, and to me it sounds their most accomplished to date.

Adding bass to the mix for the first time, MonkeyJunk’s approach hasn’t dramatically changed—lively party music with lyrics more impressive than frequently encountered within this segment of the blues. For generations raised on early J. Geils Band, Foghat, and the Allman Brothers, MonkeyJunk slips smoothly into a familiar groove.

Recorded over a concise series of sessions, the immediacy of the process may be part of the reason Time to Roll sounds so fresh and invigorating. “Blue Lights Go Down” aches with palatable passion; I’m not sure what it is about Tom Wilson, but one didn’t need to refer to the credits to immediately identify his signature touch on this co-written number.

With a throbbing introduction reminiscent of both Russ Ballard’s “On The Rebound” and “Can I Get a Witness,” the title track is a rallying exhortation for moving on from the constraints of the predictable. Three songs are co-written with fellow Canadian bluesman Paul Reddick, the most vibrant of which is “Pray for Rain,” an incantation of mesmerizing eyes and dramatic rhythms.

As strong as the first half of Time to Roll is, the band busts it to pieces within a blistering second act.

Fittingly paying tribute to Albert King by updating “The Hunter,” MonkeyJunk also offers a plaintive “Can’t Call You Baby” to add considerable intensity to this ten-track album. Delving a bit further south with the call and response rhythms of “Undertaken Blues” and the positively peppy “Gone,” a staggering Booker T-influenced instrumental “Fuzzy Poodle” closes the disc.

MonkeyJunk has become one of the most awarded bands in Canadian blues history. Time to Roll won’t change that: it is an electric collection of tradition-rich, rollicking modern blues.

Thank you for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald