Archive for the ‘Canadian blues’ Tag
I am not a blues aficionado, not even close. If you went through my music collection, you are likely to find many blues discs but you are more likely to find as many albums from the Williamses—Hank, Lucinda, Jack, Dar, Holly, Robin, Linda, and the like—as you are blues recordings, in total. I tend to write about them—or not—and pass them onto friends who are more likely to get long-term enjoyment.
When I do hang onto a blues album, as likely as not they are ones released on Canada’s two preeminent blues labels, Northern Blues and Stony Plain. Not everything they produce resonates, but they have a stronger track record of appealing than most. Here are three recent releases from Stony Plain, as well as one release that is even more independent.
Ride the One
Stony Plain Records
Among my favourite blues artists is Paul Reddick, and Reddick’s Villanelle (2004) is one of my most frequently played roots albums. An examination of pre-war blues and rural music, that album was acoustic sounding although electric instruments were present within the well-balanced mix. Without resorting to studio trickery, Reddick and producer Colin Linden created a full, natural sound with songs that were thoughtful and lasting.
Since that time, Reddick has continued to produce excellent blues music, and his recordings are of interest individually and collectively.
On Ride the One, Reddick reunites with Colin Cripps, producer of his last album Wishbone, and continues in a similar stream of full-bodied, band-focused blues. What is different this time out is the aggression present on songs including Ride the One’s lead tracks “Shadows” and “Celebrate.” While Reddick had previously touched on such in songs like “Whiskey in the Life of Man” and “Devil’s Load,” this time out it is the rule more than the exception.
The darkness of some of these songs, including “Living in Another World,” will challenge listeners, but they are pulled back from the edge by awareness that the blues needs more subtlety than other forms of roots music: go too far, and it becomes rock and roll, and usually not good rock and roll. Cripps and Reddick balance their more base instincts with gentle artistry in songs such as “Mourning Dove” and “Diamonds.” Even an up-tempo number such as “Watersmooth” is presented with an emphasis on the more gentle shadings of band interplay.
MonkeyJunk’s Steve Marriner is featured on guitar and keyboards throughout, with Cripps and Greg Cockerill contributing additional guitar. Reddick’s voice is afforded rather scary effects in a number of places, digging deep into Nick Cave territory on several songs. Elsewhere, as on “Love and Never Know” and “Gotta Find A…,” the approach is more natural and even satisfying.
My favoured blues will always be that which is more-acoustic and focused on the aged roots of the music. That Paul Reddick doesn’t want to spend all his time in the past is fine with me, as long as he continues to incorporate those influences in his music. On Ride the One he has done that most successfully.
Eric Bibb & North Country Far with Danny Thompson
The Happiest Man in the World
Stony Plain Records
Michael Jerome Browne. Paul Reddick. Maria Muldaur. Guy Davis. Eric Bibb.
That pretty much sums up the contemporary blues artists I have great interest in. Not many, but the quality is there, I like to think.
Eric Bibb’s last album was the excellent tribute Lead Belly’s Gold. This time out, the spectrum is a bit broader, incorporating a range of approaches to the blues. What remains consistent with all Bibb releases is that voice, smooth as Bailey’s with the same effect that sneaks up on you the more you imbibe.
These are almost exclusively songs of love and lust, and one can hear why Bibb favours this type of material: it is his natural palate. When he sings, “I’ll pump your water, light your stove, Take you on a picnic baby, in the shady grove,” in “I’ll Farm for You,” it isn’t so much dirty as a promise. Similarly, Bibb stays busy in the “Creole Café” and a “King Size Bed,” confessing that he was “Born to Be Your Man” while “Toolin’ Down the Road.” I guess it ain’t bragging if it’s true.
Producing these smooth blues numbers, Bibb and the band—a pair of Finnish brothers Janne (drums) and Olli (resophonic and pedal steel guitars) Haavisto, Petri Hakala (mandolin, mandola, fiddle), and Danny Thompson (upright bass)—have found a comfortable groove and ride it straight through. Despite its consistency, things never become mundane, each song revealing understated differences in approach.
One has to be impressed by the quality of guitar playing Bibb produces from his various acoustics. Listening to this album is such a satisfying experience. Nothing is cluttered, no one is attempting to elbow their way into the mix. Happiest Man in the World is a delightful listen for those who appreciate polished, acoustic blues.
Adding some diversity to the proceedings are songs not intended to lead to the bedroom. “Prison of Time” is filled with a longing for freedom, naturally, but there isn’t any bitterness just regret. “Tell Ol’ Bill” connects these contemporary performances to the roots of blues and folk music. The instrumental tunes, “1912 Skiing Disaster” and “Blueberry Boy” retain the album’s pervasive mood while allowing the instrumentalists the opportunity to further demonstrate their intuitive connections.
Rather unexpectedly, the album closes with a soupy rendition of “You Really Got Me,” allowing Bibb to (again) prove he can sing absolutely anything and make it sound as if he unearthed it from some obscure recording.
Eric Bibb turns sixty-five this year. Depending on how you’re counting, Happiest Man in the World is his fortieth album. I haven’t been listening for all that long, and have encountered only possibly a fifth of his recordings. But, this is one of the finer ones I’ve listened to. Beautifully recorded and artfully packaged, Happiest Man in the World is an album that deserves the accolades it is certain to garner.
Good Days a Comin
Right Side Up Records
With several recordings behind him, Missouri-based guitar player Ivas John’s Good Days a Comin is an acoustic folk, country, and blues recording (folk country blues—is that a thing?) presenting a cleanly recorded set of concise songs.
Two originals, “Roll Mississippi” and “Goin’ Back to Arkansas” provide the template for this recording, a breezy interpretation of acoustic roots music with an emphasis on companionable instrumental interplay. Cleanly played and pristinely recorded, one envisions four or five friends jamming on a shaded, rural porch, dogs resting beside their chairs. Laid-back doesn’t begin to describe it.
In his mid-thirties, but appearing a decade younger, John—whose family name is Dambrauskas, as fine a Lithuanian moniker as I’ve encountered—mixes a handful of standards with originals. “Dark As a Dungeon” is brooding, “Can’t Help Wonder Where I’m Bound” brims with Eric Bibbeque optimism. Mid-set, “Greenville Trestle High”—a song that seems to be ageless but only appeared in the last thirty years—is provided an earthy, low-key interpretation, highlighted not only by John’s effective leads, but bluegrass bandleader David Davis’ timing and impeccable mandolin chop.
Jack Williams comes to mind listening to John’s guitar playing: it isn’t flashy, and he doesn’t go looking for unnecessary notes just for the sake of playing them. His songwriting, augmented in places by his father Edward, is consistent with his instrumental approach. Not wordy, but sufficiently detailed to attract the listeners attention.
“Things Ain’t Been the Same” aches, honest and unadorned. Less complex emotionally, “Keep Your Train Movin’” is equally well-crafted, a gentle blues-jam that connects with one’s inner rambler. “Here I Am,” again featuring Davis, reveals the other side of the wanderer’s heart.
Over the last decade, Ivas John has built a nice little portfolio. Good Days a Comin provides additional evidence that he is a folk country blues picker and vocalist to keep an ear open for.
Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne
Jumpin’ & Boppin’
Stony Plain Records
Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne’s tenth recording is the first I’ve listened to, but this definitely isn’t the first time I’ve encountered the legendary keyboard player.
Over the last decade, Wayne has become prominent enough so that even casual blues listeners have likely heard his music on various radio and satellite services. He has been awarded a couple Living Blues awards, a Juno and a Maple Blues award, and has been recognized for his long-time contributions to the music.
Born in Spokane, and raised in Los Angeles and New Orleans, Kenny Wayne is now firmly established as a Canadian ambassador of the blues piano. Jumpin’ and Boppin’ is his third album for Stony Plain, and its title tells the tale.
Up-tempo through and through, but not one-dimensional, Jumpin’ and Boppin’ is a tribute to the type of music created in the 1950s by artists that influenced Wayne’s development, folks like Louis Jordan, Amos Milburn, and Fats Domino and no one so much—to these ears—as Ray Charles. There is lyrical substance in some songs, but mostly this is music for dancing and jiving. Wayne’s voice is soulful and strong, and he is accompanied by some of the finest players around.
Duke Robillard makes appearances, including on the opening “Blues Boss Shuffle,” and bassman Russell Jackson toured with B.B. King for years, and has recorded with Wayne previously. Charlie Jacobson is the featured guitar player, and Dave Babcock brings his saxophone including on “Blues Stew” and “Blackmail Blues,” two outstanding cuts.
“Bankrupted Blues” contains wisdom in its grooves, and the title track “Jumpin’ and Boppin’ With Joy” is a breezy, toe-tappin’ celebration of the boogie woogie. “Back to Square One” is more restrained, a jazz-touched portrait of romance.
Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne brags that he has the beat that won’t let go, and this is ably demonstrated throughout Jumpin’ and Boppin’s 45-plus minutes.
Hopefully you have found something to pass this rainy long weekend at Fervor Coulee. Support the artists, support the labels. Catch up to me @FervorCoulee
From the first notes of this explosive album, I was excited. I remained so as the album unfolded over its almost 40 minutes, and then I hit play again and was just as engaged the second time through.
And the fifth…
I love soulful, southern music, and this album delivers. All over the place.
Think Larry Jon Wilson if he had been born a woman.
Think Bobbie Gentry had she had sung the blues.
Think Lacy J. Dalton fronting a rock ‘n’ roll band with Joy Lynn White, Candi Staton, and Millie Jackson.
Not being previously familiar with Samantha Martin, I came to this disc with absolutely no preconceived notions. And I absolutely fell under its spell.
A bit spiritual, a lot lonely, a touch angry, and a whole bunch soulful, Send the Nightingale makes the fine music Martin had previously made with The Haggard and on her own seem pale in comparison. As appealing as those sounds are—and she has music from those previous albums streaming at her website—they serve as an appetizer for the explosion that is Send the Nightingale.
The reso strutting front woman has certainly found her stride here. Featuring the vocal support of Sherie Marshall and Stacie Tabb, songs like “Addicted to Love” and “Won’t You Stay” cry out for understanding as they burst from speakers. With additional guitar support from Mikey McCallum (who was part of The Haggard, I believe), “When You Walk Away” has the heart-wrenching qualities that one remembers from “Misty Blue.” “Mississippi Sun” has some Lucinda within its lipstick kisses remembrances.
While there is no shortage of nostalgia within Martin’s sound with Delta Sugar, it also possesses a powerful burst of energetic freshness. “Don’t Shoot” has rapid fire guitar licks blending with soulfully swinging vocals, and “Give Me Your Mercy” cries with passion.
It is still early, but Send the Nightingale is going to be one of my favourite albums this year.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Kat Danser Baptized by the Mud Self-Released; Distributed by Outside Music
It would be nigh impossible to follow the Alberta roots music scene without having heard Kat Danser, a modern practitioner of the bluesiest of the southern tradition. She is a formidable presence on non-commercial radio throughout the area; Baptized By the Mud is Danser’s fourth album and the first to make its way into my hands
Produced by Steve Dawson, this album benefits from his and Danser’s combined understanding of and appreciation for traditional blues and spiritual music. This is a multi-dimensional and spiritual blues excursion, one that is often uplifting, frequently contemplative, and occasionally dark.
Throughout, the guitar playing of Danser and Dawson- both playing slide, Danser also contributing electric reso and Dawson his typical smorg of stringed instruments- stands out. Their evocative performances create a vibrant tapestry of expressive, powerful images and moods within an atmosphere that is simultaneously radiant and smoky- the church of the roadhouse, perhaps.
Danser’s voice is incredible, deep and lusty without a trace of avarice or affectation. There is a little Tracy Nelson here, a bit of Lucinda there, Sweet Honey in the Rock’s spirit abounds- bluesier that Irma Thomas, but no less soulful. Danser isn’t a belter, nor shrinking violet: her singing is controlled and yet spirited. A listen to her gentle rendition of “O’ Mary, Don’t You Weep” provides compelling evidence of the power gained through restraint.
“Sun Goes Down,” the album’s lead track and one of eight songs written by Danser, captures the celebratory spirit of New Orleans. The sensational title track is darker, with lyrics that could be taken in at least a couple different ways: “I am the blessed child that dirt and water made.” “Winsome, Losesome” and “Sweet Baybay” are more playful, the former even boastful in its self-deprecation, within the Delta tradition, while “Notes From the Other Side” calls on the spirit of Ma Rainey to sing “these blues all day and all night.”
Among the non-originals are Rainey’s “Prove It On Me Blues,” Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “You Gotta Move,” and a moving churchblues rendition of “None of Us Are Free.”
Indeed, a joyful blues noise abounds.
Beautiful packaging design by A Man Called Wrycraft makes the CD the way to go…if you care about such.
Visit www.KatDanser.com for a listen.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. @FervorCoulee on the Tweeter
Michael Jerome Browne The Road is Dark (Borealis Records)
This road is dark indeed. And blue.
A mainstay of the Canadian roots and blues scene, Michael Jerome Browne has released outstanding albums over his career, and this new project may be his finest yet. With slide guitar as primary focus, a bit of banjo and 12-string, some washboard, harmonica, and mandolin, The Road is Dark was recorded live with no overdubs.
An acoustic album, Browne explores the essence of the blues- death, steppin’ out, addiction, jail, and redemption- through 14 songs that are as powerful as they are enjoyable. Perhaps the finest blues album we’ve heard this year, there is no frivolity on the back roads Browne travels here. Highlights include Married Woman, Sinner’s Plea, and If Memphis Don’t Kill Me.
(Originally published in the Red Deer Advocate, December 16 2011)
In my Roots Music column of two weeks ago, I featured the recent album from Maritimes Bluesman Matt Andersen and the several months old release from southern alt-grass outfit Dehlia Low. The latter album has been in and out of my listening for months and I somehow missed writing about it in a more timely manner.
Matt Andersen Coal Mining Blues Busted Flat Records
Matt Andersen, the larger than life blues singer and guitarist from New Brunswick, has released the album that we’ve known he’s had in him.
Featuring a strong, focused sound- without doubt influenced by producer Colin Linden- Coal Mining Blues is a more thoughtfully executed project than some of
Andersen’s earlier releases, albums that sometimes suffered from too much flash
and showmanship. As a result, the best songs- including originals “Fired Up,” “I Work Hard for the Luxury,” “Home Sweet Home” (featuring Garth Hudson), and the title track- are more complete in their execution, but are not dramatically superior to the songs that
‘fill-out’ the disc.
Start to finish, this is a very strong roots album. Charlie Rich’s “Feel Like
Going Home” brings the album to a powerful yet restrained close, revealing
Andersen’s growing maturity as a singer and artist. (www.StubbyFingers.ca)
Dehlia Low Ravens & Crows Rebel Records
In a year that has revealed an incredible wealth of bluegrass, acoustiblue, and jamgrass recordings from youthful performers- among them Bearfoot, 23 String Band, Greensky Bluegrass, April Verch, and Sierra Hull- the strongest of the bunch may belong to North
Carolina’s Dehlia Low.
Fronted by the beautifully-voiced Anya Hinkle, this five-piece’s sound has been described as Appalachiagrassicana and that about covers it.
With roots in bluegrass and mountain music, this smooth-sounding outfit doesn’t just sing about little cabins, faithlessness, and Glory; their approach blends acoustic country and bluegrass into a fresh-sounding, banjo-less amalgam that is bright and firm, revealing a mettle that is as impressive as it is non-traditional. (www.DehliaLow.com)
A final post this evening, to round out the Favourites of the Year series.
So much good music, so little time to allow it to actuallysoak in and become engrained within ones soul.
A top 20 list would have worked here, but a top 10 makes more sense as a concise summation of the Canadian music I most enjoyed this year.
I’ve deliberately not included any Alberta talent on this list as I’ll be publishing a top 5 Alberta roots list next week in the newspaper. Yes, J.R. Shore is from Calgary; blame it on fatigue! This isn’t science- precision isn’t always necessary.
Through my participation on the Polaris Music Prize jury, I have the opportunity to listen to a tonne of Canadian music. Unfortunately, most of it is what might have once been categorized as rock; in my experience, not enough roots music makes its way to the jury discussions. Still, I was able to sample a pretty healthy dose of Canadian roots this year, and these are ten of my favourites, most of which have been reviewed, described, or discussed here at Fervor Coulee.
- Kim Beggs- Blue Bones
- J.R. Shore- Talkin’ on a Bus
- The Sadies- Darker Circles
- Jenny Whiteley- Forgive and Forget
- Fred Eaglesmith- Cha Cha Cha
- Ron Hynes- Stealing Genius
- The Cowboy Junkies- Renmin Park- Nomad Series, Volume 1
- Jim Byrnes- Everywhere West
- The Mountains and The Trees- I Made This For You
- The Wilderness of Manitoba- When You Left the Fire
Reissues, both courtesy of Bumstead Records: The Blue Shadows On the Floor of Heaven and k.d. lang A Truly Western Experience.
Thanks for spending some time at Fervor Coulee today and throughout the past year. Hope to have you visit again in the new year. Best, Donald
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