Archive for the ‘Canadian blues’ Tag

Canadian Blues- three reviews   Leave a comment

Over the last eight weeks, more than a dozen blues albums have made their way through the system to land in the wee metal box down the road.

Lots of electric blues, some with a Chicago feel, others more southern, many guitar-based and a couple pianocentric albums, quite a few featuring female frontpersons, even more with too many wankering guitar solos, a small number featuring fusion attempts, and one more with a ‘trad.’ acoustic blues foundation. All have been listened to, several only once because that is all they seemed to deserve (sorry!) while others have created my personal soundtrack over the past several weeks.

I enjoy blues music, although not as much as some other forms of roots music, but I don’t actively seek it out on a day-to-day basis. I have favourite contemporary artists—Rory Block, Eric Bibb, Paul Reddick, Sue Foley, Watermelon Slim, Colin James, Crystal Shawanda, Maria Muldaur, to name a few—and the likes of John Lee Hooker, Lead Belly, and Alberta Hunter have been a part of my listening since I was a teenager: I recall one summer (I think— after all, when else would I be watching it?) morning becoming transfixed by Alberta Hunter on Good Morning America. Still, it would take a lot to get me off the couch to attend a blues performance.

Here are my thoughts on three really strong blues albums that have recently come my way.

CD-cover-1440-x-1440

Suzie Vinnick Shake The Love Around SuzieVinnick.com

From Western Canada, Suzie Vinnick is well-familiar to Alberta blues listeners. Now based in the Niagara area of Ontario, Vinnick continues to make her way to the prairies almost annually. Early in the album opening “Happy As Hell,” Vinnick sings,  “I may complain but I know, I am living a charmed life…I got no reason to ever bitch and moan, but I do sometimes…” It appears life is agreeing with the vibrant singer, songwriter, and bandleader, because across the album’s dozen tracks the positive receives greater emphasis than its opposite.

Blessed with a gorgeous voice, throughout Shake The Love Around Vinnick leads her band through terrific songs filled with rich lyrical insights, smooth arrangements, and stunning and near-overwhelming performances. One example would be “Golden Rule” (“It costs nothing to be kind,” she sings) featuring an almost Laurel Canyon vibe with Vinnick handling all guitars—acoustic, electric, bass, and lap steel—to excellent effect. Truly an indie artist, Vinnick has again released an album without label support, produced herself (with Mark Lalama), and done the bulk of the instrumental heavy lifting.

Unlike the previous favourite Me ‘n’ Mabel, the album that made me a fan, which was largely a solo album, Shake The Love Around is a band album. Still naturally tasteful, this time out the approach is a bit more aggressive (“Watch Me,” and “Lean Into The Light.”) An ideal summer listen, the album is abounding with songs that make this listener think of Bobbie Gentry (all evidence to the contrary, not everything I listen to runs through my Gentry filter) including a sweltering cover of John Fogerty’s “A Hundred and Ten In The Shade” and “Crying A River For You,” featuring Colin Linden; to Linden’s and Vinnick’s collaborative credit, each of their guitar parts are discernible and distinctive.

“Beautiful Little Fool” has a playful vibe and Percy Mayfield’s “Danger Zone” allows Vinnick to carry a song—typically performed with horns and all manner of accompaniment—very ably with just her voice and bass: it may be my favourite performance on the album, and is an ideal selection given the album’s theme of spreading positivity while surrounded by darkness. However, the very next song—”Creaking Pines”—is also a favourite, a wisp of a song equally effective—a little seductive, a lot haunting—bringing to mind the legendary Alberta Hunter.

Shake The Love Around is an excellent blues and roots album from Suzie Vinnick. She never disappoints.

Angel

Angel Forrest Electric Love AngelForrest.ca

If Suzie Vinnick is great—and she is—and well-regarded within the Canadian blues industry—and she is, having been crowned as Female Vocalist of the Year six times by the Maple Blues Awards—Angel Forrest is held in similar high esteem.

Forrest is the reigning and five time Maple Blues Female Vocalist of the Year, and on this double live set, she shows why. The Quebec veteran focuses on vocals, and does with considerable gravelly panache, while leading her four-piece band through a set of standards and I presume, originals—at least songs I am not familiar with (songwriting credits must always be provided within an album package)—from a single concert captured last October in St-Hyacinthe, Quebec.

The show opening “All The Way” (a co-write with guitarist Denis Coulombe, I believe) sets the stage for almost an hour and a half of blues-rock. Forrest is at her strongest belting out her own songs including “Hold On Tight, Mr. I’m Alright” “Spoil Me Up,” and “Mother Tongue Blues.” Not much is held back—or left to interpretation—on the brassy “Move On.”

Realizing she has long sung Janis Joplin songs, I find her versions of “Piece Of My Heart” and “Me and Bobby McGee” a little too on the nose—imitation rather than inspiration—although I am confident there are others who will strongly disagree, and I appreciate the guitar work: it isn’t that I didn’t like Forrest’s versions, it is just I feel I have heard these vocal approaches often enough. Her take of “Turtle Blues” is more impressive, and stronger still are her takes of “House of the Rising Sun” and the extended, set-closing jam “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean”/”Hound Dog”/”Whole Lotta Love” which are full of energy and passion.

Angel Forrest has released a number of albums—and I believe this is her third live release—but this is the first to come to my attention: I’ll be keeping my ears open for more. I’m intrigued.

CALLING_ALL_BLUES_FRONT

Sugar Brown It’s A Blues World: Calling All Blues SugarBrownMusic.com

Speaking of intrigued.

When was the last time a Ph. D. released a blues album? Not intriguing enough? Okay, when was the last time a University of Toronto associate professor of East Asian Studies, born in Bowling Green, Ohio into a Japanese-Korean family released a blues album?

That’s what I thought.

Proving that the blues is a force of nurture as much as nature, Sugar Brown has unleashed a powerful blues missive upon an unsuspecting populace.

Man, Sugar Brown plays my kind of blues. Influenced by the Chicago blues, a sound well familiar to Ken Kawashima as that is where he got his start blowing harp in blues bands. Now fronting a band on both guitar and harmonica, Sugar Brown has created thirteen new songs—some of them based around and reinventing familiar songs of various extract—that kept this listener rapt for the entirety of their 48-minute run. Some of his lyrics are hopeful, some are rather darka balance I can certainly appreciate.

Fronting the likes of Michelle Josef (mostly) and Chuck Bucket (three tracks) (drums), Russ Boswell (basses), Minnie Heart and Nichol Robertson (various string instruments), and Julian Fauth (piano and organ), Sugar Brown has captured his blues in a warm and inviting atmosphere utilizing some vintage equipment and a knack for a variety of blues structures. As stated in the accompanying press material, here Brown “mines the various strata of the blues genre.” Taking full advantage of the broad blues palate, no two songs sound too much alike even as they may explore a common thematic spectrum.

Highlights include the finger-picking grounded “Hard to Love” and “Lousy Dine,” a song built around the adroit lyric “everybody’s scrambling for the same lousy dime.” “It’s A Blues World” is a song for the times, an old-timey sounding lamentation with a bit of “The House of the Rising Sun” in its foundation.

For an album rich in reflection, Sugar Brown doesn’t let the listener soak in misery for too long. Numbers including “Dew On The Grass,” “Out Of The Frying Pan”, and “Those Things You Said” are lighter and livelier. “Sure As The Stars” is a sassy, kiss-off piece, while “Tide Blues” reminds me of something Doc Watson might have played around with on the porch with Merle or grandson Richard. By the time we reach the closing “Brothers,” we have been fully immersed in a fully satisfying blues session.

From its striking, etched cover art through to the clarity of the recording itself and the strength of the songs, Sugar Brown has created a memorable album. When he wants to, he puts a fine growl in his voice, while elsewhere his approach is pure, natural, and clear (“Love Me Twice.”)

It’s A Blues World: Calling All Blues is my introduction to Sugar Brown. I’ll be hearing more.

 

 

Advertisements

Steve Kozak Band- It’s Time review   Leave a comment

Steve Kozak Band- It’s Time

sk-cd-cover-3My formative FM radio years were 1978-1983, and during those years bracketing high school I spent most of my time tuned to K97 out of Edmonton, as station that—in those days—had a seemingly liberal approach to the music they played. There was plenty that would become defined as classic rock, but there appeared to always be a little room for things that were more bluesy, especially if it satisfied CanCon requirements. So, between the endless plays of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Moody Blues, there was usually some Powder Blues, Downchild, Pat Travers Band, or David Wilcox.

All of which is a long way to say that It’s Time from the Steve Kozak Band—had it been released thirty-plus years ago—might have found itself getting mainstream radio play. Produced by Matthew Rogers (The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer), Kozak delivers a compelling guitar-based blues album that blends distinctive original material with covers of songs from Jody Williams (“You May”), Henry Glover and Julius Dixon (“Love, Life and Money”), and Magic Sam (“Every Night and Every Day.”) Brook Benton’s “Kiddio” is stretched out just enough, allowing it to fill the room with no little magic, and Jerry Cook’s saxophone is especially appreciated. Kozak’s originals do not pale beside these classic tracks. The lead track “Cane Sugar Sweet” is instantly appealing, “Trouble” digs deep, and “Stranger In My Hometown” has a gentle melancholy made all the sweeter by  Dave Webb’s Hammond organ.

The Steve Kozak Band is building up steam and are nominated for a Break Out West award as Blues Artist of the Year. It’s Time would suggest that their time is now.

Guy Bélanger- Traces & Scars review   Leave a comment

guy

Guy Bélanger Traces & Scars  Disques Bros www.GuyBelangerMusic.com

Opening with two rather sedate and gentle instrumental and largely acoustic pieces, one is immediately drawn into the atmospheric experience veteran Quebec harmonica player Guy Bélanger has created. This is the sound of wires and wood (and harmonica)  in no hurry to get where they are headed—for Bélanger it is truly about the journey. This sense of the inevitable passage of time as something to be embraced is not only apparent in the album’s title, but throughout these 10 instrumentals and two songs. His song notes help us understand this perspective, but the music most likely stands as its own evidence.

A lively number, “Fat Boy,” features its composer Preston Reed playing the tapping-style of acoustic guitar playing, and is an early favourite. Stephen Bruton’s (and Malford Milligan’s) “Who’s Left Standing,” is provided a stunning and memorable performance via vocalist Luce Dufault and Bélanger’s band. The album’s other vocal track is “Little Heart,” and Bélanger’s voice is ideally suited to the task. “Nitassinan” is another highlight of this far-reaching, moving album; a sense of remoteness encompasses this song, and—to these ears–it contains echoes of the music of Kashtin.

Put the kettle on, and enjoy.

The Blues and nothing but the Blues- reviews   Leave a comment

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.

Paul

Paul Reddick

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.

Bibb

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.

Ivas

Ivas John

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

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

Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar- Send the Nightingale review   Leave a comment

imagesO, boy!

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.

http://www.samanthamartin.ca/

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

Kat Danser- Baptized By the Mud review   Leave a comment

Danser2013_CDCover-300x300Kat 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   Leave a comment

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)