Archive for the ‘Canadian Folk Music’ Tag
Okay, now that your eyes have adjusted…with what may be the folk/roots album package of the year, Saskatoon’s (“They put the sass into Saskatchewan,” says Jim Lauderdale) In With the Old has released a simply delightful album. My Mother’s Couch is 45-minutes and 13 songs of unbridled folk roots joy- a heaping helping of bluegrass and related old-time sounds, family-tight vocal harmony, and originality- all blended together and sounding so, so good. You’ll find my musings about In With the Old over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass.
Hey, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. I hope you find reason to stop by regularly. Follow me at @FervorCoulee on the Twitter.
Jenny Whiteley The Original Jenny Whiteley Black Hen Music
I first encountered Ontario’s Jenny Whiteley as a member of Heartbreak Hill, a bluegrass band featuring Dottie Cormier, Christopher Quinn, Victor Bateman, and Danny Whiteley. I don’t recall too much about their performance at that Blueberry Bluegrass fest appearance outside the impact of a single Whiteley song: “John Tyrone” remains one of the finest bluegrass songs that have come out of Canada, and from the first time I heard the song I knew Whiteley was someone I wanted to learn more about.
I didn’t get the opportunity at the time, but months later Whiteley found me at Wintergrass and offered me a copy of her debut self-titled album. That independently released disc displayed Whiteley’s remarkable ability for creating characters within a few well-crafted lines, and earned comparison to Emmylou Harris’ recent Red Dirt Girl. Whiteley was revealed as a major talent, and was rewarded with the first of two Juno Awards for best solo roots/traditional recording. With sultry vocal sophistication, Whiteley has previously released four albums (Hopetown, Dear, and Forgive or Forget followed the debut, with Hopetown also picking up a Juno) filled with love, loss, and regret.
In 2010, I wrote of Forgive or Forget that is was more universally palatable than her rootsy initial offering, but one missed the narrative intensity and youthful fragility of songs such as “Gloria” and “Train Goin’ West.” As one who frequently better enjoys musicians early, developing years than their fully-realized artistic selves (Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Jack Ingram, Dolly Parton, and many others fit into that frame) while still appreciating what they do, The Original Jenny Whiteley appears designed expressly for me.
On this recording, Whiteley seemingly satisfies a desire to more fully explore the music that provided the foundation for her development—old-time folk sounds that have existed and thrived for generations. She even goes back to a song previously recorded on Dear, “Banjo Girl.” A recognition of her rich and diverse Americana/Canadiana upbringing within the venerable Whiteley clan, this fifth recording is a rootsy masterpiece. In a lesser artist’s hands such a multi-dimensional homage might sound disjointed; The Original Jenny Whiteley is united in its eccentric melding of the rich traditional and roots tapestry—folk, jugband, bluegrass, early jazz and ragtime, Francophone, Dylan, and the blues.
Singing “Groundhog” accompanied by producer Sam Allison’s old-time banjo and Teillard Frost’s percussion (harp, bones, etc.,) Whiteley isn’t striving for cultural appropriation or cornpone authenticity. Rather, she is singing of rural experiences that are as genuine as the acoustic sounds comprising the song. For “Stealin’ Stealin'” Whiteley goes back to the Memphis Jug Band, but doesn’t stay there infusing the timeless tune with nine decades of patina via The Grateful Dead, Taj Mahal, and her own danged self.
Whiteley explores the school of hard knocks in “Higher Learning” while acknowledging (via Chris Coole) the thousands of fools on stools eking out a living (of sorts) playing for “$100” a night. “In the Pines” (Bill Monroe, not Huddie Ledbetter or Nirvana) provides a welcome old-time (not bluegrass) connection to Heartbreak Hill, while The Incredible String Band’s “Log Cabin in the Sky” (perhaps) serves as a connection to the generation of players surrounding father Chris and his brother Ken.
The Original Jenny Whiteley is beautiful. By going to her past and rooting around in her trunk of influences, Jenny Whiteley has found the inspiration to create an uncompromising, uncluttered representation of what (mostly) acoustic folk music is all about. In this case, you can judge an album by its cover, a lovely, unadorned sketch by Stewart Jones.
As she sings in “Things Are Coming My Way”—”O me, How good I feel.” After spending thirty minutes listening to this album, you will be singing the same. It is early, of course, but I can’t see a way this album doesn’t make my Polaris Music Prize ballot.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. I hope you are inspired to purchase the music of the artists featured because they deserve it!
Maria Dunn Gathering Distant Whisper Music
One of Alberta’s foremost folk musicians—I believe only John Wort Hannam is her equal—returns with her sixth collection of lyrically-rich gems. An artist who places her convictions and heart on display in complementary proportions, Dunn has found balance between sharing the inspirational and compelling within songs that are insightful, artfully constructed, and just plain enjoyable.
There will always be more than a bit of the Celtic lands in Dunn’s music, and throughout Gathering African, Asian, and Canadian First Nations influences can also be heard. An overarching theme of community connection is woven into each number, ably achieved through Dunn’s soulful lyrics and the contributions of collaborators including long-time partners Shannon Johnson, Jeremiah McDade, and Solon McDade. As always, one comes away from this Dunn recording knowing more about the world than one was previously aware.
Like the finest troubadours, Dunn communicates: she is the vessel through which others exist. She reveals the innermost, personal, and captivatingly universal perspectives and insights of devoted parents, the down-trodden challenged by circumstance, those connected to the land by more than choice, and the youthful who rise above.
Beautiful stuff Gathering is, certainly one of the finest recordings to be released this year. Those who compare Maria Dunn to Woody Guthrie, Hazel Dickens, Jean Ritchie, and Buffy Sainte-Marie aren’t taking the easy way out: with the release of Gathering she demonstrates that she is an international folk artist of significance.
Video of “When I Was Young” from Gathering. Several other videos from other projects, too.
Ryan Boldt Broadside Ballads (Big White Cloud/Dahl Street Records)
It takes true effort to listen to and fully comprehend the old ballads. In a click-a-minute world, where video clips go by in ten seconds, when songs require little more than a beat, a groove, and a chorus of five words, and where our intellect is reduced to 140 characters, it requires sustained concentration to appreciate songs that sometimes have no chorus, whose verses commonly number eight, ten, and more, and whose lyrics include arcane vocabulary and circumstance.
Ryan Boldt hopes we’ll make the attempt. Boldt, lead singer of the remarkable western Canadian band The Deep Dark Woods, is stranger not to challenging material. Their five albums are replete with songs and sounds that force astute listeners to draw ever closer to the speaker. “The Banks of the Leopold Canal,” “The Ballad of Frank Dupree,” “Redwood Forest,” and “18th of December” are but four of the group’s songs that have prepared the way for Broadside Ballads, while “When First Into this Country,” a song of vintage similar to many found on Broadside Ballads, was recorded on The Deep Dark Woods’ Winter Hours.
Ryan Boldt has an old soul.
Broadside ballads were a product of the 18th and 19th centuries, essentially the lyric sheets of the day. Sold in the streets and posted in alehouses and elsewhere, they allowed the common folk the opportunity (should they be able to read them) to study the ever-changing traditional songs, as well as the songs of more recent creation that were working their way into daily experience: songs capturing tales of gents and ladies, maids who met terrible fates, and rounders who left turbulence in their wake.
Broadside Ballads is Boldt’s interpretation of such songs along with a few of more contemporary origin. With minimal accompaniment, and at times nominal annunciation, Boldt has created an album more stark than DDW has so far attempted, but which is every bit as appealing and compelling.
“Love is Pleasin’,” a moody song that has as many variations as it has had singers, opens this compact album, which comes in at a modest 34-minutes. The sense of finality within our world is beautifully captured in songs including “Just As the Tide Was Flowing” and “Rambleaway,” with ambient bird song captured on select songs providing additional connection to country environs.
“The Welcome Table” and “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” may not have their roots in the broadside tradition—or, perhaps in a larger sense, they do—but are of more recent origin. “The Welcome Table” (“I am going to sit at the welcome table one of these days”) was an important hymn during the American civil rights movement, and like many of these songs was rediscovered in Appalachian communities early in the 20th century.
Known via performances by everyone from The Dubliners, The Pogues, and apparently Justin Timberlake, “The Auld Triangle” is possibly the most familiar song in this set, and Boldt’s performance is stunning. Accompanied by little (if anything) more than acoustic guitar, the affect of the narrator’s isolation is stark and chilling.
A song about the discovery of a “Poor Murdered Woman laid on the cold ground” resonates across the centuries in a country that has both a Highway of Tears and a government that didn’t have the hundreds of missing and murdered aboriginal women (and men) “high on our radar.” As it does on all these songs, the beauty of the language used in this song is incredible, vivid in description of event, disposition, and atmosphere.
Ryan Boldt has been creating exceptional music since The Deep Dark Woods appeared within the Canadian music landscape a decade ago. If folk, roots, and traditional music are within your wheelhouse, Broadside Ballads is sure to appeal.
Fiddle & Banjo
Tunes from the North-Songs From the South
This has been a great summer for roots music.
Whether the folk and alt-folk (whatever the frick that is) sounds of Norma MacDonald and Nick Ferrio, troubling, dark, and challenging sounds from the likes of Rodney DeCroo, Brock Zeman, and Gordie Tentrees, or breezy, fresh bluegrass from Dale Ann Bradley, the Slocan Ramblers, and Shotgun Holler, there has been no shortage of new roots music for the adventurous listener. Sometimes great things have been missed on first (and fifth) listen, such as the swirling, swampy, harp-based blues of Grant Dermody, the sweet and elemental music of The Honey Dewdrops, and the Appalachian honky tonk of the Honeycutters. Eventually, like most elements of quality, what you need to hear eventually makes itself known.
More than anything else though, this summer has been marked by the number of exceptional old-time sounding albums coming my way. Whether a traditional, mountain-based banjo release from Kaia Kater, a mid-western song cycle celebrating and anthologizing the plains from Jami Lynn, or a ‘grassopolitain set from the Lonesome Trio, old-time has been well represented these past several weeks.
Just to be clear, I had never heard of Kaia Kater or Jami Lynn a month ago, but now I can’t imagine them not being part of my musical soundtrack. Another amazing album released this summer comes from the equally (to me) unfamiliar Canadian duo, Karrnnel Sawitsky and Daniel Koulack. And yet again I am left wondering, How did I go this long without hearing for these folks?
Recording as Fiddle & Banjo, this duo is remarkable. Karrnnel Sawitsky plays the fiddle, and having been raised on the vibrant music found within the celebratory environs of Saskatchewan (barn dances, weddings, community hall performances, and the like), plays in a range of styles depending on the needs of the tune or song. Daniel Koulack is a clawhammer banjo performer from Winnipeg, and coaxes evocative phrases from his 5-string.
With an album title of Tunes from the North-Songs From the South providing the framework, the expectations from the resulting album are fairly clear. Fiddle & Banjo doesn’t disappoint with tunes that capture the Métis, Quebecois, and mid-eastern Canadian fiddling traditions of our country while embracing southern influences throughout including on a few original compositions.
The sounds can be pensive and calming (“Waltz of Life,” a Sawitsky tune), soothing (“Lullabye,” from Koulack”), and lively and festive (“The Old French Set,” a trio of traditional pieces including the “Red River Jig.”) From the playing of Saskatchewan Métis fiddling legend John Arcand comes “The Woodchuck Set” featuring “Indian At the Woodchuck,” “Old Reel of 8,” and “The Arkansas Traveller”: I’m not sure old-time, traditional sounds get better than this four-minute festival of fiddling and frailing.
Pushing Tunes from the North-Songs From the South over the top are five songs featuring the voice of Joey Landreth of the Juno-winning The Bros. Landreth. “Red Rocking Chair” is lonesome and mournful, buoyed by the lively instrumentation, with “How Does a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live” and “Killin’ Floor” suitably dark and bluesy. The highlight for me may be the spritely rendition of “Little Birdie,” although “Groundhog” comes a close second.
Kaia Kater, The Slocan Ramblers, and now Fiddle & Banjo have moved Canadian old-time music making to the fore this summer. Hopefully we’re ready for this explosion of artful, contemporary talents.
Sincere thanks for tracking down Fervor Coulee. Donald
Over at the Lonesome Road Review, we did something different a couple weeks ago by reviewing three excellent albums in one piece. The latest albums from singer-songwriters Brock Zeman, Gordie Tentrees, and Rodney DeCroo are the focus, and all I can say is, Wow! What a slate of discs- personal, introspective, and poetically charming. Yup, we have great singers and writers up this way, no doubt.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Norma MacDonald Burn the Tapes www.NormaMacDonald. com
I’ve had enough of wispy-voiced waifs, of all gender, singing folk-pop music slicker than margarine. This summer, I am demanding voices of substance, ones that move me, ones which do more than blend with the car floor carpeting.
Give me Gabrielle Papillon. Give me Amelia Curran.
Give me Norma MacDonald.
Burn the Tapes is the Halifax-based Cape Bretoner’s fourth album, a charming, self-produced effort that reveals an acuity of vision and execution as impressive as it is enjoyable. It is an album that makes demands of the listener not because it isn’t engaging, but because there is so much to appreciate that an initial, inattentive glean may leave one feeling inadequate.
Does one focus on the multi-dimensional arrangements, ones that meld folk awareness with nostalgic, 70s pop orchestral complexity? The washes of pedal steel on select tracks, ones that any neo-country traditionalist would be proud to call their own? The voice, rapturous with a soft, embracing lilt and phrasing that is comfortable and effective?
Give Burn the Tapes two or three attentive listens, and the picture becomes clear. MacDonald has crafted an album equal parts Rosanne Cash and Handsome Family, speaking to the heart and soul of listeners who have experienced dark, lonely evenings surrounded by strangers, ghosts, and regrets.
“You Can’t Carry It Around” calls for action, encouraging the encumbered to lighten their accumulated anguish. “To Nebraska” isn’t the first song to use repeated plays of Nebraska (The Cash Brothers went in a different direction in 2001) as a cultural touchstone, but dang it if it isn’t fine. Dripping with mood courtesy of Dale Murray’s pedal steel, Ben Ross’s percussion, and the harmony duo of Kim Harris and Gabrielle Papillon (funny what you discover reading liner notes!) MacDonald’s protagonist questions her faith (“my heart’s on fire”) in a challenged relationship: the emotions are genuine, but one hopes creatively achieved.
Reflecting on relationships appears to be MacDonald’s forte, whether weaving meaning into an “Old Song” (“I’m not saying you should burn the tapes, I’m just saying let’s see what difference that it makes”) or tentatively reaching across bridges too long left unattended (“Company.”) “Hard to Get Back” closes the album on buoyant, but still longing, notes, with MacDonald singing—as she does throughout—in a natural manner, her voice vaguely reminiscent of Nanci Griffith. A duet with gravel voiced Gabe Minnikin is a refreshing mid-disc change of pace.
Burn the Tapes is an album that is deeply moving, marked by sensitivity that isn’t cloying or overwrought, and musically complex. Norma MacDonald has hit her stride with this one; we’ll be hearing more, I believe. I hope. There’s a lot out there to listen to, and you can’t absorb it all: make an effort to find MacDonald.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald