Archive for the ‘Canadian Folk Music’ Tag

Tom Savage, Mark Martyre, & Rob Lutes reviewed   Leave a comment

Three Canadian singer-songwriters. Three very different voices and visions.

What keeps me writing about roots music? The money dried up in 2012. Most PR and label types expect writers to get by with downloads, totally disregarding the importance of packaging art, notes, and musician credits. It is more difficult than ever as a freelance writer to even get any attention from ‘major’ (and major independent) labels. So, why bother?

The music, of course, is the reason. Albums like these three are why I keep challenging myself to write on a daily and weekly basis, albums that most folks will sadly never encounter. Heck, one could have a very interesting hour-long radio show each week just playing tracks from and talking about one unheralded album: all three of these would be candidates for inclusion.

Tom SavageTom Savage Everything Intertwined TomSavage.ca

Kingston, Ontario’s Tom Savage doesn’t have an obviously unique voice, but it is terribly appealing. He starts out the lead track (“Forever”) reminding one of raucous Ron Hynes (“Your hair gets grey, your senses fade away,” he sings the passage of our time) before slipping into a most natural approach: his own, of course, but with strong overtones of mid-career Warren Zevon. The music—up tempo, full-throttle rock ‘n’ roll with a troubadour’s heart—certainly is in the Sentimental Hygiene/Mr. Bad Example neighbourhood.

With four or five previous albums, Savage comes to my attention fully-formed, confident and a master of his own game. Full-throated, on songs like “Kid” and “17 Years,” we’re reminded of a time when commercial radio would have found a place for strong performances that might pin back a few ears. Lovers find themselves in ‘just the right place’ for four minutes and twenty-four seconds of hard-driving passion (“Burnt By the Sun”), while a different emotional plane is explored with no less intensity within “Sad When You’re Not With Me.” “Come Home” is plaintive, “Cold But Free” about as frank and direct as a elegy gets, “Mean To Me” challenging. As do the finest albums, each of these nine songs takes the listener on a different, memorable journey.

Augmented by a concise group of collaborators—Tony Silvestri (various keys including organ), Seamus Cowan (bass), and Bonz Bowering (drums) with Silvestri and Zane Whitfield providing backing vocals on “Forever”—Savage is the focus: his guitars and voice are at the fore of every number, a modern folk singer doing his job in a most satisfying manner.

Some albums are listened to, written about, and filed away. Everything Intertwined isn’t one of those albums: brilliantly captivating, it will remain in regular rotation in the Fervor Coulee bunker.

Mark MartyreMark Martyre Rivers MarkMartyre.com

Like Savage, above, Toronto’s Mark Martyre comes to my attention a well-established force, several albums into a career that has allowed him to become an engaging singer, songwriter, and musician.

With a deep, gravel-smooth voice (not nearly as harsh as Tom Waits, but not someone you’re going to hear on The Voice any time soon) Martyre’s songs have a ‘lived-in’ quality about them that  inspires introspective escapades of creative endeavour: about the third time through “Carry On,” I had a character sketch roughly outlined describing an entirely different couple, but inspired by Martyre’s lovers “walking through the rain, prayin’ for the sun.” Only problem being, mine aren’t nearly as engaging as his.

Martyre’s songs have relationships at their core, and it is credit to his insightfulness that across ten songs one never becomes jaded listening to these wistful examinations of happiness and memory. As riveted as we are by the poetic observances of “Come Lie Beside Me, Dear” we remain as intrigued as things come to a close forty-five minutes later with “Never Forget You.” Rare, that.

Complementing Martyre at almost every turn is singer Stacey Dowswell. As impressive as Martyre’s songs and performances are, Dowswell presents herself as a formidable foil, whether in a full-fledge duet (as on “The Next Song” and “Trying to Explain”) or contributing backing vocals as she does on most tracks. Dowswell’s is a strong and beautiful voice that I am going to be paying attention to in the future. Lovely stuff.

Graydon James (The Young Novelists) provides an incredible drum presence, and Matt Antaya’s guitars are ideally placed in the mix. Mark Martyre’s Rivers gently sparkles.

rob-lutes-walk-in-the-dark-cover-web-hqRob Lutes Walk in the Dark RobLutes.com

Finally, we come to Rob Lutes. Based in Montreal, Lutes is our third well-established singer-songwriter of the folk-ish persuasion with whom I was not previously familiar before receiving his latest missive: obviously I haven’t been paying enough attention.

Lutes has no little bit of blues colouring in his voice, and his melodies explore a wider palate than do most folk-roots artists. Nothing in his singing or approach should remind me of Texan Sam Baker, but that was where my ears went while listening to Lutes’ finely chiselled songs; like Baker, Lutes establishes characters and situations in just a few well-chosen words and phrases: we want to know more from the start.

Recorded in only three days, Lutes and his collaborators have unleashed an amazing collection of songs. Most of us appreciate reference points, and I’ll call on our collective memory by comparing Lutes to late-80s John Hiatt. Vocally I hear something of Hiatt (especially on “There’s No Way To Tell You That Tonight” and the title track) throughout, and even the pacing of the songs recall Hiatt at his finest.

Lutes is most definitely his own artist with an individual approach to singing and writing. The atmospheric “Whistling Past the Graveyard” may be the album’s finest song, but we would be splitting hairs to judge one superior to another. The lively guitar instrumental “Spence” (for Bahamian Joseph Spence) is suitably remarkable, but when you have the gift of lyric and story, those pieces naturally call for notice. “Rabbit” has an old-time, traditional feel as does “Believe in Something,” all be they completely different in almost every regard.

For folk roots with a blues foundation, I don’t think it can get much better than Rob Lutes and Walk in the Dark.

Three singers. Three albums. 32 songs, all but one original (Lutes’ delightful cover of John Prine’s “Rocky Mountain Time” the only exception). All well-worth exploring.

And a shout out to Sarah French Publicity who understands writers—even mere freelancers—need the CD in their hands to experience the full effect of an artists’ album.

 

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Kim Beggs- Said Little Sparrow review   1 comment

Beggs

Kim Beggs Said Little Sparrow www.KimBeggs.com

Kim Beggs, perhaps Whitehorse’s strongest contribution to the contemporary Canadian folk circuit, has a voice and an outlook like no one else, and she reveals her path of experience at every turn.

That voice. Beggs has a timbre that is folksy, earthy, and woodsy all at once—natural-sounding, of course, but more than that: her voice is as her other gifts, quite simply pure. This comes through on each song of Said Little Sparrow, whether one notes the way she twists the end of lines—”Every second of every hour, planting and picking the prettiest flowers…”—or plainly reveals her heart in the most genuine of manner on “Hurts the Worst” and “Blister.”

The outlook. Listening to Said Little Sparrow, as one did with the previous Blue Bones and Beauty and Breaking, is to know Kim, her family—the Wooded Mix—and her extended circle of compatriots. Their stories are expanded upon within the honestly written notes and personal essays contained in this generously packaged release, but most assuredly are woven into the deeply personal songs. A child assisting her Gran in updating an address book (“They’re all dead and gone, she said, my little one”), common neighbourliness in a frozen community, or a beau presenting his beloved with a freshly dug outhouse hole: these are vignettes into which Beggs invites her listener.

As all great folksingers do, Beggs moves from the personal to the universal with ease. She connects British Columbia’s northern Highway of Tears and its innumerable victims with Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,” and in doing so touches on her personal connection to the many women who took a final and fateful journey on Highway 16. A forest landscape is referenced when considering ones origin(s) and the meaning of family. In one song, teenaged adventure is viewed through the mirror of time passages, and in another the wise looks toward a future free of the remembered burdens of the past.

Beggs’ songwriting has never been more profound, simultaneously substantial and delicate. Producing herself this time out, she continues to surround herself with the finest of the Canadian roots community including folks like David Baxter (guitars) , Michelle Josef (drums), Brian Kobayakawa (bass, including atmospheric bow-work on the memorable lead track, “Vampire Love Song”), and Oh Susanna (vocals) further sweetened by selective touches of mandolin, banjo, fiddle, and organ.

Another beautiful creation from Kim Beggs. No shortcuts taken in this journey.

 

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.

In With the Old- My Mother’s Couch reviewed   Leave a comment

Inwiththeold

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.

Donald

What might have happened had The B-52’s pursued bluegrass rather than sassy, snappy new wave?

Ponder that question, and then head over to the webpage of Saskatchewan’s In With the Old for the answer.

Their press material states that they are from Northern Saskatchewan, accurate only if you’ve never been to Northern Saskatchewan. No, they are from the south-central region of my third favourite province, but regional descriptors do not much matter when you produce as varied and compelling hybrid of roots music as this youthful trio do.

Members of In With The Old appear to be in their early twenties, but I am at the age when everyone between 17 and 34 appears to be in their early twenties, so take that with a grain. Safe to say, these are kids, ones with not just chops but some experience. They appear to be a playful bunch-from their outlandish thrift shop threads and low-key (but splendid) video effort to their lighthearted and strangely attractive album packaging-but “My Mother’s Couch” is no slap-dash, goofy caricature.

Entirely delightful, “My Mother’s Couch” is their second album, and they have allowed their music to take them to some notable places including Merlefest and an IBMA showcase in 2016, as well as Folk Alliance this winter. Even by the most generous definition, In With the Way isn’t a bluegrass band. No, they are a modern acoustic-folk outfit that bleeds across genre, including bluegrass, sounding like no one but themselves in the same way Crooked Still and Welch/Rawlings (respectively) did before every fourth group attempted to emulate them.

In With the Old build themselves around the family-close vocal harmonies of Ellen Froese-Kooijenga (guitar, harmonica, mandolin) and Kasia Thorlakson (mandolin, guitar, banjo.) The two pair beautifully, crafting songs tragic (“Leave Here Alone”) and free-spirited (“My Mother’s Couch”) with equal artfulness. To provide context, they include a handful of covers (a well-executed “I Only Exist” and the bluesy “Mistreated Mama,” among them) but the group’s original material is their strength.

Written by both Froese-Kooijenga and Thorlakson, In With the Old’s songs are inventive, completely original, and possess a foundation of character allowing them to be distinguishable within the crowded contemporary folk and Americana world available at the click of a button. The title track opens with a full minute of (what sounds like) muted banjo and maybe mandolin and guitar that establishes a most inventive and playful groove before turning into a full-on acoustic rave-up that kicks off with the lyrics, “My mother’s couch was a place she liked to sit, when the cats came in and took her on a trip.” I don’t know what it means, but its psychedelic-folkgrass vibe is one of the finest things I’ve heard since the calendar changed.

Bassist Jaxon Lalonde (banjo, too) lends vocal harmony depth to most songs, and it is his Fred Schneider-like exclamations that brought Athens, GA’s best ever band to mind (yeah, I’m including R.E.M. in that, dammit.)

“Patriot,” a Froese-Kooikenga number, captures painful, self-imposed solitude while Thorlakson’s “One Way Ticket” assumes a more aggressive stance to the dissolution of a relationship. The latter song allows for Lalonde to have vocal prominence on the chorus, as does “Little Sally.” “Adeline” takes off where the Be Good Tanyas finished, as an apt comparison point as any-likely better than bluegrass B-52’s.

Coming late in the set, “Tell Me How” may be In With the Old’s most complete song: an intriguing and lyrical premise, a stunning vocal performance from Froese-Kooijenga that reminds one a bit of Catherine MacLellan, and a gentle opening that flows seamlessly into a memorable fiery banjo-guitar-mandolin arrangement.

In With the Old are a unique folk group. With two-strong songwriters and lead vocalists and a dynamic instrumental approach to old-time sounds, this Saskatoon-based trio has captured my imagination with “My Mother’s Couch.” Give it a listen-you may be surprised at how quickly their music weaves itself into your head. A good one, then.

The Original Jenny Whiteley review   3 comments

album-the-original-jw

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 review   2 comments

MD_gathering_cover-hi-res

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 review   Leave a comment

untitledRyan 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.