Archive for the ‘Canadian’ Tag
Manitoba Hal Live in Ghent
The world has never been smaller. The musical world has never been larger.
I’ve been writing about roots music for sixteen years. Manitoba Hal has been releasing albums for a little more than that. We’ve never crossed paths. Until now.
Manitoba Hal Brolund has been making music for several decades, has released 15 albums, and has travelled the world playing the blues on his ukulele. See…that last world surprised you, too—proving again that there is always someone new to hear and something worthwhile to discover.
Manitoba-raised, Nova Scotian by choice, Brolund traveled to Belgium a year ago, and this two-disc set sounds like a fairly true representation of the performance he did that April evening at the Missy Sippy Blues & Roots Club in Ghent. It is well-worth investigating.
Establishing himself from the start, Manitoba Hal cuts through “Come On In My Kitchen” before easing into the darkness of Tom Waits’ finest song, “Way Down in the Hole.” Manitoba Hal performs unaccompanied, so it rests entirely on his own musicianship, looped rhythms, gravel-worn voice, and charm to keep the listener enthralled, and from the enthusiastic audience response recorded herein, one has to suggest that he succeeded.
The set is a mix of covers and originals, but since I am by no means a blues expert—and I’ve only just been introduced to Manitoba Hal—I can’t be definitive in which is what. Well-known sounds abound as “St. James Infirmary,” “They’re Red Hot,” “My Creole Belle,” “Let the Mermaids Flirt With Me,” and “Baby, Please Don’t Go” are intermixed with material with which I am less familiar.
Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago” allows Manitoba Hal to explore the range of his instrument on a number with which all blues listeners are cognizant. “Ain’t No Grave” is sparsely played, but effectively delivered. One of the more hypnotising numbers featured is “Dancing in the Moonlight” (not the King Harvest song.)
The featured evening closes with two indispensable blues of very different derivation, “Who Do You Love” and “The Thrill is Gone.” Within these ten minutes, the measure of Manitoba Hal is confirmed. Keeping a steady bass line going via looping while playing the notes over-top, Hal gets pretty gritty on “Who Do You Love.” Closing with “The Thrill is Gone,” Hal visits uptown for a few moments, demonstrating his dexterity and aptitude in revealing different aspects of the blues.
On a ukulele.
Adam Karch Moving Forward Bros
I admit it. The first thing I did when I slipped this wee little platter into the machine was click on track 9. Who wouldn’t?
Paraphrasing what has been my most frequently written sentence this year, I had never heard Adam Karch before encountering Moving Forward. Therefore, when I saw the words “Werewolves of London” on the back of the album, it was a natural place to start.
Among a handful of original songs, several of which are quite compelling, are a smattering of covers including the aforementioned Warren Zevon classic. Around the same time as we were howling along with Zevon on FM radio, Bob Seger was hitting the charts with “Night Moves,” another song that Karch reinvents as an acoustic-y guitar-based exploration of introspection. Keb’ Mo’s enduring “City Boy” and John Hurt’s “Louis Collins” (soulfully smooth, and still affecting) are also interpreted, providing further opportunity for Karch’s influences to be placed on display.
I understand the desire to include cover songs, even ones as well-known as Werewolves, “Night Moves,” and “Louis Collins.” It allows the performer to share another side of their artistry, and it provides the listener with a measure of familiarity, a way into a recording. And these renditions are smashing—I will be loading them into the iMajig first change I get.
Still, Karch’s original music more than stands with that written by others, and they also warrant inclusion on my mobile device. Now, I don’t imagine “Seaside Venues” is ever going to rival “Hotel California” or “Baker Street” in our collective consciousness, but it is a cool little number, highlighted by astute lyric choices and a nice rhythm section. It is the groove established cooperatively by Karch and his drum-bass combo of Bernard Deslauriers and Marc-Andre Drouin that gives the album its unifying textures and sonic cohesion.
Karch has an excellent voice that is utilized effectively. Moving Forward is solidly within the Americana genre, perhaps leaning closer to the blues end of the spectrum than the country one. However, one wouldn’t be surprised if songs such as “Those Steady Lights” and “On A Cold Grey Sky,” were encountered on a Sam Baker, Leeroy Stagger, or James McMurtry album. With maybe a passing nod to Ray Wylie Hubbard, “Did You Get the Latest News” is an ode to starting again. Dave Alvin could have written “Lil’ Black Dress,” and maybe he has, but here it is all Karch—frustrating himself with memories of a woman recently gone. The set closes with the self-reflection of “Realize You’re Mine,” another song that cuts deeply and personally.
Moving Forward is an excellent introduction to the late-night talents of Montreal’s Adam Karch.
Corey Isenor A Painted Portrait (of The Classic Ruse) www.CoreyIsenor.Bandcamp.com
Back in the halcyon days of alt.country (damn it, I am old), No Depression was one of the few publications one could turn toward to be informed on the kind of music ‘we’ liked. Discount the occasional foray into areas that had little to do with country, no matter how alt. (The Shins, anyone? Black Keys?) and ongoing fascination with all things Jayhawks, No Depression allowed a continent of left-of-center music to find its way to my attention.
To the best of my remembering, the first issue I purchased was the one with Robbie Fulks on the cover. It was a thing of beauty, from the striking orange/yellow/green cover to the features of Ray Wylie Hubbard and Jesse Dayton, live reviews of Jimmie Dale Gilmore/Ana Egge and George Jones, and reviews of recent bluegrass and country releases: I felt I had finally found ‘my people.’
I didn’t love everything about the magazine, naturally. I found several of their reviews fawning and some of their writers calculatingly obscure (or obtuse, depending.) But, much more often than not over the next 60+ issues, they kept me coming back to discover and re-examine music I may have otherwise missed, overlooked, or disregarded.
Why have I written the above three paragraphs to open a review of Corey Isenor’s sixth album, A Painted Portrait (of The Classic Ruse)? Much as I might have a almost two decades ago, when I first listened to the album it brought back that rare, sparkling novelty of hearing an artist for the first time whom I felt l had been listening to forever. Part of the attraction, without a doubt, is that Isenor sounds not a little bit similar to Paul Burch, one of the many artists I ‘discovered’ via No Depression. It goes deeper.
For me, alt-country was less about wannabe rock ‘n’ rollers injecting Haggard and Williams into their raucous mix, and more about finding a way to expand the finest qualities of country music—story, melody, hooks, familiarity, history, and wordplay, rhymes, and puns—to something that was more than hair, sparkly suits, and Hee Haw cornpone. That’s what attracted me to the likes of Hubbard, Eaglesmith, Harris, Russell, Lynne, Fulks, and the Bottle Rockets from the first time I heard each, whether that was early 80s Emmylou or years later when I heard the most desperate words of ignorance I could imagine: “If kerosene works, why not gasoline?”
Isenor brings all that and more to this collection. There are times, as in “From Towers to Windmills,” that I am reminded of New Order (“Love Vigilantes.”) At other points Isenor’s approach reminds me of Matthew Lovegrove’s Woodland Telegraph, sparse, minimalist and achingly poignant (“Queen of Calgary” and “Diamonds on the Moon.”)
“The Navy Blues” is catchy and complex, with Andrew Sneddon’s pedal steel providing additional melancholy. Rebecca Zolkower and Desiree Gordon’s vocals lend depth to several songs, as do Liam Frier’s guitar contributions.
I hadn’t previously encountered Isenor prior to hearing A Painted Portrait (of The Classic Ruse.) Listening to his songs on Bandcamp, I know I have much exploring to do. “The Ballad of Emily” is already a favourite. Isenor is from Nova Scotia and in addition to being an incredible roots music talent as a songwriter, singer, instrumentalist, and producer, he is an accomplished artist, photographer, and graphic designer. I hate him.
A Painted Portrait (of The Classic Ruse) has become one of my favourite country/folk what-have-you albums of 2016. Had I read a review of it in No Depression, I might have been intrigued. Having heard it, I am significantly enthralled.
Thank you for sticking with me at Fervor Coulee for these many years: hopefully you are finding roots music opinions of values as you traverse the crowded modern music landscape. Join me at @FervorCoulee for additional unremarkable insights.
This autumn, Donovan Woods’ fourth album received its stateside release. This 2016 album was released to considerable acclaim in Canada earlier in the year, and was also given some consideration for the Polaris Music Prize: it was (if my memory serves) on my final ballot after the five albums I originally voted for did not make it. I was given the opportunity to review the album for Country Standard Time upon the occasion of its US release; it is very good. Duh.
Trevor Alguire Perish in the Light
For those who have been paying attention, and I have admittedly not paid enough, Trevor Alguire has carved out a little niche for himself on the Canadian singer-songwriter circuit. His song “Thirty Year Run” was a realistic portrayal of life, all the more impressive for its wisdom beyond years, “I’m Going Crazy (Out of Your Mind)” was a country hit waiting for radio, and “Cold Words” plumbed emotional depths as starkly as John Hiatt often does.
On Perish in the Light Alguire again looks into the darkness of relationships and the vitality of lives, exploring the inner-most thoughts of folks brave enough to ponder their circumstance. There is an echo of Billy Bragg in his voice (“The Ghost of Him,” “I’ll Be Who I Am,”) which is really strange as I also hear Corb Lund coming through in places (“Long Way Home,” “Flash Flood.”)
The cinematic “My Sweet Rosetta” sketches an everlasting love, and features the strong vocal presence of Catherine MacLellan and the wonderfully poetic image of “my bullet-proof sweater.” Like Mark Erelli, Alguire sketches life’s complexities of turmoil and wonder in just a few lines, coalescing a lifetime of challenge, doubt, and absurdity into a relatable couplet.
“I’d rather hold her memory tight than waste my days with you,” from “Out of Sight Out of Mind” doesn’t even require a second line to nail things down, placing punctuation on enduring love. Man, that is one excellent song. “Wasting My Time With You” explores the opposite, cutting a relationship to the quick. “Long Way Home” is a song of promise and assurance. “If I Had Stayed in School” is a songwriter’s manifesto.
Production choices deserve mention as instruments are placed to the front of the mix, emphasizing the collaborative nature of the recording. Beautifully balanced, Alguire’s vocals rise through and above in these brilliant little songs; give a listen to the first minute of “My Sweet Rosetta” to hear an audio visionary to full effect. Bob Egan contributes pedal steel with Miranda Mulholland’s fiddle serving as additional connection to the country sound.
Perish in the Light is a great album, one I will be nominating for the Polaris Prize. It won’t win, but it deserves a conversation.
Always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Support your local roots musicians.
Still catching up on summer.
Tomato Tomato I Go Where You Go www.TomatoTomato.com
Washboard-infused, old-timey roots duo (that’s a band) Tomato Tomato (incorporating both pronunciations of the word) released their second album early this summer, and it’s a corker. The debut album from Saint John, New Brunswick husband-wife duo John and Lisa McLaggan was just a tad too ‘all over the place’ for this listener while offering enthusiastic stomp & holler in the form of “Toss It All Away” and “Gotta Get Out of This Town” as well as more moody pieces including “Breakin’ Down.”
I Go Where You Go offers a more refined, focused portrait of energetic, acoustic roots music. Lively, “Ain’t Dead Yet” offers standout vocals further propelled by the fiddling of eastern Canadian legend Ray Legere. “Lemon Pie” reveals the duo’s jazzy roots whereas “Runnin’ Like Hell” is an instrumental workout accompanied by a lyrical thread that provides the vaguest outline of an escape from the mundane. “Rabbit In The Log” is done in a mountain-style bluegrass manner, while “The Best We’ll Ever Know” provides a family history set to a homespun rhythm.
Genuine, Tomato Tomato make music that reflects the authenticity of their experience. They aren’t ‘trying’ to be quaint and artisanal in their approach to modern folk music: I Go Where You Go is simply what the McLaggans are. And, I like it. I’d buy them a beer. (Okay, I’d let them buy me one!)
Still catching up on summer…
Ana Egge & the Sentimentals Say That Now www.AnaEgge.com
I can’t remember to caulk around the tub as my wife has been asking me to for two or three weeks, but I can remember this:
Fifteen or sixteen years ago, from Sound Connection in Edmonton I purchased a used copy of a CD by Ana Egge. The album was called River Under the Road, and never having heard of her prior to that day I am not sure why I was drawn to the recording, but at $5 in the discount bin I took a chance.
And I have no recollection of listening to the album. None.
Did I even listen to it? If so, it must not have grabbed me the way I had hoped, and on one of my trips to the city I long ago traded it in.
But, in the ensuing years that album has lurked around in the back of my head every time I read a favourable review of an Egge recording or saw a mention of appreciation for her, each time offering up the question, What did I miss?
I encountered her previous Bright Shadow recording, and didn’t fully appreciate its blend of folk imagery with country-rock aggression. Something kept me from fully embracing Egge.
And that is entirely on me, because listening to both those albums today I am utterly gobsmacked that I didn’t get it. Say That Now lets me know what a complete idiot I have been! For the past twenty years I could have been immersing myself in this amazing voice.
What has led me on this journey of rediscovery? A couple months ago, I received Say That Now in the mail, but summer procrastination being what it is…I didn’t listen to it. And more music piled on top. Finally, in my end of summer energy burst, I uncovered this unassuming album, brushed the dust bunnies and cat hair from it, and played it on the way to work one morning.
I’ve already called myself an idiot once: it seems unnecessary to continue to beat myself up, but…Idiot!
This is an incredible album.
Saskatchewan-born, North Dakota-raised, and New York-based Ana Egge has been making roots music since 1997. Since that time she has been produced by Steve Earle and Martin Terefe, compared to Sandy Denny and Shawn Colvin, and praised by the likes of Lucinda Williams (to whom comparisons are likely best made,) Buddy Miller, and Ron Sexsmith (who wrote Say The Now’s liner note.) Recording with Danish band The Sentimentals, this album of ten songs is a full-bore collaboration with several co-writes.
Pre-Car Wheels Lucinda is an apt starting point for songs like “Take Off My Dress” and “Still Waters Run Deep,” but that really doesn’t do justice: alt-country touches (maybe Blood Oranges on “The Girl from the Banks of Ohio”) abound, creating an album the likes of which is now seldom encountered. “He’s A Killer Now” is stark darkness, a mother’s reflection on an inexplicable event. “Falling, Falling, Falling” is just perfect, as is “Promises to Break”: lyrical wisdom combining with clever instrumental execution to create the type of lush country music we fell in love with when Joy Lynn White, Matraca Berg, and Mandy Barnett were recording for major labels.
I have a lot of catching up to do: don’t make the mistake I made—start with Say That Now.