Archive for the ‘Canadian’ Tag

Craig Moreau- A Different Kind of Train review   Leave a comment

Craig Moreau

Craig Moreau A Different Kind of Train

Ever since Kitty Wells sang “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” there have been those who have chased that perfect “country song” balance between complexity of thought and lyrical clarity Jay Miller captured in 1952.

From Mariel Buckley to Leeroy Stagger, Alberta has no shortage of singing songwriters who flirt with country music. Then there is Craig Moreau, a Calgary artist who is straight-up, blatantly and unapologetically, Country. Songwriting, and country songwriting specifically, forms the thematic core of Craig Moreau’s masterful album, A Different Kind of Train.

Early in this forty-minute album, he sings:

And there never was a pot of gold,
At the rainbow’s end—
Just another empty hole to fill,
And another fence to mend.

That’s a country lyric, no argument, and it comes in one of Moreau’s gentler songs, a reflective and seemingly ‘lost-love’ song filled with self-recrimination directed—ultimately—toward the artist’s pursuit of inspiration. Like the greatest songwriters, Moreau presents inventive dichotomy in select songs, revealing different messages to listeners. “Thirsty Soul” is about songwriting, not drinking, “The Muse” is as much a woman as artistic stimulation.

Moreau’s grizzled voice—somewhere between Waylon, Billy Joe Shaver, and Darrell Scott—appears a living thing. It carries gravity on the challenging title track, a lament to a depressed, hotel room inhabitant facing (figurative? literal?) death, presents desperate acceptance within “Best Of Me,” a song equally downbeat in subject, but not in mood. “We all got our demons, failed ambitions, guilty feelings” Moreau sings in “Old Man and the Fiver”—a song that reveals shades of Guy Clark in its lyrical choices— recognizing we are all trying to get by today with decisions previously made.

It is with this vocal gravitas through which Moreau communicates—the melding of sage, artist, and Everyman—that is his strength. He sings with a profound understanding that happiness is fleeting, struggle a constant, forward momentum a dream. No accident one of A Different Kind of Train‘s charged realizations, found in “Shadows Left Behind,” is “I’ve had my illusions of control, holding fast to nothing for fear of losing all.”

There is no little bit of “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way”‘s frustration of reality woven into within “Off The Rack”:

I can’t help to think about the ones who’ve gone before me,
As I rush to take my place among the line.
Hard work and sacrifice just to build ourselves a little life,
That fades and changes colours with the times.

Crafted in both Austin and Lethbridge (at Stagger’s studio, with Leeroy co-producing), Moreau’s third album of hardwood hewn, homespun Americana is as surprising as it is comforting. The drumming that opens the album’s sole cover—an otherwise faithful rendering of Jean Ritchie’s “The L & N Don’t Stop Here Anymore”—starts with several seconds of forceful drumming that had me asking, ‘Are you ready, Steve?’

Craig Moreau continues to hold faith that, one way or another, his country dream is bound to be realized, even if he “hasn’t seen the sunshine in a while.” With cover art courtesy a Steve Coffey painting (himself a terrific Alberta singer-songwriter) A Different Kind of Train allows Craig Moreau opportunity to continue his journey, “waiting on a rhyme.”

 

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Kat Danser- Goin’ Gone review   Leave a comment

KatKat Danser Goin’ Gone Black Hen Music KatDanser.com

“Jumpin’ on the IV and II, hanging on the voodoo groove,” Dr. Kat Danser sings just a few moments into Goin’ Gone, her fifth album and second in a row in partnership with Steve Dawson—and first for his Black Hen label.

With the declaration made within “Voodoo Groove,” Alberta’s undisputed Swamp Blues Queen puts forth her road hewn CV: she is grindin’ it smooth and castin’ a juju spell…whatever that exactly means. To me, it is an assurance of razor-sharp, unabashed southern-influenced blues.

Individual credits are not provided, but between Danser and Dawson, the pair float their guitars over and through deep grooves established by Jeremy Holmes (bass and mandolin) and Gary Craig (drums and percussion) with substantial accoutrement from Jim Hoke (saxophone and harmonica) and Matt Combs (fiddle and mandolin). One can lose oneself in this meaty gumbo, overcome with the variety of aural flavours spicing their collaborative concoction.

Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Train I Ride” is transformed, with Hoke’s brass notes playing off extended slide phrases and Danser’s sultry, yearning vocal. “Memphis, Tennessee” is a challenge, the city defending itself despite troubled history: “I made the blues on Beale Street when cowards covered their heads in sheets, and I do as I please because I am Memphis, Tennessee.”

I can’t figure out what the hell “Kansas City Blues” is about—a city ill-prepared for a snowstorm? Hattie McDaniel? A lover crushed by heartbreak? No matter, Danser’s voice is in top form on this crooning blues, as she is on the more straightforward title track and the light yet feisty “Chevrolet Car.”

Nothing is left to interpretation within “Hol’ Up Baby;” Danser ain’t done with her lover quite yet: “Maybe I ain’t always been true, but I ain’t over you.” Danser comes home on “My Town,” capturing the dichotomy of knowing (and loving) a place so well that it hurts to see its truths.

Reflecting the current political and social climate, “Light the Flame” is as close to rock ‘n’ roll as I think Danser comfortably ventures, and it is a compelling call to action —neither myopic nor ham-fisted. A coda of sorts, “Time For Me To Go” eases her listeners into the night, a farewell until we next hear from this northern master of the natch’l blues.

With Baptized By The Mud of 2013 establishing her bone fides to a more prominent degree, Kat Danser had a high mark to achieve with its follow-up recording. She has met and exceeded any expectations with Goin’ Gone, a testament to her maturity as a vocalist, songwriter, and guitarist. Teaming with the likes of Steve Dawson is seldom a regretful decision; together they have created a unified and convincing argument that further elevates Danser within the crowded blues field.

 

Jenny Whiteley (2000) review   Leave a comment

From the extensive Fervor Coulee archives

J WhiteleyJenny Whiteley Jenny Whiteley Self-released (2000)

Jenny Whiteley is a treasure for roots music fans.

Her debut solo album is a recording of rare qualities. She successfully blends elements of traditional, hurting country with folk boldness and bluegrass virtuosity.

Whiteley was recently honoured at the Juno Awards for best roots/traditional solo recording, and for once the industry got it right.

The album begins with the depressing image of an outsider who “lives alone in the old family home” with “a dog that’ll chase you back down the road.” The tasteful playing of a band featuring her brother Dan on mandolin perfectly captures the spirit of a person caught up in his own self-fulfilling image.

Whiteley displays remarkable abilities for creating characters in a few well-crafted lines. The protagonist of “Lived It Up” reflects on a past where a “cheating heart has brought me the trouble I’ve found; I lived it up and I can’t live it down.”

Equally comfortable assuming the roles of male and female characters, Whiteley, in both “Gloria” and “Train Goin’ West,” successfully captures the longing, bravado, and regret known to everyone.

Comprised largely of originals, these cuts stack up favourably with those written by Emmylou Harris for her recent Red Dirt Girl.

Whiteley has included three brilliant songs either written or co-written by Canadian alternative country legend Fred Eaglesmith. “Soda Machine,” from Eaglesmith’s Drive-In Movie album, has a stark, Cowboy Junkies sound emphasized by atmospheric acoustic bass. “’75” is simply a brilliant song waiting for a screenplay; Whiteley and her co-writers capture the exuberance and self assurance of teenagers while recognizing the inevitable folly of their confidence.

Jenny Whiteley is a major talent. Her Juno Award must help attract attention to the radio power brokers of this country. This is the most impressive collection of original material I’ve stumbled across in months.

(originally published March 16, 2001 Red Deer Advocate) Side note: This was the first album placed in my hand by an artist; I appreciated Jenny’s confidence in me at Wintergrass ’01, and continue to thank all artists who get music into my hands. Additional side note: Shortly after publishing this piece, I pitched a Jenny Whiteley mini-feature to No Depression. Check their website. Can’t find it? Yes, it was rejected.

 

Thomas Stajcer- Will I Learn To Love Again? review   Leave a comment

Stajcer

Thomas Stajcer
Will I Learn To Love Again?
https://thomasstajcer.bandcamp.com/

This might be the Canadian country album of the year. Someone should tell the folks pushing  buttons at stations emphasizing forgettable Aaron Pritchett, Dean Brody, and Tim Hicks tracks.

Steeped in the tradition of 1973 classics like Waylon’s Honky Tonk Heroes and Bobby Bare Sings Lullabys, Legends and Lies, Thomas Stajcer has dropped an incredible recording on us this summer.

Name-checking a formidable influence on “Me and Willie,” a dusty liturgy suggesting “Willie’s my one and only true friend in this world,” Stajcer covers a great deal of ground within this rather concise 33-minute collection.

In true country tradition, there aren’t many good times here. The title track finds our troubadour searching for true north after being destroyed, while still passing on uncertainty within the earworm “Love Me Now (Or Never Again)”: “You may be right, I may be going nowhere.” “Wildfires,” “In The Long Run,” and “Any Old Road” cover the breadth of the country experience—a bit Corb Lund, a lot Jerry Jeff—producing an excitement not felt since High Top Mountain too many years ago.

Stajcer is the in-house engineer at Joel Plaskett’s New Scotland Yard studio, and as such the album sounds absolutely pristine. Recorded live, Stajcer’s cadre of east coast talents have created a set of new songs that appear from another time.

For those who appreciate country music of the Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton, and Marty Stuart variety.

 

Steve Dawson- Lucky Hand review   Leave a comment

Steve_Dawson_Lucky_Hand_3000

Steve Dawson Lucky Hand Black Hen Music

Immersing myself in Steve Dawson’s impressive catalogue these past weeks, I wasn’t surprised as much reinvigorated by the intensity and diversity of the music he has chosen to create over the past decade and a half. There are certainly commonalities linking his recordings—the quality of his playing, naturally, but also his obvious appreciation for the history of all roots-based music—but what becomes most apparent is Dawson’s incredible versatility. When one encounters music from a Steve Dawson album, one is never quite sure what will be heard: blues, folk, country, string-band, and jazz, it is all there. Equally evident is that there is no doubt that one is listening to a master.

Steve Dawson is one of Canada’s most significant roots musicians and producers. Now based in Nashville, Dawson continues to develop his own songwriting while honing his studio and instrumental chops.

I’ve admitted it before, and I am comfortable stating it again: most instrumental roots music albums—bluegrass, blues, folk, and the all-encompassing Americana—bore me. Wait, that is a little strong, and ‘bore’ is a lazy word. Still, instrumental albums certainly don’t engage me to the degree that music with verses and rhyme does. Still, I’ll listen to Doc Watson and Flatt & Scruggs’ Strictly Instrumental or the Tony Rice Bluegrass Guitar Collection anytime; I guess it just depends on the presentation—noodle incessantly or aimlessly and you lose me before the third cut.

No fear of that with Steve Dawson’s Lucky Hand. Mr. Black Hen Music has created, with a handful of guests, a compelling collection of—alternately—lively, moody, and progressive acoustic, instrumental roots tunes.

Across the 45-minute set are expansive and airy solo and duet pieces as well as a few full-blown string wizard combo collaborations. What is especially appealing (but not terribly surprising) is the multiplicity of sounds Dawson brings to his compositions. There is a subtle bluegrass groove to “Hollow Tree Gap,” while the atmospheric “Lucky Hand,” “Bentonia Blues,” and “Hale Road Revelation” have blues foundations, the latter featuring an impressive slide performance. Dawson lays out a fitting and inspired tribute to Doc Watson-styled phrasing and picking on “Lonesome Ace.”

Dawson also circles back to long-time partner Jesse Zubot on several string-rich pieces including the playful “Old Hickory Breakdown” and the musical imagery that is “Bone Cave.” Dawson is further complemented by Josh Zubot (violin), Peggy Lee (cello), and John Kastelic (viola).  John Reischman joins Dawson for the slide and mandolin duet “Little Harpeth,” a piece that (to these abused and untrained ears) weaves into near neoclassical territory.

The cinematic opening “The Circuit Rider of Pigeon Forge” is an expansive suite effectively incorporating ostensibly discordant essentials of western film scores of the 50s, chamber music, and intimate late-night guitar progressions with rock ‘n’ roll fervor. Somehow, it all works, and sets the tone for a musical journey that is consistently challenging, surprising, and unblemished.

Lucky Hand is Steve Dawson’s eighth ‘solo’ album. It stands comfortably beside his best albums including Solid States & Loose Ends and Nightshade.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee.

 

 

 

 

Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar- Run To Me review   2 comments

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Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar Run to Me Gypsy Soul www.SamanthaMartin.ca

Some of the faces, voices, and instruments have changed since Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar’s debut album of three (really? three!) years ago, but the sound and outlook continues to rain joy and sorrow in equal measure: soulful, animated, and vigorous.

Samantha Martin’s slightly gravelly voice brings each of the ten included songs to life; she isn’t messing around here: nothing is wasted, no going through the motions. When she demands, “Tell me where you been,” in “All Night Long,” you know she already has the philanderer nailed.

Without doubt, Martin is the focus here, but Delta Sugar gets co-billing for a reason. Vocalists Sherie Marshall and Mwansa Mwansa provide Martin with support and depth that is more than impressive, while the nine-piece band create a substantial sound that is bright and resonant, simultaneously fresh and retro. This is a soul revue with few peers.

At their peak, Gladys Knight or Marilyn McCoo couldn’t sing these bittersweet anthems any better. “Will We Ever Learn,” indeed: “They say, ‘Love is blind;’ I tend to think it’s when lust is on your mind…” This honest distillation of what happens when one goes looking for love in the wrong places—”one of us had to get burned”—simmers over a bed of horns including Andrew Moljgun’s saxophone. “Over You” has a similar 70s sound, mature and bad ass, accepting no sass.

Lyrically, Martin and her various co-writers keep things rather ‘matter of fact.’ “You don’t have to put a ring on it—Baby, just put your back into it,” she sings on “Wanna Be Your Lover” before continuing, “Don’t worry about my heartstrings, You know I don’t feel those feelings—I just want to see what tomorrow brings.” Still, Martin has a sensitive side. “Gonna Find It” and “You’re The Love” find her seeking that which is missing. Echoes of Stax and long-forgotten southern soul sides abound.

With Suzie Vinnick as her writing partner, Martin goes looking for “Good Trouble,” perhaps the album’s most rock ‘n’ roll track. The sing-a-long chorus, “You’re never too young, you’re never too old, to find yourself good trouble; you must find a way, to get in the way, and find yourself good trouble,” is immediately appealing, and Steve Marriner’s organ break raise the stakes a bit higher. Equally engaging, “This Night Is Mine”—one of several songs co-written with guitarist Curtis Chaffey—is loaded with vocal and instrumental hooks, another complete band performance.

Run To Me is an incredible album. Expertly produced by bassist Darcy Yates, and with a running time is 35 minutes, Run To Me is a concise serving of electrifying soul, blues, and roots music.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Drop me a note.

Canadian Blues- three reviews   2 comments

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.

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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.