A while back, Country Standard Time asked me to review Blackie and the Rodeo Kings’ latest, Kings and Kings. I had previously bought the download of the album for my own enjoyment, so I was more familiar with it than I normally am with an album by the time came to write about it. It holds up. My review can be accessed here.
Archive for the ‘Canadiana’ Tag
Fred Eaglesmith has been around the Americana/roots/Canadiana music world for almost 40 years. His first album was released in 1980, and since then he has unleashed more than 20 albums (including live sets) to a devoted following, but hasn’t ‘quite’ broke through to the threshold of household name; for perspective, Lucinda Williams’ folk/blues cover set Ramblin’ was released the previous year, Guitar Town was six years away, and No Depression was part of a Carter Family title.
I don’t pretend I have been listening to Fred since 1980. I believe I first heard the Ontario renegade at a mid-90s edition of the Calgary Folk Music Festival. I have no recollection who Eaglesmith was sharing Stage 4 that afternoon, but I recall my wonder at hearing his songs that weekend for the first time, “I Like Trains,” “White Trash,” “Wilder Than Her,” and “49 Tons,” I believe.
In the years since, across many albums and several live sets, my admiration has not waned despite his once cutting short an interview before I even finished my first question. His latest is called Standard, and while it doesn’t include a “White Rose” or “Spookin’ the Horses,” it does contain songs that-given a chance-may just become as fondly held.
Richard Laviolette Taking the Long Way Home You’ve Changed Records
Earnest country records are few and far between. Ignoring the trappings of modern country recording, Ontario’s Richard Laviolette has created a natural-sounding album, balancing the beauty and fidelity of old-time country and folk music (think Clarence Ashley and Doc Watson recordings with the refinement of original songs and expanded instrumentation) with the gravity of personal exploration and experience. “The house that I grew up in, has long been forgotten,” he sings in the lead track “Grey Rain,” over a sprightly shuffle rhythm. “But these memories are calling me home.”
Featuring songs that bring to mind the Americana songbook and its most revered vocalists, Taking the Long Way Home bridges the chasm between the familiar and the obscure. Seldom does a song cause this writer to pull-over off the highway, but “Two Guitars”, a stark paean to songs and their performance did just that the other day. “Someone To Tell My Story When I’m Gone” brings to mind the artfulness of a Guy Clark composition sung by John Prine, while “The Rock and the Moss” is an obvious (at least, to these tired ears) nod to Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman.
The album’s strongest song is the title track, with a vibrant Willie Dunn—groove propelling this road song above its neighbours. Elsewhere, as on “Red-Winged Blackbird,” an easy-going Dave Edmunds beat disguises the intensity of an ode to a developing relationship; Julia Narveson’s fiddle and Aaron Goldstein’s pedal steel are key to this terrific song.
Less impressive is the admittedly great title “My Grandma’s More Punk (Than Most Punks I Know;)” unfortunately, the song goes on for almost five-minutes without making its case. The melody itself is very appealing, but a more robust premise and refrain would have improved it greatly; it is almost as if Laviolette had the title in one pile of unfinished ideas, and the song in a second and attempted to bring them together.
With additional songs revealing the family connections made through music (“Yesterday’s Gospel,” “Old Country Music”) and a coda for the ages (“You’ve Really Got Me On the Run”) Richard Lviolette and producer Andy Magoffin have crafted an album that is rich and deep. Like the floor and shoes gracing the cover, these songs have age to them— and they have a lot more to give; we’ll be listening to them twenty years from now.
Songs of Rain, Snow, & Remembering
Busted Flat Records
I hate coming late to the game, but such is the situation as I first encountered Lynn Jackson this past month.
The Kitchener, ON singer and songwriter is on album number eight with Songs of Rain, Snow, & Remembering and I don’t think I’ve previously heard of her. Given the clarity of her voice and the strength of her material, one would hope I would have remembered had I encountered her music.
Songs of Rain, Snow, & Remembering is (largely) an acoustic album, produced by Norman Blake. Admittedly, I got quite excited when I saw Blake’s name in the album notes, having long been an appreciator of the old-time folk instrumentalist. Who knew Norman Blake is also a Scottish-transplant to Canada most famous as part of Teenage Fanclub, a band I may have heard of without ever having heard?
Well, other than most of the world excepting me?
Lynn Jackson reminds me a lot of Mary-Chapin Carpenter, and yes the hyphen is purposely included as, long ago, that is how I came to know MCC, before the stadiums and theatres, back when she was recording Hometown Girl and State of the Heart and still had a hyphen in her given name. That is the MCC of which Jackson reminds me, along with Cheryl Wheeler, Lynn Miles, and Shari Ulrich.
Jackson writes songs that sound very personal while embracing universal appeal and circumstance. That I am a 50+ white male that can’t play the same chord twice in a row matters not—I can relate to the stories Jackson tells, the emotions she conveys, the longing she communicates. Confessional without discomfort. “Riding Out the Storm” and “Water & Glass” are quite remarkable performances. The autumnal nature of the album is apparent—change, passing our prime, closing of chapters—and are brought to the fore on songs including “Winter Sun,” “Next Best Thing,” and “Long Winter.” Townes Van Zandt’s “Rake” is another highlight.
I don’t like the fret noise apparent on “Ribbons”; to me, such scrapes sound messy and irritating, distracting from the song’s moment. A shame that, as the songwriting apparent here is quite striking.
Folk? Perhaps that is the best label. File under: Good.
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.
The Map of Above, The Map of Below
For his eighth album, his first as a duo with percussionist Gary Craig, Gregory Hoskins (long-ago True North recording artist and leader of & The Stickpeople), has elected to continue peeling back layers to expose the earthiest roots of music and song-telling. Boy, does it work.
Elemental components of traditional blues and troubadoury- yes, I’ve decided that should be a word- are forged together creating a sweet and scathing affirmation of the human spirit. Hoskins’ straight-ahead singing is at the fore binding these songs into thematic consistency- love (obsession, rejection, longing…) hurts- but it is Craig’s drumming that serves as the sonic core.
Recorded in many places under varying circumstances across several months, the album has a holistic spirit that belies its construction. Such is the strength of their intimacy, the eleven tracks- two of which Hoskins has previously recorded in very different presentations- appear to have been very competently recorded over the course of an intense weekend.
Not knowing Hoskins, I can only guess at the darkness that haunts him, can only imagine the wee voices bringing substance to the visions he creates. Whether he is documenting reality, or creating a reality of imagination, Hoskins’ songs provide much to consider- even when lyrics inspire the listener to look away.
While Nick Cave and Paul Simon appear elsewhere as common reference points- and one can appreciate such- I’m thinking Stan Ridgway and Jane Siberry.
Colin Linden drops in some suitably tasteful slide touches to “Sweet Redemption,” while Hawksley Workman collaborates on “Surgery,” one of the two songs Hoskins previously recorded. Several tracks feature vocals solicited from and contributed electronically by fans and supporters, collectively credited as The Beggar’s Choir.
Relatively unheralded, The Map of Above, The Map of Below is an organic album: beautiful, natural, and genuine. As great art often does, it reveals itself as a creation of substance over time, through multiple listenings. With each play through, the songs increase in stature, and Hoskins’ layered vocal intensity becomes that much more impressive.
Explore outside your comfort zone, and take a chance.
Listen at http://gregoryhoskins.com/
Thanks for reading Fervor Coulee. Donald
Everyone’s favourite steel-belted troubadour, Alberta’s Mike Plume has recorded a fabulous little song with video in honour of Stompin’ Tom. See it at Mike’s site.