Archive for the ‘Canadiana’ Tag

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.

 

Advertisements

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.

 

Petunia And The Vipers- Lonesome, Heavy and Lonesome review   Leave a comment

Petunia

Petunia And The Vipers Lonesome, Heavy and Lonesome PetuniaAndTheVipers.com

I’ve never known exactly how to take Petunia And The Vipers.

Are they spoofing country music? was among my initial thoughts when first encountering them several years back. Is it musical theatre, and I just don’t get it?

Nope. They are the real deal. Hell, Phil Alvin has called them “One of the best bands in the world,” and Jonathon Byrd claims, “That’s not a band. It’s another world.”

Byrd nails it with that description. If you haven’t come under the spell of this sextet, prepare yourself. Remember Taco? (Yes, dating myself!) Now imagine that voice fronting Lefty Frizzell’s band, and you are getting close.

Better suggestion, pick up the new album Lonesome, Heavy and Lonesome, the aptly titled third album released under the Petunia And The Vipers imprint, and come under the spell of this fiery, hillbilly-vaudevillian conflagration.

Admittedly, their music can be initially off-putting, and I freely admit I was a late adopter.

No two songs share a similar template, connected by little more than Petunia’s high-spirited falsetto. Western swing sits comfortably along touches of ragtime jazz and blues, with no little bit of the roots of country—Carter Family, Hank Williams, and even Jimmie Rodgers—populating every track, no matter how disparate they appear.  Williams is apparent both musically and lyrically in “Lonesome,” a lap steel-rich number early in the set. Deceptively up-tempo, the “Ugliest, Bitterest, Coldest Dreary Place I’ve Ever Seen” is an obvious favourite, with Petunia hitting the most elevated of notes.

Lonesome qualities abound in “Blindly Wander,” one of several memorable original numbers; cascades of percussion (via Paul Townsend) highlight the desperation the songwriter explores. The origin of “Too Long” might be elaborate Chicago-blues, while “Jeanie Jeanie” and “We Did Not See the Light of Day” have less urbane roots.  For yet another change of pace, on the old-timey “I Don’t Have to Go to High School,” Al Mader’s slam-poetry is set to Petunia’s ramshackle, punky rockabilly beats.

I will freely admit that Petunia and The Vipers is not for everyone. Some may prefer to experience this music a song-at-a-time: across a 12-song album, it can be a bit overwhelming. No matter. I don’t believe there is anyone performing music like this elsewhere: unique and original, then and certainly not cookie-cutter, note-by-number Nashvillian country. Lonesome, Heavy and Lonesome is a spectacular if uneasy traipse through country seldom explored.

Jesse Waldman- Mansion Full of Ghosts review   1 comment

mansion-full-of-ghosts-cover-copy

Jesse Waldman Mansion Full of Ghosts JesseWaldmanMusic.com

A music industry veteran with considerable soundtrack and live performance work behind him, Mansion Full of Ghosts is the debut album from Vancouver’s Jesse Waldman.

There was a time about 15 or so years back when a friend and acquaintance produced scores of house concerts and cafe shows in Red Deer, and no matter who was appearing—previously heard or more often not—you were ‘almost’ guaranteed a memorable evening of fresh roots music. Listening to this album reminds me of the first time Billy exposed me to Steve Coffey, Jack Harlan, Harry Manx, Old Reliable, John Wort Hannam, and a handful of other intense, focused, and supremely talented individuals, all plugging away making original music. Jesse Waldman would have been appreciated then.

Musically, Waldman reminds me of Joe Pug, a singer I happened upon a few years ago via eMusic and who I caught in a well-remembered show at Kansas City’s The Record Bar four springs ago. Like Pug, and I suppose all strong songwriters of their vein, Waldman weaves together apparently simple images and scenarios into songs of magic, creations that are so elegant, personable, and homey that one thinks they’ve encountered them before: the listener thinks, If I had the talent, that’s how I would have wroteit/sung it.

Waldman’s voice is at the fore of these songs, and nothing is lost within the atmospheric and near-lush instrumental and harmony accompaniment. “Wild Balloon” is as airy as it sounds, but the foreboding lyrics encourage restrained trepidation. “Hummingbird” is more gentle, but every bit as appealing: a fragile domestic scene we should all appreciate. Waldman is greatly influenced by his East Vancouver environ, but the appeal of his writing is universal. “EastVan Blues” and “Hope in Shadows” are likely as relevant to those in St. John’s, Asheville, or Dublin. Additional highlights include “Ashes,” a duet with Megan Alford, “Keep A Light On In The Dark,” and “The Rest of My Days,” perhaps Waldman’s strongest song included.

Comprised of 16 songs running over an hour, Mansion Full of Ghosts never labours, and our attention never drifts. With no two songs sounding too much alike, the individuality of his musicians are to be appreciated. Familiar names abound—Michael Simpsonelli, Michael Rush, Tom Hammel, Beth Southwell, Tom Heukendorff, Alford, Monte the harmonica player, and Marc L’Esperance, who also co-produced the album with Waldman—and they have come together to present as rich and diverse creation of voices and instrumentation as imaginable. Touches of country blend with Waldman’s folk outlook.

An incredible album with songs and sounds that would fit on any adventurous radio program beside the likes of Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Jenny Whiteley, and Ron Sexsmith. I’ve been listening to the album for a couple months now, and it moves me a little more each time I return. I suppose that is what great music does.

Beautiful.

Thank you for visiting Fervor Coulee. I hope you come back. Find me on the Twitter  @FervorCoulee

Lee Palmer- Bridge review   Leave a comment

album-cover-bridge-339m4egxkz8wv3wgz30g00Lee Palmer Bridge On The Fly Music www.LeePalmer.ca

Ontario’s Lee Palmer has made a string of satisfying albums in recent years, but with Bridge the prolific musician has raised the bar for himself and independently-produced, guitar-based roots music.

With a musical approach similar to that of Ray Materick a generation ago, Palmer explores a variety of topics within his mix of folk, country, and blues. Paying tribute to Glen Campbell on “That’s No way to Go” and J. J. Cale in “Tulsa Sound,” Palmer seamlessly bridges the variety of music that has influenced him, and allowed him the opportunity to explore the breadth of sounds he has over several recordings.

Concentrating his efforts to the vocals on Bridge, Palmer has elected to leave the guitar work to Alec Fraser, Jr. and Kevin Breit. Along with additional members of the “One-Take Players”—Al Cross (drums) and Mark Lalama (various keys and accordion)— as well as co-producer Elmer Ferrer (more guitars and such) this duo craft an unstoppable foundation on which Palmer builds his homespun truths and heartfelt observances. Among the standout tracks are mid-set triumphs “My Town” and “My Old Man.”

Mary McKay provides background vocals throughout, and duets with Palmer on “Did It Feel Like This,” one of the album’s most memorable numbers. Of note are Lori-An Smith and Patricia Shirley’s complementary vocals on “Tulsa Sound.” Radio-friendly (in a different, more open time) and mature, Palmer’s approach to roots music is welcome. A song such as “Well, Well, Well, Well” or even “Back to Lonely” might have expected consideration at radio back in the time when David Wilcox, Downchild, and Powder Blues received FM exposure.

But, those days are far and gone. Left to his own devices at independent and university radio outlets, Palmer likely doesn’t expect a grand break-through any time soon. He appears to be making music because he must, and we can be thankful for that. Fresh and flavourful, Lee Palmer’s Bridge is an album that should provide listeners with hours of pleasure.

Brock Zeman- The Carnival Is Back In Town review   Leave a comment

brock zemanBrock Zeman is an artist I’ve reviewed a few times now, (I could only find one on-line; if I can locate the previous review, and it is readable, I may add it in down below) and he has always impressed me. Like the best roots artists, he has grown with time, and his latest is the most complete album I’ve yet encountered- realizing I haven’t heard all of his discs. The Carnival Is Back In Town may be groundbreaking, and there certainly won’t be another album like it this year. I wouldn’t want to live within Zeman’s carnival atmosphere, but I sure am enjoying listening to the music has allowed it to create. Here’s the thing: I’ve been listening to it regularly for a couple months, and after ten or twelve complete listens, I am more than ready to put most albums on the shelf and leave it for the next ten years…or until I have to review the latest release. I am still listening to The Carnival Is Back In Town, and I don’t believe I am going to be putting it away any time soon. My review has been published at Lonesome Road Review.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

 

Blackie and the Rodeo Kings- Kings and Kings review   Leave a comment

barkA 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.