Archive for the ‘Compilations’ Tag
At the end of each year, writers and broadcasters get to indulge themselves and—one hopes—their readers and listeners with their judgements on the year past.
I’ve spent substantial time reviewing the roots/Americana/whatever you want to call them, if they are on the No Depression list I might have considered them, and even if they aren’t I still may have albums I heard during the past year, and have come up with my definitive (at least for today) list of Favourite Roots Albums of 2016. Of course, your kilometreage will vary: I once received a cranky email from the father of a fairly prominent bluegrasser whose album I didn’t include on such a list several years ago. For those such inclined, I repeat—these are my favorite roots albums of the year. Not the best, ’cause that is silly. And all I can base it on is those albums I’ve heard, and maybe I somehow missed your son’s album…talk to his publicist.
I’ve already posted my Favourite Bluegrass Albums of 2016, and while bluegrass is an essential part of roots music, I’ve chosen not to intermingle the ‘grass into this list. Reason? This way I get to praise more albums. If you care about such stuff, my favourite bluegrass album of the year, Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands’ The Hazel and Alice Sessions would also top this list if I were to include bluegrass amongst the roots. Likely the top six bluegrass albums would have made my top 20 roots albums, and I likely would have found space for Sam Bush, too…
The number rankings, once past four or five, don’t mean much more than a way for me to stay organized: feel free to move your favourite up a spot or three. Full reviews are linked as artist/title.
My Favourite Roots Albums of 2016 are…
1.Mark Erelli- For a Song Likely the album I listened to second most all year. Erelli has been at the top of his game over the past number of years, both with his bluegrass band Barnstar!, as an interpreter of others’ music (his Bill Morrissey album of a couple years back, Milltowns,) as a pissed off (alternately, disappointed) topical folkie of the Woody Guthrie vein (“By Degrees,”) and on his latest full length release, For A Song. For a Song is a quiet album, yearnsome and blue in turn, reflective, observant, and above all honest; the album wove its way into my soul, making me appreciate what I understand and consider that which I don’t. I just wish he would show up in Alberta some time.
2.Maria Dunn- Gathering One of Alberta’s foremost folk musicians 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. 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.
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.
3.Jenny Whiteley- The Original Jenny Whiteley On this recording, Whiteley 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. 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.
4.The Honeycutters- On The Ropes Fronted by Amanda Anne Platt, the Honeycutters offer up country sounds that have a bit of rock ‘n’ roll push, a combination that enhances rather than detracts from their honky-tonk foundation. Their instrumental interplay is excellent, and Platt has an incredible voice, as powerful as needed and as tender as desired. There exists an intimacy within these songs, all but one written by Platt, and that intensity allows the songs (and their performance) to make personal connections with listeners.
The Dixie Chicks seem a reasonable comparison. Playfully rambunctious and justly pointed, a song like “Let’s Get Drunk” resonates: “…and if the ship is really sinking what’s the use in waiting til it’s sunk? Baby, we’re already drinking, so we might as well get drunk.” Where was she 35 years ago?!
5.Western Centuries- Weight of the World I am sure it is no coincidence that the debut album from Western Centuries vaguely resembles the self-titled release from a late 60s band of considerable Americana-roots influence. Fronted by a trio of songwriters, each singing their own songs with distinctiveness, Western Centuries is a modern country band that encourages cerebral shifts as readily as it does two-stepping shuffles. Drawing inspiration from generations of country honky tonk singers and their bands, Western Centuries is something many of us are continually pursuing—a genuine country band that doesn’t take the easy way reinterpreting familiar songs, but rather pushes their talents toward creating modern classics. Weight of the World is pert darn special.
6.Robbie Fulks- Upland Stories Stone classic this one is. Nominated for a Grammy for “Alabama at Night”—wait a second, Robbie Fulks is nominated for a Grammy! Let that percolate for a minute. Maybe 2016 wasn’t an entirely awful year! There are a dozen memorable songs on Upland Stories, none indistinguishable from those surrounding it. Maybe not Fulks’ most exciting or dynamic album (tough to beat those early albums,) but maybe his best.
7.William Bell- This Is Where I Live I have to admit, when I saw a tweet from Rosanne Cash about a new William Bell album, my first thought was “Is that like the Pop Staples album of last year?” Because I truly thought William Bell was dead. Idiot, me. I first heard William Bell after Billy Idol covered “To Be A Lover,” playing the crap out of that pink Soul of a Bell album in the mid-to late-80s. I’ve now played This Is Where I Live as many times. A beautiful sounding, complete album. Another Grammy nominee. Tied with #8 for Comeback of the Year.
8.The Monkees- Good Times! Hands down, my most played album of the year. No Depression has it on their year-end list, so that makes it roots enough for me. “She Makes Me Laugh,” “You Bring the Summer,” and “Love to Love” are just great songs. Pure pop for old people.
9.Caleb Klauder and Reeb Willms- Innocent Road Featuring the Caleb Klauder Country Band, Innocent Road is comprised of a half-dozen Kluader songs, a few obscure covers, and a healthy dollop of familiar country classics from the likes of Buck Owens and George Jones. The kicker is a track from Paul Burch’s stunning Fool For Love album, “C’est le Moment (If You’re Gonna Love Me,)” artfully sung by Willms.
As much as I enjoy Prine and DeMent and Robison and Willis, I think I might just prefer what this duo accomplishes. There is no artifice within these recordings, no hint of sly aside.
10.Northern Cree- It’s A Cree Thing North America’s original roots music perhaps? Northern Cree are a drum group from Alberta, and It’s A Cree Thing has also been nominated for a Grammy, the seventh time this group from Saddle Lake has been recognized in this manner. It’s A Cree Thing is a powerful collection of round dance songs full of energy, personality, and history. “Oh, That Smile” should be a hit single! Gorgeous.
11.Darrell Scott- Couchville Sessions With consistency his strong suit, and similar in most ways to his breakthrough album Family Tree, Couchville Sessions is a welcoming listening experience highlighted by Scott’s warmly distinctive voice and diverse presentation choices. Recorded around the same time Scott was starting to ‘break’ 15 years ago—working with Tim O’Brien and Guy Clark then—this is a set of well-aged performances captured in Scott’s living room, the gestation of which are disguised within the sultry “Come Into This Room.” It provides continuing evidence that Scott is one of Americana’s most vibrant visionaries.
12.Matt Patershuk- I Was So Fond of You Back in January or so of this year, I was listening to the radio and a four-song set was played-some combination of Corb Lund, Guy Clark, John Fulbright, and Patershuk, and I recall realizing that I couldn’t tell which of those guys was from La Glace, Alberta and making his living in construction. Put his songs on WDVX, and Patershuk would sound as comfortable alongside Darrell Scott, Fred Eaglesmith, and Chris Stapleton. Heck, add Sturgill Simpson, Hayes Carll, and the rest to the list. Patershuk is the real deal, folks. If you are missing the country, the kind of country music recorded in the days when there was more grease and a little less gloss, check out I Was So Fond of You.
13.Eric Brace & Peter Cooper- C & O Canal I suspect that I would enjoy passing time about a round table with a cool beverage in my hand in the company of either Eric Brace or Peter Cooper. Two of my favourite musicians, songwriters, and wordsmiths, Cooper and Brace have released a strong slate of albums over the past decade. C & O Canal, their latest, pays homage to the folk and bluegrass music the two encountered in Washington, DC in the 70s and 80s.
14.Rory Block- Keepin’ Outta Trouble A tribute to Bukka White, this set is so strong that it deserves a place in my Top 20 rather than as part of my tributes/collections list that is still being assembled. Block goes beyond White’s music, creating original music inspired by his life and his approach to the blues. With attention to detail, but an even greater sense of purpose, Block enlivens these performances with a balance of passion and precision that breathes life into oft-encountered numbers. Her voice is magic, and her approach to blues guitar is clean, restrained, and just damn fine beautiful.
15.Dori Freeman- Dori Freeman Freeman isn’t interested in presenting herself as some social archeology project, the mountain singer untouched by modern sway. She is a contemporary vocalist, one touched by the influences of her rural mountain upbringing as well as less-rustic contributions. She is a folk singer, a country singer, and a pop singer, all rolled into one appealing vocal package. Having written these ten songs, Freeman most obviously has her own viewpoint and voice, one that has been honed by producer Teddy Thompson; the focus of the arrangements, musicians, and production choices remain on Freeman and her songs.
16.Red Tail Ring- Far Away Blues How did this relatively unheralded set have such a significant impact on me that it took about two months to (barely) uncover the words to attempt a review? It is danged freakin’ good. This Michigan duo of Laurel Premo and Michael Beauchamp is incredible. They have the rare ability to inhabit songs, removing the barrier of time, place, and reality between their performance of ancient tunes “Yarrow” and “Come All Ye Fair & Tender Ladies,” their own timely compositions, the recorded medium, and the audience. You are transported into the recording, watching the pair lean into their songs as they maintain eye contact to communicate chords and progressions.
17.Chicago Farmer- Midwest Side Stories Cody Diekhoff—okay, Chicago Farmer—doesn’t set out to do anything fancy on Midwest Side Stories. He has insight into the experiences and internal dialogues of contemporary working class folks, and has the artistic ability to convert these into songs of substance and interest. “Skateboard Song” touches on a whole lot of stuff—youthful disenchantment, small-mindedness, finger-pointing, and police harassment, just to start—over a hard-beaten melody that would do both Weezer and Dan Bern proud. Chicago Farmer’s mid-western insights do not limit these songs: they appeal whether you are rural or urban, upstate or down, blue- or white- collar, Canadian or American. “Rocco N’ Susie” are our neighbours, the ones we don’t really know, but are more like us than we care to admit—a couple pay cheques away from foreclosure, a few months from desolation, several bad decisions from remand. The gradual journey from independence to dependence is identified in “Farms & Factories,” suspicion thrives in “Revolving Door,” and the night shift margins are explored on “9 pm to 5.”
18.Margo Price- Midwest Farmer’s Daughter I had several albums circling around these final spots, and I went with the ones I did because of their genuineness, their apparent authenticity. There is little to suggest Price considered market configurations or sales ramifications when compiling the songs for this release. Like Hazel Dickens did and Brandy Clark does, Price sings and writes of true life situations, and like Dickens (but not so much Clark) she doesn’t add a lot of spit and polish to the music. When I hear “Four Years of Chances,” “Hurtin’ On the Bottle,” “Desperate and Depressed,” and “This Town Gets Around,” I imagine I’m experiencing something similar to what folks felt listening to Loretta Lynn for the first time more than fifty years ago; still, I don’t think Loretta ever sang of blow jobs.
19.Corey Isenor- A Painted Portrait (Of the Classic Ruse) This is country music. Just not country music. 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. Alt-country continues with Corey Isenor.
20. Grant-Lee Phillips- The Narrows Sometimes you locate an album never realizing you were looking for it. The Narrows is one of those albums. I have a couple Grant-Lee Phillips albums, ones I listened to a few times upon purchase and then filed away in the drawers. I was looking around the internet one night a few months back and clicked on a video link for “Tennessee Rain.” Before the song was finished playing, I had gone into iTunes and hit Buy. Raucous in places (“Rolling Pin”) and atmospheric elsewhere, the deluxe edition of the album provides additional takes that extend the pleasure of the listen. While the Drive By Truckers delivered a more timely and angry disc, GLP produced the more enduring one.
I’m out of words, but also enjoyed these discs:
21. Brandy Clark- Big Day in a Small Town
22. Mary Chapin Carpenter- The Things That We Are Made Of
23. Parker Millsap- The Very Last Day
24. Lori McKenna- The Bird & the Rifle
25. Paul Gauthen- My Gospel
As an aside or addition, my favourite Roots Compilations/Tributes/Reissues of the year are, in no particular order:
VA- 40 Years of Stony Plain
J D Crowe & the New South- S/T vinyl
Gillian Welch- Boots No. 1- The Official Revival Bootleg
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band- Circlin’ Back: Celebrating 50 Years
VA- Wayfaring Strangers: Cosmic American Music
VA- God Don’t Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson
VA- Just Love: A Tribute to Audrey Auld Mezera
VA- The Life and Songs of Emmylou Harris
VA- Fast Folk: A Tribute to Jack Hardy
Merl Saunders and Jerry Garcia- Keystone Companions: The Complete 1973 Fantasy Recordings vinyl box
(Not included in the above list are excellent tribute [or tribute-ish] albums from Del McCoury Band, Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands, The Earls of Leicester, Rory Block, Jenny Whiteley [tribute to her family’s musical roots,] and Eric Brace/Peter Cooper, all of which made my top Bluegrass or Roots album lists.)
Finally, some 2015 albums didn’t get as much attention from me last year as they did in 2016, for a variety of reasons. But, man- did I play the heck out of them this year: Linda McRae- Shadow Trails; Chris Stapleton- Traveller; Josh Ritter- Sermon on the Rocks; Sam Baker- Say Grace; and Steve Forbert- Compromised.
BUY SOME MUSIC, DAMMIT! Roots musicians deserve our support.
Best for the New Year, Donald
These types of lists are fairly self-indulgent, but most things we do seem to be. What the heck, then?
I am fairly confident in my choices this year- I created lists as the months passed, and have considered well in excess of a hundred albums for placement. Here then are my favourite roots music albums of the year, accompanied by links to longer pieces I’ve written or, alternately when I didn’t write about a particular album, video.
[Update: #25 has been revised. Someone asked why so little mainstream country. Answer, I don’t listen to most of what would be considered modern country. I didn’t listen to the Brandy Clark album enough yet to place it in my Top 25, but I am really enjoying it. Whether that is mainstream…]
Favourite Album Covers-
1. Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby- Live Cluck Ol’ Hen
2. Guy Clark- My Favorite Picture of You– Great story behind this one. Well executed.
3. Noam Pikelny- Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe– some concert posters in the background may have pushed it over the top
4. Sturgill Simpson- High Top Mountain
5. Jack Lawrence- Arthel’s Guitar
Favorite Covers and Tribute Albums-
1.Don Rigsby- Doctor’s Orders: A Tribute to Ralph Stanley http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0MNcu_x6_xY
2. Let Us In Americana- The Music of Paul McCartney
3. Unsung Hero : A Tribute to the Music of Ron Davies
4. Joe Mullins & Junior Sisk- Bluegrass Hall of Fame https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/junior-sisk-joe-mullins-hall-of-fame-bluegrass-review/
5. Jack Lawrence- Arthel’s Guitar
6. Martyn Joseph- Tires Rushing By in the Rain
7. Ben Sollee- The Hollow Sessions
8. You Don’t Know Me: Rediscovering Eddy Arnold
9. Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs- Under the Covers, Vol.3
Favourite Reissues and Archival Releases of the Year-
1. George Jones- The Complete United Artists Solo Singles
2. Steve Forbert- Early On: The Best of the Mississippi Recordings and the Alive on Arrival/Jackrabbit Slim twofer, more concise and accessible than the previous Rolling Tide reissues
3. Townes Van Zandt- Sunshine Boy: The Unheard Sessions & Demos 1971-1972
4. Guy Clark- Dixie’s Bar & Bus Stop
5. The Bottle Rockets- The Bottle Rockets/The Brooklyn Side– The Bottle Rockets was and is one of the greatest Americana/alt.country albums ever recorded. The bonus tracks provide further context for the days that I wasn’t aware of until they were over. So enthralled with that album, I’ve allowed The Brooklyn Side to sit on the shelf untouched since the first and only time I played it all those years ago. My mistake. One I won’t allow to be repeated.
6. Billy Bragg Life’s A Riot with Spy vs Spy, 30th Anniversary Edition A most concise vision of the power of words and music; comes with a recent live encore of the 7-track e.p.
7. James Keelaghan History: The First 25 Years
Favourite Various Artists and Compilation Albums-
1. Divided & United: The Songs of the Civil War
2. The Daughters of Bluegrass- Pickin’ Like A Girl https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/07/18/daughters-of-bluegrass-pickin-like-a-girl-review/
3. God Didn’t Choose Sides
4. Classic Banjo from Smithsonian Folkways
5. Ghost Brothers of Darkland County
The following are my favourite stand-alone albums of 2013, often the albums I spent the most time with this past year (or, in the case of late year releases, the albums I feel I will end up spending the most time with):
1. Guy Clark- My Favorite Picture of You: The elder statesman does it again, producing another exceptional collection of songs, all but a cover of a Lyle Lovett song co-writes. Beautifully sung and played. Clark’s thirteenth album of new material, recorded at age 71, was head and shoulders this past year’s finest roots music album. If there is justice, and voters were actually listening, he’ll receive a Grammy in January. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qIftiMZPVsE&list=RDntpyFfef-NA
2. John Reischman- Walk Along John https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/07/27/john-reischman-walk-along-john-review/
3. J. R. Shore- State Theatre https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/05/26/j-r-shore-state-theatre-review-the-polaris-music-prize/
4. Slaid Cleaves- Still Fighting the War: Gives ol’ Guy a run for his money. http://slaidcleaves.com/category/videos/
5. Mike Plume- Red and White Blues: Following up the very excellent 8:30 Newfoundland, Mike Plume returned not only with a most sincere Stompin’ Tom Connors tribute, but a set of songs- almost equal parts Maritime stomper and prairie balladry- that will soon stand with his best. http://mikeplume.com/steelbeltedwebsite/?page_id=19
6. Kimberley Rew- Healing Broadway: Pub roots. http://www.kimberleyrew.com/
7. Bruce Foxton- Back in the Room: If by roots you mean rock n roll. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=syxMnWmrACM
8. The Gibson Brothers- They Call It Music https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/the-gibson-brothers-they-call-it-music-review/
9. Chris Jones & The Night Drivers- Lonely Comes Easy https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/08/24/chris-jones-the-night-drivers-lonely-comes-easy-review/
10. D. B. Rielly- Cross My Heart & Hope to Die https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/d-b-rielly-cross-my-heart-hope-to-die-review/
11. Darden Smith- Love Calling https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/darden-smith-love-calling-review/
12. Robbie Fulks- Gone Away Backward http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T00vjRCmf3g
13. The Del McCoury Band- The Streets of Baltimore: Experience counts for a whole lot. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_K_7pcdvck
14. Leeroy Stagger- Truth Be Sold https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/11/23/leeroy-stagger-truth-be-sold-review/ http://exclaim.ca/MusicVideo/ClickHear/leeroy_stagger-cities_on_fire_video
15. Alice Gerrard- Bittersweet https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/08/10/alice-gerrard-bittersweet-review/
16. Noam Pikelny- Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iqys8Ez7Cno
17. Marshall Chapman- Blaze of Glory: Another great album of honest roots rock. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azPRk89nKaQ
18. Holly Williams- The Highway: Purchased after reading a couple reviews and having never heard her; glad I did. http://www.hollywilliams.com/portfolio-items/the-highway/
19. Sturgill Simpson- High Top Mountain: I’m glad all music isn’t this well-grounded in the country tradition. Makes it all the more special when you find it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNV16tz1NK0
20. John Paul Keith- Memphis 3 A.M.: A long-time favourite singer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TWk5Yo9dIG0
21. James King- Three Chords and the Truth: Only bought this one before Christmas; need to listen more, but nothing to lead me to believe it isn’t going to stay with me for a long time. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWnKoIXS1KU
22. Kim Beggs- Beauty and Breaking: an exceptional collection of song that are already familiar. With more listens, I’m confident it will become even more appreciated. http://www.kimbeggs.com/videoplay.html?video=http://www.youtube.com/v/mL45VqBql00
23. Jeff Black- B-Sidea and Confessions, Volume Two https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/05/20/jeff-black-b-sides-and-confessions-volume-two-review/
24. Peter Rowan- The Old School https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/05/20/peter-rowan-the-old-school-review/
25. Blue Mafia- My Cold Heart https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/blue-mafia-my-cold-heart-review/ Was in consideration right up until I wrote the final draft. Another listen brought it forward, knocking Emmylou & Rodney out of the 25th spot. I’m sure they will recover.
Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell- Old Yellow Moon: Once upon a time, an album this stunning would be much higher that #25; that is one indication of how great the last year has been. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0MNcu_x6_xY
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee so often in 2013, and I hope you will continue to find roots music opinion of interest in 2014 and beyond.
As always, Donald @FervorCoulee on the Twittering thing.
Over at the Lonesome Road Review, Aaron has posted my review of two new Rebel Records bluegrass compilations- one is focused on banjo tunes, the other fiddle.
Thanks for visiting. Donald
“True Bluegrass Banjo” and “True Bluegrass Fiddle” by Various Artists on Rebel Records
True Bluegrass Banjo
True Bluegrass Fiddle
3.5 stars (out of 5)
By Donald Teplyske
I’ve long fantasized about hanging out at the Rebel Records headquarters and being given full access to the label’s vaults and filing cabinets. I envision spending several days wandering the aisles, perusing shelves of archived material, listening to snatches of studio chatter captured between takes and reviewing rare documents itemizing the sessions of the masters of bluegrass.
Sometime during my stay, Mr. Freeman would recognize my passion and insight into this music and ask me to come on staff, perhaps to facilitate the development and enhancement of their vast catalog of recordings into a series of reissues and compilations. I would be put in charge of refreshing releases from the vast history of Rebel Records, assembling the ‘just right’ collection of standards and forgotten gems into premium releases that advance the music for the next generation of listeners, housed in elaborate packaging taking advantage of the array of photos from during historical recording dates while ignoring the financial constraints of the current music market.
But, like most of my other fantasies, this one isn’t likely to come to fruition. I need to accept my lot and simply enjoy Rebel compilations as assembled by others. This latest pairing includes a total of 36 banjo- and fiddle-focused instrumentals spread across two individually available and budget-priced albums.
It is hard to muster any type of negative argument toward these sets. True, the packaging and notes are (unfortunately) kept to a minimum with little more than song title and performer information provided. No details about the source of each track or who is playing what are included. Still, for sets selling at $9 and less, the lack of this information is an acceptable compromise.
What matters then is the music, and the stuff included herein is tough to beat: Sonny Osborne laying down “Banjo Boy Chimes;” Kenny Baker and Joe Greene fiddlin’ “High Country;” J.D. Crowe delivering “Black Jack;” Glen Duncan exploring “Williamsburg;” Ralph Stanley and the “Clinch Mountain Backstep.” Classic stuff.
You have the fiddling standards- “Leather Britches” (Curly Ray Cline), “St. Anne’s Reel” (Johnny Warren), “Scotland” (Bobby Hicks), and “Dusty Miller” (Joe Greene)- as well as some lesser known tunes. Art Stamper, James Price, Chubby Anthony and others have tracks included on True Bluegrass Fiddle.
The companion banjo disc is similarly chock-a-block with priceless and memorable takes: Bill Emerson’s “Sweet Dixie,” Alan Munde’s “Cotton Patch Rag,” “Knee Deep in the Bluegrass” from Terry Baucom, and Sammy Shelor’s “Daddy’s Dream.” Also represented are Jimmy Arnold, Don Reno & Eddie Adcock, and Ned Luberecki as well as additional tunes from Stanley, Crowe, and Emerson.
As introductions to bluegrass banjo and fiddle-—and what Rebel has offered over the years in this regard—these two sets provide quality music at an attractive price.
Two new reviews have been posted to the Lonesome Road Review. Caroline Herring’s excellent Camilla is stunning. Within her voice, she possesses qualities that one considers when appreciating the likes of Laura Nyro, the McGarrigles, and Emmylou; she isn’t attempting vocal perfection, and by not doing so, achieves it. Lovely.
As well, I recently purchased Country Funk: 1969-1975 from the Light in the Attic label; they may not service me, but they sure do put out fine albums. Recommended if you like good music as practiced by the likes of Sam Lewis.
As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
4.5 stars (out of 5)
By Donald Teplyske
As I’ve written before, I’m a fortunate person. Since I started writing about music a dozen years ago, I’ve been sent hundreds of albums for review. While the surge has slowed to a trickle over the past few years—more labels are offering downloads for review rather than physical copies; even more have simply stopped servicing ‘little folks’ like me—there is still enough music coming my way to keep me excited about writing reviews.
Caroline Herring’s new album Camilla arrived unsolicited earlier this summer. Prior to this release, I had never knowingly heard Herring. Years ago, Kate Campbell, Carrie Newcomer, and Mark Erelli were introduced to me under similar circumstance: a plain brown envelope arrives and is opened; a beautifully assembled CD package slips out and a CD is placed in the stereo; life-altering music is experienced within seconds. It is a beautiful thing to discover a ‘new favourite’ who has built a career upon stellar albums, recording that can be freshly explored all at once now that they have (finally) entered your world.
As it turns out, Camilla is the Georgia resident’s sixth album, and I had indeed heard her before, although I had forgotten. Her “Song for Fay” was likely my favourite song on the Bloodshot tribute to author Larry Brown assembled by Tim Lee, Just One More. While I had forgotten that performance, listening to Camilla (and doing a little research for this piece) brought back my appreciation for that standout song. (Guess what album is going to be listened once I’ve finished writing this piece?)
Camilla is gorgeous. Hard-hitting throughout, Herring’s gentle and understated approach serves to frame difficult subject matter—civil rights, environmental ignorance leading to human disregard, innocence, war—with poetic imagery that should initiate an internal dialogue within every listener.
Much like Diana Jones and Campbell, Herring frequently writes of the experiences of the past and their influence on the present. “Camilla,” about the perseverance of Marion King who was beaten so badly by a sheriff’s deputy in 1962 that she miscarried, and “White Dress,” inspired by Frances Moultrie’s participation in the 1961 Freedom Ride, speak to the struggle for civil rights five decades ago. Based on a traditional ballad, “Black Mountain Lullaby” stands as tribute to a little boy crushed in his sleep by a boulder dislodged by a work crew above his Wise County, Va. home. “Summer Song” provides a bit of faith for times of struggle, while “Flee As A Bird” offers words of salvation.
The instrumentation is overwhelmingly acoustic, and it is through these pure, almost sacred sounds that Herring communicates her emotional statements. Her words often leave room for interpretation, but the music is more direct. One appreciates the contributions of Fats Kaplin (pedal steel, fiddle, and banjo) and Bryn Davies’ upright bass playing serves as the album’s tender pulse. Canadian (and lead Duhk) Leonard Podolak’s banjo colours “Black Mountain Lullaby” with mournful shades that highlight the tragedy of a senseless death.
Adding appeal is the participation of three favoured vocalists. Mary Chapin Carpenter sings backup on two numbers, including the lovely “Traveling Shoes” on which is joined by Aoife O’Donovan, while Claire Holley sings on a pair of songs.
I’ll continue to listen to Camilla in the months to come, and I won’t be forgetting Caroline Herring this time. With five more albums to explore, I am going to enjoy delving into the back catalogue of this intriguing and riveting vocalist, musician, and songwriter.
Country Funk: 1969-1975
Light in the Attic
4 stars (out of 5)
By Donald Teplyske
Before seeing advertising for this album, I’m not sure I had read the term “country funk” anywhere. I may have, but I don’t recall doing so. Country soul, yup. Country swamp. Memphis country. Delta country. I had heard of them all, but country funk is as good as any of them, I suppose. I knew what type of music would be on an album called Country Funk: 1969-1975: a bass throbbing, guitar-riff rich, sultry and lusty amalgam of reality, equal parts inner city blues and Chickasaw County kissin’-cousin country.
Larry Jon Wilson’s performance of “Ohoopee River Bottomland” in Heartworn Highways may have been my gateway into this music, but having spent 30-plus years listening to country, rock, and soul music, I was more than primed to fall under its spell. Following paths from Clarence Carter, Kate Campbell and Bobbie Gentry to Spooner Oldman, Charlie Rich and Tony Joe White, I’ve amassed a huge appreciation for music that combines the grittiness of real country with the effortlessness of thoughtful soul.
I resisted downloading Country Funk simply because I decided early on that this was an album that I wanted on vinyl. It just seemed to be appropriate to hear this album on a turntable. I’ve not ‘gone back’ to vinyl with the enthusiasm others may have for two simple reasons. One, I never completely left vinyl behind: it is tough for me to pass by a garage sale without looking for a box of records. I don’t know if vinyl sounds better than digital versions of music, but I know I appreciate it more and have recently lugged my twelve or thirteen boxes of records around the new basement more times than I should have. Secondly, regularly spending $25 or $30 for a vinyl album has never made sense to me. I have bought a half-dozen contemporary releases on vinyl—Mark Davis’ Eliminate the Toxins and the Del McCoury Band’s Bill Monroe tribute immediately come to mind—but it is still a special occasion when I buy new vinyl.
Based on my experiences with the Karen Dalton and Kris Kristofferson packages of a few years back and their more recent Louvin Brothers album, I knew Light in the Attic releases were well done. It therefore made sense to me that I would lay down $24.99 plus tax for this rather concise examination of a music I’ve felt a kinship toward.
Before we get to the music contained on this two-album set, a word about the package. Gatefold sleeve with an illustration that absolutely does justice to the 12×12 format; Jess Rotter’s line drawings and colours work beautifully to set the scene for these (mostly) early ‘70s recordings. Jessica Hundley’s notes provide some context, most importantly pointing out that no one was setting out to make music within a genre: people were just making music. She highlights Bobby Darin’s place within the compilation, and uncovers insights from artists including Dennis Caldirola, Dick Monda, Jr., and Tony Joe White. I would have liked more information about Larry Jon Wilson, Bobbie Gentry (whose name Hundley misspells as Bobby), Johnny Adams, and especially Gritz and Jim Ford, but what is contained provides a starting place.
The music is ’bout what you would expect. Album cuts and singles from various labels. Sixteen tracks, from the familiar and readily available (Jim Ford’s “I Wanta Make Her Love Me,” Tony Joe White’s “Studspider,” and Bobby Charles’ “Street People”) to entirely new, to me at least. Dale Hawkins, who I only know from “Susie Q,” gets things started with the shout-out “L.A. Memphis Tyler Texas.” Choice cuts include Johnny Adams’ brilliant “Georgia Morning Dew” and Link Wray’s “Fire and Brimstone,” a track that reveals more in four minutes than every version of “Rumble” I’ve ever heard. While Cherokee’s “Funky Business” doesn’t really go anywhere, it is a cool little tune, and I wouldn’t mind hearing more from them.
An album project such as this one should introduce listeners to under-appreciated artists, and this set does that through the music of Gray Fox (Dick Monda, Jr.), Dennis the Fox (Dennis Caldirola), Gritz, and John Randolph Marr. Caldirola’s “Piledriver” captures the drive-in movie sensibilities that I recall from the early to mid-seveneties, and yes, I went to a lot of drive-in movies with elder siblings and cousins in those days: the song doesn’t really come together into a coherent song, but seems ideal as written for a trucking exploitation movie that was never made: I can see Susan George as the “mean, mothertrucker of a girl.”
Like “Piledriver,” some of these songs have novelty appeal. Others, like Larry Jon Wilson’s “Ohoopee River Bottomland” and Johhny Jenkins’ “I Walk on Gilded Splinters” are timeless. The Bobbie Gentry track, “He Made a Woman Out of Me” was the second most successful single off her Fancy album, but never came close to the country top 40 and isn’t likely to be heard on classic country radio. Its sophisticated arrangement seems at odds with ‘country funk,’ but her voice and what sounds like an amazing band pull off this “Strawberry Wine” forerunner; I would love to know who was playing on this- and every- track, but no session notes are provided.
The biggest surprise on the album for me was the inclusion of Mac Davis, who I am only familiar with from a couple country hits and as a guest star on various 70s and 80s variety shows and movies. “Lucas Was a Redneck” is culled from Davis’ most successful album Stop and Smell the Roses, and is a killer track. Here, singing unsympathetically of a Tupelo boy born “one half stupid, the other half dumb,” Davis sounds a little like Larry Jon Wilson. This scathing indictment of southern bigotry and self-limiting behavior makes me want to investigate a singer I’ve never given more than a passing thought toward.
I was very satisfied with my purchase of Country Funk: 1969- 1975 on vinyl. I will enjoy listening to the album several more times and I know I’ll be sent on wild journeys as I seek out the music from most of the included acts. As mentioned, information about the backing musicians would have been appreciated, and I was especially disappointed that a download code wasn’t included with the album, a feature that I mistakenly believed was a ‘given’ with modern vinyl releases as I’ve received one with every other recently purchased vinyl package.
Various Artists Foggy Mountain Special: A Bluegrass Tribute to Earl Scruggs Rounder
Starting about six years ago, a handful of sessions were held in a pair of Tennessee studios. Gathering were several of the finest contemporary bluegrass musicians representing the most influential groups of the day, among them Union Station, Mountain Heart, the Del McCoury Band, and Kentucky Thunder.
Alongside these powerful sidemen (a list which includes Dan Tyminski, Clay Hess, Jason Carter, Randy Kohrs, Ron Stewart, Barry Bales, and Adam Steffey) some of bluegrass music’s most influential and revered banjo players were assembled. The five-string players cut a huge swath through the premier bluegrass pickers: from Jim Mills, Dave Talbot, and Charlie Cushman, to J.D. Crowe, Joe Mullins, Kenny Ingram, and more.
All came together to bring to life a tribute to bluegrass music’s most influential banjo player, Earl Scruggs. It has been successfully argued that bluegrass music didn’t exist until Scruggs brought his distinctive three-fingered style of playing to Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys. The twelve tunes included on this very excellent collection signal confirmation that while Scruggs has passed, his influence and legacy remain secure.
While much is made of the speed and drive of bluegrass, as important is the ability to play within an established ensemble, to support other musicians as a tune is performed. It is this precision, this spark of creative camaraderie that is most apparent throughout this album.
Within a set featuring some of the greatest bluegrassers ever assembled playing the songs on which the music was built- including “Rueben,” “Earl’s Breakdown,” “Ground Speed,” and “Pike Country Breakdown”- there is no end to the highlights. Ron Block’s treatment of “Foggy Mountain Special” is spritely and Ron Stewart’s fiddle playing works beautifully within the arrangement. Larry Perkins brings the ‘down home’ to “Sally Goodin” and J.D. Crowe- himself a legend in bluegrass circles- shows no signs of slowing down while leading “Nashville Skyline Rag.”
Along with Tom Adams’ insightful notes and Tom Rozum’s beautiful cover art, the music contained within Foggy Mountain Special: A Bluegrass Tribute to Earl Scruggs is superior by any measure.
My review of the latest Putumayo project has been posted to Fervor Coulee Bluegrass. http://www.countrystandardtime.com/blog/FervorCouleeBluegrass/entry.asp?xid=906 This review was a bit tough for me because I truly respect the Putumayo label and the legacy of excellence they have established. However, this latest compilation left me wanting. I realize it isn’t fair to review a project on what it isn’t, and I hope I avoided that trap. Rather, I hope I’ve been critical of the album for what it is, while identifying what I wish it had been.
Chris Jones & the Night Drivers Lost Souls & Free Spirits: The Rebel Collection Old & New Rebel Records
Beyond setting a new standard for the use of the ampersand, this set from Chris Jones and Co., is both a fabulous little introduction to one of bluegrass music’s most familiar personalities and a neat summation of where he has been.
With a daily six-hour block on SiriusXM’s Bluegrass Junction, Chris Jones has become a very well-known personality within bluegrass media; that he is actually a darn talented and insightful radio host is certainly a freakin’ bonus. This is the second compilation of Rebel recordings from Jones in a decade, and this will seem a bit mystifying to some readers especially as Jones has recorded only a single bluegrass album in the ten years since A Few Words.
Nitpicking aside, I’m sure there are very good reasons for the lack of output. If I were guessing- and I am- I would suggest that the daily grind of producing the radio show may hold back a bit the ‘full-time’ aspect of Jones’ bluegrass performing career. Then there was the ‘Americana’ excursion of Too Far Down the Road, Jones’ very strong album of the mid-aughts. The fact that Jones is a dedicated family man who has chosen to follow his wife Sally to her family’s northern Alberta home would also likely factor in to his small number of recordings since around 2000.
What I do know is that I wish Chris Jones & the Night Drivers were more prolific, because the 14 songs contained on Lost Souls & Free Spirits: The Rebel Collection Old & New simply sharpens the appetite for their solid bluegrass approach. Settling somewhere between tradition and innovation, Jones and his Night Drivers have created a country-pure approach to bluegrass music.
In addition to previously released tracks, Jones has elected to include three recent recordings with the current Night Drivers line-up. “Final Farewell” was released well ahead of the album and, after spending several weeks bouncing around on the Bluegrass Today chart, settled into the #1 spot for the March chart. “Waltz of Regret” originally appeared- with slightly fewer ‘grass touches than here- on Too Far Down the Road as did “A Hero in Harlan,” one of the strongest Tom T. and Dixie Hall songs.
The remaining songs are culled from Just a Drifter (two tunes), No One But You (also two), and the currently unavailable Follow Your Heart (four songs). Including three selections from the fairly recent Cloud of Dust album is a mite perplexing; I would have preferred additional songs from the past, perhaps “Fork in the Road,” a rarity such as “Diesel Smoke on Danger Road,” or another new track.
Still, many of Jones’ most enduring songs are included, some of which he wrote, more from outside sources, among them “Bridge to Portsmouth,” “Nashville Blues,” “Uphill Climb,” and “The Man on the Side of the Road.” As Jon Weisberger mentions in the notes, most of these songs remain in the Night Drivers’ live set, making the set ideal for the festival table.
Lost Souls & Free Spirits: The Rebel Collection Old & New is hardly essential. With most of the songs available on other Jones albums, it is most likely best purchased by those who do not already own Jones’ impressive back catalogue. Realizing I’m in the minority, I would have better enjoyed a reissue of Follow Your Heart (the one Jones album I can’t locate on my shelves) fattened by the three new recordings.
Still, there is nothing wrong with the set, and plenty right with it. In fact, these forty minutes of Chris Jones & the Night Drivers are mighty satisfying, much like their live performance.
As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald