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 ‘country music’ Tag
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.
It takes a lot of energy to review an album that severely disappoints. This one was exhausting.
As I state in the review, In Full Color was a great album, one of the finest of 2001. Worries on My Mind was almost as good. But damn it, Sho Nuff Country just doesn’t measure up. It is predictable and uninteresting. Unnecessary and unoriginal. Uninspired, even.
I more than gave the album a chance. Listened to it a half-dozen times before I finalized my opinion on it because it is frankly risky for a freelancer to lean heavy on a weak album. Safer to ignore it than risky incurring the wrath of a label or publicist.
Sho Nuff Country just doesn’t work. Want to know why? Read my review over at Country Standard Time. And please know, label/publicist aside, I don’t craft a negative review lightly. Obviously the group thought they were recording something special. Their label believed in what they put together. I know they invested heavily in the project. But there was no way I could find to put some gloss on this one.
Your opinion may be different. Feel free to write your own review.
Caleb Klauder & Reeb Willms
Imagine that country music didn’t take a heavy countrypolitan swerve in the 60s. Pedal steel guitar remains prominent, but things didn’t go all schmaltzy. Emotion is paramount, loves challenged and lost, frustrations voiced. Syrup is for pancakes, not country songs. What else may have been avoided? No urban cowboys of the 70s? Sawyer Brown? No Garth and Shania pop-rock? Bro country and the current slate of misguided country would never have evolved.
Nope, had things gone just a little differently and things remained more Louisiana Hayride and less uptown, there is a fine chance that today’s country music might more frequently sound like that produced by Caleb Klauder and Reeb Willms.
This is the real stuff.
Veterans of Washington state’s more authentic country music environs, Klauder (Foghorn Stringband) and Willms (also FHSB) joined forces a few years ago, and if Innocent Road is any indication of the magic they produce when performing together, I need to search out their debut Oh Do You Remember.
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.
Klauder and Willms sing together very well, and 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. They sound as if they are in the corner of a county hall, singing their hearts out for folk who have worked too damn hard all week and need a few hours to forget enough to do it all again come Monday morning.
Songs like “I’d Jump the Mississippi,” “Coming on Strong,” and “There Goes My Love” may be familiar to some listeners, and their performances are nothing short of splendid. The true jewels of Innocent Road are Klauder’s songs, whether the faithful title track or the mournful and slightly Roger Milleresque “New Shoes.” “Just A Little” is a weepy duet shuffle of missed opportunities.
Outside the Burch song, the album’s strongest five minutes might be the double shot of “Been On the Rocks” and “Last Time I Saw Her.” Great guitar work (maybe from Rusty Blake,) some sweet bass (Jesse Emerson), and Jason Norris’ fiddle, combined with great lyrics, close harmony, and a feeling of yearnsome one doesn’t usually find outside an Alison Krauss recording. Beautiful.
Mostly acoustic, this is the kind of country music for which we at Fervor Coulee plainly pine.
Some of these songs have appeared on previous recordings, but that should dissuade no one. Innocent Road is an excellent collection of country music. The packaging is nothing short of ingenious, too: kudos to Colleen M. Heine and Stumptown Printers.
Forgive us for thinking we might never again hear new music from The Cox Family. It has been almost twenty years since Just When We’re Thinking It’s Over, and excepting an appearance in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, not much has been heard from Alison Krauss’s favourite Louisianans. Given the quality of the music contained on Gone Like the Cotton, an album started in 1998 and completed within the last year, it is surprising that Krauss and Rounder Records didn’t consider buying the project from Asylum and the Warner’s group at some point in the ensuing years; perhaps the financial commitment wasn’t realistic given the changes that have occurred within the recording industry.
Having sat on the shelf of a storage facility for more than a decade, the back story of this recording is more than interesting. Scrapped in 1997 by Asylum amidst changing management structures, The Cox Family faded into fond memory. In frustration, the original vocals had been erased from the tracks when the masters were turned over to the label, with the ‘safeties’ retained by Krauss and engineer Gary Paczosa.
Years later, Kyle Lehning finally convinced current Warner Music Nashiville management that the recording merited completion, and so the recorded files were located and freshened with new vocals from the current lineup of the Cox Family siblings Evelyn, Sidney, and Suzanne complementing father Willard’s vocal takes from the late 90s.
The result is a type of country music that is seldom encountered in contemporary times. Beautifully executed with confidence that comes through on every song, Gone Like the Cotton is a masterful recording.
The album simmers in a way ‘family’ country albums seldom do—there is a desire within these tracks, a passion for life and music that is palatable. Harmonies have always been at the core of The Cox Family, and these have never sounded better. Go back to those dusty cassettes and give I Know Who Holds Tomorrow and Beyond the City a listen, and as great as those recordings are, this is better.
My copy didn’t come with specific notes, so I don’t know who is playing the opening guitar notes on “Let It Roll,” but it sounds terrific; Pat Bergeson, Krauss’ ex-, Rob Block, and Sonny Landreth receive credit for guitar on the album. Sidney Cox’s Dobro touches (“Let It Roll”) are brilliant while the mandolin on “Good News”—Dan Tyminski? Sam Bush?—is stellar.
As wonderful as the instrumentation is on this album, one comes to The Cox Family for the vocals and boy, do they deliver. Patrick Bryer’s oft-recorded “Good Imitation of the Blues” (Larry Cox, Alan Jackson, B.C.’s Tumbleweed) leads off the album and I don’t know if Suzanne Cox has ever sounded better; it has been said that life informs a great singer’s voice, and if such is true, the evidence can be found on Cox’s performance of this song. Man, she is strong.
Krauss’ love for 70s schmaltz rock is well-documented, and somehow her playing combines with the lead vocal performance (Suzanne? Evelyn?) bringing meaning to Bread’s “Lost Without Your Love,” a song most of us switch off when it comes on the radio. “Too Far Gone” is affecting with memories of lost opportunity, while “In My Eyes” is the most flamboyant, ‘modern’ country sounding song on the album; with big production values, this track isn’t as appealing as the more natural sounding songs are.
Family patriarch Willard is no longer able to sing following a road accident at the height of the O Brother days, but his voice was captured during the original recordings. We don’t really need another version of “Cash on the Barrelhead,” but one isn’t going to quibble. Willard Cox was and is an essential of the Cox Family sound, a connection to the oil patch towns and halls in which he and his family once played.
The newest song and title track, written by Sidney and Suzanne, is a nearly-unadorned family biography. With only the minimalist of guitar accompaniment, the siblings sing of their grandparents, their parents, and their community with devotion and love. It is a stunning and appropriate closing to a heartfelt recording, one that captures in four minutes a lifetime of experience.
Gone Like the Cotton more than completes an interrupted chapter of southern country music history. It again brings The Cox Family, one of the most significant and beloved of roots recording groups, to the fore of Americana culture. Someone may find the recording lacking; not me. A welcome and triumphant return some seventeen years in the waiting.
Thank you for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Last month, a handful of reviews were posted over at Country Standard Time.
Antique Persuasion is a(nother) tribute to the Carter Family, one that brings those old sounds into a modern setting while maintaining the honest essence of the classic recordings.
Others were written for the Lonesome Road Review.
The Slocan Ramblers are an ON bluegrass band with a BC name playing KY music. They are darned fine, in my opinion.
I have other reviews that have been tied up with editors…either they didn’t like them, the pieces needed a lot of polish, or (I’m hoping) things have been busy.
The Honeycutters Me Oh My Organic Records
The exception appears to be that of The Honeycutters because “Appalachian Honky Tonk” fair nails the head.
The Asheville, NC quintet released their third long player this spring, and as happens it took a while to percolate to the top of the Fervor Coulee desk. I did listen to it a couple or three times upon receipt, but must have been distracted by something shiny elsewhere since I didn’t give Me Oh My its due.
Thank goodness for lazy afternoons on the deck, because this is an exceptional album that I have grown to appreciate.
While there is much to consider within, I think what finally got me were lines from “All You Ever”: “And now it’s just the same damn thing/You fail like you’ve been practicing/Everything you ever tried to be was just a fantasy/King of all the hypocrites/Every day the same old thing/Well ain’t you getting sick of it.”
Now there’s a frog on the table for ya to consider. (The online lyric sheet inserts a rhyming expletive in place of the final ‘thing’ in that exchange.)
Largely acoustic, The Honeycutters utilize instruments to construct an aggressive honky tonk country sound that is quite miraculous. Tal Taylor (mandolin), Matt Smith (pedal steel and reso), Rick Cooper (bass), and Josh Milligan (drums, percussion, and most of the vocal harmony) provide the group’s formidable instrumental backbone, while powerful vocalist Amanda Anne Platt fronts the group.
Basically, this is unapologetic hillbilly rock ‘n’ roll. In the hands of others, a song like “Edge of the Frame” would be a FM radio staple, but The Honeycutters place a wistfulness within their songs that can only emanate from country roots: had it been released in 1995, “Jukebox” might have been a CMT hit. Free of the navel-gazing moodiness and egocentrism permeating much of contemporary Americana, Platt’s songs ring with the authenticity of lived truths. This is commercial country twenty years too late to be mainstream.
Songs like “Not that Simple” and “Ain’t it the Truth” speak to the crux of infidelity and settling, whereas “Wedding Song” flips the plot, giving hope to those trapped in misery: “When you found me I was broken clear in two/My heart was split wide open, tired of hoping, tired of playing the fool./But you did what I thought nobody could do/You pieced me back together/kissed the hurting parts, made me new.”
The album’s strongest song, if not most accessible, is one Fred Eaglesmith and Greg Trooper might be proud to own. “Hearts of Men” artfully captures the troubled darkness that seeps through one’s mind during long, lonely drives. Here Platt constructs a short story in song, a sketch that is impactful in description and significant in emotional heft, punctuated by an atmosphere created of pedal steel and Telecaster.
Elsewhere, the truths jabs in the dark, quick fatal stabs of poetic insight. “I’m tired of the truth, I’m tired of pretending” is sung in “I’ll Be Loving You” while the title track offers, “I had a baby but the good Lord took her/She was an angel but her wings were crooked/I guess he figured he could love her better than me.”
Me Oh My is an album that should have immediately appealed to me, rich as it is in the rural roots of country, folk, and ‘grass. That it didn’t is entirely on me. I’m grateful it was patient with me, holding off the others until I could feel its soul.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald