Archive for the ‘country music’ Tag

Stax Country- review   Leave a comment

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Stax Country Various Artists Craft Recordings/Concord Music

The early 1970s were pivotal in the evolution of country music. Preceding the populist explosions of both “Outlaw Country” and the resulting, reactive “Urban Cowboy” phases, in the early years of the 1970s country music ties to “& Western” had been significantly severed while the influence of “Countrypolitan” sounds were beginning to wane.

It was in these years that the charts included the emerging legends—Tammy Wynette, Lynn Anderson, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Charley Pride—as well as singers of significance—Susan Raye, Mel Street, Tony Booth, “Crash” Craddock, and Tommy Overstreet—for those of us who have dived deeply at garage sales and thrift shops. There was a certain ‘sound’ associated with the country music of the day, an abundance of pedal steel, florid choruses, and silky background singing, that hasn’t necessarily aged particularly well, but which feels positively rootsy compared to today’s over-the-top, unrepentant, and decidedly manufactured country hit-making.

Venerable Stax Records, celebrating its sixtieth anniversary this year with a series of reissues and compilations, also released select country singles and albums on associated labels. Jim Stewart, Stax founder, came from country and the label produced, leased, and otherwise acquired a significant number of artists and masters and—as this single-disc compilation reveals—released several top-touch but ultimately doomed songs from 1969-1975.

Nothing within Stax Country, as far as I can determined, charted nationally: if you want to give your Google a workout, try some research into the recording careers of Paige O’Brian, Danny Bryan, and Dale Yard, all included herein with tracks culled from the Enterprise label. Here, then, are fairly obscure, seldom heard, and in select cases unreleased recordings, several of which are absolute gems: every track, even the most contrived and dated, offers insight into country music’s less familiar trajectory.

The most familiar artists, I’m guessing, included in the set are O. B. McClinton, Connie Eaton, Paul Craft, and Eddie Bond, not a household name among them.

“The Chocolate Cowboy,” O. B. McClinton is typically included whenever the history of African-American country music is discussed, and his “The Finer Things in Life” certainly has everything a soulful country song should include: tick-tack guitar, a compelling ‘crossing the tracks’ narrative of a woman who had everything “until I came along,” and an exceptional vocal take. Like most things McClinton touched, it wasn’t quite enough, but as part of this interesting set one considers ‘what could have been.’

A compelling singer, Connie Eaton was destined to achieve a mere footnote in country music history. She brushed the country charts a number of times in the early 70s, never breaking through despite hitting as high as #23 in 1975 with “Lonely Men, Lonely Women.” The catchy “I Wanna Be Wrong Right Now” didn’t stand a chance in 1974, released as it was as everything Stax was beginning to fail. But hearing it from 40+ years distance, one can hear echoes of Olivia Newton-John, Donna Fargo, and other popular singers of the day: it is a great performance. Eaton’s daughter, Cortney Tidwell, recorded as KORT with Kurt Wagner, recording the excellent Invariable Heartache a few years back, a reminder to re-discover both Eaton’s and Tidwell’s music on the shelves.

Bluegrassers are familiar with the name Paul Craft, if only for writing the standards “Keep Me From Blowing Away” and “Midnight Flyer,” but this member of the Nashville Songwriters’ Hall of Fame also had a brief recording career including time spent on the Stax Truth-imprint. “For Linda (Child in the Cradle”) was the b-side of his unforgiveable “It’s Me Again, Margaret” single: sorry, the novelty song is unlistenable. “For Linda” (Child in the Cradle)” is vastly superior, a well-executed country nativity of confusion and poor decisions.

Eddie Bond’s album about Buford Pusser ranks as one of my favourite discoveries of the YouTube/grey-shade download era, and the Memphis rockabilly legend has more recordings floating around than likely anyone on this 16-track set. What his rockabilly recordings may lack in substance they compensate for in verve, but “That Glass” is pure honky-tonk country, an over-looked classic of the type George Jones recorded for United Artists and Musicor.

From the first track, Becki Bluefield’s “Sweet Country Music,” through to the final tracks (Dale Yard’s, A.K.A. Stax guitarist Bobby Manuel, instrumental “Purple Cow” and Lee Denson’s sentimental “A Mom and Dad for Christmas,”) Stax Country is an incredible overview of country music most of us have never encountered. Joyce Cobb’s “Your Love” should have charted amongst all those Lynn Anderson hits, while Cliff Cochran’s “All the Love You’ll Ever Need” is a Jeannie Seely song that had everything going for it, excepting label support.

Safe to say, those looking for fairly traditional, throwback country music will be well-served by Stax Country, and I haven’t never mentioned the album’s best song, Daaron Lee’s “Long Black Train,” a lonesome, Lee Hazlewood song. Recording as Daaron Lee, Billy Lee Riley—a Sun rockabilly artist—here sounds ideally suited to the type of country blues singing that made a star of Charlie Rich.

Colin Escott’s notes are much appreciated, although a bit more detail on how several of the songs came under the Stax umbrella and photos would have been appreciated. A terrific stocking-stuffer for the old school crowd. In my ‘top ten’ country albums of the year, guaranteed.

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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.

Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters- review   1 comment

Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters
Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters
Organic Records

By Donald Teplyske

AMANDA-ANNE-PLATT-HONEYCUTTERS-ON-WALLHaving recorded four impressive albums as The Honeycutters, including the masterpiece that was 2016’s On The Ropes, Asheville, NC’s outstanding roots outfit has re-branded themselves as Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters.

Featuring the consistent Honeycutters line-up of Matthew Smith (pedal steel and electric guitar), Rick Cooper (bass), Josh Milligan (drums and percussion), and Platt (lead and harmony vocals and acoustic guitar), with the addition of Evan Martin (keyboard including Hammond B3), the group’s approach to music has continued to evolve, becoming increasingly mainstream while retaining the appealing and authentic qualities that have made them one of the most satisfying Americana outfits recording.

Platt is a strong songwriter and an impressive and memorable vocalist. She has that important capability to write in a variety of voices, making each genuine and authentic to the experiences conveyed.

Again co-produced with roots and bluegrass veteran Tim Surrett, Platt gently establishes the group as a vehicle under her control launching into “Birthday Song” as the self-titled album’s lead track, a song that brings to the fore Platt’s command of writing, singing, and song arrangement. Deceptively languid in atmosphere, and sounding like no one as much as Natalie Maines, the introspective Appalachian honky tonk singer observes that with the passage of years and the compounding of commitments, “some days the answers just get farther.” Similarly, one observes initial forays toward adulthood with “Late Summer’s Child.” The group could do worse than to seek inspiration from the likes of the Dixie Chicks.

One of the most acutely realized examples of country-based Americana recently released, Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters comes in at a generous 54-minutes, and doesn’t waver in focus or intensity. Utilizing a focus on lyrical rhythm similarly to Zoe Muth’s modern classic “If I Can’t Trust You With A Quarter,” “The Guitar Case,” with an impressive guitar and keys instrumental foundation, finds our road warrior focusing on the positives of the chosen life. Platt doesn’t take the easy way and bask on the weary harshness of life, preferring to find positives when possible. A relationship has crumbled amicably within “The Road,” and “Diamonds in the Rough” looks at various observed circumstances through warmly colored lenses.

Consistently across the album, The Honeycutters demonstrate their ability to ideally frame songs to complement Platt. As she’s the group’s songwriter, this is obviously by design but that doesn’t detract from its effectiveness. Intriguing and timely progressions of notes highlight songs at just the right moment, as when Platt is contemplating the last five years of a relationship (“Brand New Start”) and with a bit of Don Rich-inspired flavor on “The Things We Call Home.”

Another welcome offering from Amanda Anne Platt and her group; as always true, country music is in fine hands.

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.

Richard Laviolette- Taking the Long Way Home review   1 comment

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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.

 

 

 

 

Karl Shiflett & Big Country Show- Sho Nuff Country review   Leave a comment

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.

cd-karl-shiflettI 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- Innocent Road review   1 comment

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Caleb Klauder & Reeb Willms

Innocent Road

Self-released/CalebKlauder.com

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.

A version of this review-tighter, stronger-has been picked up over at Country Standard Time.