Archive for the ‘country music’ Tag

Jonathan Byrd & The Pickup Cowboys- Pickup Cowboy review   Leave a comment

JonathanByrd & the Pickup Cowboys PickupCowboy

With this concise slice of retro-modern country music, North Carolina folk/Americana veteran Jonathan Byrd turns the clock back about three years, before the vagrancies of reality impinged upon best laid plans.

Inspired by a ‘humble badass’ ethos, The Pickup Cowboys—Byrd (guitar, Rhodes, percussion), Johnny Waken (guitar, mandolin, organ, piano, harmonica, percussion, musical saw, vocals), and Paul Ford (cello and bass)—toured for years, and made a single recording which was shelved upon Ford receiving what would transpire to be a fatal brain tumor diagnosis. With the passage of time, Byrd and Waken fleshed out the recording with Joanna Miller (drums), and Alexa Dirks and Andrina Turenne (backing vocals) to produce this album.

Reminding us of favourite singers and songwriters including Peter Cooper and D. B. Rielly, Byrd possesses a naturally smooth voice, one that is, in turn, gentle (“We Used To Be Birds” and “It Don’t Make Sense”) or playful (“Tractor Pull” and “Temporary Tattoo,”) and which can be infused with challenge as the song demands, as on the epic “Lakota Sioux” (as with the album closing—”Do You Dream”—written by friend Matt Fockler) and “When the Well Runs Dry,” co-written with Steep Canyon Ranger Charles Humphrey III.

The original sessions transpired in Chapel Hill and were completed in Winnipeg, but there is no sense of incongruence despite the distance and time between sessions: mostly, I just like mentioning Winnipeg whenever I can.

As a poet and writer, Byrd is circumspect in lyrical development, but not so conservative that we can’t imagine his characters and spaces. The guy driving on two bald tires after fishing for his breakfast (“Pickup Cowboy”) materializes fully textured: we all know that guy, going from job to job, seldom settling down for too long, no mortgage, no payments, no footprints. The transient, boomtown community of trailers and guys sleeping in their trucks of “When The Well Runs Dry” could be in Kansas, Oklahoma, Alberta, or damn near anywhere else where the earth is squeezed of every bit of wealth it can produce.

Sometimes things just get away from you, as Byrd reveals in “Temporary Tattoo. “Who can’t understand the sentiment of “I showed my love for you with a temporary tattoo?” The “damn fool” protagonist isn’t mean-spirited: he just doesn’t want it to hurt, and besides—how was he to know she would elevate things to a more permanent impression? Hopefulness and vulnerability balance (with Townshendesque echoes) in “Taking It Back,” with faith and beauty prominent in “We Used To Be Birds,” previously recorded in tandem with Chris Kokesh.

Paul Ford’s subtle, susurrous cello effects—propulsive plucking (“When The Well Runs Dry,” “Tractor Pull,”) articulate bowing (“It Don’t Make Sense,” “Do You Dream,”) and momentarily ominous (“We Used To Be Birds”)—provides Pickup Cowboy an encompassing sound near-unique within country music. Jonathan Byrd has been making really good albums for a long time, The Law and the Lonesome, Cackalack, and The Barn Birds disc among them. Pickup Cowboy is another. Seek it out.


Edward David Anderson- Chasing Butterflies review   1 comment


Edward David Anderson
Chasing Butterflies
Black Dirt Records

First off, I am not placing this album on the pedestal the next paragraph may be interpreted as referencing to.


I remember the first time I heard Darrell Scott. And Lucinda Williams. And Emmylou, Tim O’Brien, Joy Lynn White, and George Jones. And Jay Clark, Guy Clark, Gene Clark, Nobby Clark, Old Joe, and all the rest of the Clarks. Sometimes music heard seeps into your soul, and hunkers in for a stay—it locates a special warm and inviting place, curls up, and becomes part of you. Know what I mean?

Listen to Edward David Anderson’s Chasing Butterflies and you may start deciphering what I am attempting to communicate: hopefully the next few paragraphs don’t get in the way.

I haven’t yet explored the rest of Anderson’s catalogue: that will come next, as soon as I find a few bucks for an iTunes card. But I can say with some confidence that I will locate those dollars and will purchase his previous albums, 2014’s Lies & Wishes and its follow-up Lower Alabama: The Loxley Sessions. I can only hope they contain songs as well-structured, complete, and intriguing as those within Chasing Butterflies.

There are a handful of songs spread throughout the 40-minute disc that would make Chris Stapleton sit up and notice, and that is not a slight toward one of my favourite contemporary country singers. But, beat me hard—this is how the album opens:

She’s been singing songs with her mama since the age of three,
She learned to sing the high parts sitting on there on mama’s knee;
Well, they love to sing together, it came natural—it was fun,
Sang so many songs, that their voices were like one.
It’s a beautiful thing, when two people sing in Harmony.

“Harmony” grabs the listener, pulling us into Anderson’s world of relationships, dovetailing—one hopes—with one’s own experiences. He massages rhyme and melody into a gentle creation replete with life, light, and trust so significant that one cannot resist its pull.

Similarly, “The Best Part” captures the strength of romantic relationships enduring—and strengthening with—the weathering of time and shared experience. “Sittin’ Round At Home”—in a chair that fits your “ass just right”—is as important and life affirming as living while the “Seasons Turn” with a faithfulness matched only by the one sharing your life.

It is Anderson’s awareness of hearth, home and domestic happiness that is immediately appealing, but the second track takes things in an entirely different direction. “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” “Strange Fruit,” “Jena,” and far too many other songs have revealed for us the pain and suffering associated with inequalities of the North American south. Add to the list “The Ballad of Lemuel Penn,” the artfully constructed tale of army reservist murdered for the crime of driving through the Georgia night. The song is stark, striking in its matter-of-fact composition, never more so within its final line of his murderers: “And one still lives in Athens today.”

Musically, the album has a deep southern soul feel, perhaps in part for being recorded with Jimmy Nutt in the Muscle Shoals region. Grooves are deep, guitar breaks are extended (but not exaggerated), and emotion is palatable.

Chasing Butterflies is a stunning collection of modern Americana. Poetic and fresh with a deceptively laconic quality making it all the more momentous. I don’t use the word often: brilliant.








O Brother, Ralph Stanley, & Dolly Parton reviews   Leave a comment

More roots review from the extensive if not valued Fervor Coulee Archive:

O_Brother,_Where_Art_Thou__(soundtrack)Various Artists O Brother, Where Art Thou? Soundtrack Mercury Universal (2000)

Musical luminaries diverse as John Hartford, Norman Blake, Dan Tyminski, and the Fairfield Four came together to record the music for the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, providing stellar performances of early bluegrass, traditional country, and Appalachian ballads.

Highlights include songs by strong female vocalists such as the Whites, the Cox Family, and Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, and Gillian Welch which are important as glorious performances of historical songs for a new generation. The inclusion of Ralph Stanley’s chilling a cappella rendition of “O Death” solidifies the album.

(originally published February 16, 2001 Red Deer Advocate)

RalhoRalph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys Man of Constant Sorrow Rebel Records (2001)

Long associated with the song “Man of Constant Sorrow,” featured prominently in O Brother, Where Art Thou? , Ralph Stanley lends legitimacy to the soundtrack. Stanley was a contemporary of Bill Monroe, and was elemental in establishing the sound of bluegrass.

Man of Constant Sorrow, Stanley’s latest, is a compilation of recordings from the last 25 years, and serves as a companion piece to the O Brother soundtrack.

Bluegrass gospel numbers such as “I Am Weary (Let Me Rest)” and “I Have Seen The Rock of Ages” find Stanley and his band in fine form. Alongside these are “Old Richmond Prison” and “Poor Rambler” which capture the pain and depth of bluegrass.

(originally published February 16, 2001 Red Deer Advocate) Side note: This was the first album I received for review from Rebel Records; I was completely chuffed that they took a chance on me in 2001. Still am each time a disc shows up in the mail!

DollyDolly Parton Little Sparrow Sugar Hill Records (2001)

Little Sparrow continues the path Dolly Parton has been on recently bringing spirited vocals to several traditional sounding numbers including “Seven Bridges Road” and “Marry Me.”

She has also assembled a crack selection of the bluegrass elite to give her self-penned numbers an authentic instrumental base. Parton continues to resurrect her career by harvesting the sounds of her childhood.

Superior releases such as Little Sparrow broaden and enrich the audience of traditional music forms while further establishing a commercial presences for roots music.

(originally published February 16, 2001 Red Deer Advocate)

Unleashed Live & Dallas Wayne reviews   Leave a comment

More roots review from the extensive if not valued Fervor Coulee Archive:GrueneCharlie Robison, Jack Ingram, and Bruce Robison Unleashed Live Lucky Dog (2000)

These singer-songwriters, here recorded live at Texas’s legendary Gruene Hall, are among the cream of today’s crowd. Each offers clever word play with compelling mini-dramas featuring revenge, regret, and good times.

Bruce Robison comes with a guitar case of uncommonly sharp songs. “Angry All The Time,” a duet with wife Kelly Willis, chronicles the frustrations felt by a guy caught on life’s treadmill, “gettin’ a whole lot older everyday.”

Charlie Robison, Bruce’s brother, performs four rocking numbers originally recorded for his Life of the Party album including “Barlight” and “Sunset Boulevard;” the versions included here are significantly different and benefit from the live setting.

Jack Ingram delivers a fine set of songs, but has stronger ones available in his repertoire. “Mustang Burn” is terrific, but “Barbie Doll” serves as unnecessary filler; songs from his Livin’ or Dyin’ album are more indicative of his considerable writing and performing talents.

Fans of these performers are sure to enjoy this recording which features fresh takes on favourite tracks.

(originally published January 19, 2001 Red Deer Advocate)

DallasDallas Wayne Big Thinkin’ HMG/Hightone Records (2000)

Missouri honky tonker Dallas Wayne is a man with an enormous voice; the uniqueness of his resonating baritone grabs the listener from the first lines of the title track and doesn’t let go until the final refrains.

Included on Big Thinkin’ are twelve songs which cover typical honky tonk ground—drinkin’, lyin’, lovin’—while launching numerous well-placed jabs at the state of commercial country music. “If That’s Country” features the sentiment, “you’re turning our music into some kind of strange elevator noise,” while rightly comparing modern country to “bad Phil Collins with a hick facelift.”

Dallas Wayne pulls no punches.

“Lie, Memory, Lie,” “Coldwater, Tennessee,” and “Old 45’s” would be radio hits if the ‘powers that be’ could beyond the lack of rock ‘n’ roll guitars and stylized vocals.

Dallas Wayne is country music for the masses; it is up to the masses to discover and embrace his music.

(originally published January 19, 2001 Red Deer Advocate)

The Louvin Brothers- Love and Wealth: The Lost Recordings review   1 comment

The Louvins

The Louvin Brothers Love and Wealth: The Lost Recordings Modern Harmonic

The Louvin Brothers recorded several outstanding albums (Tragic  Songs of Life, Satan Is Real, Country Love Ballads, A Tribute to the Delmore Brothers…) in a span of less than eight years, and even more timeless songs (“Cash on the Barrelhead,” “When I Stop Dreaming,” “The Knoxville Girl,” “Don’t Laugh”…). They were members of the Grand Ole Opry, recorded both gospel and secular material, sang in a manner that gave definition to ‘brother harmony,’ and likely would have been happier had they never recorded together. Ira wouldn’t manage his vices, and Charlie couldn’t tolerate them.

Their music was unadulterated old-school, radio show country, elemental even to the development of the music. The Louvins are held in the same esteem as the Carter Family, Hank Williams, and George Jones, and were as influential to bluegrass music (which they didn’t play, despite Ira’s fierce mandolin playing) as they were on country music. They have been the subject of a (uneven, and uninspired) Grammy-winning tribute album Livin’ Lovin’ Losin’: Songs of the Louvin Brothers as well as an alternate greatest hits, annotated by notable contemporary artists, Handpicked Songs 1955-1962. They are members of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

This archival set is comprised of demos recorded between 1951 and 1956, prior to and during their association with Capitol Records. In extensive notes Colin Escott details the origin of these songs, and their place within the Louvins legacy. A handful of these songs are known to all who appreciate roots and Americana music, including “Are You Missing Me?” (Jim & Jesse McReynolds), “Take My Ring From Your Finger” (Johnny & Jack), “Love and Wealth” (Carl Story, The Osborne Brothers), and “Bald Knob, Arkansas” (Vern Williams, Open Road).

Over the years, several were eventually recorded by the Louvins, especially gospel numbers which largely populate the second disc of the set: “Preach the Gospel,”  “The Sons and Daughters of God,” and “Insured Beyond the Grave,” to name three. “Red Hen Hop,” presented here as the swinging and cluckin’ “Red Hen Boogie,” is one of the familiar secular songs recorded by the Louvins included. “(I’m Changing the Words To) My Love Song” goes back to the brothers’ earliest recordings.

I am far from a Louvin Brothers’ expert, but some of these songs are absolutely riveting, and as far as I can tell never appeared on a Louvin release: warning, I could be wrong! “Streamline Heartbreaker” was recorded by Roy Acuff in 1964, and as far as I can tell didn’t do much for him. But, what a song as presented here: the close, complementary harmony missing from the Acuff version is what makes this Louvin take indispensible. “That’s My Heart Talking” was cut by Boots Faye & Idaho Call in 1952; listening to the Louvins’ demo take, one truly wonders why they never recorded the song.

“Discontented Cowboy” is less essential, but one can understand the intent behind the song: have a hit with one of the day’s cowboy singers. Two of the stronger songs on the set are “Don’t Compare the Future With the Past” and “Two-Faced Heart,” songs that I can’t find record of being cut. “Bald Knob, Arkansas” is typically recorded with more than a little bluegrass pep, but is presented here with a sentimental, almost maudlin pace.

I’ve often stated most of what I know about religion comes from bluegrass and Louvin Brothers songs, and I supposed they taught me a bit more with their unadorned takes of “Born Again,” “I Love God’s Way of Living,” and “You’ll Meet Him in the Clouds.” Their voice soars on these takes, and one comprehends the importance these songs of faith had to both Charlie and Ira.

The set closes with five terrific songs, “Measured Love,” “Kiss Me Like You Did Yesterday,” and “Never Say Goodbye” among them, that are as strong a coda as a 50s vocal-based country act could hope to have within their repertoire.

This crystal-clear, two-disc set, featuring exceptional notes and photos, and available on vinyl, is absolutely essential for all who appreciate early country music and The Louvin Brothers’ significant role within it.

Wylie & the Wild West- 2000 Miles From Nashville review   Leave a comment


I am really pleased with this review. I enjoyed listening to the album, not a real surprise since I like my country actually to sound like country music. But I also enjoyed writing the review, something that doesn’t always happen. I was able to weave in a couple words and phrases that brought a smile to my increasingly gnarled face. I also received a real nice note of feedback about the review, one that included the words “You are an exceptional writer…” Yeah, that never happens, so some positive feedback love was most appreciated. Regarding my writing, your kilometreage may vary, of course, but 2000 Miles From Home is a darned fine album, filled with memorable songs and performances. Check it out at Country Standard Time.

Stax Country- review   Leave a comment


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.