Archive for the ‘Country’ Tag

Between the Cracks, Summer 2017: what have we missed? reviews   Leave a comment

A selection of albums that have worked their way my direction these last few months. Americana of a variety of flavours.

RERailroad EarthCaptain Nowhere One recalls RRE as one of the first ‘big tent’ bands to be selectively-shunned by bluegrass festivals. Lost track of them somewhere around The Good Life (2004), but became reacquainted early this summer when this six-track EP was released. Groovy, acoustic-Dead inspired rock’n Americana, Captain Nowhere is a concise encapsulation of the group’s drum-propelled music. “Adding My Voice” is especially relevant given recent political/civil events, while one can easily imagine “The Berkeley Flash” inspiring an extended live jam. [Review based on download.]

MOMatthew O’NeillTrophic Cascade (Underwater Panther Coalition) More natural-sounding and perhaps a little less rambunctious than previous music sampled from this upper New York-state resident, Trophic Cascade is no gentle beach listen. Imagine, if you will bear the indulgence, Bon Iver and Shakey Graves coming together in the forests of the Catskills with Crosby, Stills, Nash, & mostly Young to create a modern southern soul album. Lots of wailing guitars, layered vocals, some horns, and trance-inducing rhythms and melodies that soar and twist. Tapping into topic s associated with his evolving beliefs of Earth and our relationships with its people, O’Neill kept this listener engaged through 50 minutes. [Provided CD version reviewed.]

JMJohn Mellencamp featuring Carlene Carter- Sad Clowns & Hillbillies The Lonesome Jubilee came out 30 years ago, and still battles it out with Scarecrow for top spot among my favourite Mellencamp albums; don’t read too much into that—don’t most of us have greatest appreciation for music we’ve lived with for several decades? Among his 23 (twenty-three!) albums (yeah, I’ve got them all going back to Chestnut Street Incident) there is no shortage of evidence of greatness, with even his more dire albums (1994-1999, maybe) revealing gems of considerable genius. [I long ago forgave his re-writing of Wreckless Eric’s “Broken Doll” as “Rodeo Clown.”] Teaming with touring partner Carlene Carter for several tracks, there is plenty of patented Mellencamp swagger and rhythm—that immediately recognizable groove—within these forty-seven minutes, and a number of songs (“Battle of Angels, “My Soul’s Got Wings,” “Damascus Road,” and a cover of “Early Bird Cafe”—don’t pretend you know the original) that stand with his finest.  Carter shines both as a featured vocalist and in a harmony role with “Indigo Sunset” and “Sugar Hill Mountain” ringing true. [Purchased CD version reviewed.]

bhBen Hunter & Joe Seamons, with Phil Wiggins A Black & Tan Ball An exquisite black & tan is a tough pour, I’ve found. Good thing this trio understands their art. Well-grounded in the various blues traditions, Seattle’s Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons along with touring partner Phil Wiggins don’t need me to tell them they know what they are doing. Pulling together all their influences—broad folk traditions, ragtime and jazz, even hints of country and mountain fiddle music, and always the blues—and both the good and bad of their (and previous) times, Hunter & Seamons hold a mirror to that which surrounds them, bask in that reflection, and give respect to the Black Americana tradition. Life may not get better than “Struttin’ With Some Barbeque,” “Longin’ For My Sugar,” or “How’m I Doing?” but it sure can get worse; the songs selected for this set keep things mostly breezy, and don’t delve on the most significant of matters, although “Bad Man Ballad” (recognizable as a derivation of “Little Sadie”) and “Hard Time Blues” acknowledge hardship. Loose/tight is a phrase I love for music making—allow for the joy and fun, but keep the quality—and A Black & Tan Ball captures it perfectly. [Provided CD reviewed.]

GGR SINGLE POCKET JACKET UPDATED 032112Amy BlackMemphis Featuring members of The Bo-Keys and those intimately familiar with the Stax and Hi Records Memphis traditions, Amy Black returns with an even stronger album than her most stout Muscle Shoals Sessions. Beautifully gritty and gloriously soulful, Black has written some terrific songs (“The Blackest Cloud,” “Without You,” and “Nineteen”) that fit ideally with her voice and approach, and selected tasteful and timely covers, notably Otis Clay’s “If I Could Reach Out (and Help Somebody).” With lots of guitar and B3, killer rhythm section support, plenty of horns, and a song for the ages in “It’s Hard to Love An Angry Man,” it is time to stop mentioning the likes of Dusty Springfield, Bonnie Raitt, and Shelby Lynne in reviews of Black’s albums, and realize she needs to be discussed on the same terms as these soulful singers. [Provided download only reviewed.]

zz andy hall roosevelt Andy Hall & Roosevelt Collier- Let the Steel Play Someone is playing a cruel joke on me. I will tolerate the resonator guitar in (very) select bluegrass situations, and I can appreciate it (in moderation) within a blues-setting, but it will never be an instrument I reflect upon and think, ‘Man—what this song needs is some hub-cap guitar.’ Imagine my surprise (chagrin?) to discover one of my favourite albums of this Summer of 2017 is the debut recording of Hall (The Infamous Stringdusters) and Collier, and it features NOTHING but reso. “Reuben’s Train” and “Power In the Blood” are trad. arr all should recognize, but I dare say we haven’t heard them like this. Coming from the Sacred Steel tradition, Collier approaches these tunes differently than I imagine Hall would on his own, and their collaboration is mind-blowing. Their originals (“The Darkest Hour” and “Rosebud” especially) mix well with the familiar pieces including The Grateful Dead’s seductive “Crazy Fingers.” [Provided CD reviewed.]

the_savage_radley_kudzu_DK_BrownThe Savage Radley- Kudzu Get ready: this one is going to club ya between the eyes and knock you on your arse. Kentucky’s The Savage Radley is an explosive slice of the modern south, not country, rock, or ‘grass, but a sweet distillation of all three, and a potent concoction it is. Shaina Goodman writes the songs and gives them voice while S Knox Montgomery keeps things moving from the drum kit. Also featured are multi-instrumentalist Eddy Dunlap (pedal steel, guitar, and bass), Ryan Cain (bass), and producer Skylar Wilson (piano). Rural tales of hardship and darkness abound, and while one might be reminded of the way Bobbie Gentry, Larry Jon Wilson, and even Rodney Crowell construct songs around ones’ experiences and ancestry, one hears flecks of The Alabama Shakes in the production choices: time-tested testimony, new approaches. “Blood Money” and “Little River Town” provided the narrative threads I appreciate. “Don’t call me honey, Honey,” Goodman sings in “Milk and Honey,” “It don’t mean nothing when you say it.” Harsh, but in keeping with the mood of the collection, where hope and dreams have been corroded with reality. [Provided CD reviewed.]

Some of what I’ve been listening to this summer. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Now, go BUY some music: keep the roots alive. Donald

 

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Dwight, Buck, and Adcock vintage releases/reissues   Leave a comment

Three new reviews have been posted at Country Standard Time.

dwight-yoakam-buck-owens-live-from-austin-txA decade ago, New West issued several Austin City Limits episodes on both DVD and CD, and it appears they are in the midst of re-issuing some of these, this time in dual DVD/CD packs and on vinyl, which I didn’t receive; buyer beware, therefore: you may already have these on the shelves. My reviews of the Dwight Yoakam and Buck Owens sessions, on which each guests with the other, from 1988 are up at CST.

AdcockIn 1963, bluegrass banjo (now) legend Eddie Adcock put together a combo to attempt to broaden the reaches of the 5-string banjo in popular music. The result was Vintage Bluegrass Jam, a recording that was only recalled in the last year and has now been released. My review. It is uneven, but it grew on me.

Jesse Waldman- Mansion Full of Ghosts review   1 comment

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Jesse Waldman Mansion Full of Ghosts JesseWaldmanMusic.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beautiful.

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

Lee Palmer- Bridge review   Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesley Kernochan- A Calm Sun review   Leave a comment

lk-a-calm-sun-cover-webI received this album from the publicist a month or so back, listening to it a couple times right off, and knew I needed to write about it. I have since listened to A Calm Sun seven or eight more times- driving, while resting, and as I was writing- and could not be more impressed. It is a bold, mature recording, free of gimmick and insincerity. Give it a listen. My review is at LRR http://lonesomeroadreview.com/calm-sun-lesley-kernochan/

You can listen to “Country in the City” here.

 

Mac Wiseman & Various Artists- I Sang the Song review   1 comment

Mac Wiseman

Mac Wiseman I Sang The Song Mountain Fever Records

With all due respect to the folks who have released excellent bluegrass and country albums this year, and those who will undoubtedly do so in the coming months, we have our 2017 Americana/Roots album of the year.

An incredible undertaking by Peter Cooper and Thomm Jutz, the most important element of the thirteen songs comprising I Sang the Song: Life of The Voice With A Heart is the source material, Mac Wiseman himself. Nearing 92, Wiseman was born in 1925 and recalls a time few of us can picture outside history books and re-runs of The Waltons. Wiseman is a man who knew A. P. Carter and has now had Sierra Hull share a song with him. Think about that for a half-a-moment.

“It ain’t bragging if you’ve done it,” asserts John Prine gently within the title track, revealing for the unaware that Wiseman performed alongside the acknowledged masters of 20th century roots music. A member of both The Foggy Mountain Boys and The Blue Grass Boys, as well as a charting, featured performer in his own right, Wiseman is a founder of the Country Music Association, and inductee to both the International Bluegrass Music Association Hall of Fame and the Country Hall of Fame.  A label executive and producer—and one of the finest bluegrass gentlemen I’ve had the pleasure of encountering, however briefly— Wiseman was always far more than “just another young hillbilly.”

The majority of these songs are obviously bluegrass, a few clearly country, and others find that sweet, magical spot between the two. Cooper and Jutz had the inspiration and wisdom to listen to and converse with Wiseman, finding in his stories threads to embroider  the ten new songs created together to communicate a compelling narrative of anecdote.

Naturally, the singing is incredible throughout. Recent IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year Shawn Camp is given a pair of songs, as is Milan Miller who appears with Buddy Melton (another IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year) and Andrea Zonn. Junior Sisk, yet a third IBMA vocalist recipient, also has two lead appearances, “Crimora Church of the Brethren,” on which he is joined by Ronnie Bowman (yes, another IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year) and “The Wheat Crop”—with the ladies of The Isaacs—which laments the lot of the poor farmer. These performances are expectedly outstanding, and the history-rich lyrics and eternal melodies provide galvanizing framework for blessed voices.

Justin Moses (fiddle, banjo, and Dobro) and Hull (mandolin) work with Jutz (guitar) and Mark Fain (bass) to serve as the house band, uniting to create a consistent instrumental environment. Cooper and Jutz harmonize on several tracks, providing further uniformity.

Within a song, Wiseman (“The Guitar,” via Moses and Hull) takes us from receiving his first Sears Roebuck, ragtop box, to the eventual day he stopped “playing in G and singing in C” to nail “There’s An Empty Cot in the Bunkhouse  Tonight” for an audience of one. As the album unfolds, his experiences through to the hardships of the depression (“Barefoot ‘Til After the Frost”, “Three Cows and Two Horses”) are revealed in a natural, homespun manner capturing the vernacular of his rural upbringing down to cold “feet just as red as a gobbler’s snout.” In the universal and frustrating balance poverty, even when things improve for Wiseman’s family (“Manganese Mine,”) another discovers only hardship and tragedy.

“Simple Math,” one of two sang by Americana icon Jim Lauderdale, details further experiences from Wiseman’s youth following him into early gigs as a professional musician including his big break playing Molly O’Day sessions. Lauderdale, one of the most prolific and versatile vocalists working today, adroitly relates the simple truths of Wiseman’s observations.

As compelling as the connections to Wiseman’s life are across the album, the fact that each song stands independent released from context is indicative of their significance. The bluegrass chart hit “Going Back to Bristol,” sung by Camp, radiates universal appeal, whether you’ve ever been near the border community, cut a side with Flatt & Scruggs, been near a Studebaker, or not.

Alison Krauss joins Wiseman on the closing benediction “‘Tis Sweet to Be Remembered,” one of his earliest successes, for a performance joining generations in hopeful love of music and life. Wiseman drops in on a few of these numbers, providing a foundation for the lyrics and music, but also allowing those with the greatest of admiration to communicate his story through the voices of generations influenced by “The Voice With A Heart.”

For thirty-eight minutes, timeless memories are communicated. Through time, these performances will be shared to become part of our collective memory.

Visit https://mountainfever.com/ to order.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. @FervorCoulee

 

Corey Isenor- A Painted Portrait (of The Classic Ruse) review   1 comment

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Corey Isenor A Painted Portrait (of The Classic Ruse) www.CoreyIsenor.Bandcamp.com

Back in the halcyon days of alt.country (damn it, I am old), No Depression was one of the few publications one could turn toward to be informed on the kind of music ‘we’ liked. Discount the occasional foray into areas that had little to do with country, no matter how alt. (The Shins, anyone? Black Keys?) and ongoing fascination with all things Jayhawks, No Depression allowed a continent of left-of-center music to find its way to my attention.

To the best of my remembering, the first issue I purchased was the one with Robbie Fulks on the cover. It was a thing of beauty, from the striking orange/yellow/green cover to the features of Ray Wylie Hubbard and Jesse Dayton, live reviews of Jimmie Dale Gilmore/Ana Egge and George Jones, and reviews of recent bluegrass and country releases: I felt I had finally found ‘my people.’

I didn’t love everything about the magazine, naturally. I found several of their reviews fawning and some of their writers calculatingly obscure (or obtuse, depending.) But, much more often than not over the next 60+ issues, they kept me coming back to discover and re-examine music I may have otherwise missed, overlooked, or disregarded.

Why have I written the above three paragraphs to open a review of Corey Isenor’s sixth album, A Painted Portrait (of The Classic Ruse)? Much as I might have a almost two decades ago, when I first listened to the album it brought back that rare, sparkling novelty of hearing an artist for the first time whom I felt l had been listening to forever. Part of the attraction, without a doubt, is that Isenor sounds not a little bit similar to Paul Burch, one of the many artists I ‘discovered’ via No Depression. It goes deeper.

For me, alt-country was less about wannabe rock ‘n’ rollers injecting Haggard and Williams into their raucous mix, and more about finding a way to expand the finest qualities of country music—story, melody, hooks, familiarity, history, and wordplay, rhymes, and puns—to something that was more than hair, sparkly suits, and Hee Haw cornpone. That’s what attracted me to the likes of Hubbard, Eaglesmith, Harris, Russell, Lynne, Fulks, and the Bottle Rockets from the first time I heard each, whether that was early 80s Emmylou or years later when I heard the most desperate words of ignorance I could imagine: “If kerosene works, why not gasoline?”

Isenor brings all that and more to this collection. 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.

I hadn’t previously encountered Isenor prior to hearing A Painted Portrait (of The Classic Ruse.) Listening to his songs on Bandcamp, I know I have much exploring to do. “The Ballad of Emily” is already a favourite. Isenor is from Nova Scotia and in addition to being an incredible roots music talent as a songwriter, singer, instrumentalist, and producer, he is an accomplished artist, photographer, and graphic designer. I hate him.

A Painted Portrait (of The Classic Ruse) has become one of my favourite country/folk what-have-you albums of 2016. Had I read a review of it in No Depression, I might have been intrigued. Having heard it, I am significantly enthralled.

Thank you for sticking with me at Fervor Coulee for these many years: hopefully you are finding roots music opinions of values as you traverse the crowded modern music landscape. Join me at @FervorCoulee for additional unremarkable insights.