Archive for the ‘Country’ Tag

J. P. Harris- Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing review   Leave a comment

JP Harris

J. P. Harris Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing Free Dirt Records

Quick: Name your three favourite country albums of the 70s. Go.

That was easy: Emmy’s Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town, Townes’ High, Low, and In Between, and Tom T. Hall’s Rhymer and Other Five and Dimers.

And Waylon’s Honky Tonk Heroes. And Cash’s Johnny 99. Okay, five favourite country albums of the 70s.

Now, just as quick: Name your three favourite Americana albums of the last decade. Go.

The second is tougher and I couldn’t narrow it if I tried. I suspect for many of us, names like Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, and Rosanne Cash would be mentioned, along with folks as disparate as Gurf Morlix, Rodney Crowell, Jim Lauderdale, and Lucinda, Emmylou, Marty and the like: Dave Alvin, Otis Gibbs, Carlene Carter, Robbie Fulks, Drive-By Truckers, Reckless Kelly…

Listening to J. P. Harris’s Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing, all those artist and their albums come to mind, and not necessarily because he sounds like any of them or even presents his music as they do (or did): what simmers in the back of this wee brain is that Harris has listened to and learned from master songwriters and song presenters. There are many ways to nurture yourself as a country music artist, and one of them is to fully immerse yourself in the artistry, in the craft, that has flourished within a fertile community, much as Florentine artists once studied under master practitioners of visual arts.

It appears J. P. Harris has taken this path. He seems to have asked himself, What have the best singer-songwriters done? How have they accomplished it? and What do I need to do to get myself there? The answer is, of course, Be Yourself. And blast, if he hasn’t done just that. Oh, and barley pops.

J. P. Harris sounds like an artist who has finally figured out his life. He has been making music for a lot longer than I’ve been paying attention, but this new album has forced me to focus on the Alabaman who was born around the same time I last walked out of high school. We are of completely different generations and experiences, but like Tom T. Hall, Rosanne Cash, Rodney, and Marty have and still do, he connects his experiences—real and imagined—with those who hear them, creating a natural relationship that cannot be co-opted through shortcuts, artifice, PR finery, or a rhyming dictionary.

Alcohol figures prominently in Harris’ songs, a product of a misspent youth I’ve been led to understand. His songs do not glorify excess; rather “I Only Drink Alone” and “When I Quit Drinking” (“I start thinking about starting up again…”) more than hint at the never-ending contest of wills and misery alcoholism entails.  “Why did I go out looking for answers a the all-night bars with pole dancers,” he asks within “Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing.” [My favourite line on the album may be, “Why does a pecker bang his head on your stovepipe, when he’s got himself a perfectly good pine log of his own?”]

And the cycle doesn’t stop here. “Runaway” captures the need for the fallen to find a new start, one with “no old memories hanging around” where he can tell “lies on an old guitar.” J. P. Harris is Waylon on a bad Tuesday night, singing into a “bottle filled with tears” (“When I Quit Drinking,” again) or perhaps Johnny sorting out “reds and blues, uppers, downers,” a no-good rounder trying to hold on to “what little bit of soul I’ve got” (“J. P.’s Florida Blues”).

Harris’ vocal and instrumental approach is classic, hardcore 70s country—Paycheck, Jennings, Bare, and Van Zandt: nothin’ fancy to hear here, but just try to stop listenin’.

Van Zandt and especially Guy Clark is most apparent within “Hard Road,” a tale of heartworn highways and failed decisions. Guy didn’t often cut loose as Harris does here, but Crowell learned his tricks at the same table Harris would have found welcome. Still, as appealing as the initial eight songs are, it is on the final two that Harris truly establishes himself as a well-inspired, original individual.

“Miss Jeanne-Marie” and “Jimmy’s Dead and Gone” are pure hardwood poetry, and mark the place where influence is eclipsed by talent, skill, and wood-shedding. In the former and over a base of piano and steel, Harris pines for the girl whose name he longs to change, while in the latter—and wasting no time on particular niceties—he tells a hobo tale told “a hundred times.”

While there are exceptions, many of the great country albums I admire are relatively short- 30 to 35 minutes of perfection. Harris appears to think similarly, bringing this one in at around 31 minutes with ten exquisitely executed songs.

J. P. Harris has It, whatever It is. He can sing a storm and provides hard-spun, dirty-collar scholarship like few others. No pretender, Harris just does it like he knows: that sort of authenticity can’t be bought with a pair of jeans or a beat-up flat top.

Hey, y’all- thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee: it would be real cool if my Georgia friend Sheri found this note one day!

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Buck Owens- Country Singer’s Prayer review   Leave a comment

Buck

My review of Buck Owens’ unreleased (at the time) 1975 album Cowboy Singers’ Prayer is up over at Country Standard Time. It is worth a listen or two.

Thomas Stajcer- Will I Learn To Love Again? review   Leave a comment

Stajcer

Thomas Stajcer
Will I Learn To Love Again?
https://thomasstajcer.bandcamp.com/

This might be the Canadian country album of the year. Someone should tell the folks pushing  buttons at stations emphasizing forgettable Aaron Pritchett, Dean Brody, and Tim Hicks tracks.

Steeped in the tradition of 1973 classics like Waylon’s Honky Tonk Heroes and Bobby Bare Sings Lullabys, Legends and Lies, Thomas Stajcer has dropped an incredible recording on us this summer.

Name-checking a formidable influence on “Me and Willie,” a dusty liturgy suggesting “Willie’s my one and only true friend in this world,” Stajcer covers a great deal of ground within this rather concise 33-minute collection.

In true country tradition, there aren’t many good times here. The title track finds our troubadour searching for true north after being destroyed, while still passing on uncertainty within the earworm “Love Me Now (Or Never Again)”: “You may be right, I may be going nowhere.” “Wildfires,” “In The Long Run,” and “Any Old Road” cover the breadth of the country experience—a bit Corb Lund, a lot Jerry Jeff—producing an excitement not felt since High Top Mountain too many years ago.

Stajcer is the in-house engineer at Joel Plaskett’s New Scotland Yard studio, and as such the album sounds absolutely pristine. Recorded live, Stajcer’s cadre of east coast talents have created a set of new songs that appear from another time.

For those who appreciate country music of the Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton, and Marty Stuart variety.

 

Mark Wayne Glasmire- Can’t Be Denied review   Leave a comment

albumart_7lalb01260839_200x200Mark Wayne Glasmire
Can’t Be Denied
Traceway Records/www.MarkWayneGlasmire.com

With his seventh album—the second I’ve encountered—Texan Mark Wayne Glasmire has crafted a wide-ranging album embracing personal reflection, acceptance, and forbearance. A few songs, including “I’ve Got A Feeling” with banjo clicking along percussively, have such a power-pop undertone that one would be forgiven for mistaking them for deep cuts from Phil Seymour or even the Raspberries.

Can’t Be Denied actually slides between three suites (not perfectly)—the power-pop liveliness of the first, an introspective singer-songwriter middle, and an extended fresh, contemporary country coda, with sufficient elements of each across the recording providing cohesion.

Glasmire’s take on Americana isn’t easy to pigeonhole: take a blender full of breezy 70s sounds—Seals, England Dan, Loggins, Crofts, Messina, John Ford Coley, and the like— mix in Eagles influences and country two-steppers along with the poetic approach of Guy, Townes, Lyle, Gary P., and the rest, and then charge it with a dose of rock ‘n’ roll verve…and you are getting close to not having any idea of what MWG sounds like.

How’s this: Mark Wayne Glasmire can paint a lyrical scene (“Borderline”), expose his heart (“Gone To Soon”), make you feel the breeze on your face (“Those Nights”), and inspire you to dance your challenges away (“Out Of The Frying Pan”) all the while drawing you into his creative experience. “Feel Your Love,” “Alysia,” “Can’t Be Denied,” and “Thru My Eyes” are additional songs that have woven themselves into me, and they won’t be letting go anytime soon.

Wanda Vick keeps the roots alive with banjo, fiddle, mandolin, and Dobro contributions throughout the album.

Take some time to listen at his website. I think you will be intrigued enough to take a flyer on him. If you are already a fan, have no doubt: the quality of Glasmire’s efforts can’t be denied.

 

 

Three country albums I recommend   Leave a comment

The dearth of quality country music has been examined sixteen ways from Sunday over too many years. Yes, there is good stuff to be found and sometimes even on the charts—Chris Stapleton, Margo Price, Elizabeth Cook, to name three—but so much of what passes for country today…okay, you stopped me: thanks—you’ve heard this one before.

This weekend the annual ‘country music jamboree’ happens about a hundred kilometres from me, and that means the mainstream media will trip over themselves to profile the tens of thousands who travel, camp, and party for three or four days. All this for a lineup that I wouldn’t walk across the field to listen to, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band excepted. (I’ll be heading a hundred klicks down different highways for a bluegrass fest that will be largely ignored by the MSM. And that’s okay—who am I to judge? Although I will.)

Today, three country albums that I think you should consider. Country music isn’t any one thing, but dammit it has to be good. What’s the point otherwise?

YvetteLandry_LouisianaLovin_front-510x452Yvette Landry & the Jukes featuring Roddie Romero Louisiana Lovin’ Soko Music

Coming from Louisiana, Yvette Landry & the Jukes featuring Roddie Romero’s debut album is a platter that will appeal to anyone who craves a modern spin on ‘fifties and early ‘sixties rock ‘n’ roll filtered through a country foundation. Think Brenda Lee with the Everlys or Bobby Charles with Mandy Barnett. This isn’t hayseed country (much as I can love that) but Ameripolitan (is that how Dale Watson spells it?) with a heavy dose of the vibe I associate with Memphis soul, not to mention a bit of a Cajun kick.

Fronting a crackerjack band including Derek Huston (saxophones) and Josef Butts (deep bass), Landry (“Three Chords and the Truth,” the Sara Evans song from two decades ago) and Romero (“Homesick Blues,” the first of four Bobby Charles covers, and that ain’t too many) trade off on the leads while coming together on several sweet songs (“I Almost Lost My Mind” among them) in duets from which honey drips. The album notes label it ‘Louisiana swamp pop,’ but to my ears it nuzzles up to that warm and troubled place that only true country music reaches.

The guitar work from Romero is especially lively, whether on plaintive tracks including Charles’ “Grow To Old,” one which Huston again shines, and Jermaine Prejean is a tasteful drummer, ideal for this set. Eric Adcock adds various keys including Wurlitzer.

Louisiana Lovin’ is an exceptional album that is most obviously an endeavour of passion and heart. Yvette Landry & the Jukes featuring Roddie Romero love this type of music, delivering a set of music that is firmly rooted in traditions while sounding eminently appealing for contemporary audiences.

Blue YonderBlue Yonder Rough and Ready Heart New Song Recordings

Traditional-based (think Merle, Buck, George, and Johnny Darrell) country music isn’t frequently encountered unless you search it out, and it takes some effort to find the good stuff. Good thing folks like these populate the hither and yon. Trust me, here: Blue Yonder deserves a listen, or seven.

West Virginia-based Blue Yonder, a trio comprised of songwriter John Lilly (rhythm guitars and lead vocals), Robert Shafer (electric), and Will Carter (bass and harmony) augmented by Tony Creasman (drums), have released a strong, wide-ranging country album.

With the twang of Billy Cowsill and Marty Brown mixed with Rex Hobart’s honky tonk attitude, John Lilly is a force to be appreciated. Blue Yonder’s efforts are made more significant comprised as they are by original songs of quality including “Lonely Hour,” “Rough and Ready Heart,” and Memories and Moonlight.”

With the spirit of “Me and Bobby McGee” running through it, the lead track “Standing On the Side of the Road” highlights the freedom of specific moments in time. Elsewhere, emotional connection and responsibility are lost, as in “Windswept.” “Well-Acquainted with the Blues” has Lilly making considered word choices to advance his hardwood testimony, in shuffle time. “Tombstone Charlie” and “Green Light,” with a rockabilly beat, speed things up from the album’s mid-tempo majority.

Rough and Ready Heart is a magnificent little album of throwback country. Love it.

DuffDennis K. Duff Songs from Lyon County Gracey Holler Music

A connection to place is as essential to songwriting as it is to literature. That Dennis Duff relates to his home area is obvious listening to this songwriter’s showcase.

Anyone can hire a band, just make sure you have cash on hand. But, Duff has outdone himself here: Colby Kilby (co-producer, guitar, banjo, mandolin, Dobro) [and, as an aside, should be at Blueberry this weekend with the Travelin’ McCourys], Jason Carter (fiddle) [also, all things McCoury], Alan Bartram (bass, harmony) [ditto, McCourys] and Andy Leftwich (fiddle.) A finer bluegrass band possible? And more than being ‘slingers for hire,’ these musicians fully commit to Duff and his songs.

Now, all that talent can also be easily wasted. Not so here. Duff has the songs, and a home-hewn voice as natural as his subject matter. I quite like his singing style, unpolished as it may be. “Mr. TVA” looks at the effect of moving people off their land, and “Road to Dover” explores the land of memory. “When the river took the barn, the crib and all the corn, Daddy finally said, ‘It’s time to leave,'” shows the ties that bind people to their home in  “37 Flood.” Duff’s take on betrayal, revenge, and incarceration “Castle on the Cumberland” is outstanding.

Additionally, Duff calls on guests to give voice to a few of his songs, an unconventional approach to be certain as he doesn’t appear on five of the album’s nine songs.

 Far as I am concerned, Brooke and Darin Aldridge haven’t taken a wrong step in almost ten years. That continues with their taking charge of “TC and Pearl,” a telling of familial bonds and faith. Paul Brewster [who should also be at Blueberry this weekend with Kentucky Thunder] take a couple leads, the spirited lead track “Wilson Holler” and “Iron Hill.” Bradley Walker is joined by Holly Pitney on another song revealing a strong bond with the land, this one the gentle closing number “When I Leave Kentucky.”

One of the album’s strongest performances is delivered by Mountain Heart’s Josh Shilling. “Night Riders” is a historically-based tale of tobacco farmers working collectively against the force of ‘big tobacco’ to monopolize the industry, and Shilling nails the desperation of those protecting their own and facing down a foe with injustice on their side.

Also worthy of note is the strong artwork by Leeah Duff. Song samples available.

Bluegrass is country music, and on this concise album Dennis K. Duff delves into his family’s experiences to bring the past out of faded memories. At its best, bluegrass (and country music and literature) do this consistently, teaching listeners about events and lives that can be far outside our own. It isn’t ham-fisted at all, it’s taking a slice of someone’s life and making it relevant for others. Songs From Lyon County, featuring several world-class voices- including Duff’s- stellar bluegrass instrumentation, and high quality, original songs can’t be lost in the shuffle. Find it. Now. (Okay, you can be forgiven for waiting until it is available September 7.)

There you go, three country music albums that I suggest will be better than anything heard at Big Valley Jamboree this coming weekend. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee.

 

Sylvia- Second Bloom: The Hits Re-Imagined review   Leave a comment

sylvia-second-bloom-web

Sylvia Second Bloom: The Hits Re-Imagined Red Pony Music http://www.sylviamusic.com/

For several months during the 1982/1983 winter, “Nobody” became one of my favourite songs. It had been a hit the year before, I knew, but I didn’t pay attention to the song until I had an early morning job driving truck for the distributor of the area daily, picking up a truckload of bundled newspapers shortly after midnight, and driving through the dark—barely awake—delivering to various drop points for carriers to distribute once dawn broke.

It was during these dark mornings of solitude, listening to AM radio, that I became enamoured with several songs I had over-looked when originally released, songs that seemingly played each time I made the trek from Edmonton through Beaumont and into and around Leduc. With no effort I can recall some of the songs: Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out,” “8675309/Jenny” by Tommy Tutone, Karla Bonoff’s “Personally,” Juice Newton’s “Love’s Been a Little Bit Hard On Me,” Dexys Midnight Runners “Come On, Eileen,” and Sylvia’s crossover hit, “Nobody.”

Sylvia had other hits, but none came close to the widespread and universal success of “Nobody,” one of six (!) Kye Fleming/Dennis Morgan songs included on this 10-song distillation of the artist’s hit years, 1980-1985. Even hard-rockin’, FM-radio loving, 18-year old me knew that the song was ubiquitous for most of 1982. Excepting “Sweet Yesterday” (#12, 1981) and the fitting set closing “You Can’t Go Back Home” (last track, side A of Just Sylvia), the songs herein were all country top ten hits including her pair of #1’s, “Nobody” and “Drifter.”

What’s different from the compilations released over the years, including the definitive RCA-years set Anthology, is that Sylvia has elected to re-record these hits to better reflect the performer she is today. Nothing new in this as country artists have frequently done so, if for no other reason than to own masters of the songs with which they are most associated. Some have done so very successfully, including Newton, Lacy J. Dalton, and Kim Carnes all of whom have re-recorded their hits to a standard equalling if not exceeding the originals. Rather than being a rushed endeavour intended for digital or concert table sales, Second Bloom: The Hits Re-Imagined is most obviously a venture undertaken with considerable consideration.

35-plus years on, Sylvia continues to have full control of her considerable vocal talents. Deeper vocally  than when Tom Collins (and later, Brent Maher) produced her, Sylvia circa 2018 appears to approach the songs with the wisdom earned with time. “Nobody” isn’t quite as buoyant as it once was, and the song is better for it: the repercussions of a husband’s cheating ways shouldn’t necessarily sound quite so much like the bouncy, synthesized anthem as, in retrospect, the 1982 rendition did.

The sound of the camera that kicks off “Snapshot” has been updated to that of a smartphone, and that isn’t the only change. As with all the songs here, “Snapshot” sounds brighter and less manufactured when compared to the RCA counterpart. The originals were of their time, of course, and they have held up over hundreds of radio listens. Compared to these new takes, they truly pale. Part of the reason is that the mature Sylvia’s voice is more powerful in every way—more forceful when necessary, more subtle, more vulnerable when suited. But it is the instrumentation that is most obviously improved, and that is a result of stripping away the gloss and dross of those (now) obviously over-produced sessions

I have spent much of the past month re-listening to Anthology and searching out online versions of Just Sylvia, Surprise, and One Step Closer and I was surprised how ‘un-country’ the songs and albums sound in retrospect. By comparison, Second Bloom: The Hits Re-Imagined is positively down-home. “Fallin’ In Love” benefits from Andy Leftwich’s fiddle, while the earliest songs—“Tumbleweed” and “Drifter” have the versatile Harry Stinson and Jim Glaser singing harmony. Album co-producer John Mock—with whom Sylvia has worked for more than twenty years—understands her music, and does much of the instrumental work across the album, playing a variety of guitars and other stringed instruments including mandolin and banjo.

Sylvia was one of country music’s premier vocalists. She was once the Academy of Country Music’s Female Vocalist of the Year—tying her with Dolly Parton, Wynonna, and Mary Chapin Carpenter—and she had twenty charting songs, and possesses a ‘career song’ that will forever be played on commercial country radio. A new album from Sylvia—even one featuring re-recordings of decades-old hits—is a rare event, one worth celebrating.

Absorbing this album over several weeks, it becomes apparent that Sylvia has continued to evolve and grow as a singer and artist in the thirty years since the hits stopped coming. More in the line of Where In The World and The Real Story than the mainstream RCA discs, Second Bloom: The Hits Re-Imagined  demonstrates that Sylvia has much to offer her fans, both those who are just discovering her and those who have been in for the long haul. That I might prefer refreshed versions of more songs—“Victims of Goodbye” or “Mill Song,” perhaps—have been included would be quibbling about an already enjoyable album.

Posted 2018 June 3 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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Bob Rea- Southbound review   1 comment

Bob Rae

Bob Rea Southbound Shiny Dime Records/ BobRaeMusic.com

Recently a friend mentioned that he continued to enjoy a mix CD I had made for him several years ago. He went on to mention that the folks whose music was featured on that burned disc—Billy Joe Shaver, Guy Clark, Larry Jon Wilson, Billy Swan, and the like—were of a special ilk, the “kind they don’t make anymore.”

I guess I’ll next have to introduce him to Nashville’s Bob Rea. Turns out, they do still make heartworn troubadours of the type we have come to appreciate over the last forty-plus years of listening to roots music of all its various shades.

Like many of the albums produced by any of those mentioned, with Southbound the listener is three-songs deep before even thinking about moving: these songs captivate. When Rea sings, in “Say Goodnight,”

When you’re standing on the platform,
Waiting on that midnight train
You know if you hold your ear close to the track
You can almost smell the rain

you know you have heard a stanza you will never forget, whether or not you’ve ever driven through a Mississippi night, read a Faulkner novel, or even thought about letting go. Absolutely brilliant.

And don’t let me go on too much about his voice! Perhaps not since Darrell Scott convinced his father Wayne that it was time to make a recording have I been so pleasantly surprised by a singer’s gravel-lined voice, soulful and strong. Bob Rea is the real deal, the kind of singer I would be thrilled to have discovered when I was first searching out the influences and contemporaries of Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, and Lyle Lovett.

The deeper one delves into Southbound, the stronger the songs become. “Screw Cincinnati” is a humourous, biting tale of disappointing enchantment ending with the twist of a lipstick, while “The Law” is perhaps inspired by our current state of political and world affairs, and yet is more than twenty years old. “Vietnam” has a novel hidden within twenty-four lines, and I can well-imagine Guy Clark exclaiming, ‘Jesus Christ’ upon hearing “A Place In Your Heart.” The title track is an ode to a free-wheeling lover who has just hit the road, an alternative to John Hiatt’s “Drive South,” perhaps.

Beyond the voice, lyrics, and melodies—all of which are impressive to the nth degree—the musicianship is also stunning. There is some guitar work within “The Law” that is every bit as impressive as anything Mark Knopfler has laid out: beyond atmospheric, these measured chords colour Rea’s intention with vibrancy.

Call it country. Call it Americana. Call it folk. Southbound is roots music. And a damn fine example of it.

 

 

Posted 2018 April 15 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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