Archive for the ‘Covers’ Tag
It has been a busy week here in the Fervor Coulee bunker, and the fruit of that labour has been posted over at the Lonesome Road Review in the form of two reviews.
First up is my review of the new Special Consensus album, abluegrass tribute to John Denver.
Also up is my review of the new Eliza Gilkyson album, The Nocturne Diaries.
Both of these albums are absolutely incredible, beautiful stuff.
Special Consensus, riding a career high since joining forces with Compass Records, are approaching their 40th year under the guidance of Greg Cahill, a banjo master. On this new album Country Boy, they are joined by bluegrass and Americana luminaries including Dale Ann Bradley, Jim Lauderdale, John Cowan, and producer Alison Brown. What holds it back from a 5 star label? Two too few songs, that’s it.
Eliza Gilkyson. Man, my words are truly inadequate. I’ve only been listening to her for ten or eleven years, but over that time I’ve come to respect her every bit as much as I do Tom Russell, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Rosanne Cash. Every time I think about Gilkyson, I remember the time- about six or eight years back- that I saw her join a First Nations circle dance at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival: the look of sheer bliss on her face as she danced has stayed with me ever since. Magic.
I appreciate everyone who visits Fervor Coulee- I hope you are finding writing of interest. Keep in touch, Donald
I became a John Denver fan the first time I heard “Grandma’s Feather Bed.” That goofy opus was perfect for an eleven year-old twisted in his musical development by a diet of school bus sing-a-longs of “Joy To the World,” “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da,” “Patches,” and “Yitsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.”
But, I knew John Denver wasn’t cool. My mom and dad listened to him. I went years denying any appreciation for his music, and it is only now that I am way past worrying about anyone’s definition of cool- and beyond a lot of other things- that I can freely admit to being a casual fan of John Denver’s. Honestly, I’ve not delved too deeply into his music- a vinyl greatest hit package in junior high, quietly singing along with the truck radio when one of his songs would come on, and the purchase of the tribute album that came out last year is about it.
I do get the appeal, without doubt.
When word was released today that The Special Consensus- one of my favourite bluegrass bands- is releasing a ten-song set of Denver songs this coming March, my interest was piqued. I haven’t heard the entire album, but have previewed the three tracks made available to media today. “Take Me Home, Country Roads” is about what I expected- a fine rendering of perhaps Denver’s most familiar song, made more interesting with vocals from both John Cowan and SC’s Dustin Benson. “Back Home Again” has warmth and comfort embedded in each note, and with Dale Ann Bradley singing lead and harmony it is a sure bet to be my favourite song on the recording.
The song I’m featuring as tonight’s Roots Song of the Week would have been “Back Home Again” if a version was available online for streaming. Instead, I’m going with another instantly familiar song, “Wild Montana Skies,” a latter Denver hit with Emmylou Harris. I had thought that this was his last significant hit, never having heard of “Dreamland Express” until this evening. It was definitely the last song of his I recall having heard in regular rotation on the radio.
This version of “Wild Montana Skies” features The Special Consensus joined by Claire Lynch and Rob Ickes, and Compass Records has posted a video of the song on YouTube. The song sounds quite wonderful, with a bluegrass push kicking it up a notch. Lynch’s contributions are significant- she sounds great alongside Rick Faris- and the guitar playing of Benson is just this side of incredible.
The press release for the album reads in part: Grammy-nominated Special Consensus joins forces with contemporary bluegrass music’s best on Country Boy: A Bluegrass Tribute to John Denver slated for release on March 25. There is a natural affinity between bluegrass musicians and John Denver’s repertoire but this is the first purely bluegrass tribute to the iconic singer/songwriter who died in 1997.
Country Boy features Special Consensus at the musical center of each track with a guest cast of Grammy-winning and International Bluegrass Music Association-winning vocalists and instrumentalists joining in. Produced by Compass Records co-founder Alison Brown, the album’s 10 tracks draw from across Denver’s hits and lesser-known songs.
Talking about the genesis for the idea, band founder Greg Cahill comments: “I’ve met so many people who were affected by John’s music and so many musicians who mention him as an inspiration. It felt like a bluegrass interpretation of his songs would be something really special and might also serve as a way to connect more people to bluegrass music.”
With guests listed including the aforementioned Lynch, Ickes, and Bradley as well as Peter Rowan, Jason Carter, and Michael Cleveland, Country Boy is destined to be one of my most played albums of the year.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Charity and benefit tribute albums are a dime a dozen, and unfortunately it sometimes feels that the extent of the contribution one is making to the named charity is about that much- a dime. “A portion of the proceeds…,” “the artist royalties will be donated…,” and “$1.00 from every album sold…” are phrases that are sometimes associated with such endeavors, and no matter the positive intentions of those behind the project, one wonders how much money actually makes its way toward worthy endeavors.
Okay, so I’m a bit jaded.
I first heard of Slim Dunlap about two months ago. Somehow I tripped across an online story about the fundraising 45s that were released over the past year to support The Replacements’ guitarist following the severe stroke he suffered in early 2012.
I don’t believe I’ve ever- to this day- heard a song by The Replacements, although of course I’ve heard of the band.
Given my propensity toward impulse buying, I wasn’t surprised when I walked out of HMV last weekend with the compilation album Songs for Slim: Rockin Here Tonight- A Benefit Compilation for Slim Dunlap. The double album compiles the 9 auction-only, fundraising 45s along with 10 additional unreleased bonus tracks. 28 tracks in all, a pretty generous, and- when one reads the notes and the backstory- obviously heartfelt benefit. Despite the presence of Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, John Doe, and a few other familiar names, what convinced me to shell-out cash for a benefit album (featuring largely artists I don’t know) for someone I had only passing knowledge?
The statement on the back: “All proceeds go to the Slim Dunlap Fund http://www.SongsforSlim.com.” No weasel words about ‘a portion of’ or ‘in support of’. Nope, All! (I do hope that means HMV isn’t adding a cut to what gets turned over to New West Records for the Slim Dunlap Fund.)
I listened to the album today and yesterday, and a very enjoyable collection of music it is. Some tracks rockin’, some rootsy; most I liked, a couple I’ll skip next time. That’s okay. Again, I don’t know anything about Slim Dunlap beyond what I read somewhere late last year and what is included in the liner notes. I only know I enjoyed this album, and the fact that I did a (admittedly) little to help out, makes it all the better.
Of all the songs, the one that connected most with me was Patterson Hood & the Downtown Ramblers’ take of “Hate This Town.” One listen, and I knew it was destined to be my Roots Song of the Week.
The song is instantly familiar, capturing the dueling disdain and affection we (or, at least many of us. Some of us? Okay, that I) have for our hometown. Utilizing the clarity of a dream, the protagonist sees a version of his hometown that may be closer to what it actually was than his jaded memory of it allows him to recall. Or, maybe he has just matured to a point where he is able to allow nostalgia to slip in under the cover of sleep. It is a poignant journey, one that challenges the listener to consider personal memories of youth- was it really that bad, or have I made it out to be worse? What would have happened had I stuck around?
I used to hate this town back when I lived here,
But in my dreams I don’t hate this town
Thinkin’ I’m lucky I lived here.
Conciseness that speaks volumes of regrets, missed opportunities, and youthful arrogance.
Patterson Hood lays out a brilliant little performance. It is worth seeking out, and given the quality of the entire package, Songs for Slim: Rockin Here Tonight- A Benefit Compilation for Slim Dunlap is an album well worth buying.
Even if, like me, you have no connection to Slim Dunlap. You’ll feel better about yourself. More info at http://www.songsforslim.com/
“Hate This Town” is my Roots Song of the Week. I couldn’t locate a clip of Hood’s version, so just go buy it. Dunlap’s performance of the song is here.
As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee.
These types of lists are fairly self-indulgent, but most things we do seem to be. What the heck, then?
I am fairly confident in my choices this year- I created lists as the months passed, and have considered well in excess of a hundred albums for placement. Here then are my favourite roots music albums of the year, accompanied by links to longer pieces I’ve written or, alternately when I didn’t write about a particular album, video.
[Update: #25 has been revised. Someone asked why so little mainstream country. Answer, I don’t listen to most of what would be considered modern country. I didn’t listen to the Brandy Clark album enough yet to place it in my Top 25, but I am really enjoying it. Whether that is mainstream…]
Favourite Album Covers-
1. Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby- Live Cluck Ol’ Hen
2. Guy Clark- My Favorite Picture of You– Great story behind this one. Well executed.
3. Noam Pikelny- Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe– some concert posters in the background may have pushed it over the top
4. Sturgill Simpson- High Top Mountain
5. Jack Lawrence- Arthel’s Guitar
Favorite Covers and Tribute Albums-
1.Don Rigsby- Doctor’s Orders: A Tribute to Ralph Stanley http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0MNcu_x6_xY
2. Let Us In Americana- The Music of Paul McCartney
3. Unsung Hero : A Tribute to the Music of Ron Davies
4. Joe Mullins & Junior Sisk- Bluegrass Hall of Fame https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/junior-sisk-joe-mullins-hall-of-fame-bluegrass-review/
5. Jack Lawrence- Arthel’s Guitar
6. Martyn Joseph- Tires Rushing By in the Rain
7. Ben Sollee- The Hollow Sessions
8. You Don’t Know Me: Rediscovering Eddy Arnold
9. Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs- Under the Covers, Vol.3
Favourite Reissues and Archival Releases of the Year-
1. George Jones- The Complete United Artists Solo Singles
2. Steve Forbert- Early On: The Best of the Mississippi Recordings and the Alive on Arrival/Jackrabbit Slim twofer, more concise and accessible than the previous Rolling Tide reissues
3. Townes Van Zandt- Sunshine Boy: The Unheard Sessions & Demos 1971-1972
4. Guy Clark- Dixie’s Bar & Bus Stop
5. The Bottle Rockets- The Bottle Rockets/The Brooklyn Side– The Bottle Rockets was and is one of the greatest Americana/alt.country albums ever recorded. The bonus tracks provide further context for the days that I wasn’t aware of until they were over. So enthralled with that album, I’ve allowed The Brooklyn Side to sit on the shelf untouched since the first and only time I played it all those years ago. My mistake. One I won’t allow to be repeated.
6. Billy Bragg Life’s A Riot with Spy vs Spy, 30th Anniversary Edition A most concise vision of the power of words and music; comes with a recent live encore of the 7-track e.p.
7. James Keelaghan History: The First 25 Years
Favourite Various Artists and Compilation Albums-
1. Divided & United: The Songs of the Civil War
2. The Daughters of Bluegrass- Pickin’ Like A Girl https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/07/18/daughters-of-bluegrass-pickin-like-a-girl-review/
3. God Didn’t Choose Sides
4. Classic Banjo from Smithsonian Folkways
5. Ghost Brothers of Darkland County
The following are my favourite stand-alone albums of 2013, often the albums I spent the most time with this past year (or, in the case of late year releases, the albums I feel I will end up spending the most time with):
1. Guy Clark- My Favorite Picture of You: The elder statesman does it again, producing another exceptional collection of songs, all but a cover of a Lyle Lovett song co-writes. Beautifully sung and played. Clark’s thirteenth album of new material, recorded at age 71, was head and shoulders this past year’s finest roots music album. If there is justice, and voters were actually listening, he’ll receive a Grammy in January. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qIftiMZPVsE&list=RDntpyFfef-NA
2. John Reischman- Walk Along John https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/07/27/john-reischman-walk-along-john-review/
3. J. R. Shore- State Theatre https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/05/26/j-r-shore-state-theatre-review-the-polaris-music-prize/
4. Slaid Cleaves- Still Fighting the War: Gives ol’ Guy a run for his money. http://slaidcleaves.com/category/videos/
5. Mike Plume- Red and White Blues: Following up the very excellent 8:30 Newfoundland, Mike Plume returned not only with a most sincere Stompin’ Tom Connors tribute, but a set of songs- almost equal parts Maritime stomper and prairie balladry- that will soon stand with his best. http://mikeplume.com/steelbeltedwebsite/?page_id=19
6. Kimberley Rew- Healing Broadway: Pub roots. http://www.kimberleyrew.com/
7. Bruce Foxton- Back in the Room: If by roots you mean rock n roll. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=syxMnWmrACM
8. The Gibson Brothers- They Call It Music https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/the-gibson-brothers-they-call-it-music-review/
9. Chris Jones & The Night Drivers- Lonely Comes Easy https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/08/24/chris-jones-the-night-drivers-lonely-comes-easy-review/
10. D. B. Rielly- Cross My Heart & Hope to Die https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/d-b-rielly-cross-my-heart-hope-to-die-review/
11. Darden Smith- Love Calling https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/darden-smith-love-calling-review/
12. Robbie Fulks- Gone Away Backward http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T00vjRCmf3g
13. The Del McCoury Band- The Streets of Baltimore: Experience counts for a whole lot. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_K_7pcdvck
14. Leeroy Stagger- Truth Be Sold https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/11/23/leeroy-stagger-truth-be-sold-review/ http://exclaim.ca/MusicVideo/ClickHear/leeroy_stagger-cities_on_fire_video
15. Alice Gerrard- Bittersweet https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/08/10/alice-gerrard-bittersweet-review/
16. Noam Pikelny- Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iqys8Ez7Cno
17. Marshall Chapman- Blaze of Glory: Another great album of honest roots rock. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azPRk89nKaQ
18. Holly Williams- The Highway: Purchased after reading a couple reviews and having never heard her; glad I did. http://www.hollywilliams.com/portfolio-items/the-highway/
19. Sturgill Simpson- High Top Mountain: I’m glad all music isn’t this well-grounded in the country tradition. Makes it all the more special when you find it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNV16tz1NK0
20. John Paul Keith- Memphis 3 A.M.: A long-time favourite singer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TWk5Yo9dIG0
21. James King- Three Chords and the Truth: Only bought this one before Christmas; need to listen more, but nothing to lead me to believe it isn’t going to stay with me for a long time. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWnKoIXS1KU
22. Kim Beggs- Beauty and Breaking: an exceptional collection of song that are already familiar. With more listens, I’m confident it will become even more appreciated. http://www.kimbeggs.com/videoplay.html?video=http://www.youtube.com/v/mL45VqBql00
23. Jeff Black- B-Sidea and Confessions, Volume Two https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/05/20/jeff-black-b-sides-and-confessions-volume-two-review/
24. Peter Rowan- The Old School https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/05/20/peter-rowan-the-old-school-review/
25. Blue Mafia- My Cold Heart https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/blue-mafia-my-cold-heart-review/ Was in consideration right up until I wrote the final draft. Another listen brought it forward, knocking Emmylou & Rodney out of the 25th spot. I’m sure they will recover.
Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell- Old Yellow Moon: Once upon a time, an album this stunning would be much higher that #25; that is one indication of how great the last year has been. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0MNcu_x6_xY
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee so often in 2013, and I hope you will continue to find roots music opinion of interest in 2014 and beyond.
As always, Donald @FervorCoulee on the Twittering thing.
Jeff at Country Standard Time asked me to condense my review of Doctor’s Orders for use on the website, and I was pleased to do so. The (much)
briefer more brief piece has been posted HERE. I like the freedom to write as much as I like here at Fervor Coulee and at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass, but also enjoy the challenge of being more concise with my opinions and descriptions when under someone else’s guidelines. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
There are days when I am simply plum-tickled to have the opportunity to write about bluegrass music. This is one of them. My review of Doctor’s Orders: A Tribute to Ralph Stanley is posted over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass. In a year that has already produced several excellent albums, this may be the album of the year.
It is only now that I’ve posted the album that I realize, within the review’s 600+ words I fail to mention Rigsby’s amazing vocals. I am a dunce. I guess I could make the argument that anyone who would expect anything less than bluegrass vocal perfection from Rigsby hasn’t likely been listening.
The first time I heard the album’s lead track, “The Mountain Doctor,” I was pulling into the parking lot of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Mansfield, Missouri at the edge of the Ozarks. While those mountains and Dr. Ralph’s mountains are separated by several hundred miles, while listening I had me a profound and lasting bluegrass moment, one that will stick in my memory for a long while.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. And thanks to Rebel Records for keeping me in the loop; I appreciate it. Donald
Ralph Boyd Johnson 1723 9 St SW http://www.RalphBoydJohnson.com
For those unaware of its significance, 1723 9 St SW may be the worst album title since 461 Ocean Boulevard. Ralph Boyd Johnson most obviously believed that this Calgary address had to be the title of his sophomore album.
You see, and as most anyone with a passing familiarity with the lore of the Alberta roots music scene will tell you, 1723 9 St SW was the home for a period of time of Billy Cowsill. Until his death in 2006, Cowsill was the (mostly) undisputed prince of the Calgary alt.country community, and his influence on RBJ and others has been apparent and lasting.
A decade ago- back when all things seemed possible and No Depression unified disparate singers and songwriters under a semi-cohesive banner- Ralph Boyd Johnson emerged with Dyin’ to Go, still one of the strongest roots music albums the province has witnessed. For a while Johnson worked the circuit, playing the festivals and the occasional club date, chasing a dream that seemed elusive.
His dream wasn’t Son Volt (or even Hayseed)-level success. Johnson always appeared to simply want the next gig to be better than the last, the next song to resonate with another listener. While I’m not familiar with details of his life since Dyin’ to Go received widespread praise, I’ve kept my ears and eyes open.
In the middle of the last decade, Johnson was a driving force behind Rivers and Rails, A Tribute to Alberta, a strong and diverse collection of original material celebrating the province’s centennial. I would occasionally see his name mentioned in the various free Calgary street papers, and once was very pleasantly surprised to catch him opening a show at the Ironwood. Still, considering the quality of Dyin’ to Go, and the promise it revealed, it was disappointing that few outside southern Alberta heard his name, let alone his music. RBJ was surpassed, at least commercially and familiarity wise, by a slew sowing similar ground- Corb Lund, Tim Hus, JR Shore, Leeroy Stagger, and others.
This past winter saw the release of 1723 9 St SW, and what an appearance it was.
[Insert long-winded and only semi-coherent, but almost relevant diatribe.] Some time ago, I was beginning to feel increasingly disenchanted with the abundance of pointless covers being released. I probably have more albums of cover songs than most people do, and obviously enjoy an inspired interpretation of both a standard and unfamiliar tune. I’m not sure when it happened, but it may have been around the time Doc Watson passed away. I’m not sure why.
I do know this. A few years ago, Steve Earle released his album Townes. In one of the interviews I read at that time, Earle- and bless him for his honesty- stated words to the effect that, as he was writing the novel I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive he knew he needed an album on the marketplace and decided to record the Townes Van Zandt album. (From a New York Times Anthony DeCurtis article, 2009: “…The urge to complete that book, which he has intermittently been working on for eight years,led indirectly to the Townes project. ‘I’ve talked about doing it for a long time,’ [Earle] said about recording an album of Van Zandt’s material, ‘and since I didn’t have to write the songs, I thought I could make this record, turn it in and then finish the book.”) While that album is a pretty good- if unnecessary- one, it doesn’t touch the emotional impact of Earle’s own “Ft. Worth Blues,” written following Van Zandt’s death. The mercenary-like execution of the album tarnished it a bit for me, leading, in some large way, to my increasing dissatisfaction with ‘the tribute album.’ Too often, they appear to be the commercial stop-gap that Earle at least is bold enough to acknowledge.
Make no mistake, there have been some good tribute albums- the Guy Clark This One’s For Him, for example. Far more often, I’ve found ‘tributes’ to be less than satisfying. The recording that brought this to a head was Ricky Skaggs’ ‘tribute’ to Doc Watson. Now, Skaggs can cover any song he likes, and his version of “Tennessee Stud” is no better or worse than any other version I’ve encountered- they all pale next to Doc’s. So, when Skaggs released “Tennessee Stud” soon after Watson’s death, as well-meaning as it may have been, its inclusion on Music to My Ears left me cold and a little bothered. (Contrast that with a video of Elizabeth Cook covering “Columbus Stockade Blues” at Kansas City’s Knuckleheads, a bar I hope to visit this coming week to catch Amy LaVere, but I ramble, yet again.)
And, as others died and the requisite recordings emerged, I started thinking that a true and meaningful tribute needs to be something more than a ‘by the numbers’ cover of a favourite song.
A cover is a cover, and more often than not, I can find something appealing in covers of even my favourite songs; Hollie Cook’s interpretation of Rachel Sweet’s “It’s So Different Here” being a not so recent example. What I have tired of is the ‘tribute’ cover where someone or several someones pay ‘tribute’ to an artist by covering their music; I love Nick Lowe’s music, but Lowe Country mostly left me wanting. It wasn’t terribly interesting to hear others interpret Lowe’s music, simply because most of them couldn’t hold a candle to the original (not to mention, but I will, that I already own a couple different Lowe tribute albums.)
If an artist is going to ‘pay tribute’ to someone they admire, why don’t they take the time to actually write, to create, a true tribute to that artist? Ralph Boyd Johnson’s album (and you thought I had forgotten what I was supposed to be writing about today) is a perfect example of this. RBJ wanted to pay tribute to his friend and mentor Billy Cowsill. Rather than just covering a few of his songs- which he could easily have done- he took the time to craft something memorable, including the title track to his new album.
I’d love it if more artists went to the effort of pouring their admiration and appreciation for those who influenced them into an original creation, songs like Eric Burton’s “Guy Clark,” Jill Sobule’s “Whatever Happened to Bobbie Gentry,” The Steel Town Project’s “Leather and Bass (The Night Suzi Quatro Rocked Out ‘Can the Can’)” and Steve Forbert’s heartfelt ode to Rick Danko, “Wild As the Wind.”
Even songs that serve as indirect homage to artists, “John R and Me” (Radney Foster) or “Willie’s Guitar” from John Anderson, and “White Cadillac” by The Band, raise the ‘tribute’ bar. This is the reason Tom Russell’s “The Death of Jimmy Martin” resonates more than the many covers of his music (and some of them were great, including A Tribute to Jimmy Martin, The King of Bluegrass with Audie Blaylock, JD Crowe, Paul Williams, and Kenny Ingram) that were released following his passing.
Again, I love cover songs. To belabour my point, I’m just tired of them being labeled as ‘tributes.’ A tribute should be more, and I think a good place to start would be to create a song that captures the emotional and artistic impact the work of another has had on an individual. Take it to the next level, and then call it a ‘tribute’ as Old Man Luedecke does with “Song for Ian Tyson” and Mike Plume recently did with his ode “So Long Stompin’ Tom.”
Which is a long way around to stating, Ralph Boyd Johnson gets it right with his homage to Billy Cowsill.
Within the album, no fewer than four songs contain reference to Billy Cowsill. (And if you don’t know who Billy Cowsill was, Google him and purchase a Blue Shadows album. While you’re at it, consider Dustin Bentall’s “Ballad of Billy Cowsill.”)
Cowsill, who co-produced Dyin to Go and with whom Johnson wrote “The Fool Is the Last One to Know” from The Blue Shadows’ On The Floor of Heaven, was flawed: his troubles got the best of him. The genuine affection and honest regard Johnson held for him is apparent in every note and clever phrase contained within the fictional narrative “The Legend of Wild Billy C” and the reflective, more realistic “1723 9th St SW.” “Bill’s Pills,” despite its plea of “O, darlin’ don’t cry,” is simply sad.
Elsewhere, the themes are universal. “Holes in His Shoes” captures the intensity of a challenging friendship. Johnson displays his ability to drop gems worthy of Guy Clark singing, “I’ve got a friend threadbare button loose, through the eye of a needle found a hole in the noose…makes Keith Richards look like he just joined the band…” “Free of the flesh, and scared of our deeds, at the foot of the throne, we shall all be received,” Johnson sings in a song written with Cowsill (“Foot of the Throne”), in which they also manage to recognize TVZ.
The snappy “Cleaning House” has all the elements one looks for in a classic country-blues: an action-oriented woman and a no account fella; the clarinet fill is unexpected. While the Cowsill-oriented tracks are each meaningful, heartfelt and more than memorable, Johnson is at his best on “Adios Santa Rosa,” another song co-written with Cowsill, as well as ubiquitous Tim Leacock (whose The Wandering V’s I need to explore.) I never thought I would type ‘calypso’ in a RBJ review, but the lively “Blue Bird” fits that bill. Continuing the ‘feather’ theme, Johnson revisits “Ol’ Black Crow,” reworking and likely improving upon the spoken word, rap-influenced tale from his debut.
In an unexplained twist, a live rendition of Cowsill presenting his classic “Vagabond”- the first song of his I recall hearing, back in ’84 as he opened for John Anderson at the Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton- is appended to the disc. Culled from The Co-Dependents’ initial album, the track seems a fitting way to conclude an album over which his (blue) shadow is so prevalent: with Cowsill himself.
Ralph Boyd Johnson is his own man. Yes, he was fortunate to be ‘schooled’ by Billy Cowsill, but the path he has followed has always been his own. 1723 9 St SW is an album of which I am certain Cowsill would approve, and of which Johnson can be proud.
If you read all of that…I apologize. I worked on this piece for a long time, and I don’t know if I near got it right. I do know it is long, and I’m plumb certain it isn’t perfect. But, it’s done and I mean it all. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald