Archive for the ‘Favourite CDs of the Year’ Tag

Fervor Coulee’s Ten Favourite Roots Albums of 2018   Leave a comment

Throughout December I have been posting a series of columns reflecting on the year-in-roots-music past. I hope you have been inspired to locate albums that had passed you by, and are enjoying what I have recommended.

Readership at Fervor Coulee has steadily increased the last three years with growth of 10% and 20% the previous two years. However, things went crazy this past year with an 70% increase in readership: simply incredible. [This increase in traffic makes 2018 the second highest in Fervor Coulee’s history, almost reaching the lofty heights of 2011.] REVISION: A late year surge of visitors put 2018 over the top: the most ‘successful’ since the site launched in 2008, and an 85% increase in readership over 2017. Thank you all. I am pleased that so many who appreciate roots music are visiting here to ‘take in’ my Roots Music Opinion: I don’t usually feature the biggest or most-PR driven releases-Horse Hats of Indianapolis and Broken Heathens with Semi-Ironic Beards, for example, received no coverage- I take pride on featuring roots music larger, more-renowned music sites miss. Twitter activity has also been positive with the reach of my various reviews more-or-less increasing monthly.

2018 saw 86 posts at Fervor Coulee, most featuring one- or two- reviews; I am guessing I featured about a hundred albums this year. Beyond that, I likely heard another hundred fifty, and heard samples from so many- via WDVX, CKUA, my Polaris Music Prize duties, and other outlets (often places where I will first hear an album to explore further)- so when I finalize my Favourite Roots Albums of 2018- as I am doing here- I am drawing on a fairly well-informed pool.

Thank you for your ongoing readership and exchange of ideas. Without readers, this whole endeavour would be absolutely pointless.

To determine my Ten Favourite Roots Albums of 2018, I draw upon my previous published year-end lists- Favourite Bluegrass, Blues, Roots/Singer-Songwriters, and Reissue, Archival, Live, Tribute, Re-recording, and Compilations- and simply select the ten I most enjoyed: it isn’t scientific, fair, or necessarily consistent. Here we go:

Fervor Coulee’s Ten Favourite Roots Albums of 2018:

  1. Bobbie Gentry- The Girl From Chickasaw County box set- an absolute essential marvel, discussed here as my # 1 Roots Reissue, Archival, Live, Tribute, Re-recording, and Compilations list I have never before considered naming an archival release as my favourite of the year: this 8-disc set certainly is deserving of the accolades it has received.
  2. Mike Plume Band- Born By the Radiodiscussed here as my #1 Roots/Singer-Songwriters list
  3. The Travelin’ McCourys- The Travelin’ McCourysdiscussed here as my #1 Bluegrass album of 2018
  4. David Davis & the Warrior River Boys- Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poolediscussed here as #2 Roots Reissue, Archival, Live, Tribute, Re-recording, and Compilations and # 3 on the Bluegrass lists
  5. Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard- Sing Me Back Home: The DC Tapes, 1965-1969discussed here as #2 Roots Reissue, Archival, Live, Tribute, Re-recording, and Compilations and as an Honourable Mention on the Bluegrass lists
  6. Pharis & Jason Romero- Sweet Old Religion– discussed here as my #2 Roots/Singer-Songwriters listhttps://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2018/12/16/fervor-coulees-favourite-roots-and-singer-songwriter-albums-of-the-year-2018/
  7. Sister Sadie- IIdiscussed here as my #2 Bluegrass album of 2018
  8. John Wort Hannam- Acres of Elbow Roomdiscussed here as my #3 Roots/Singer-Songwriters list
  9. Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar- Run to Mediscussed here as my #1 Blues album of the year
  10. Rory Block- A Woman’s Soul: A Tribute to Bessie Smithdiscussed here as my #2 Blues album of the year

See previous Favourites of the Year using the search function, or look here to see the top album of each of the previous years going back to 2000.

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Fervor Coulee’s Favourite Roots and Singer-Songwriter Albums of the Year 2018   1 comment

*the ones that weren’t bluegrass, blues, or ‘old stuff’ like compilations, reissues, and archival releases

This is the second run at my list. The first is lost somewhere on my hard drive, obliterated by the Blue Screen of Death. Reassembling the list wasn’t terribly difficult (although I did decide to cut back from thirty to twenty titles), but I do know some of the placings changed, which is natural: once past the ‘top five,’ albums could flip-and-flop a position or three all down the list. What was more difficult was recalling all my brilliance of opinion- so, that is lacking. Still, this is how I’m feeling today, and I think I am comfortable with this being representative of my Roots Music Opinion for 2018.  As always, these are my favourite albums of the year; it is not a ‘best of’…although, really it is!

  1. Mike Plume Band Born By The Radio– It took twenty-five years, but Mike Plume has emerged as the next great Canadian songwriter, a man who comfortably stands shoulder-to-shoulder with those who influenced him. It has been a long ride, filled with songs memorable and albums impactful, but full realization is achieved with Born By The Radio. The songs are comprised of images universal and personal. “Waste a Kiss on Me,” on which he again squeezes in Kerouac, “Mama’s Rolling Stone,” “Monroe’s Mandolin,” and “Western Wind” are as strong songs as Plume has created, and the instrumentation and energy from the MPB is the stuff of legend. An album without waver. One of two Steve Coffey album covers on the list! (purchased download) 
  2. Pharis & Jason Romero Sweet Old Religion– A pair of Canadian Folk Music Awards last month further embellished the repute of this  focused British Columbia duo, and well-deserved they were of the recognition. Pharis’ voice is a wonder, Jason is no slouch, and together their old-timey harmonies and instrumentation are things of wonder, while their songs are contemporary slices of the world past and present. A beautiful album replete with memorable performances. (serviced CD) 

3. John Wort Hannam Acres of Elbow Room– Alberta’s venerable folk songwriter went even deeper on his seventh album, sharing with listeners his innermost tribulations. Recent years appear to have (almost) got the best of Hannam, and he has poured his darkness and challenges into an expertly-crafted collection of songs that are inspiring and impactful while being just plain enjoyable. “Key of D Minor,” “The Quiet Life,” and “Ain’t Enough” are among the finest songs he has written and recorded, and the title track is a wonder: “where the dotted-lines turn to gravel” may become Fervor Coulee’s new tagline. John has long been a Fervor Coulee favourite, and that his album comes in #3 is testament to the strength of the Plume and Romero albums. (purchased download)



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The new Word Press settings and features are turning what should be a twenty-minute copy and paste, insert the links, and publish activity into an hour of misery and wonky formats. Bear with me- I will try to fix upon publishing via editing. Sigh. 


4. Gretchen Peters Dancing With the Beast Reviewed here (serviced CD)

5. Ashleigh Flynn & the Riveters Ashleigh Flynn & the Riveters Reviewed here (serviced CD)

6. Hadley McCall Thackston Hadley McCall Thackston Reviewed here (serviced CD)

7. Rosanne Cash She Remembers Everything From first listen, and as she has since Seven Year Ache and Somewhere In The Stars hit the turntable at Climax Records 35 years ago, Cash drew me into her current state of mind. As she has long done, Cash is reflecting on current circumstances- politics, division, gender inequality, complexity of relationships- encouraging engagement at higher levels while ensuring her songs are listenable, intriguing, and nuanced. Beautiful, as ever. That she can address weighty topics without sounding didactic is a bonus. (purchased CD and vinyl) 

8. Craig Moreau- A Different Kind of Train Reviewed here (serviced CD)

9. Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore Downey to Lubbock– Albums like this are the reason I continue to listen to music with a passion that has only increased over forty+ years. Two Americana masters come together to create an album standing with everything they’ve produced across lengthy careers. Hearing Alvin sing John Stewart’s “July, You’re A Woman” gets Downey to Lubbck a place in the top thirty: the two originals (including the autobiographical, mood-establishing title track- “I’m an old Flatlander,” Gilmore sings) and the expertly executed covers sneak it into top ten territory. (purchased download) 

10. Mary Gauthier Rifles and Rosary Beads– An early favourite this year, the album dropped in regard simply because I lost the disc in June: sometimes I really regret my propensity toward clutter. Had I had it all year, Rifles and Rosary Beads may well have rated higher on this list. Still, I bought the vinyl last week and I was immediately reminded of the recording’s intensity. Gauthier and her songwriting collaborators have delved as deep into the experiences of America’s military service men and women (and their families) as likely anyone has before done. The effect is lasting, with lyrical detail capturing the full-impact of service experiences shared in songs far-reaching and memorable. Mary Gauthier has been quietly building her career and artistic vision for twenty years- it is terrific to see her ‘break-through’ (again!) in 2018. (purchased download; purchased vinyl)

11. Florent Vollant Mishta Meshkenu Long one of Canada’s finest and most influential roots musician, Vollant has been making time-stopping music since Kashtin’s first album. As far as I have heard, he never falters; Mishta Meshkenu is as anticipated- rhythmic, energetic, and memorable. I don’t need to know what he is singing about to appreciate this album. (purchased download)

12. Roscoe & Etta Roscoe & Etta– Maia Sharp and Anna Schulze are about as rock ‘n’ roll as this list is going to get. I ignored this album when it arrived- to be fair, it came without cover art or notes, a simple advance disc housed in a clear plastic sleeve. Once I listened, I was won over. Rewriting “You Oughta Know” as “Stupid Pretty Face” was fair brilliant, but the strength of the album is found across the entirety of eleven songs. “Play On” and “Broken Headlights” are among the strongest songs heard this year. Roscoe & Etta is a terrific album. (serviced CD)

13. John Prine The Tree of Forgiveness– A master who refuses to compromise. The Tree of Forgiveness is a concise album, all the more powerful for its intensity. Little lightness here, Prine is on a mission to expose his human condition. (purchased CD)

14. Kaia Kater- Grenades– Where our favourite female, biracial, Canadian, old-timey clawhammer banjo player reaches way out to grasp the flowers at the end of the branches. Kaia explores her heritage and family throughout Grenades, creating an album singularly engaging and insightful. More mainstream, even pop-oriented, than previous Kater albums, Grenades is a natural progression. (serviced download)

15. Ashley McBryde Girl Going NowhereYeah, there is no room for music this good on country radio. (That clip brings this cynical and grizzled old man to tears. Seriously- the emotion!) No filler, these eleven songs alternately create moods and describe experiences that everyone can relate with, for good or bad. This is what country music needs to once again become. Fingers crossed; breath not held. (purchased download)

16. Eliza Gilkyson SeculariaReviewed here (serviced download)

17. The Gibson Brothers Mockingbird– A significant departure for the perennial bluegrass powerhouse, but not a jarring one. The lead and harmony vocal signatures remain, and that they’ve broadened their approach for this album isn’t something anyone within the paranoid, protectionist bluegrass collective should fear. As always, excellent songs. (purchased download)

18. Pistol Annies- Interstate Gospel– A little bit irreverent (The album kicks off with, “Jesus is the bread of life without him, you’re toast”) and a whole lot brilliant (“I Got My Name Changed Back,” “5 Acres of Turnips,” “When I Was His Wife,” and “Masterpiece,” being but four) their third album is somehow even better than those which came before. The trio of dixie chicks- Lambert, Monroe, and Presley- mine fifty-plus years of songwriting history to craft a set of original, self-written songs that is smart, sassy, and certainly superior to that clogging country music airwaves.  (purchased CD)

19. Leslie Satcher & the Electric Honey Badgers 2 Days in Muscle Shoals– While previous albums were enjoyable but uneven, everything comes together for Satcher on 2 Days in Muscle Shoals. A venerable rockin’ southern country masterpiece that dares you to not dance. (purchased download)

20. Joe Nolan Cry Baby A moody, soulful album of finely-tuned roots music. Last time I heard Nolan, he was busking at a farmers’ market. While good practice to test-run his songs, I hope Cry Baby takes him further down his hillbilly highway. (serviced download)

Honourable mentions: D. B. Rielly Live From Chester (#21, and bumped by the late arrival of the Pistol Annies) reviewed here, Vivian Leva Time Is Everything (reviewed here), Steve Forbert The Magic Tree, Mandy Barnett Strange Conversation, J. P. Harris Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing (reviewed here), Edward David Anderson Chasing Butterflies (reviewed here), Kevin Gordon Tilt and Shine, Amos Lee My New Moon, Tim Easton Paco & the Melodic Polaroids, Mark Erelli Mixtape, Mariel Buckley Driving in the Dark, The LYNNes Heartbreak Song For the Radio (reviewed here)and Thomas Stajcer Will I Learn to Love Again? (reviewed here)

There you have it, my favourite singer-songwriter (-ish) albums if 2018. Hopefully my choices lead you in a direction you find satisfying; my list is likely different from others’ you’ve encountered. Later this month we will finalize my Top Ten albums of the year. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. 

Favourite Blues Albums of 2018   1 comment


I don’t listen to a lot of blues, and almost all that does come my way is via a small handful of supportive PR houses. To their credit, they are discriminating. Still, a lot of the (mostly) electric blues that I encounter leaves me cold. My preferred style of blues is (usually) of the acoustic-based, singer-songwriter type. That and blues that comes with a heavy dose of rhythm ‘n’ soul. These are the finest of the forty or fifty blues (and blues-ish) albums that came my way during 2018.

Take it for what it is:

1. Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar- Run To Me reviewed here

2. Rory Block- A Woman’s Soul: A Tribute to Bessie Smith reviewed here

3. Sue Foley- The Ice Queen reviewed here

4. Joyann Parker- Hard to Love reviewed here

 5. John Akapo- Paradise Blues reviewed here

6. Brandon Isaak- Rise ‘n’ Shine Gritty and groovy folk-blues with just a touch of grease. Atmospheric and engaging, Brandon Isaak is a terrific songwriter and performer. Enjoyed this one immensely.

7. Emily Burgess- Are We In Love? reviewed here

8. Trudy Lynn- Blues Keep Knockin’ reviewed here

9. Kat Danser- Goin’ Gone reviewed here

10. Suzie Vinnick- Shake The Love Around reviewed here

Ed. Note: I only purchased Shemekia Copeland’s America’s Child in the final days of 2018, and couldn’t include it on this list which was prepared at the beginning of December. A lot of good things have been said about the album, and I will add to it: smart, blistering takes of the country to our south- Copeland goes deeper than most blues artists, and not just one a select song or two. I need to listen to her more, and to this album, of course, but Copeland reminds me of Rosanne Cash- unafraid to take on the world that is darkening around her. God, can she sing! Of course, produced by Will Kimbrough, further strengthening my argument that he is involved in just about every album worth listening to- he is also all over Mary Gauthier’s Rifles and Rosary Beads. Had I listened earlier, Copeland’s album would easily be in my Blues top 5, and likely in my Singer-Songwriter/Roots Top 20. Brilliant album.

Fervor Coulee’s Favourite Bluegrass Albums of 2018   1 comment

Favourite, not best. I happen to consider them the best, but you certainly may feel different. One will notice no ‘big tent’ bluegrass on this list-the furthest afield I go is with my #1 album, which is still fair solid bluegrass.

These are the albums I felt delivered in 2018.

1. The Travelin’ McCourys- The Travelin’ McCourys An incredible album. Featuring three capable (and better) lead vocalists and five earth-shattering musicians, The Travelin’ McCourys deliver a set of complex bluegrass that remains firmly rooted while extending branches toward the light. Wonderful stuff: powerful, masterful, and most importantly, memorable. Their live presentation is also aces. (Purchased)

2. Sister Sadie- II There are a lot of great bluegrass bands working today: I would put Sister Sadie up against any one of them. II is even more unified than their debut with the group having melded into a seamless force greater than its exceedingly impressive parts. The quintets’ natural essence is given prominence, a traditional vision bolstered by contemporary approaches. (Serviced by PR)

3. David Davis & the Warrior River Boys- Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poole David Davis is a true follower of The Monroe Doctrine. “Didn’t He Ramble” is a well-considered collection of music from the early years of the twentieth century. Many of the songs are well-known, but Davis and co-producer Robert Montgomery also include less familiar numbers. An album of considerable variation, an acceptance of life’s departures is an apparent theme; one senses Davis and Montgomery drawn to songs where everything doesn’t go to plan. An exemplary example of modern, traditional bluegrass. (Serviced by PR)

4. Rudi Ekstein- Carolina Chimes This ‘All Original Bluegrass Instrumental Showcase’ is 34-minutes of tunes sounding fresh, invigorated, and powerful. The twelve numbers flow brilliantly, a set of mandolin-based bluegrass the likes we haven’t experienced in years. An absolute stunner of a bluegrass album.  (Serviced by PR)

5. High Fidelity- Hills and Home Hills and Home serves as an appealing versatile introduction to this quintet’s energetic, foundationally strong, and vocal-focused representation of contemporary bluegrass. The group presents bluegrass that captures the old-time sounds influenced by Reno & Smiley, with shades of the Louvins in their arrangement choices and production approaches. High Fidelity is bringing bluegrass music’s rich history forward to today’s audience.  (Serviced by label)

6. Special Consensus- Rivers and Roads I didn’t write about this album. I just listened to it about thirty times. I haven’t been disappointed in an album from Special C in a long time, and given the strength of this set, I won’t be in the foreseeable future. A core of solid songs, lively singing, a few notable guest spots, and blazing instrumentation: my kinda bluegrass mix. (Purchased download)

7. Peter Rowan- Carter Stanley’s Eyes An acute reminder of that, when performed with talent, inspiration, and respect, bluegrass is a very powerful thing. Rowan-the target of the infamous Bill Monroe quote, “Don’t go too far out on that limb, there’s enough flowers out there already”-has frequently ventured well-outside the bluegrass realm. He returns to the formidable truck of the bluegrass tree with an album-long tribute to the music and its originators, especially Carter and Ralph Stanley. The light still shines in Peter Rowan’s eyes: that he loves bluegrass music is doubtless. Neither is his ability to create a masterful album of bluegrass classics. 
(Serviced by label)

8. Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road- True Grass Again Carolina Road has always been strongest following Jordan’s keen vision of bluegrass. Here Carolina Dream create a faithful, refreshing representation of the ever-evolving genre by ensuring a secure grounding in the traditional substratum of bluegrass. “True Grass Again” is a fine return to form for this well-established and soulful outfit. (Serviced by PR)

9. Various Artists- Epilogue: A Tribute to John Duffey A lovingly assembled testament to the status John Duffey attained and the influence he continues to impart upon bluegrass music. Compiled from numerous sessions over almost 20 years, it also serves as acknowledgment to the devotion of its producers, Bluegrass 45s’ Akira Otsuka and Ronnie Freeman. Despite being assembled track-by-track, including 53 musicians and singers making contributions in a variety of makeshift studio settings, the 46-minute, 17-song set is coherent, bound as it is by the tensile strength of the bluegrass community. (Serviced by PR)

10. Del McCoury Band- Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass With the exception of the lead track “Hot Wired,” on which Del and the Boys seem to be trying too hard to be edgy, this album delivers on the faith we’ve been placing in Mr. McCoury from the first day we heard him thirty-some years ago. McCoury’s voice isn’t what it once was, but that it just fine; when performances are as strong and true as these, we’ll forgive the effects of time’s passage. (Purchased download)

A note: Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard- Sing Me Back Home: The DC Tapes, 1965-1969 is not included simply because it isn’t fully a ‘bluegrass’ album. While there is no doubting Hazel and Alice was bluegrass and this archival release is tremendous , these practice sessions/kitchen tapes feature little to no bluegrass instrumentation, and are as such ‘just a bit outside’ my definition of bluegrass for the purposes of this list. Without a doubt, it remains one of my favourite five roots releases of the year.

Thoughts or reactions? fervorcoulee@gmail.com

Best to you for the Christmas and holiday season and a terrific New Year. Donald

Addendum: When the Bluegrass Grammy nominees were announced December 7, I was surprised to find three of my top six included: The Travelin’ McCourys, Sister Sadie, and The Special Consensus. I don’t know if such has previously occurred- out of necessity, I take some pride in being a bluegrass outlier. Glad to see that the industry is finally aligning- for one brief moment- with my way of thinking. The other 2 Grammy nominees were two album I didn’t encounter. I might have noticed Mike Barnett’s all-star fiddle album had he and his Kentucky Thunder band-mates (and boss) made an effort to bring merch and shake & howdy at the mercantile at Blueberry this summer, but they didn’t bother. I learned of the existence of Wood & Wire today.

Favourite Roots Albums of 2018, so far   2 comments

It’s July 1. The year is half over and during the past six months some terrific music has been released. While I have heard my share of the roots music that has come out, I haven’t heard it all. I do have my favourites and that is what I share today: Fervor Coulee’s Favourite Roots releases of 2018, so far. In no particular order…

GauthierMary Gauthier- Rifles & Rosary Beads An ambitious undertaking that has received its fair share of attention. Co-writing with American veterans and their families, Gauthier has created a piece of art greater than its parts. Of course, none of it would be as significant if the songs themselves were weak or if Gauthier faltered in their delivery. No worries. Gauthier’s indomitable performances bridge the gap between those of us who have never considered serving in the military, and those whose lives have inalterably changed because of their sacrifices. Key tracks: “Got Your Six” “The War After the War” “Brothers” (purchased download)

JohnnyCash-ForeverWordsVarious Artists- Johnny Cash Forever Words: The Music Excepting the typically overwrought Elvis Costello track (When he sang—prior to about 2000—there were few who had greater regard for him, but he lost me a long time ago—his voice is shot, he mistakes emoting for expression, and has completely lost the plot on what even sounds ‘good’) this collection provides an hour of entertainment and contemplation. Comprised of unrecorded Cash ‘songs’—lyrics, poems, or musings, depending—that were—for the most part—fleshed out by the various performers, one is transported into a series of ethereal collaborations that is very affecting. Again, like the Gauthier album, what matters is more than the process, it’s the music: this album enhances the Cash legacy, unlike some other more exploitive sets that have been released. Key tracks:    Alison Krauss & Union Station’s interpretation of Robert Lee Castleman’s “The Captain’s Daughter” Rosanne Cash’s “The Walking Wounded” Carlene Carter’s “June’s Sundown” Jamey Johnson “Spirit Rider” (purchased CD)

GebtryBobbie Gentry- Live At The BBC A Record Store Day release, this 12-track compilation of cuts from 1968 and 1969 are simply a fan’s greatest attainable wish. Performances—excepting “Ode to Billie Joe”—unheard since their original broadcast (so, brand new to most of us) that add to Gentry’s legacy. Her voice is huskier on these numbers, the arrangements sparser, the mood slightly playful: the effect is  even greater intimacy that that expressed through the album versions of the songs. Key tracks: “Papa Won’t You Let Me Go To Town With You” “Recollection” “Nikki Hokey” in a medley with Robert Parker’s “Barefootin'” name-checking Long John Baldry. (purchased vinyl)

Motel MirrorsMotel Mirrors- In The Meantime The second collaboration between Amy LaVere and John Paul Keith is every bit as satisfying as their first, with the added bonus of having folded Will Sexton and Shawn Zorn into the mix to become a genuine band. Americana with a heavy dose of Memphis heart, this is a country-rock album that owes much to the music that influenced it. Key tracks: “Things I Learned” “Do With Me What You Want” “The Man Who Comes Around” (purchased download)

MarielMariel Buckley- Driving In The Dark I would have felt bad had I not been able to include an Alberta artist on this list, and Mariel Buckley doesn’t place out of any obligation. I wasn’t familiar with her until late last year, but she has quickly become a Fervor Coulee favourite. Produced by Leeroy Stagger, these ten songs contain lyrical and instrumental nuances that make them individually appealing and collectively stout. There isn’t much polish herein, just as it should be. I avoid using the word ‘authentic,’ but that is what works here. Straight-forward, modern country (think Kelly Willis) for those of us who live in the past. Key tracks: “Rose Coloured Frames” “Heart Is On Fire” “Pride” (purchased download)

David DavisDavid Davis & the Warrior River Boys- Didn’t He Ramble: The Songs of Charlie Poole A welcome return for one of bluegrass music’s most consistently satisfying bands with a traditional bent (serviced with CD). My full review here. 

DuffeyVarious Artists- Epilogue: A Tribute to John Duffey A bluegrass legend and innovator gets his due, more than two decades after his passing (Serviced with download). My full review here.

JoyannJoyann Parker- Hard To Love Soulful and blue (serviced with CD). My full review here.

dancing500Gretchen Peters- Dancing With the Beast Americana/folk doesn’t get better than this, the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member’s ninth album of original material (purchased CD). My full review here.

HMT-Cover-862x785Hadley McCall Thackston- Hadley McCall Thackston A beautiful, stunning debut: like Venus, she emerges fully realized (serviced with CD). My full review here.

marewakefieldnomad_largeMare Wakefield & Nomad- Time to Fly There is so much good music, we can only hope that the best of it finds its way to us. Sometimes it is up to us to do the work. Search out this Nashville-based duo: they are worth it (serviced with CD). My full review here.

smds-album-cover-768x767Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar- Run To Me Southern Ontario’s soul revue gift to the world- lively, bright, and brassy (serviced with CD). My full review here.

DocWatson_LiveAtClub47_COVER-494x494Doc Watson Live at Club 47 There is no end to the live Doc Watson albums available, and some (Doc Watson On Stage, for one) are definitely more well-rounded than this set. However, this 1963 set recorded in Massachusetts is a welcome and indispensable addition for those of us who just can’t get enough of the deft, affable roots legend. Several of the songs contained here would remain staples of his live and recorded repertoire for the next five decades (“Little Sadie,” “Deep River Blues,” “Sittin’ On Top Of The World”) while others are less frequently encountered (“Little Margaret,” “Hop High Ladies The Cake’s All Dough,” and “Blue Smoke, for example.”) Watson’s connection to his audience would not waver throughout his career, and this early archival recording- coming in at almost 80 minutes- is riveting. (Purchased download)

 I limited myself to a  baker’s dozen albums. Look around Fervor Coulee- I have reviewed a lot of great roots music since January, and many wonderful albums just wouldn’t fit on this list: the latest from Peter Rowan, Sylvia, John Prine, Bob Rea, Sue Foley, The Lynnes, John Paul Keith, Mary Chapin Carpenter, The Travelin’ McCourys…

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

Fervor Coulee’s Favourite Roots & Bluegrass Albums of 2017   1 comment

Mac WisemanWhat is roots music?

I frequently have to remind myself that not everything I seek out is ‘roots.’ When I start considering Little Steven or Danko Jones (Wild Cat might have been my favourite album of 2017) albums as ‘roots’ music, I may be starting to lose the plot. So I pull myself back.

However, looking over the many lists of ‘the best of Americana, roots, folk, and bluegrass albums of 2017’ I wonder if many of us need to go back to the blackboard, and reconsider the definition of roots music. Right, there is no definition.

I started my ‘favourite roots albums of 2017’ with a list of 60 or so albums, and slowly started winnowing them to a manageable twenty. In the process most of the albums I’ve seen on other published lists fell aside (Willie Nelson’s God’s Problem Child and Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit’s The Nashville Sound among them.)

It was an excellent year for roots music, in my opinion. I know that when I mull over who else didn’t make the cut: Steve Earle, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Scott Miller, Sharon Jones, Slaid Cleaves, Rhiannon Giddens, Matt Patershuk, Doc & Merle Watson (the truncated version of the live Bear’s Sonic Journals set), Chris bleeding Hillman and Northern Cree (my final cuts), David Rawlings, Mark Erelli, Josh Ritter, Jeb Loy Nichols, Kim Beggs, Radney Foster, Dustbowl Revival, Amy Black…each album removed from consideration was naturally more difficult than the one before.

I’ve been sitting on this final version of Fervor Coulee’s Favourite Roots Albums of 2017 for a few days now, and I know I will cry out with frustration about an hour after it is published: chances are I’ve missed something special, an album of significance that fell behind a cupboard. I only discovered the latest from Eric Brace, Peter Cooper, and Thomm Jutz this week, and while I am loving it, in no way could it be fairly placed ahead of albums I’ve been appreciating for months. (Also discovered this week: this.)

As always, I have not heard every roots album released in 2017 and that is why I always refer to the list as ‘favourites,’ not best. As well, since I refuse to stream (beyond WDVX and CKUA) I can only consider that which I’ve either purchased or been serviced with from labels, artists, and PR types. I’ve chosen to roll bluegrass into the roots albums this year, eschewing a separate lists this year: that may or may not be indicative of how I’m feeling about most bluegrass releases.

Here we go: as always, no wagering.

  1. Mac Wiseman- I Sang the Song (Mountain Fever Records) While #2 came close, it couldn’t overtake this early favourite. Produced and written with care and consideration, Mac Wiseman’s story is told through carefully crafted songs performed by some of Americana, roots, and bluegrass music’s finest performers. Kudos to Peter Cooper and Thomm Jutz for fully involving ‘the voice with a heart’ in this production. Full review here. (Provided by label/PR)
  2. OtisOtis Gibbs- Mount Renraw (Wanamaker) East Nashville sage Otis Gibbs is perhaps America’s coolest working folk musician. Mount Renraw has held up over countless listenings. Full review here. (Provided by label/PR)
  3. K and CKacy & Clayton- The Siren’s Song (New West) Seldom have I been so wrong about an artist. These Saskatchewan cousins’ previous album didn’t impress me when it was released. Thankfully, I listened to both Strange Country and this most recent album with fresh ears this summer. The Siren’s Song is masterful. Full review here. (Provided by label/PR)
  4. gibson_2The Gibson Brothers- In the Ground (Rounder) The group’s finest album yet, and that is saying a lot. That it contains an entirely original set of songs makes the feat even more impressive. Full review here. (Provided by label/PR)
  5. DABDale Ann Bradley- Dale Ann Bradley (Pinecastle Records) When a Dale Ann Bradley album isn’t in my ‘top two’ of the year, you know either she has slipped or the year is particularly strong. No slip on the part of Bradley here: another masterful album of bluegrass music. Full review here. (Provided by label/PR)
  6. CrowellRodney Crowell- Close Ties (New West) Somewhere along the line, Rodney Crowell went from a compelling Americana singer and damn terrific songwriter to a walking legend: it may have happened with Close Ties, an album that saw him dig even deeper to find the heart of ten masterfully crafted songs that are more than enough for him to assume Guy Clark’s abandoned mantle. It goes beyond “It Ain’t Over Yet” and “Life Without Susanna,” as masterful as those tracks are. Every moment resonates, especially live, and the anguish with which he sings is genuine. Purchased
  7. TyminskiDan Tyminski- Southern Gothic (UMG) Along with Buffy Ste. Marie’s album, this is the one that sounds best loud. “We have a church on every corner, so why does heaven feel so far away?” Union Station’s ‘other’ main singer asks on the title track, and it just keeps going. Certainly more “Hey Brother” than “O Brother,” with Southern Gothic the bluegrass stalwart steps away from the traditional sounds he has long favoured to head toward a full-bodied rock and roll country approach that is wholly effective. The album is deep, no filler—song after song of surprisingly strong vocal and instrumental performances. Other standout tracks include “Perfect Poison,” “Temporary Love” and “Breathing Fire.” Southern Gothic has spent a solid day in my CD player on repeat on more than one occasion. Purchased
  8. ronsexsmith_3Ron Sexsmith- The Last Rider Continuing a streak of excellence, Sexsmith’s 16th (!) album may just be his finest. Excellent songs, catchy melodies, accessible production…I’ve seldom been so proud to have shown support for a musician. A very strong album, just the latest in a series of memorable, standout recordings. The songs alternate between playful and introspective, catchy and maudlin. Layered, but not flamboyant. I am really glad that I bought the album, and even more glad that I took the time to make the trek to see Ron and the band in Edmonton. Surprised and disappointed that this one didn’t receive deserving Polaris Music Prize attention. “Radio” is my favourite song of the year. Purchased
  9. Murder MurderMurder Murder- Wicked Lines and Veins (self-released) Canadian bluegrass with a side of grievous bodily harm. One of my Polaris Music Prize suggestions for this year. Full review here. (Provided by band)
  10. JaybirdsJohn Reischman & the Jaybirds- On That Other Green Shore (Corvus) Long Canada’s finest and most entertaining bluegrass band, the west coast-based band has again delivered a superior recording. Full review here. (Provided by band)
  11. JMJohn Mellencamp with Carlene Carter- Sad Clowns and Hillbillies (Republic) Full review here. (Purchased)
  12. Chris-stapleton-from-a-room-volume-1Chris-stapleton-from-a-room-volume-2Chris Stapleton- From A Room, Volumes 1 and 2 Country music’s last hope? Maybe. Not sure how he is doing it without radio support, but glad he is. Like no one else, of course, Stapleton doesn’t limit himself, reaching out to Kevin Welch (“Millionaire”), the music’s past (“Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning,” “Friendship”) and his own (“Broken Halos,” “Drunkard’s Prayer,” “Midnight Train to Memphis”) to make his new albums even stronger. (Purchased)
  13. made_to_moveChris Jones & the Night Drivers- Made to Move (Mountain Home) Full review here. (Provided by artist/label)
  14. Ann VriendAnn Vriend- Anybody’s Different EP (Aporia Records) Building on the immense power of her Love and Other Messes and For the People in the Mean Time albums, this six-track treat is on all my devices, and continues to get played regularly. A lively combination of soul, rock, and roots from a voice all should hear. (Purchased)
  15. Stax_Country_COVER_RGBVarious Artists- Stax Country (Craft Recordings/Concord Music) A deep dive into Stax’s associated country labels. Full review here. (Provided by label/PR)
  16. Akinny DyckSkinny Dyck & Friends- Twenty One-Night Stands Alberta country music is alive and well. Just not on the radio. Full review here. (Provided by Skinny Dyck)
  17. Lynn JacksonLynn Jackson- Follow That Fire (Busted Flat) My second 2018 Polaris Music Prize recommendation. Full review here. (Provided by label/PR)
  18. steve_forbert_flying_at_nightSteve Forbert- Flying at Night (Rolling Tide) I once wanted to be Steve Forbert. It didn’t happen. Forty years later, he continues to impress with each album. A bit brief for my liking, but better that than too long. Purchased
  19. buffy_3Buffy Sainte-Marie- Medicine Songs (High Romance) On which one of the most transformative Canadian artist re-imagines her catalogue, coming off her (perhaps) surprising Polaris Prize winning Power In The Blood. Collaborating with Tanya Tagaq on the powerful and catchy “You Got To Run (Spirit of the Wind,)” Sainte-Marie helps the uninitiated play catch up to 50 years of influential music. Play loud. Purchased
  20. becky warrenBecky Warren- War Surplus (Deluxe Edition) (self-released) War Surplus came out in 2016, but didn’t come to my attention until the Deluxe Edition was released this summer. A concept album (war veteran and the woman he loves), Warren has made a record to be remembered; the narrative is apparent, the instrumental and vocal changes keep us engaged, and it holds up over time. With an approach not dissimilar to Lucinda Williams although with better annunciation than we’ve experienced from LW this past decade, Warren allows listeners to become invested in her creations; the characters become real, without any of the bravado or self-satisfaction that sometimes hamstrings this type of recording. (Provided by label/PR)

That’s pretty much it for 2017 here at Fervor Coulee. I still have a couple projects sitting on my desk requiring my attention, and I will get to them next week…I hope.

It has been a great year- let’s see what the future brings.

Favourite Roots Albums of 2017, so far   Leave a comment

School ended two weeks ago, and I have been able to take the last week to relax, read, and listen—a great start to this summer. It appears that almost every online outlet has released their ‘best of 2017 (so far) list,’ so I figure I might as well get in on the action. If nothing else, hopefully someone reading will find an album they haven’t previously heard, and will be inspired to purchase it.

Americana, bluegrass, and their associated roots music are what I love, and I’ve been fortunate this year to listen to some amazing albums. Here is a list of my favourite fifteen roots albums of 2017 (so far)—and I found it difficult to narrow it down: I have no idea what I will do if this pace continues through the end of the year.

Whose albums didn’t make the list? Jason Isbell, Willie Nelson, Angeleena Presley, Jim Lauderdale, Fred Eaglesmith, Chuck Prophet, Amy Black, Slaid Cleaves, Jesse Waldman, Ray Davies, Jeffrey Halford…

Links are to my review or, where I haven’t reviewed, to the artist site.

  1. Mac WisemanMac Wiseman & Various Artists- I Sang the Song (Life of the Voice With A Heart) Yes, it is that good. My review.
  2. ronsexsmith_3Ron Sexsmith- The Last Rider Continuing a streak of excellence, Sexsmith’s 16th (!) album may just be his finest. Excellent songs, catchy melodies, accessible production…I’ve seldom been so proud to have shown support for a musician. A very strong album, just the latest in a series of memorable, standout recordings. The songs alternate between playful and introspective, catchy and maudlin. Layered, but not flamboyant. I am really glad that I bought the album, and even more glad that I took the time to make the trek to see Ron and the band in Edmonton. Surprised and disappointed that this one didn’t receive deserving Polaris Music Prize attention. “Radio” is my favourite song of the year.
  3. OtisOtis Gibbs- Mount Renraw I have been listening to Gibbs for a close to a decade, but never have I attended to this degree; a singer who was always on the periphery for me has eased himself onto my ever-narrowing list of favourites. My review.
  4. made_to_moveChris Jones & the Night Drivers- Made to Move Another excellent album from Chris Stuart & the Night Rangers. My review.
  5. CrowellRodney CrowellClose Ties With the passing of Guy Clark, Crowell heads to the front of the line of Texas songwriters. A masterful creation.
  6. demeyer_and_will_kimbrough-mokingbirdBrigitte DeMeyer and Will Kimbrough- Mockingbird Soul Largely taking the lead on alternating songs, they have produced an ideally balanced duet recording, with DeMeyer’s Side One Melissa Etheridge passionate huskiness pairing with Kimbrough’s restrained, telling honesty. Spirited, swampy, and Southern-country soul at times, in other places the songs more closely resemble what country music once was and could be again given a shot of 3614 Jackson Highway swagger. The arrangements are straight-forward rather than minimalistic, allowing the duet vocals prominence. The rest of my review.
  7. billBill Scorzari- Through These Waves Bill Scorzari lives where the Blues meets Texas Sam Baker. My review.
  8. gibson_2The Gibson Brothers- In the Ground Bringing their release total to thirteen, I believe, Eric and Leigh Gibson are at the top of the bluegrass world, a pinnacle at which they’ve resided for a decade. In The Ground may be their finest yet. An album of self-written songs, it isn’t like anything they’ve before accomplished. Still bluegrass, of course, but taking things to yet another level. My review.
  9. AMANDA-ANNE-PLATT-HONEYCUTTERS-ON-WALLAmanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters- Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters Platt is a strong songwriter and an impressive and memorable vocalist. She has that important capability to write in a variety of voices, making each genuine and authentic to the experiences conveyed. My review.
  10. richardRichard Laviolette- Taking the Long Way Home Earnest country records are few and far between. Ignoring the trappings of modern country recording, Laviolette has created a natural-sounding album, balancing the beauty and fidelity of old-time country and folk music (think Clarence Ashley and Doc Watson recordings with the refinement of original songs and expanded instrumentation) with the gravity of personal exploration and experience. My review.
  11. NellNell Robinson & Jim Nunally BandBaby, Let’s Take the Long Way Home One of my favourite guitarists and singers has teamed, over the course of four albums, with an impressive and natural vocalist, writing killer songs well-founded in the traditions of Americana.
  12. BIBB_MigrationBlues_livretEric Bibb- Migration Blues My review.
  13. brock zemanBrock Zeman- The Carnival Is Back in Town My review.
  14. lk-a-calm-sun-cover-webLesley Kernochan- A Calm Sun A bold, mature recording, free of gimmick and insincerity. My review.
  15. JebJeb Loy NicholsCountry Hustle Soulful country, as he has been doing for a very long time. Maybe my favourite album cover so far in 2017 (tho’ The Monkees Forever is giving it a run.)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              There you have them, my favourite roots albums of 2017, January to June.