Archive for the ‘Fervor Coulee Bluegrass’ Tag

New James King music, via Po’ Ramblin’ Boys   Leave a comment

PRB James King At Fervor Coulee Bluegrass, I feature two new songs from The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, one of the more traditional of the recent crop of bluegrass bands. You will find my piece at http://www.countrystandardtime.com/blog/FervorCouleeBluegrass/entry.asp?xid=1118

 

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Gold…In A Way- James King “Thirty Years of Farming”   Leave a comment

 

Jame KingOne of my favourite parts of writing about bluegrass music is occasionally looking back at the great music I’ve had the pleasure of encountering, and giving it another listen with the ears of time. Gold In A Way is how I do it, and I’ve posted another one at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass. It is about James King’s great album Thirty Years of Farming; give it a read if you are so inclined. A Google search will locate a slate of live performance videos of James singing the song.

Every once in awhile, I get to thinking about what life would be like if bluegrass was mainstream. And then I wake up.

Still, there are decades of great bluegrass behind us, and more wonderful albums being released every month. With fewer and fewer stores stocking bluegrass (and music in general), some of us may have a hard time finding the music we love. With less selection comes fewer chances to come across and album and decide, “Yup-that’s what I didn’t know I was looking for today.”

Gold…In A Way is my little way to occasionally remind ourselves of album we should be listening to. Today’s edition looks back to 2002 and Rounder Records’ release of James King’s “Thirty Years of Farming,” perhaps King’s finest album start to finish. As we approach the first anniversary of “The Bluegrass Storyteller’s” death at age 57, it seems a fine time to look back at this terrific album.

“Thirty Years of Farming” was James’ fourth Rounder release, and when the album arrived I was immediately struck by the quality of the recording. As well, I found it to be a treat to have the singer backed by his touring band- no guests, no distractions- just hardcore, cry with your head on the steering wheel, road hewn, bluegrass!

With “Thirty Years of Farming,” the Carroll County, Virginia native had again produced a nourishing blend of stellar bluegrass lead singing instrumentally backed, in turns, with sensitivity, passion, and drive. I found upon release and again listening today, that it was obvious why “Thirty Years of Farming” was chosen to kick off the album. The song would become a King signature, perhaps his most universally popular number and one that even adorned King’s souvenir t-shirts in his final years.

King takes Fred Eaglesmith’s tale of familial farming regret in a subtly different direction than the songwriter. Where Eaglesmith appeared never far from making the bankers pay for their heartless business acumen, King is resigned to the fate of the family farm, if no less emotionally invested- as if he saw the foreclosure coming from the very day the mortgage was signed.

The James King Band of the day- Kevin Prater (mandolin), Joe Clark (bass), Adam Poindexter (banjo), Owen Saunders (fiddle), and King (guitar)- were as talented a quintet as to be found in bluegrass. “Heartbreak Express” was given an aggressive Kentucky Thunder-type arrangement. The album closer, “Play Us A Waltz,” was right in all the maudlin ways an old folks home lament should be. “Toil, Tears, and Trouble” featured tremendous mando breaks for those who like their bluegrass sounds fast and sharp. A couple songs closely associated with George Jones, “Flame In My Heart” and “Color of the Blues,” were given soft, countrygrass arrangements.

Vocally, James King was never given to flash, and some might suggest he wasn’t even especially distinctive in range or pitch; he never swooped down too low, and didn’t soar terribly high. What King did do, perhaps better than anyone else, was become part of the song. He sold it. Anyone who experienced him live recalls how he would choke up on particular songs, overcome with the associated emotions.

With fifteen years of hindsight, and listening to his phrasing within “Roy Lee” (an amazing tribute to Roy Lee Centers written by Billy Smith and Mel Besher) or “Toil, Tears, and Trouble,” one senses the restrain and control King possessed to sing without resorting to affectation. King sang like a dog chases trucks- with natural intensity. And this quality is apparent throughout “Thirty Years of Farming.” A song I overlooked initially was “Days of Grey and Black,” a Cullen Galyean song with which I wasn’t familiar at the time. As many bluegrass albums have done, this one eventually sent me on a search for historical recordings.

Reviewing the album for “Bluegrass Now” in 2003, I expressed two complaints with “Thirty Years of Farming,” both relating to song selection. “Here Today and Gone Tomorrow” appeared then to be just another song of a man carrying on about the woman who done him wrong (“some of them ain’t ever satisfied”) while refusing to accept any responsibility for the situation. That opinion hasn’t changed. What has adjusted in my wee brain is the importance such a song has in the oeuvre. That down-on-life sufferer’s perspective is just as valid as the next guy’s, and who am I to judge if he wants to remain shattered by his own decisions. I may not appreciate this type of song as much as some may, but no one can argue with the strength of King’s performance of the song.

Sung by mandolinist Kevin Prater, Carl Smith’s “I Overlooked An Orchid” is a number better left to a previous generation- lyrically awkward and stale in theme: I stand by that judgment.

Despite that misstep, “Thirty Years of Farming,” produced by Ken Irwin with assistance from Ray Deaton, completed the James King Grand Slam initiated by “Bed By The Window,” “Lonesome and Then Some,” and “These Old Pictures.” King would go on to release another two albums, “The Bluegrass Storyteller” and the Grammy-nominated “Three Chords and the Truth.” Recording for Rounder, King never released a bad album. “Thirty Years of Farming” remains a personal favorite, and may have been his recording pinnacle.

Originally published elsewhere:

If you know bluegrass, you know James King.

The Bluegrass Storyteller, James King, has died.

In a week that has already seen the death of the dean of country music songwriters, Guy Clark, and the mostly unnoted death of Johnny Seay, King’s passing extends the shadow lingering over the Americana music world.

According to the release from his label, Rounder Records, King was 57 years old. He had been suffering from cirrhosis of the liver, and was surrounded by family and friends when he passed away May 19.

From the release:

King died peacefully, surrounded by family and close friends, including his longtime girlfriend, Becky Rhodes; his brothers Andy and Jason, and sister-in-law Leticia; his aunts Debbie Moxley and Nadine Isley; and friends Junior and Susan Sisk, Dudley and Sally Connell, Harry and Louise Rhodes, and Charlie Snelling.

Born in Martinsville, Virginia on September 9, 1958, and raised in Carroll County, King grew up immersed in bluegrass. Both his father and his uncle were professional bluegrass musicians, and during his formative years, King was surrounded by music.

Following a stint in the Marine Corps, King decided to follow family tradition, and launched his musical career. He was signed to Rounder Records in 1992, where he released a series of critically acclaimed and award-winning albums, including his last recording for the label, 2013’s Grammy-nominated “Three Chords & the Truth.”

Among his many achievements, King was a 12-time Bluegrass Music Award Winner, and in 1997, the International Bluegrass Music Association voted the James King Band the “Emerging Artist of the Year.”

In 2014, King was inducted into the Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame. Alison Krauss sent along the following remarks, which were read at the ceremony: “Nine years ago, my father and I heard a man singing in a jam session between two campers in Maryland when it was pitch black outside. Our jaws hung open, and then we had to search the festival site to retrieve the top of my head. The voice we heard was magnificent. It was so powerful, emotive, haunting, and one of a kind. It was you, singing ‘Cry, Cry, Darlin.” We had the opportunity to speak with you, and found your spirit and generosity shared the same qualities. I’m so happy you are receiving this award. How proud the state of Virginia must be to be able to claim you as their own, and to give this award to someone whose voice has taken so many of us back to another time when life had such a beautiful, simple dream attached to it. Congratulations James King. FANTASTIC!!!”

Rounder Records co-founder Ken Irwin signed King in 1992, and produced a number of his recordings for the label. Irwin reflects, “James had an uncanny ability to wring the emotion out of every song he sang, and he was one of the most intuitive singers in all of bluegrass. He sang from and to the heart, and had the rare gift of being able to make audiences feel, no matter what it was he was singing about. He was a born storyteller, and loved to tell stories before, during, and after songs.” He continues, “His love of singing and entertaining came through in everything he did, and those qualities made him one of the most popular and beloved artists on the bluegrass circuit. James’ big voice was only matched by his outsize personality. He was my friend, and I will miss him.”

King was predeceased by his daughter Shelby Ann, who died in 2012. Funeral arrangements will be announced shortly.

I crossed paths with James King several times, reviewed his recordings more frequently, and appreciated his talent through recordings most often. My impressions are limited.

James King may have been the worst businessman bluegrass has ever known, and that is saying something. If you don’t know the stories, you likely don’t need to.

But, damn-the man could sing.

The first James King song I heard might have been “Leavin'” a track off his 1993 album “These Old Pictures.” But, it could have just as easily been “Letters Have No Arms” or “A Few Old Memories.” He loved the sentimental songs, and could find depths of emotion in songs that others never reached. Over the years, I heard him sing live on four or five different occasions, and never left disappointed-even when he was not at peak performance.

During the summer of 2014, I was pleased to hear King sing in concert one last time. By any measure, it was not a classic performance. Noticeably gaunt and obviously not in peak physical condition, his set wasn’t as strong as any bluegrass professional would expect to deliver. The man was ill, noticeably failing, and-if the picking lot gossip was to be believed-not expected to see out the month.

The performance was a bit rambling, but King still commanded the stage.

Grasstowne’s Kameron Keller stepped in on banjo, while James’s regular bassist John Marquess and mandolin player- whose name I missed beyond Ron- greatly assisted in helping King get through the set.

James did quite a bit of talking on stage, emotion entering his voice several times when talking about his band members and his appreciation for the audience. Performing seated, King appeared to gain energy as his set unfolded. Apparently working without a set list, the band members did their best to perform the songs King called out.

“Iron Curtain” was more ragged than right, and an impromptu “Bill Cheatham” almost didn’t make it onto the rails, let alone fall off of them, but by the time he launched into “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” King’s voice had warmed up, and things just kept getting better. Promising “something old and good,” he launched into “Darling Say Won’t You Be Mine” before slipping into the always impactful “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore.”

King paid tribute to both James Alan Shelton and George Shuffler by picking out “The Wildwood Flower” and “Home Sweet Home.”

More Stanley music followed with “Our Last Goodbye” and his set closing “I Am Weary, Let Me Rest.” “Thirty Years of Farming” was shouted from the audience (I can’t imagine by whom!), and King performed this bluegrass chart-topping Fred Eaglesmith song as his encore.

Few were seated as King left the stage, with the audience showing genuine affection for The Bluegrass Storyteller. Having seen six or seven James King sets over the years, this was certainly not the strongest I had seen, but I was certainly glad I got to hear him again.

I wasn’t close with James King, and he never remembered me from one meeting to the next. I did assist him unload his vehicle once in Nashville, booked him into a set of shows through the province once, and shook his hand several times. During a dinner once, we shared tales-he sharing more than I was able to-and he expressed some bitterness. Still, I always found him to willingly accept responsibility for his faults.

Trying to get James to tape a radio promo for my radio show of the day was challenge. No matter how many times he tried, he couldn’t get his mouth around “Waskasoo Bluegrass Music Society,” the sponsor of the program, nor my surname. After eight or ten takes, we simplified things to “Donald.” Nailed it. By the time we finished, James, the band, and I were all killing ourselves laughing.

James King loved a freebee. I remember supplying him and the band with a set of Waskasoo Bluegrass “Pork & Fiddle” t-shirts while visiting Red Deer, although I’m not sure they were large enough for them! On that occasion, and others, I purchased merchandise from King I never needed, just because I knew he needed the cash flow. I know I’m not the only one who did.

All of those memories fade compared to the obvious joy I saw on his face watching him on the Grammy Award red carpet a few years back. With his spouse (I believe) by his side, he was beaming. On the top of the world. Accepted.

That’s the way I choose to recall James King.

I’ve been listening to “The Dark,” “Old Friends,” and “My Favorite Picture of You” this week. Now I will be dusting off “Lonesome and Then Some,” “Three Chords and the Truth,” and “Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys Introducing James King.”

Infamous Stringdusters- Laws of Gravity review   Leave a comment

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Over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass, I have posted my review of The Infamous Stringduster’s seventh album, Laws of GravityIt is a pretty terrific album, one that continues their evolution within their definition of bluegrass, newgrass, jam-band, big tent acoustic Americana. I quite enjoyed the album.

In preparation of writing the review, I went back to the shelves and was surprised to find that I had only three of their previous albums, the debut Fork in the Road and its follow-up The Infamous Stringdusters as well as both the download of Silver Sky and the deluxe edition which came with the live album We’ll Do It Live.

I must have misplaced their third album somewhere, because when I purchased the download earlier this month, it sounded immediately familiar. I share this because I think sometimes folks feel that writers, even we of the freelance variety, get all their music free. I certainly don’t. [I was serviced with Laws of Gravity; that is why I wrote about it.]

In order to write this review, I purchased downloads of Things That Fly, Let It Go, Undercover, and Ladies & Gentlemen. I did that to ensure that my perspective on Laws of Gravity was fully informed. I will never, ever make back that $3o from my review of Laws of Gravity (once upon a time…O, how I sometimes long for 2005!), but in order to write about a band I need to understand their music.

Apparently, I stopped intently listening to The Infamous Stringdusters some time ago, and I am now- having listened to their albums for the past three weeks- regretful of that: won’t happen again. I am listening to their set from last year’s DelFest as I type these words, and I am reminded of how impressed I was the first time I heard them live- maybe on WDVX- and how incredible their concert in Red Deer was almost a decade ago. They are a great band- not necessarily ‘bluegrass’ as I understand it, but a damned fine group of musicians and singers. Check out my review over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass, and feel free to let me know what you think.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

The Infamous Stringdusters “Laws of Gravity” Compass Records by Donald Teplyske

Over the course of a decade and six previous albums, The Infamous Stringdusters have continually evolved their vision of acoustic string music. There is no one quite like them.

Their early albums for Sugar Hill were most identifiably bluegrass, and the group was embraced for their modern interpretation. They received three International Bluegrass Music awards for their debut recording, including Song and Album of the Year, and were nominated for Best Country Instrumental at the 2011 Grammy Awards.

Subsequently, and recording independently, the band’s global vision of the music’s place in the big tent of Americana was lauded by the industry. Their music remained gripping if slightly less recognizable as ‘bluegrass’ as elements of the jam band environ became more apparent.

Most recently, the five members of the Stringdusters received accolades for their previous Compass recording, “Ladies & Gentlemen,” a well-received, wide-ranging collection on which they support vocalists, from Claire Lynch, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Joan Osborne to Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O’Donovan and Sara Watkins.

The group has long been recognized as one of the most energetic live groups, and while their approach has never been remotely traditional, they have consistently been a popular draw and have broadened the appreciation of the music into venues and festivals that one doesn’t necessarily associate with ‘grass.

“Laws of Gravity” is their most complete and consistent recording since 2010, an intense bluegrass flavour for those looking for the unconventional within modern acoustic sounds. It builds on the growth the group experienced through “Silver Sky” and “Let It Go,” but the songs are more succinct musically, and consequently memorable. You can hear bluegrass’s influence on every song, but few are going to suggest this is the music of a bluegrass band.

The disc kicks-off with the ‘cold’ opening of Jeremy Garrett launching into “Freedom,” a rousing, spirited song floating along lively banjo notes from Chris Pandolfi.

Co-written with Jon Weisberger, “A Hard Life Makes a Good Song” speaks truth within the parameters of a fairly conventional (for the Stringdusters) bluegrass song. Garrett’s fiddle is featured prominently, while guitarist Andy Falco is also provided considerable room to manoeuvre. DJs, listen up.

Falco takes the lead on “This Ol’ Building,” an introspective song that we should all consider before embrace the next thing to come along: intentional or not, there are political overtones to this one. The collective, gospel quality of the vocal arrangement is powerful and lasting in its impact.

With four lead vocalists, Stringduster albums always have considerable diversity within their recordings, an appealing element for those of us who feel an attraction to variety. What remains consistent and unifying is the power of their presentation, even when things threaten to spiral away as in “Gravity,” a Travis Book sung number that has as much in common with The Moody Blues as it does the String Cheese Incident. Nothing wrong with some unbridled fervor.

Andy Hall does a commendable job on his lead pieces. “Black Elk” is epic, and his intense delivery, in counterpoint to Pandolfi’s banjo notes and the mid-song dreamy instrumental interlude, only magnifies the impact. “Vertigo” is pointedly poetic and “Let Me Know” is similarly appealing.

Co-writing with folks both well-known and less so (Becky Buller, Sarah Sisking, Travis McKeveny, Josh Shilling, Athena Desai) The Infamous Stringdusters have solidified their place as one of the most engaging, intriguing bands making modern acoustic music that includes elements of bluegrass while reflecting shards of influence from far beyond. The group retains their identifiable sound while further redefining acoustic Americana.

This isn’t my father-in-law’s bluegrass. It isn’t so much even my bluegrass, as I tend to be much more traditional in what I view through a bluegrass lens.

Nope, this is Infamous Stringdusters music, and they lay out newgrass with a side of jam-band like no one else. Laws are for society and science, not music. “Laws of Gravity” is a heady, enthusiastic album filled with energy and passion.

Recent Roots Americana Reviews   Leave a comment

Things have been hopping in the Fervor Coulee Bunker. Several reviews have been posted at the usual sites.

42354Darrell Scott has long been a personal favourite. His latest release is very impressive. My review is up at Country Standard Time. http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=5983

Guy and RosanneGuy Clark passed this week, and I can’t add to the quality of tributes shared across the web. I offer only my favourite picture of him, taken in July of 1996 at the Calgary Folk Music Festival. He and Rosanne Cash were singing “Watermelon Dream.” It isn’t an exaggeration to write that Guy Clark changed the way I listen to music. He was a heck of a nice guy the one time I shook his hand, and I know I will listen to his songs to my final days.

James KingJames King also succumbed this week. My thoughts are posted at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass. http://www.countrystandardtime.com/blog/FervorCouleeBluegrass/entry.asp?xid=1090

Additional reviews have been posted at Lonesome Road Review.

nudie-night-itunes-webPEI’s Nudie released an excellent album of country honky tonk this spring: http://lonesomeroadreview.com/everythings-different-night-nudie/

TributeToJackHardy_SmithsonianAlbum_2016Mar__SFS_60007_JackHardyTribute_Cover__BI had never heard of Jack Hardy before receiving A Tribute to Jack Hardy to review. It is quite an interesting album: http://lonesomeroadreview.com/tribute-jack-hardy-various-artists/

Steve-Coffey-Paint-SongsSteve Coffey has long been one of my favourite singer-songwriters, Albertan or otherwise. His latest set is a combination book of paintings and music that has limited release: http://lonesomeroadreview.com/paint-songs-steve-coffey/ I love Coffey’s visual work as much as I love his writing and singing. An amazing package.

More reviews are in the pipeline. Thanks, always, for visiting Fervor Coulee- hopefully you find artists to explore. Donald

 

James Reams & the Barnstormers- Rhyme & Season   Leave a comment

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I’ve never hidden the fact that James Reams is one of my favourite people in bluegrass. He gets to the heart of the music each and every time, whether interpreting an underheard classic of the genre, reinventing a country song, or performing one of his many excellent original numbers. Now based in Arizona, the longtime Brooklyn bluegrass mainstay returns this spring with a wonderful new album, “Rhyme & Season.”

Over at Country Standard Time, we’ve posted three articles that-taken together-take the reader through the project’s germination. If you have the patience, here is James Reams and “Rhyme & Season,” mostly in his own words.

Part One: the main article- http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/article.asp?xid=1203

Part Two: a little bit more- http://www.countrystandardtime.com/blog/FervorCouleeBluegrass/entry.asp?xid=1083

Part Three: song-by-song- http://www.countrystandardtime.com/blog/FervorCouleeBluegrass/entry.asp?xid=1084

After reading, I hope you are as enthused about James Reams & the Barnstormers as I have been for a dozen years.

Donald

Catching Up on Missed Cross-Posts   3 comments

I try to link through everything I write for Lonesome Road Review, Country Standard Time, and Fervor Coulee Bluegrass here at Fervor Coulee, but inevitably some items get missed. While watching the new Bear Family DVD of BR5-49’s live 1996 German show, I thought I would try to catch some of the missed links.

I’m a big fan of Dale Ann Bradley, a great admirer of not only her bluegrass talent but of the person. I wrote a review of her latest, now Grammy-nominated, album Pocket Full of Keys.

My review of Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s uninspired second album is over at CST. I try to be positive, but it doesn’t always work out- gotta call it like I hear it. Ditto one from the Vickie Vaughn band. A tribute to the Carter Family by Antique Persuasion, featuring a trio of respected roots types, was also missed.

Low Lily is a band I don’t know too much about, but my review of their debut EP is up at Lonesome Road Review. Mr. Sun is a quasi-grass string band led by Darol Anger. The Traditional Grass were an outstanding trad bluegrass band, and Rebel recently released a compilation. I also reviewed Allison Moorer’s and Shelby Lynne’s latest releases late last summer.

Some of my links to LRR pieces have gone dead; I’ll try to fix that over the Christmas break.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. donald

Gold…In A Way- The SteelDrivers, featuring Chris Stapleton   Leave a comment

imagesOver at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass, I’ve posted an update to my 2008 review of The SteelDrivers’ debut album. Gold…In A Way is a semi-regular thing I do where I look back on a favoured bluegrass release. I was prompted to do this one by Chris Stapleton’s absolutely unexpected crowning as the CMA’s Male Vocalist of the Year, as well as Best New Artist and Album of the Year. “Traveller” is, no doubt, a great album, and Stapleton is a fabulous singer and songwriter, but no one-not even his pal Nelson at WDVX could have anticipated that he would win three awards last week.

I’m also linking in my review to The SteelDrivers’ latest album, The Muscle Shoals Sessions, published awhile ago at Country Standard Time; I can’t find a link to it here- must have missed that. As well, I reviewed Hammer Down there a couple years back.

Yup, I do love me some SteelDrivers.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald