Archive for the ‘folk music’ Tag

Roland White & Appleseed Recordings reviews   Leave a comment

Over at Country Standard Time, two of my reviews have been published. Roland White (& Friends) latest is a star-studded tribute to his legendary bluegrass group The Kentucky Colonels. Meanwhile, Appleseed Recordings celebrates their 21st anniversary with a three-disc set featuring several previously unreleased cuts by Fervor Coulee faves John Stewart, Bruce Springsteen, and Tom Russell. The Appleseed set is neatly divided into ‘political action songs,’ ‘singer-songwriter, rootsy kinda stuff, and mostly ‘trad. arr.’ with a broad cross-section represented: the British tradition, as well as African-American spirituals, Spanish-language songs, and old-timey songs that made the transition to being American ‘standards.’ Well-constructed. Both are highly recommended.


Eliza Gilkyson- Secularia review   1 comment


Eliza Gilkyson
Red House Records

Eliza Gilkyson has been making incredible music since long before I bumped into her with the release of Lost and Found sixteen years ago. Like Mary Chapin Carpenter (without the long-ago popular acclaim), Shawn Colvin (without the hit, and who duets on the engaging “Conservation,” a song built upon a poem from Gilkyson’s grandmother), and John Gorka (without the beard), Gilkyson has woven in-and-out of what I believe is the keenly coined “spare urban folk approach,” or—less charitably, perhaps—coffeehouse folk.

Like her contemporaries, her name occasionally appears on Grammy nomination lists, but she remains unknown to all but those most engaged with folk and contemporary adult music. Secularia isn’t likely to make Gilkyson a household name, but it offers discriminating listeners fresh opportunity to appreciate her talents.

With songs like “Dreamtime” and “Lifeline” Gilkyson explores the spiritual—not religious— bonds that unite us as democratic, accepting inhabitants of a challenged society. Like most of her albums, excepting her most recent The Nocturne Diaries which was a bit more rambunctious, Secularia is an introspective and fairly quiet album, one which requires effort on the part of the listener to engage: the grooves aren’t necessarily gonna grab you and inspire shuffling around the kitchen. Rather, these 12 songs envelope and embrace the listener, sharing their secrets and charms with an intimate manner.

Within “Conservation,” Gilkyson and Colvin sing of the continuous cycles of Earth: “I have no god, no king or saviour; no world beyond the setting sun. I’ll give my thanks for one more day here, and go to ground when my time has come.” Utilizing close harmony, the pair create a nourishing song of faith and assurance. I trust that the Tosca String Quartet joins Gilkyson on the equally compelling “Reunion,” a song that soars with emotion. [My download copy did not have accompanying song notes.] The gloves come off on “In The Name Of The Lord”hypocrites, beware.

Fellow Texan-by-choice,  the late Jimmy LaFave joins Gilkyson on a fiddle-rich take of the gospel folk standard “Down By The Riverside,” and when his voice joins her on the refrain—man, I almost lost it. An addition to his significant legacy, certainly. “Instrument” is a challenging ode, a song of self-reflection, I believe.

Secularia is a musical postcard of joy, peace, and hope, one that embraces the positivity and community of Odetta, Pete Seeger, and Woody Guthrie. Beautiful. Simply beautiful.

For lonely fools who sing their best alone in the dark.

Nancy Cassidy- River’s Rising review   Leave a comment

Cover_Rivers_Rising_smallNancy Cassidy
River’s Rising

It is hard to write about music: I prove that with every review. Sometimes the right words just don’t come, even when you are attempting to write about a project you quite like.

I am fortunate to receive unsolicited CDs in the mail: I know how tight PR budgets are, so I appreciate folks trusting me with their music. However, time just doesn’t allow me to write about every album coming my way—in a good year, I write reviews on about one-half of the albums that come to me. Not good, but that is the way it is—I do my best.

I seldom read the one-sheet or other material that comes with an album until I have all my notes, and am ready to write about it—that way my words do not come under the influence of publicity folks who can spin a spell much craftier than I. Such was the case with this Nancy Cassidy album—I’ve been listening to it for a couple months, and have played it ten or more times. I quite liked it for all of its folky sensibilities—reminded me a little of Cheryl Wheeler, whom I always enjoy—but wasn’t having any luck finding the ‘right words’ to write about it. This week, I gave it another crack and finally read the one-sheet, and was in for a surprise when I read that Cassidy had been covered by Bruce Springsteen.

Now, I do not have encyclopedic recall of all things Bruce, but I am stronger than most folks you’ll encounter during your day: ask me about Bruce b-sides, rarities, and the like, and chances are I can at least fake my way toward a fact or two.

But Springsteen singing Nancy Cassidy? Nothing clicked. Off to Google, and I smiled: “Chicken Lips and Lizard Hips,” from a charity album almost thirty years ago, and definitely one of my favourite ‘odds and sods’ Bruce selections.

While I had never knowingly heard her prior to hearing River’s Rising, my esteem for Nancy Cassidy rose another couple pegs! Anyone who can convince Bruce to sing:

Chicken lips and lizard hips and alligator eyes
Monkey legs and buzzard eggs and salamander thighs
Rabbit ears and camel rears and tasty toe-nail pies
Stir them all together, it’s Mama’s Soup Surprise.

is aces in my book.

There is a benefit to coming to an artist who has been plying their trade for years, and encountering them for the first time: they are fully-formed, confident, and take nothing in half-measures. As much as I appreciate coming in on the ground floor of a youthful or first-time recording artist, it is equally pleasant ‘discovering’ someone who has an extensive back catalogue waiting purchase: I have already downloaded Memphis, and will be keeping my eyes open for more of Nancy Cassidy’s music.

Oh, how about River’s Rising?

After the spritely fiddle kick-off of “When I Get Home,” the warm of Cassidy’s voice is the immediate appeal. She can flat sing, and does so without affectation—she simply communicates the hopeful song’s soul with a strong voice coloured by a husky smokiness.  Absolutely beautiful.

That’s pretty much how the album goes, at least through its majority: the recording ‘sounds’ largely acoustic although there are electric guitars, Wurlitzer and organ on select songs. There is a spacious quality to the recording, and even on more elaborate tracks—like the anthemic, spirited title track—the listener is not overpowered. More of a country feel comes through late in the set, with “How Wrong Is Wrong?” and “No More” having more elaborate instrumentation.

Lamenting a lover’s abandonment, Cassidy moans, “Nothin’s so lonesome as a railroad track” within “He’s Gone Away,” perhaps the album’s countriest of songs. She takes listeners on an odyssey in “Warrior of Time” while affirming solidarity on “Hold On, Sister” and “You’re Perfect.”

This is an album replete in quiet moments of insight inspiring reflection. Cassidy’s songwriting is strong, and she reveals equal comfort with poetic imagery and narrative insight. River’s Rising is a less rambunctious and perhaps more meditative album than Memphis, a recording I’ve quickly come to appreciate for its southern influences. Give it a listen.

Dulcie Taylor- Better Part of Me review   Leave a comment


Dulcie Taylor Better Part of Me Black Iris Records/

While California-based Dulcie Taylor’s music is new to this listener, the veteran singer-songwriter has numerous albums released over the past two decades. Taylor’s music reminds us of when we first heard Kimmie Rhodes, Shawn Colvin, and yes, even Lucinda Williams long ago. That Taylor isn’t the household name those artists are has nothing to do with the quality of her writing or singing.

“Watch Me Hurt” was the first song to grab my attention: the anguish of the lover being taken advantage of by a malicious heart is palatable. “I thank you for the lesson learned, people can be cruel—set you on fire just to watch you burn” she sings in the song’s final stanza, one replete with a refrain that reveals the casual infliction of cruelty—”I know you broke my heart on purpose, you needed to watch me hurt.”

Taylor doesn’t have too many songs of satisfaction and bliss on Better Part of Me, her seventh release (as best as I can tell). For some, the song titles tell part of the tale—”Long Gone,” “Hearts Have to Break” (a rustic, homey duet with producer and long-time collaborator George Naufel), and “The Moon Is Cold”—but Taylor’s songs go beyond the simple hook and cutting catch phrase, revealing the nuance and complexity of relationships.

To counterbalance the darkness, Taylor offers “I Do” (“You don’t ever have to wonder who has got your back—I promise you, I do”) and “God Did Me A Favor.” The lucidity of her voice is striking throughout the album, perhaps no more so than on the closing title track. Unlike some singers—and here, the last decade or more of Williams’ music comes to mind—Taylor artfully presents her words as important enough to articulate fully. Singing of understanding, struggles, hope, and honesty, Taylor conveys her regard for her art and her audience.

Having been inopportunely called away just as the album started its initial play a couple weeks ago, I missed the immediately satisfying opening number “Used To Know It All,” a terrific lead track. Like much of the album, this is a guitar-rich song that pulls in the listener, reminding me a little of Marshall Chapman’s most recent music: aware, self-deprecating, and absolutely stellar.

Sticking largely to what used to be sometimes referenced as folk or MOR sounds, Taylor saves her greatest rancour for us and the world we have created. On the country-ish “Halfway To Jesus,” Taylor takes us all to task for a world that is suffering from our influence, preaching “It ain’t like we haven’t been warned, now we’re living through thousand years storms; looking back, where does that leave us?” The answer is, naturally, on a journey to the ever after.

Dulcie Taylor is a new voice, to me. Discover her if you haven’t; she is worth the search.

Vivian Leva- Time Is Everything review   1 comment

Vivian Leva

Vivian Leva Time Is Everything Free Dirt Records

“I don’t believe my papa meant for me to be the last of my kind
It seems the keenest pioneers disappear at the worst time…”

“Last Of My Kind,” Paul Burch

When I was but a wee roots writer in (I think) early 2001, I recall seeing an ad in No Depression for an album that—unheard—spoke to me. The album was Paul Burch‘s Last Of My Kind, an audio tribute and companion to Tony Earley‘s (also unknown to me at the time) outstanding novel Jim the Boy. I wrote to the label, or to Burch, requesting a review copy, which in short order made its way north, and I wrote the requisite review. Last Of My Kind became my favourite roots album of the 2000-2009 period; the album mesmerized me, and I have waited for someone to dig into the album and record one of its songs: finally, it has happened.

Not that Burch’s versions weren’t ideal, they are. But as a wise man once said, for a song to live forever, it needs to be sung by others. And now “Last of My Kind” has been, by Virginia’s Vivian Leva as one of ten songs contained on her very strong debut recording, Time Is Everything.

As the daughter of noted old-time roots musicians James Leva and Carol Elizabeth Jones, one might well-believe that Appalachian inspired music would come naturally to Vivian Leva, and one wouldn’t necessarily be incorrect. After all, one imagines, she was surrounded by folk music as a child, and when your mom records with Hazel Dickens, yeah—you’ve got a head start. But that only gets your foot in the door: you have to do the wood-shedding yourself. It is obvious within the eight originals included and across the album’s entirety, that the younger Leva indeed has done the work necessary to develop her talents.

Working with multi-instrumentalist Riley Calgagno (The Onlies), Leva hits the folk world seemingly fully realized. As did Last Of My Kind, Time Is Everything speaks to me.

Similar in spirit if not execution to Dori Freeman first album of a couple years back, Time Is Everything is a most compelling collection of old-time infused modern folk music. Echoes of honky tonk troubadours find their way into Leva’s songs (“Bottom Of The Glass” and maybe my favourite among favourites “Why Don’t You Introduce Me As You Darlin’?”) without overwhelming her controlled vocal delivery. “Every Goodbye” and “Time Is Everything” are more contemporary in execution, bringing to mind the music of Sarah Jarosz and, on “Here I Am,” Sara Watkins.

“Sturdy As The Land” reveals connections to the past in both lyric, melody, and execution: the phrase “wedding bands” has seldom sounded so lonesome, and when she strains to sing, “Where did our love go?” the listener’s heart beats amid the ache of her breath’s rhythm.

Kicking off with some lively fiddle, “No Forever” takes us deeper into old-time and even bluegrass territory, where “Cold Mountains,” a hurtin’ Texas Gladdens number found within the Alan Lomax collections, is extended both lyrically and musically.

Still, the song I can’t stop listening to—as indicated in the opening paragraphs—is “Last Of My Kind.” Old-time mountain music is nothing without emotion, and Leva wrings every bit of regret and anguish Burch placed in this song of significance. Never overwrought, Leva connects with the song in a natural manner, allowing darkly-laden fiddle to work with her voice to communicate funereal reflections.

Time Is Everything. There’s a true life fact. Vivian Leva’s time has arrived. Listen.

Big Bend Killing: The Appalachian Ballad Tradition review   Leave a comment

Big Bend I had to take much of the past month away from writing, but I continued to listen to music. I can’t count the number of hours I spent listening to this amazing two-disc set. It is absolutely splendid, ideal for those of us who appreciate the old songs and the artists who keep them alive. My review has been posted at Country Standard Time. 

Dave Richardson- Carry Me Along review   Leave a comment


Dave Richardson Carry Me Along

Dave Richardson is a relatively fresh voice on the North American folk scene, and with just a bit of justice and good fortune could also soon be a familiar voice.

From Vermont, Richardson possesses a strong voice and favours clean annunciation and guitar playing. His writing is similarly straight-forward, eschewing abstract word placement in favour of personable phrasing and descriptive language that captures mood, place, and character much like an effective short story author might. Carry Me Along, his third album (I believe), is most pleasing.

The album opens with a creative paean to an artifact discovered during a trip to the Smithsonian Institute; “Squid” may be the first folk song devoted to a giant cephalopod, and Richardson sings of the mysterious sea beastie with the honesty of an earnest lover. After this yearnsome tune, the aggressive independence of “Bachelor’s Hall”—the Appalachian variant owing more to Jean Ritchie than either Steeleye Span or Martin Simpson—reveals a darker view of courting: the truth seems to be—oceanic or interpersonal—relationships may not be worth the effort.

Similar introversion and introspection are found throughout this album. Featuring a dozen cuts, Carry Me Along is 2/3 original material with a handful of familiar melodies and traditional songs providing evidence of the influence the ballad tradition has had on this emerging and certainly talented artist. Bolstered by several different female vocalists—Liv Baxter, Emily Mure, and Mali Obomsawin, who also provides most of the bass—Richardson encompasses a variety of perspectives in his songs.

Richardson’s voice is quite perfect, neither artfully brooding or overly spry. Singing of companionable “Front Porch Time,” pastoral moments observing the “Rise and Play” of a fox, and astringent recrimination while “Driving So Far,” Richardson’s authenticity is resplendent with sincerity and texture: no one and no situation is one-dimensional. Child Ballad 78—”The Unquiet Grave”—perhaps provides the foundation for Richardson’s approach to folk music: a classic folk song provided a tad of personal inspiration without detracting from that which survived centuries.

Richardson rescues The McGarrigle’s barroom angel “Annie” (written by long-time collaborator Chaim Tannenbaum) from obscurity, late in the set pairing this ’74 out-take with the more idyllic, hopeful, and guitar-rich “Goodbye Baltimore.” Richardson also delivers a masterfully rendered interpretation of the  devastating murder ballad “Polly’s Ghost,” known variously elsewhere as “Love and Murder,” “The Cruel Ship’s Carpenter,” “Polly’s Love,” and “The Ghost Song”: one gets the drift.

Modern folk, true folk—that is music rooted in the tradition and performed within a traditional configuration—is increasingly rarely encountered. All the more reason to celebrate the music of Dave Richardson and his little masterpiece, Carry Me Along. One for the year-end list, I’m predicting.

Posted 2018 March 11 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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