Archive for the ‘folk music’ Tag
I was asked to contribute some reviews to Lonesome Road Review recently. I am likely writing a little less for LLR and Country Standard Time than I had in the past, but I do find time to get a couple or three done monthly. These days, there is little to no money in freelance writing on the level I do it-back in the early to mid-aughts I had a steady little stream of revenue coming from various publications, but that has pretty much dried up. Fortunately for me, I have a true career to pay the bills, and I am able to leave paying jobs to those who actually are writing for a living…and who are usually a bit better at it than I am.
Anyhow, two new reviews have been posted. The Special Consensus is one of my favourite bluegrass bands going back almost twenty years, and their most recent Compass Records release Long I Ride is another really strong recording. Last year Darrell Scott released 10: Songs of Ben Bullington, a masterful recording that I’ve been listening to monthly if not weekly since it came out. We don’t usually review albums so long after release, but Aaron sent it to me and therefore I did; I hope I did the album justice. I also failed to link in my review of Scott’s latest, Couchville Sessions. Sigh. Here it is. Or, if I did, the search tool isn’t finding it.
In cleaning up Fervor Coulee at year end, I can’t find my review of Josh Williams’ Modern Day Man cross-posted. Country Standard Time had me write about it on release, so if you missed it, there it is.
And finally, I hope- my review of Dori Freeman’s debut was posted at Lonesome Road Review, but I neglected to link it here. I’m not very good at this, am I?
Anyhow, all these albums are worth your consideration, no matter when you locate the reviews. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Red Tail Ring Fall Away Blues www.RedTailRing.com
It was a wonderful summer of beautiful music. So much to hear, and I’m certain it wasn’t only my experience that there was an abundance of quality.
Blue Highway’s Original Traditional and Kristin Scott Benson’s Stringworks. Anna Egge & the Sentimentals’ Say That Now. Terrific blues albums from Duke Robillard and Ronnie Earl. Blue Moon Marquee’s unconventional Gypsy Blues. Bryan Sutton’s outstanding The More I Hear, The Earls of Leicester’s Rattle & Roar, and Sam Bush’s Storyman. Unbridled folk from Vincent Cross and Craig Morgan, and BD Harrington’s game changing The Diver’s Curse. Maria Dunn’s epic Gathering. Then there was the music I didn’t write about, but still enjoyed and found something within—Karl Blau, Chip Taylor, Kieran Kane, and Chelle Rose. Hell, The Monkees put out maybe the best album of the summer, dammit: I will not listen to contrary arguments on that.
Roots music isn’t a competition, of course—except on awards night, then all bets are off—but the album I have listened to more often than any other these past few months? Red Tail Ring’s Fall Away Blues.
I’m not sure why other than it just connected with me. I don’t have a previous relationship with the group, and had never heard of them before the disc appeared in my mailbox. I am more than a bit ‘over’ male-female pairings performing laments inspired by too many listenings of Time (The Relevator) and the Harry Smith box set. I have more than enough clawhammer banjo sets of folk and mountain tunes on my shelves. And, you may already know how I feel about ‘evocative’ duo monikers that go beyond birth names.
How did this relatively unheralded set have such a significant impact on me that it took about two months to (barely) uncover the words to attempt a review?
It is danged freakin’ good.
This Michigan duo of Laurel Premo and Michael Beauchamp is incredible. They have the very rare ability to inhabit songs, removing the barrier of time, place, and reality between their performance of ancient tunes “Yarrow” and “Come All Ye Fair & Tender Ladies, their own timely compositions, the recorded medium, and the audience. Billy Bragg and Joe Henry do similarly on their recent Shine A Light, albeit without the original songs: you are transported into the recording, watching the pair lean into their songs as they maintain eye contact to communicate chords and progressions.
Premo’s “The New Homeplace” bridges the passion, energy, and fear of new experiences, and evokes the sounds of generations. The duo bravely examines their still fresh Kalamazoo hometown murders in “Gibson Town,” utilizing a blues foundation to attempt comprehension of the inexplicable: like many folk songs, details are left in the shadows with emotion on full display. Beauchamp’s “A Ghost Whispers” evokes the mystery of inspiration within a poetic assemblage of images and notes. His “For the Love of the City” is more linear, but no less stirring.
Throughout Fall Away Blues, Red Tail Ring elevate their music from the past. As troubadours must, Premo and Beauchamp confront that which challenges them. They face the environmental and social impacts of “Shale Town.” The past and perhaps self are left behind as memory in “Visiting,” a song that makes me think of Hazel Dickens and her journey from rural poverty to urban factory hope: “I never find you when I go home, I remember you there, but now I’m alone.”
Within the album’s monumental title track, Premo lays out the heart of every roots musician worthy of the name: “If I should lose most everything, I tell you what I would do; I’d pull some bow across the string…If you broke that fiddle bow, I tell you what I would do: I’d start singing another tune…”
And so it goes.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. I hope your time has been well spent. Buy some roots music—if you think it is worth listening to, it had better be worth buying! Donald
Trevor Alguire Perish in the Light
For those who have been paying attention, and I have admittedly not paid enough, Trevor Alguire has carved out a little niche for himself on the Canadian singer-songwriter circuit. His song “Thirty Year Run” was a realistic portrayal of life, all the more impressive for its wisdom beyond years, “I’m Going Crazy (Out of Your Mind)” was a country hit waiting for radio, and “Cold Words” plumbed emotional depths as starkly as John Hiatt often does.
On Perish in the Light Alguire again looks into the darkness of relationships and the vitality of lives, exploring the inner-most thoughts of folks brave enough to ponder their circumstance. There is an echo of Billy Bragg in his voice (“The Ghost of Him,” “I’ll Be Who I Am,”) which is really strange as I also hear Corb Lund coming through in places (“Long Way Home,” “Flash Flood.”)
The cinematic “My Sweet Rosetta” sketches an everlasting love, and features the strong vocal presence of Catherine MacLellan and the wonderfully poetic image of “my bullet-proof sweater.” Like Mark Erelli, Alguire sketches life’s complexities of turmoil and wonder in just a few lines, coalescing a lifetime of challenge, doubt, and absurdity into a relatable couplet.
“I’d rather hold her memory tight than waste my days with you,” from “Out of Sight Out of Mind” doesn’t even require a second line to nail things down, placing punctuation on enduring love. Man, that is one excellent song. “Wasting My Time With You” explores the opposite, cutting a relationship to the quick. “Long Way Home” is a song of promise and assurance. “If I Had Stayed in School” is a songwriter’s manifesto.
Production choices deserve mention as instruments are placed to the front of the mix, emphasizing the collaborative nature of the recording. Beautifully balanced, Alguire’s vocals rise through and above in these brilliant little songs; give a listen to the first minute of “My Sweet Rosetta” to hear an audio visionary to full effect. Bob Egan contributes pedal steel with Miranda Mulholland’s fiddle serving as additional connection to the country sound.
Perish in the Light is a great album, one I will be nominating for the Polaris Prize. It won’t win, but it deserves a conversation.
Always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Support your local roots musicians.
Maria Dunn Gathering Distant Whisper Music
One of Alberta’s foremost folk musicians—I believe only John Wort Hannam is her equal—returns with her sixth collection of lyrically-rich gems. An artist who places her convictions and heart on display in complementary proportions, Dunn has found balance between sharing the inspirational and compelling within songs that are insightful, artfully constructed, and just plain enjoyable.
There will always be more than a bit of the Celtic lands in Dunn’s music, and throughout Gathering African, Asian, and Canadian First Nations influences can also be heard. An overarching theme of community connection is woven into each number, ably achieved through Dunn’s soulful lyrics and the contributions of collaborators including long-time partners Shannon Johnson, Jeremiah McDade, and Solon McDade. As always, one comes away from this Dunn recording knowing more about the world than one was previously aware.
Like the finest troubadours, Dunn communicates: she is the vessel through which others exist. She reveals the innermost, personal, and captivatingly universal perspectives and insights of devoted parents, the down-trodden challenged by circumstance, those connected to the land by more than choice, and the youthful who rise above.
Beautiful stuff Gathering is, certainly one of the finest recordings to be released this year. Those who compare Maria Dunn to Woody Guthrie, Hazel Dickens, Jean Ritchie, and Buffy Sainte-Marie aren’t taking the easy way out: with the release of Gathering she demonstrates that she is an international folk artist of significance.
Video of “When I Was Young” from Gathering. Several other videos from other projects, too.
The Diver’s Curse
Jeff Black. Bill Callahan. Steve Coffey. Great Lake Swimmers. Brock Zeman. Eliza Gilkyson.
If those names mean anything to you, and you like what those names mean to you, you are advised to search out BD Harrington, an Irish-Canadian who splits his time between London and Toronto.
“This ain’t no town, it’s a thumbnail sketch of hell.” “Boxers Hit Harder”
I don’t recommend this album as driving music. Like much of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s music of the past ten years, The Diver’s Curse is so all-encompassing that one may find oneself concentrating a bit too intently on the coming lyrical gifts, and forgetting about the oncoming traffic.
“Your fears are waves and your fears are stone, in grief you will come to praise.” “Resusci-Anne”
A penetrating collection of songs, Harrington’s approach to roots music is a blend of poetic influence—lyrical and musical—that is appealing and lasting. I’m not going to attempt to interpret lines such as “The dress you’ve got on is pigeon blood/torn up the sides and splattered with mud/you’re spitting out your sermonettes/you’re saying things, girl, that I know you’ll regret” (“Black Waves”) because they are a (far) bit beyond me, but the encompassing atmosphere is so pleasant (in a disturbed manner) that I have found myself spending many hours with The Diver’s Curse over the past two months.
“You’re a case study in light, dreaming in your bed tonight, you ride your shadow ‘cross the sea.” “Nightingale Lane”
I’m just not sure what to write about the album, and that failing is perhaps a testament to my limitations as a writer. But damn, “dancing about architecture” has never made more sense.
“In the early morning eye of the beholder.” “Early Morning Eye”
Harrington (guitars, piano, organ, as well as vocals) is joined by (unfamiliar to me) Kel McKeown (drums,) Adam Richens (lead guitar,) and Tom Goldsmith (bass) as well as several others including (ah, a musician with whom I am familiar) Don Kerr (mandolin, cello, accordion.) They create a tapestry of music equal parts VU and Cowboy Junkies. It is beautiful, of course, embracing and certainly challenging.
“An air-tight dream of permanence in a place so serene, hushed and immense.” “One Match Left”
Harrington borrows from poets Kenneth Patchen and Charley Causley for inspiration, but creates songs that are entirely his own: I’ve never heard anything quite like “Contamana,” and I’ve been around a bit. “Sleepy John” is a recrimination of responsibility; “Apple Cart” challenges our ownership of the past. “Little Birds” is a suiting farewell. Water is recurring, its image providing metaphor and allusion throughout. Andrew Sweeny’s “In Your Arms” is a welcome meditation.
“There’s a memory that I keep but do not trust, here beside me under long-settled dust.” “Contamana”
Here’s what I’ve decided: some albums should just be listened to, track-by-track. BD Harrington’s The Diver’s Curse is one of them.
I love folk music. Raw, honest, impassioned: railing against the system and injustices, documenting the trials, trails and travails of the voiceless, the downtrodden—the raising of voices in harmony, joy, and celebration, marking the events tying us to each other. There is nothing like folk music.
Vincent Cross’ new album Old Songs for Modern Folk ticks all my boxes. Ancient melodies revitalized to contemporary circumstances mixing with original thoughts, comments, and approaches, all folded together into an unadorned mix of guitar and voice with banjo on a couple numbers. Beautiful.
Never heard of Vincent Cross? Me neither. We need to fix that.
Based in NYC, Cross comes to us via Australia from Ireland. No indie-rock wannabe disguising himself as a folk-singer, Cross seems to come by his folk affliction naturally. Imagine him in a corner of your living room, singing “Alone,” his original that borrows a wee bit from “Dark Hollow”/”East Virginia Blues,” you and yours imbibing in whatever bitter brew available—and you make that connection: you haven’t lived the words, but you are familiar with the conviction—your life and an empty dram have way too much in common.
That’s the power of folk music, even if it only hits you for a moment or three it impacts you, and you take a different path.
Old Songs for Modern Folk is full of those moments. “Michael Brown,” based on “Louis Collins” is a tale we know too well, one that will likely continue to play out in our cities this summer: different name, same situation. Without being obvious, “Garments of Shame” exposes the Bangladesh garment factory collapse as a product of the western world’s desire for cheap clothing. “Zora’s Blues” and “Going Down that Road” complement each other although they are very different songs: tempered by loss and perhaps missed opportunity, strength emerges.
Each listener will find their own way into this very appealing album. Maybe it will be “Ode to an Old Guitar,” one where the “deep cracks beneath the surface veneer are the wounds of the sorrows that you hear.” Perhaps, “As the Crow Flies” a set of songwriting clichés combined to create something quite endearing. Or, “The Ballad of Roosevelt Avenue” which could be a lost TVZ lyric found scribbled on the back of a takeout menu.
I love this album. You might, too. Vincent Cross, Old Songs for Modern Folk. Take a chance for a change, like you used to when browsing the record store.
Lost Cause Records
A concept album, Scofflaw is Clint Morgan’s second recording. Morgan is a piano player, singer, songwriter, and lawyer from Washington. With a rough-hewn voice—think Billy Joe Shaver with a bit of honey—giving his songs the patina of authenticity, Morgan explores the dark side of folks who could have/should have done better for themselves.
Across 75-minutes, Morgan delves into the lives and situations of outlaws, criminals, and desperadoes revealing aspects of their lives that dime store books and movies may not have emphasized. One doesn’t come away with sympathy for the likes of Clyde Barrow (“Eastham Farm”), Doc Halliday (“The Face in the Mirror”), or Billy the Kid (“I Got a Gun”) and that certainly isn’t Morgan’s intention. Rather, within these bluesy, rollicking ‘folk’ songs one may find shades of family members, acquaintances, or even themselves: that point where a pivotal decision turns a life from the straight and narrow to the lure of less conventional and frequently violent.
Morgan comes by his storytelling-via-song bonafides genuinely. With familial roots in Appalachia, and a great-great aunt who was also A.P. Carter’s great-grandmother, story and song run through his veins. Morgan draws on American history—the Wild West, the Great Depression, and Prohibition—and its fascination with those who scoff the law (“D. B. Cooper Blues”) and conventions (“Wild One,” “Wanted Man”) to create a comprehensive overview of villains who—through the twists of time and the spin of history—became larger than life heroes and legends. He examines their influences and uses their own words to reveal the tension between good and evil, and the hope that redemption holds. “Waco” may be the finest individual song (“Lord, don’t let me go back to Waco, My soul burns every time I do”) with the pressure increasing as the protagonist threatens to come apart with each passing note.
Morgan doesn’t talk about himself a lot (his website bio is a list of a couple hundred folks from Pinetop Perkins through to the Carter Family, Guy Clark, OCMS, BR-549, Alberta Hunter, and Oscar Peterson) so one doesn’t know how he came to connect with guitarist Kenny Vaughan, bassist Dave Roe, or multi-instrumentalist Jim Hoke. Suffice it then to say that with this combination of talent, and the addition of vocalists Diunna Greenleaf (“Send Me To the ‘Lectric Chair”) and the timeless Maria Muldaur (“Soft and Tenderly, Jesus is Calling” and “I Done Made It Up In My Mind”), a pretty danged fabulous recording was assured.
Every bad man eventually runs out of road (“Running from the law in a piece of junk, with a sackful of cash and a body in the trunk,”) and the final third of the album—perhaps the most appealing—tackles the aftermath of these lives of selfish criminality. Some find redemption, some the wrong (right?) end of a gun—does it matter, when the crime has been done? Morgan appears to believe it does, and he devotes his closing songs to the seeking of salvation. Beautiful stuff, even if you may not believe—as he appears to—that sins can be washed away.
Scofflaw is a weighty tome, a creation melding the complexities of beauty and ugliness that few recording projects attempt let alone accomplish. It will be displayed in pride of place alongside The Man from God Knows Where, My Favorite Picture of You, Legacy, The Way I Should and other classic, contemporary folk recordings on my shelf. But, not yet—I want to listen again.
Thanks for dropping in at Fervor Coulee. Hopefully, you are finding music that appeals to you. Donald