Archive for the ‘James King’ 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.

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

 

Blueberry Bluegrass Music Festival 2014 August 03   Leave a comment

BlueberryposterThe incredibly successful 29th annual Blueberry Bluegrass & Country Music Society Festival concluded with a spectacular day of music on August 3 at Stony Plain, AB. I attended only the final day of the of the three-day set, and found no end to the elements that impressed.

The Society put together a very strong bluegrass lineup comprised of bands that complemented each other, featuring performers who have- for the most part, and certainly within these configurations- not appeared previously at Blueberry. Lacking a ‘massive’ headliner this year- after all, you can only bring in Rhonda, The Spinneys, The Gibsons, DLQ,  and Marty so many times, no matter how popular they are- the list of scheduled performers was, from my perspective, impressive.

The delightful Suzy Bogguss was the biggest name on the bill, with The James King Band, The Rambling Rooks, The Larry Stephenson Band, and Grasstowne providing the greatest name recognition from a bluegrass standpoint.

Having not attended Blueberry for seven (!) years, much has changed since I last found opportunity and inspiration to purchase a ticket to this event. As I’ve previously written, I loyally attended Blueberry from 1996 to 2002, but became unimpressed when the previous leadership left the fest. Still, I attended on an intermittent basis to 2007.

Billing itself as “Canada’s Largest Bluegrass Festival,” Blueberry has consistently booked high calibre line-ups that have balanced the bluegrass and country elements of its name (about 90/10, traditionally) featuring regional acts as well as the up-and-coming groups, veteran bands with drawing power, musician’s musicians, and ‘top tier’ bluegrass acts. Few is the high-profile bluegrass act that hasn’t appeared at Blueberry over the past three decades.

Of the things that have changed since I last attended, the site itself is most notable. Several years ago, the exhibition grounds that house the festival had a complete makeover, and having not seen this improvement prior to this past Sunday I have to say from logistical and amenities perspectives that this is clearly the best site I’ve seen for an outdoor bluegrass festival.

Parking has been improved, and the concert seating area is now graveled. The pavilion was greatly expanded- perhaps even rebuilt- and the surrounding grounds have been completely redeveloped. The stage, which was once little more than a shed, is now a study, freestanding building with ample room for instrument storage and staff movement.

Since I only attended the Sunday, I missed Donna Ulisse & the Poor Mountain Boys completely, as well as some of the regional performers including the Steve Fisher Band. Talking with many people throughout the day, the feedback about this year’s festival and lineup was uniformly positive. The two negative elements repeatedly mentioned was the apparent over-booking of ‘country’ and ‘rock’ acts, and this was apparent on the Sunday schedule, and an annoying, continual hum in the sound mix.

While Blueberry has always included one or two non-bluegrass acts, according to those I spoke with there was a perception this year that some of the acts booked, specifically the retro-country bar band Trick Ryder and classic rock act (a weak description, but best I can come up with) Jimmy Wiffen didn’t fit with the established atmosphere of the festival.

Not being privy to the details, I’m told attendance this year was healthy, but down from last year’s apparent peak when Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder appeared and the site was overflowing with attendees. On the positive side, it didn’t rain this year!

From what I gathered, the weekend belonged to James King. His Friday performance was, by all reports, fantastic, and on Saturday Don Rigsby joined him for a couple songs. James’ recent health challenges have been widely reported, and he had a set back while at Blueberry; James shared that he had to avail himself of our health care system on Saturday, spending several hours at an area hospital.

Noticeably gaunt and obviously not in peak physical condition, Sunday’s set wasn’t as strong as his previous ones were reported to have been. 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 this final set.

James did quite a bit of talking on stage, emotion entering his voice several times when talking about his band members and his

James King, right with Fervor Coulee; Stony Plain, Aug. 03 2014

James King, right with Fervor Coulee; Stony Plain, Aug. 03 2014

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. It didn’t help that I had a hard time hearing King’s guitar in the mix for the first third of the set.

“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.”

By this time, I could hear his guitar. King paid tribute to both James Alan Shelton and George Shuffler by picking out “The Wildwood Flower” (at least, I think that’s what it was! Without words, sometimes I get confused) 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, and King performed this bluegrass chart-topping Fred Eaglesmith song as his encore.

Few were seated as King left the stage, with the Blueberry 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’ve seen him, but I am sure glad I got to hear him again.

Far from being a country music has-been, Suzy Bogguss continues to produce albums of excellence, and while her evening set was short on ‘show,’ she exhibited talent and taste in abundance. That the mainstream chooses to pass her by is simply to our benefit.

Opening with “I Still Miss Someone,” Bogguss held onto the crowd for the full fifty-minute set. With Charlie Chadwick on upright bass and Craig Smith on guitar, she delivered several familiar songs from the Americana songbook including an exquisite rendition of “The Wildwood Flower”- man, she sings that one well- and “Careless Love.” She went back twenty-five years for her first Top 20 hit “Cross My Broken Heart,” and reminded some of us of her participation on the Remembering Buddy Holly project by ripping through “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore.”

Lucky was represented by “Silver Wings” and my favourite Hag song, “Let’s Chase Each Other Around the Room.” Finishing with John Hiatt’s “Drive South” and “The Red River Valley,” Bogguss’s set was ample demonstration of the breadth of the footprint she has placed on country and roots music since 1989.

Unlike some of the other ‘country’ music on the bill, Bogguss’s unvarnished but up-tempo approach to roots music went well  with the largely acoustic proceedings of the day. When looking to expand the festival’s appeal to non-bluegrass devotees (as almost every bluegrass-based fest must, and seems to struggle with) the Blueberry booker would be wise to follow his instincts in this direction.

Until the Earls of Leiscester were announced, it looked like The Rambling Rooks were the latest bluegrass supergroup. Comprised of three stalwarts of the bluegrass wars, The Rambling Rooks made plenty of fans this weekend.

Kenny Smith, Ronnie Bowman, and Don Rigsby joined by Justin Moses on banjo successfully bridged the gap that exits when a band a) doesn’t have an album that listeners are familiar with and b) is bringing together under a single new umbrella three distinct performers with independent careers and repertoires.

Another Stanley tune was performed- this time “Heart to Heart (Think Of What You’ve Done)”- and I finally got to hear a fiddle as Moses picked it up on “The Kentucky Waltz.”

An aside- has anyone else noticed that fewer bluegrass bands are traveling with a fiddler? Of the six bluegrass bands I heard Sunday, Moses was the only fiddler I heard and that was only on one song. As most if not all bluegrass albums feature fiddling, I don’t think we’re seeing an adjustment to the music. Is this simple bluegrass economics? Is it too expensive to carry a fiddler far from home? With the bands I saw at Blueberry carrying only four musicians, I recall that five was once the norm. When did this change? I know I feel a little ripped off when I see only four on the stage.

Back to The Rambling Rooks. Rigsby and Bowman split the songs fairly evening- I’m guessing Don got one or two more leads, but

Local Heroes- Down to the Wood (Curt, Mark, and Glen) visiting at Blueberry, August 3 2014

Local Heroes- Down to the Wood (Curt, Mark, and Glen) visiting at Blueberry, August 3 2014

Ronnie’s rendition of his “Three Rusty Nails” was pretty powerful. With three-part harmony on the chorus over tasteful picking from Smith, this performance was a highlight of the day. Familiar songs performed included “I’m Ain’t Broke, But I’m Badly Bent,” an energetic “Nine Pound Hammer, ” and “Bootleg John.”

Look for an album from The Rambling Rooks early in the new year.

Nu-Blu, with ten years as an entity, represented the ‘up and coming’ element of bluegrass. Having built a positive relationship with the audience the first two days, their set on Sunday afternoon was very well received. Performing songs from all of their recordings, the four-piece outfit impressed with a good blend of male and female lead vocals from Daniel and Carolyn Routh, and strong instrumentation.

The gospel side was represented by “Little Mountain Church” and Carolyn Routh’s “Hammer,” a great song. They mixed things up a little, going for different sounds including a bass, guitar, and mandolin arrangement for several songs.

The treat of their set was the stage debut of Nu-Blu’s strong new single, “Jesus and Jones;” this song went over especially well with the audience. Nu-Blu was a good band to kick-off the day’s bluegrass offerings.

Without offense to anyone, it is always wonderful to hear Steve Gulley. Last through Alberta with Dale Ann Bradley this past autumn, Gulley was filling in with his former-Grasstowne mates this weekend. Alan Bibey’s band is always top drawer, and being the true pro that he is Bibey ensured his band of Gulley (guitar), Justin Jenkins (banjo) and Kameron Keller (bass) was ready for their final set for the weekend.

Great songs abounded. The “In the Blue Room” instrumental flowed into “Blue Rocking Chair,” and then Gulley just killed it. His a capella rendition of “Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)?” was maybe the best vocal performance I have ever heard him give in concert…and I’ve heard some pretty amazing stuff from him. Gulley also performed “The Door,” a song he usually sneaks into his sets, while he did his best Del to accompany Bibey on the closing “The County Fool.”

My favourite bluegrass set of the day came from The Larry Stephenson Band.

Celebrating his 25th year as band leader, Stephenson’s high tenor should be welcome on any bluegrass stage, and his afternoon set appeared to be appreciated by most in attendance.

Utilizing a single vocal mic, the band worked it with meticulousness. Standing back two feet and more on the choruses, Stephenson’s voice pierced the afternoon heat. It was an amazing thing to hear!

When I think about bluegrass, this is the kind of music I want to hear- drivin’, subtle only in its vocal and instrumental precision, straight-ahead, no nonsensical humour or lame banter: The Larry Stephenson Band was exceptional.

The spirit of the Osborne Brothers’ music was certainly palatable throughout the set. The forlorn “Give This Message To Your Heart” obviously brought this to the fore, as did ” Washed in the Blood of the Lamb.”

Stephenson’s mando breaks were a wonder to hear in such an intimate setting, while Kenny Ingram remains as powerful as ever. His signature “Pike County Breakdown” was mighty crisp. Guitarist Colby Laney took the lead on “Lover’s Lane,” while the bass was handled by Matt Wright.

“Poor Old Cora,” “The Many Hills of Time,” “The Pretty Blue Dress” kept things moving, and by the time Stephenson was holding that note in the show-stopping “How High Is That Mountain?” he was just showing off. The spirit of the Osborne’s returned as the set closed with “The Sound That Set My Soul of Fire” and “Me and My Old Banjo.”

Vocally, instrumentally, song selection and balance- not that it is a competition, but The Larry Stephenson Band performed the strongest set of bluegrass I heard all day. Amazing stuff.

By the time The John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band hit the stage, it was dark and I was ready to hit the road for home. I did stay to listen to about half of their scheduled allocation, and while it was obvious the group- including Herb Pederson, Brad Davis and a bass player- advertised as Mark Fain, but I know better to believe bluegrass festival programs; Jon Randall was advertised as part of the band, but obviously didn’t make the trip)- favoured extended jams on tunes including “It Doesn’t Matter,” “Lady’s Love,” and even Rodney Crowell’s “Wandering Boy,” they didn’t do so much noodling to cause me to drift away.

The crowd had considerably thinned by this time, and whether it was the time of evening or that the group was a bit too progressive, I thought these impressive players meshed and presented good music. I guess you either ‘get it’ or you don’t, and that’s okay.

Congratulations to the entire Blueberry board and volunteers, especially first time talent booker Kenny Mak, on a very successful bluegrass fest. It was great to catch up with so many folks, and Elsa even brought over a piece of saskatoon pie. Trust me, it doesn’t get better than that!

I’m already looking forward to the 30th Blueberry Bluegrass & Country Music Fest next August long weekend. Maybe I’ll even get there!

James King- Three Chords and the Truth   Leave a comment

James KingMy review of James King’s wonderful bluegrass album- like he could make any other kind!- Three Chords and the Truth– has been posted to the Fervor Coulee Bluegrass blog over at Country Standard Time.

It is a good ‘un, and I hope I’ve made a persuasive argument for it to receive more than passing consideration as the IBMA’s 2014 Album of the Year.

Three songs from the album, performed with his band, are linked below:

A nice live rendition of “Chiseled in Stone” here.

“He Stopped Loving Her Today,” courtesy of Ted Lehmann, here.

“The Devil’s Train,” here.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

Fervor Coulee’s Favourite Roots Music Albums of 2013   2 comments

These types of lists are fairly self-indulgent, but most things we do seem to be. What the heck, then?

I am fairly confident in my choices this year- I created lists as the months passed, and have considered well in excess of a hundred albums for placement.  Here then are my favourite roots music albums of the year, accompanied by links to longer pieces I’ve written or, alternately when I didn’t write about a particular album, video.

[Update: #25 has been revised. Someone asked why so little mainstream country. Answer, I don’t listen to most of what would be considered modern country. I didn’t listen to the Brandy Clark album enough yet to place it in my Top 25, but I am really enjoying it. Whether that is mainstream…]

Favourite Album Covers-

skaggs1. Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby- Live Cluck Ol’ Hen

2. Guy Clark- My Favorite Picture of You– Great story behind this one. Well executed.

3. Noam Pikelny- Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe– some concert posters in the background may have pushed it over the top

4. Sturgill Simpson- High Top Mountain

5. Jack Lawrence- Arthel’s Guitar

Favorite Covers and Tribute Albums-

1.Don Rigsby- Doctor’s Orders: A Tribute to Ralph Stanley http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0MNcu_x6_xY

2. Let Us In Americana- The Music of Paul McCartney

3. Unsung Hero : A Tribute to the Music of Ron Davies

4. Joe Mullins & Junior Sisk- Bluegrass Hall of Fame https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/junior-sisk-joe-mullins-hall-of-fame-bluegrass-review/

5. Jack Lawrence- Arthel’s Guitar arthel

6. Martyn Joseph- Tires Rushing By in the Rain

7. Ben Sollee- The Hollow Sessions

8. You Don’t Know Me: Rediscovering Eddy Arnold

9. Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs- Under the Covers, Vol.3

Favourite Reissues and Archival Releases of the Year-

1. George Jones- The Complete United Artists Solo Singles george

2. Steve Forbert- Early On: The Best of the Mississippi Recordings and the Alive on Arrival/Jackrabbit Slim twofer, more concise and accessible than the previous Rolling Tide reissues

3. Townes Van Zandt- Sunshine Boy: The Unheard Sessions & Demos 1971-1972

4. Guy Clark- Dixie’s Bar & Bus Stop

5. The Bottle Rockets- The Bottle Rockets/The Brooklyn SideThe Bottle Rockets was and is one of the greatest Americana/alt.country albums ever recorded. The bonus tracks provide further context for the days that I wasn’t aware of until they were over. So enthralled with that album, I’ve allowed The Brooklyn Side to sit on the shelf untouched since the first and only time I played it all those years ago. My mistake. One I won’t allow to be repeated.

6. Billy Bragg Life’s A Riot with Spy vs Spy, 30th Anniversary Edition A most concise vision of the power of words and music; comes with a recent live encore of the 7-track e.p.

7. James Keelaghan History: The First 25 Years

Favourite Various Artists and Compilation Albums-

1.  Divided & United: The Songs of the Civil War imagesJ2S505VN

2. The Daughters of Bluegrass- Pickin’ Like A Girl https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/07/18/daughters-of-bluegrass-pickin-like-a-girl-review/

3. God Didn’t Choose Sides

4. Classic Banjo from Smithsonian Folkways

5. Ghost Brothers of Darkland County

The following are my favourite stand-alone albums of 2013, often the albums I spent the most time with this past year (or, in the case of late year releases, the albums I feel I will end up spending the most time with):

1. Guy Clark- My Favorite Picture of You: The elder statesman does it again, producing another exceptional collection of songs, all but a cover of a Lyle Lovett song co-writes. Beautifully sung and played. Clark’s thirteenth album of new material, recorded at age 71, was head and shoulders this past year’s finest roots music album. If there is justice, and voters were actually listening, he’ll receive a Grammy in January. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qIftiMZPVsE&list=RDntpyFfef-NA

2. John Reischman- Walk Along John https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/07/27/john-reischman-walk-along-john-review/

3. J. R. Shore- State Theatre https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/05/26/j-r-shore-state-theatre-review-the-polaris-music-prize/

4. Slaid Cleaves- Still Fighting the War: Gives ol’ Guy a run for his money. http://slaidcleaves.com/category/videos/

5. Mike Plume- Red and White Blues: Following up the very excellent 8:30 Newfoundland, Mike Plume returned not only with a most sincere Stompin’ Tom Connors tribute, but a set of songs- almost equal parts Maritime stomper and prairie balladry- that will soon stand with his best. http://mikeplume.com/steelbeltedwebsite/?page_id=19

6. Kimberley Rew- Healing Broadway: Pub roots. http://www.kimberleyrew.com/

7. Bruce Foxton- Back in the Room: If by roots you mean rock n roll. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=syxMnWmrACM

8. The Gibson Brothers- They Call It Music https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/the-gibson-brothers-they-call-it-music-review/

9. Chris Jones & The Night Drivers- Lonely Comes Easy https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/08/24/chris-jones-the-night-drivers-lonely-comes-easy-review/

10. D. B. Rielly- Cross My Heart & Hope to Die https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/d-b-rielly-cross-my-heart-hope-to-die-review/

11. Darden Smith- Love Calling https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/darden-smith-love-calling-review/

12. Robbie Fulks- Gone Away Backward http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T00vjRCmf3g

13. The Del McCoury Band- The Streets of Baltimore: Experience counts for a whole lot. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_K_7pcdvck

14. Leeroy Stagger- Truth Be Sold  https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/11/23/leeroy-stagger-truth-be-sold-review/ http://exclaim.ca/MusicVideo/ClickHear/leeroy_stagger-cities_on_fire_video

15. Alice Gerrard- Bittersweet https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/08/10/alice-gerrard-bittersweet-review/

16. Noam Pikelny- Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iqys8Ez7Cno

17. Marshall Chapman- Blaze of Glory: Another great album of honest roots rock. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azPRk89nKaQ

18. Holly Williams- The Highway: Purchased after reading a couple reviews and having never heard her; glad I did. http://www.hollywilliams.com/portfolio-items/the-highway/

19. Sturgill Simpson- High Top Mountain: I’m glad all music isn’t this well-grounded in the country tradition. Makes it all the more special when you find it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNV16tz1NK0

20. John Paul Keith- Memphis 3 A.M.: A long-time favourite singer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TWk5Yo9dIG0

21. James King- Three Chords and the Truth: Only bought this one before Christmas; need to listen more, but nothing to lead me to believe it isn’t going to stay with me for a long time. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWnKoIXS1KU

22. Kim Beggs- Beauty and Breaking: an exceptional collection of song that are already familiar. With more listens, I’m confident  it will become even more appreciated. http://www.kimbeggs.com/videoplay.html?video=http://www.youtube.com/v/mL45VqBql00

23. Jeff Black- B-Sidea and Confessions, Volume Two https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/05/20/jeff-black-b-sides-and-confessions-volume-two-review/

24. Peter Rowan- The Old School https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/05/20/peter-rowan-the-old-school-review/

25. Blue Mafia- My Cold Heart https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/blue-mafia-my-cold-heart-review/ Was in consideration right up until I wrote the final draft. Another listen brought it forward, knocking Emmylou & Rodney out of the 25th spot. I’m sure they will recover.

Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell- Old Yellow Moon: Once upon a time, an album this stunning would be much higher that #25; that is one indication of how great the last year has been. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0MNcu_x6_xY

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee so often in 2013, and I hope you will continue to find roots music opinion of interest in 2014 and beyond.

As always, Donald @FervorCoulee on the Twittering thing.

The 12 Roots Songs of Christmas- #12   Leave a comment

No excuses for not posting since November. Sigh.

While driving home from work today, I realized we’re twelve days away from Christmas. And that brought to mind a way to get some posts written this month, since it isn’t happening any other way.

I haven’t thought this out- I know where I’m starting and I’m pretty sure where I will end up(and with which song)- but I haven’t created a master list. I’m just going to post 12 songs in 12 days, songs I consider to be masterful and favourite roots music songs. Not the best, necessarily.

Dick Staber, left; songwriter "Call Collect on Christmas"

Dick Staber, left; songwriter “Call Collect on Christmas”

I begin this evening with “Call Collect on Christmas,” a seasonal bluegrass classic. A Dick Staber song, first recorded (I think- I can’t actually find too much definitive information about the song) by Del McCoury in 1974. If I’m reading the liner notes to 35 Years of the Best of Rebel Bluegrass correctly, the song was unissued until that four-disc set appeared in 1997. Staber had been a member of The Dixie Pals, and I imagine that is how the song came Del’s way. His version is mighty tough to beat, and not many have tried.

Staber recorded the song on a 1984 album (according to iTunes), and that may be one I have to download one day. I didn’t think I could find a more enjoyable version of the song than McCoury’s, but then came James King within the O Christmas Tree compilation that Rounder released a decade ago.

untitledThis version- released as The James King Band- was even better, in my opinion. The fiddle carries the song; Adam Haynes should be proud of this one. “Carries” is likely the wrong word, because it is King’s voice that has the lasting impact- as is his wont, King sounds like he is about to burst into tears with each passing rhyme. I do believe he is the most expressive bluegrass singer around, giving George Jones a run for his money on each of their finest days. I don’t know what led to the falling out between King and mandolinist Adam Prater, but one of those men must be regretting it- Prater sounds mighty stout on this one.

A couple years later, The Bluegrass Brothers- another favourite outfit- put out a third version that found its way into my collection, again via a record label compilation. Christmas With Hay Holler had a real ‘down home’ spirit, and “Call Collect on Christmas,” sung by Jack Leonard and featuring some nice banjo picking on the break (courtesy Robert Dowdy) was a highlight.

Any of those three versions of “Call Collect on Christmas” is well worth a listen- and the Staber clip I heard on iTunes sounds interesting, too- the song has everything I look for in a Christmas song- a pitiful excuse of a son, well-placed guilt, a mother’s death…ah, Christmas with the family.

I searched without success for a video of the song online. The closest I came was The Bluegrass Brothers’ version on their MySpace site: http://www.myspace.com/bluegrassbrothers/music/songs/call-collect-on-christmas-78198227. All versions mentioned are available on iTunes and the McCoury and Staber versions are on eMusic.

[I also plan on posting a link to a favoured non-roots Christmas song daily- today, The Kinks’ “Father Christmas”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-oVPVsCqs4 Quite possibly, the second best ‘rock/pop’ Christmas song I’ve ever heard.]

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee, and thanks for your patience with me. Life tends to take precedence over writing these days; just the way it is. Donald