Archive for the ‘James Reams & the Barnstormers’ Tag

The Albums That Shaped Me, August 2018   Leave a comment

Over at Fervor Coulee Twitter  I am spending August exploring my music roots with Thirty-Two Albums That Shaped Me/Thirty-One Days

Inspired by a summer of sorting (not that you would notice) and tidying (again, obvious only if you knew what it looked like before) I am going to try to explain my music journey in a series of tweets over the month of August. Thirty-Two Albums That Shaped Me/Thirty-One Days will not include (necessarily) my favourite albums, but 32 that were most impactful, at least in memory and in approximate chronological order. I will memorialize this thread here, updating daily.

Thirty-Two Albums That Shaped Me/Thirty-One Days

Day 1: Various Artists Music Express A K-Tel 8-track heard via my older brothers; the trilogy of “Wildfire,” Austin Roberts’ “Rocky,” and “Run Joey Run” have forever been linked in my mind as a result. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkI5q6UmjpY

And, Phoebe Snow.

Music Express

Day 2: Crosby Stills Nash & Young Deja Vu; Rod Stewart Every Picture Tells A Story Purchased for 25 ₵ each at Willow Park School’s ‘white elephant’ sale, the start of a collection hobby (addiction) that has only got worse. How did I ever luck out to have two classic, blemish-less albums as my first? As they were my only albums, I must have listened to them fifty times each the summer between grade 7 and 8, and maybe the first place I ever heard a mandolin. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AlCLTWRFVyI and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4sDPeLsinQ 

CSNYRod Stewart

Day 3: The Who By Numbers For most of my life, when asked, “Who’s your favourite band?” my answer was The Who. While I purchased Who Are You first, this was the album by the band about which I said, “This is my favourite.” Maybe their least popular album commercially, but it meant a lot to me and it holds up, “Squeeze Box” notwithstanding—maybe even better in late, middle age. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLWnVxuqvY7Jjpv0CqfMown25u1bHBR5ps

By Numbers

Day 4: Bruce Springsteen Darkness on the Edge of Town Perhaps the first time I heard Bruce Springsteen, late night 630 CHED, and someone (Len Thuesen?) played several songs from this just-released album. My world shifted: songs that created movies in my head. “Factory” knocked me out, bringing my dad’s work life alive—not that he worked in a factory, but the effort it must have taken to get up, go to work, support a (suddenly) larger family: no wonder he drank! Bought the cassette from the main street hobby and pet store, and eventually bought on vinyl twice, CD, remastered box set CD, and then the next remastered, 7-album box set CD. No 8-track, tho. His best album, no arguments tolerated. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S8dCdiDk2ew

Darkness

Day 5: Three Dog Night The Best of Three Dog Night Another K-Tel set, and also from the Leduc pet/hobby store…Henke’s? This was the only 3DN album I had for 20 years; wore it out. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YyChmkPKi0I Evidence I have never been ‘cool.’ A singles band that made terrific albums- have had all their available music on the iThingy for a couple years, and never grow tired of it.

Three Fog Night

Day 6: Trooper Hot Shots If you lived in Leduc during the mid-to late 70s, Trooper was inescapable. This compilation was a ‘must have’. I couldn’t understand why they never broke thorough in the US. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLSGVVEAakzy79QEyyyjf-oeou1uUUrDr-

Trooper

Day 7: John Stewart Bombs Away Dream Babies High school albums endure. A radio favourite the summer I turned 15, “Gold” was my gateway. 40 years later, I am still listening to Stewart, from the Kingston Trio through California Bloodlines and onto his final album, The Day the River Sang. This album started it all, and like other albums of the day, I can sing with it all the way through, not that you want me to. I absorbed the lyrics, trying to see the meaning within the poetry. Maybe the best thing Lindsay Buckingham was ever associated with. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjxRx9gzGZk

Stewart

Day 8: Rachel Sweet Fool Around CREEM Magazine, October 1979 The cover feature was “Is Heavy Metal Dead?” As an impressionable Grade 10 student trying to find his way, I thought the issue would teach me about the bands the older kids were listening to—Nugent, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, etc. Instead I discovered Dave Edmunds, Lene Lovich, Moon Martin, The B-52’s, Nick Lowe, and the Queen of Akron, Rachel Sweet. Her story appealed—she liked Springsteen (girls like Springsteen?), was compared to Brenda Lee, and wasn’t that much older than me—and I went searching for this album without having heard her sing. I fell in love with her country-influenced, modern but 60s-washed rock ‘n’ roll, and stuck with her despite being the only kid in town who knew her name. Can sing-a-long with every song almost 40 years later. This was also my first issue of CREEM, my introduction to acerbic, smart-ass music writing and all things Boy Howdy! https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLRRe_urOjL_9-7GTACGIx-aZyJM6KPYSI

RachelBoy Howdy

Day 9: Steve Forbert Jackrabbit Slim  I wanted to be Steve Forbert for about a week during grade 10; I couldn’t figure out how to keep my hair looking wet. With Pete Townshend, John Stewart, and Springsteen, Forbert taught me the importance of lyrics. And it came with a bonus 45. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJLK-7YwHjw

Steve Forbert

Day 10: The Inmates First Offence Caught the Greyhound after school and was in Edmonton as daylight disappeared; walked to Kellys downtown expressly to purchase this album: was mocked by the clerk because they were ‘trying to be the Stones.’ Didn’t care. “Domp, domp, domp, daa-daa-daa…” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_NrhE4FtqSc An album full of memorable songs and grooves, it led me to The Standells and further opened my ears to blues and soul-influenced music.

Inmates

Day 11: Boomtown Rats Fine Art of Surfacing I had to discover punk eventually. By thisBoomtown rats time, The Rats were more rock than punk, but what did I know? The single made me buy the album; the album made me a fan for life. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxRVMzkQ3hE Saw them live twice: brilliant.

Day 12: Ramones Rocket to Russia Music culture came to Leduc via the Gaiety Theatre. Saw Rock and Roll High School. Bought the albums one-by-one at Sound Connection over the next year. None were better than this one, until Subterranean Jungle. http://ultimateclassicrock.com/ramones-release-rocket-to-russia/ Ramones_-_Rocket_to_Russia_cover

Day 13: Pat Travers Band Live! Go For What You Know The classic line-up—Tommy, Mars, and the two Pats—featuring their essential songs to the time…I will never forget the words: “Hello music lovers -From the streets of Toronto, to the streets of London, now here’s to kick your ass, The Pat Travers Band.” And they did. They were never better. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQs2eHGrc-c  Travers

Day 14: Go-Go’s Beauty and the Beat No words necessary, but… First heard/saw on a late night television video show (in a clip I’ve never been able to find since). I ordered the Stiff 45 right away, and was a fan before the album even appeared. Still am. Magic. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLbCk0A4nqITPzJZ7OF186wUB5I460NKVh

GogOzGogos backSingle

Day 15: Emmylou Harris Last Date First record store job, spring 1983. Poster for this album was up in the backroom. Intrigued, I put the ‘play copy’ on the stereo. She sang “Racing In The Street.” From her to Skaggs, Parsons, Crowell,  Rosanne and Carlene…the road goes on forever. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6efV8-Gve50 Emmylou

By coincidence, today I found the vinyl reissue of Live at the Ryman on sale and snapped it up. Beautiful cover art, already framed and displayed.

Day 16: Jason and the Nashville Scorchers Fervor Always in my head, ‘the Nashville’ is added. Until I heard the Fervor EP, I had never heard the term ‘roots rock.’ This defined it. I had found my path, and my fervor. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wtTyOa8kVTY Jason

Day 17: Various Artists Will the Circle Be Unbroken Found at the Edmonton Public Library circa 1984. I couldn’t believe my ears the first time I heard Doc, Mother Maybelle, Earl Scruggs, Jimmy Martin, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band all together. I taped the album, as well as Stars and Stripes Forever, Dirt, Silver, and Gold, Uncle Charlie…I was starting to explore the roots. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1fCDDpWenMWill the circle

Day 18: The Rainmakers- The Rainmakers Thanks to Much Music I discovered this band. Bought first chance when it arrived at ROW in WEM. It perfectly into my university listening space. Roots and rock found a perfect home with KCMO’s favourite sons. A lifetime later, I made the pilgrimage (twice) to see Bob Walkenhorst at the Record Bar: worth it! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QLNahXqKAvk The_Rainmakers_The_Rainmakers_Album_Cover

Day 19: Katrina and the Waves Katrina and the Waves From early 1983 (when I started working in my first record store, Climax Records in Leduc) to 1987 (when I finished my university degree) I went down a rabbit hole of roots. I learned so much about country music especially, from the Statler Brothers and “Atlanta Blue” to The Judds initial EP, George Jones, John Anderson, Loretta Lynn and Gus Hardin to Jason & the Scorchers, Dwight, Steve Earle, and Emmylou.

But, I still liked my pop and rock. One of my most successful assignments for the U of A newspaper The Gateway was interviewing Katrina Leskanich; Attic Records had provided the first two albums for background. I fell hard for the group. Katrina invited Deana and I backstage- but we couldn’t find the band in the labyrinth of halls behind Dinwoodie! This is the hit version from a couple years later, but that original album with the understated, bold cover is the one that done it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-87SJXMpRfE Katrina Waves

 

 

Day 20: Highway 101 Highway 101  I had learned the difference between good country music and bad country music fairly quickly. This album is half a hour of perfection, released during an era when strong country music could be found on the radio- perhaps for the final time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bd7ZEVT6bL0 Highway101Highway101

Day 21: Kashtin Kashtin Again thanks to Much Music, I heard Kashtin. My first connection to Indigenous rock ‘n’ roll; not my last. When I listened to the album this month, I was transported back to life in a northern town. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etPqwfCZP18 Kashtin

Day 22: Neville Brothers Yellow Moon And we take another shift. I had listened to soul and R&B music, but mostly at a distance—Warner Brothers/Atlantic compilations, Motown, William Bell—and usually not contemporaneously to release (outside of post-disco 12″ers during the record store years—I’m looking at you “Juicy Fruit.”). I learned a lot of lessons, too late, from this album. “My Blood,” “Sister Rosa,” “Hollis Brown”…my perspective widened…again. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKCsZc37esU Neville

Day 23: Marty Stuart Love and Luck This album got me through a really hard summer. Listened to it on the cassette deck in the green Mazda pick-up over and over again. Almost every song— from Billy Joe Shaver, Harlan Howard, Parsons and Chris Hillman, and Stuart—expressed my confusion. I got over myself. Eventually. I consider it the most complete album of the ‘Marty Party’ years. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ivVv0z0jk8c  Marty

Day 24: Guy Clark Dublin Blues The first time my father-in-law influenced my music listening. Not the last time. Like John Stewart almost two decades earlier, a deep dive began. I can’t believe I went 31 years without knowing who Guy Clark was: seems unfathomable now. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7SXlSjco8J4Guy Clark

Day 25: Del McCoury Band The Cold Hard Facts How many folks can say that when attending their first bluegrass festival, they saw three sets from the Del McCoury Band (minus Bub, who was ill)? This was the album they were supporting. If Will The Circle, Jerusalem Ridge, and the David Grisman set Home Is Where The Heart Is started me down the bluegrass path, this album cemented my feet. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1kBSiSj9M0s Del

Day 26: Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard Pioneering Women of Bluegrass I have been lucky with music over the years, never more so when I happened to be attending the Calgary Folk Music Festival and came across a backstage rehearsal of Hazel and Alice working up their set with Ron Block and a few others. I had never heard anything like it, and near ran to the record tent to find their music. This compilation of their Folkways recordings was what I found. I have yet to recover. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hAupTYvPREHAzel and Alice

Day 27: Paul Burch Last of My Kind Written to complement a novel, this album was peak mountain Americana for me, connecting family, place, and loss with sparse songs whose characters spoke with candour.. https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2009/12/31/my-favourite-albums-of-the-aughts-part-four-of-four  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T87qhEYaToEPaul Burch

Day 28: Bobbie Gentry Chickasaw Country Child  Beyond “Ode to Billie Joe,” I may not have heard a Bobbie Gentry song prior to reading a review of this compilation in No Depression. So enthusiastic was the writer, I had to find out what I was missing: I did. Some of the most remarkable songwriting and performances I have experienced. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzd8yP72A6k Bobbie

Day 29: James Reams & the Barnstormers Troubled Times When I was in my early years writing and was gearing up for my bluegrass radio debut, my soon-to-be friend Tina Aridas got this album into my hands. She quickly became my closest bluegrass confidante, someone who- from a distance of thousands of kilometres- cut through the bluegrass blather with me, a person I knew I could trust, and a friend I could conceptualize with in an honest and intriguing manner. I miss her. But, back to the CD: James Reams’ approach to bluegrass is unique, and I love it. This album taught me a lot, and it is as enjoyable as any bluegrass album I’ve ever encountered. https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2009/12/31/my-favourite-albums-of-the-aughts-part-four-of-four/ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOdZZC1kn88 jreams

Day 30: Larry Jon Wilson New Beginnings Heartworn Highways, for all the great footage of Guy Clark, Townes, Steve Earle, and Rodney Crowell, my big take away was Larry Jon Wilson. “Ohoopee River Bottomland” led me toward music I had never heard: country soul. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-3orYE9BsoLJW

Day 31: Maria Dunn- Piece By Piece A song cycle focused on female immigrant garment factory workers, this album pushed me to better understand the purpose of music, of folk music, and the impact multiculturalism has had on Canada. https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2012/08/26/maria-dunn-piece-by-piece-review/ http://www.mariadunn.com/projects/gwg-piece-by-pieceMaria

There it is: 32 pivotal albums across the month of August. I hope I have exposed you to, or reminded you of, some fine albums for you to explore. From pop and rock, through singer-songwriter, folk, bluegrass, Americana and more, my music journey has helped me better understand and appreciate the world. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee.

And, because sometimes counting can be a challenge…it was about day 16 that I noticed I had two Day 16s…so I had to adjust and bump everyone done one slot, which caused my final two albums to lock themselves in a series of painful rounds of knuckles and comb, until one emerged victorious. Maria ‘won out,’ knocking this album into ‘honourable mentions,’ but what an album it was and remains. As John Wort Hannam prepares for the release of his 7th long player, I present this final album that helped shape my music listening:

Honourable Mention: John Wort Hannam Queen’s Hotel Released almost a decade ago, I thought this album would bring southern Alberta’s great folk singer to the world. I really did. Thankfully, enough of us ‘get him’ that he has continued to release increasingly impressive albums. There are so many outstanding moments on this album, none better than when he sings of small town happenings, “In the back seat stealing kisses from somebody else’s missus…”

https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2009/10/16/roots-music-column-october-16/ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kU0l2MKDu4&index=3&t=0s&list=OLAK5uy_n4CUhxeWjLgRQ9HweZtiwRMLerbWpFIyc

johnworthannam_queenshotel_grande

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Fervor Coulee’s Favourite Roots & Bluegrass Albums since 2000   Leave a comment

I’ve been writing about music since 2000. Naturally, I’ve heard a lot of great music, have written about much of it, and have often put together a list of favourite roots and bluegrass albums of the year. And, I will do the same again this year. For perspective and to sprinkle some flavourful anticipation, here are my favourite roots and bluegrass albums for each year (based on my notes, lists, and digital footprints) since 2000. In the case of 2006, where my favourite roots album was a bluegrass album, it is listed alongside my ‘second’ favourite bluegrass disc of the year.

Crooked Jades2000 The Crooked Jades The Unfortunate Rake Vol. 1; SlowdragSlowdrag Ploughin’ It Right to the Fence

Paul Burch2001 Paul Burch Last of My Kind;  Del and the boysDel McCoury Band Del & The Boys

Doc Watson2002 Doc Watson & David Hold Legacy;  Lost in the lonesome pinesRalph Stanley & Jim Lauderdale Lost in the Lonesome Pines

Kate Campbell2003 Kate Campbell Monuments; DTTWDown to the Wood Up All Night

Maria Dunn 32004 Maria Dunn We Were Good People; Jimmy MarinAudie Blaylock, J.D. Crowe, Paul Williams, and Kenny Ingram A Tribute to Jimmy Martin

Bruce S2005 Bruce Springsteen Devils and Dust; Reams TroubledJames Reams & The Barnstormers Troubled Times

Dale Ann 12006 Dale Ann Bradley Catch Tomorrow; David DavisDavid Davis & The Warrior River Boys Troubled Times

John Wort Hannam 12009 John Wort Hannam Queen’s Hotel; Dale Ann BackDale Ann Bradley Don’ t Turn Your Back

Mary Gauther2010 Mary Gauthier The Foundling; SteeldriversThe Steeldrivers- Reckless

Dave-Alvin-Eleven-Eleven2011 Dave Alvin Eleven Eleven; dale ann southDale Ann Bradley Somewhere South of Crazy

dunn2012 Maria Dunn Piece By Piece; earl brothersThe Earl Brothers Outlaw Hillbilly

Guy_Clark_My_Favorite_Picture_of_You2013 Guy Clark My Favorite Picture of You; Walk along johnJohn Reischman Walk Along John

Eliza-Gilkyson2014 Eliza Gilkyson The Nocturne Diaries; laurie_kathyLaurie Lewis & Kathy Kallick Sing the Songs of Vern and Ray

JWH-final-printtext-FULL-RED-BG-rev1lowres2015 John Wort Hannam Love Lives On; Dale Ann PocketDale Ann Bradley Pocket Full of Keys

cds1882-201603221219022016 Mark Erelli For a Song;  untitledLaurie Lewis & the Right Hands The Hazel and Alice Sessions

Fervor Coulee’s Favourite Roots and Bluegrass Albums of 2017 coming next week. Or the week after…

Bluegrass Albums of 2016   Leave a comment

Here is my list of Favourite Bluegrass Albums of 2016. Of course, your kilometreage will vary: I once received a perplexing, cranky email from the father of a fairly prominent bluegrasser whose album I didn’t include on such a list several years ago. For those such inclined, I repeat—these are my favourite bluegrass albums of the year. Not the best, ’cause that is silly. And all I can base it on is those albums I’ve heard, and maybe I somehow missed your son’s album…talk to his publicist.

  1. untitledLaurie Lewis & the Right Hands- The Hazel & Alice Sessions (Spruce and Maple) Laurie Lewis places Hazel Dickens with the bluegrass vocal big-three: Bill Monroe, Carter Stanley, and Lester Flatt. Alice Gerrard is a fearsome master of vocal folk, old-time, and bluegrass. The Hazel and Alice Sessions is not only a worthy tribute to a key bluegrass partnership, but an entertaining and formable collection of music. For me, undoubtedly the bluegrass album of the year. Nominated for a Grammy this time out, I could listen to this one every day. Also, if taken together with the rest of the roots and Americana world, my favourite album of the year.

2. 307217534cdbb2ec36864489b286660fSister Sadie- Sister Sadie (Pinecastle) It remains rare for an all-female outfit featuring well-established personalities to come together to perform and record. Sister Sadie is one hell of a band! Presenting Dale Ann Bradley, Tina Adair and Gena Britt with Deanie Richardson and Beth Lawrence, Sister Sadie not only has individual name recognition, but an appealing, unified bluegrass approach. Dedicating the album to bluegrass innovator Lynn Morris, Sister Sadie has paid homage to the power of their gender’s role in bluegrass and country music.

3. the-earls-of-leicester-rattle-and-roar-album-coverThe Earls of Leicester- Rattle & Roar (Rounder Records) Like the Bluegrass Album Band did three decades ago, The  Earls of Leicester are more than a bluegrass supergroup. They deftly remind the bluegrass community of what this music is about: no ‘nod’ to the roots of the music, this is a full-blown tribute to the sturdy trunk that has supported the many branches of bluegrass for 70 years. While one may not ‘hear’ that the album was largely cut live with the musicians playing simultaneously within the same room, you can certainly ‘feel’ the intimacy of the experience. Everything is precise and note-perfect of course, but listening to “Why Did You Wonder?” one can envision Jerry Douglas nodding to Paul Warren to take a fiddle break after a chorus, Shawn Camp encouraging Charlie Cushman to step-up to deliver a memorable fill, and Jeff White grinning to Barry Bales as the song is brought home. With great regard for the tradition and even greater understanding of the precision required to make this music appear effortless—and the ability to pull it off—Rattle & Roar is another outstanding bluegrass recording from The Earls of Leicester.

4. TheMoreILearnBryanSuttonBryan Sutton- The More I Learn (Sugar Hill Records) Hands down, Bryan Sutton is the preeminent contemporary bluegrass guitar player. With clarity, precision, and enthusiasm born of ingenuity and good-taste, he is the ‘go-to’ player within both the bluegrass and Nashville-country studio recording worlds. All the while, Sutton has maintained a recording presence. While early recordings focused primarily (although not exclusively) on impressive interpretations of familiar instrumentals and fiddle tunes, Sutton has pushed himself on latter albums to develop his songwriting while also presenting himself as a singer. This progression continues with The More I Learn, with seven originals and co-writes and nine songs featuring Sutton in the lead position. A very satisfying recording that will appeal to those who have come to appreciate Sutton’s tasteful approach to bluegrass and acoustic music.

5. balsam-rangeBalsam Range- Mountain Voodoo (Mountain Home) Balsam Range is a band that encapsulates all that modern bluegrass represents. So consistently impressive that we no longer expect their albums to be ‘better than their last,’ in less than a decade Balsam Range has hit the plateau of excellence few groups achieve. Like The Del McCoury Band, Blue Highway, and Alison Krauss & Union Station before them, a new release from Balsam Range is measured against their individual legacy. Mountain Voodoo lacks nothing.

6. unnamedJames Reams & the Barnstormers- Rhyme & Season (Mountain Redbird) 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 under-heard 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 returned this spring with a wonderful new album, Rhyme & Season. Rhyme & Season is most deliberately a concept album, a rarity in bluegrass circles. It includes songs from Mike Stinson (“Angel of the Evening,” Marty Stuart (“Rough Around the Edges,”) and Lawrence Shoberg (“Born to Roll”) and from the catalogs of Porter Wagoner (“$100 Funeral”) and Charley Pride (“Special,”) songs that capture the experiences of life’s outliers, the lost and often invisible.

7. rightbesideyou_280Jeff White- Right Beside You (Jeff White Bluegrass Records) Right Beside You is simply a terrific bluegrass album, one provided shades of influence from the Americana tree. As a result of the familiarity of the material, Right Beside You sounds classic. Because of the quality of performance, it is.

8. blue_highway_original_traditional_cover_rgbBlue Highway- Original Traditional (Rounder Records) Their eleventh album and first since Rob Ickes departed, continues Blue Highway’s recent blueprint: original music written or co-written by band members along with a single traditional song. The album’s title alludes to the group’s tendency to bridge the generations of bluegrass through recognition and reverence for the traditions of the music while ensuring a contemporary, original perspective is always present. With three formidable lead vocalists and key songwriters—Tim Stafford, Shawn Lane, and Wayne Taylor— along with Jason Burleson’s alternately aggressive and pensive, propulsive and sympathetic banjo presence (his tune “Alexander’s Run” is a highlight of the recording) and an instrumental lineup as strong as has ever been staged, Blue Highway is one of the top bands in the business. And this is an excellent bluegrass album.

9. paisleyDanny Paisley & Southern Grass- Weary River (Patuxent Music) Weary River was released in late 2015, too late to be considered for most year-end lists including my own, but the album received its due in 2016. For those who continue to appreciate bluegrass unadorned by passing fancy, this album has much to offer.

10. 1455228838118Del McCoury Band- Del and Woody (McCoury Music) As produced previous sets from Billy Bragg & Wilco, Jay Farrar, et al, and The Klezmatics, lyrics stored within the Woody Guthrie Archives were turned over to McCoury to be repurposed. This rootsy set, fully bluegrass in sound and intent, is the result and the first thing one may notice is how much it sounds like a typical Del McCoury Band album: if unaware of its genesis, one wouldn’t be surprised by anything included here. The musicianship is naturally first-class. McCoury has crafted these 12 songs within the well-established family oeuvre, balancing up tempo, but still substantial numbers and reflective, even maudlin songs. Del and Woody should satisfy those searching for fresh takes on Guthrie lyrics as well as the legion that devours music of The Del McCoury Band.

11. Sam Bush- Storyman (Sugar Hill Records) Sam Bush, it can be argued, is the most significant mandolin player of the last fifty years. Bowling Green, Kentucky’s favoured son has long been the bellwether of all things acoustic and ‘grassy. Storyman comes almost seven years after the exceptional Circles Around Me, an album that signified a high-point in Bush’s considerable solo output. As strong as that album was (it made my Top Ten for 2009 and, in hindsight, it would now be certain of a Top 5 berth) Storyman is an even more complete encapsulation of Bush’s approach to acoustic, bluegrass shaded Americana.

12. Special Consensus- Long I Ride (Compass Records) For more than forty years, Greg Cahill has been making bluegrass music as leader of the Special Consensus. Never in that time, as far as I’m aware, has he experienced the type of success as seen in the past few years since signing on with Compass Records and Alison Brown, who also produces this record. They are a stellar bluegrass group, one of the finest in the business. Long I Ride is further evidence of this true life fact.

13. The Grascals- …and then there’s this (Mountain Home) One of bluegrass music’s strongest and most engaging performing groups, The Grascals have consistently freshened traditional sounds with modern, progressive elements. From start to finish, in this case Bill Monroe’s plaintive “Highway of Sorrow,” this album maintains the best parts of The Grascals’ country-tempered style of bluegrass, with lots of banjo from Kristin Scott Benson: The Grascals are back at the top of their game with …and then there’s this.

14. Town Mountain- Southern Crescent (LoHi Records) Southern Crescent isn’t so much a departure from previous albums, especially 2012’s excellent Leave the Bottle, as it is an intense continuation of their southern influences and hard-scrabble bluegrass sound. As raucous as this approach is, there is a place within the (sometimes) staid and constrained bluegrass community for exactly this type of music. It isn’t trying to be country, it sure isn’t leaning toward easy listening, NPR pap—it is bluegrass, just not the type favoured by Bill Monroe. For that matter, it isn’t of the flavour projected by Doyle Lawson, Rhonda Vincent, Lonesome River Band, or most of today’s mainstream headliners.

15. The Boxcars- Familiar With the Ground (Mountain Home) Continuing their own tradition of excellence, with the self-produced Familiar With the Ground, The Boxcars ably demonstrate that there is nothing better than a five-piece bluegrass band.

16. Kristin Scott Benson- Stringworks (Mountain Home) A beautifully balanced bluegrass album, one that alternates between instrumentals and songs. A very well-constructed and superbly executed bluegrass release, one that reveals the continued growth of one of bluegrass music’s most respected banjoists and personalities.

17. Audie Blaylock & Redline- The Road That Winds (Patuxent Music) Like his previous releases, The Road That Winds is a bluegrass album firmly down the dotted, middle line—it holds a steady course without drifting toward the edges, meeting anything in its way head on. Blaylock comes from the Jimmy Martin school, and his music will always be rooted in that tradition. However, over the course of their evolution, the younger members of the group—and obviously, Blaylock, too—have kept their sights on progressing with their music, ensuring they remain relevant as artists and entertainers. It’s straight-ahead bluegrass, but forward looking in execution.

18. Corrina Rose Logston- Bluegrass Fiddler (Patuxent Music) The title of the album is an acute summation. This is a bluegrass fiddle album, and a darned fine one. While I will sometimes drift-off (to use a polite term for ‘fall asleep’) listening to a fiddle-dominated recording, Bluegrass Fiddler kept me intrigued from start to finish. No doubt part of the reason was that Logston’s assembled band keeps things interesting, not just supporting her fiddling showcase, but sounding like a true band who has worked up a strong set of numbers.

19. Josh Williams- Modern Day Man (Rounder Records) A stunning bluegrass vocalist and guitarist, Williams’ contributions to Rhonda Vincent’s concert appearances are significant, never failing to impress. With the release of Modern Day Man, Williams delivers evidence that second chances must be earned through honesty, acceptance and no little bit of hard work.

20. Jeff Scroggins & Colorado- Ramblin Feels Good (Self-released) With flashes of greatness, Ramblin Feels Good is an above-average bluegrass release from a group that has quietly established a reputation as one of the more satisfying bands working the bluegrass circuit.

 

Fervor Coulee’s Favourite Bluegrass Albums of 2016   1 comment

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Over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass (and eventually I will cross-post here) I have meticulously and expertly (!) compiled my list of my favourite bluegrass album of the year 2016. Please realize, these are my favourite bluegrass albums meaning, a) your list may be different, b) I don’t pretend to know what is best, and c) your definition of bluegrass may be different from mine. After much nasal grazing, these are the twenty I came up with, the albums I most enjoyed, most frequently listened to, and most highly regarded.

By a fairly large measure, Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands’ The Hazel and Alice Sessions topped my list. Enjoy.

At the end of each year, writers and broadcasters get to indulge themselves and-one hopes-their readers and listeners with their judgements on the year past. I’ve spent considerable time reviewing the bluegrass albums I heard during the past year, and have come up with my definitive (at least for today) list of Favorite Bluegrass Albums of 2016. Of course, your mileage will vary: I once received a cranky email from the father of a fairly prominent bluegrasser whose album I didn’t include on such a list several years ago. For those such inclined, I repeat-these are my favorite bluegrass albums of the year. Not the best, ’cause that is silly. And all I can base it on is those albums I’ve heard, and maybe I somehow missed your son’s album…talk to his publicist.

1. Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands- “The Hazel & Alice Sessions” (Spruce and Maple) Laurie Lewis places Hazel Dickens with the bluegrass vocal big-three: Bill Monroe, Carter Stanley, and Lester Flatt. Alice Gerrard is a fearsome master of vocal folk, old-time, and bluegrass. “The Hazel and Alice Sessions” is not only a worthy tribute to a key bluegrass partnership, but an entertaining and formable collection of music. For me, undoubtedly the bluegrass album of the year. Nominated for a Grammy this time out, I could listen to this one every day.

2. Sister Sadie- “Sister Sadie” (Pinecastle) It remains rare for an all-female outfit featuring well-established personalities to come together to perform and record. Sister Sadie is one hell of a band! Presenting Dale Ann Bradley, Tina Adair and Gena Britt with Deanie Richardson and Beth Lawrence, Sister Sadie not only has individual name recognition, but an appealing, unified bluegrass approach. Dedicating the album to bluegrass innovator Lynn Morris, Sister Sadie has paid homage to the power of their gender’s role in bluegrass and country music.

3. The Earls of Leicester- “Rattle & Roar” (Rounder Records) Like the Bluegrass Album Band did three decades ago, The Earls of Leicester are more than a bluegrass supergroup. They deftly remind the bluegrass community of what this music is about: no ‘nod’ to the roots of the music, this is a full-blown tribute to the sturdy trunk that has supported the many branches of bluegrass for 70 years. While one may not ‘hear’ that the album was largely cut live with the musicians playing simultaneously within the same room, you can certainly ‘feel’ the intimacy of the experience. Everything is precise and note-perfect of course, but listening to “Why Did You Wonder?” one can envision Jerry Douglas nodding to Paul Warren to take a fiddle break after a chorus, Shawn Camp encouraging Charlie Cushman to step-up to deliver a memorable fill, and Jeff White grinning to Barry Bales as the song is brought home. With great regard for the tradition and even greater understanding of the precision required to make this music appear effortless-and the ability to pull it off-“Rattle & Roar” is another outstanding bluegrass recording from The Earls of Leicester.

4. Bryan Sutton- “The More I Learn” (Sugar Hill Records) Hands down, Bryan Sutton is the preeminent contemporary bluegrass guitar player. With clarity, precision, and enthusiasm born of ingenuity and good-taste, he is the ‘go-to’ player within both the bluegrass and Nashville-country studio recording worlds. All the while, Sutton has maintained a recording presence. While early recordings focused primarily (although not exclusively) on impressive interpretations of familiar instrumentals and fiddle tunes, Sutton has pushed himself on latter albums to develop his songwriting while also presenting himself as a singer. This progression continues with “The More I Learn,” with seven originals and co-writes and nine songs featuring Sutton in the lead position. A very satisfying recording that will appeal to those who have come to appreciate Sutton’s tasteful approach to bluegrass and acoustic music.

5. Balsam Range- “Mountain Voodoo” (Mountain Home) Balsam Range is a band that encapsulates all that modern bluegrass represents. So consistently impressive that we no longer expect their albums to be ‘better than their last,’ in less than a decade Balsam Range has hit the plateau of excellence few groups achieve. Like The Del McCoury Band, Blue Highway, and Alison Krauss & Union Station before them, a new release from Balsam Range is measured against their individual legacy. “Mountain Voodoo” lacks nothing.

6. James Reams & the Barnstormers- “Rhyme & Season” (Mountain Redbird) 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 under-heard 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 returned this spring with a wonderful new album, “Rhyme & Season.” “Rhyme & Season” is most deliberately a concept album, a rarity in bluegrass circles. It includes songs from Mike Stinson (“Angel of the Evening,” Marty Stuart (“Rough Around the Edges,”) and Lawrence Shoberg (“Born to Roll”) and from the catalogs of Porter Wagoner (“$100 Funeral”) and Charley Pride (“Special,”) songs that capture the experiences of life’s outliers, the lost and often invisible.

7. Jeff White- “Right Beside You” (Jeff White Bluegrass Records) “Right Beside You” is simply a terrific bluegrass album, one provided shades of influence from the Americana tree. As a result of the familiarity of the material, “Right Beside You” sounds classic. Because of the quality of performance, it is.

8. Blue Highway- “Original Traditional” (Rounder Records) Their eleventh album and first since Rob Ickes departed, continues Blue Highway’s recent blueprint: original music written or co-written by band members along with a single traditional song. The album’s title alludes to the group’s tendency to bridge the generations of bluegrass through recognition and reverence for the traditions of the music while ensuring a contemporary, original perspective is always present. With three formidable lead vocalists and key songwriters-Tim Stafford, Shawn Lane, and Wayne Taylor- along with Jason Burleson’s alternately aggressive and pensive, propulsive and sympathetic banjo presence (his tune “Alexander’s Run” is a highlight of the recording) and an instrumental lineup as strong as has ever been staged, Blue Highway is one of the top bands in the business. And this is an excellent bluegrass album.

9. Danny Paisley & Southern Grass- “Weary River” (Patuxent Music) “Weary River” was released in late 2015, too late to be considered for most year-end lists including my own, but the album received its due in 2016. For those who continue to appreciate bluegrass unadorned by passing fancy, this album has much to offer.

10. Del McCoury Band- “Del and Woody” (McCoury Music) As produced previous sets from Billy Bragg & Wilco, Jay Farrar, et al, and The Klezmatics, lyrics stored within the Woody Guthrie Archives were turned over to McCoury to be repurposed. This rootsy set, fully bluegrass in sound and intent, is the result and the first thing one may notice is how much it sounds like a typical Del McCoury Band album: if unaware of its genesis, one wouldn’t be surprised by anything included here. The musicianship is naturally first-class. McCoury has crafted these 12 songs within the well-established family oeuvre, balancing up tempo, but still substantial numbers and reflective, even maudlin songs. “Del and Woody” should satisfy those searching for fresh takes on Guthrie lyrics as well as the legion that devours music of The Del McCoury Band.

11. Sam Bush- “Storyman” (Sugar Hill Records) Sam Bush, it can be argued, is the most significant mandolin player of the last fifty years. Bowling Green, Kentucky’s favoured son has long been the bellwether of all things acoustic and ‘grassy. “Storyman” comes almost seven years after the exceptional “Circles Around Me,” an album that signified a high-point in Bush’s considerable solo output. As strong as that album was (it made my Top Ten for 2009 and, in hindsight, it would now be certain of a Top 5 berth) “Storyman” is an even more complete encapsulation of Bush’s approach to acoustic, bluegrass shaded Americana.

12. Special Consensus- “Long I Ride” (Compass Records) For more than forty years, Greg Cahill has been making bluegrass music as leader of the Special Consensus. Never in that time, as far as I’m aware, has he experienced the type of success as seen in the past few years since signing on with Compass Records and Alison Brown, who also produces this record. They are a stellar bluegrass group, one of the finest in the business. “Long I Ride” is further evidence of this true life fact.

13. The Grascals- “…and then there’s this” (Mountain Home) One of bluegrass music’s strongest and most engaging performing groups, The Grascals have consistently freshened traditional sounds with modern, progressive elements. From start to finish, in this case Bill Monroe’s plaintive “Highway of Sorrow,” this album maintains the best parts of The Grascals’ country-tempered style of bluegrass, with lots of banjo from Kristin Scott Benson: The Grascals are back at the top of their game with “…and then there’s this.”

14. Town Mountain- “Southern Crescent” (LoHi Records) “Southern Crescent” isn’t so much a departure from previous albums, especially 2012’s excellent “Leave the Bottle,” as it is an intense continuation of their southern influences and hard-scrabble bluegrass sound. As raucous as this approach is, there is a place within the (sometimes) staid and constrained bluegrass community for exactly this type of music. It isn’t trying to be country, it sure isn’t leaning toward easy listening, NPR pap-it is bluegrass, just not the type favoured by Bill Monroe. For that matter, it isn’t of the flavour projected by Doyle Lawson, Rhonda Vincent, Lonesome River Band, or most of today’s mainstream headliners.

15. The Boxcars- “Familiar With the Ground” (Mountain Home) Continuing their own tradition of excellence, with the self-produced “Familiar With the Ground,” The Boxcars ably demonstrate that there is nothing better than a five-piece bluegrass band.

16. Kristin Scott Benson- “Stringworks” (Mountain Home) A beautifully balanced bluegrass album, one that alternates between instrumentals and songs. A very well-constructed and superbly executed bluegrass release, one that reveals the continued growth of one of bluegrass music’s most respected banjoists and personalities.

17. Audie Blaylock & Redline- “The Road That Winds” (Patuxent Music) Like his previous releases, “The Road That Winds” is a bluegrass album firmly down the dotted, middle line-it holds a steady course without drifting toward the edges, meeting anything in its way head on. Blaylock comes from the Jimmy Martin school, and his music will always be rooted in that tradition. However, over the course of their evolution, the younger members of the group-and obviously, Blaylock, too-have kept their sights on progressing with their music, ensuring they remain relevant as artists and entertainers. It’s straight-ahead bluegrass, but forward looking in execution.

18. Corrina Rose Logston- “Bluegrass Fiddler” (Patuxent Music) The title of the album is an acute summation. This is a bluegrass fiddle album, and a darned fine one. While I will sometimes drift-off (to use a polite term for ‘fall asleep’) listening to a fiddle-dominated recording, “Bluegrass Fiddler” kept me intrigued from start to finish. No doubt part of the reason was that Logston’s assembled band keeps things interesting, not just supporting her fiddling showcase, but sounding like a true band who has worked up a strong set of numbers.

19. Josh Williams- “Modern Day Man” (Rounder Records) A stunning bluegrass vocalist and guitarist, Williams’ contributions to Rhonda Vincent’s concert appearances are significant, never failing to impress. With the release of “Modern Day Man,” Williams delivers evidence that second chances must be earned through honesty, acceptance and no little bit of hard work.

20. Jeff Scroggins & Colorado- “Ramblin Feels Good” (Self-released) With flashes of greatness, “Ramblin Feels Good” is an above-average bluegrass release from a group that has quietly established a reputation as one of the more satisfying bands working the bluegrass circuit.

James Reams & the Barnstormers- Rhyme & Season   1 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

Call to support- James Reams & the Barnstormers   Leave a comment

unnamedI like to believe-and perhaps it is a false belief-that I’ve been a good friend to bluegrass music for the past twenty-some years.

I’ve spent more money on bluegrass than I hope my wife ever knows-concerts, festivals, compact discs, various merch such as t-shirts, sponsorship of radio stations near and far-I’ve done my share.

Add in the thousands of volunteer hours supporting the playing of bluegrass, of organizing and promoting bluegrass concerts, as well as the hours writing about this darned music, sometimes feeling like I’m advocating for something that is working against itself, and it is no wonder I’m feeling older than I should.

Not complaining, just observing.

I’ve made friends within this music, folks that I care about even though I may go a year or more without communication. That’s part of the bluegrass community-you can go years without seeing an acquaintance before running into them at an event and picking up right where you left off.

I know bluegrass music has made me a better person: more patient and accepting, less judgemental and definitely less certain of what I believe I know.

One of the best friends I’ve made in bluegrass music is James Reams. With his now departed partner in life and music Tina Aridas, James allowed me to peer into the independent bluegrass industry from the perspective of a rank outsider. I gained great insight from his and Tina’s experiences, learning every step of the way the importance of personal relationships within this small world.

2-James-Reams-200x300James remains one of my favourite bluegrass bandleaders and performers. One of my favourite people, period. I’ve attempted to plan a holiday around his Arizona appearances, and one day-hopefully soon-I’ll find a way to head south to catch he and The Barnstormers performing. I am confident in my belief that he has created one of the richest and most diverse recording catalogues over the past two decades. If you haven’t listened to James Reams & the Barnstormers, do some Googling and listening. Start here. Or here.

Within the next four days, James’ current Kickstarter campaign will come to a close. With great support from his fans, James has raised almost 70% of his very modest goal to allow himself to begin the production of his next album Rhyme & Season, his first since leaving New York City three years ago. James has continued to lead The Barnstormers, maintaining a band on the east coast and one out west. As he states, “Bring a bandleader for bands on both coasts has been challenging, but mostly it has been rewarding.” His new recording will feature both of his bands, and James promises some additional, exciting surprises.

James will donate part of the proceeds from album sales to projects benefiting the homeless. Now retired after a career as a school teacher, James has recently shared his experience as a homeless teenager. When he started putting together songs for this new recording, James “was struck by the broad variety of folks that are technically homeless: truckers, prisoners, addicts, and the elderly,” among others. In addition to those typically identified as homeless, James is willing to examine the experiences of others who are displaced, including recent immigrants to the United States. As someone who has written frankly in the past about mountain top removal, social injustice, and the plight of the forgotten, one trusts that Reams will create an incredible collection of songs for this release, anticipated this autumn.

According to James, “My intention is to embrace a wide range of human emotion from happiness and love to loss and sorrow, and over it all to express the hope I feel about the future. As I listened to some old gems, I was once again amazed at the depth that bluegrass music brings to understanding the human character. These songs inspired me to add my own contribution to the album in the form of original material that touches on similar issues affecting our world today.”

Please consider supporting this next project from James Reams & the Barnstormers. Visit his Kickstarter page here.  I have every confidence that you will be pleased that you did.

Roots Song of the Week- featuring James Reams & the Barnstormers   Leave a comment

ReamsThis week’s Roots Song of the Week is not a single song. I would like to join the bluegrass community in celebrating the release of James Reams’ long anticipated DVD production Making History with  Pioneers of Bluegrass. (I wish I could share how great the movie is, but my copy hasn’t yet arrived…I have now been hopelessly disappointed daily for the last two weeks, but I know it will get here soon.)

We first heard of The Early Days of Bluegrass several years ago when James included a sampler within the packaging of his magnificent Troubled Times album. As James freely admits, the journey toward fruition of this project has been much delayed. However, during the past year James has managed to finish the project with the assistance of supporters through a modest Kickstarter campaign. The DVD was released July 22, but I’ve held off for my copies to arrive…but, thought I needed to write about it today.

Below is the press release information, followed by links to this week’s Roots Songs of the Week:

After 11 years in the making the DVD documentary “Making History with Pioneers of Bluegrass: Tales of the Early Days in Their Own Words” has been released. This labor of love went through a whole gamut of production interruptions, any one of which would have stopped a less dedicated producer. When James decided to start shooting at the Grand Opening of the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro, KY, [in 2002] he had no idea that over the next decade he would suffer many personal losses including the death of his long time partner Tina Aridas, his early collaborator Walter Hensley, and most recently, his mother, before the film was finally completed. In the process, computer glitches resulted in clips being lost or having to be re-edited to the point that funds finally ran out on the project.

When it looked like these interviews would never see the light of day, James decided to send out an appeal through Kickstarter to generate the final funding to “git ‘er done!” And you came through for him. The modest funding goal was reached, final editing completed, and now…drum roll, please…the film is only available for purchase online through CD Baby, by mail order to James Reams (click here for the order form) or from the gift shop at the International Bluegrass Music Museum. Don’t wait…get your copy today!

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To mark the release of this movie, featuring interviews with some of the pioneers of bluegrass- Jimmy Martin, Art Stamper, Mac Wiseman, Kenny Baker, and more- I’d like to feature a few songs from James Reams and the Barnstormers.

At James’ website, he has four audio files for sharing, including the original number “River Rising,” Stonewall Jackson’s “You Can Almost Hear the Blues,” the gospel song “City That Sits Foursquare” and the instrumental “Rocky Creek.” You can find all those songs right here. Additionally, there are several recent video clips featuring the Arizona-based Barnstormers including “You Can Almost Hear the Blues” and “Roanoke.”

I appreciate James Reams’ music and his devotion to the early days of bluegrass. I highly recommend all of his albums, especially One Foot In the Honky Tonk.

BTW, I’m now on Twitter, @FervorCoulee. I have no idea what to do with it.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald