Archive for the ‘John Prine’ Tag

Mac Wiseman & Various Artists- I Sang the Song review   2 comments

Mac Wiseman

Mac Wiseman I Sang The Song Mountain Fever Records

With all due respect to the folks who have released excellent bluegrass and country albums this year, and those who will undoubtedly do so in the coming months, we have our 2017 Americana/Roots album of the year.

An incredible undertaking by Peter Cooper and Thomm Jutz, the most important element of the thirteen songs comprising I Sang the Song: Life of The Voice With A Heart is the source material, Mac Wiseman himself. Nearing 92, Wiseman was born in 1925 and recalls a time few of us can picture outside history books and re-runs of The Waltons. Wiseman is a man who knew A. P. Carter and has now had Sierra Hull share a song with him. Think about that for a half-a-moment.

“It ain’t bragging if you’ve done it,” asserts John Prine gently within the title track, revealing for the unaware that Wiseman performed alongside the acknowledged masters of 20th century roots music. A member of both The Foggy Mountain Boys and The Blue Grass Boys, as well as a charting, featured performer in his own right, Wiseman is a founder of the Country Music Association, and inductee to both the International Bluegrass Music Association Hall of Fame and the Country Hall of Fame.  A label executive and producer—and one of the finest bluegrass gentlemen I’ve had the pleasure of encountering, however briefly— Wiseman was always far more than “just another young hillbilly.”

The majority of these songs are obviously bluegrass, a few clearly country, and others find that sweet, magical spot between the two. Cooper and Jutz had the inspiration and wisdom to listen to and converse with Wiseman, finding in his stories threads to embroider  the ten new songs created together to communicate a compelling narrative of anecdote.

Naturally, the singing is incredible throughout. Recent IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year Shawn Camp is given a pair of songs, as is Milan Miller who appears with Buddy Melton (another IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year) and Andrea Zonn. Junior Sisk, yet a third IBMA vocalist recipient, also has two lead appearances, “Crimora Church of the Brethren,” on which he is joined by Ronnie Bowman (yes, another IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year) and “The Wheat Crop”—with the ladies of The Isaacs—which laments the lot of the poor farmer. These performances are expectedly outstanding, and the history-rich lyrics and eternal melodies provide galvanizing framework for blessed voices.

Justin Moses (fiddle, banjo, and Dobro) and Hull (mandolin) work with Jutz (guitar) and Mark Fain (bass) to serve as the house band, uniting to create a consistent instrumental environment. Cooper and Jutz harmonize on several tracks, providing further uniformity.

Within a song, Wiseman (“The Guitar,” via Moses and Hull) takes us from receiving his first Sears Roebuck, ragtop box, to the eventual day he stopped “playing in G and singing in C” to nail “There’s An Empty Cot in the Bunkhouse  Tonight” for an audience of one. As the album unfolds, his experiences through to the hardships of the depression (“Barefoot ‘Til After the Frost”, “Three Cows and Two Horses”) are revealed in a natural, homespun manner capturing the vernacular of his rural upbringing down to cold “feet just as red as a gobbler’s snout.” In the universal and frustrating balance poverty, even when things improve for Wiseman’s family (“Manganese Mine,”) another discovers only hardship and tragedy.

“Simple Math,” one of two sang by Americana icon Jim Lauderdale, details further experiences from Wiseman’s youth following him into early gigs as a professional musician including his big break playing Molly O’Day sessions. Lauderdale, one of the most prolific and versatile vocalists working today, adroitly relates the simple truths of Wiseman’s observations.

As compelling as the connections to Wiseman’s life are across the album, the fact that each song stands independent released from context is indicative of their significance. The bluegrass chart hit “Going Back to Bristol,” sung by Camp, radiates universal appeal, whether you’ve ever been near the border community, cut a side with Flatt & Scruggs, been near a Studebaker, or not.

Alison Krauss joins Wiseman on the closing benediction “‘Tis Sweet to Be Remembered,” one of his earliest successes, for a performance joining generations in hopeful love of music and life. Wiseman drops in on a few of these numbers, providing a foundation for the lyrics and music, but also allowing those with the greatest of admiration to communicate his story through the voices of generations influenced by “The Voice With A Heart.”

For thirty-eight minutes, timeless memories are communicated. Through time, these performances will be shared to become part of our collective memory.

Visit to order.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. @FervorCoulee



The12 Roots Songs of Christmas- #3   1 comment

The family is on their way over, so this one is going to be rushed- which is just as well as the song speaks for itself. There is a whole set of Christmas songs that are a bit acerbic in their delivery. While not spiritual or carols in any manner, they have become as much a part of my Christmas as the more traditional fare. Songs like Robert Earl Keen’s “Happy Holidays, Y’all” John Prine’s”Christmas in Prison,” Dar Williams’ “The Christians and the Pagens” and Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis’ “Oklahoma Christmas” are some of these, songs that take a different aim at the season.

imagesThe granddaddy of all these is the previously mentioned Robert Earl Keen’s “Merry Christmas from the Family,” a song that requires no commentary. This is the only video I can find on the YouTube as the CMT site is blocked to me. I’ve heard a dozen singers attempt this and only one other has been able to pull it off, John Wort Hannam.

Today’s non-roots song of Christmas is Alison Moyel’s “Coventry Carol.” ‘Nuff said.untitled

Thanks for continuing to visit Fervor Coulee. Only two more days in this series, and as I did not strategically plan out anything on this list except for #1, there are a bunch of songs I’m not going to get to…perhaps I’ll have to do a Bah, Humbug double header tomorrow. Donald

Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine   Leave a comment

My review was published at Lonesome Road Review.

Various Artists
Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine
Oh Boy Records
4 stars (out of 5)

In a world too full of tribute albums and cover projects, few distinguish themselves, seldom lingering beyond the cycle of stories and reviews encouraged by pressies and ad buys.

There have been memorable tribute projects. However, for every Real and Por Vida, there have been two or three Timelesses, Tammy Wynette…Remembereds, or Skynyrd Frynds.

I’m not sure where Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows will eventually end up, but I suspect it will be closer to Lonesome, On’ry and Mean than I’ve Always Been Crazy. Not only is the artist representation relatively fresh and intriguing—no Sheryl Crow, no Emmylou Harris (as much as I love her), no Kid Rock or even Willie Nelson—but the songs reinterpreted are a pleasing cross-section of prime Prine classics and deep album cuts.

Envisioned by Oh Boy staffers, the album embraces the current slate of youthful (from where I’m sitting) modern folk and Americana festival mainstays performing songs of their choosing and arrangement. Prine’s voice and appreciation for melody are present in every song—no one has turned their song inside-out simply for the sake of originality. Instead, the dozen performers take Prine straight-on, giving the songs and their original singer and writer appropriate consideration.

To be honest, I have only a more-than-passing familiarity with four or five of the artists featured. To me, Conner Oberst, My Morning Jacket, Deer Tick, and Josh Ritter are names skimmed-over in music mags and blogs. Of the artists I was familiar with only the Drive-By Truckers and Sara Watkins could be considered personal favorites.

This distance helped me appreciate Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows. Rather than approaching with a preconceived notion of Rosanne Cash or Jim Lauderdale interpreting “Paradise,” I could encounter each performance and each performer on their represented merits.

On the album’s opener, Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) assumes Prine’s voice in so eerie a manner that one could be forgiven for believing Prine is singing “Bruised Oranges (Chain of Sorrow).” While Vernon’s track is entirely satisfying, it is fortunate that none of the other performers sound much like Prine.

Overall, the album is—much like a Prine recording—fairly laid back. The DBTs convincingly kick things up with a modern-sounding, Southern boogie interpretation of “Daddy’s Little Pumpkin.” Conner Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band give it a good try with “Wedding Day in Funeralville.” Unfortunately, their attempt to interpret the Common Sense track as The Band might have fails to be convincing. The Avett Brothers’ take of “Spanish Pipedream” is more successful.

Deer Tick with Liz Isenberg perform “Unwed Fathers” with considerable success. The tracks from Watkins (“The Late John Garfield Blues”), Josh Ritter (“Mexican Home”) and My Morning Jacket (“All the Best”) succeed mostly because the artists recognize that they have to add nothing to Prine’s song but themselves.

The only track that completely fails is also one of the weakest of the Prine catalog, “Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian”; the appeal of this one has always escaped me, and Those Darlins fail to reveal the song’s relevance.

Tribute albums—cover projects of any kind—are fickle things. One is never certain who they are intended to attract. Fans of the originals may decry the interpretation of timeless favorites by upstarts. Those more familiar with the interpreters may not feel a necessary connection to the songs.

At best, they provide an opportunity for important songs to be exposed to listeners who may have not yet found the originals in their parent’s vinyl stacks.

Each listener will have to decide for themselves if Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows improves upon the Prine story or merely expands it. For me, I’ll err on the side of the former; overall, these interpretations of songs I’ve heard dozens of times are not only enjoyable, but revealing within themselves of Prine’s ability to capture Truths in deceptively simple ways.