Archive for the ‘Mark Erelli’ Tag

Fervor Coulee’s Favourite Roots Albums of 2016   2 comments

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 substantial time reviewing the roots/Americana/whatever you want to call them, if they are on the No Depression list I might have considered them, and even if they aren’t I still may have albums I heard during the past year, and have come up with my definitive (at least for today) list of Favourite Roots Albums of 2016. Of course, your kilometreage 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 roots 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.

I’ve already posted my Favourite Bluegrass Albums of 2016, and while bluegrass is an essential part of roots music, I’ve chosen not to intermingle the ‘grass into this list. Reason? This way I get to praise more albums. If you care about such stuff, my favourite bluegrass album of the year, Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands’ The Hazel and Alice Sessions would also top this list if I were to include bluegrass amongst the roots. Likely the top six bluegrass albums would have made my top 20 roots albums, and I likely would have found space for Sam Bush, too…

The number rankings, once past four or five, don’t mean much more than a way for me to stay organized: feel free to move your favourite up a spot or three. Full reviews are linked as artist/title.

My Favourite Roots Albums of 2016 are…

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1.Mark Erelli- For a Song Likely the album I listened to second most all year. Erelli has been at the top of his game over the past number of years, both with his bluegrass band Barnstar!, as an interpreter of others’ music (his Bill Morrissey album of a couple years back, Milltowns,) as a pissed off (alternately, disappointed) topical folkie of the Woody Guthrie vein (“By Degrees,”) and on his latest full length release, For A Song. For a Song is a quiet album, yearnsome and blue in turn, reflective, observant, and above all honest; the album wove its way into my soul, making me appreciate what I understand and consider that which I don’t. I just wish he would show up in Alberta some time.

2.Maria Dunn- Gathering One of Alberta’s foremost folk musicians returns with her sixth collection of lyrically-rich gems. An artist who places her convictions and heart on display in complementary proportions, Dunn has found balance between sharing the inspirational and compelling within songs that are insightful, artfully constructed, and just plain enjoyable. There will always be more than a bit of the Celtic lands in Dunn’s music, and throughout Gathering African, Asian, and Canadian First Nations influences can also be heard. Like the finest troubadours, Dunn communicates: she is the vessel through which others exist. She reveals the innermost, personal, and captivatingly universal perspectives and insights of devoted parents, the down-trodden challenged by circumstance, those connected to the land by more than choice, and the youthful who rise above.

Certainly one of the finest recordings to be released this year. Those who compare Maria Dunn to Woody Guthrie, Hazel Dickens, Jean Ritchie, and Buffy Sainte-Marie aren’t taking the easy way out: with the release of Gathering she demonstrates that she is an international folk artist of significance.

3.Jenny Whiteley- The Original Jenny Whiteley On this recording, Whiteley satisfies a desire to more fully explore the music that provided the foundation for her development—old-time folk sounds that have existed and thrived for generations. A recognition of her rich and diverse Americana/Canadiana upbringing within the venerable Whiteley clan, this fifth recording is a rootsy masterpiece. In a lesser artist’s hands such a multi-dimensional homage might sound disjointed; The Original Jenny Whiteley is united in its eccentric melding of the rich traditional and roots tapestry—folk, jugband, bluegrass, early jazz and ragtime, Francophone, Dylan, and the blues.

4.The Honeycutters- On The Ropes Fronted by Amanda Anne Platt, the Honeycutters offer up country sounds that have a bit of rock ‘n’ roll push, a combination that enhances rather than detracts from their honky-tonk foundation. Their instrumental interplay is excellent, and Platt has an incredible voice, as powerful as needed and as tender as desired. There exists an intimacy within these songs, all but one written by Platt, and that intensity allows the songs (and their performance) to make personal connections with listeners.

The Dixie Chicks seem a reasonable comparison. Playfully rambunctious and justly pointed, a song like “Let’s Get Drunk” resonates: “…and if the ship is really sinking what’s the use in waiting til it’s sunk? Baby, we’re already drinking, so we might as well get drunk.” Where was she 35 years ago?!

5.Western Centuries- Weight of the World I am sure it is no coincidence that the debut album from Western Centuries vaguely resembles the self-titled release from a late 60s band of considerable Americana-roots influence. Fronted by a trio of songwriters, each singing their own songs with distinctiveness, Western Centuries is a modern country band that encourages cerebral shifts as readily as it does two-stepping shuffles. Drawing inspiration from generations of country honky tonk singers and their bands, Western Centuries is something many of us are continually pursuing—a genuine country band that doesn’t take the easy way reinterpreting familiar songs, but rather pushes their talents toward creating modern classics. Weight of the World is pert darn special.

6.Robbie Fulks- Upland Stories Stone classic this one is. Nominated for a Grammy for “Alabama at Night”—wait a second, Robbie Fulks is nominated for a Grammy! Let that percolate for a minute. Maybe 2016 wasn’t an entirely awful year! There are a dozen memorable songs on Upland Stories, none indistinguishable from those surrounding it. Maybe not Fulks’ most exciting or dynamic album (tough to beat those early albums,) but maybe his best.

7.William Bell- This Is Where I Live I have to admit, when I saw a tweet from Rosanne Cash about a new William Bell album, my first thought was “Is that like the Pop Staples album of last year?” Because I truly thought William Bell was dead. Idiot, me. I first heard William Bell after Billy Idol covered “To Be A Lover,” playing the crap out of that pink Soul of a Bell album in the mid-to late-80s. I’ve now played This Is Where I Live as many times. A beautiful sounding, complete album. Another Grammy nominee. Tied with #8 for Comeback of the Year.

8.The Monkees- Good Times! Hands down, my most played album of the year. No Depression has it on their year-end list, so that makes it roots enough for me. “She Makes Me Laugh,” “You Bring the Summer,” and “Love to Love” are just great songs. Pure pop for old people.

9.Caleb Klauder and Reeb Willms- Innocent Road Featuring the Caleb Klauder Country Band, Innocent Road is comprised of a half-dozen Kluader songs, a few obscure covers, and a healthy dollop of familiar country classics from the likes of Buck Owens and George Jones. The kicker is a track from Paul Burch’s stunning Fool For Love album, “C’est le Moment (If You’re Gonna Love Me,)” artfully sung by Willms.

As much as I enjoy Prine and DeMent and Robison and Willis, I think I might just prefer what this duo accomplishes. There is no artifice within these recordings, no hint of sly aside.

10.Northern Cree- It’s A Cree Thing North America’s original roots music perhaps? Northern Cree are a drum group from Alberta, and It’s A Cree Thing has also been nominated for a Grammy, the seventh time this group from Saddle Lake has been recognized in this manner. It’s A Cree Thing is a powerful collection of round dance songs full of energy, personality, and history. “Oh, That Smile” should be a hit single! Gorgeous.

11.Darrell Scott- Couchville Sessions With consistency his strong suit, and similar in most ways to his breakthrough album Family Tree, Couchville Sessions is a welcoming listening experience highlighted by Scott’s warmly distinctive voice and diverse presentation choices. Recorded around the same time Scott was starting to ‘break’ 15 years ago—working with Tim O’Brien and Guy Clark then—this is a set of well-aged performances captured in Scott’s living room, the gestation of which are disguised within the sultry “Come Into This Room.” It provides continuing evidence that Scott is one of Americana’s most vibrant visionaries.

12.Matt Patershuk- I Was So Fond of You Back in January or so of this year, I was listening to the radio and a four-song set was played-some combination of Corb Lund, Guy Clark, John Fulbright, and Patershuk, and I recall realizing that I couldn’t tell which of those guys was from La Glace, Alberta and making his living in construction. Put his songs on WDVX, and Patershuk would sound as comfortable alongside Darrell Scott, Fred Eaglesmith, and Chris Stapleton. Heck, add Sturgill Simpson, Hayes Carll, and the rest to the list. Patershuk is the real deal, folks. If you are missing the country, the kind of country music recorded in the days when there was more grease and a little less gloss, check out I Was So Fond of You.

13.Eric Brace & Peter Cooper- C & O Canal I suspect that I would enjoy passing time about a round table with a cool beverage in my hand in the company of either Eric Brace or Peter Cooper. Two of my favourite musicians, songwriters, and wordsmiths, Cooper and Brace have released a strong slate of albums over the past decade. C & O Canal, their latest, pays homage to the folk and bluegrass music the two encountered in Washington, DC in the 70s and 80s.

14.Rory Block- Keepin’ Outta Trouble A tribute to Bukka White, this set is so strong that it deserves a place in my Top 20 rather than as part of my tributes/collections list that is still being assembled. Block goes beyond White’s music, creating original music inspired by his life and his approach to the blues. With attention to detail, but an even greater sense of purpose, Block enlivens these performances with a balance of passion and precision that breathes life into oft-encountered numbers. Her voice is magic, and her approach to blues guitar is clean, restrained, and just damn fine beautiful.

15.Dori Freeman- Dori Freeman Freeman isn’t interested in presenting herself as some social archeology project, the mountain singer untouched by modern sway. She is a contemporary vocalist, one touched by the influences of her rural mountain upbringing as well as less-rustic contributions. She is a folk singer, a country singer, and a pop singer, all rolled into one appealing vocal package. Having written these ten songs, Freeman most obviously has her own viewpoint and voice, one that has been honed by producer Teddy Thompson; the focus of the arrangements, musicians, and production choices remain on Freeman and her songs.

16.Red Tail Ring- Far Away Blues How did this relatively unheralded set have such a significant impact on me that it took about two months to (barely) uncover the words to attempt a review? It is danged freakin’ good. This Michigan duo of Laurel Premo and Michael Beauchamp is incredible. They have the rare ability to inhabit songs, removing the barrier of time, place, and reality between their performance of ancient tunes “Yarrow” and “Come All Ye Fair & Tender Ladies,” their own timely compositions, the recorded medium, and the audience. You are transported into the recording, watching the pair lean into their songs as they maintain eye contact to communicate chords and progressions.

17.Chicago Farmer- Midwest Side Stories Cody Diekhoff—okay, Chicago Farmer—doesn’t set out to do anything fancy on Midwest Side Stories. He has insight into the experiences and internal dialogues of contemporary working class folks, and has the artistic ability to convert these into songs of substance and interest. “Skateboard Song” touches on a whole lot of stuff—youthful disenchantment, small-mindedness, finger-pointing, and police harassment, just to start—over a hard-beaten melody that would do both Weezer and Dan Bern proud. Chicago Farmer’s mid-western insights do not limit these songs: they appeal whether you are rural or urban, upstate or down, blue- or white- collar, Canadian or American. “Rocco N’ Susie” are our neighbours, the ones we don’t really know, but are more like us than we care to admit—a couple pay cheques away from foreclosure, a few months from desolation, several bad decisions from remand. The gradual journey from independence to dependence is identified in “Farms & Factories,” suspicion thrives in “Revolving Door,” and the night shift margins are explored on “9 pm to 5.”

18.Margo Price- Midwest Farmer’s Daughter I had several albums circling around these final spots, and I went with the ones I did because of their genuineness, their apparent authenticity. There is little to suggest Price considered market configurations or sales ramifications when compiling the songs for this release. Like Hazel Dickens did and Brandy Clark does, Price sings and writes of true life situations, and like Dickens (but not so much Clark) she doesn’t add a lot of spit and polish to the music. When I hear “Four Years of Chances,” “Hurtin’ On the Bottle,” “Desperate and Depressed,” and “This Town Gets Around,” I imagine I’m experiencing something similar to what folks felt listening to Loretta Lynn for the first time more than fifty years ago; still, I don’t think Loretta ever sang of blow jobs.

19.Corey Isenor- A Painted Portrait (Of the Classic Ruse) This is country music. Just not country music. There are times, as in “From Towers to Windmills,” that I am reminded of New Order (“Love Vigilantes.”) At other points Isenor’s approach reminds me of Matthew Lovegrove’s Woodland Telegraph: sparse, minimalist and achingly poignant (“Queen of Calgary” and “Diamonds on the Moon.”) “The Navy Blues” is catchy and complex, with Andrew Sneddon’s pedal steel providing additional melancholy. Rebecca Zolkower and Desiree Gordon’s vocals lend depth to several songs, as do Liam Frier’s guitar contributions. Alt-country continues with Corey Isenor.

20. Grant-Lee Phillips- The Narrows Sometimes you locate an album never realizing you were looking for it. The Narrows is one of those albums. I have a couple Grant-Lee Phillips albums, ones I listened to a few times upon purchase and then filed away in the drawers. I was looking around the internet one night a few months back and clicked on a video link for “Tennessee Rain.” Before the song was finished playing, I had gone into iTunes and hit Buy. Raucous in places (“Rolling Pin”) and atmospheric elsewhere, the deluxe edition of the album provides additional takes that extend the pleasure of the listen. While the Drive By Truckers delivered a more timely and angry disc, GLP produced the more enduring one.

I’m out of words, but also enjoyed these discs:

Brandy Clark- Big Day in a Small Town; Mary Chapin Carpenter- The Things That We Are Made Of; Parker Millsap- The Very Last Day; Lori McKenna- The Bird & the Rifle; Paul Gauthen- My Gospel; Loretta Lynn- Full Circle; Mandolin Orange- Blindfaller; Blackie & the Rodeo Kings- Kings & Kings; Chely Wright- I Am the Rain; Steve Forbert- Flying at Night; and Drive-By Truckers- American Band;

As an aside or addition, my favourite Roots Compilations/Tributes/Reissues of the year are, in no particular order:

VA- 40 Years of Stony Plain

J D Crowe & the New South- S/T vinyl 

Gillian Welch- Boots No. 1- The Official Revival Bootleg

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band- Circlin’ Back: Celebrating 50 Years

VA- Wayfaring Strangers: Cosmic American Music

VA- God Don’t Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson

VA- Just Love: A Tribute to Audrey Auld Mezera

VA- The Life and Songs of Emmylou Harris

VA- Fast Folk: A Tribute to Jack Hardy

Merl Saunders and Jerry Garcia- Keystone Companions: The Complete 1973 Fantasy Recordings vinyl box

(Not included in the above list are excellent tribute [or tribute-ish] albums from Del McCoury Band, Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands, The Earls of Leicester, Rory Block, Jenny Whiteley [tribute to her family’s musical roots,] and Eric Brace/Peter Cooper, all of which made my top Bluegrass or Roots album lists.)

Finally, some 2015 albums didn’t get as much attention from me last year as they did in 2016, for a variety of reasons. But, man- did I play the heck out of them this year: Linda McRae- Shadow Trails; Chris Stapleton- Traveller; Josh Ritter- Sermon on the Rocks; Sam Baker- Say Grace; and Steve Forbert- Compromised.

BUY SOME MUSIC, DAMMIT! Roots musicians deserve our support.

Best for the New Year, Donald

 

 

 

 

 

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Barnstar!- Sit Down! Get Up! Get Out! review   Leave a comment

W169I like me some Barnstar!

Had I not fallen under Mark Erelli’s spell seven or eight years ago, I might never have heard of this part-time bluegrass outfit. Based out of the Boston area (kinda), they don’t garner airplay of Sirius and Bluegrass Junction (as far as I know,) they haven’t found themselves on the cover of Bluegrass Unlimited, and they don’t show up on the Bluegrass Today chart.

But, if I was still in a position to do so, I would be trying to convince my Alberta bluegrass compadres that we should be bringing the group north for some shows.

This is their second album and is filled with songs, both original and covers, that will move you, shake you, and kick you out when they are done with you. The album is so good, my favourite song on it, “Trouble,” only gets a passing mention in the review! Lonesome Road Review published it. Thanks, Aaron.

Give them a listen on the YouTube. “Stay With Me,” indeed! Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee.

Rose Cousins- We Have Made a Spark review   1 comment

Rose Cousins We Have Made a Spark Outside Music

This coming week sees the release of Halifax-based Rose Cousin’s third album We Have Made a Spark. While exploring similar sounds to her previous releases, this outstanding recording serves as a considerable forward step for the dual 2011 East Coast music Award winner (Songwriter and Solo Female Recording).

Produced by Massachusetts’ Zackariah Hickman (Josh Ritter, Barnstar!), Cousins and her team have negotiated the difficult waters of independence to create a well-paced album of lyrical and musical depth. Similar in some ways to more overtly commercial artists including Kathleen Edwards and Serena Ryder, Cousins piano- and guitar-based music has smoky depth that lends itself to considerable contemplation.

With darkness- loneliness, vulnerability, depression, frustration, and other challenges- as a unifying theme, this set could have become bogged down in self-recrimination and anger. Rather, and while the mood is certainly is not boisterous, the disc isn’t without considerable light charm in no small part because of the environment in which it was created. We Have Made A Spark was recorded in and inspired by the inclusive and collaborative music community of Boston: Kris Delmhorst, Jennifer Kimball, Charlie Rose, and Mark Erelli are among the better known names who gathered in-studio with Cousins to work up this collection of songs.

A multi-layered set, the album has a seemingly infinite bottom-end with drummer Billy Beard and bassist Hickman running herd on the studio collective. The relationship that ends in The Shell is as delicate as the sentiment of Go First. Each of the eight new Cousins originals are songs you can just crawl into and wrap around yourself. As a bonus, Cousins revisits two songs from her previous album The Send Off, All the Time It Takes to Wait and White Daisies.

The first song received what I thought was an ideal performance on The Send Off, but Cousins manages to outdo herself here. With a more hollow sound than on the previous recording, and with the addition of her choir of Boston ladies adding harmony, All the Time It Takes to Wait is given a performance that is all the more impactful. Charlie Rose’s steel elevates White Daisies to some strange- but effective- amalgam of downbeat jazz and classic country.

An inspired performance of Springsteen’s oft-covered If I Should Fall Behind is included. Sung with should-be-folk-superstar Mark Erelli and a chorus of voices, the emotional threads of the song are again revealed, this time in a new way with the melancholy romantic shades of the original replaced by a gentle assuredness of faith in a wider community.

A brilliant album that gently unfolds as it plays, Rose Cousins’ We Have Made a Spark is available February 28 and has worked its way into my Polaris Music Prize Top 5.

A free download of Darkness is available at www.RoseCousins.com and a 20 minute video that takes viewers into the sessions is also posted at her site.

 

Barnstar!- C’Mon!   Leave a comment

Typically, I don’t like exclamation marks; they seem a little obvious, to me. Like dying your hair green or getting a ‘mohawk’. They scream, Look at me!

Okay, so I still use them, probably more often than I should.

Barnstar! is the bluegrass project of one of my favourite singer-songwriters, Mark Erelli, and a bunch of his Boston-based musician pals. Their album C’Mon! was recently released and I featured the album in my Red Deer Advocate Roots Music column two weeks ago. Here it is, and thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

Barnstar ! C’mon! Barnstar.bandcamp.com

Massachusetts has long been a hot spot for inspired bluegrass. From the days of the Lilly Brothers and Don Stover, through Joe Val and Southern Rail to modern artists including Crooked Still and products of the Berklee College of Music including Sarah Jarosz and Sierra Hull, the area surrounding Boston has produced serious bluegrass. The latest outfit to come out of the area is the accidental bluegrass band, Barnstar!

Accidental in that members of Barnstar! are well-established individuals with independent careers who didn’t start playing together with the intention of forming a permanent touring band.

Jake Armerding (fiddle, vocals) and his father Taylor (mandolin, vocals) have deep bluegrass credentials including years fronting Northern Lights; since then, Jake has carved out a niche as a respected instrumentalist and performer.

Mark Erelli (guitar, vocals) is an incredible songwriter and singer with a string of exceptional albums in his rucksack as well as an album of murder ballads with Jeffrey Foucault and sideman gigs with the likes of Josh Ritter and Lori McKenna. Zack Hickman (bass, vocals) is a producer of note who has also played with Ritter as well as Kris Delmhorst, and banjo player Charlie Rose spent time with west coast old-timers The Crooked Jades.

C’mon! is 46 minutes of modern, song-based (as opposed to sound-based) non-traditional bluegrass- the roots of the Traveling Wilburys (whose Handle Me With Care closes the disc) are as important as those of The Stanley Brothers- which isn’t to detract from the quality of the album, because it is a very strong, enjoyable recording: but the Lonesome River Band it isn’t.

A collaboration as strong as its parts, the members of Barnstar! play off each other to create a cohesive sound that is mindful of traditional bluegrass- instrumental precision balanced by the ease of a living room jam, vocal harmonies that soar and blend, and songs that emphasize story over poetic ambiguity- while shape-shifting within those confines.

Take My Ashes to the River has all the pain and melancholy of the ageless Scots-Irish mountain songs on which the bluegrass tradition is built, but the song is an Erelli original and serves as one of the album’s pinnacle numbers. More familiar will be the songs the band has chosen to bluegrassify: Paul Simon’s Boy in the Bubble, Neil Young’s Cowgirl in the Sand, The Louvins’ Cash on the Barrelhead, and the timeless I Think We’re Alone Now.

Taylor Armerding’s Northern Rail is a highlight as is a new Erelli composition, Charlottesville. A second song from the Northern Lights’ repertoire serves as the album’s spiritual focus; Build It Up features some of the album’s finest vocal harmony. Dawes’ When My Time Comes may over-reach as a bluegrass song, but it is a great showcase for four-part harmony and Erelli’s vocal performance is faultless; Mumford & Sons fans take note.

C’mon! may not be a ‘between the lines’ bluegrass release- some songs have more troubadour swing than full-throttle drive- but it is a darn fine example of what happens when disparate talents come together to play music they love.

Mark Erelli- Making Sense, Again   2 comments

Mark Erelli just released a new album entitled Little Vigils. On his website this month he wrote an impassioned piece on the importance of the journey in music discovery. He asks the question, “When you can find an answer (though it may not be correct) to any question with a simple web search or hear nearly everything ever recorded with a few keystrokes, what can any of it be worth?” He uses his ‘gateway’ band- The Grateful Dead- to his discovery of George Jones. He clearly makes an argument I’ve unsuccessfully attempted to communicate- the search for music is as important as the listening to the music. Read more at http://markerelli.com/

Posted 2010 July 29 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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Walkin’ Talkin’ Dancin’ Singin’- June 28, 2010   Leave a comment

This week, my six-month Sirius freebie expired. Now that that distraction is gone- as much as I enjoyed listening to Chris Jones, Elizabeth Cook, Mojo, and even Kasey Kasem on Saturdays, I don’t really need the service; I know I am my own best dj- So, I can concentrate on whole-album listening a bit more. With the end of the school year approaching, my disc listening will likely increase. For this week, here is what crossed my path:

The album I most enjoyed this week.

Jason & the Scorchers- Halcyon Times The first Scorchers release in more than a decade, and for some reason it isn’t readily available on disc in Canada. After waiting for a couple months, I finally downloaded the album. I’ve listened to it twice so far, and am really enjoying it. Sounds like Jason and Warner haven’t missed a beat. It will become a favourite.

Marty Raybon- At His Best

Ian Hunter- Welcome to the Club Not as vital as it was in 1980, but a heck of a live album.

Oliver Schroer- Hymns and Hers and Camino Inspired by the recent release of Freedom Row, I started delving further into the Schroer catalogue. Hymns and Hers was a pleasant listen, but- for me- hardly essential. Camino is inspiring. While walking the Camino de Santiago through France and Spain, Schroer recorded himself playing his violin in churches along the route. The field recordings of birds, footsteps, and cowbells are as important to the recording as are the songs. The environments, the chambers, provide a depth to the instrumentals. This is where fiddle meets violin along a path carved by millions of footsteps over eleven hundred years. Special.

Mark Erelli- The Memorial Hall Recordings Likely my favourite folk singer that I haven’t seen live.

Marty Stuart- The Pilgrim Brought to mind by the new Dierks Bentley album, this concept album reminds one of how good Marty Stuart can be when commercial constraints are removed. Stands up to the Johnny Cash theme-albums that inspired it.

Kim Wilde- Kim Wilde

The Blue Shadows- On the Floor of Heaven To be reviewed in the paper this Friday. A wonderful reissue of an album everyone who loves roots rock should own.

Summertown Road- Summertown Road An uneven bluegrass recording that I’m reviewing for The Lonesome Road Review. Uneven is perhaps the wrong word- more like underwhelming. It is a fine disc, just not spectacular.

Andre Williams- That’s All I Need More listening needed.

Dierks Bentley- Up on the Ridge A wonderful collection of acoustiblue music. While it will sound entirely different, I was moved to download the Punch Brothers’ album of a couple years back.

Peter Case- Peter Case This one has spent too much time on the shelf.

Swamp Dogg- Total Destruction of Your Mind A find courtesy of an Oxford American music issue of a few years back. Memorable, if nothing else.

Phil Seymour- Phil Seymour While playing around on the ‘Net this week, I came across mention of this album and was inspired to pull it off the record shelf in the basement. I slapped it on the turntable, put on the headphones and was in a blissful power pop cloud for about 35-minutes. Side One- with “Precious to Me,” “I Found A Love,” “Love You So Much,” “Baby It’s You,” and “Let Her Dance” rivals The Cars’ debut album as the best first side in a recording career; of course, Seymour had done several projects with Twilley before this, so maybe it doesn’t count. Throw in “We Don’t Get Along” and it is a masterpiece.

Kevin Welch- A Patch of Blue Sky He can sing anything. A great voice. Welch has asked these questions before, has sung these same songs in other ways. Doesn’t matter; when someone sounds this good, captures himself this well with lyrics, it is to be admired.

The Feelies- The Good Earth The vocals are mixed so low, I found it impossible to sustain interest in any of the words. If this were an instrumental album I would have enjoyed it much more.

David Newberry- When We Learn the Things We Need to Learn A nice little listen.

Joe Strummer & the Mescalaroes- Rock Art and the X-Ray Style Only discovered last year. I love this one.

Larry Jon Wilson- New Beginnings and Let Me Sing My Song To You His songs may not have the depth of Townes’, but I enjoy his singing and guitar playing very much. I’ve never been near the “Ohoopee River Bottomland,” but Wilson makes me feel a connection to his world. I imagine I’ll listen again to his 2009 release this coming week. I hope he had a good life; never read too much about him. When I think of Eaglesmith, the term ‘cult artist’- so popular in the 70s and 80s- sometimes seem appropriate. With Wilson, it seems like a slight; this is a singer that should have been better compensated for his art.

Mark Erelli- Delivered   Leave a comment

Mark Erelli

Delivered

Signature Sounds

Sometime ago, Mark Erelli posted to his website the opportunity for fans and followers to invest in his next album. It isn’t a unique fundraising venture, but one usually reserved for artists of lower profile. It is telling of the narrowness of economic margins in the new musical world order, however. I neglected to respond to the opportunity, and now that I have the product in my hand I very much regret that I spent the hundred dollars on coffees and gum rather than contribute to Erelli’s project.

Delivered is a powerful, dramatic artistic statement from a singer-songwriter who has for too long flown under-recognized while cover shots, features, and praise have fallen on contemporaries. Not that Erelli is better than anyone else plying their trade out there within the coffeehouse, folk club, and house concert circuit. He’s different from some of them, similar to others, and this isn’t a competition, after all. He’s received his due praise from the media that matters, and yet his name is never raised when I’m discussing favoured artists with like-minded peers.

Delivered is different from the other albums of Erelli’s that I’ve enjoyed- Hope & Other Casualties and Compass & Companion– lack of ampersand notwithstanding.  As much as I enjoyed and appreciated those recordings, Delivered is of an entirely different breed. The album has more of a universal theme to it, as it attempts to focus on issues impacting our world, even if they are close to home. It is that ‘great leap forward’ that one hopes for those one respects and holds in esteem.

As a non-American, “Abraham” doesn’t speak to me the same way it may to Erelli and his countrymen, but I appreciate the sentiment all the same. When he sings, “We’ve more in common than divides us, but we need someone to guide us,” I like to think Erelli is singing about more than American politics and leadership. This song, with its refrain of “Rise up, rise up, rise up” calls to all of us to consider not only who we choose to follow, but challenges us to consider why we chose to follow rather than lead.

That Erelli has chosen to close his album with such a powerful number is most appropriate. Elsewhere Erelli provides sketches and portraits of people caught in changing times, feeling powerless to activate any type of action.

The album opens with an incredible song, one that Erelli may have to sing for the rest of his career. “Hope Dies Last” utilizes a backdrop of quiet domesticity to facilitate his description of the pressures faced by not only his country, but those who are tied to its fate. While the images Erelli highlights- suicide bombs, trapped and lost coalminers, New Orleans, and myopic presidents- are tied to current times, the overarching message of holding close those you love will last long after specific headlines are forgotten.

In both “Shadowland” and “Volunteers” Erelli portrays the fates and circumstances of those who serve in the military. Both songs are gripping in their honesty and use of language. “Shadowland” is the loudest song I’ve ever heard from Erelli, reaching levels of distortion and anger that rivals Jerusalem-era Steve Earle. The sense of loss and despair expressed by the song’s protagonist is excruciating- “When you’re dancing with a devil of your own design, you sink down to his level every time.”

“Volunteers” takes a more linear path, but the destination is similar. Caught in a war he never anticipated, the National Guard volunteer who had spent his weekends filling sandbags and cleaning up after storms finds himself in Iraq. Unprepared for what he experiences, and feeling the disappointment of a nation, Erelli’s soldier reflects on his challenges. Considering the judgments of history and God, the volunteer admits, “Over here it’s a victory just to make it through another day.”

Not everything is centered on global wars and politics as Erelli looks at the loss and frustrations of folks caught up in their own turmoil where things don’t always work out as planned. “Five Beer Moon” captures a father living on his own, filling his hours with thoughts about what might have been elsewhere. The darkness of “Baltimore” could only occur after an all-night drive to an elusive love; Erelli doesn’t reveal how the story ends, but one anticipates it isn’t with a country wedding.

The pressures of being the “Man of the Family” seem less harsh surrounded by the despair that populates other songs, but to the guy who feels he can “only tread water” in his own doubts, the impasse is palatable. And for the fellow who claims “I ain’t giving up, I just changed my mind” while standing on railway tracks in “Unraveled,” all the signs in the world are not going to free him from his situation.

Erelli has a way with words that is more than remarkable. Sometimes it is a stark image of “roadside trash crucified on a barbed wire fence” (“Unraveled”) capturing a daily observation in a way one could never have thought. Other times it is in a series of lines that captures the strength of a short story- “Small town Sunday morning and the children all dressed up for church. The bells are a-ringin’ and I’m a-thinkin’ for whatever it’s worth that I might find some comfort if I could just learn how to kneel” (“Not Alone”).  In “Baltimore,” the spurned lover laments, “I’ve got a pawn shop ring and a yellow rose bouquet/Honey, that I bought in a cheap truck stop. Hardly seems enough to prove to you I’ve changed/Well, maybe it ain’t, but it’s all I got.” Lonesome, for certain.

Instrumentally, the album has a comfortable sound, familiar to previous Erelli discs, but also fresh. Liam Hurley’s drums provide a conscious heartbeat for Erelli’s songs. There is the usual selection of guitars and basses, and the addition of pump organ, piano, and other keyboards along with horns makes Delivered a full and panoramic listening experience.

Despite the elaborate settings of some of the songs, the focus is always on Erelli and what he is singing. The words are powerful, and while I don’t believe a song can change the world, we need songs like Erelli’s to encourage us to have the strength and conviction to make changes Where We Live. To borrow a quip from Jon Brooks:  for me, that is what folk music is all about- advancing civilization four minutes at a time.

Mark Erelli has done that with Delivered.