Archive for the ‘Other Labels’ Tag
Lost Cause Records
A concept album, Scofflaw is Clint Morgan’s second recording. Morgan is a piano player, singer, songwriter, and lawyer from Washington. With a rough-hewn voice—think Billy Joe Shaver with a bit of honey—giving his songs the patina of authenticity, Morgan explores the dark side of folks who could have/should have done better for themselves.
Across 75-minutes, Morgan delves into the lives and situations of outlaws, criminals, and desperadoes revealing aspects of their lives that dime store books and movies may not have emphasized. One doesn’t come away with sympathy for the likes of Clyde Barrow (“Eastham Farm”), Doc Halliday (“The Face in the Mirror”), or Billy the Kid (“I Got a Gun”) and that certainly isn’t Morgan’s intention. Rather, within these bluesy, rollicking ‘folk’ songs one may find shades of family members, acquaintances, or even themselves: that point where a pivotal decision turns a life from the straight and narrow to the lure of less conventional and frequently violent.
Morgan comes by his storytelling-via-song bonafides genuinely. With familial roots in Appalachia, and a great-great aunt who was also A.P. Carter’s great-grandmother, story and song run through his veins. Morgan draws on American history—the Wild West, the Great Depression, and Prohibition—and its fascination with those who scoff the law (“D. B. Cooper Blues”) and conventions (“Wild One,” “Wanted Man”) to create a comprehensive overview of villains who—through the twists of time and the spin of history—became larger than life heroes and legends. He examines their influences and uses their own words to reveal the tension between good and evil, and the hope that redemption holds. “Waco” may be the finest individual song (“Lord, don’t let me go back to Waco, My soul burns every time I do”) with the pressure increasing as the protagonist threatens to come apart with each passing note.
Morgan doesn’t talk about himself a lot (his website bio is a list of a couple hundred folks from Pinetop Perkins through to the Carter Family, Guy Clark, OCMS, BR-549, Alberta Hunter, and Oscar Peterson) so one doesn’t know how he came to connect with guitarist Kenny Vaughan, bassist Dave Roe, or multi-instrumentalist Jim Hoke. Suffice it then to say that with this combination of talent, and the addition of vocalists Diunna Greenleaf (“Send Me To the ‘Lectric Chair”) and the timeless Maria Muldaur (“Soft and Tenderly, Jesus is Calling” and “I Done Made It Up In My Mind”), a pretty danged fabulous recording was assured.
Every bad man eventually runs out of road (“Running from the law in a piece of junk, with a sackful of cash and a body in the trunk,”) and the final third of the album—perhaps the most appealing—tackles the aftermath of these lives of selfish criminality. Some find redemption, some the wrong (right?) end of a gun—does it matter, when the crime has been done? Morgan appears to believe it does, and he devotes his closing songs to the seeking of salvation. Beautiful stuff, even if you may not believe—as he appears to—that sins can be washed away.
Scofflaw is a weighty tome, a creation melding the complexities of beauty and ugliness that few recording projects attempt let alone accomplish. It will be displayed in pride of place alongside The Man from God Knows Where, My Favorite Picture of You, Legacy, The Way I Should and other classic, contemporary folk recordings on my shelf. But, not yet—I want to listen again.
Thanks for dropping in at Fervor Coulee. Hopefully, you are finding music that appeals to you. Donald
My review of Laurie Lewis’ new album is up at the Lonesome Road Review. One Evening In May is a live set comprised overwhelmingly by recently written and previously unheard (at least to me) songs. This isn’t a bluegrass album. But that doesn’t matter. It is a Laurie Lewis album, and that is something always appreciated.
As always, thank you for visiting Fervor Coulee and thank you for reading my roots music opinion. Donald
Flipping through the CDs on the shelves the other morning, I wasn’t surprised to find seventeen Jim Lauderdale albums. Labeling the North Carolina-born, South Carolina-raised singer, songwriter, musician, and producer as prolific is to understate the prevalence of his musical progeny. Since 1991, and including three recently released albums, Lauderdale has created no fewer than 25 complete albums.
Add to that output dozens of guest appearances, compilation album tracks, and songs cut by recording artists from (alphabetically) Gary Allen and Mandy Barnett through to George Strait, Kelly Willis, and LeeAnn Womack, and you have someone who makes Alejandro Escovedo seem a laggard.
Planet of Love, that debut recording, remains a favourite, as does his early masterwork, Persimmons. These were mainstream country records that contained a vibrant pulse heartened by smart writing, creative singing, and inventive musicianship. His albums with Ralph Stanley, and mid-aught recordings including Headed For the Hills and The Bluegrass Diaries were superior, and no matter what perspective of Americana he elected to explore- countrypolitan, bluegrass, jam-band, troubadour, straight-up and hard, or Appalachian roots- he pulled it off with skill and no little bit of magic.
There were stumbles. At times, Lauderdale and his songwriting collaborators- especially Robert Hunter- delivered songs that were (depending on outlook) apparently or obviously formula-driven and predictable, perhaps overtaxing material that needed time to lay fallow. However, these blemishes were the exception rather than the rule. Where contemporaries deliver an album every three or four years, Lauderdale consistently unleashes a recording annually at minimum, a dozen since 2006. He has released four in the past year, three in 2013 alone, including Blue Moon Junction and Black Roses simultaneously this past November.
If anyone matches Lauderdale’s level of prolific creation combined with consistent high quality, they’ve escaped my attention.
My reviews of these three exceptional albums from Jim Lauderdale have been posted to Country Standard Time:
Old Time Angels: http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=5358
Blue Moon Junction: http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=5359
Black Roses: http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=5360
Are these three albums created for the same audience? They could be, if that audience is flexible and fluid enough to react to the musical curves Lauderdale extends. Alternately, each may appeal individually to different types of listeners- Old Time Angels (video of the title track here) for the ‘grassers, Blue Moon Junction for the folk club crowd, and Black Roses for those who are interested in more jam band-influenced sounds.
Jim Lauderdale isn’t afraid to get out of his comfort zone. We should be willing to meet him halfway.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. @FervorCoulee
I purchased Volume Five’s Run via eMusic a couple months back, largely because I wondered why a band would cover so many standards on their third album. I don’t think I came up with a reason, but the band has come up with a fair to middlin’ bluegrass album, and I don’t mean any disrespect; as I’ve written before, not every album can be 5 star.
They are a good band, and Run features a couple very strong cuts and several interpretations of bluegrass mainstays; a good place to start with Bluegrass 101.
Aaron at Lonesome Road Review sent me a copy to review, and it is up there.
As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Mountain Fever Records
3 stars (out of 5)
By Donald Teplyske
Having established themselves on bluegrass radio and on festival stages with their first two albums, Volume Five has continued their development from local jamming friends and performers, becoming a formidable quintet.
Run, released early in 2013, follows a similar pattern to the group’s previous albums: a few originals and several songs that have become well-established standards within bluegrass circles.
This time out, Volume Five have elected to record songs, given their position as standards, that one would not anticipate a band choosing. The album kicks off with “Son of Hickory Holler’s Tramp” and finishes with a four pack of tunes that are so common that they are seldom played beyond a jamming circle: Earl Scruggs’ “Silver Eagle,” John Prine’s “Paradise,” The Stanleys’ “Little Willie,” and the ubiquitous “Fox on the Run.”
Along with “See The Big Man Cry,” these songs are so overdone that even recording them is, in a twist of logic, a brave move. While the band may face criticism for selecting such to record, they in no small way “pull it off.” Yes, the songs are well-established, but they are standards for a reason and to their credit Volume Five brings their own personality to each. The tempo and melody of “Paradise” is has been tweaked a bit, as has “Fox On the Run,” and it sounds as if Glen Harrell was born to sing “Little Willie.”
With “Rich Man’s Daughter” having topped airplay charts earlier this year, one wonders what else the band might have unearthed had they chosen to dig deeper when selecting songs for Run. The title track certainly is appealing, a strong bluegrass tune of familiar subject matter—an escape from a chain gang—and “Thorn Tree Shade” is a fine example of the “betrayed spouse snapping” oeuvre.
Instrumentally and vocally, the band is without doubt tight. Jeff Partin handles the guitar, and also sings lead on his own “Julie.” His voice isn’t as obviously powerful as Harrell’s, but by no means is he out of his element. Jesse Daniel wrote “Run” and his mandolin playing is nicely featured throughout the album (However, shortly after Run was released, Daniel left the group)
The 5-string of Patton Wages established the atmosphere of “Rich Man’s Daughter,” and there is no shortage of banjo on the album’s dozen tracks. Handling the majority of the lead vocals, Harrell also plays fiddle while Chris Williamson provides the solid backbone on bass.
Volume Five’s Run is an enjoyable album, moderately hindered by an abundance of overly well-known material, songs perhaps better left to live performance. At the same time, one appreciates why a group may wish to capture their interpretation of songs audience members seldom tire of hearing. As such, Run reveals that there seems to be an internal struggle waging between the band’s creative drive and their reliance upon the familiar.
Ultimately, this effort suggests that, despite their strengths as musicians and singers, Volume Five may not be ready to progress within a genre that is increasingly populated by artists honing and advancing the music through originality and invention.
Aaron at Lonesome Road Review asked me to review the latest from British Columbia’s John Reischman, and I was more than pleased to do so.
As a side note, Reischman and the Jaybirds have a few Alberta appearances coming up in August, including at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, the Shady Grove Bluegrass Festival, and at Calgary’s Ironwood Stage as well as shows in Invermere and Fernie. Well worth catching- their performance has never failed to impress me.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. donald
Walk Along John
5 stars (out of 5)
By Donald Teplyske
Not given to self-promotion flash, John Reischman allows his impressive picking do his speaking for him.
On the instrumental Walk Along John, this is certainly the case: fourteen tunes featuring various combinations of bands and duos, mostly of original composition with a small handful of trad tunes, presented as a cohesive and eminently listenable bluegrass-focused release.
After five outstanding album releases with The Jaybirds, as well as an eclectic left turn with John Miller on Bumpy Road, Reischman follows up 1999’s beautiful Up In the Woods. Walk Along John is a full-fledged bluegrass mandolin extravaganza in which Reischman is joined by sympathetic, complementary souls including Chris Thile (on the rock solid, 1929 Loar mandolin-duet “Itzbin Reel,” an idyllic tune resurrected from an early Good Ol’ Persons album), Eli West, Kenny Smith, and Chris Coole.
The Jaybirds lend their fingers to “The Deadly Fox,” a tune that features each musicians to great effect; listening to Nick Hornbuckle’s banjo break immediately calls forth a smile of admiration while the warmth of the entire production is pleasing. When Greg Spatz takes a fiddle break three-quarters of the way in, one cements opinion that “The Deadly Fox” is destined to be one of the great bluegrass cuts of the year. The ensemble, seemingly effortlessly, play off each other with precision borne of countless hours of familiarity.
Reischman is obviously a master of bluegrass mandolin, his concept of tone and sense of melody earning praise from peers including Thile and David Grisman. While some have criticized his playing and music as being too highbrow for bluegrass folks, such seems folly when faced with “Little Pine Siskin” and “Indian Arm,” tunes that are as playful as they are artful, cemented in a tradition of adventure and exploration. A brief deconstructed interpretation of “Little Maggie” is just one of many examples of Reischman’s ability to honor the roots of his music while confidently advancing the art.
For this listener, the album’s highlight is “Joe Ahr’s Dream,” a scorching Monroe-spirited tune featuring Tony Trischka. However, each cut brings something that all should find appealing. Two versions of “Side By Each,” one a duet with Bruce Molsky, the other featuring a full band, provides insight into the options available to one with a musical brain as exceptional as that Reischman most assuredly possesses.
To suggest Walk Along John should be considered one of the great releases of 2013 may be taken as hyperbole, but only by those who haven’t allowed this magnificent and flawless recording to sweep them along on a journey spectacular.
My review of Flatt Lonesome’s disappointing debut disc has been posted to Fervor Coulee Bluegrass.
…Although I do like the album cover…
The bluegrass world is pretty insular, and writing negatively about any band’s recording isn’t commonly done. For the most part, I avoid writing negative reviews for any number of reasons including it makes me feel like a heel. Still, sometimes albums come out and appear to be embraced by the bluegrass community, and I just can’t figure out why. This is one of those times, and I felt compelled to stand up and write what I have been thinking since hearing the album a couple weeks back.
As a very independent writer, it is not in my ‘best’ interest to write negative reviews. I rely on publicists, labels, and artists to get albums into my hands. I’ve learned the hard way that if you slag an artist, you get ‘cut off.’ I haven’t received an album directly from Rural Rhythm- or their publicist- since I wrote negatively about one of their most insipid releases five years ago.
And that’s their perogative. I hope that doesn’t happen this time, but I can live better with myself having written honestly than cocooning faint praise within a publicity piece. Chris Jones, always insightful, is touching on this type of writing over at Bluegrass Today. I’ve likely been guitly of doing this type of thing in the past, at least in my days with Bluegrass Now where negative reviews were not permitted; if you wanted to be even a little critical, you had to couch your writing in the manner Jones describes in his first example.
In those days, Bluegrass Now was paying me to write for them, so I had to follow their guidelines. Now, I’m writing for myself, and on a good day, a few hundred others. I owe it to myself, the people who read my writing, and to the artists I write about to do so as honestly and as transparently as possible. I’ve written positively about artists who have personally insulted and offended me, or who have shown up for gigs (apparently) coked to the gills, or who have been less than forthright or honest in their dealings with myself and those I’ve worked with. That is how it should be- when writing, I am doing so from a critical not personal perspective.
I don’t expect to get a thank you note from Flatt Lonesome, or their publicist, for this review. I don’t expect them to even care what I’ve written. That isn’t why I write about roots music. I do hope I guide some readers toward making a more thoughtful decision before laying out ten or fifteen dollars for their album.
As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
BTW- I’m listening to Leeroy Stagger’s Radiant Land right now, and dang- it is freaking great!
Over at Lonesome Road Review, Aaron has posted my review of the quite terrific collection inspired by some of the music referenced in the Little House books. Worth checking out, in my opinion. As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Pa’s Fiddle: Charles Ingalls, American Fiddler
4 stars (out of 5)
By Donald Teplyske
As a child through the 1970s, I was raised with the Little House on the Prairie television series. When I discovered the public library during the summer between grades four and five, among the dozens of books I devoured were Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series. In the years since, and despite the contextual racism and other challenges presented by the novels, both overt and subtle, they remain favorites; without doubt Little House in the Big Woods remains one of the coziest novels to read on cold winter evenings. Further, for years I have hoped to visit Mansfield, Missouri and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum, and this coming spring it just may finally happen.
Therefore, I come to this set predisposed to positivity.
When I reviewed a previous volume (The Arkansas Traveler) in this continuing series several years ago, I was tremendously impressed by how song titles carelessly skimmed over while reading as a youth brought to life memories of the novels. That album, while serving as a historical retrospective, was a dang fine listen. With Pa’s fiddle at its heart, it was not surprising that the old-time music collected therein prominently featured fiddle—lively and light, then mournful and introspective.
Unlike that previous set, which featured masterful vocal performances from the likes of John Cowan, Elizabeth Cook, Andrea Zonn, and Jeff Black, Pa’s Fiddle: Charles Ingalls, American Fiddler is an album of instrumentals. As before, Matt Combs ably handles the fiddling. Missed here are the contributions of Butch Baldassari, in who’s memory the album is dedicated. As Pa’s Fiddle Band, the musicians bringing these songs to life include familiar bluegrassers Shad Cobb (banjo), Dennis Crouch (bass), Matt Flinner (mandolin) Bryan Sutton (guitar) as well as Buddy Greene (harmonica) and Jeff Taylor (accordion, pennywhistle, and piano).
Sure to be enjoyed by all fans of old-timey sounds, this latest volume sounds a bit more “uptown” than the previous set. The arrangements are more refined with the full-band presenting a less rustic interpretation of the tunes. Perhaps the tunes, including a personal favorite, the spritely picked “The Yellow Heifer,” received interpretations such as those included here in the 19th century, but I wouldn’t bet on it. These, therefore, are not faithful reproductions of the music heard by Laura, Mary, and the clan, but rather relatively modern interpretations of a selection of tunes mentioned throughout the Little House series.
The performances are dynamic and fully enjoyable. The doleful sounding “Golden Years are Passing By,” played by Bryan Sutton, causes one to reflect on passing days while the full-band reprise of the tune intensifies the ache into something even more pensive. The old fiddle tune “Polly Put the Kettle On”, featuring Joe Weed on fiddle, is closer in spirit to what I ‘hear’ when reading the novels. Some tunes bring a religious element, omnipresent within the Little House series, including “My Sabbath Home” and “Jesus Holds My Hand.”
The song notes of Dale Cockrell, which places each tune within both historical and Little House contexts, are superb, concise and interesting.
There are but two elements of the album that give me pause.
There first is simply a matter of preference. If these recordings are built on the legacy of Wilder’s writing, I do wonder why the songs are presented as ‘band’ recordings as Pa usually played unaccompanied. While I very much appreciate the performances contained within Pa’s Fiddle: Charles Ingalls, American Fiddler, when listening I don’t strongly hear Wilder’s sense of place or voice.
My second hesitation around the project concerns the stated intent of this recording is to “place [Charles Ingalls] among the first rank of old-time fiddlers whose music is foundational to so much in American music.” This goal seems to be revisionist to my wee historical brain. While Ingalls’ playing is woven throughout the Little House novels, it seems to me that that was the limit of his influence.
I am willing to be corrected, but in my admittedly limited reading of fiddle playing in American history, the name Charles Ingalls isn’t prominent. I might suggest, as is hinted in Cockrell’s notes, that Ingalls’ influence didn’t extend past his family and immediate circle, and as such he is simply one of likely thousands of fiddle players whose music informed and entertained his family, but didn’t have historical relevance; the difference being, of course, that their daughters didn’t write about the experiences as widely as did his.
Quibbling aside, Pa’s Fiddle: Charles Ingalls, American Fiddler is a very enjoyable, supremely played collection of songs that further illuminate the importance of the Little House series in our understanding of American history and the place music serves within it. And, it is a dang fine listen.