Archive for the ‘Other Labels’ Tag

O Brother, Ralph Stanley, & Dolly Parton reviews   Leave a comment

More roots review from the extensive if not valued Fervor Coulee Archive:

O_Brother,_Where_Art_Thou__(soundtrack)Various Artists O Brother, Where Art Thou? Soundtrack Mercury Universal (2000)

Musical luminaries diverse as John Hartford, Norman Blake, Dan Tyminski, and the Fairfield Four came together to record the music for the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, providing stellar performances of early bluegrass, traditional country, and Appalachian ballads.

Highlights include songs by strong female vocalists such as the Whites, the Cox Family, and Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, and Gillian Welch which are important as glorious performances of historical songs for a new generation. The inclusion of Ralph Stanley’s chilling a cappella rendition of “O Death” solidifies the album.

(originally published February 16, 2001 Red Deer Advocate)

RalhoRalph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys Man of Constant Sorrow Rebel Records (2001)

Long associated with the song “Man of Constant Sorrow,” featured prominently in O Brother, Where Art Thou? , Ralph Stanley lends legitimacy to the soundtrack. Stanley was a contemporary of Bill Monroe, and was elemental in establishing the sound of bluegrass.

Man of Constant Sorrow, Stanley’s latest, is a compilation of recordings from the last 25 years, and serves as a companion piece to the O Brother soundtrack.

Bluegrass gospel numbers such as “I Am Weary (Let Me Rest)” and “I Have Seen The Rock of Ages” find Stanley and his band in fine form. Alongside these are “Old Richmond Prison” and “Poor Rambler” which capture the pain and depth of bluegrass.

(originally published February 16, 2001 Red Deer Advocate) Side note: This was the first album I received for review from Rebel Records; I was completely chuffed that they took a chance on me in 2001. Still am each time a disc shows up in the mail!

DollyDolly Parton Little Sparrow Sugar Hill Records (2001)

Little Sparrow continues the path Dolly Parton has been on recently bringing spirited vocals to several traditional sounding numbers including “Seven Bridges Road” and “Marry Me.”

She has also assembled a crack selection of the bluegrass elite to give her self-penned numbers an authentic instrumental base. Parton continues to resurrect her career by harvesting the sounds of her childhood.

Superior releases such as Little Sparrow broaden and enrich the audience of traditional music forms while further establishing a commercial presences for roots music.

(originally published February 16, 2001 Red Deer Advocate)


Unleashed Live & Dallas Wayne reviews   Leave a comment

More roots review from the extensive if not valued Fervor Coulee Archive:GrueneCharlie Robison, Jack Ingram, and Bruce Robison Unleashed Live Lucky Dog (2000)

These singer-songwriters, here recorded live at Texas’s legendary Gruene Hall, are among the cream of today’s crowd. Each offers clever word play with compelling mini-dramas featuring revenge, regret, and good times.

Bruce Robison comes with a guitar case of uncommonly sharp songs. “Angry All The Time,” a duet with wife Kelly Willis, chronicles the frustrations felt by a guy caught on life’s treadmill, “gettin’ a whole lot older everyday.”

Charlie Robison, Bruce’s brother, performs four rocking numbers originally recorded for his Life of the Party album including “Barlight” and “Sunset Boulevard;” the versions included here are significantly different and benefit from the live setting.

Jack Ingram delivers a fine set of songs, but has stronger ones available in his repertoire. “Mustang Burn” is terrific, but “Barbie Doll” serves as unnecessary filler; songs from his Livin’ or Dyin’ album are more indicative of his considerable writing and performing talents.

Fans of these performers are sure to enjoy this recording which features fresh takes on favourite tracks.

(originally published January 19, 2001 Red Deer Advocate)

DallasDallas Wayne Big Thinkin’ HMG/Hightone Records (2000)

Missouri honky tonker Dallas Wayne is a man with an enormous voice; the uniqueness of his resonating baritone grabs the listener from the first lines of the title track and doesn’t let go until the final refrains.

Included on Big Thinkin’ are twelve songs which cover typical honky tonk ground—drinkin’, lyin’, lovin’—while launching numerous well-placed jabs at the state of commercial country music. “If That’s Country” features the sentiment, “you’re turning our music into some kind of strange elevator noise,” while rightly comparing modern country to “bad Phil Collins with a hick facelift.”

Dallas Wayne pulls no punches.

“Lie, Memory, Lie,” “Coldwater, Tennessee,” and “Old 45’s” would be radio hits if the ‘powers that be’ could beyond the lack of rock ‘n’ roll guitars and stylized vocals.

Dallas Wayne is country music for the masses; it is up to the masses to discover and embrace his music.

(originally published January 19, 2001 Red Deer Advocate)

The Start- Kieran Kane & Johnny Staats reviews   Leave a comment

Late in 2000, buoyed by a seemingly growing and increasingly vibrant local roots music ‘scene’, I approached the local daily about writing a column on roots music. Intended to promote upcoming events and to feature reviews of important roots music recordings—and to allow me a way to get ‘free’ music—the paper (for some bleeding reason I still don’t understand) bit, and Rural Roots (renamed Roots Music soon after) made its debut as a monthly feature. Three months in, they moved me to twice-monthly, where I remained—usually on the front page of the entertainment section—for the next twelve years. Like a lot of freelancers, I didn’t get a great deal of (or any) guidance or coaching so I had to learn my craft the hard way: in front of everyone! It wasn’t always pretty, but it was a great ride, and only ended when I moved from Red Deer.

Shortly after I started writing for the Advocate, I approached Bluegrass Now about writing for them. With the infinite patience of their editorial team, I wrote for them for seven years, until the Internet and the challenging economic forces it wrought on publishing claimed the publication.

I have dug through the archives and found digital files for those columns, and will post them at Fervor Coulee irregularly as I waste time in front of the television, watching the world fall to pieces: consider these my contribution. For the oldest reviews, I have re-typed them from the paper copies I retained. They may not reflect any editorial revisions made upon publication.

KieranKieran Kane The Blue Chair Dead Reckoning Records (2000)

New York-born, Nashville-based singer-songwriter Kieran Kane has quietly established himself as one of North America’s steadiest performers of folk-inspired country music.

Having recently played to a full house at Red Deer’s 49th Street Cafe, Kane’s latest album solidifies his status as a premier troubadour.

Kane’s fifth original release is a quiet affair containing fewer lighter songs and catchy hooks than his previous albums. The somber mood of the album, hinted at in both the title and cover art, is prevalent throughout.

The album’s standout track is “Four Questions.” Expressing the frustrations of love, Kane quietly evokes the tribulations and joys of fidelity and life.

The Blue Chair is, without exaggeration, masterful. Each track extends the theme of mature love—stretching and cracking with age but always renewing its strength.

“I’ll Go On Loving You,” recently recorded by Alan Jackson, concisely establishes this element. “I’m reminded that what I feel for you, will remain strong and true.” Simple phrases, lasting images.

(originally published December 15, 2000 Red Deer Advocate)

Johnny StaatsThe Johnny Staats Project Wires & Wood Giant Records (2000)

John Cowan writes, in the liner notes to this fine debut album, that “the mandolin is a mysterious, earthy, and beautiful instrument.”

Bluegrass music’s quintessential instrument sounds like no other, and the mandolin has seldom sounded stronger than in the hands of Johnny Staats.

Wires & Wood, released earlier this year, is a stellar collection of largely original material. Guests include such bluegrass and country torchbearers as Jerry Douglas, Scott Vestal, Tim O’Brien, and the aforementioned Cowan.

Alternately spirited and sensual, the instrumentals fully display the versatility of Staats’ mandolin playing while the vocals, complemented by those of Cowan, O’Brien, and Kathy Mattea, are strikingly strong.

Key songs include “Coal Tattoo,” on which Staats’ voices has its finest workout, and the un-rehearsed studio outtake “John Hardy/Fox On The Run.”

No better introduction to a newcomers talents could be envisioned. Wires & Wood deserves a place in every bluegrass music lover’s collection.

(originally published December 15, 2000 Red Deer Advocate)

The Louvin Brothers- Love and Wealth: The Lost Recordings review   1 comment

The Louvins

The Louvin Brothers Love and Wealth: The Lost Recordings Modern Harmonic

The Louvin Brothers recorded several outstanding albums (Tragic  Songs of Life, Satan Is Real, Country Love Ballads, A Tribute to the Delmore Brothers…) in a span of less than eight years, and even more timeless songs (“Cash on the Barrelhead,” “When I Stop Dreaming,” “The Knoxville Girl,” “Don’t Laugh”…). They were members of the Grand Ole Opry, recorded both gospel and secular material, sang in a manner that gave definition to ‘brother harmony,’ and likely would have been happier had they never recorded together. Ira wouldn’t manage his vices, and Charlie couldn’t tolerate them.

Their music was unadulterated old-school, radio show country, elemental even to the development of the music. The Louvins are held in the same esteem as the Carter Family, Hank Williams, and George Jones, and were as influential to bluegrass music (which they didn’t play, despite Ira’s fierce mandolin playing) as they were on country music. They have been the subject of a (uneven, and uninspired) Grammy-winning tribute album Livin’ Lovin’ Losin’: Songs of the Louvin Brothers as well as an alternate greatest hits, annotated by notable contemporary artists, Handpicked Songs 1955-1962. They are members of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

This archival set is comprised of demos recorded between 1951 and 1956, prior to and during their association with Capitol Records. In extensive notes Colin Escott details the origin of these songs, and their place within the Louvins legacy. A handful of these songs are known to all who appreciate roots and Americana music, including “Are You Missing Me?” (Jim & Jesse McReynolds), “Take My Ring From Your Finger” (Johnny & Jack), “Love and Wealth” (Carl Story, The Osborne Brothers), and “Bald Knob, Arkansas” (Vern Williams, Open Road).

Over the years, several were eventually recorded by the Louvins, especially gospel numbers which largely populate the second disc of the set: “Preach the Gospel,”  “The Sons and Daughters of God,” and “Insured Beyond the Grave,” to name three. “Red Hen Hop,” presented here as the swinging and cluckin’ “Red Hen Boogie,” is one of the familiar secular songs recorded by the Louvins included. “(I’m Changing the Words To) My Love Song” goes back to the brothers’ earliest recordings.

I am far from a Louvin Brothers’ expert, but some of these songs are absolutely riveting, and as far as I can tell never appeared on a Louvin release: warning, I could be wrong! “Streamline Heartbreaker” was recorded by Roy Acuff in 1964, and as far as I can tell didn’t do much for him. But, what a song as presented here: the close, complementary harmony missing from the Acuff version is what makes this Louvin take indispensible. “That’s My Heart Talking” was cut by Boots Faye & Idaho Call in 1952; listening to the Louvins’ demo take, one truly wonders why they never recorded the song.

“Discontented Cowboy” is less essential, but one can understand the intent behind the song: have a hit with one of the day’s cowboy singers. Two of the stronger songs on the set are “Don’t Compare the Future With the Past” and “Two-Faced Heart,” songs that I can’t find record of being cut. “Bald Knob, Arkansas” is typically recorded with more than a little bluegrass pep, but is presented here with a sentimental, almost maudlin pace.

I’ve often stated most of what I know about religion comes from bluegrass and Louvin Brothers songs, and I supposed they taught me a bit more with their unadorned takes of “Born Again,” “I Love God’s Way of Living,” and “You’ll Meet Him in the Clouds.” Their voice soars on these takes, and one comprehends the importance these songs of faith had to both Charlie and Ira.

The set closes with five terrific songs, “Measured Love,” “Kiss Me Like You Did Yesterday,” and “Never Say Goodbye” among them, that are as strong a coda as a 50s vocal-based country act could hope to have within their repertoire.

This crystal-clear, two-disc set, featuring exceptional notes and photos, and available on vinyl, is absolutely essential for all who appreciate early country music and The Louvin Brothers’ significant role within it.

Kathy Kallick Band- Horrible World review   Leave a comment

kallickKathy Kallick Band Horrible World Live Oak Records

I’ve been writing about Kathy Kallick almost as long as I’ve been writing about roots music.

With others, I produced a concert for the Kathy Kallick Band, have bought several CDs—and been afforded others— and spent time listening to her music at multiple festivals and various stages—I am positive both as a reformed Good Ol’ Persons (although I can locate no record of such) and as the KKB—while having a couple semi-private chats with her. She is undoubtedly one of my favourite bluegrass and Americana performers.

Kathy Kallick’s voice is always warm and inviting, even when singing songs with the coldest of themes: she knows her way around a murderin’ outlaw song as well as anyone, and yet can embrace the complexities of relationships and daily life with seeming ease. While she can and does perform in a range of situations, never is she so strong than when fronting a vibrant, driving bluegrass band, and over the past many years has been releasing complex and engaging albums with her band.

Warmer Shade of Blue reached a level few bands can ever achieve, and yet she built upon that with Between the Hollow & the High-Rise and FoxhoundsFoxhounds while never faltering. Her recording of a few years back with Laurie Lewis honouring Vern & Ray also deserves recognition.

Horrible World (countered both in song and on the back cover with “It’s A Beautiful World”) continues the Kathy Kallick Band’s streak of excellence. As always, her songs are deep and meaningful creations, ones that find a way to speak to innermost thoughts. She balances these heady moments with unconventional renditions of familiar songs, for example recreating “Cotton-Eyed Joe” as a pensive 3/4 time ballad, before shifting gears ala Monroe’s post-Presley “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”

Tom Bekeny (mandolin) has been part of the group since the start and Walkin’ In My Shoes, and is as central to the KKB sound as is its namesake. His interaction with bandmates during the extended instrumental break within the telling “Nothin’ So Bad (It Can’t Get Worse)” is notable. The lineup of the group remains consistent from Foxhounds: Annie Staninec (fiddle), Greg Booth (Dobro and banjo), and Cary Black (bass) along with Kallick (guitar) and Bekeny. As usual, everyone sings various bits and parts.

With a trio of instrumentals—one near-grass (“Cascade Blues”), one western swingin’ (“Boot Heel Drive”) and one bonafide ‘grass (Bekeny’s “Edale)”—and familiar songs including “My Honey Lou” and “Dark As The Night (Blue As The Day,)” which I swear I have heard Kallick sing previously, [ed.note: and I have, if not in concert at least on the live Good Ol’ Person’s release, Good ‘n’ Live; thanks Mr. Thompson] leading the way, Horrible World is a very accessible bluegrass release.  This interpretation of “Dark As The Night” is stellar, bluesy and pure yearnsome. “Pockets Full of Rain” is a hopeful (vaguely familiar sounding) new-folk song, and “Ride Away” is a spirited ‘bad guy’ tale, and Kallick goes hard—as she often does—to give voice to this spritely number. “Solid Gone” incorporates years of folk-country-and bluegrass tradition within its words and melody, and Staninec’s singing style is well-suited to this old-timey song.

The album closing “This Beautiful World,” a John Reischman-Kallick co-write is a gentle meditation for hope and faith, as is “The Sunday Road,” albeit with a bit more pep.

The Kathy Kallick Band is one of the strongest, most consistent and satisfying bluegrass bands going. That they never receive their due from the IBMA voting membership come awards time is a shame. An album like Horrible World could change that, should folks in positions of influence ever bleeding notice. But I’ve been saying similar for 15 years.

Ashleigh Flynn & The Riveters- review   1 comment


Ashleigh Flynn & The Riveters Ashleigh Flynn & The Riveters
Home Perm Records

When writing about a CD, I dislike comparing voices and arrangements to those of others—while it provides context, it seems lazy. (Not that I won’t make those comparisons…it just really dislike doing it.) After all, how many folks can have the airy ethereal qualities of Emmylou Harris, the gritty troubadour authenticity of Steve Earle, and the hardcore poetic elegance of Townes Van Zandt?

Fortunately, in the advance material for Ashleigh Flynn & The Riveters debut album, their PR scribe drops references to The Rolling Stones, T. Rex, and T-Bone…Walker, I’m guessing. I’m taking that as permission to launch a few names of my own.

Ashleigh Flynn has been making music for quite awhile, although I’ve only previously encountered one of the Kentuckian’s albums, A Million Stars of 2013. That set was full-blown, swinging ‘radio show’ country, the kind of retro music that inhabits a fair-narrow path within the wider Americana fold. That album was further highlighted by “How The West Was Won,” a rockin’ Calamity Jane song I wrote about previously and which sounds like a precursor to what Flynn has elected to record with the up-tempo  Riveters.

Based in Oregon, Flynn has established a new outfit of musical partners. We should be far beyond comparing this roots rock extravaganza to the excitement felt upon hearing Beauty and the Beat almost forty (!!) years ago, but I am not. There aren’t too many exclusively female lineups within the roots world outside of bluegrass—Della Mae and Sister Sadie come to mind—and so by their very existence Ashleigh Flynn & The Riveters are noteworthy. In an entirely different way, they are as musically thrilling as the Go-Go’s.

Off the top, it is apparent Ashleigh Flynn is a terrific singer, reminding one of Zoe Muth. Supercharged Americana roots rock, Ashleigh Flynn & The Riveters pour fifty years of rock and roll nuggets into these ten easy to appreciate songs, placing wee aural Easter eggs—premeditated or not—of musical tribute throughout. “Shrouded Sun” could be an interpretation of a Bobbie Gentry b-side, and “Fly Away” a long-lost cut from Mother Earth.

Singing from a position of strength, but with a “cold black line running down the center of her heart,” Flynn isn’t necessarily giving up on love, but she may just be getting ready to swear off her current affection. No matter the subject matter, songs like “Cold Black Line” suggest that Flynn is in the driver’s seat.

Punctuated by hand claps and a soaring melody, Flynn and The Riveters explore Long Ryders jingle-jangle paisley-flavoured country-rock on “Too Close To The Sun,”  the album’s defining  song. In the time between Here and Then, Dale Ann Bradley reaching for her Bobby McGee comes to mind within “The Sound of Bells,” a strong yearnsome song.

And just to run all allusions to ground, I’m hearing Bad Company (think “Shooting Star” and “Burnin’ Sky”) during “One Moment,” featuring “shredderific” guitar licks from Nancy Duca, while there is more than a bit of “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” coursing through the assured declarative “You Will Remember.” “Big Hat, No Cattle” allows a fellow some deserved self-deprecation. The power battery of Julie Clausen (drums) and Carmen Paradise (bass) lay out assured grooves.

All of which accumulates into an amazingly creative and original juxtaposition of rock, country, vigour, and sass. Ashley Flynn & The Riveters make…wait for it…riveting roots rock!


Clint Morgan- Scofflaw review   Leave a comment


Clint Morgan


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