Archive for the ‘Pharis and Jason Romero’ Tag

Fervor Coulee’s Favourite Roots and Singer-Songwriter Albums of the Year 2018   Leave a comment

*the ones that weren’t bluegrass, blues, or ‘old stuff’ like compilations, reissues, and archival releases

This is the second run at my list. The first is lost somewhere on my hard drive, obliterated by the Blue Screen of Death. Reassembling the list wasn’t terribly difficult (although I did decide to cut back from thirty to twenty titles), but I do know some of the placings changed, which is natural: once past the ‘top five,’ albums could flip-and-flop a position or three all down the list. What was more difficult was recalling all my brilliance of opinion- so, that is lacking. Still, this is how I’m feeling today, and I think I am comfortable with this being representative of my Roots Music Opinion for 2018.  As always, these are my favourite albums of the year; it is not a ‘best of’…although, really it is!

  1. Mike Plume Band Born By The Radio– It took twenty-five years, but Mike Plume has emerged as the next great Canadian songwriter, a man who comfortably stands shoulder-to-shoulder with those who influenced him. It has been a long ride, filled with songs memorable and albums impactful, but full realization is achieved with Born By The Radio. The songs are comprised of images universal and personal. “Waste a Kiss on Me,” on which he again squeezes in Kerouac, “Mama’s Rolling Stone,” “Monroe’s Mandolin,” and “Western Wind” are as strong songs as Plume has created, and the instrumentation and energy from the MPB is the stuff of legend. An album without waver. One of two Steve Coffey album covers on the list! (purchased download) 
  2. Pharis & Jason Romero Sweet Old Religion– A pair of Canadian Folk Music Awards last month further embellished the repute of this  focused British Columbia duo, and well-deserved they were of the recognition. Pharis’ voice is a wonder, Jason is no slouch, and together their old-timey harmonies and instrumentation are things of wonder, while their songs are contemporary slices of the world past and present. A beautiful album replete with memorable performances. (serviced CD) 

3. John Wort Hannam Acres of Elbow Room– Alberta’s venerable folk songwriter went even deeper on his seventh album, sharing with listeners his innermost tribulations. Recent years appear to have (almost) got the best of Hannam, and he has poured his darkness and challenges into an expertly-crafted collection of songs that are inspiring and impactful while being just plain enjoyable. “Key of D Minor,” “The Quiet Life,” and “Ain’t Enough” are among the finest songs he has written and recorded, and the title track is a wonder: “where the dotted-lines turn to gravel” may become Fervor Coulee’s new tagline. John has long been a Fervor Coulee favourite, and that his album comes in #3 is testament to the strength of the Plume and Romero albums. (purchased download)



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The new Word Press settings and features are turning what should be a twenty-minute copy and paste, insert the links, and publish activity into an hour of misery and wonky formats. Bear with me- I will try to fix upon publishing via editing. Sigh. 


4. Gretchen Peters Dancing With the Beast Reviewed here (serviced CD)

5. Ashleigh Flynn & the Riveters Ashleigh Flynn & the Riveters Reviewed here (serviced CD)

6. Hadley McCall Thackston Hadley McCall Thackston Reviewed here (serviced CD)

7. Rosanne Cash She Remembers Everything From first listen, and as she has since Seven Year Ache and Somewhere In The Stars hit the turntable at Climax Records 35 years ago, Cash drew me into her current state of mind. As she has long done, Cash is reflecting on current circumstances- politics, division, gender inequality, complexity of relationships- encouraging engagement at higher levels while ensuring her songs are listenable, intriguing, and nuanced. Beautiful, as ever. That she can address weighty topics without sounding didactic is a bonus. (purchased CD and vinyl) 

8. Craig Moreau- A Different Kind of Train Reviewed here (serviced CD)

9. Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore Downey to Lubbock– Albums like this are the reason I continue to listen to music with a passion that has only increased over forty+ years. Two Americana masters come together to create an album standing with everything they’ve produced across lengthy careers. Hearing Alvin sing John Stewart’s “July, You’re A Woman” gets Downey to Lubbck a place in the top thirty: the two originals (including the autobiographical, mood-establishing title track- “I’m an old Flatlander,” Gilmore sings) and the expertly executed covers sneak it into top ten territory. (purchased download) 

10. Mary Gauthier Rifles and Rosary Beads– An early favourite this year, the album dropped in regard simply because I lost the disc in June: sometimes I really regret my propensity toward clutter. Had I had it all year, Rifles and Rosary Beads may well have rated higher on this list. Still, I bought the vinyl last week and I was immediately reminded of the recording’s intensity. Gauthier and her songwriting collaborators have delved as deep into the experiences of America’s military service men and women (and their families) as likely anyone has before done. The effect is lasting, with lyrical detail capturing the full-impact of service experiences shared in songs far-reaching and memorable. Mary Gauthier has been quietly building her career and artistic vision for twenty years- it is terrific to see her ‘break-through’ (again!) in 2018. (purchased download; purchased vinyl)

11. Florent Vollant Mishta Meshkenu Long one of Canada’s finest and most influential roots musician, Vollant has been making time-stopping music since Kashtin’s first album. As far as I have heard, he never falters; Mishta Meshkenu is as anticipated- rhythmic, energetic, and memorable. I don’t need to know what he is singing about to appreciate this album. (purchased download)

12. Roscoe & Etta Roscoe & Etta– Maia Sharp and Anna Schulze are about as rock ‘n’ roll as this list is going to get. I ignored this album when it arrived- to be fair, it came without cover art or notes, a simple advance disc housed in a clear plastic sleeve. Once I listened, I was won over. Rewriting “You Oughta Know” as “Stupid Pretty Face” was fair brilliant, but the strength of the album is found across the entirety of eleven songs. “Play On” and “Broken Headlights” are among the strongest songs heard this year. Roscoe & Etta is a terrific album. (serviced CD)

13. John Prine The Tree of Forgiveness– A master who refuses to compromise. The Tree of Forgiveness is a concise album, all the more powerful for its intensity. Little lightness here, Prine is on a mission to expose his human condition. (purchased CD)

14. Kaia Kater- Grenades– Where our favourite female, biracial, Canadian, old-timey clawhammer banjo player reaches way out to grasp the flowers at the end of the branches. Kaia explores her heritage and family throughout Grenades, creating an album singularly engaging and insightful. More mainstream, even pop-oriented, than previous Kater albums, Grenades is a natural progression. (serviced download)

15. Ashley McBryde Girl Going NowhereYeah, there is no room for music this good on country radio. (That clip brings this cynical and grizzled old man to tears. Seriously- the emotion!) No filler, these eleven songs alternately create moods and describe experiences that everyone can relate with, for good or bad. This is what country music needs to once again become. Fingers crossed; breath not held. (purchased download)

16. Eliza Gilkyson SeculariaReviewed here (serviced download)

17. The Gibson Brothers Mockingbird– A significant departure for the perennial bluegrass powerhouse, but not a jarring one. The lead and harmony vocal signatures remain, and that they’ve broadened their approach for this album isn’t something anyone within the paranoid, protectionist bluegrass collective should fear. As always, excellent songs. (purchased download)

18. Pistol Annies- Interstate Gospel– A little bit irreverent (The album kicks off with, “Jesus is the bread of life without him, you’re toast”) and a whole lot brilliant (“I Got My Name Changed Back,” “5 Acres of Turnips,” “When I Was His Wife,” and “Masterpiece,” being but four) their third album is somehow even better than those which came before. The trio of dixie chicks- Lambert, Monroe, and Presley- mine fifty-plus years of songwriting history to craft a set of original, self-written songs that is smart, sassy, and certainly superior to that clogging country music airwaves.  (purchased CD)

19. Leslie Satcher & the Electric Honey Badgers 2 Days in Muscle Shoals– While previous albums were enjoyable but uneven, everything comes together for Satcher on 2 Days in Muscle Shoals. A venerable rockin’ southern country masterpiece that dares you to not dance. (purchased download)

20. Joe Nolan Cry Baby A moody, soulful album of finely-tuned roots music. Last time I heard Nolan, he was busking at a farmers’ market. While good practice to test-run his songs, I hope Cry Baby takes him further down his hillbilly highway. (serviced download)

Honourable mentions: D. B. Rielly Live From Chester (#21, and bumped by the late arrival of the Pistol Annies) reviewed here, Vivian Leva Time Is Everything (reviewed here), Steve Forbert The Magic Tree, Mandy Barnett Strange Conversation, J. P. Harris Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing (reviewed here), Edward David Anderson Chasing Butterflies (reviewed here), Kevin Gordon Tilt and Shine, Amos Lee My New Moon, Tim Easton Paco & the Melodic Polaroids, Mark Erelli Mixtape, Mariel Buckley Driving in the Dark, The LYNNes Heartbreak Song For the Radio (reviewed here)and Thomas Stajcer Will I Learn to Love Again? (reviewed here)

There you have it, my favourite singer-songwriter (-ish) albums if 2018. Hopefully my choices lead you in a direction you find satisfying; my list is likely different from others’ you’ve encountered. Later this month we will finalize my Top Ten albums of the year. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. 

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Blueberry Bluegrass, 2018- in review   2 comments

The 32nd Blueberry Bluegrass Festival delivered.

While featuring several acts well-familiar in Alberta due to regular appearances over the last several years—Slocan Ramblers, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Jeff Scroggins & Colorado—these groups brought their expected ‘A’ game while other, less-frequently encountered performers including quality area  and regional artists  also quickly enamoured themselves to the healthy-sized bluegrass audience.

In its second year of rejuvenation, the current board of directors, led by Anna Somerville, executed  a flawless festival. Charged with creating an event atmosphere similar perhaps to what Big Valley Jamboree (minus the boisterous silliness) or even Edmonton Folk Music Festival (without the hill) have established, the Blueberry Bluegrass Festival has been reborn: it doesn’t matter so much as to ‘who’ is appearing or what the weather is like, what is important is the fest itself.

Several features have contributed to the festival’s rebirth. New blood on the organization side has brought in new ideas and approaches. The Bluegrass Patio beer tent proved popular as the temperature climbed on Sunday afternoon, the petting zoo and balloon man were hits, as were the nightly country dances and terrific food trucks and vendors who appeared to do steady business. Working to establish relationships with the community has been successful, with the Pioneer Museum proving popular not the least of which because of the indoor stage which offered intimate performances.

Further, the availability of three-stage choices throughout the day is a huge boon to the festival’s patrons, providing considerable choice allowing for weather influenced or music selection and crowd-size preferences. It was also great to have CKUA on-site to broadcast a one-hour Blueberry Opry radio show featuring the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, Jeff Scroggins & Colorado, Pharis & Jason Romero, and Kayla Hotte and hosted by Darcy Whiteside, and was a welcome addition.

One would have to have been searching with a mighty cynical eye to identify shortcomings with the 2018 edition of Blueberry. Some highlights:

The Travelin’ McCourys, making their Alberta debut, closed the festival in a manner that would be impressive absolutely anywhere. Energetic and at the absolute peak of their creative and musical capabilities, the quintet delivered a set including most of their recently released album, standards, and songs from solo projects. Some in the audience may have expected more of a ‘Del’ show, but the greatest majority were held enthralled by this modern, forward-looking interpretation of bluegrass.

The appreciation shown to singer-songwriter Braden Gates (and hisGates banjo-wielding accompanist Elliot Thomas) who, while having nothing to do with bluegrass, held discriminating listeners rapt with his personable manner and strong songs. Ditto the reception offered old-timey duo Pharis and Jason Romero (a personal favourite) whose music bridged the sometimes sizeable gap between folk and bluegrass listeners. Pharis Jason CKYAThere was a time at Blueberry when such would not have been encouraged, and I am certainly glad entertainment director Carolyn Hotte, Somerville, and their board possess the wisdom to envision the positive possibilities of broadening the festival’s palate.  

The Kody Norris Show, while deliberately gimmicky, won me over with their entertaining and high-quality presentation of old-time, country and western influenced ‘grass; like slippin’ through the folds of time, this outfit is. NortonTheir humour, banter, and hijinx certainly proved popular on their first trip into Canada. A great find for the festival, their sets were highlighted by several quality Norris originals, four gifted vocalists, an enduring rendition of “Tennessee Flattop Box,” and lively dancing. A caution is offered: shtick where the front man ‘picks’ on his sidekicks, mocking them, gets old…fast.

The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, recently signed to Rounder Records and nominated as IBMA Emerging Artists of the Year, demonstrated in their multiple performances the growth that occurs when a band is fully committed to their craft. PRB CKUAWhen we saw them two years ago, they were good; now they are world-class, ready to meet the challenges top-tier professional bands encounter with stronger songs and more intricate arrangements and harmonies.

Jeff Scroggins & Colorado, buoyed by Ellie Hakanson who can sing a Hazel Dickens song and is a heck of a fiddler, Greg Blake who can sing anything, and the nimble-fingered Tristan Scroggins, showed why they are currently the most frequently booked US-based bluegrass band in Alberta. It was also great to see Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder again; while not as lively or engaging as some of the other groups—Skaggs tends to talk a touch too much, in my opinion— the music presented was enjoyable.

Musically, no act sent me running from my chair! The most overwhelming sensation felt at Blueberry Bluegrass was the tangible sense of community that is developing. While the festival has always provided welcome opportunity to reconnect with acquaintances and friends, the positive vibes emanating from every aspect of the festival—leadership, volunteers, performers, and patrons—were most obvious.

With leadership focused on the patron experience, top-flight bluegrass entertainment, and facilities that would be the envy of any acoustic, folk, or country music festival, Blueberry Bluegrass has turned the corner toward a dynamic future of their own determination. I’ve attended a baker’s dozen Blueberrys over the last 21 years, a mere newcomer compared to many: despite the lack of attention delivered to the festival by the greater Edmonton print and broadcast media, Blueberry has never been a better choice for bluegrass entertainment.

 

Blueberry Bluegrass, 2018: Day 1   Leave a comment

The first day of the 32nd Blueberry Bluegrass Festival in Stony Plain, Alberta was as successful as anticipated.

All acts were well-received, but it wasn’t acutely apparent which of two acts was the fan favourite.

Site

The Blueberry main stage site

With an emphasis on show,The Kody Norris Show, a four-piece making their Canadian debut, performed a Jimmy Martin-inspired set of good ‘n’ country bluegrass that brought their considerable indoor audience onside immediately. Norris got big, deep notes from his flattop box, much to the delight of the crowd, winning them over while shamelessly mugging with exaggerated facial expressions and repartee.  His bandmates were up to the task with both Mary Rachel Nailey (fiddle, and a single song on mandolin) and Josiah Tyree (banjo) more than holding their own as foils. Their set tomorrow evening is highly anticipated.

Norris

The Kody Norris Show

With grey skies opportunely clearing for the start of the mainstage sets, the ever-growing audience moved outside for Rounder recording artists The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys. Even stronger, more energetic and personable than when we last saw them two years ago, this East Tennessee outfit set the bar high for all combos to follow. Nominated last month as IBMA Emerging Artists of the Year, the quartet slew an appreciative audience with songs from their various albums, including their brand new song, “Next Train South.” A tight, modulated, and professional set was offered.

The festival kicked-off earlier with an entirely appropriate, old-timey set from Pharis and Jason Romero, a well-regarded duo from Horsefly, British Columbia. Their haunting tones and home-hewn harmonies was a terrific appetizer for a festival that has broadened and elevated its artistic palate the last two years.

Romaro

Pharis & Jason Romero

Also appearing on the mainstage was the western Canadian band Nomad Jones who performed a selection of standards and band-written songs. Bill Humby displayed a fine voice on songs like “Gentle On My Mind” and “Down On The Dixie Line. Blueberry legends Byron Myhre and Craig Korth are always welcome on these ears, especially on contemplative instrumentals such as Korth’s “Steele Heights” which featured Korth on mandolin and Miles Zurawell on guitar.

Jeff Scroggins & Colorado, also nominated as IBMA Emerging Artists of the Year, closed out the evening with a set of bluegrass rooted in the tradition, from “Roanoke” and “Matterhorn” to “Shenandoah Valley Breakdown” and “Hey, Porter”—Johnny Cash tunes are always popular. A band without artistic weakness , one was considerably impressed with the singing and guitar playing of Greg Blake. With no little bit of country in his voice, Blake demonstrated that his live efforts match his recorded ones, previously admired. Fiddler Ellie Hakanson drew applause with her interpretation of Hazel Dickens’ “Just A Few Memories,” a performance I hope she revisits in a subsequent set. Guest bassist Nico Humby, of Nomad Jones, took part in a crystal-clear trio of “Pathway of Teardrops” with Hakanson and Blake.  As noted previously elsewhere and to their detriment, the group does distract itself with an overabundance of between song banter. But the music? Spot on!

New to Blueberry this year is a patio with good sightlines offering fortified beverages, sure to be popular as the forecast is positive Sunday, with a good chance of sunshine Saturday (fingers crossed.) Regardless of weather, the musical talent on display is going to be incredible, with all of Friday’s artists appearing throughout the weekend. Bolstering Blueberry will be new Bluegrass Hall of Fame member Ricky Skaggs and his band Kentucky Thunder (Saturday evening) and—making their Blueberry debut—The Travelin’ McCourys (Sunday night, closing the fest) along with the Slocan Ramblers, Calvin Vollrath, Kayla Hotte & Her Rodeo Pals (Saturday night dance), and Edmonton acts The Bix Mix Boys, Braden Gates, and Jim and Penny Malmberg, along with jam ambassadors Prairie’s Edge and Backroad Stringband.

Look to Blueberry Bluegrass for ticket details, load up the vehicle, and come spend a day or two in Stony Plain: I don’t know how you could be disappointed!

Favourite Roots Albums of the Year, 2015.   3 comments

JWH-final-printtext-FULL-RED-BG-rev1lowresTime for the annual ‘best of’ list which I never title ‘best of.’ I always go with Favourites because that is all I can go by: which albums have I listened to the most this past year, which ones have I most appreciated, and which ones do I feel are of an exceptional quality?

In previous years, I’ve written at length, but this year I am restrained by time (hmmm…Christmas Eve/Christmas Morning) and energy (I am bleeding exhausted!) Instead of separating things into genres, reissues, compilations, and other categories, I am just going to present Fervor Coulee’s Favourite Roots Albums of the Year. I am limiting myself to 15 titles this time out—I started out with a comprehensive list of about 80 titles under consideration, but willowed that down to 12 fair quickly, and from there it seemed like 15 was the right number for this year.

What did I notice over the course of 2015? One, I am really tired of folks—and you know who you are—who do good work, who promote the music, and who seem to care about bluegrass and yet use that term to describe just about any and all mostly acoustic, Appalachian-reminiscent music not mainstream country. It can’t all be bluegrass, folks. It just isn’t. Sam Gleaves? Not bluegrass, although there are a couple bluegrass songs there: nice album, though. Dom Flemons? Not even close. Dave Rawlings Machine? Are you even listening? Here’s the measure: if it is on the front page of The Bluegrass Situation…it’s not bluegrass.

I also noticed that there were fewer exceptional bluegrass albums released this year—plenty of mighty fine ones, but not that many that will go down as classics.

I noticed that I am listening to more 60s and 70s R&B/soul music than ever before, and that does take away time from roots writing. But rabba bing bang, I am loving those sounds, from R.B. Greaves to Gladys Knight & the Pips: pure dynamite.

I’ve also noticed that it is increasingly difficult to find the music I like in even the finest music stores. A real drag, that.

I’m also including the source of the music, in the spirit of full disclosure: some folks do worry about the ethics around receiving music for review without cost. I’m not one of them.

Here we go, with Fervor Coulee’s (Donald Teplyske) Favourite Roots Albums of the Year, 2015.

  1. John Wort Hannam- Love Lives On (Rebel Tone Records) Still Alberta’s finest contemporary, male troubadour, John Wort Hannam continues to meet the rising expectations that come from a decade of exceptional folk-based releases. Love Lives On has not yet displaced Two Bit Suit and Queen’s Hotel at the top of my Hannam list, but both those albums were also year-end favourites, and I enjoy the textures of his rhymes and the subtleties of his insights more with each listen. Singing of universal pleasures (“Over the Moon,” “Love Lives On,” “Gonna See My Love”) as adeptly as he does of specific moments in time (“Labrador”) and place (“Good Nite Nova Scotia,”) Wort Hannam has become a master of storytelling and songwriting. This sixth album is highlighted by the devastating “Man of God,” the song that will follow the songwriter to the end of his time. A beautifully conceived and recorded album, Love Lives On is a masterpiece. (Purchased at Blackbyrd Myoozik.)
  2. Dale Ann Bradley- Pocket Full of Keys (Pinecastle Records) While she hasn’t garnered the IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year award for the past three years, there is no arguing the consistency and strength Dale Ann Bradley brings to both her live performances and recordings. This self-produced album is one that I have listened to regularly since its release this summer. As the finest country and bluegrass often does, Pocket Full of Keys’ songs reveal the hardships of others as a panacea to our challenges, either providing a path for enlightenment or a realization that one’s own issues are not completely overwhelming: it could always be worse. Dale Ann Bradley doesn’t churn out albums. Analyse her vast catalog and one doesn’t find many tracks that appear to have been recorded simply out of favor or as filler. She is a bluegrass vocalist and true artist of substance and vision, and mentions in the album’s notes that she has always wanted to do an album herself, her own way. She has done it! Pocket Full of Keys is another in a string of significant recordings from bluegrass music’s finest voice. (Acquired via publicist)

 

  1. The SteelDrivers- The Muscle Shoals Recordings (Rounder) The SteelDrivers remain a dynamic, driving bluegrass band, a five-piece with a sound and an approach completely their own. The Muscle Shoals Recordings is their fourth album and the group just keeps getting better. The SteelDrivers are a song band, meaning that their strength doesn’t come from fiery instrumental prowess or sweeping vocal harmonies—although they more than hold their own in both those areas—but from the strength of their material. When they choose a song, they have done so for a reason, and it comes through in the performance. Murder songs, drinking songs, love songs, Civil War songs—The SteelDrivers can do them all, and they do so like no other bluegrass band working the circuit. Excellent. (Acquired via publicist)

 

  1. Barnstar!- Sit Down! Get Up! Get Out! (Signature Sounds) This Massachusetts-collective does things differently, and as a result their music isn’t what you are likely to find populating the ‘most played’ bluegrass charts. But, if one is open to something a bit outside, perhaps a little less precise and polished, from a group every bit as talented and instrumentally adept as the ‘name’ bands within the genre, Barnstar! may have something of interest waiting for you within Sit Down! Get Up! Get Out! Comprised of songwriters all of whom have music careers outside the band, Barnstar! continues to define their unusual approach to bluegrass music. They ‘get’ the music and are in no way trading in irony, but their bluegrass has an entirely different feel than , say, the Gibson Brothers or Joe Mullins’ Radio Ramblers—their harmonies are irregular when compared to those premier bands that add just a touch of the modern to their otherwise orthodox approach. Barnstar! is certainly ‘in the pocket,’ but their favored cadence is atypical of mainstream bluegrass and thus doesn’t feel constrained by expectation. They have great songs, the best here perhaps “Cumberland Blue Line,” “Six Foot Pine Box,” and most definitely The Faces “Stay With Me.” Oh, and don’t forget Mark Erelli’s “Barnstable County.” And “Delta Rose.” Dang, it is a terrific bluegrass album; not for everyone, mind. If you are looking for Pretty Bluegrass, it isn’t here. (Acquired via publicist)

 

  1. Buffy Sainte-Marie- Power in the Blood (High Romance Music) The winner of this year’s Polaris Music Prize, Power in the Blood is the type of album that either hits you from first listen or completely misses. Without judgement, whichever happens is likely a reflection of the listener. This is a powerful album that speaks across generations and cultures, one that can be appreciated both as a creative production to be experienced as a complete album and individually song-by-song. “It’s My Way,” “Power in the Blood,” and “We Are Circling” start the album off with substance and energy, and things just keep developing. She even pulls in some UB40. A wonderful recording. (Purchased at Wal-Mart; hey, I couldn’t find it in an independent shop.)

 

  1. Chris Jones & the Night Drivers- Run Away Tonight (Mountain Home) With an immediately identifiable sound and a burgeoning catalog of stellar albums, Chris Jones & the Night Drivers are possibly bluegrass music’s most underrated band. With Run Away Tonight, that has to change. Front-loaded with six original songs—seldom seen in an industry still tied to the tried, tested, and true—Run Away Tonight is one of the finest bluegrass albums released this decade.

 

Reminding listeners of no one as much as the legendary Country Gentlemen, Chris Jones & the Night Drivers perform bluegrass music with heart and drive. The heart comes from the depth of intensity revealed in every phrase and note sung by Jones, the New York native who has as rounded a bluegrass resume as one might imagine—expert guitarist, sideman, bandleader, songwriter, producer, broadcaster, gently acerbic humorist, playful photographer. The drive begins with Jones’ strong rhythm and lead work, nicely featured in the mix here, and continues through Jon Weisberger’s propulsive bass rhythm playing off Ned Luberecki’s classic 5-string approach and Mark Stoffel’s exquisite mandolin touch. Kudos to Jones and his co-producer Tim Surrett (Balsam Range) and Scott Barnett for this excellent sounding bluegrass experience—listening to this recording on a solid system is a sonic treat.

 

With an emphasis on the deceptively upbeat aspect of bluegrass, Chris Jones & the Night Drivers kick things off with the court and spark of “Laurie,” from which the album takes its title. Similarly, “Tonight I’m Gonna Ride” feels lively and freewheeling, but is appears as much about failed aspirations and last chances as it is the fulfilment of a dream. Casey Driessen, a Jones colleague from long ago, contributes vigorous fiddle to these two songs. Every song is worthy of attention, not something I write lightly or often. I have long advocated that Chris Jones’ name needs to be inserted into the conversations around Male Vocalist of the Year. Perhaps next time up, the professional members of the IBMA will agree with me. The Night Drivers are as good a band as there is. (Acquired via publicist)

 

  1. Amy Black- The Muscle Shoals Sessions (Reuben) Amy Black has become someone to be counted on to provide balanced and lively collections of contemporary Americana, featuring a blend of influences: folk, country, blues, troubadours of all variety, and—way deep down—hints of southern-flavoured soul. Years ago, I wrote that Black reminded me of Kate Campbell and that she had a singing voice “as natural and welcome as lemonade on a sweltering summer’s day, with an amiable tartness lingering within its sweetness.”

 

The Muscle Shoals Sessions has that absolutely infectious deep soul groove permeating every song. Spooner Oldham brings emotional and historical depth to the proceedings, laying out funky Wurlitzer and organ. Will Kimbrough is back. Vocal certainty is provided by the McCrary sisters, Ann and Regina. Notable horn players are also present, with Charlie Rose taking the lead and playing trombone, while Steve Herrman (trumpet) and Jim Hoke (saxophone) are featured.

 

Recorded in the legendary FAME studios, Black compositions like “Get To Me” and “Woman On Fire” sizzle with energy, while “You Gotta Move” and “Bring It On Home” are more passionate and controlled. Classics abound with “You Left Your Water Running” and Arthur Alexander’s “You Better Move On” closing the disc with wisdom found only in the finest of songs.

 

When she laments, “I know I hurt you deep down inside,  I know you’re angry I understand why,” one could be forgiven for believing Black to be interpreting a long forgotten Otis Redding gem. She isn’t, of course—the song is a new one, and is as strong as anything else on the album. Black’s performance here proves all the evidence necessary, should one require it, that she is legitimately a country soul singer of the most significant variety. She smolders without seduction—there is nothing here but genuine, aching need—while the band explores rhythms of the finest order. Black pays tribute to Don Covey and Etta James with a blistering rendition of “Watch Dog,” while her interpretation of “Gotta Serve Somebody” further elevates the album by exploring the more spiritual side of soul music.

 

Amy Black ‘gets it’ and hopefully we do, too. The Muscle Shoals Sessions  deserves to be heard by all who appreciate the funkier, soulful side of roots music. Amy Black just keeps getting better.

 

  1. Pharis & Jason Romero- A Wanderer I’ll Stay (Lula Records) One of the most respected old-time duos currently recording, Pharis and Jason Romero create acoustic music in a vein not dissimilar to Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. Without drifting toward mimicry, this couple from Horsefly, British Columbia likewise captures within their finely crafted songs the richness that exists within seemingly uncomplicated songs and arrangements.

 

I can attest that everything I hear within this album is flat-out faultless. Within “Backstep Indi,” Jason Romero coaxes the gourd banjo to travel from southern traditions to East Indian experimentation, while the instrumental backing for “The Dying Soldier” is as beautifully mournful as anything recently heard. Pharis Romero is an expressive, generous vocalist and impressive songwriter. She has a strong voice that more than holds its own within the aural environment created by the duo and their co-producer David Travers-Smith. Like Welch, she asks universal questions (“Why do girls go steady, when their hearts are not inclined”) and makes stark declarations (“Your father he’s a merchant and a thief”) that immediately establishes perspective while sketching stories and characters that engage listeners’ imaginations. When she sings, “There’s no time, honey there’s no time,” you accept her assertion.

 

This time featuring Josh Rabie (fiddle), John Hurd (bass), Marc Jenkins (pedal steel), and Brent Morton (drums) on select tracks, A Wanderer I’ll Stay has a full sound although not significantly different from their previous Long Gone Out West Blues; the same intimacy is present and certainly their attention to detail has not wavered. As with that release, the packaging is beautifully executed with all practical considerations accounted. This is a stunning acoustic folk recording. (Acquired via publicist)

 

  1. Kathy Kallick Band- Foxhounds (KathyKallick.com) As is Tim O’Brien, Kathy Kallick is always a bit of an adventurer and you can never be sure what her next recorded outing might bring. When she has the band with her, you are assured high-quality, literate and respectful bluegrass music: they never take their audience for granted, never rest on their laurels. Such is the case with Foxhounds, an album that starts off with a new song in tribute to Bill Monroe and continues with an exciting exploration of the range and depth of the bluegrass tradition. There are old songs including  “Banjo Pickin’ Girl,” a lively rendition of the first Richard Thompson song I ever encountered (“Tear Stained Letter,”) and a bright and spirited take on a Monroe instrumental, “Kentucky Mandolin.” But the album’s greatest strengths lay within Kallick’s new songs including “So Danged Lonesome,” “Longest Day of the Year,” and “Snowflakes.” Especially enjoyable is the fiery “I’m Not Your Honey Baby Now,” a song to which I will continue to return. The band is top-notch throughout, and all members are featured in a variety of ways including vocally. (Acquired via publicist)

 

  1. Corb Lund- Things That Can’t Be Undone (New West Records) Corb Lund’s tenth album of (mostly) rural rooted, countryside music, Things That Can’t Be Undone shows Alberta’s favourite son writing even more concisely than previously while tackling subject matter both heady and impacting (“S Lazy H,” “Weight of the Gun,” and “Sadr City,”) heartfelt (“Goodbye Colorado” and “Sunbeam,”) and slightly frivolous (“Talk Too Much” and “Washed-Up Rock Star Factory Blues.”) While Lund has for years provided engaging music that was obviously influenced by folks like Tom Russell and Ian Tyson, he has increasingly infused his songs with his own individuality. This album continues that journey. (Legal download)

 

  1. Ron Block- Hogan’s House of Music (RonBlock.com) One of the most thoughtful minds in bluegrass, and a danged fine banjo and guitar player, Rob Block is best known as one-fifth of Alison Krauss & Union Station. He has recorded a series of well-received albums, in my opinion the first of which (Faraway Land) is a modern classic. Here he goes back to his roots and influences, recording an instrumental bluegrass album filled with classic (but not too overly familiar) songs. Having purchased digitally, I don’t know who is playing what or where, but I suppose I don’t really need to: it is completely wonderful. (Purchased via iTunes)

 

  1. Willie Thrasher- Spirit Child (Light in the Attic) Three of Willie Thrasher’s songs were featured on the groundbreaking triple album set of last year, Native North America (Vol. 1): Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966–1985, a release that would have topped my chart last year had I heard it then. Spirit Child is a reissue of Thrasher’s 1981 album, and it spent a solid week in my car once I bought it. I may not understand everything on this album, but I think I get it. Folk, rock, and country influences abut to create a remarkable listening journey. (Purchased via eMusic)

 

  1. Jayme Stone- Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project (Borealis Records) With a multitude of collaborators, Jayme Stone cuts a wide swath through the legacy of Alan Lomax: it is much like putting a collection of Smithsonian Folkways albums on random, and one becomes increasingly overwhelmed by the intensity of the wide-ranging performances. There is mountain music here, island and African sounds, English and Scottish folk songs, and blues, ‘grass, and chants all performed to the highest levels of performance that retain the ‘authentic’ (whatever that means) and natural state of the songs. (Purchased via iTunes)

 

  1. Jerry Lawson- Just a Mortal Man (Red Beet) As I’ve headed further into the rabbit warren that is vintage R&B and soul, I have found few modern practitioners of the art that appeal to me: even the best seem to try just a little too hard. Not Jerry Lawson. It sounds like the music just flows from him, and when he launches into a song a deep as “Wine” or as sad as “Never Been to Memphis,” you know you are experiencing the real thing. (Purchased via eMusic)

 

  1. The Cox Family- Gone as the Cotton (Rounder) Forgive us for thinking we might never again hear new music from The Cox Family. It has been almost twenty years since Just When We’re Thinking It’s Over, and excepting an appearance in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, not much has been heard from Alison Krauss’s favourite Louisianans. Given the quality of the music contained on Gone Like the Cotton, an album started in 1998 and completed within the last year, it is surprising that Krauss and Rounder Records didn’t consider buying the project from Asylum and the Warner’s group at some point in the ensuing years. Eventually, and thankfully, the impedance to unveiling the album was removed, the recorded files were located and freshened with new vocals from the current lineup of the Cox Family siblings Evelyn, Sidney, and Suzanne complementing father Willard’s vocal takes from the late 90s.

 

The newest song and title track, written by Sidney and Suzanne, is a nearly-unadorned family biography. With only the minimalist of guitar accompaniment, the siblings sing of their grandparents, their parents, and their community with devotion and love. It is a stunning and appropriate closing to a heartfelt recording, one that captures in four minutes a lifetime of experience. The result is a type of country music that is seldom encountered in contemporary times. Beautifully executed with confidence that comes through on every song, Gone Like the Cotton is a masterful recording. (Acquired via publicist)

By limiting myself to 15 titles, I’ve not been able to include folks like Ryan Boldt, The Honey DewDrops, Big Country Bluegrass, Tim O’Brien (for his SOS Series), Rex Hobart, Anna and Elizabeth, Samantha Martin, Dar Williams, Donnie Fritts, Pop Staples, Gordie Tentrees, The Hillbenders, Norma MacDonald, and a whole lot of other very fine artists. A great deal of excellent roots music was released in 2015. Thanks for checking in at Fervor Coulee; hopefully we’ll see you in 2016. Donald

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pharis & Jason Romero- A Wanderer I’ll Stay review   1 comment

Jason Pharis2015 is not yet half done and we’ve had no shortage of amazing albums come our way. Simply the latest comes from small town British Columbia and the husband and wife duo Pharis and Jason Romero. Wonderful material, unvarnished voices, and instrumental compatibility infused with the warmth of the past, their third album is a stunner. My review has been posted to the Lonesome Road Review. I am confident that this album will be on my Polaris Music Prize Ballot next month.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee.

Donald