Archive for the ‘Ramblings’ Tag

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.

 

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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!

The Albums That Shaped Me, August 2018   Leave a comment

Over at Fervor Coulee Twitter  I am spending August exploring my music roots with Thirty-Two Albums That Shaped Me/Thirty-One Days

Inspired by a summer of sorting (not that you would notice) and tidying (again, obvious only if you knew what it looked like before) I am going to try to explain my music journey in a series of tweets over the month of August. Thirty-Two Albums That Shaped Me/Thirty-One Days will not include (necessarily) my favourite albums, but 32 that were most impactful, at least in memory and in approximate chronological order. I will memorialize this thread here, updating daily.

Thirty-Two Albums That Shaped Me/Thirty-One Days

Day 1: Various Artists Music Express A K-Tel 8-track heard via my older brothers; the trilogy of “Wildfire,” Austin Roberts’ “Rocky,” and “Run Joey Run” have forever been linked in my mind as a result. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkI5q6UmjpY

And, Phoebe Snow.

Music Express

Day 2: Crosby Stills Nash & Young Deja Vu; Rod Stewart Every Picture Tells A Story Purchased for 25 ₵ each at Willow Park School’s ‘white elephant’ sale, the start of a collection hobby (addiction) that has only got worse. How did I ever luck out to have two classic, blemish-less albums as my first? As they were my only albums, I must have listened to them fifty times each the summer between grade 7 and 8, and maybe the first place I ever heard a mandolin. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AlCLTWRFVyI and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4sDPeLsinQ 

CSNYRod Stewart

Day 3: The Who By Numbers For most of my life, when asked, “Who’s your favourite band?” my answer was The Who. While I purchased Who Are You first, this was the album by the band about which I said, “This is my favourite.” Maybe their least popular album commercially, but it meant a lot to me and it holds up, “Squeeze Box” notwithstanding—maybe even better in late, middle age. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLWnVxuqvY7Jjpv0CqfMown25u1bHBR5ps

By Numbers

Day 4: Bruce Springsteen Darkness on the Edge of Town Perhaps the first time I heard Bruce Springsteen, late night 630 CHED, and someone (Len Thuesen?) played several songs from this just-released album. My world shifted: songs that created movies in my head. “Factory” knocked me out, bringing my dad’s work life alive—not that he worked in a factory, but the effort it must have taken to get up, go to work, support a (suddenly) larger family: no wonder he drank! Bought the cassette from the main street hobby and pet store, and eventually bought on vinyl twice, CD, remastered box set CD, and then the next remastered, 7-album box set CD. No 8-track, tho. His best album, no arguments tolerated. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S8dCdiDk2ew

Darkness

Day 5: Three Dog Night The Best of Three Dog Night Another K-Tel set, and also from the Leduc pet/hobby store…Henke’s? This was the only 3DN album I had for 20 years; wore it out. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YyChmkPKi0I Evidence I have never been ‘cool.’ A singles band that made terrific albums- have had all their available music on the iThingy for a couple years, and never grow tired of it.

Three Fog Night

Day 6: Trooper Hot Shots If you lived in Leduc during the mid-to late 70s, Trooper was inescapable. This compilation was a ‘must have’. I couldn’t understand why they never broke thorough in the US. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLSGVVEAakzy79QEyyyjf-oeou1uUUrDr-

Trooper

Day 7: John Stewart Bombs Away Dream Babies High school albums endure. A radio favourite the summer I turned 15, “Gold” was my gateway. 40 years later, I am still listening to Stewart, from the Kingston Trio through California Bloodlines and onto his final album, The Day the River Sang. This album started it all, and like other albums of the day, I can sing with it all the way through, not that you want me to. I absorbed the lyrics, trying to see the meaning within the poetry. Maybe the best thing Lindsay Buckingham was ever associated with. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjxRx9gzGZk

Stewart

Day 8: Rachel Sweet Fool Around CREEM Magazine, October 1979 The cover feature was “Is Heavy Metal Dead?” As an impressionable Grade 10 student trying to find his way, I thought the issue would teach me about the bands the older kids were listening to—Nugent, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, etc. Instead I discovered Dave Edmunds, Lene Lovich, Moon Martin, The B-52’s, Nick Lowe, and the Queen of Akron, Rachel Sweet. Her story appealed—she liked Springsteen (girls like Springsteen?), was compared to Brenda Lee, and wasn’t that much older than me—and I went searching for this album without having heard her sing. I fell in love with her country-influenced, modern but 60s-washed rock ‘n’ roll, and stuck with her despite being the only kid in town who knew her name. Can sing-a-long with every song almost 40 years later. This was also my first issue of CREEM, my introduction to acerbic, smart-ass music writing and all things Boy Howdy! https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLRRe_urOjL_9-7GTACGIx-aZyJM6KPYSI

RachelBoy Howdy

Day 9: Steve Forbert Jackrabbit Slim  I wanted to be Steve Forbert for about a week during grade 10; I couldn’t figure out how to keep my hair looking wet. With Pete Townshend, John Stewart, and Springsteen, Forbert taught me the importance of lyrics. And it came with a bonus 45. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJLK-7YwHjw

Steve Forbert

Day 10: The Inmates First Offence Caught the Greyhound after school and was in Edmonton as daylight disappeared; walked to Kellys downtown expressly to purchase this album: was mocked by the clerk because they were ‘trying to be the Stones.’ Didn’t care. “Domp, domp, domp, daa-daa-daa…” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_NrhE4FtqSc An album full of memorable songs and grooves, it led me to The Standells and further opened my ears to blues and soul-influenced music.

Inmates

Day 11: Boomtown Rats Fine Art of Surfacing I had to discover punk eventually. By thisBoomtown rats time, The Rats were more rock than punk, but what did I know? The single made me buy the album; the album made me a fan for life. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxRVMzkQ3hE Saw them live twice: brilliant.

Day 12: Ramones Rocket to Russia Music culture came to Leduc via the Gaiety Theatre. Saw Rock and Roll High School. Bought the albums one-by-one at Sound Connection over the next year. None were better than this one, until Subterranean Jungle. http://ultimateclassicrock.com/ramones-release-rocket-to-russia/ Ramones_-_Rocket_to_Russia_cover

Day 13: Pat Travers Band Live! Go For What You Know The classic line-up—Tommy, Mars, and the two Pats—featuring their essential songs to the time…I will never forget the words: “Hello music lovers -From the streets of Toronto, to the streets of London, now here’s to kick your ass, The Pat Travers Band.” And they did. They were never better. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQs2eHGrc-c  Travers

Day 14: Go-Go’s Beauty and the Beat No words necessary, but… First heard/saw on a late night television video show (in a clip I’ve never been able to find since). I ordered the Stiff 45 right away, and was a fan before the album even appeared. Still am. Magic. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLbCk0A4nqITPzJZ7OF186wUB5I460NKVh

GogOzGogos backSingle

Day 15: Emmylou Harris Last Date First record store job, spring 1983. Poster for this album was up in the backroom. Intrigued, I put the ‘play copy’ on the stereo. She sang “Racing In The Street.” From her to Skaggs, Parsons, Crowell,  Rosanne and Carlene…the road goes on forever. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6efV8-Gve50 Emmylou

By coincidence, today I found the vinyl reissue of Live at the Ryman on sale and snapped it up. Beautiful cover art, already framed and displayed.

Day 16: Jason and the Nashville Scorchers Fervor Always in my head, ‘the Nashville’ is added. Until I heard the Fervor EP, I had never heard the term ‘roots rock.’ This defined it. I had found my path, and my fervor. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wtTyOa8kVTY Jason

Day 17: Various Artists Will the Circle Be Unbroken Found at the Edmonton Public Library circa 1984. I couldn’t believe my ears the first time I heard Doc, Mother Maybelle, Earl Scruggs, Jimmy Martin, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band all together. I taped the album, as well as Stars and Stripes Forever, Dirt, Silver, and Gold, Uncle Charlie…I was starting to explore the roots. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1fCDDpWenMWill the circle

Day 18: The Rainmakers- The Rainmakers Thanks to Much Music I discovered this band. Bought first chance when it arrived at ROW in WEM. It perfectly into my university listening space. Roots and rock found a perfect home with KCMO’s favourite sons. A lifetime later, I made the pilgrimage (twice) to see Bob Walkenhorst at the Record Bar: worth it! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QLNahXqKAvk The_Rainmakers_The_Rainmakers_Album_Cover

Day 19: Katrina and the Waves Katrina and the Waves From early 1983 (when I started working in my first record store, Climax Records in Leduc) to 1987 (when I finished my university degree) I went down a rabbit hole of roots. I learned so much about country music especially, from the Statler Brothers and “Atlanta Blue” to The Judds initial EP, George Jones, John Anderson, Loretta Lynn and Gus Hardin to Jason & the Scorchers, Dwight, Steve Earle, and Emmylou.

But, I still liked my pop and rock. One of my most successful assignments for the U of A newspaper The Gateway was interviewing Katrina Leskanich; Attic Records had provided the first two albums for background. I fell hard for the group. Katrina invited Deana and I backstage- but we couldn’t find the band in the labyrinth of halls behind Dinwoodie! This is the hit version from a couple years later, but that original album with the understated, bold cover is the one that done it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-87SJXMpRfE Katrina Waves

 

 

Day 20: Highway 101 Highway 101  I had learned the difference between good country music and bad country music fairly quickly. This album is half a hour of perfection, released during an era when strong country music could be found on the radio- perhaps for the final time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bd7ZEVT6bL0 Highway101Highway101

Day 21: Kashtin Kashtin Again thanks to Much Music, I heard Kashtin. My first connection to Indigenous rock ‘n’ roll; not my last. When I listened to the album this month, I was transported back to life in a northern town. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etPqwfCZP18 Kashtin

Day 22: Neville Brothers Yellow Moon And we take another shift. I had listened to soul and R&B music, but mostly at a distance—Warner Brothers/Atlantic compilations, Motown, William Bell—and usually not contemporaneously to release (outside of post-disco 12″ers during the record store years—I’m looking at you “Juicy Fruit.”). I learned a lot of lessons, too late, from this album. “My Blood,” “Sister Rosa,” “Hollis Brown”…my perspective widened…again. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKCsZc37esU Neville

Day 23: Marty Stuart Love and Luck This album got me through a really hard summer. Listened to it on the cassette deck in the green Mazda pick-up over and over again. Almost every song— from Billy Joe Shaver, Harlan Howard, Parsons and Chris Hillman, and Stuart—expressed my confusion. I got over myself. Eventually. I consider it the most complete album of the ‘Marty Party’ years. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ivVv0z0jk8c  Marty

Day 24: Guy Clark Dublin Blues The first time my father-in-law influenced my music listening. Not the last time. Like John Stewart almost two decades earlier, a deep dive began. I can’t believe I went 31 years without knowing who Guy Clark was: seems unfathomable now. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7SXlSjco8J4Guy Clark

Day 25: Del McCoury Band The Cold Hard Facts How many folks can say that when attending their first bluegrass festival, they saw three sets from the Del McCoury Band (minus Bub, who was ill)? This was the album they were supporting. If Will The Circle, Jerusalem Ridge, and the David Grisman set Home Is Where The Heart Is started me down the bluegrass path, this album cemented my feet. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1kBSiSj9M0s Del

Day 26: Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard Pioneering Women of Bluegrass I have been lucky with music over the years, never more so when I happened to be attending the Calgary Folk Music Festival and came across a backstage rehearsal of Hazel and Alice working up their set with Ron Block and a few others. I had never heard anything like it, and near ran to the record tent to find their music. This compilation of their Folkways recordings was what I found. I have yet to recover. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hAupTYvPREHAzel and Alice

Day 27: Paul Burch Last of My Kind Written to complement a novel, this album was peak mountain Americana for me, connecting family, place, and loss with sparse songs whose characters spoke with candour.. https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2009/12/31/my-favourite-albums-of-the-aughts-part-four-of-four  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T87qhEYaToEPaul Burch

Day 28: Bobbie Gentry Chickasaw Country Child  Beyond “Ode to Billie Joe,” I may not have heard a Bobbie Gentry song prior to reading a review of this compilation in No Depression. So enthusiastic was the writer, I had to find out what I was missing: I did. Some of the most remarkable songwriting and performances I have experienced. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzd8yP72A6k Bobbie

Day 29: James Reams & the Barnstormers Troubled Times When I was in my early years writing and was gearing up for my bluegrass radio debut, my soon-to-be friend Tina Aridas got this album into my hands. She quickly became my closest bluegrass confidante, someone who- from a distance of thousands of kilometres- cut through the bluegrass blather with me, a person I knew I could trust, and a friend I could conceptualize with in an honest and intriguing manner. I miss her. But, back to the CD: James Reams’ approach to bluegrass is unique, and I love it. This album taught me a lot, and it is as enjoyable as any bluegrass album I’ve ever encountered. https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2009/12/31/my-favourite-albums-of-the-aughts-part-four-of-four/ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOdZZC1kn88 jreams

Day 30: Larry Jon Wilson New Beginnings Heartworn Highways, for all the great footage of Guy Clark, Townes, Steve Earle, and Rodney Crowell, my big take away was Larry Jon Wilson. “Ohoopee River Bottomland” led me toward music I had never heard: country soul. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-3orYE9BsoLJW

Day 31: Maria Dunn- Piece By Piece A song cycle focused on female immigrant garment factory workers, this album pushed me to better understand the purpose of music, of folk music, and the impact multiculturalism has had on Canada. https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2012/08/26/maria-dunn-piece-by-piece-review/ http://www.mariadunn.com/projects/gwg-piece-by-pieceMaria

There it is: 32 pivotal albums across the month of August. I hope I have exposed you to, or reminded you of, some fine albums for you to explore. From pop and rock, through singer-songwriter, folk, bluegrass, Americana and more, my music journey has helped me better understand and appreciate the world. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee.

And, because sometimes counting can be a challenge…it was about day 16 that I noticed I had two Day 16s…so I had to adjust and bump everyone done one slot, which caused my final two albums to lock themselves in a series of painful rounds of knuckles and comb, until one emerged victorious. Maria ‘won out,’ knocking this album into ‘honourable mentions,’ but what an album it was and remains. As John Wort Hannam prepares for the release of his 7th long player, I present this final album that helped shape my music listening:

Honourable Mention: John Wort Hannam Queen’s Hotel Released almost a decade ago, I thought this album would bring southern Alberta’s great folk singer to the world. I really did. Thankfully, enough of us ‘get him’ that he has continued to release increasingly impressive albums. There are so many outstanding moments on this album, none better than when he sings of small town happenings, “In the back seat stealing kisses from somebody else’s missus…”

https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2009/10/16/roots-music-column-october-16/ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kU0l2MKDu4&index=3&t=0s&list=OLAK5uy_n4CUhxeWjLgRQ9HweZtiwRMLerbWpFIyc

johnworthannam_queenshotel_grande

Curly Seckler, a bluegrass legend, remembered   1 comment

Curly-Seckler 1I don’t know when I first fully noticed Curly Seckler, but it may have been early in 2005 when he quipped, “Come here, you money-making thing!” to kick-off his penultimate album, Down In Caroline.

I had, of course, heard Curly Seckler prior to that. As a keen listener of bluegrass for more than a dozen years (at the time), it would have been impossible to have not heard his voice and mandolin playing.

Mr. Seckler was a long-time member of the Foggy Mountain Boys and The Nashville Grass, and I had frequently heard his mandolin and guitar playing and tenor vocals, including on the first Lester Flatt record I ‘owned’*, Lester Flatt Live! Bluegrass Festival, Lester(reissued and expanded years later by Bear Family as Live at Vanderbilt) which I acquired mostly because of the participation of a very young Marty Stuart. In hindsight, his recording of “What Would You Give In Exchange For Your Soul” (from a CMH release, and collected on Once Upon A Time) with Stuart is definitive, but to 2005 I hadn’t even given it the attention it deserved. And while his distinctive voice graced three numbers on another of my early bluegrass purchases, I overlooked Mr. Seckler amongst the more prominent (to me) bluegrassers contained on David Grisman’s Home Is Where The Heart Is collection.Home is where

(*I say ‘owned’ because I ‘borrowed’ the album from a future in-law and never seemed to remember to return it!)

So, I had seen his name listed in credits, but hadn’t really paid attention. I think I knew he had played and recorded with Charlie Monroe, and had learned his “A Purple Heart” had been recorded with the McReynolds. When Down in Caroline came my way for review, I was given plenty of reason to concentrate on his voice, his playing, and to research his history and place in bluegrass music.

Within days, Mr. Seckler went from a vaguely familiar name on paper as a sideman to a personal favourite.

Curly Caroline

When Mr. Seckler passed at the end of 2017, two days past his 98th birthday, appropriate testaments were written in his honour in The Tennessean, at Bluegrass Today, and elsewhere. Others much more able have recounted his life and legacy; I simply share my personal reflections and perspective on the IBMA Hall of Fame member

I can’t locate my contemporaneous review of Down In Caroline in my archives, but listening to it again these past weeks I know I am even more impressed by it now than I was a dozen years ago.

Released on Copper Creek, the album was produced when Mr. Seckler was 85 years old. I don’t know what I will be doing when I am 85—should I be fortunate enough to reach that milestone—but I know I won’t be singing as good as he was: few have. It is an outstanding album, full of choice moments—as when he and Dudley Connell come together at around the 30 second mark of “Valley Of Peace”, and when Josh McMurray’s banjo kicks off “He Took Your Place,” soon followed by Seckler and Larry Sparks bringing chills on the chorus—and historical moments, too. Through studio freshening, a 1971 tape of Mr. Seckler singing tenor with Bill Monroe on “Sitting On Top of The World” closes the set as a hidden chestnut, and Connell also leads the group through an impromptu take of “Dig A Hole in the Meadow.”

Rather than serving as a monument to a fading talent, Down In Caroline revealed Mr. Seckler as a vibrant bluegrass force in his ninth decade. The excellent liner notes from co-producer (and biographer) Penny Parsons share that Seckler continued writing up to the sessions, finishing “Letter to the Captain” just prior to recording it in 2004. Enough material was recorded to prompt a second volume, entitled Bluegrass, Don’t You Know, the following year. (More on that in a bit.)

When Seckler takes the lead vocal position, it is obvious that we are hearing a master: one listen to “Worries on My Mind” and “China Grove, My Home” serve as evidence. Couple all of this with a playful take of “Hold the Woodpile Down” lead by Doc Watson (culled from a previous session for a Larry Perkins album), and you have as memorable bluegrass album recorded by an octogenarian as I have encountered: across forty minutes, it never drags, sags, or fades.

Curly That Old Book

Around the same time, a collection on County Records assembled  material from an outstanding 1971 recording with the Shenandoah Cut-Ups titled Curly Seckler Sings Again.  On That Old Book of Mine, these eleven tracks were supplemented by five tunes recorded with Willis Spears in 1989, taken from the album Tribute to Lester Flatt.  The music, ranging from standards like ”Salty Dog Blues” and “Don’t This Road Look Rough and Rocky” to less familiar fare such as Bill Monroe’s “Remember the Cross” and his own “What’s The Matter Now”, was of another era and yet timeless.

While Mr. Seckler was an appealing and certainly capable lead vocalist, he was best known as a superior tenor singer, something very much in evidence here.  For good reason, Stuart called him the greatest tenor singer of all time. On the 1971 numbers, Billy Edwards (banjo) takes the lead on many, with Seckler’s rich tenor soaring over the top.   Tater Tate (fiddle), Hershel Sizemore (mandolin)) and John Palmer (bass) provide the instrumental accompaniment alongside Seckler’s guitar.

By 1989, Seckler was singing only tenor, with Spears’ powerful voice in the lead position.  Seckler played mandolin on these tunes with Spears handling guitar, and Seckler’s vocal contributions were again flawless.  Rounding out these sessions were Ron Stewart (fiddle), Perkins (banjo), and Phillip Staff (bass).

All instrumentation on this volume was well-recorded and of the quality most often associated with classic, traditional bluegrass music of the era.  No one got too flashy, with the focus on the melding of voices with smooth harmony.  This was especially evident on “Give Me The Roses While I Live” and “No Mother In This World.”

Curly Bluegrass Dont

A final album, Bluegrass, Don’t You Know and also on Copper Creek, followed in 2006 and was just as powerful as the preceding Down In Caroline. This set—again a mix of classic songs made fresh, and fresh material certifiably classic—was highlighted by one of Larry Cordle’s finest vocal turns, taking the lead on the title track, a new Seckler composition. Lyrically adroit and instrumentally noteworthy, the song encapsulates sixty years of bluegrass evolution charged by an electrifying tenor performance from Mr. Seckler. “Honey, don’t you know,” he sings as a vocal refrain as instrumentalists, including some of bluegrass music’s finest—Perkins, Rob Ickes (Dobro), Brent Truitt (mandolin), Laura Weber Cash (fiddle), Chris Sharp (guitar), and Kent Blanton (bass)—drop in allusions to Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, Bill Monroe, Kenny Baker and others who made the music what it always should be. “They say it ain’t country, but it’s bluegrass don’t you know,” indeed!

Mr. Seckler’s signature song “A Purple Heart” appears. Also included is “That Old Book of Mine” which dates from his time with Flatt & Scruggs, as do “Bouquet in Heaven,” “What’s the Matter With You Darlin’,” “Why Did You Wander,” “Brother, I’m Getting Ready to Go,” and “Why Can’t We Be Darlings Anymore,” all faithfully executed with exceptional performances from those who were selected to support Mr. Seckler on these sessions. Noteworthy is “Brother, I’m Getting Ready to Go” performed by the trio of Larry Sparks, Larry Perkins, and Mr. Seckler, with Sparks taking the lead position instrumentally (a stunning example of his signature guitar style) and vocally.

The autobiographical “The Way It Was” features twin fiddles from Sharp and Tater Tate, and like every song on this collection, its melody lingers long after it is heard. Appropriately for an album that showcases Mr. Seckler’s talents as a lead vocalist, the album closes with another new number, the vocally challenging “The Old Man Has Retired.” Perhaps not the smoothest performance amongst those captured in the 2004 sessions, the honesty of a well-lived life is on display as Mr. Seckler sings the song exactly as he wanted.

In the fall of 2005, I had the pleasure and honour of hearing the (by then) 86-year old’s still powerful tenor in Nashville at the IBMA’s World of Bluegrass. I don’t recall what he sang, or with whom, but I do remember that I got to shake the man’s hand, and he signed my copies of Down in Caroline and That Old Book of Mine. I cherish my brief encounter with Mr. Seckler, and these mentioned recordings are testament to the man’s talent and legacy.

Since then I’ve sought out recordings featuring Mr. Seckler; of course, here in central Alberta, one doesn’t come across them often. There are the dozens of recordings he made with Flatt & Scruggs, and I am fully entertained when I slip my Best of Flatt & Scruggs TV Show DVDs into my player. Somewhere on the internet, I found a homey recording he made with banjoist Cranford Nix including memorable takes of “Do You Wonder Why” and “Shady Grove.”

LESTER_FLATT_FLATT+GOSPEL-461535

A couple summers ago, while vacationing on Vancouver Island, I came across a copy of Flatt Gospel, an album by Lester Flatt & the Nashville Grass on the Canaan label, hidden away in a roadside cafe/record shop, and while the asking price was undoubtedly too dear by half, I haven’t regretted the purchase. Hearing Mr. Seckler on “I’m Going That Way,” “Brother, I’m Getting Ready to Go,” “Awaiting the Boatman,” and other gospel songs is truly priceless.

His recordings as the leader of The Nashville Grass are not groundbreaking, but are fine examples of his traditional bluegrass style; I can listen to he and Kenny Ingram, Stuart, Paul Warren and the rest any time. Three years ago, his final recorded sessions were included on Sparks’ ideally titled Lonesome and Then Some album, “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke,” and “I’m Gonna Sing, Sing, Sing.” I feel Mr. Seckler’s voice added just the right dimension to the choruses of these songs, and again connecting bluegrass’ past to its present.

When I hear a bluegrass album featuring Curly Seckler—whether as part of Flatt & Scruggs, with Flatt in the Nashville Grass, or later as the leader of that band, or on one of these solo recordings or in a guest appearance—I lean in close because I know what I am going to experience is perfect bluegrass.

With Mr. Seckler’s death, another link to the ‘first generation’ of bluegrass is severed. Fortunately, there are many recordings featuring Mr. Secker available, if not readily, and decades of vinyl to uncover while perusing dusty bins on Saturday afternoons. I’ll continue to seek out his recordings, and to listen to his voice and his mandolin and guitar playing—I hope—until I’m 98.

{Thank you to Penny Parsons for her timely sharing of the notes to Bluegrass, Don’t You Know and her obituary for Mr. Seckler: much appreciated.}

 

A ballad of three Alberta bluegrass DJs   Leave a comment

This is the brief tale of three Alberta bluegrass radio hosts, one failed, one successful, and one nearing status reserved for legends.

About six weeks ago, I received a call out of the blue: would I be interested in auditioning as host of CKUA’s long-running bluegrass program? My immediate reaction was, Yes.

Years ago I had hosted a bluegrass radio show on an area commercial country station, and while I was never very good at the job, I was persistent; when I listen to the recordings of those shows, I frequently cringe, but not so much as to distract from what I thought was a good representation of bluegrass music.

In receiving the call last month, I was pleased that the work I had done (and continue to do) on behalf of bluegrass music in Alberta was deemed significant enough to be asked to audition. For the next several days following the phone call and bubbling with excitement at the possibility, I scrambled to put together an audition recording (What the heck should be in that?) using my vaguely remembered knowledge of Audacity and my even more limited understanding of file-sharing. This was truly professional broadcasting: the music wouldn’t be the problem: trying to have a natural-sounding conversation with non-existent listeners from my basement would be.

My second reaction when called was, What about Darcy?

Ultimately, the station’s management decided to go with Darcy Whiteside, a veteran of Alberta’s bluegrass scene as a banjo player, singer and front-man for the Bix Mix Boys, and a much more experienced radio host than me. Whiteside is hosting CKUA’s The Bluegrass Show at noon (MST) on Sundays, and four weeks in is presenting a nice cross-section of the music: his latest show featured the McCormick Brothers, Laura Love, Town Mountain, Front Country, Boone Creek, the Dead South, Joe Val, and Larry Sparks, as fine a blend of the music as one could hope for within the constraints of a 60-minute broadcast.

I am confident I was up to the task, but knowing how much CKUA means to the province I also believe I have some knowledge of the pressure that comes with hosting such a show: maybe I’m better off without it! Or, as my father-in-law observed, with a shake of his head, “So, you recommended the guy who beat you out?” Naturally. (And, for all I know, I could have been fifth on a three-person list.)

I highly recommend all bluegrass fans give Darcy a listen next Sunday.

This last week, SiriusXM was again offering a free taste of their wares; as a result, my car was tuned to Bluegrass Junction, broadcasting out of the northern Alberta studio, over the extended (American) Thanksgiving weekend. The opportunity to again appreciate the venerable Chris Jones has solidified my opinion that there is no finer bluegrass broadcaster.

Unlike some who make themselves the center of attention or ramble while delivering little substance, Jones always maintains a conversational tone in his broadcasts, letting the music speak for itself as often as interjecting his own insights into the songs. And when he does share an extended anecdote, you can be guaranteed it is relevant and informative, not self-serving or artificial. I can think of no better voice bringing bluegrass music to listeners.

With folks like Darcy and Chris bringing bluegrass to the airwaves-broadcast, online, and satellite-listeners are being well-served.

And, when the opportunity next arises, I hope CKUA again give me a call!

Posted 2017 December 9 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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IBMA Awards 2017- Live results & reactions   Leave a comment

Well, I got the stream going just a couple minutes late- looks like Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver had the honour of starting things off. Hosts Bela Fleck and spouse Abigail Washburn are now attempting humour. Sigh. Funny that the screen has a big black box on the right side. Maybe just me.

Namechecking every banjo player of the last 100 years.

I will be dropping in my commentary as the awards are announced. We will eventually get there. You would never know that bluegrass had a history of incorporating comedy listening to this painful opening segment.

Show is dedicated to Pete Kuykendall. As has happened before I believe, Dale Ann Bradley opens the awards with Joe Mullins-

DOBRO PLAYER OF THE YEAR Jerry Douglas; Andy Hall; Rob Ickes; Phil Leadbetter; Josh Swift.

I predicted that Josh Swift would win, and was also hoping he might. It will not happen again tonight, but I was right on both counts. Kudos to me. First mention of Jesus.

BASS PLAYER OF THE YEAR Barry Bales; Alan Bartram; Mike Bub; Missy Raines; Tim Surrett

I am hoping for Del & ‘Em’s Alan Bartram, but predicting Surrett. The winner is…Alan Bartram, his first win I believe…and he is nowhere to be found. Kenny Smith accepts.

First appearance of a baby. Sigh. And first mention of Glen Campbell who did so much for bluegrass. Yes, that is sarcasm. Here we go with  live performance of John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind” from Flatt Lonesome, who I predict will have a fairly significant evening. And, the first appearance of buffering in the Bluegrass Bunker.

Interestingly, that doesn’t much sound like “Gentle on My Mind.” I must have misunderstood something in the introduction- could have sworn they were said to be playing “Gentle On My Mind.” But… first commercial.

Becky Buller and Larry Stephenson present:

GOSPEL RECORDED PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR “Give Me Jesus”

Larry Cordle (artist), Traditional/Larry Cordle (writer), “Give Me Jesus” (album), Larry Cordle (producer), Mighty Cord Records (label); “Hallelujah”

Blue Highway (artist), Public Domain arranged by Blue Highway (writer), “Original Traditional” (album), Blue Highway (producer), Rounder Records (label); <b>”I Found a Church Today” The Gibson Brothers (artist), Eric Gibson/Leigh Gibson (writers), “In the Ground” (album), Eric Gibson, Leigh Gibson, and Mike Barber (producers), Rounder Records (label) “S

Sacred Memories”Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers with Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White Skaggs (artist), Dolly Parton (writer), “Sacred Memories” (album), Joe Mullins (producer), Rebel Records (label);

“Wish You Were Here” Balsam Range (artist), James Stover/Michael Williams (writers), “Mountain Voodoo” (album), Balsam Range (producer), Mountain Home Records (label)

Honestly, before they played the clips I could only hear one of these songs in my head, The Gibson Brothers tune. a real good one, so that is my hope, but my prediction was for “Sacred Memories. And, there is a tie between those two songs! How does that happen? Well, I know how- let’s see- three of my Hopes have won so far, and two of my predictions. Won’t last. 

Now,

NSTRUMENTAL RECORDED PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR  “Fiddler’s Dream”

Michael Cleveland (artist), Arthur Smith (writer), “Fiddler’s Dream” (album), Jeff White and Michael Cleveland (producers), Compass Records (label);  “Great Waterton” Kristin Scott Benson (artist), Kristin Scott Benson (writer), “Stringworks” (album), Kristin Scott Benson (producer), Mountain Home Records (label); “Greenbrier” Sam Bush (artist), Sam Bush/Scott Vestal (writers), “Storyman” (album), Sugar Hill Records (label); “Little Liza Jane” Adam Steffey (artist), Tommy Duncan/James Robert Wills (writers), “Here to Stay” (album), Adam Steffey (producer), Mountain Home Records (label); “Flint Hill Special” The Earls of Leicester (artist), Earl Scruggs (writer), “Rattle & Roar” (album), Jerry Douglas (producer), Rounder Records (label)

My prediction was for Michael Cleveland, always a safe bet, but I am hoping for Kristin Scott Benson, one of the most exciting players going. And they give the award to…Michael Cleveland. Many, 3 predictions out of 4. I’m doing pretty good.

Balsam Range performs “Girl of the Highland.” Some mic problems are now fixed. Great band. Would like to see them come north some day.

Missy Raines and the leader of Bluegrass 45 are presenting:

GUITAR PLAYER OF THE YEAR Jim Hurst; Kenny Smith; Bryan Sutton; Molly Tuttle; Josh Williams

Hoping for Kenny Smith, but feel like Molly Tuttle will get it…on the basis of an EP and live appearances. Feels like time for a female picker to get recognized…and she is: Molly Tuttle. No doubt a great player- I was thinking she might get the Emerging Artist award, and she still may.

MANDOLIN PLAYER OF THE YEAR Jesse Brock; Sam Bush; Sierra Hull; Frank Solivan; Adam Steffey

My computer froze up like a banjo-player’s claw. I always hope for Jesse Brock in this category, but am okay with Sierra Hull winning for the second year in a row.

Earls of Leicester and Bluegrass 45 collaborating on “Salty Dog Blues.” I can listen to Shawn Camp any time, but something got lost in the translation here: maybe a handful too many players on the stage.

I am not sure I have ever before predicted four awards in a row. It can’t last.

Frank Solivan and Kristin Scott Benson presenting:

RECORDED EVENT OF THE YEAR  “East Virginia Blues” Ricky Wasson and Dan Tyminski (artists), “Croweology: The Study of J.D. Crowe’s Musical Legacy” (album), Rickey Wasson (producer), Truegrass Entertainment (label); “Going Back to Bristol” Shawn Camp with Mac Wiseman, Peter Cooper, Thomm Jutz (artists), “I Sang the Song (Life of the Voice with a Heart)” (album), Peter Cooper and Thomm Jutz (producers), Mountain Fever Records (label); “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You” Bobby Osborne with Sierra Hull, Alison Brown, Rob Ickes, Stuart Duncan, Trey Hensley, Todd Phillips, Kenny Malone, Claire Lynch, and Bryan McDowell (artists), “Original” (album), Alison Brown (producer), Compass Records (label) “Steamboat Whistle Blues” Michael Cleveland featuring Sam Bush (artists), “Fiddler’s Dream” (album), Jeff White and Michael Cleveland (producers), Compass Records (label); “‘Tis Sweet to Be Remembered” Mac Wiseman and Alison Krauss (artists), “I Sang the Song (Life of the Voice with a Heart)” (album), Peter Cooper and Thomm Jutz (producers), Mountain Fever Records (label)

I believe the entire “I Sang the Song (Life of the Voice with a Heart” album should walk away with this award, but since that isn’t the way the award works…

I know Bobby Osborne will win, but I believe the entire I Sang the Song (Life of the Voice with a Heart) album should walk away with this award, but that isn’t the way the award works…and I don’t know if enough folks heard the music from it…I was right- Bobby Osborne singing a Bee Gees song with a cast of IBMA favourites wins this award. I guess: I didn’t hear it, but others obviously did. No doubt, Bobby Osborne has not been recognized enough by the IBMA in recent years, as he has released several terrific albums. I just didn’t think Original was one of them. Good to hear him speak, and he is obviously appreciative of his Compass Records team. Compass does get their deserving artists to the fore, just ask Dale Ann Bradley and Special Consensus.

EMERGING ARTIST OF THE YEAR Front Country; The Lonely Heartstring Band; Molly Tuttle; Sister Sadie; Volume Five

I predict Molly Tuttle, but have my fingers crossed for the veterans of Sister Sadie. Will only be disappointed in one result. The winner is…Volume Five. Didn’t see that one coming; if memory serves, they have been up for this award before. Two times before, apparently. Good band of few words.

God, Banjo Mingle dot com is not funny. Just move the show along, please. JCMISAP.

This is more like it- a whole passel of folks paying tribute to the Bristol sessions. Jim Lauderdale, Carl Jackson, Becky Buller (man, she is tall!) Sammy Shelor, Michael Cleveland, Sierra Hull, and is that Larry Cordle? Nice.

This may be the last summer-like evening in Central Alberta this autumn, and I am in the Bluegrass Bunker reporting on these awards. Such is my dedication to my art.

Alison Brown and Jeremy Garrett present:

FIDDLE PLAYER OF THE YEAR Becky Buller; Jason Carter; Michael Cleveland; Stuart Duncan; Patrick McAvinue; Ron Stewart

Pulling for Buller (and Stewart) but have learned to never bet against Michael Cleveland. Patrick McAvinue comes out of left field to snag this one. He has been around awhile.

BANJO PLAYER OF THE YEAR Ned Luberecki; Joe Mullins; Noam Pikelny; Kristin Scott Benson; Sammy Shelor

A banjo joke. Not a good one. Predicting Joe Mullins, who has never got his due, but fingers crossed for Benson- three lady pickers in one year? Nope. Noam Pikelny. So, my average has dropped back to earth: not a sniff the last three awards. That feels about right. Five predictions in a row will never be matched…not by me! Still, would be nice if Noam played more bluegrass.

Of course, the feed starts buffering just as Missy Raines and Jim Hurst are about to pay tribute to the ‘grassers that passed away this year. Back, at the Ms. Lots of names I am not familiar with…must have attempted to overcome previous criticisms for not having mentioned ‘so and so’ and went with mentioning everyone. Can’t be knocked for that, especially within a music and industry that is so regionalized: every community has their bluegrass pillars who should be remembered.

Now, paying tribute to Pete Kuykendall- a man whose contribution to bluegrass is pretty dang near impossible to measure. Dubbed the music’s Godfather, in the familial sense. Seems appropriate. Tim O’Brien, Jerry Douglas, Molly Tuttle, Missy Raines, and a guitar player I can’t recognize (so sorry) perform “I Am Weary, Let Me Rest,” a most poignant choice. Oh, that’s Danny Paisley! Funny, as soon as he took his lead, I recognized him. Dang, buffering again.

Completely lost the feed now. Intermittent now-

Michael Cleveland is accepting an award, but I don’t know what. Going to guess Instrumental Group of the Year, but will wait to see if I get back the show.

INSTRUMENTAL GROUP OF THE YEAR Balsam Range; The Earls of Leicester; Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen; Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper; Punch Brothers

I am going to post this in hopes that I was correct and Flamekeeper got Instrumental Group of the Year. I should have considered the “Compass” factor into my predictions. I didn’t.

FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR Brooke Aldridge; Dale Ann Bradley; Sierra Hull; Amanda Smith; Molly Tuttle

I will always hope for DAB, and predicted Sierra Hull, but I was leaning toward predicting Brooke Aldridge, but wasn’t willing to put money on her…should have- well deserved, I think. I have lost the stream again. Restarting doesn’t help. Sigh. Back to the Female Vocalist category- with Brooke Aldridge’s victory, there has now been a different winner each of the last six years: Dale Ann, Claire Lynch, Amanda Smith, Rhonda Vincent, Becky Buller, and now Brooke. Bluegrass has come a long way since the days that RV won 7 years in a row. Always has been a diverse field, but now it is being recognized.

Lost the plot entirely now- not sure what is happening. God, it comes back just in time for more Banjo Mingle ‘humour.’ It isn’t my night. Lost it again.

Would love to be hearing Front Country. Restart your router, the advice is…it isn’t my router!

Apparently facebook streaming is not the way to get bluegrass in front of the masses. Sorry to say, it ain’t working, and I am moving on. I will update with the rest of the winners later tonight when the press releases come out.

Just got it back in time for Hazel Dickens’ and Alice Gerrard’s induction into the Hall of Fame, appropriately by [an increasingly emotional, I think] Laurie Lewis. No more typing for now, just watching. Learn, y’all.

Hazel Dickens did so much in bluegrass, and I am so pleased that Laurie is including quotes from her bluegrass peers in this tribute. So sad that the stream is so poor, at least for me: I’ve tried everything. So disappointed- I’ve been waiting 15 years to see Hazel inducted, and I can’t. I am hoping someone will post this later. Missed much of Laurie’s speech, and almost the entirety of Hazel’s nephew’s. Catching much of Alice’s, if with many drop outs. Now, Laurie joins Alice and musicians in a song, which doesn’t play for me.

Unfortunately, I’m out. I guess I should have invested in Sirius. Frustrated that facebook doesn’t seem to be able to handle 900+ viewers. Later.

I’m back. Facebook remains unwatchable here in the north, but by scrounging the ‘net I am finding additional results. Unfortunately, I missed the inductions into the HofF of Roland White and Bobby Hicks.

VOCAL GROUP OF THE YEAR Balsam Range; Blue Highway; Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver; Flatt Lonesome; The Gibson Brothers

I would advocate for Blue Highway to be the Vocal Group annually, and do, but I really thought this year would be Flatt Lonesome’s and I was right. At least my predictive powers have recuperated in the time away from facebook live.

MALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR Shawn Camp; Eric Gibson; Leigh Gibson; Buddy Melton; Russell Moore

I so wanted the Gibsons to walk up together and receive this award, but despite Eric’s campaign to have Leigh named (or was it the other way around) neither was- I thought Moore, not the most interesting vocalist in this group in my opinion, would win, but was more than pleased to read that Shawn Camp received his second nod as Male Vocalist.

The stream still isn’t working here, and other streams are: I don’t think it is me. Too bad the IBMA can’t find a stable, sustainable platform for video of their awards show.

SONG OF THE YEAR “Blue Collar Dreams” Balsam Range (artist), Aaron Bibelhauser (writer); “Going Back to Bristol” Shawn Camp (artist), Mac Wiseman/Thomm Jutz/Peter Cooper (writers; “I Am a Drifter” Volume Five (artist), Donna Ulisse/Marc Rossi (writers); “Someday Soon” Darin & Brooke Aldridge (artist), Ian Tyson (writer); “The Train That Carried My Girl from Town” The Earls of Leicester (artist), Frank Hutchison (writer)

 I don’t believe songs forty, fifty, and more years old should be eligible for this award, although I had no problem with “Man of Common Sorrow” capturing the award years ago. Inconsistency is part of bluegrass, Saturday night drunkenness and murder, Sunday morning gospel. “Going Back to Bristol” is a brilliantly crafted song, but I thought BR would win this one. Again, didn’t see Volume Five rising to this level. I guess I will have to start reconsidering them, eh? I still don’t think “I Am A Drifter” is as significant a song as “Going Back to Bristol,” but since when does that matter?

ALBUM OF THE YEAR Fiddler’s Dream” Michael Cleveland (artist), Jeff White and Michael Cleveland (producers), Compass Records (label); “In the Ground” The Gibson Brothers (artist), Eric Gibson, Leigh Gibson, and Mike Barber (producers), Rounder Records (label); “Mountain Voodoo Balsam Range (artist), Balsam Range (producer), Mountain Home Records (label); Original Bobby Osborne (artist), Alison Brown (producer), Compass Records (label); Rattle & Roar The Earls of Leicester (artist), Jerry Douglas (producer), Rounder Records (label)

As assured as I am that In The Ground is the finest bluegrass album- by a lot- in this category (all original material, expertly executed instrumentally and vocally) I was equally sure that Bobby Osborne would receive this award. Balsam Range released a very good album, without a doubt- I just thought the voters would go in a different direction. Any of four albums would have deserved this award.

Sam Bush and Sierra Hull are frozen on my screen, and in a brief second of movement the Earls of Leicester appeared to walk toward the podium. Putting all that together tells me that I won’t see the finale featuring the Osborne Brothers and that the Entertainer of the Year award has been given out:

ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR Balsam Range; Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver; The Earls of Leicester; Flatt Lonesome; The Gibson Brothers

Any other year I would have been thrilled to have The Earls named Entertainers of the Year, and they are great, but I thought The Gibsons deserved the nod. Better that the alternative, definitely.

Sorry for the funky fonts.

Missed perhaps by some was the youthful emergence witnessed in the individual instrument awards. Hull, now a two-time winner, is 26, and Pikelny (also a two-time winner) is 36. Bartram, the old-man of the six and a first-time winner is 40, while first timers Tuttle (24), McAvinue (28), and Swift (31) bring the average age of the group to under 31. Without doing any additional math, I am going to predict that is a record: prove me wrong. Add in Brooke Aldridge, whose age I can’t easily locate, and we may have an irreversible changing-of-the-guard.

I guess that is the IBMA Awards for another year. Best I can tell, only three of my chosen won (the first three awards of the night) and seven of my predictions came true, not quite as good as I did last year. That result tells me that while what I most like in bluegrass isn’t what the industry is supporting, I am still connected enough to the bluegrass happenings that I can guess almost as often as not who they will support. And in some cases- Brooke Aldridge, Instrumental Group- I should have predicted with my gut. See you in a year!

Posted 2017 September 28 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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Do we need more negative bluegrass reviews?   Leave a comment

Over at No Depression, thoughtful bluegrass prognosticator Ted Lehmann recently reflected on the overwhelmingly number of ‘positive’ bluegrass reviews against a wider view that there seems to be fewer reviewers willing to write challenging criticisms of albums. So as not to misrepresent anything Ted expresses, I refer you to his published piece.

While I don’t agree with everything Ted argues, there is merit to his thesis. Without running the numbers, there does appear to be fewer ‘negative’ bluegrass album reviews than there should be. I have my theories as to why, including that the bluegrass world is so insular and interdependent there is little tolerance of ‘outliers’ whose opinions are contrary to the greater interests of the industry.

Simply put, to write negatively about an album is to accept that you will quite possibly be cut off the publicist’s contact list and the record label’s servicing run, not to be mentioned attacked by overly aggressive parents and colleagues, and have your inability to play “Cumberland Gap” held up as evidence that you have no right to express an opinion. Therefore, like me, if someone writing about bluegrass encounters an album they feel is lacking, it seems they are most likely to ignore it than to spend hours crafting a hatchet piece: most of us are not making the dollars writing that makes it worthwhile to rip an album to shreds, even if it deserves such. Instead, we move onto an album that we can write about more positively.

However, beyond this obvious element there is another set of reasons why I believe there are fewer negative bluegrass album reviews than which we might expect: for the most part, bluegrass albums today are pretty darn strong!

The top bluegrass performers, even when they are spinning their tires, are usually so darned good at what they do that it is difficult to criticize them for their representation of the art. They play in tune (always a good thing), understand how to feature themselves and each other most artfully, understand and execute vocal harmony, and are creative in their arrangements of familiar songs. Essentially, they know what that heck they are doing, and it sounds good.

Most often when I consider something to be of lower-quality, it is a matter of taste and opinion—I have little patience for overwrought, wimpy-arsed, watered-down, and slickly-produced bluegrass, but realize that for whatever misguided reason, some folks actually like that type of saccharine-infused, cloying sentimental trash.

When a major artist does release something less than impressive, whether due to questionable song choices, pedestrian effort, or simply misguided execution—and I am assigned to write about it—I am obligated to call them on it, whether that runs contrary to popular opinion or industry interests. Fortunately, in the bluegrass world, that doesn’t happen very often. Most of what I encounter is of a very high calibre, but if I feel a project is lacking, I try my best to communicate that in an up-front and professional manner, even if sometimes folks may have to read between the lines to pick up on it. I figure that is the reader’s obligation, and if I’ve done my job correctly, they are able to achieve it.

I guess we have to trust readers (and bluegrass listeners) to look for reviews that meet their needs. If they want reprints of promo releases and one-sheets, there is a bluegrass website for that. If they want bluegrass industry cheerleading and baby pictures where never a discouraging word is heard, there is a website for that. Heck, there is even a bluegrass site that features bluegrass only in rare situations. If they want honest opinion, mostly the good, sometimes the bad, and occasionally (usually around IBMA time) the snarky, there is a website for that. I call it Fervor Coulee!

I don’t believe we need more negative bluegrass reviews. We just have to continue to pay attention to the quality music that surrounds us.

Posted 2017 September 1 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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