Archive for the ‘Red House Records’ Tag
It has been a busy week here in the Fervor Coulee bunker, and the fruit of that labour has been posted over at the Lonesome Road Review in the form of two reviews.
First up is my review of the new Special Consensus album, abluegrass tribute to John Denver.
Also up is my review of the new Eliza Gilkyson album, The Nocturne Diaries.
Both of these albums are absolutely incredible, beautiful stuff.
Special Consensus, riding a career high since joining forces with Compass Records, are approaching their 40th year under the guidance of Greg Cahill, a banjo master. On this new album Country Boy, they are joined by bluegrass and Americana luminaries including Dale Ann Bradley, Jim Lauderdale, John Cowan, and producer Alison Brown. What holds it back from a 5 star label? Two too few songs, that’s it.
Eliza Gilkyson. Man, my words are truly inadequate. I’ve only been listening to her for ten or eleven years, but over that time I’ve come to respect her every bit as much as I do Tom Russell, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Rosanne Cash. Every time I think about Gilkyson, I remember the time- about six or eight years back- that I saw her join a First Nations circle dance at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival: the look of sheer bliss on her face as she danced has stayed with me ever since. Magic.
I appreciate everyone who visits Fervor Coulee- I hope you are finding writing of interest. Keep in touch, Donald
Red House recoding artist Meg Hutchinson has released a video in advance of her new album Beyond That. “Only Just Begun” marks a decided and bold adjustment to what we’ve come to expect from the very talented songwriter and vocalist. I wrote about her last album The Living Side three years ago. I’m posting a link to the video at her website, and pasting the press release below:
Award-winning songwriter, poet and mental health advocate Meg Hutchinson will be releasing a new studio album, Beyond That, on September 24, 2013 on Grammy-winning indie label Red House Records. The album reunites Hutchinson with veteran Boston producer Crit Harmon (Martin Sexton, Mary Gauthier) for what is her most experimental and intricate production to date. “Crit and I have worked together for a decade now. I wanted to build on that trust and that shared musical language and really encourage each other to find new sounds,” she says. “I felt that I had reached a new landscape in myself and I wanted the album to reflect that.” The result is an album reminiscent of David Gray’s White Ladder where revelatory lyrics combine with a fresh contemporary production.
Beyond That is available for pre-order now at Amazon and iTunes. Hutchinson is premiering the first video from the album, “Only Just Begun,” on her website.You can also tune into PRI radio this Friday through Sunday, July 26 through 28, to hear Meg’s interview with Golden Gate Bridge CHP officer Kevin Briggs on Bob Edwards Weekend. Briggs, who’s been recognized for his suicide prevention work, is the subject of her song “The Gatekeeper” from The Living Side.
Hutchinson has been busy in the three years since we last heard from her. She learned to play the piano and established a home studio, giving her greater flexibility to explore new terrain. In her previous album, 2010’s The Living Side, she spoke of wanting to unplug from technology and regain a stillness in her life. The songs on this album, at once ecstatic and meditative, are evidence that she has taken this message to heart.
“I believe that the role of an artist is to keep braving that deep inner work, to keep growing,” she says. “Creativity should be a method for transformation. This takes time, it takes quiet. I have spent a good deal of the last three years walking in the woods with my dog, sitting out on the rocks beside my favorite lake watching the sky go dark, learning a meditation and yoga practice.”
The resulting songs are about coming home, about transforming desire, about how human love can open the heart for some greater purpose.
“We live in the desire realm,” Hutchinson says. “If we look closely at our lives we see that all our senses are constantly hungry. We are addicted to information, to success, to consumption. I see this as a major cultural illness right now. We are always sure that there is something better, a better spouse, a better job, a bigger house. What we keep forgetting is that none of this pursuit is bringing us any closer to happiness.”
This new cycle of songs shows us another way. In “Only Just Begun” she contemplates how craving has been integral to survival, but that she hopes to move beyond this instinctual blindness. She sings, “My loves are many, my needs are few, billions of light years, it’s taken me to get here.” She closes the song with the lines “My best work has only just begun, our best work has only just begun.” This seems not only a mission statement but a call to all of us to re-examine our lives.
In “Yellow Room” she writes of a dream she had where she was getting on an amusement park ride but instead was flung into outer space and given a breathtaking view of our planet.
“I was filled with the sheer beauty of seeing the earth from far away. Filled with this realization that we are all a family inhabiting this one tiny planet in the midst of a vast universe. In the dream all our human arguments were meaningless, and what I was left with was a profound sense of wonder and love.”
As a result of the messages inherent in her earlier albums Come Up Full and The Living Side, Hutchinson has been invited to speak and perform as a mental health advocate across the country at prestigious conferences and teaching hospitals including Johns Hopkins University.
A chronicler of the human condition with a poet’s lyrical sensibility, Hutchinson is a unique, fearless songwriter whose work is vivid and transformative. Look for US tour dates to be announced soon.
I’ve been going through a heavy Dale Watson phase recently; almost every day this month I’ve had a dose of the Texan’s music. I’ve written about him before, including upon the release of The Sun Sessions, his first Red House album. Long a favourite, Watson hasn’t disappointed to date.
Whether singing honky tonk originals, neo-western swing, Memphis-Sun injected early-rock influenced hillbilly music, drinking songs, dreaming ones, or rig driving anthems, Dale Watson sings country; like Dallas Wayne, Billy Don Burns, and a thousand others going back to Tony Booth, Bobby Austin, Dick Curless, and further, country runs through his veins and colours his life.
Fresh from his Sun focus (The Sun Sessions and the recently unveiled and equally enjoyable Dalevis) and taking a stab at Blake Shelton’s lack of vision (“Old Fart, A Song for Blake”, available on iTunes later today), Dale Watson hasn’t changed a lot from the first time we heard him sing “Cheatin’ Heart Attack” two decades ago.
Had Watson scored even a minor chart hit along the way, things might be different; forced to do things fairly independently, Watson has chosen to stay close to his roots (and their principles) over the course of some twenty albums. He never caught the Nashville rash, and wasn’t afraid to call ’em out if he thought something was less than justified (“Country My Ass.”)
El Rancho Azul is comprised of 14 Watson originals, according to the record label “the honkiest tonkiest album” of his career. Measuring such would be difficult, but Red House won’t get an argument from me.
Never one to mince words, Watson has consistently demonstrated that he can build a solid song around a clever turn of phrase, occasionally elevating his songs to greatness. “Where Do You Want It” and “Thanks To Tequila” are built around memorable catch phrases, and while enjoyable don’t reach the comparable standard of Watson’s best songs. “Cowboy Boots,” an ode to dancin’ women, also falls into this category.
“I Drink to Remember” fares better; the lyrics unfold like a Capitol Haggard cut- I believe there is even a subtle vocal nod to Merle within the chorus at 0:51- and the pedal steel of Don Pawlak combines with Watson’s guitar for a unadulterated 60’s California country sound. “We’re Gonna Get Married” and “Daughter’s Wedding Song” are thematically independent of each other in their approach to nuptials, but each successfully accomplishes its intent. The first is filled with good-natured frivolousness, while the second conveys matters from the father’s point of view; complete with recitation, this is another song that could have appeared on Pride In What I Am or Hag.
I’m not sure what Watson’s motivation was in writing, recording, and then sequencing two songs that are so similar (and yet, different) as “Quick Quick Slow Slow” (about a couple’s hesitant first dance) and “Slow Quick Quick” (about a different couple’s only slightly less hesitant first dance), but they work, as a single track and one-after-the-other. Not afraid of redundancy (on his 1995 debut, Watson recorded “Wine Wine Wine” which was outdone on last year’s The Sun Sessions by “Down Down Down Down Down), here we have “Drink Drink Drink” which is about about what you figure.
Through it all, Watson and his Lonestars-which includes, in addition to Pawlak, Chris Crepps on upright bass and Danny Levin on fiddle and piano- sound like they are quite simply having a time playing these songs. A true original, Watson appears not to give a rip about being original. Some will criticize his music for being a throwback, even derivative perhaps.
This week I’ve listened to six or eight Watson discs. El Rancho Azul stands with his best. Either you like it or you don’t; if you like country music, I can’t understand not liking it.
Sorry for the delay on this one…thought it had been posted.
Robin & Linda Williams These Old Dark Hills Red House Records Reviewed by Donald Teplyske
Robin & Linda Williams have been creating folk-based, country-leaning music for parts of five decades, and as the long-married duo approach their 40th anniversary of recording in 2015 they just keep getting stronger.
There is nothing overly complicated about what the Williamses do. They tend to write and select relevant, heartfelt songs of relationships focusing on the places almost as much as the people (despite the protagonist’s claim to the contrary, “They All Faded Away” serves as a prime example, balancing memories of rolling hills, gently flowing water, and ramshackle towns with the recollection of a long-abandoned love). Their harmony-centric and acoustic approaches to music making ensures that the voices and the lyrics- the stories, characters, and settings- always remain at the fore.
None of which should be taken to imply that what they create is simplistic. There is true skill and art involved in making meaningful music pure and straightforward. Taking a rather undistinguished, latter-day Bruce Springsteen composition (“My Lucky Day” to create something that sounds classic is no small feat.
As is their practice, Robin and Linda alternate taking the lead vocal position with the other slipping into seemingly effortless harmony. Utilizing the standard bluegrass instrumental norm- five musicians on any six instruments including Chris Brashear’s mandolin and fiddle, Todd Phillips on bass, and Al Perkins on various steel guitars, with Linda on guitar and banjo and Robin on guitar- a consistent and appealing foundation is established early.
Lonesome and the title track, both co-written by the Williamses, are destined to become standards within their extensive repertoire.
Looking at Lonesome as a “rotten town” of mental blueness- “If you get broke down in that barren ground, you will be forever bound to Lonesome,” Linda Williams maps a journey of formidable challenge.
More gentle are the images Robin Williams evokes as he settles his tired gaze on “faithful confidants of stone.” The untouched, ancient wilderness is brought to mind within this gentle, loping number, as are fond reminiscences of family.
Additional highlights are a version of Jessi Colter’s “Storms Never Last,” the bright “Tessie Mae,” and “Arizona.” The only misstep appears- and this may not be universally felt- as the album closes with “World Wide Peace,” a familiar but over-reaching song.
These Old Dark Hills stands with the best of Robin and Linda Williams’ recordings.
Drew Nelson Tilt-a-Whirl Red House Records
The world is full of singers we’ve never heard. One of the most recent to come my way is Michigan’s Drew Nelson.
Like hundreds of other under-heard songwriters, Drew Nelson has been playing the clubs and festivals for years. Signed now to influential independent Red House, Nelson’s blend of John Mellencamp-roots rock and Kevin Welch-country balladry is a winning combination.
Without pretension, Nelson has created eleven blue collar songs that tell his truth through characters and situations that are universal. “Promised Land” explores the hand-to-mouth existence of under-employed and itinerant workers while “Danny and Maria” is his “Jack and Diane” drawn from the experiences of the same population.
The album reaches its pinnacle mid-set with the five-minute epic “5th of September”. Quietly sung over minimal accompaniment in the voice of a combatant- is it 1862 or 2007?- Nelson reveals but a little of the thoughts and emotions within one man’s mind and soul as he faces death in battle.
Like those who have traveled similar paths, Nelson well knows the value that a tight, talented band can bring to a recording. Notable amongst those present are the contributions of producer and multi-instrumentalist Michael Crittenden and drummer Brian Morrill.
Comparisons to Bruce Springsteen are inevitable, if flawed. Still, with the album’s final three tracks and especially “Copper” and “My Girl (Shooting Star Wishes),” Nelson approaches the inventive qualities of Springsteen’s stream-of-consciousness workingman’s poetry.
If Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball is a bit too esoteric for your tastes, Tilt-a-Whirl might do- it has a tighter aural focus than Springsteen’s latest, but is no less engaging and enjoyable.
As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer Little Blue Egg Red House Records
When Dave Carter unexpectedly died in 2002, the folk world lost a great, under-heard songwriter and singer. Since then, Tracy Grammer has quietly kept his songs and spirit alive. Theirs was an evolving musical partnership, with Grammer assuming more responsibility as time passed.
Carter’s songs were always their core. Grammer discovered the source tapes for these performances while cleaning a basement last summer. Recorded in their living room, none of the eleven songs sound like castoffs excised from previous releases. Rather, each is a fully realized creation simply waiting to be discovered. A few of the songs have appeared in different form on Tracy Grammer albums, but these recordings have never before been released.
Carter’s inclusive spirituality weaves through these songs. Whether spoken in the meditations of the truck driver “somewhere between midnight and the changin’ of tires” (‘Hard Edge of Livin’’) or the midnight vocalist singing “in praise or lamentation, in peace or desperation” (“Any Way I Do”), Carter and Grammer communicate messages of significance. The album’s standout may well be “Gypsy Rose,” a song that could have been sung by troubadours hundreds of years ago.
The album’s only non-original is a quiet, duo rendition of “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key,” a song from Billy Bragg & Wilco’s Mermaid Avenue; Grammer’s violin playing on this familiar song is especially evocative.
Little Blue Egg is that most treasured of offerings, an unexpected gift.
The Pines Dark So Gold Red House Records
The third album from the Minnesota-based folk duo of Benson Ramsey (son of Bo) and David Huckfelt is as lush and detailed as their previous offerings, but this time out there is a spooky starkness that results in an even more satisfying listening experience.
As they have previously done, The Pines produce harmonious, folk-based music that at its core is literate and no little bit mysterious. Working this time out with a full band, Ramsey and Huckfelt have created ten distinct, multi-layered pieces, each which could accompany minimalist cinematic portraits of the rural mid-west.
Acoustic-sounding, Dark So Gold is very much rooted in the blues tradition that has informed the practice of most guitar-based folksingers since 1961; a nod to Bob indeed, but The Pines have created their own little niche in the crowded contemporary folk fold.
Recommended if you like Bon Iver, John K. Samson, and Deep Dark Woods.