Archive for the ‘Rounder Records’ Tag

Gold…In A Way- James King “Thirty Years of Farming”   Leave a comment

 

Jame KingOne of my favourite parts of writing about bluegrass music is occasionally looking back at the great music I’ve had the pleasure of encountering, and giving it another listen with the ears of time. Gold In A Way is how I do it, and I’ve posted another one at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass. It is about James King’s great album Thirty Years of Farming; give it a read if you are so inclined. A Google search will locate a slate of live performance videos of James singing the song.

The Gibson Brothers- In the Ground review   Leave a comment

gibson_2 The Gibson Brothers have been a Fervor Coulee favourite since their Sugar Hill debut Bona Fide was released in 2003. It was a very strong album, ticking off all the requirements of a bluegrass album of the day: a railroad song, a Tom T. Hall classic, a road song, a song about bluegrass, another about a favoured instrument, an instrumental standard, a metaphor-laden gospel piece…Despite this seemingly contrived set of requirements, it warranted notice, and still does.

Fourteen years and eight albums later (bringing their release total to thirteen, I believe) Eric and Leigh Gibson are at the top of the bluegrass world, a pinnacle at which they’ve resided for a decade. In The Ground may be their finest yet. An album of self-written songs, it isn’t like anything they’ve before accomplished. Still bluegrass, of course, but taking things to yet another level. My review has been published by Lonesome Road Review; I hope you will consider giving it a read.

Various Artists- The Life & Songs of Emmylou Harris review   Leave a comment

emmylouIf every artist I admired as much as I do Emmylou Harris were on a stage, there would only be a handful present. For me, she is one of those that the Americana conversation should start and end with. Regal and responsive, she is a vocalist with few peers and as an interpreter of song she may be the finest I’ve heard.

My 5 star review of the live recording The Life & Songs of Emmylou Harris was published over at the Lonesome Road Review. It is a recording I feel all should hear and see. Atypically, the CD and DVD have slightly different contents, allowing one to hear more of the evening without having to have the package expand to two audio discs. The presentation successfully crosses musical generations unlike most similar tributes.

Reviews recently posted elsewhere   Leave a comment

I was asked to contribute some reviews to Lonesome Road Review recently. I am likely writing a little less for LLR and Country Standard Time than I had in the past, but I do find time to get a couple or three done monthly. These days, there is little to no money in freelance writing on the level I do it-back in the early to mid-aughts I had a steady little stream of revenue coming from various publications, but that has pretty much dried up. Fortunately for me, I have a true career to pay the bills, and I am able to leave paying jobs to those who actually are writing for a living…and who are usually a bit better at it than I am.

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Anyhow, two new reviews have been posted. The Special Consensus is one of my favourite bluegrass bands going back almost twenty years, and their most recent Compass Records release Long I Ride is another really strong recording. Last year Darrell Scott released 10: Songs of Ben Bullington, a masterful recording that I’ve been listening to monthly if not weekly since it came out. We don’t usually review albums so long after release, but Aaron sent it to me and therefore I did; I hope I did the album justice. I also failed to link in my review of Scott’s latest, Couchville Sessions. Sigh. Here it is. Or, if I did, the search tool isn’t finding it.

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In cleaning up Fervor Coulee at year end, I can’t find my review of Josh Williams’ Modern Day Man cross-posted. Country Standard Time had me write about it on release, so if you missed it, there it is.

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And finally, I hope- my review of Dori Freeman’s debut was posted at Lonesome Road Review, but I neglected to link it here. I’m not very good at this, am I?

Anyhow, all these albums are worth your consideration, no matter when you locate the reviews. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

Blue Highway- Original Traditional review   1 comment

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Blue Highway Original Traditional Rounder Records

For more than twenty years, listeners have been privileged every couple years to encounter a new album from Blue Highway.

Original Traditional, their eleventh and first since Dobroist Rob Ickes departed, continues their most recent blueprint: original music written or co-written by band members along with a single traditional song. The album’s title alludes to the group’s tendency to bridge the generations of bluegrass through recognition and reverence for the traditions of the music while ensuring a contemporary, original perspective is always present.

With three formidable lead vocalists and key songwriters—Tim Stafford (guitar,) Shawn Lane (mandolin, fiddle, guitar,) and Wayne Taylor (bass)— along with Jason Burleson’s alternately aggressive and pensive, propulsive and sympathetic banjo presence (his tune “Alexander’s Run” is a highlight of the recording) and an instrumental lineup as strong as has ever been staged, Blue Highway is one of the top bands in the business.

Joining the group for this recording is the youthful Gaven Largent, briefly of Michael Cleveland’s Flamekeeper and a player who doesn’t ease his way into the Blue Highway sound, confidently laying out his runs on mid-set numbers including the love-gone-wrong piece “What You Wanted” and the vengeful murder ballad “The Story of My Life.”

“Don’t Weep For Me”—essentially “I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby” meets “Echo Mountain” minus the dog—is a strong lead song. The rest of the 38 minute album reveals the accustomed cast of bluegrass fellows who drink too much (“Water From the Stone,”) hold onto childhood trauma too long (“The Story of My Life,”) and lose a good woman’s love because of it all (“If Lonesome Don’t Kill Me.”)

Still, Blue Highway isn’t a band favouring one-dimensional songs, and none of those songs mentioned exist without shades of gray. In Shawn Lane and Gerald Ellenburg’s album closing number, Blue Highway revisit the good ole days at “The Top of the Ridge” while writing what sounds like either an elegy or (in darker eyes) a note of suicide. “She Ain’t Worth It,” in hands other than Tim Stafford and Steve Gulley, might have been just another song of fateful revenge; their protagonist thinks a little longer about his predicament—rather than grabbing his .44, he sits and “bathe(s) in the afterglow.”

“She Ain’t Worth It” swings more than a little, and features Largent to nice effect. Similarly, “Last Time I’ll Ever Leave This Town” provides the instrumentalists room to showcase their offerings. “Water From the Stone” has a pleasing and inspirational gospel quartet arrangement, while the a cappella treatment of “Hallelujah” is just showing off and seems a fine message to the IBMA: Why exactly aren’t we named Vocal Group of the Year annually?

I am sure I am not the only amateur fact-checker who has gone on extended forays to learn the true life blues behind particular folk and bluegrass numbers. Many (many) years ago, one of the first I did this with was “Tom Dooley,” the standard popularized by Grayson & Whitter, The Kingston Trio, Doc Watson, and hundreds of others. I remember scouring the local libraries for ‘facts’ related to the story of Tom Dula and Laura Foster.

On the Legacy recording made with David Holt, Watson suggested his grandmother knew something about the tale, and that intrigued me even more, as did reading Sharyn McCrumb’s excellent The Ballad of Tom Dooley. My interest was therefore piqued to read the song title “Wilkes County Clay” (the locale of those post-Civil War events) and even more thrilled as the song began with, “In North Carolina, in the County of Wilkes, there’s a tale of deception, murder, and guilt. I’ll spare no compassion, the truth I will tell, Let God alone judge me, this side of hell.” From those words, one knew where Tim Stafford and songwriting partner Bobby Starnes were going.

“Wilkes County Clay” is a mournful song, with Lane’s fiddle colouring the song much as one imagines the instrument did Dula’s final moments. While the narrator’s identify isn’t clear, the song is an agreeable telling of the tale, taking the Grayson-path that other accounts discount. The lyrical choices made (“She hid like a panther in the black of the night, And killed Laura Foster with a bone handle knife”) raises this above typical bluegrass fare.

Original Traditional is another outstanding bluegrass album from Blue Highway. They make it seem easy: forced listening to the number of less-than-adequate bluegrass albums available proves that it isn’t. Blue Highway is a great band, one that has been contributing fresh insight into the bluegrass spectrum for more than two decades. That they continue to rise to the level they do, never taking the easy way, never delivering less than stellar material, is testament to the importance they place on their legacy.

Excellent cover, presumably by Bobby Starnes, too!

Thank you for taking the time to seek out Fervor Coulee. I appreciate that there are lots of places to get roots information and opinion; I’m glad I’m one of them. Donald

 

O’Connor Band with Mark O’Connor- Coming Home review   Leave a comment

It has been a busy summer- I’ve written quite a few reviews, and done more listening than I likely should have, but I’ve done even more reading: as a result, projects around the home didn’t get accomplished. Neither did writing. (I had planned on working on my short stories/novella this summer. Hmmm…didn’t happen.)

With all the music coming my way, I haven’t found the time/energy to sit down and write about enough of it. Lazy, perhaps- I do normally try to write about 75% of what gets sent to me. (Thanks, PR folks.) I fell short this summer, so today I make the attempt to write that wrong. I’ve also been working at refining my writing, trying to write tighter; working without constraints (or an editor) I’m sometimes not as focused on ‘how’ I am writing. This weekend I decided to concentrate on the quality of my writing, taking time to be more concise in my expression.

Here we go: several reviews of roots music released over these summer months. Hopefully, something leads you to further investigation.

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O’Connor Band with Mark O’Connor Coming Home Rounder Records

One of the new acts gaining extended coverage this summer has been Mark O’Connor’ foray into leading a family band. O’Connor has long been one of the most recognizable fiddle voices in country and roots music, releasing a string of albums under his own name while guesting on countless recordings. In the O’Connor Band he is joined by his son Forrest (mandolin) and their partners Maggie (vocals and fiddle, and who has a little Alison Krauss in her voice) and Kate Lee (vocals and fiddle.) With three fiddle/violin players in the band, one isn’t surprised at the prominence the instrument has in this neo-bluegrass/Americana band’s repertoire. My advance copy of the album came with no credit notes, but the album appears to be a mix of original (“Coming Home,” a Forrest O’Connor composition is a highlight) and familiar material. Of the later, a stirring rendition of “Ruby, Are You Mad at Your Man” is a highlight, as is a welcome interpretation of “Jerusalem Ridge,” considered by some to be Bill Monroe’s finest composition. The album is enjoyable if a little staid for my tastes- more MOR than the fiery sounds that fuel my soul. No doubt, expertly played and acutely produced, it features a few too many numbers a bit too smooth for me to grasp onto. Key cuts: already mentioned as well as “Blacktop Boy” and “Always Do.”

The Lonely Heartstring Band- Deep Waters review   Leave a comment

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My review of The Lonely Heartstring Band’s recent release. Published at Lonesome Road Review. This group of very talented musicians won an IBMA Momentum Award last year. I enjoyed this album more during my fifth and sixth listens through than I did the first several. Truly, it isn’t ‘my’ bluegrass, and isn’t even my kind of Americana. Still, I can see what others appreciate in it, and while I am likely not going to listen to it again any time soon, it has much going for it. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee.