Archive for the ‘Shawn Camp’ Tag

Mac Wiseman & Various Artists- I Sang the Song review   Leave a comment

Mac Wiseman

Mac Wiseman I Sang The Song Mountain Fever Records

With all due respect to the folks who have released excellent bluegrass and country albums this year, and those who will undoubtedly do so in the coming months, we have our 2017 Americana/Roots album of the year.

An incredible undertaking by Peter Cooper and Thomm Jutz, the most important element of the thirteen songs comprising I Sang the Song: Life of The Voice With A Heart is the source material, Mac Wiseman himself. Nearing 92, Wiseman was born in 1925 and recalls a time few of us can picture outside history books and re-runs of The Waltons. Wiseman is a man who knew A. P. Carter and has now had Sierra Hull share a song with him. Think about that for a half-a-moment.

“It ain’t bragging if you’ve done it,” asserts John Prine gently within the title track, revealing for the unaware that Wiseman performed alongside the acknowledged masters of 20th century roots music. A member of both The Foggy Mountain Boys and The Blue Grass Boys, as well as a charting, featured performer in his own right, Wiseman is a founder of the Country Music Association, and inductee to both the International Bluegrass Music Association Hall of Fame and the Country Hall of Fame.  A label executive and producer—and one of the finest bluegrass gentlemen I’ve had the pleasure of encountering, however briefly— Wiseman was always far more than “just another young hillbilly.”

The majority of these songs are obviously bluegrass, a few clearly country, and others find that sweet, magical spot between the two. Cooper and Jutz had the inspiration and wisdom to listen to and converse with Wiseman, finding in his stories threads to embroider  the ten new songs created together to communicate a compelling narrative of anecdote.

Naturally, the singing is incredible throughout. Recent IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year Shawn Camp is given a pair of songs, as is Milan Miller who appears with Buddy Melton (another IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year) and Andrea Zonn. Junior Sisk, yet a third IBMA vocalist recipient, also has two lead appearances, “Crimora Church of the Brethren,” on which he is joined by Ronnie Bowman (yes, another IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year) and “The Wheat Crop”—with the ladies of The Isaacs—which laments the lot of the poor farmer. These performances are expectedly outstanding, and the history-rich lyrics and eternal melodies provide galvanizing framework for blessed voices.

Justin Moses (fiddle, banjo, and Dobro) and Hull (mandolin) work with Jutz (guitar) and Mark Fain (bass) to serve as the house band, uniting to create a consistent instrumental environment. Cooper and Jutz harmonize on several tracks, providing further uniformity.

Within a song, Wiseman (“The Guitar,” via Moses and Hull) takes us from receiving his first Sears Roebuck, ragtop box, to the eventual day he stopped “playing in G and singing in C” to nail “There’s An Empty Cot in the Bunkhouse  Tonight” for an audience of one. As the album unfolds, his experiences through to the hardships of the depression (“Barefoot ‘Til After the Frost”, “Three Cows and Two Horses”) are revealed in a natural, homespun manner capturing the vernacular of his rural upbringing down to cold “feet just as red as a gobbler’s snout.” In the universal and frustrating balance poverty, even when things improve for Wiseman’s family (“Manganese Mine,”) another discovers only hardship and tragedy.

“Simple Math,” one of two sang by Americana icon Jim Lauderdale, details further experiences from Wiseman’s youth following him into early gigs as a professional musician including his big break playing Molly O’Day sessions. Lauderdale, one of the most prolific and versatile vocalists working today, adroitly relates the simple truths of Wiseman’s observations.

As compelling as the connections to Wiseman’s life are across the album, the fact that each song stands independent released from context is indicative of their significance. The bluegrass chart hit “Going Back to Bristol,” sung by Camp, radiates universal appeal, whether you’ve ever been near the border community, cut a side with Flatt & Scruggs, been near a Studebaker, or not.

Alison Krauss joins Wiseman on the closing benediction “‘Tis Sweet to Be Remembered,” one of his earliest successes, for a performance joining generations in hopeful love of music and life. Wiseman drops in on a few of these numbers, providing a foundation for the lyrics and music, but also allowing those with the greatest of admiration to communicate his story through the voices of generations influenced by “The Voice With A Heart.”

For thirty-eight minutes, timeless memories are communicated. Through time, these performances will be shared to become part of our collective memory.

Visit https://mountainfever.com/ to order.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. @FervorCoulee

 

The Earls of Leicester- Rattle & Roar review   1 comment

the-earls-of-leicester-rattle-and-roar-album-cover

The Earls of Leicester Rattle & Roar Rounder Records

Before most North Americans had heard of Premier League champions Leicester City, bluegrass fans well knew how to pronounce the name of the East Midlands municipality. That’s a result of Jerry Douglas’ brilliant, timely idea: celebrate the ongoing influence of Earl Scruggs (that’s the Earl) and Lester Flatt (there’s the Leicester) by gathering some of his finest musician friends to not only recreate but reinvigorate the songs of the (in the opinion of many) preeminent bluegrass band, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs & the Foggy Mountain Boys.

Like the Bluegrass Album Band did three decades ago, The  Earls of Leicester are more than a bluegrass supergroup. They deftly remind the bluegrass community of what this music is about: no ‘nod’ to the roots of the music (to use the popular vernacular,) this is a full-blown tribute to the sturdy trunk that has supported the many branches of bluegrass for 70 years.

Their self-titled album of 2014 was a stunner. That much-heralded recording not only won the Grammy as Bluegrass Album of the Year, but the group received six awards at the most recent IBMA festivities including Instrumental Group of the Year, Entertainer of the Year, and Male Vocalist of the Year for country and bluegrass veteran Shawn Camp. With extensive touring, The Earls of Leicester are most definitely at the fore of contemporary bluegrass performers. So, where to from there?

The lineup of the group has been tweaked, with Tim O’Brien departing and the highly respected Jeff White now filling Curly Seckler’s spot within the group: this noted musician, songwriter, and past member of Union Station more than admirably and seamlessly took over when O’Brien was unavailable to tour with The Earls of Leicester, and throughout this recording contributes additional spark within the vocal trios.

The balance of The Earls of Leicester remains consistent from last time. Jerry Douglas is the bandleader and his Dobro© is prominent within the arrangements, many of which are ‘note-perfect’ to the Flatt & Scruggs’ originals. As example, “Buck Creek Gal,” compared with a television appearance featuring Scruggs and Paul Warren, is near duplicated at the tail-end of Rattle & Roar. Still, this isn’t mimicry: The Earls of Leicester have taken the time to deconstruct the songs, challenging themselves to reassemble the arrangements with mindful awareness that a judicious balance between the original, timeless approach and modern innovation is essential.

Shawn Camp takes the lead vocals, and sounds even more confident in assuming the role of Lester Flatt. Johnny Warren is the fiddler, Charlie Cushman is on the 5, and Barry Bales handles the bass.

While the group largely limited themselves to material from the mid-50s to mid-60s last time out, on Rattle & Roar The Earls of Leicester have broadened their selection of songs. Hitting early 1950s sessions, they pick off “Why Did You Wander?,” “Pray For the Boys,” and “Flint Hill Special” this time out. Most everyone knows “The Train That Carried My Girl from Town,” “The Girl I Love Don’t Pay Me No Mind,” and “Will You Be Lonesome, Too?” but no one should object to the vibrant renditions contained herein.

The group continues to choose numbers that are familiar without being overly-recorded and performed. “Branded Wherever I Go,” “All I Want is You,” and “A Faded Red Ribbon” present different facets of the band’s personality. On the sacred side, a mid-set interlude of “Mother Prays Loud in Her Sleep” and “I’m Working on a Road (To Glory Land)” is particularly effective, along with the acute, harmony-drenched “You Can Feel It In Your Soul.” “Steel Guitar Blues,” often associated with Roy Acuff, is a number that Flatt & Scruggs performed but didn’t record. Utilizing Paul Warren’s performance diary has afforded The Earls of Leicester with an insight into the history of The Foggy Mountain Boys that others can only envy.

While one may not ‘hear’ that the album was largely cut live with the musicians playing simultaneously within the same room, you can certainly ‘feel’ the intimacy of the experience. Everything is precise and note-perfect of course, but listening to “Why Did You Wonder?” one can envision Douglas nodding to Warren to take a fiddle break after a chorus, Camp encouraging Cushman to step-up to deliver a memorable fill, and White grinning to Bales as the song is brought home.

With hundreds of songs still waiting to be recorded (drop the harmonica, and I think The Earls of Leicester would destroy “Last Train to Clarksville”) one hopes they continue to perform this music that they most obviously relish and respect. With great regard for the tradition and even greater understanding of the precision required to make this music appear effortless—and the ability to pull it off— Rattle & Roar is another outstanding bluegrass recording from The Earls of Leicester.

Two weeks to Blueberry: you’ll want to be there to catch The Earls of Leicester!

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee- Donald

 

The Earls of Leicester review   1 comment

untitledThe Earl of Leicester had nothing to do with bluegrass music. But, The Earls of Leicester are most certainly bluegrass through and through. The ‘Earl’ refers to Scruggs and ‘Leicester’ is pronounced Lester, as in Flatt, and this six-piece band, whose performance at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival of a couple weekends ago I am currently streaming, is pretty darn exceptional. So is their debut album, released last month on Rounder Records.

The Earls of Leicester

The Earls of Leicester

Rounder Records

A welcome breath of grassiness, The Earls of Leicester are not most obviously about innovation, ‘big tents’, or pushing the music forward. This bluegrass supergroup is all about celebrating and honouring the past, recreating the lively, engaging music of arguably bluegrass music’s greatest outfit—Flatt and Scruggs & the Foggy Mountain Boys—for the generations that never had the opportunity to experience their groundbreaking music during the band’s long run, 1948-1969.

The Earls of Leicester are, to use the words of founder Jerry Douglas, “an event band.” While the band may eventually progress beyond the current intent, for now and on the basis of their debut album, The Earls of Leicester are all about recreating the formative bluegrass music of Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, and their Foggy Mountain Boys. And if you can’t get enough of digging holes for Darlin’ Corey, spending time in the calaboosh, dim lights, thick smoke, and corn shuckin’ there is plenty within these 38-minutes and 14 songs for you to find of interest.

Shawn Camp doesn’t attempt to replicate Lester Flatt’s relaxed, unforced style of bluegrass singing. Rather, Camp has found his own way of singing these songs that is comfortably within the parameters established by Flatt while maintaining his own personality. Listening to “On My Mind” and “Big Black Train,” one begins to feel that Camp has dug deep to find within himself a new way of singing, a new voice…one that is, in places, pleasingly similar to that of Flatt.

Douglas was greatly influenced by long-time Foggy Mountain Boy Uncle Josh Graves, and—no doubt, since it is his band—the Dobro is front and center on many of these songs, perhaps given a tinge more prominence in places than Flatt & Scruggs would have considered. On the whole, the arrangements of the songs and their performances are quite true to the originals recorded from the mid-50’s to the mid-60’s.

Tim O’Brien fills Curly Seckler’s shoes on this recording, and does an admirable job in recreating the clean mandolin playing of the period while reaching high on the tenor parts; when he steps up to the mic on “Dig A Hole in the Meadow,” it is evidence that some ‘warhorses’ should never be retired. Son of Foggy Mountain Boy fiddler Paul Warren, Johnny Warren takes care of all the fiddle parts, while Charlie Cushman has the unenviable responsibility of recreating Scruggs’ 5-string work. As expected, their performances are excellent, as are the contributions of Barry Bales, reigning and three-time IBMA bass player of the year.

Many of the songs and tunes most frequently associated with Flatt & Scruggs—”Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms,” “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” “Earl’s Breakdown,” and “Salty Dog Blues,” to name a few—are avoided in favour of some that may be less commonly heard on amateur stages. Great decision. Ditto, “Polka on the Banjo,” thankfully. Only four of the songs appear on The Essential Flatt & Scruggs while the Mercury recordings are entirely avoided. “The Wandering Boy and “I Don’t Care Anymore” are highlights, but so are the frequently encountered “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down,” on which Warren contributes bass vocals, and “Dig A Hole in the Meadow.”

The recording appears flawless: the bottom end is appropriately heavy, Camp’s guitar notes ring true, the vocal stacking is precise, and the instrumental mix is stellar. It is one of the better sounding bluegrass albums I’ve recently experienced. Find a flaw, I dare ya!

If such matters are important to your listening pleasure, the only instrument on the album that couldn’t have appeared on a Flatt & Scruggs recording is O’Brien’s 1976 mandolin: the instruments range from 1929 and 1930 Gibson banjos to Paul Warren’s fiddle, used on Foggy Mountain Boy recording sessions.

By performing the music of Flatt & Scruggs in such an honest and true manner, The Earls of Leicester can’t help attract those not deeply familiar with these classic sounds but who are interested in acoustic, or jam band, folk, and bluegrass music. Therefore, it could be argued, The Earls of Leicester are all about pushing bluegrass music forward, expanding that ‘big tent’ that gets so much attention, and encouraging others to find innovation within the beautiful constraints of this wonderful—and timeless—music.

Addendum- 2014 October 24: I received an email today that included Jerry Douglas’ reaction to my review, and which I felt I needed to share- one doesn’t often get positive feedback from those reviewed: “Hallelujah! I have been heard. This fellow gets what I wanted to do. Never seen a better review. Let’s hope these continue. Hallelujah! Just what I need to start my day here in Tokyo.” I’m pretty sure he was jet-lagged, and (not knowing if Flux- let’s see if Chris Jones catches me nickname dropping here- drinks) perhaps inebriated. Still, pretty cool! Glad someone thinks I hit the mark. Donald

Guy Clark- Songs and Stories   Leave a comment

Guy Clark Songs and Stories Dualtone

Guy Clark isn’t for everyone. There are few things as predictable as my wife’s reaction to hearing the words, “There ain’t nothin’ in the world that I like better…” But for those who are true believers, who feel quite strongly that he is every bit the writer and singer that Townes Van Zandt was- and on a good day, more so- hearing Guy Clark live is a treat. Van Zandt gets the tribute albums; Clark gets to continue making music.

By writing the above I have no intention of creating an unnecessary and fruitless argument of who is/was better, Clark or Van Zandt. They both had/have their points and their shortcomings; they both had/have their frailties and vices. There is no way I could win the point in Clark’s favour as most likely Guy would suggest that Townes should come out on top. For writers who are truly artists and I would count Clark and Van Zandt among them, the normal standards of success- hit cuts, Billboard charts, sales, popular acclaim- mean little. What counts is the art.

There have been other live collections from Guy Clark and each shows a portrait of the artist as an aging craftsman. The first recorded is the Live From Austin, TX set released a handful of years back but capturing Clark as slipped through his late-40s. Documenting an Austin City Limits taping, the 15-song set presents Clark holding court as an experienced but vibrant troubadour accompanied by Stuart Duncan and Edgar Meyer. The set-list is ripe with the expected standards (including “L.A. Freeway,” “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train,” and “The Randall Knife”) being present alongside songs that are less frequently heard in a Clark show: the beautiful “Old Friends,” “New Cut Road” and “Immigrant Eyes.” As always, at least in my experience, Clark acts the amiable host having invited a few friends over for a guitar pull.

The first live album released was 1997’s Keepers, recorded in late 1996; Clark was in his mid-50s by this time. This album finds a larger band accompanying Clark: son Travis, mainstays Verlon Thompson and Kenny Malone, Suzi Ragsdale, and another true master, Darrell Scott. The usual songs are joined this time by “Like a Coat from the Cold,” the wordy but word-perfect “The Last Gunfighter Ballad,” “She Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” and “That Old Time Feeling.” While Duncan and Meyer could almost be overlooked on the previous album- and I don’t mean that as a criticism, just a fact as I hear it: the focus is on Clark and his performance- here the band shares the bill with Clark not only supporting him but shining in their own right. Make no mistake, it is a Guy Clark show but the experience is made richer by the instrumental interplay between Scott, Thompson, and Clark’s bass-playing son; give “Home Grown Tomatoes” a listen to hear what I mean.

There is also a three-headed beast called Together at the Bluebird Café recorded the previous year. On this 2001 release, Clark shares the stage with Van Zandt and a refreshed Steve Earle. Clark gets five songs in but it isn’t a ‘Clark’ live show, so we’ll leave it for another day. Good recording, though.

Songs and Stories is the new release, sneaking out last week while I was lazing about. It is another beautiful recording, the type of thing- much like a Guy Clark concert performance- that you just can’t help smiling about. As Clark nears 70, the voice that was never polished to begin with has acquired a patina that reveals the treasure of the past while allowing the depth of experience and the craftsmanship of mastery- that which has true value- to be appreciated.

With noticeably greater effort than displayed on the previous albums, Clark still performs his nine songs here admirably and with distinctive flair. Doesn’t matter that he has qualified for seniors benefits for several years, Guy Clark remains the coolest guy in any room he finds himself in. A few songs contained on one or more of the previous albums are included: “L.A. Freeway,” “The Randall Knife,” “Out in the Parking Lot,” and both “The Cape” and “Dublin Blues,” featured on the Bluebird set. “Maybe I Can Paint Over That” (from his most recent album Somedays the Song Writes You) is the early highlight, but Townes’ “If I Needed You” is most certainly appreciated: still one of the most honest songs ever written. And I will never argue with the inclusion of “Stuff That Works” in any Clark (or Rodney Crowell) set. Disappointing is the absence of additional material from Somedays the Song Writes You; it would have been nice to have a live take of “Eamon” or “Hemingway’s Whiskey”

What sets this album apart from the earlier discs in the extra time afforded Verlon Thompson and Shawn Camp. In his easy-speaking manner, and similar to how he performed when I last saw him with Clark at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2009, Thompson charms while he entertains. So impressed was I by his two tracks here, especially the spirited “Joe Walker’s Mare,” that I downloaded his Works album a few weeks ago.

Shawn Camp brings some acoustiblue fire to the show, spinning through “Sis Draper” and bringing a more subtle touch to “Magnolia Wind;” both songs just happen to be Camp/Clark co-writes. While some may argue that a Guy Clark live album should feature more than nine Guy Clark performances, by highlighting the talents of those who surround him, Clark gives evidence to all the stories one has heard about his integrity and mentorship. By not excising the mid-set interlude, the album feels like a performance that the listener is witnessing.

Songs and Stories may not be the best place to start exploring Guy Clark, but it is a wonderful artefact of song writing mastery and performance. I’ve seen The David, I’ve heard Doc Watson pick quite a bit, and I’ve heard Guy Clark sing, “There ain’t nothin’ in the world that I like better, than bacon and lettuce and home grown tomatoes…” more than a few times, including here. Let’s hope this isn’t the last volume of live Clark- he’s got so many songs still to share. And I want to hear what he has to offer as he approaches 80; I trust it’ll be fun.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee; hope you’re finding things that inspire you to listen to music. Best, Donald