Archive for the ‘singer-songwriters’ Tag

Gretchen Peters- Dancing With The Beast review   1 comment

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Gretchen Peters Dancing With the Beast Scarlet Letter Records

I’m a fan of Gretchen Peters, and have been from the first time I heard “On A Bus To St. Cloud” more than two decades ago. Not an ardent enthusiast as I am for others—Del McCoury, Steve Forbert, Kirsty MacColl, The Go-Go’s—perhaps, where I keep/kept up on every twist and turn of their careers and purchased everything I could get my hands on, but a devotee nonetheless. I lost track around when Halcyon was released, but started catching up again with the Tom Russell album several years ago. I ordered my copy of Dancing With The Beast on the strength of her previous Blackbirds and a few minutes of listening online. Like contemporaries Eliza Gilkyson and Darrell Scott, Peters has never made an album I didn’t thoroughly enjoy.

Upon first listen yesterday, I thought “Man, these first two songs are great…they alone make the album a worthwhile purchase.” (I had unsuccessfully searched the city stores for a copy before succumbing to the ease that is Amazon.) And then songs three, four, and five played and I knew Peters had created a modern masterpiece of folk-tinged Americana. Four complete plays within 15 hours has done nothing to dampen my enthusiasm.

While Peters hasn’t done a lot of co-writing historically, like Guy Clark did she sees the benefit of collaboration within established relationships. Working up with “Blackbirds” co-writer Ben Glover for a few songs here, Peters continually raises her game crafting engaging and poetic songs of visionary substance.

Teaming with Matraca Berg (another long-time Fervor Coulee fave) and Glover for “Arguing With Ghosts,” this dark song could be about the descent toward dementia, but it could also be about depression, isolation, or the frustration many feel with a world that is moving too quickly. It is the universality of the images that impacts the listener across this song of wistful reflection. “I get lost in my home town, since they tore the drive-in down”—opens the song (and album)–before smacking it home with the honest truth of “The years go by like days; sometimes the days go by like years, and I don’t know which one I hate the most.”

The weariness of the troubadour’s road is captured without sentimentality or rancour in “The Show,” and I was so enamoured with the sound of this song I got out the specs to read the near-indistinct musician credits (white on light pink!) to again find Will Kimbrough’s name! Is there anything thing this guy doesn’t play on? Like a lucky penny, he is. Scanning the remaining notes, I see him listed on most of the other tracks, along with Barry Walsh (piano, Hammond B3), naturally, Dave Roe (bass), and Jerry Douglas (Dobro) on a couple.

The title track is more pointedly about the grip of the black dog, while “Lowlands” and “Disappearing Act” both explore the theme of seclusion.

The loneliness of “Disappearing Act” morphs into a “dark cocoon,” a result of years living with diminishing returns: “People leave and they don’t come back, life is a disappearing act” Peters sings in her perfectly downy voice, revealing that “you can travel the world, you can sail the seas…still you end up cryin’ at your kitchen sink.” Within an album full of artful and challenging lyrics, I think my favourite line on the album may be “We had 40 good years, then 10 more!”

“Lowlands” is the place Peters finds herself inhabiting—”making do” with her friends—a place where “a little light gets through.”  Coloured by current circumstances in her country, Peters sings that she doesn’t “burn one with my neighbour anymore, ever since he put that sticker on his bumper,” while acknowledging “Goddamn, it sure got quiet on the high road, as it led us straight down into hell.”

Peters is one of the finest contemporary singer-songwriters, and while the songs of Dancing With The Beast don’t pulse with vigour, their energy is found within lyrical magic and incredible instrumentation. Those of us missing Nanci Griffith will want to give Dancing With the Beast a listen, if only to hear a line from “Lay Low” that should have been sung by the now silent mistress of the melancholy:

“It’s a good three hours to Aberdeen, and I’ve read all the magazines,                                 and the jokes are all played out or wearin’ thin.
So I lie back and close my eyes and I let that old sadness rise,
and I listen to ‘Hello In There’ again.”

A coming-of-age summer of teenage torment and manipulation is highlighted with wistful regret in “The Boy From Rye,” another song with enough universality to be appreciated from a distance of years, while the late night vignette of “predator or prey” plays out not without hope in “Truckstop Angel.” The vividly potent line “I swallow their indifference, but I choke on my regrets” is going to stay with me.

Across its fifty-minutes, there is so much here that resonates, and the album’s finest song may be “Wichita,” a lively-sounding Peters-Glover co-write. The combination of Doug Lancio’s and Kimbrough’s guitars complement the emotional starkness of this tale of abuse and reckoning, with Douglas’ contributions ratcheting up the tension. Long before the protagonist declares “Mama always told me if you want something done, you do it for yourself so I loaded up her gun…” the outcome of the song is apparent.

I don’t regularly review albums I purchase: there is little enough time to get to projects I am obligated to write about. Sometimes though, an album reaches across space and just grabs on. Dancing With The Beast is one of those collections, an album that will find itself on my year-end list of favourites. Gretchen Peters may sing of shades of gray, but her voice is always replete with colour. Listen.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

 

 

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Dulcie Taylor- Better Part of Me review   Leave a comment

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Dulcie Taylor Better Part of Me Black Iris Records/DulcieTaylor.com

While California-based Dulcie Taylor’s music is new to this listener, the veteran singer-songwriter has numerous albums released over the past two decades. Taylor’s music reminds us of when we first heard Kimmie Rhodes, Shawn Colvin, and yes, even Lucinda Williams long ago. That Taylor isn’t the household name those artists are has nothing to do with the quality of her writing or singing.

“Watch Me Hurt” was the first song to grab my attention: the anguish of the lover being taken advantage of by a malicious heart is palatable. “I thank you for the lesson learned, people can be cruel—set you on fire just to watch you burn” she sings in the song’s final stanza, one replete with a refrain that reveals the casual infliction of cruelty—”I know you broke my heart on purpose, you needed to watch me hurt.”

Taylor doesn’t have too many songs of satisfaction and bliss on Better Part of Me, her seventh release (as best as I can tell). For some, the song titles tell part of the tale—”Long Gone,” “Hearts Have to Break” (a rustic, homey duet with producer and long-time collaborator George Naufel), and “The Moon Is Cold”—but Taylor’s songs go beyond the simple hook and cutting catch phrase, revealing the nuance and complexity of relationships.

To counterbalance the darkness, Taylor offers “I Do” (“You don’t ever have to wonder who has got your back—I promise you, I do”) and “God Did Me A Favor.” The lucidity of her voice is striking throughout the album, perhaps no more so than on the closing title track. Unlike some singers—and here, the last decade or more of Williams’ music comes to mind—Taylor artfully presents her words as important enough to articulate fully. Singing of understanding, struggles, hope, and honesty, Taylor conveys her regard for her art and her audience.

Having been inopportunely called away just as the album started its initial play a couple weeks ago, I missed the immediately satisfying opening number “Used To Know It All,” a terrific lead track. Like much of the album, this is a guitar-rich song that pulls in the listener, reminding me a little of Marshall Chapman’s most recent music: aware, self-deprecating, and absolutely stellar.

Sticking largely to what used to be sometimes referenced as folk or MOR sounds, Taylor saves her greatest rancour for us and the world we have created. On the country-ish “Halfway To Jesus,” Taylor takes us all to task for a world that is suffering from our influence, preaching “It ain’t like we haven’t been warned, now we’re living through thousand years storms; looking back, where does that leave us?” The answer is, naturally, on a journey to the ever after.

Dulcie Taylor is a new voice, to me. Discover her if you haven’t; she is worth the search.

Josh Hyde- The Call of the Night review   Leave a comment

JoshJosh Hyde The Call of the Night www.JoshHyde.com

I don’t know Josh Hyde, but within two minutes of listening to his “Mississippi Bridge,” I knew I had to know more. Written out of the experience of moving between the homes of his divorced parents every second weekend, Hyde has crafted a stark and relatable travelogue of a child spending his childhood on a Greyhound. It is a damned fine song.

Across this compact, 32-minute and nine song album, Hyde repeats this feat. He finds a way out of his personal experiences to communicate in a manner that is immediately universal. The title track is as sultry as a humid summer evening. A child of Louisiana, there is no surprise that Hyde seems to connect on a visceral level with the shadier sides of life, from the guy sneaking around the house when you’re “Offshore” and missed opportunities (“It’s Not Too Late.”) Both these songs feature Sonny Landreth on slide guitar.

Featuring all original material (“Offshore is a co-write with Brett Brunson), The Call of the Night has darkness running thought it (“Need a Lil More,” “Close”), but it is buoyed by Hyde’s melodically-rich approach to songwriting. And in what seems to be today’s theme, some lovely keyboard work (this time from John Gros) is apparent across the album.

Lesley Kernochan- A Calm Sun review   Leave a comment

lk-a-calm-sun-cover-webI received this album from the publicist a month or so back, listening to it a couple times right off, and knew I needed to write about it. I have since listened to A Calm Sun seven or eight more times- driving, while resting, and as I was writing- and could not be more impressed. It is a bold, mature recording, free of gimmick and insincerity. Give it a listen. My review is at LRR http://lonesomeroadreview.com/calm-sun-lesley-kernochan/

You can listen to “Country in the City” here.

 

The Gibson Brothers- In the Ground review   2 comments

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.

Trevor Alguire- Perish in the Light review   Leave a comment

album-cover-2Trevor Alguire Perish in the Light

www.TrevorAlguire.com

For those who have been paying attention, and I have admittedly not paid enough, Trevor Alguire has carved out a little niche for himself on the Canadian singer-songwriter circuit. His song “Thirty Year Run” was a realistic portrayal of life, all the more impressive for its wisdom beyond years, “I’m Going Crazy (Out of Your Mind)” was a country hit waiting for radio, and “Cold Words” plumbed emotional depths as starkly as John Hiatt often does.

On Perish in the Light Alguire again looks into the darkness of relationships and the vitality of lives, exploring the inner-most thoughts of folks brave enough to ponder their circumstance. There is an echo of Billy Bragg in his voice (“The Ghost of Him,” “I’ll Be Who I Am,”) which is really strange as I also hear Corb Lund coming through in places (“Long Way Home,” “Flash Flood.”)

The cinematic “My Sweet Rosetta” sketches an everlasting love, and features the strong vocal presence of Catherine MacLellan and the wonderfully poetic image of “my bullet-proof sweater.” Like Mark Erelli, Alguire sketches life’s complexities of turmoil and wonder in just a few lines, coalescing a lifetime of challenge, doubt, and absurdity into a relatable couplet.

“I’d rather hold her memory tight than waste my days with you,” from “Out of Sight Out of Mind” doesn’t even require a second line to nail things down, placing punctuation on enduring love. Man, that is one excellent song. “Wasting My Time With You” explores the opposite, cutting a relationship to the quick. “Long Way Home” is a song of promise and assurance. “If I Had Stayed in School” is a songwriter’s manifesto.

Production choices deserve mention as instruments are placed to the front of the mix, emphasizing the collaborative nature of the recording. Beautifully balanced, Alguire’s vocals rise through and above in these brilliant little songs; give a listen to the first minute of “My Sweet Rosetta” to hear an audio visionary to full effect. Bob Egan contributes pedal steel with Miranda Mulholland’s fiddle serving as additional connection to the country sound.

Perish in the Light is a great album, one I will be nominating for the Polaris Prize. It won’t win, but it deserves a conversation.

Always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Support your local roots musicians.

 

Chicago Farmer- Midwest Side Stories review   2 comments

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Chicago Farmer

Midwest Side Stories

www.ChicagoFarmer.com

First impression: this guy can sing.

You wouldn’t think such a statement should warrant significant mention in a review of a new album, and maybe it doesn’t. Given my experiences the last (many) years listening to independent artists of the Americana roots variety, I feel it does because I hear a lot of emerging (and established) artists and damn it, some of them can’t.

They can mumble. They can emote. They can speak melodically with some rhythm, even. And many pull it off even with less of a voice than I might have.

Chicago Farmer, despite the moniker, can flippin’ sing. He has a style that reminds me of the country/folk pop singers of the early 70s—the R. Dean Taylors, John Denvers, and Ray Matericks of the day. Earnest. Bold. Honest.

Cody Diekhoff (nothing wrong with that name—wish he used it! For those who don’t know, I have a bit of an aversion to [the increasing number of] singers/duos who go under a name other than that which their mother gave ’em…fully realizing my mom never called me Fervor Coulee) has been releasing music for more than a decade, and by my count I have six albums to ‘catch up on’ having now been exposed to his straightforward, insightful, and darned groovy interpretation of modern life and vision. Not as cleverly obvious as John Prine, Diekhoff most reminds me of the former postman who happens to share similar small(er) town Illinois roots.

Diekhoff—okay, Chicago Farmer doesn’t set out to do anything fancy on Midwest Side Stories. He has insight into the experiences and internal dialogues of contemporary working class folks, and has the artistic ability to convert these into songs of substance and interest. “Skateboard Song” touches on a whole lot of stuff—youthful disenchantment, small-mindedness, finger-pointing, and police harassment, just to start—over a hard-beaten melody that would do both Weezer and Dan Bern proud.

“Two Sides of the Story” similarly looks at community, the push/pull pride/hate we have with our small town upbringings—we may not like ourselves, but you damn well better not put us down, especially if you live on the other side of town! “Umbrella” delves into the troubadour’s lot, “these songs and stories began unfolding like an umbrella in the rain” balancing melancholy and attempts toward local fame with a compulsion to connect with a single person while remaining true.

Chicago Farmer’s mid-western insights do not limit these songs: they appeal whether you are rural or urban, upstate or down, blue- or white- collar, Canadian or American. “Rocco N’ Susie” are our neighbours, the ones we don’t really know, but are more like us than we care to admit—a couple pay cheques away from foreclosure, a few months from desolation, several bad decisions from remand. The gradual journey from independence to dependence is identified in “Farms & Factories,” suspicion thrives in “Revolving Door,” and the night shift margins are explored on “9 pm to 5.”

Brian Henneman’s approach to songwriting comes to mind mid-set. Only late in the album deos Chicago Farmer rock as much as do The Bottle Rockets, but there are more commonalities in subject manner and tone than not. One can imagine Chicago Farmer finding inspiration through a cracked windshield, identifying vigour where others might encounter pathos.  The full band of folks I’ve never heard of—Ernie Hendrickson, Darren Garvey, Matt Ulery, and many more—create a substantial background for Chicago Farmer, never infringing on his words while providing a weighty dynamic for these songs.

The set closes with an up tempo—almost bombastic—interpretation of John Hartford’s anthem to survival, “I’m Still Here.” It is an ideal song to close a set that has at its heart the theme of the daily grind: get up, work your ass off, enjoy a bit of the benefit of your labour, and repeat tomorrow, next month, and for the next forty years.

Chicago Farmer comes with a Todd Snider seal of approval. That’s cool. But you’ll like him just for being himself and delivering music that resonates no matter the circumstance.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. I appreciate it, and hope you will support roots music in all its forms.