Archive for the ‘singer-songwriters’ Tag
Trevor Alguire Perish in the Light
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.
Midwest Side Stories
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.
Jenny Whiteley The Original Jenny Whiteley Black Hen Music
I first encountered Ontario’s Jenny Whiteley as a member of Heartbreak Hill, a bluegrass band featuring Dottie Cormier, Christopher Quinn, Victor Bateman, and Danny Whiteley. I don’t recall too much about their performance at that Blueberry Bluegrass fest appearance outside the impact of a single Whiteley song: “John Tyrone” remains one of the finest bluegrass songs that have come out of Canada, and from the first time I heard the song I knew Whiteley was someone I wanted to learn more about.
I didn’t get the opportunity at the time, but months later Whiteley found me at Wintergrass and offered me a copy of her debut self-titled album. That independently released disc displayed Whiteley’s remarkable ability for creating characters within a few well-crafted lines, and earned comparison to Emmylou Harris’ recent Red Dirt Girl. Whiteley was revealed as a major talent, and was rewarded with the first of two Juno Awards for best solo roots/traditional recording. With sultry vocal sophistication, Whiteley has previously released four albums (Hopetown, Dear, and Forgive or Forget followed the debut, with Hopetown also picking up a Juno) filled with love, loss, and regret.
In 2010, I wrote of Forgive or Forget that is was more universally palatable than her rootsy initial offering, but one missed the narrative intensity and youthful fragility of songs such as “Gloria” and “Train Goin’ West.” As one who frequently better enjoys musicians early, developing years than their fully-realized artistic selves (Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Jack Ingram, Dolly Parton, and many others fit into that frame) while still appreciating what they do, The Original Jenny Whiteley appears designed expressly for me.
On this recording, Whiteley seemingly satisfies a desire to more fully explore the music that provided the foundation for her development—old-time folk sounds that have existed and thrived for generations. She even goes back to a song previously recorded on Dear, “Banjo Girl.” A recognition of her rich and diverse Americana/Canadiana upbringing within the venerable Whiteley clan, this fifth recording is a rootsy masterpiece. In a lesser artist’s hands such a multi-dimensional homage might sound disjointed; The Original Jenny Whiteley is united in its eccentric melding of the rich traditional and roots tapestry—folk, jugband, bluegrass, early jazz and ragtime, Francophone, Dylan, and the blues.
Singing “Groundhog” accompanied by producer Sam Allison’s old-time banjo and Teillard Frost’s percussion (harp, bones, etc.,) Whiteley isn’t striving for cultural appropriation or cornpone authenticity. Rather, she is singing of rural experiences that are as genuine as the acoustic sounds comprising the song. For “Stealin’ Stealin'” Whiteley goes back to the Memphis Jug Band, but doesn’t stay there infusing the timeless tune with nine decades of patina via The Grateful Dead, Taj Mahal, and her own danged self.
Whiteley explores the school of hard knocks in “Higher Learning” while acknowledging (via Chris Coole) the thousands of fools on stools eking out a living (of sorts) playing for “$100” a night. “In the Pines” (Bill Monroe, not Huddie Ledbetter or Nirvana) provides a welcome old-time (not bluegrass) connection to Heartbreak Hill, while The Incredible String Band’s “Log Cabin in the Sky” (perhaps) serves as a connection to the generation of players surrounding father Chris and his brother Ken.
The Original Jenny Whiteley is beautiful. By going to her past and rooting around in her trunk of influences, Jenny Whiteley has found the inspiration to create an uncompromising, uncluttered representation of what (mostly) acoustic folk music is all about. In this case, you can judge an album by its cover, a lovely, unadorned sketch by Stewart Jones.
As she sings in “Things Are Coming My Way”—”O me, How good I feel.” After spending thirty minutes listening to this album, you will be singing the same. It is early, of course, but I can’t see a way this album doesn’t make my Polaris Music Prize ballot.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. I hope you are inspired to purchase the music of the artists featured because they deserve it!
Still catching up on summer.
Tomato Tomato I Go Where You Go www.TomatoTomato.com
Washboard-infused, old-timey roots duo (that’s a band) Tomato Tomato (incorporating both pronunciations of the word) released their second album early this summer, and it’s a corker. The debut album from Saint John, New Brunswick husband-wife duo John and Lisa McLaggan was just a tad too ‘all over the place’ for this listener while offering enthusiastic stomp & holler in the form of “Toss It All Away” and “Gotta Get Out of This Town” as well as more moody pieces including “Breakin’ Down.”
I Go Where You Go offers a more refined, focused portrait of energetic, acoustic roots music. Lively, “Ain’t Dead Yet” offers standout vocals further propelled by the fiddling of eastern Canadian legend Ray Legere. “Lemon Pie” reveals the duo’s jazzy roots whereas “Runnin’ Like Hell” is an instrumental workout accompanied by a lyrical thread that provides the vaguest outline of an escape from the mundane. “Rabbit In The Log” is done in a mountain-style bluegrass manner, while “The Best We’ll Ever Know” provides a family history set to a homespun rhythm.
Genuine, Tomato Tomato make music that reflects the authenticity of their experience. They aren’t ‘trying’ to be quaint and artisanal in their approach to modern folk music: I Go Where You Go is simply what the McLaggans are. And, I like it. I’d buy them a beer. (Okay, I’d let them buy me one!)
Still catching up on summer…
Ana Egge & the Sentimentals Say That Now www.AnaEgge.com
I can’t remember to caulk around the tub as my wife has been asking me to for two or three weeks, but I can remember this:
Fifteen or sixteen years ago, from Sound Connection in Edmonton I purchased a used copy of a CD by Ana Egge. The album was called River Under the Road, and never having heard of her prior to that day I am not sure why I was drawn to the recording, but at $5 in the discount bin I took a chance.
And I have no recollection of listening to the album. None.
Did I even listen to it? If so, it must not have grabbed me the way I had hoped, and on one of my trips to the city I long ago traded it in.
But, in the ensuing years that album has lurked around in the back of my head every time I read a favourable review of an Egge recording or saw a mention of appreciation for her, each time offering up the question, What did I miss?
I encountered her previous Bright Shadow recording, and didn’t fully appreciate its blend of folk imagery with country-rock aggression. Something kept me from fully embracing Egge.
And that is entirely on me, because listening to both those albums today I am utterly gobsmacked that I didn’t get it. Say That Now lets me know what a complete idiot I have been! For the past twenty years I could have been immersing myself in this amazing voice.
What has led me on this journey of rediscovery? A couple months ago, I received Say That Now in the mail, but summer procrastination being what it is…I didn’t listen to it. And more music piled on top. Finally, in my end of summer energy burst, I uncovered this unassuming album, brushed the dust bunnies and cat hair from it, and played it on the way to work one morning.
I’ve already called myself an idiot once: it seems unnecessary to continue to beat myself up, but…Idiot!
This is an incredible album.
Saskatchewan-born, North Dakota-raised, and New York-based Ana Egge has been making roots music since 1997. Since that time she has been produced by Steve Earle and Martin Terefe, compared to Sandy Denny and Shawn Colvin, and praised by the likes of Lucinda Williams (to whom comparisons are likely best made,) Buddy Miller, and Ron Sexsmith (who wrote Say The Now’s liner note.) Recording with Danish band The Sentimentals, this album of ten songs is a full-bore collaboration with several co-writes.
Pre-Car Wheels Lucinda is an apt starting point for songs like “Take Off My Dress” and “Still Waters Run Deep,” but that really doesn’t do justice: alt-country touches (maybe Blood Oranges on “The Girl from the Banks of Ohio”) abound, creating an album the likes of which is now seldom encountered. “He’s A Killer Now” is stark darkness, a mother’s reflection on an inexplicable event. “Falling, Falling, Falling” is just perfect, as is “Promises to Break”: lyrical wisdom combining with clever instrumental execution to create the type of lush country music we fell in love with when Joy Lynn White, Matraca Berg, and Mandy Barnett were recording for major labels.
I have a lot of catching up to do: don’t make the mistake I made—start with Say That Now.
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.
Blue Moon Marquee Gypsy Blues www.BlueMoonMarquee.com
A refreshing platter of hardscrabble blues and roots music. Comprised of two Albertans now based on Vancouver Island (our dream most days), Blue Moon Marquee are A.W. Cardinal (vocals and guitar) and Jasmine Colette (double bass, drums, and vocals.) If you can imagine David Johansen recording original music during his Harry Smiths phase, you are coming close to what Blue Moon Marquee accomplish on this riveting set of energetic, guttural blues. Lonesome Ghosts of a couple years ago was a fine introduction, but Gypsy Blues is that much darker, smokier, and satisfying. With a hint of ragtime in their mix, Cardinal and Colette explore the back roads lurking in the listener’s mind, causing one to feel both trepidation and elation while experiencing one’s baser possibilities. Key cuts: “Double Barrel Blues,” “Hoodoo Lady,” and “Tossin’ and Turnin’.”
Maria Dunn Gathering Distant Whisper Music
One of Alberta’s foremost folk musicians—I believe only John Wort Hannam is her equal—returns with her sixth collection of lyrically-rich gems. An artist who places her convictions and heart on display in complementary proportions, Dunn has found balance between sharing the inspirational and compelling within songs that are insightful, artfully constructed, and just plain enjoyable.
There will always be more than a bit of the Celtic lands in Dunn’s music, and throughout Gathering African, Asian, and Canadian First Nations influences can also be heard. An overarching theme of community connection is woven into each number, ably achieved through Dunn’s soulful lyrics and the contributions of collaborators including long-time partners Shannon Johnson, Jeremiah McDade, and Solon McDade. As always, one comes away from this Dunn recording knowing more about the world than one was previously aware.
Like the finest troubadours, Dunn communicates: she is the vessel through which others exist. She reveals the innermost, personal, and captivatingly universal perspectives and insights of devoted parents, the down-trodden challenged by circumstance, those connected to the land by more than choice, and the youthful who rise above.
Beautiful stuff Gathering is, certainly one of the finest recordings to be released this year. Those who compare Maria Dunn to Woody Guthrie, Hazel Dickens, Jean Ritchie, and Buffy Sainte-Marie aren’t taking the easy way out: with the release of Gathering she demonstrates that she is an international folk artist of significance.
Video of “When I Was Young” from Gathering. Several other videos from other projects, too.