Archive for the ‘Steve Dawson’ Tag

Kat Danser- Goin’ Gone review   1 comment

KatKat Danser Goin’ Gone Black Hen Music

“Jumpin’ on the IV and II, hanging on the voodoo groove,” Dr. Kat Danser sings just a few moments into Goin’ Gone, her fifth album and second in a row in partnership with Steve Dawson—and first for his Black Hen label.

With the declaration made within “Voodoo Groove,” Alberta’s undisputed Swamp Blues Queen puts forth her road hewn CV: she is grindin’ it smooth and castin’ a juju spell…whatever that exactly means. To me, it is an assurance of razor-sharp, unabashed southern-influenced blues.

Individual credits are not provided, but between Danser and Dawson, the pair float their guitars over and through deep grooves established by Jeremy Holmes (bass and mandolin) and Gary Craig (drums and percussion) with substantial accoutrement from Jim Hoke (saxophone and harmonica) and Matt Combs (fiddle and mandolin). One can lose oneself in this meaty gumbo, overcome with the variety of aural flavours spicing their collaborative concoction.

Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Train I Ride” is transformed, with Hoke’s brass notes playing off extended slide phrases and Danser’s sultry, yearning vocal. “Memphis, Tennessee” is a challenge, the city defending itself despite troubled history: “I made the blues on Beale Street when cowards covered their heads in sheets, and I do as I please because I am Memphis, Tennessee.”

I can’t figure out what the hell “Kansas City Blues” is about—a city ill-prepared for a snowstorm? Hattie McDaniel? A lover crushed by heartbreak? No matter, Danser’s voice is in top form on this crooning blues, as she is on the more straightforward title track and the light yet feisty “Chevrolet Car.”

Nothing is left to interpretation within “Hol’ Up Baby;” Danser ain’t done with her lover quite yet: “Maybe I ain’t always been true, but I ain’t over you.” Danser comes home on “My Town,” capturing the dichotomy of knowing (and loving) a place so well that it hurts to see its truths.

Reflecting the current political and social climate, “Light the Flame” is as close to rock ‘n’ roll as I think Danser comfortably ventures, and it is a compelling call to action —neither myopic nor ham-fisted. A coda of sorts, “Time For Me To Go” eases her listeners into the night, a farewell until we next hear from this northern master of the natch’l blues.

With Baptized By The Mud of 2013 establishing her bone fides to a more prominent degree, Kat Danser had a high mark to achieve with its follow-up recording. She has met and exceeded any expectations with Goin’ Gone, a testament to her maturity as a vocalist, songwriter, and guitarist. Teaming with the likes of Steve Dawson is seldom a regretful decision; together they have created a unified and convincing argument that further elevates Danser within the crowded blues field.



Steve Dawson- Lucky Hand review   Leave a comment


Steve Dawson Lucky Hand Black Hen Music

Immersing myself in Steve Dawson’s impressive catalogue these past weeks, I wasn’t surprised as much reinvigorated by the intensity and diversity of the music he has chosen to create over the past decade and a half. There are certainly commonalities linking his recordings—the quality of his playing, naturally, but also his obvious appreciation for the history of all roots-based music—but what becomes most apparent is Dawson’s incredible versatility. When one encounters music from a Steve Dawson album, one is never quite sure what will be heard: blues, folk, country, string-band, and jazz, it is all there. Equally evident is that there is no doubt that one is listening to a master.

Steve Dawson is one of Canada’s most significant roots musicians and producers. Now based in Nashville, Dawson continues to develop his own songwriting while honing his studio and instrumental chops.

I’ve admitted it before, and I am comfortable stating it again: most instrumental roots music albums—bluegrass, blues, folk, and the all-encompassing Americana—bore me. Wait, that is a little strong, and ‘bore’ is a lazy word. Still, instrumental albums certainly don’t engage me to the degree that music with verses and rhyme does. Still, I’ll listen to Doc Watson and Flatt & Scruggs’ Strictly Instrumental or the Tony Rice Bluegrass Guitar Collection anytime; I guess it just depends on the presentation—noodle incessantly or aimlessly and you lose me before the third cut.

No fear of that with Steve Dawson’s Lucky Hand. Mr. Black Hen Music has created, with a handful of guests, a compelling collection of—alternately—lively, moody, and progressive acoustic, instrumental roots tunes.

Across the 45-minute set are expansive and airy solo and duet pieces as well as a few full-blown string wizard combo collaborations. What is especially appealing (but not terribly surprising) is the multiplicity of sounds Dawson brings to his compositions. There is a subtle bluegrass groove to “Hollow Tree Gap,” while the atmospheric “Lucky Hand,” “Bentonia Blues,” and “Hale Road Revelation” have blues foundations, the latter featuring an impressive slide performance. Dawson lays out a fitting and inspired tribute to Doc Watson-styled phrasing and picking on “Lonesome Ace.”

Dawson also circles back to long-time partner Jesse Zubot on several string-rich pieces including the playful “Old Hickory Breakdown” and the musical imagery that is “Bone Cave.” Dawson is further complemented by Josh Zubot (violin), Peggy Lee (cello), and John Kastelic (viola).  John Reischman joins Dawson for the slide and mandolin duet “Little Harpeth,” a piece that (to these abused and untrained ears) weaves into near neoclassical territory.

The cinematic opening “The Circuit Rider of Pigeon Forge” is an expansive suite effectively incorporating ostensibly discordant essentials of western film scores of the 50s, chamber music, and intimate late-night guitar progressions with rock ‘n’ roll fervor. Somehow, it all works, and sets the tone for a musical journey that is consistently challenging, surprising, and unblemished.

Lucky Hand is Steve Dawson’s eighth ‘solo’ album. It stands comfortably beside his best albums including Solid States & Loose Ends and Nightshade.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee.





Matt Patershuk- Same As I Ever Have Been review   1 comment

Matt Patershuk Same As I Ever Have Been Black Hen Music

PatershukDon’t accuse Alberta’s Matt Patershuk of resting on laurels well-deserved.

While his previous album I Was So Fond of You was one of the finest country albums of 2016—regardless country of origin—this time out La Glace’s great hope has injected a whole lot of blues’ grit into his songs, especially early in the set. The David Lindley-esque guitar opening of the lead track “Sometimes You’ve Got to Do Bad Things to Do Good” is only the first hint that there’s something different this time out.

One suspects this was a mutual decision by Patershuk and producer Steve Dawson, and while I might prefer a more ‘straight-forward’ country approach, one cannot criticize the execution of this change of direction.

“Memory and the First Law of Thermodynamics” (there is a country title I never expected to type) starts out reminding us a little of “I’m Not Lisa,” but soon shifts deep into metamodern, esoteric Sturgill Simpson territory. “Boreal” makes a turn toward the type of songs this listener most appreciates, ones which remind us that there is beauty all around us, and no little bit of troublesome drama available if we make an effort. It and “Hot Knuckle Blues” reveal, perhaps—and I’m guessing here—a Hoyt Axton influence. “Sparrows” is an elegant and beautiful slice of country, a sentimental piece that slowly reveals a composition rich in emotional detail.

“Cheap Guitar” finds Paterchuk somewhere between the blues and Dave Alvin rock’n’roll (never a bad place to be), as do “Good Luck” and “Gypsy.” “Blank Pages and Lost Wages” cuts a little too close to home for anyone who has sat staring at their fifth cup of coffee going cold. While this might have been presented as a unabashed country song, robust blues flourishes offer a darker finish.

Patershuk experiments with an even deeper register on the title cut, and while it takes a moment to become familiar, by the time he hits the one-minute mark one has adjusted and eases into the comfort provided. The spoken-word recitation “Atlas” is another risk taken, and like the others Patershuk  takes across Same As I Ever Have Been, it works. These decisions serve as reminder of the greatness possible within country music: seldom did Waylon Jennings, Marty Robbins, or Johnny Cash ever record an album where all ten or twelve songs sound like they came from a Music Row algorithm. Patershuk demonstrates he isn’t fearful of taking chances, and if something rubs the listener a bit raw, he is confident enough in his material and presentation that the next song will bring ’em back.

Billed as Songs for Regretful Brutes and Sentimental Drunkards, Matt Patershuk’s Same As I Ever Have Been takes the emerging artist in directions one hadn’t expected. Such is the artist’s journey, following his muse to places unexplored. With a one-hour running time, this is a rich passage with Patershuk guiding the way.

Roots Song of the Week: 2014 Polaris Music Prize Edition   Leave a comment

[June 20- Since posting this piece on Thursday, the Long List has been announced.  While I have never seen more than three of my initial ballot choices make the Top 40 list, I don’t know if I’ve previously gone 0 for 5; likely, I have. I don’t get offended by this, but I do scratch my head. How can so many other jury members- 190 I believe this year- get it so wrong?

They haven’t, of course. The size of the jury provides for a wide range of opinions that collectively come to a consensus. I don’t agree with it- come on, no Kim Beggs or Leeroy Stagger? No BARK or Steve Dawson? I can only assume that my fellow jury members, in their efforts to listen to every pretentious and noisy skinny-boy band with ‘indie pop’ in their bio didn’t have time to listen to the amazing roots albums I include on my ballot. I suppose that since the artists I’ve chosen know how to use capitalization properly, use their real names, and are- in some cases- more than 40 years old- they don’t appeal to folks who are in the jury.

I don’t actually mean those last two sentences. What I do know is that there were a lot more folks who liked the Arcade Fire album than Doug Paisley’s. And that is okay, just sad. Numbers tell us there will always be more people on the look out for the ‘next’ big thing in electronic, pop, post-rock, and modern whatever than there will be listening to mature and, at least sometimes, meaningful roots music.

Now I need to listen to even more albums in the next week so that I can revise my choices, some of which- Timber Timbre, Rae Spoon, The Kennedy Sessions– received serious consideration for my first ballot.]

With less than a day to go before the 2014 Polaris Music Prize Long List is revealed, I thought I would catch up on my Roots Song of the Week by going for the quint- five roots songs of the week, Polaris edition.

My initial Polaris Ballot is traditionally roots centric. I was invited into the group several years ago to bring my roots- folk, country, bluegrass, blues- perspective to the jury, and I continue to take that responsibility seriously. Still, I’ve never knowingly ignored an album simply because it didn’t comfortably fall into the roots world.

Today, I thought I would share a link to a song from each of the five eligible albums I consider to be the ‘best’ released in the past year.

albums-kim-1024_largeRanked #1 on my Polaris Music Prize ballot is Kim Beggs’ independently released Beauty and Breaking. My full review of the album is available here , and I believe it captures my thoughts. I’ve listened to the album dozens of times, and it continues to positively impact me whether I’m driving, entertaining, reading, or simply puttering about the house.

My favourite song on the album- and there is considerable competition from songs like “Gold In The Ground,” “A Sailor’s Daughter,” “Le Chemin de Rondin/Corduroy Road,” and “Moonshiner”- is “Not Only Only From the Whiskey,” a live performance of which is here.

I am confident is fewer things daily, but I am certain that Kim Beggs is one of our country’s great singers and songwriters. She makes beautiful music.

Leeroy Stagger’sTruth Be Told was the first album I heard last summer that I knew was going to make my Polaris Top 5 ballot. It is an aggressive creation, and I wrote about it here

At Leeroy’s website, he has a few of his songs available for streaming, including “Goodnight Berlin” which is a loud ‘n proud slice that might do Nazareth proud: roots rock defined.

Blackie and the Rodeo Kings has shown up on my Polaris ballot previously, and South is again well deserving of inclusion. I wish I had championed the album earlier, but I only purchased it rather recently. BARK has their formula down, and their songs remain fresh and lively. If you navigate around this link a little you’ll find “North” and other songs ready for streaming. It is an excellent album.

For me, the most surprising album to make my Polaris ballot is Steve Dawson’s recording of solo guitar explorations Rattlesnake Cage. I haven’t heard anything else like it this year. Long acknowledged as a master of acoustic and slide guitar, Dawson has repeatedly proven that he can do just about anything he sets his mind to. This time out, he has decided to simply play his guitar. Give a listen to the title track here, and prepare yourself to be mesmerized.

Doug Paisley’s “Strong Feelings” is an excellent example of mainstream country music, if by ‘mainstream’ one means accessible, catchy, and well-written as opposed to bro-country rap-a-longs about beer and trucks. At there is a promo video featuring an excerpt of “What’s Up Is Down” and audio of “Song My Love Can Sing” and a live performance of it via Q.

If you haven’t encountered these albums yet, you are well advised to do so at your earliest.

The Polaris Music Prize Long List will be announced early in the afternoon of June 19, 2014.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee.

Central Music Festival ’10 Red Deer, AB August 14, 2010   Leave a comment

The second day of the 2010 edition of the Central Music Festival did not hold the excitement of the previous evening. While the weather was outstanding and the lineup significant- headlined by a rising country star from Central Alberta, Shane Yellowbird- overall the day suffered from a certain mediocrity. While truly presenting a catholic menagerie of approaches and styles, the afternoon lineup did little to build momentum toward evening.

While individual tastes and impressions are, well… individual, the only act heard before 5:00 that significantly moved the audience appeared to be Edmonton’s Black Pioneer Heritage Singers. This seven-piece gospel outfit, with percussion communicating almost as much as the voices, shared a musical tradition going back scores of year. Stellar vocal arrangements infused with equal parts of spirit and sass brought Big Choir to the concert bowl. Familiar gospel numbers including “Keep Your Hand on the Plough” were performed. Forget every white bread sing-a-long of “Put Your Hand in the Hand” you’ve ever heard; BLHS delivered southern-styled soul in their interpretation and Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” was similarly remade.

As impressive as the group’s two female, two male vocal lineup is, nothing prepared us for the addition of Agnes Brown to the proceedings. Considered the group’s matriarch, this queen of gospel shook and stomped in her ministry. With four voices harmonizing with the obviously active senior, one could be forgiven for feeling as if they were in a community church somewhere much further south. “Ain’t That Something to Talk About,” indeed! Frailing on the banjo, Ms. Brown led her younger disciples through several songs including “The Resurrection Song” which led into “There Ain’t No Grave That Can Hold My Body Down.”

Without a doubt, the highlight of Day 2 happened early.

We snuck out for a quick run home, but I returned just as local group Oldbury were finishing their set; from all appearances, they worked the assembled audience into a bit of a frenzy. U22 participant Lucas Chaisson- heard previously at Canmore- has the Brett Dennan-thing down, and while his songs belay his youth the boy does have promising talent. However, I’m pretty sure I don’t need to hear “Man in the Mirror” again; I continually get horrid mental pictures of images in the mirror’s background.

Perhaps Canada’s finest interpreter of traditional blues, Jim Byrnes laidback music was nearly perfect for early evening. Accompanied by the ubiquitous Steve Dawson- previously heard this summer in a Mississippi Sheik tribute in Calgary and with The Sojourners in Canmore- Byrnes didn’t break any new ground despite performing a couple numbers from his upcoming release. In fact, the most recent song performed through the 75-minute set was a gorgeous take of “Just Like Tom Thumb Blues.” Bookending that Dylan number were a couple songs each from Jimmy Reed, The Sheiks, and Robert Johnson including “Take Out Some Insurance,” “Bootlegger’s Blues,” and “From Four ‘Til Late.” The stories Byrnes shared added to the set.

Allow me a moment to sing the praises of Steve Dawson. Not only can the guy play anything- and make it sound great- but he has great vision and ably operates a label while producing seemingly non-stop. Not only in Red Deer yesterday, but whenever heard he is likely at his best providing electric (even when acoustic, as on Saturday) leads to those he chooses to support.  While he and Byrnes were consistently  impressive, I was especially impressed by the bottleneck slide work Dawson added to “Bootlegger’s Blues.”

Jenny Allen performed a set that was just the right length. At turns heated and powerful, the Calgarian is imminently personable. Janis Ian’s “From Me to You” was given an ideal and memorable reading but this did not overwhelm Allen’s own pieces including “A Beautiful Mess” and other songs of miserably failed relationships. Like Dar Williams, Allen has the ability to soften her message with lightheartedness.

For those of us concerned about sameness bred of acoustic earnestness throughout much of the day, Ponty Bone and the Squeezetones put an end to all that. The accordion veteran and his four-piece outfit brought a steamin’ pile o’ San Antonio to us and garnished it with a slice of Louisiana. Blaze Foley’s “Ain’t Got No Sweet Thing” was a highlight of a set that may have suffered from its own type of sameness for listeners, but seemed to please the dancers in every way. “Baby, You Know,” “Castle Blues,” “Bon Temps Rouler,” and “Lucille” kept the area in front of the stage swaying and jumping.

But Ponty Bone- listen to the stage manager next time- it appeared he stormed through the signals to wrap the set that were obvious to everyone else.

Chris LeBlanc brought his deep, Maritime voice as the evening moved toward closure. Holding his own with only his guitar and songs like “Two Lane Road,” “Set My Heart on Fire” (with the excellent lyric “the flames flickered in her eyes”) and “Two Hearts, Four Wheels,” LeBlanc brought modern, traditional-based country music to the stage. Lightening the mood with “Arrest Me,” LeBlanc played the majority of his Too Much Nothin’ album; like me, most of the audience seemed unfamiliar with the New Brunswicker, but his calm, mature manner seemed to keep folks listening. Numbers like “Little Brick Bungalow”- reflecting on living within one’s means- reminded me of why I enjoyed listening to commercial country music in 1992.

Once Shane Yellowbird hit the stage with his beer garden-country, it was time for me to head for home. Nothing against the fellow, but that style of Tim McGraw modern country leaves me cold.

Overall, a very nice day and a half. Lots of different sounds, but unlike larger festivals where one can seek out music closer to one’s interest, at the single-stage Central Music Fest one has to take what comes. While this can expose one to music that may be surprising- Lucas Chaisson, Lisa Heinrichs, or Jenny Allen, for example- one does need to exercise patience to endure things of much less interest.

Still, a good vibe. The audience appeared to be- for the most part- there for the music and was quite appreciative. The vendors were well-stocked and the prices- for the most part- avoided the gouging that is common at some music festivals; I’ll pay $5 for a serving of butter chicken or curry and rice anytime. Excellent sightlines, lots of clean port-a-potties…and with an emphasis on Alberta music, who can complain too loudly?

We’ll be back, I do believe.

 But I didn’t win the Steve Coffey painting!

Kent McAlister & the Iron Choir / Things About Comin’ My Way   Leave a comment

Thanks for visiting this week. In Friday’s Red Deer Advocate I was fortunate to review two exceptional roots music releases; I’ve listened to both countless times this autumn and discover something new to appreciate each time. Kent McAlister & the Iron Choir recently released How I’ll Remian and it is a splendid collection of songs. Meanwhile, Steve Dawson & Co. have done it again with a fabulous tribute to the music of the Mississippi Sheiks. I’ve been spending a bit of time of late listening to old blues and jug band collections I’ve found myself tripping across and much of the impetus to do so has come from this remarkable album.

Kent McAlister & The Iron Choir

How I’ll Remain


Based in Vancouver, Kent McAlister has quietly over a pair of whiskey-drenched albums established a nice portfolio of working man tales and jaded dreams.

Ballad of the Oar & Chain features primitive percussion of a style seldom heard within dusty roots music. Elsewhere, McAlister delivers in a talking blues manner not dissimilar to Corb Lund (Crossing Arm Blues) but with less novelty and even a bit more sophistication, as on What is this Evil?

How I’ll Remain is sparse and haunting, while Another Bridge lopes along like a Shawn Jonasson-Waylon tribute. Gillian Welch would be proud to call The Cane & The Switch her own- an abusive husband, a deep, dark well, retribution, and nervous horses all in five minutes.

McAlister’s voice is sturdy and smooth, lacking even a hint of slickness. 

Various Artists

Things About Comin’ My Way- A Tribute to the Music of The Mississippi Sheiks

Black Hen

Perhaps the roots tribute of the year, Steve Dawson and his spouse Alice have assembled a masterfully balanced collection of blues, folk, and unclassifiable renditions of music recorded by the Mississippi Sheiks during the early ’30s.

Picking highlights from such a storied collection is a fool’s game, but listeners are certain to be impressed by Oh Susanna’s take on Bootlegger’s Blues, The North Mississippi Allstars’ fiery We’re Backfirin’ Now, and Bruce Cockburn’s Honey Babe Let the Deal Go Down.

Rare is the tribute album that possesses the consistency and unity of Things About Comin’ My Way; from soulful sounds (The Sojourners’ He Calls that Religion) to softer vocal treatments (Please Baby  from Madeleine Peyroux) and banjo showcases (Too Long from Danny Barnes), every track resonates and no two sound alike.

Thanks again for dropping in, and I hope you’ll find some music to investigate- support the artists and the labels…no one is getting rich on our music! Donald