Archive for the ‘Stony Plain Records’ Tag
Rory Block Keepin’ Outta Trouble: A Tribute to Bukka White Stony Plain Records
Indisputably, Rory Block is one of the most impressive contemporary blues artists. Rooted so deeply in country blues traditions, Block can’t be anything but authentic. Unfortunately, I’ve not caught every installment of her Mentor Series, which started with her tribute to Son House in 2008 and now stands at six volumes, but I’ve heard enough to know that she does nothing in half-measures.
As Block writes in her liner notes, “More than any artist in my Mentor Series, Bukka inspired me to write new songs.” With that, one shouldn’t be surprised that Block has done a true tribute here; not only has she crafted five Booker T. Washington “Bukka” White songs in her own individual, immitigable style, but she has created a further five originals capturing the time and mythologies of White’s life and career.
An exciting album from start to finish, Block—who plays everything on this disc, including percussive Quaker Oats boxes—and co-producer Rob Davis establish a sparse, natural sound.
Opening with a pair of originals setting the table as a frame of reference for both the uninitiated and the connoisseur, in short order Block nails standards including “Aberdeen Mississippi Blues,” “Fixin’ To Die Blues,” and “Parchman Farm Blues.” With attention to detail, but an even greater sense of purpose, Block enlivens these performances with a balance of passion and precision that breathes life into oft-encountered numbers.
Masterfully, she closes the set with the album’s most significant performances. Built upon “Bukka’s Jitterbug Swing,” Block’s “Gonna Be Some Walkin’ Done” captures not only the reality of White’s circumstance, but envelopes the traditions of finding something new in what has come before. “Back to Memphis” pulls everything together, encapsulating eighty years of blues history and development in five minutes.
As someone who doesn’t have much patience for raucous noisy blues, Rory Block’s interpretation of the music’s foundation is always welcome. Her voice is magic, and her approach to blues guitar is clean, restrained, and just damn fine beautiful. Keepin’ Outta Trouble: A Tribute to Bukka White is an excellent album.
Thank you for your interest in Fervor Coulee. Donald
MonkeyJunk Time to Roll Stony Plain Records
There is an American band starting to make a bit of noise south of the border with an aggressive, swampy blend of rhythm & blues that is as deeply entrenched in tradition as it is forward looking. They are called The Blue Shadows (Canadian readers pause—they have nothing to do with our Blue Shadows, natch) and if I didn’t know better I would suspect they’ve spent their time cribbing from MonkeyJunk.
MonkeyJunk, the preeminent Canadian power trio not named Rush, never have messed around. Give them a stack of amps and a stage, and the Ottawa-based group are happy to deliver their spirited blues-rock to whomever is willing to listen. Time to Roll is their fifth set of music, and to me it sounds their most accomplished to date.
Adding bass to the mix for the first time, MonkeyJunk’s approach hasn’t dramatically changed—lively party music with lyrics more impressive than frequently encountered within this segment of the blues. For generations raised on early J. Geils Band, Foghat, and the Allman Brothers, MonkeyJunk slips smoothly into a familiar groove.
Recorded over a concise series of sessions, the immediacy of the process may be part of the reason Time to Roll sounds so fresh and invigorating. “Blue Lights Go Down” aches with palatable passion; I’m not sure what it is about Tom Wilson, but one didn’t need to refer to the credits to immediately identify his signature touch on this co-written number.
With a throbbing introduction reminiscent of both Russ Ballard’s “On The Rebound” and “Can I Get a Witness,” the title track is a rallying exhortation for moving on from the constraints of the predictable. Three songs are co-written with fellow Canadian bluesman Paul Reddick, the most vibrant of which is “Pray for Rain,” an incantation of mesmerizing eyes and dramatic rhythms.
As strong as the first half of Time to Roll is, the band busts it to pieces within a blistering second act.
Fittingly paying tribute to Albert King by updating “The Hunter,” MonkeyJunk also offers a plaintive “Can’t Call You Baby” to add considerable intensity to this ten-track album. Delving a bit further south with the call and response rhythms of “Undertaken Blues” and the positively peppy “Gone,” a staggering Booker T-influenced instrumental “Fuzzy Poodle” closes the disc.
MonkeyJunk has become one of the most awarded bands in Canadian blues history. Time to Roll won’t change that: it is an electric collection of tradition-rich, rollicking modern blues.
Thank you for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Still catching up on summer…
Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters
Stony Plain Records www.RonnieEarl.com
Ronnie Earl has been around. Twenty-plus albums, the last ten on Canada’s venerable Stony Plain Records, has found the master guitarist one of the most revered guitarists producing the blues. At times a little jazzy, often late-night right, Earl and the Broadcasters has consistently released albums of high quality. With Maxwell Street, Earl pays tribute to a past member of the Broadcasters David Maxwell as well as Chicago’s Maxwell Street. As always, this is a largely instrumental collection of evocative music that draws in the listener with exquisite timing and interplay. Soulful vocalist Diane Blue appears—as she has in recent recordings—breaking things up with her sensitive offerings on a few numbers including the album closing “As The Years Go Passing By.” A near-12 minute reading of Otis Rush’s “Double Trouble” is a workout. Key cuts: those mentioned as well as “(I’ve Got to Use My) Imagination” and “Elegy for a Bluesman.”
Still catching up on summer…
Duke Robillard & His All-Star Combo
Blues Full Circle
Stony Plain Records www.DukeRobillard.com
It is a fool’s errand attempting to enumerate Duke Robillard’s albums: his Wikipedia page lists over fifty projects of which he has been a part, some forty of which carry his name and over twenty with Stony Plain.
Coming off the award-winning The Acoustic Blues & Roots of Duke Robillard, the quartet (bass, keys, drums, guitar) returned to the studio to layout some fiery electric jams only to be curtailed by Robillard’s rotator cuff surgery and rehabilitation. Among those initial tracks, “Mourning Dove” and “I Got the Feelin’ That You’re Foolin'” offer different shades of blues heartache, while “Blues for Eddie Jones” achingly traces the blues journey of Guitar Slim. Replete with flights of instrumental fancy, the All-Star Combo prove themselves to be a tight posse, with Robillard’s growly vocals providing character and depth. Guests include Kelley Hunt who provides additional swing on her composition, “The Mood Room.” The highlight of this robust, multi-dimensional examination of the blues is six and a half minute instrumental “Shufflin’ and Scufflin'” featuring blistering interplay between Robillard and Jimmie Vaughn over an epic bed of organ from Bruce Bears with Doug James painting waves of baritone sax.
Blues Full Circle gives credibility to the adage that one is born to the blues: Duke Robillard continues to create music that draws folks toward this realization.
I am not a blues aficionado, not even close. If you went through my music collection, you are likely to find many blues discs but you are more likely to find as many albums from the Williamses—Hank, Lucinda, Jack, Dar, Holly, Robin, Linda, and the like—as you are blues recordings, in total. I tend to write about them—or not—and pass them onto friends who are more likely to get long-term enjoyment.
When I do hang onto a blues album, as likely as not they are ones released on Canada’s two preeminent blues labels, Northern Blues and Stony Plain. Not everything they produce resonates, but they have a stronger track record of appealing than most. Here are three recent releases from Stony Plain, as well as one release that is even more independent.
Ride the One
Stony Plain Records
Among my favourite blues artists is Paul Reddick, and Reddick’s Villanelle (2004) is one of my most frequently played roots albums. An examination of pre-war blues and rural music, that album was acoustic sounding although electric instruments were present within the well-balanced mix. Without resorting to studio trickery, Reddick and producer Colin Linden created a full, natural sound with songs that were thoughtful and lasting.
Since that time, Reddick has continued to produce excellent blues music, and his recordings are of interest individually and collectively.
On Ride the One, Reddick reunites with Colin Cripps, producer of his last album Wishbone, and continues in a similar stream of full-bodied, band-focused blues. What is different this time out is the aggression present on songs including Ride the One’s lead tracks “Shadows” and “Celebrate.” While Reddick had previously touched on such in songs like “Whiskey in the Life of Man” and “Devil’s Load,” this time out it is the rule more than the exception.
The darkness of some of these songs, including “Living in Another World,” will challenge listeners, but they are pulled back from the edge by awareness that the blues needs more subtlety than other forms of roots music: go too far, and it becomes rock and roll, and usually not good rock and roll. Cripps and Reddick balance their more base instincts with gentle artistry in songs such as “Mourning Dove” and “Diamonds.” Even an up-tempo number such as “Watersmooth” is presented with an emphasis on the more gentle shadings of band interplay.
MonkeyJunk’s Steve Marriner is featured on guitar and keyboards throughout, with Cripps and Greg Cockerill contributing additional guitar. Reddick’s voice is afforded rather scary effects in a number of places, digging deep into Nick Cave territory on several songs. Elsewhere, as on “Love and Never Know” and “Gotta Find A…,” the approach is more natural and even satisfying.
My favoured blues will always be that which is more-acoustic and focused on the aged roots of the music. That Paul Reddick doesn’t want to spend all his time in the past is fine with me, as long as he continues to incorporate those influences in his music. On Ride the One he has done that most successfully.
Eric Bibb & North Country Far with Danny Thompson
The Happiest Man in the World
Stony Plain Records
Michael Jerome Browne. Paul Reddick. Maria Muldaur. Guy Davis. Eric Bibb.
That pretty much sums up the contemporary blues artists I have great interest in. Not many, but the quality is there, I like to think.
Eric Bibb’s last album was the excellent tribute Lead Belly’s Gold. This time out, the spectrum is a bit broader, incorporating a range of approaches to the blues. What remains consistent with all Bibb releases is that voice, smooth as Bailey’s with the same effect that sneaks up on you the more you imbibe.
These are almost exclusively songs of love and lust, and one can hear why Bibb favours this type of material: it is his natural palate. When he sings, “I’ll pump your water, light your stove, Take you on a picnic baby, in the shady grove,” in “I’ll Farm for You,” it isn’t so much dirty as a promise. Similarly, Bibb stays busy in the “Creole Café” and a “King Size Bed,” confessing that he was “Born to Be Your Man” while “Toolin’ Down the Road.” I guess it ain’t bragging if it’s true.
Producing these smooth blues numbers, Bibb and the band—a pair of Finnish brothers Janne (drums) and Olli (resophonic and pedal steel guitars) Haavisto, Petri Hakala (mandolin, mandola, fiddle), and Danny Thompson (upright bass)—have found a comfortable groove and ride it straight through. Despite its consistency, things never become mundane, each song revealing understated differences in approach.
One has to be impressed by the quality of guitar playing Bibb produces from his various acoustics. Listening to this album is such a satisfying experience. Nothing is cluttered, no one is attempting to elbow their way into the mix. Happiest Man in the World is a delightful listen for those who appreciate polished, acoustic blues.
Adding some diversity to the proceedings are songs not intended to lead to the bedroom. “Prison of Time” is filled with a longing for freedom, naturally, but there isn’t any bitterness just regret. “Tell Ol’ Bill” connects these contemporary performances to the roots of blues and folk music. The instrumental tunes, “1912 Skiing Disaster” and “Blueberry Boy” retain the album’s pervasive mood while allowing the instrumentalists the opportunity to further demonstrate their intuitive connections.
Rather unexpectedly, the album closes with a soupy rendition of “You Really Got Me,” allowing Bibb to (again) prove he can sing absolutely anything and make it sound as if he unearthed it from some obscure recording.
Eric Bibb turns sixty-five this year. Depending on how you’re counting, Happiest Man in the World is his fortieth album. I haven’t been listening for all that long, and have encountered only possibly a fifth of his recordings. But, this is one of the finer ones I’ve listened to. Beautifully recorded and artfully packaged, Happiest Man in the World is an album that deserves the accolades it is certain to garner.
Good Days a Comin
Right Side Up Records
With several recordings behind him, Missouri-based guitar player Ivas John’s Good Days a Comin is an acoustic folk, country, and blues recording (folk country blues—is that a thing?) presenting a cleanly recorded set of concise songs.
Two originals, “Roll Mississippi” and “Goin’ Back to Arkansas” provide the template for this recording, a breezy interpretation of acoustic roots music with an emphasis on companionable instrumental interplay. Cleanly played and pristinely recorded, one envisions four or five friends jamming on a shaded, rural porch, dogs resting beside their chairs. Laid-back doesn’t begin to describe it.
In his mid-thirties, but appearing a decade younger, John—whose family name is Dambrauskas, as fine a Lithuanian moniker as I’ve encountered—mixes a handful of standards with originals. “Dark As a Dungeon” is brooding, “Can’t Help Wonder Where I’m Bound” brims with Eric Bibbeque optimism. Mid-set, “Greenville Trestle High”—a song that seems to be ageless but only appeared in the last thirty years—is provided an earthy, low-key interpretation, highlighted not only by John’s effective leads, but bluegrass bandleader David Davis’ timing and impeccable mandolin chop.
Jack Williams comes to mind listening to John’s guitar playing: it isn’t flashy, and he doesn’t go looking for unnecessary notes just for the sake of playing them. His songwriting, augmented in places by his father Edward, is consistent with his instrumental approach. Not wordy, but sufficiently detailed to attract the listeners attention.
“Things Ain’t Been the Same” aches, honest and unadorned. Less complex emotionally, “Keep Your Train Movin’” is equally well-crafted, a gentle blues-jam that connects with one’s inner rambler. “Here I Am,” again featuring Davis, reveals the other side of the wanderer’s heart.
Over the last decade, Ivas John has built a nice little portfolio. Good Days a Comin provides additional evidence that he is a folk country blues picker and vocalist to keep an ear open for.
Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne
Jumpin’ & Boppin’
Stony Plain Records
Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne’s tenth recording is the first I’ve listened to, but this definitely isn’t the first time I’ve encountered the legendary keyboard player.
Over the last decade, Wayne has become prominent enough so that even casual blues listeners have likely heard his music on various radio and satellite services. He has been awarded a couple Living Blues awards, a Juno and a Maple Blues award, and has been recognized for his long-time contributions to the music.
Born in Spokane, and raised in Los Angeles and New Orleans, Kenny Wayne is now firmly established as a Canadian ambassador of the blues piano. Jumpin’ and Boppin’ is his third album for Stony Plain, and its title tells the tale.
Up-tempo through and through, but not one-dimensional, Jumpin’ and Boppin’ is a tribute to the type of music created in the 1950s by artists that influenced Wayne’s development, folks like Louis Jordan, Amos Milburn, and Fats Domino and no one so much—to these ears—as Ray Charles. There is lyrical substance in some songs, but mostly this is music for dancing and jiving. Wayne’s voice is soulful and strong, and he is accompanied by some of the finest players around.
Duke Robillard makes appearances, including on the opening “Blues Boss Shuffle,” and bassman Russell Jackson toured with B.B. King for years, and has recorded with Wayne previously. Charlie Jacobson is the featured guitar player, and Dave Babcock brings his saxophone including on “Blues Stew” and “Blackmail Blues,” two outstanding cuts.
“Bankrupted Blues” contains wisdom in its grooves, and the title track “Jumpin’ and Boppin’ With Joy” is a breezy, toe-tappin’ celebration of the boogie woogie. “Back to Square One” is more restrained, a jazz-touched portrait of romance.
Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne brags that he has the beat that won’t let go, and this is ably demonstrated throughout Jumpin’ and Boppin’s 45-plus minutes.
Hopefully you have found something to pass this rainy long weekend at Fervor Coulee. Support the artists, support the labels. Catch up to me @FervorCoulee
40 Years of Stony Plain
Stony Plain Records
As much as any label, Stony Plain Records—by most measures a small, Canadian independent—has impacted my awareness of folk, blues, bluegrass, and the various associated shades and textures of what we now call Americana and roots music.
Going back to my late teens, I have had Stony Plain records (and tapes and compact discs) in my collection. Through judicious support of regional talents (Corb Lund, Jr. Gone Wild, The Models, and Mark Korven, to name four off the top of my head) and longstanding relationships with national icons (Ian Tyson, Colin Linden, Crowcuss, Amos Garrett) and Duke Robillard, and with Canadian licensing and distribution agreements with labels such as Blind Pig, Rounder, Sugar Hill, Watermelon, and others over the years—not to mention ‘one-offs’ with folks like Rodney Crowell, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Tom Russell, Katy Moffatt, and more—the Edmonton-based label has had a major part in building a strong base for roots and blues in western Canada.
This is, I believe, the fourth anniversary collection of the label’s to make its way to me, and I may just getting old but it sounds like an old friend dropping by for a visit. Labeling itself “Canada’s Roots, Rock, Folk, Country, and Blues Label” Stony Plain Records is exactly that. While I’m more of the first four than the latter, there is plenty for all to appreciate within this triple album anthology.
If one has ever had the pleasure of wandering the stacks of albums and discs in the Stony Plain headquarters, one is aware of the incredible diversity of music appreciated by the label’s founder Holger Petersen. I don’t pretend to be intimately associated with Petersen or know the inner workings of the label, but from a (near) distance, I have long admired what he has accomplished. That he once dragged me across the Edmonton Folk Festival CD tent to meet Maria Muldaur is only one reason I have affection for him.
More so, he (and his staff) has brought amazing music to my ears.
On this three-disc set, again organized by Singer-Songwriter, Blues and such, and Rarities, the breadth of the label is revealed.
The first disc collects familiar material from folks like Spirit of the West (“The Crawl,”) Doug Sahm (“Louis Riel,”) and Emmylou (“Where Will I Be”), stuff we’ve all heard but which is also nice to hear again, together. There is also more recent material, such as a cut from Colin Linden’s outstanding album of last year (“No More Cheap Wine”) and the Guitar Heroes album. Lund, Harry Manx & Kevin Breit, Crowell, Valdy & Fjellgaard, Jr. Gone Wild, Tyson, and more are also represented. Essentially, a 70-minute jaunt through what Stony Plain has done with folk, roots, and country music over 40 years.
Disc two is a set of cuts from the blues, R&B, and associated sounds the label has released. For someone like me, who voluntarily listens to little blues and such, this offers a compact representation of the label’s treasures, from Rory Block (from her excellent Mississippi John Hurt set) and Paul Reddick (“Mourning Dove,” from his just released album) to Jim Byrnes (“Wrapped Up, Tied Up,”) King Biscuit Boy (“Blue Light Boogie,”) MonkeyJunk (“Mother’s Crying,”) Ruthie Foster (“Keep Your Big Mouth Closed,” a Memphis Millie number) and Long John Baldry (“Midnight Special.”) 75 minutes of mostly party sounds.
No two-album collection can adequately capture 40 years of releases, but this one certainly gives a great effort: good thing there are other Stony Plain anniversary packages, released in five-year intervals, to sample, not to mention the original albums.
The final disc adds a dozen rare, out of print, or previously unreleased tracks including—depending on tastes— several highlights. I’ve never been taken by the song “Rehab,” but Duke Robillard’s bossa nova-tinged instrumental rendition works for me. A pair of Eric Bibb songs previously unavailable outside Europe adds value, as do live cuts from Maria Muldaur, recorded in 2001. Colin Linden completeists will appreciate a pair of songs from the early 70s recorded with Sam Chatmon, while those who value Bob Carpenter’s approach to country-roots will want to hear unreleased gems.
Richard Flohil’s liner notes, partly cribbed from previous releases in the series, provides insight into the Stony Plain story and details however briefly the manner in which the label has managed to survive from 8-tracks and vinyl to digital sales. For the uninitiated, this set is a brilliant, affordable introduction to the label. For those who have been along for much of the ride, it is a reminder of the importance of supporting those who make excellent music available.
Congratulations on 40 Years, Stony Plain Records, and kudos to Holger, Alvin Jahns, and everyone who has passed through the house in Edmonton’s west end.
40 years, 47 tracks, somewhere around $25: good deal, I’d suggest. Out June 3rd.
Lead Belly’s Gold: Live at the Sunset and More
Stony Plain Records
I been a gambler, I been a rambler,
I been called a low-down roustabout,
Been a convict man down in Sugar Land,
An’ I know what a chain gang’s all about…
On his self-penned song that closes Lead Belly’s Gold, Eric Bibb creates Huddie Ledbetter’s testimony of experience. The refrain, “I been swimmin’ in a river of songs ever since I was born,” captures the magnitude of Lead Belly’s repertoire and influence, songs traditional, borrowed, and his own, a broad range of presentations styles, and—of course—a tremendous and lasting effect on the blues, folk, and popular music long after his passing.
“Swimmin’ in a River of Songs” might have made a more accurate title for this album—mostly live, but augmented with five studio tracks. Bibb, long a favorite with modern roots listeners—if you’ve missed him, you’re well advised to Get Onboard and explore his many recordings, two of which seldom sound the same, so broad has his palate been: in addition to Get Onboard, I am partial to his set with Habib Koitè, his collaboration with his father Leon honouring the impact of Paul Robeson, and Blues, Ballads, and Work Songs—has outdone himself on this generous recording.
Working with a French harmonica player with whom I was not previously familiar, Jean-Jacques Milteau, and a tasteful drummer-bass rhythm section, and background vocalists including Big Daddy Wilson, Bibb and Milteau present Lead Belly’s music not as archival elements of a previous generation, but as vibrant, compelling songs that are not only timeless, but relevant to contemporary events (connections to modern migrants and refugees, civil unrest and distress, and the desire for dignity are apparent) and vital and informative to an appreciation of the intertwined folk and blues traditions.
Bibb’s voice is so smooth and warm—like most of us, he hasn’t spent time on a chain gang in Louisiana—it may take a moment for the uninitiated to ‘buy into’ his interpretation of songs of hardship. But, as Bibb explains within the album’s extensive, informative, and appreciated notes, Lead Belly’s voice and music always contained optimism and light. It is this element of the blues, of folk, that Bibb holds to most securely.
I been a rover, been a chauffeur,
But truly, I’m a troubadour,
I got the chance to play in Paris, France
An’ I seen things I never seen before…
Depending on experience, we’ve heard these songs dozens or hundreds of times—“The House of the Rising Sun,” “Midnight Special,” “Rock Island Line,” “Grey Goose”—and maybe we’ve heard them performed in bigger productions, and perhaps even under more intimate circumstances. However one has come to these songs, I don’t think we’ve heard them exactly like this. Bibb’s interpretations are so confident and grounded that these may become the versions I hear in my head when contemplating the history and weight of these songs.
I’m no fan of harp players—I just don’t get it, just like I don’t get Dancing with the Stars, Pinterest, and surf music—but Milteau’s playing throughout this album is completely enjoyable. Would I like the album just as much without it? Yup, but this is the sound Bibb and his collaborators desired, so I’ll go along with it. I do think “Bring A Little Water, Sylvie” is stronger for Milteau’s contributions.
While the album closer “Swimmin’ in a River of Songs” is a stunning imagining of Lead Belly’s viewpoint, it isn’t the only song on which Bibb and Milteau delve into his persona. “When I Get to Dallas” and “Chauffeur Blues” also enlighten listeners to Lead Belly’s experiences in segregated America, much as “Bourgeois Blues,” “On A Monday,” and “Pick a Bale of Cotton”—all included here—did nearly a century ago.
Recorded in a small club in France, and featuring a Canadian connection not only through the venerable Stony Plain Records label but also with the significant contribution of Michael Jerome Browne to the closing track, Lead Belly’s Gold is a blues-folk album of significance. Reaching out to the past, Bibb and Milteau illuminate it to reveal shadows within the present.
When you’re long gone, they’ll sing your songs,
Gypsy woman tol’ me in Nineteen an’ ten
You’ll be a big name, destined for fame,
You’ll do more livin’ than ten men.