Archive for the ‘The Earls of Leicester’ Tag

The Old Stuff, 2018   Leave a comment

The Old Stuff: Fervor Coulee’s Favourite Reissue, Archival, Live, Tribute, Re-recording, and Compilation Releases of 2018:

1. Bobbie Gentry – The Girl from Chickasaw County : The Complete Capitol Masters The best box set I can recall purchasing, this 8-disc beauty features all the Capitol tracks one knew existed, and a whole bunch we didn’t. Seventy-five—count ’em—75 unreleased demos, alternate and live versions of songs, along with her complete seven album Capitol album run, even more from the BBC, and the elusive “Love Took My Heart and Mashed That Sucker Flat.”  Beautifully packaged with postcards that will never be mailed, a ton of photos, essays…and—most importantly—the music sounds wonderful. Only things missing—as far as I can tell, and it does lay outside the title of the set—is the soundtrack version of “Ode to Billy Joe” [sic] released in 1976 and a deeper dive into recording session dates and details for us liner note fools. It is a lot; I just let it play and play. (Purchased)

2. David Davis & the Warrior River Boys- Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poole reviewed here (Serviced CD)

3. Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard- Sing Me Back Home: The DC Tapes, 1965-1969 reviewed here (Serviced download) 

4. Lone Justice- The Western Tapes, 1983 Lone Justice was a band that arrived when I needed it to, their debut engaging an interest in tradition-infused, countrified-rock that continues to this day. Not having had the benefit of experiencing the California-based band during their genesis, Lone Justice emerged as a stunning wonder, a slab of black vinyl equal parts (in my mind, at the time) Dolly Parton, Rachel Sweet, The Blasters, and Jason & the Scorchers. From the first listen, I knew I had found that for which I had been searching. While insiders and widely-read writers of the day ‘pooh-bahed’ the album as being too slick—and did worse to the brilliant Little Steven-produced follow-up Shelter—as a digression from their early and legendary live appearances, those of us who didn’t know better believed Maria McKee and her cohorts were damn close to the second coming of Emmylou, Gram, and all the rest.

The Western Tapes, 1983 is a six-song EP capturing the earliest demo renditions of two songs that appeared on that eponymous debut, one of which—”Don’t Toss Us Away”—sounds—begrudgingly, he admits—more incredible than ever: on first listen, by the time McKee got to the chorus a second time, I was a puddle of spent emotion. Also included is a stunning take of “The Train,” a track that eventually appeared—in a different form—on a compilation, as well as “I See It” and “How Lonesome Life Has Been,” numbers I don’t believe previously encountered and immediately loved.

A wonderful wee set, and one waits in anticipation of what Omnivore may still have planned for us. For a group with only two original albums to its name, Lone Justice’s vaults have been fair mined in the thirty-plus years since their dissolution. We can only hope what emerges next is as strong as this brief set. For newcomers, start with the Geffen albums (which, upon listening this week, remain incredible and faithful friends) and work your way to this splendid creation,the vinyl version of which looks beautiful, if unavailable at my favourite haunt; the download edition is quite satisfactory. (Serviced download)

5. Rodney Crowell- Acoustic Classics Not so much stripped down as reinvented, there are ten familiar songs included performed in the manner some of us prefer our music, seemingly intimate, relatively unvarnished, and certainly unplugged. “Shame On The Moon” is completely rewritten, surprisingly for the better although I never thought the original was as awkward as Crowell apparently did; it is now a reflective, spoken-word interlude amongst songs familiar. The very recognizable bulk of songs are refreshed, and a new song, “Tennessee Wedding” fits comfortably within the format. An excellent set. (Purchased CD)

6. Various Artists- Appleseed Records 21st Anniversary: Roots and Branches reviewed here (Serviced download) 

7. Various Artists- Epilogue: A Tribute to John Duffey reviewed here (Serviced download) 

8. Sylvia- Second Bloom: The Hits Re-Imaginedreviewed here (Serviced CD) 

9. Jr. GoneWild- Brave New Waves Session I could listen to this one all week. For those of us who taped radio shows and Austin City Limits episodes, waiting for moments of magic, volumes like this are manna. With apologies to The Models, Edmonton’s third greatest band to emerge from the 80s, and therefore forever—behind only facecrime and Idyl Tea—Jr. Gone Wild released essential albums in their day, and thanks to this archival series, a set recorded for the CBC in May of 1988 has been unleashed. Brave New Waves and Brent Bambury were institutions for some of us during the formative, music-hungry years of university. [An aside to this point: at least seven and perhaps eight of the artists listed here were first heard by me during those U of A days.] These performances, including a handful of songs that would eventually appear on Too Dumb To Quit, do not disappoint with a superlative balance of rock ‘n’ twang. Their latest song “Barricades (The Hockey Riot Song)” is pretty good, too. The legend continues…(Purchased CD) 

10. Gene Clark- Gene Clark Sings for You I only started the Gene Clark deep dive this year, and I suppose my timing couldn’t have been better. The majority of these tracks were found on acetates in the Liberty Records vaults, and require absolutely no effort to appreciate. (Serviced download) 

11. The Earls of Leiscester- Live at the CMA Theater in the Country Music Hall of Fame reviewed here (Serviced CD) 

12. Doc Watson- Live at Club 47 Do we need more archival Doc Watson? No. Are we glad there continues to be a stream of itreleased? Yup. More of the good stuff. (Purchased download) 

13. Roland White & Friends- A Tribute to the Kentucky Colonels reviewed here (Serviced download) 

14. The Louvin Brothers- Love & Wealth: The Lost Recordings reviewed here (Serviced CD) 

15. Various Artists- Johnny Cash: Forever Words- The Music mentioned here (Purchased CD) 

Some wonderful stuff released this year. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee.

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The Earls of Leicester- Live at the CMA Theater…Fame review   Leave a comment

EARLS_LIVEatCMA_COVER_comp4My regard for The Earls of Leicester is no secret. Funny that the member of the band I first appreciated was lead singer Shawn Camp, not only for his long-ago country albums but most importantly for his long ago live album recorded at The Station Inn. Jerry Douglas is fine, I suppose, for a Dobro player (I jest), but I can’t say I was ever a big fan of his type of stuff- too many bad memories of outta control jam busters wielding the hubcap guitar. Anyhow, my review of their latest album, a long-titled live one is up over at Country Standard Time. Enjoy.

Bluegrass Albums of 2016   Leave a comment

Here is my list of Favourite Bluegrass Albums of 2016. Of course, your kilometreage will vary: I once received a perplexing, cranky email from the father of a fairly prominent bluegrasser whose album I didn’t include on such a list several years ago. For those such inclined, I repeat—these are my favourite bluegrass albums of the year. Not the best, ’cause that is silly. And all I can base it on is those albums I’ve heard, and maybe I somehow missed your son’s album…talk to his publicist.

  1. untitledLaurie Lewis & the Right Hands- The Hazel & Alice Sessions (Spruce and Maple) Laurie Lewis places Hazel Dickens with the bluegrass vocal big-three: Bill Monroe, Carter Stanley, and Lester Flatt. Alice Gerrard is a fearsome master of vocal folk, old-time, and bluegrass. The Hazel and Alice Sessions is not only a worthy tribute to a key bluegrass partnership, but an entertaining and formable collection of music. For me, undoubtedly the bluegrass album of the year. Nominated for a Grammy this time out, I could listen to this one every day. Also, if taken together with the rest of the roots and Americana world, my favourite album of the year.

2. 307217534cdbb2ec36864489b286660fSister Sadie- Sister Sadie (Pinecastle) It remains rare for an all-female outfit featuring well-established personalities to come together to perform and record. Sister Sadie is one hell of a band! Presenting Dale Ann Bradley, Tina Adair and Gena Britt with Deanie Richardson and Beth Lawrence, Sister Sadie not only has individual name recognition, but an appealing, unified bluegrass approach. Dedicating the album to bluegrass innovator Lynn Morris, Sister Sadie has paid homage to the power of their gender’s role in bluegrass and country music.

3. the-earls-of-leicester-rattle-and-roar-album-coverThe Earls of Leicester- Rattle & Roar (Rounder Records) 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, this is a full-blown tribute to the sturdy trunk that has supported the many branches of bluegrass for 70 years. 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 Jerry Douglas nodding to Paul Warren to take a fiddle break after a chorus, Shawn Camp encouraging Charlie Cushman to step-up to deliver a memorable fill, and Jeff White grinning to Barry Bales as the song is brought home. 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.

4. TheMoreILearnBryanSuttonBryan Sutton- The More I Learn (Sugar Hill Records) Hands down, Bryan Sutton is the preeminent contemporary bluegrass guitar player. With clarity, precision, and enthusiasm born of ingenuity and good-taste, he is the ‘go-to’ player within both the bluegrass and Nashville-country studio recording worlds. All the while, Sutton has maintained a recording presence. While early recordings focused primarily (although not exclusively) on impressive interpretations of familiar instrumentals and fiddle tunes, Sutton has pushed himself on latter albums to develop his songwriting while also presenting himself as a singer. This progression continues with The More I Learn, with seven originals and co-writes and nine songs featuring Sutton in the lead position. A very satisfying recording that will appeal to those who have come to appreciate Sutton’s tasteful approach to bluegrass and acoustic music.

5. balsam-rangeBalsam Range- Mountain Voodoo (Mountain Home) Balsam Range is a band that encapsulates all that modern bluegrass represents. So consistently impressive that we no longer expect their albums to be ‘better than their last,’ in less than a decade Balsam Range has hit the plateau of excellence few groups achieve. Like The Del McCoury Band, Blue Highway, and Alison Krauss & Union Station before them, a new release from Balsam Range is measured against their individual legacy. Mountain Voodoo lacks nothing.

6. unnamedJames Reams & the Barnstormers- Rhyme & Season (Mountain Redbird) I’ve never hidden the fact that James Reams is one of my favourite people in bluegrass. He gets to the heart of the music each and every time, whether interpreting an under-heard classic of the genre, reinventing a country song, or performing one of his many excellent original numbers. Now based in Arizona, the longtime Brooklyn bluegrass mainstay returned this spring with a wonderful new album, Rhyme & Season. Rhyme & Season is most deliberately a concept album, a rarity in bluegrass circles. It includes songs from Mike Stinson (“Angel of the Evening,” Marty Stuart (“Rough Around the Edges,”) and Lawrence Shoberg (“Born to Roll”) and from the catalogs of Porter Wagoner (“$100 Funeral”) and Charley Pride (“Special,”) songs that capture the experiences of life’s outliers, the lost and often invisible.

7. rightbesideyou_280Jeff White- Right Beside You (Jeff White Bluegrass Records) Right Beside You is simply a terrific bluegrass album, one provided shades of influence from the Americana tree. As a result of the familiarity of the material, Right Beside You sounds classic. Because of the quality of performance, it is.

8. blue_highway_original_traditional_cover_rgbBlue Highway- Original Traditional (Rounder Records) Their eleventh album and first since Rob Ickes departed, continues Blue Highway’s recent blueprint: original music written or co-written by band members along with a single traditional song. The album’s title alludes to the group’s tendency to bridge the generations of bluegrass through recognition and reverence for the traditions of the music while ensuring a contemporary, original perspective is always present. With three formidable lead vocalists and key songwriters—Tim Stafford, Shawn Lane, and Wayne Taylor— along with Jason Burleson’s alternately aggressive and pensive, propulsive and sympathetic banjo presence (his tune “Alexander’s Run” is a highlight of the recording) and an instrumental lineup as strong as has ever been staged, Blue Highway is one of the top bands in the business. And this is an excellent bluegrass album.

9. paisleyDanny Paisley & Southern Grass- Weary River (Patuxent Music) Weary River was released in late 2015, too late to be considered for most year-end lists including my own, but the album received its due in 2016. For those who continue to appreciate bluegrass unadorned by passing fancy, this album has much to offer.

10. 1455228838118Del McCoury Band- Del and Woody (McCoury Music) As produced previous sets from Billy Bragg & Wilco, Jay Farrar, et al, and The Klezmatics, lyrics stored within the Woody Guthrie Archives were turned over to McCoury to be repurposed. This rootsy set, fully bluegrass in sound and intent, is the result and the first thing one may notice is how much it sounds like a typical Del McCoury Band album: if unaware of its genesis, one wouldn’t be surprised by anything included here. The musicianship is naturally first-class. McCoury has crafted these 12 songs within the well-established family oeuvre, balancing up tempo, but still substantial numbers and reflective, even maudlin songs. Del and Woody should satisfy those searching for fresh takes on Guthrie lyrics as well as the legion that devours music of The Del McCoury Band.

11. Sam Bush- Storyman (Sugar Hill Records) Sam Bush, it can be argued, is the most significant mandolin player of the last fifty years. Bowling Green, Kentucky’s favoured son has long been the bellwether of all things acoustic and ‘grassy. Storyman comes almost seven years after the exceptional Circles Around Me, an album that signified a high-point in Bush’s considerable solo output. As strong as that album was (it made my Top Ten for 2009 and, in hindsight, it would now be certain of a Top 5 berth) Storyman is an even more complete encapsulation of Bush’s approach to acoustic, bluegrass shaded Americana.

12. Special Consensus- Long I Ride (Compass Records) For more than forty years, Greg Cahill has been making bluegrass music as leader of the Special Consensus. Never in that time, as far as I’m aware, has he experienced the type of success as seen in the past few years since signing on with Compass Records and Alison Brown, who also produces this record. They are a stellar bluegrass group, one of the finest in the business. Long I Ride is further evidence of this true life fact.

13. The Grascals- …and then there’s this (Mountain Home) One of bluegrass music’s strongest and most engaging performing groups, The Grascals have consistently freshened traditional sounds with modern, progressive elements. From start to finish, in this case Bill Monroe’s plaintive “Highway of Sorrow,” this album maintains the best parts of The Grascals’ country-tempered style of bluegrass, with lots of banjo from Kristin Scott Benson: The Grascals are back at the top of their game with …and then there’s this.

14. Town Mountain- Southern Crescent (LoHi Records) Southern Crescent isn’t so much a departure from previous albums, especially 2012’s excellent Leave the Bottle, as it is an intense continuation of their southern influences and hard-scrabble bluegrass sound. As raucous as this approach is, there is a place within the (sometimes) staid and constrained bluegrass community for exactly this type of music. It isn’t trying to be country, it sure isn’t leaning toward easy listening, NPR pap—it is bluegrass, just not the type favoured by Bill Monroe. For that matter, it isn’t of the flavour projected by Doyle Lawson, Rhonda Vincent, Lonesome River Band, or most of today’s mainstream headliners.

15. The Boxcars- Familiar With the Ground (Mountain Home) Continuing their own tradition of excellence, with the self-produced Familiar With the Ground, The Boxcars ably demonstrate that there is nothing better than a five-piece bluegrass band.

16. Kristin Scott Benson- Stringworks (Mountain Home) A beautifully balanced bluegrass album, one that alternates between instrumentals and songs. A very well-constructed and superbly executed bluegrass release, one that reveals the continued growth of one of bluegrass music’s most respected banjoists and personalities.

17. Audie Blaylock & Redline- The Road That Winds (Patuxent Music) Like his previous releases, The Road That Winds is a bluegrass album firmly down the dotted, middle line—it holds a steady course without drifting toward the edges, meeting anything in its way head on. Blaylock comes from the Jimmy Martin school, and his music will always be rooted in that tradition. However, over the course of their evolution, the younger members of the group—and obviously, Blaylock, too—have kept their sights on progressing with their music, ensuring they remain relevant as artists and entertainers. It’s straight-ahead bluegrass, but forward looking in execution.

18. Corrina Rose Logston- Bluegrass Fiddler (Patuxent Music) The title of the album is an acute summation. This is a bluegrass fiddle album, and a darned fine one. While I will sometimes drift-off (to use a polite term for ‘fall asleep’) listening to a fiddle-dominated recording, Bluegrass Fiddler kept me intrigued from start to finish. No doubt part of the reason was that Logston’s assembled band keeps things interesting, not just supporting her fiddling showcase, but sounding like a true band who has worked up a strong set of numbers.

19. Josh Williams- Modern Day Man (Rounder Records) A stunning bluegrass vocalist and guitarist, Williams’ contributions to Rhonda Vincent’s concert appearances are significant, never failing to impress. With the release of Modern Day Man, Williams delivers evidence that second chances must be earned through honesty, acceptance and no little bit of hard work.

20. Jeff Scroggins & Colorado- Ramblin Feels Good (Self-released) With flashes of greatness, Ramblin Feels Good is an above-average bluegrass release from a group that has quietly established a reputation as one of the more satisfying bands working the bluegrass circuit.

 

Fervor Coulee’s Favourite Bluegrass Albums of 2016   1 comment

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Over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass (and eventually I will cross-post here) I have meticulously and expertly (!) compiled my list of my favourite bluegrass album of the year 2016. Please realize, these are my favourite bluegrass albums meaning, a) your list may be different, b) I don’t pretend to know what is best, and c) your definition of bluegrass may be different from mine. After much nasal grazing, these are the twenty I came up with, the albums I most enjoyed, most frequently listened to, and most highly regarded.

By a fairly large measure, Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands’ The Hazel and Alice Sessions topped my list. Enjoy.

At the end of each year, writers and broadcasters get to indulge themselves and-one hopes-their readers and listeners with their judgements on the year past. I’ve spent considerable time reviewing the bluegrass albums I heard during the past year, and have come up with my definitive (at least for today) list of Favorite Bluegrass Albums of 2016. Of course, your mileage will vary: I once received a cranky email from the father of a fairly prominent bluegrasser whose album I didn’t include on such a list several years ago. For those such inclined, I repeat-these are my favorite bluegrass albums of the year. Not the best, ’cause that is silly. And all I can base it on is those albums I’ve heard, and maybe I somehow missed your son’s album…talk to his publicist.

1. Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands- “The Hazel & Alice Sessions” (Spruce and Maple) Laurie Lewis places Hazel Dickens with the bluegrass vocal big-three: Bill Monroe, Carter Stanley, and Lester Flatt. Alice Gerrard is a fearsome master of vocal folk, old-time, and bluegrass. “The Hazel and Alice Sessions” is not only a worthy tribute to a key bluegrass partnership, but an entertaining and formable collection of music. For me, undoubtedly the bluegrass album of the year. Nominated for a Grammy this time out, I could listen to this one every day.

2. Sister Sadie- “Sister Sadie” (Pinecastle) It remains rare for an all-female outfit featuring well-established personalities to come together to perform and record. Sister Sadie is one hell of a band! Presenting Dale Ann Bradley, Tina Adair and Gena Britt with Deanie Richardson and Beth Lawrence, Sister Sadie not only has individual name recognition, but an appealing, unified bluegrass approach. Dedicating the album to bluegrass innovator Lynn Morris, Sister Sadie has paid homage to the power of their gender’s role in bluegrass and country music.

3. The Earls of Leicester- “Rattle & Roar” (Rounder Records) 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, this is a full-blown tribute to the sturdy trunk that has supported the many branches of bluegrass for 70 years. 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 Jerry Douglas nodding to Paul Warren to take a fiddle break after a chorus, Shawn Camp encouraging Charlie Cushman to step-up to deliver a memorable fill, and Jeff White grinning to Barry Bales as the song is brought home. 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.

4. Bryan Sutton- “The More I Learn” (Sugar Hill Records) Hands down, Bryan Sutton is the preeminent contemporary bluegrass guitar player. With clarity, precision, and enthusiasm born of ingenuity and good-taste, he is the ‘go-to’ player within both the bluegrass and Nashville-country studio recording worlds. All the while, Sutton has maintained a recording presence. While early recordings focused primarily (although not exclusively) on impressive interpretations of familiar instrumentals and fiddle tunes, Sutton has pushed himself on latter albums to develop his songwriting while also presenting himself as a singer. This progression continues with “The More I Learn,” with seven originals and co-writes and nine songs featuring Sutton in the lead position. A very satisfying recording that will appeal to those who have come to appreciate Sutton’s tasteful approach to bluegrass and acoustic music.

5. Balsam Range- “Mountain Voodoo” (Mountain Home) Balsam Range is a band that encapsulates all that modern bluegrass represents. So consistently impressive that we no longer expect their albums to be ‘better than their last,’ in less than a decade Balsam Range has hit the plateau of excellence few groups achieve. Like The Del McCoury Band, Blue Highway, and Alison Krauss & Union Station before them, a new release from Balsam Range is measured against their individual legacy. “Mountain Voodoo” lacks nothing.

6. James Reams & the Barnstormers- “Rhyme & Season” (Mountain Redbird) I’ve never hidden the fact that James Reams is one of my favourite people in bluegrass. He gets to the heart of the music each and every time, whether interpreting an under-heard classic of the genre, reinventing a country song, or performing one of his many excellent original numbers. Now based in Arizona, the longtime Brooklyn bluegrass mainstay returned this spring with a wonderful new album, “Rhyme & Season.” “Rhyme & Season” is most deliberately a concept album, a rarity in bluegrass circles. It includes songs from Mike Stinson (“Angel of the Evening,” Marty Stuart (“Rough Around the Edges,”) and Lawrence Shoberg (“Born to Roll”) and from the catalogs of Porter Wagoner (“$100 Funeral”) and Charley Pride (“Special,”) songs that capture the experiences of life’s outliers, the lost and often invisible.

7. Jeff White- “Right Beside You” (Jeff White Bluegrass Records) “Right Beside You” is simply a terrific bluegrass album, one provided shades of influence from the Americana tree. As a result of the familiarity of the material, “Right Beside You” sounds classic. Because of the quality of performance, it is.

8. Blue Highway- “Original Traditional” (Rounder Records) Their eleventh album and first since Rob Ickes departed, continues Blue Highway’s recent blueprint: original music written or co-written by band members along with a single traditional song. The album’s title alludes to the group’s tendency to bridge the generations of bluegrass through recognition and reverence for the traditions of the music while ensuring a contemporary, original perspective is always present. With three formidable lead vocalists and key songwriters-Tim Stafford, Shawn Lane, and Wayne Taylor- along with Jason Burleson’s alternately aggressive and pensive, propulsive and sympathetic banjo presence (his tune “Alexander’s Run” is a highlight of the recording) and an instrumental lineup as strong as has ever been staged, Blue Highway is one of the top bands in the business. And this is an excellent bluegrass album.

9. Danny Paisley & Southern Grass- “Weary River” (Patuxent Music) “Weary River” was released in late 2015, too late to be considered for most year-end lists including my own, but the album received its due in 2016. For those who continue to appreciate bluegrass unadorned by passing fancy, this album has much to offer.

10. Del McCoury Band- “Del and Woody” (McCoury Music) As produced previous sets from Billy Bragg & Wilco, Jay Farrar, et al, and The Klezmatics, lyrics stored within the Woody Guthrie Archives were turned over to McCoury to be repurposed. This rootsy set, fully bluegrass in sound and intent, is the result and the first thing one may notice is how much it sounds like a typical Del McCoury Band album: if unaware of its genesis, one wouldn’t be surprised by anything included here. The musicianship is naturally first-class. McCoury has crafted these 12 songs within the well-established family oeuvre, balancing up tempo, but still substantial numbers and reflective, even maudlin songs. “Del and Woody” should satisfy those searching for fresh takes on Guthrie lyrics as well as the legion that devours music of The Del McCoury Band.

11. Sam Bush- “Storyman” (Sugar Hill Records) Sam Bush, it can be argued, is the most significant mandolin player of the last fifty years. Bowling Green, Kentucky’s favoured son has long been the bellwether of all things acoustic and ‘grassy. “Storyman” comes almost seven years after the exceptional “Circles Around Me,” an album that signified a high-point in Bush’s considerable solo output. As strong as that album was (it made my Top Ten for 2009 and, in hindsight, it would now be certain of a Top 5 berth) “Storyman” is an even more complete encapsulation of Bush’s approach to acoustic, bluegrass shaded Americana.

12. Special Consensus- “Long I Ride” (Compass Records) For more than forty years, Greg Cahill has been making bluegrass music as leader of the Special Consensus. Never in that time, as far as I’m aware, has he experienced the type of success as seen in the past few years since signing on with Compass Records and Alison Brown, who also produces this record. They are a stellar bluegrass group, one of the finest in the business. “Long I Ride” is further evidence of this true life fact.

13. The Grascals- “…and then there’s this” (Mountain Home) One of bluegrass music’s strongest and most engaging performing groups, The Grascals have consistently freshened traditional sounds with modern, progressive elements. From start to finish, in this case Bill Monroe’s plaintive “Highway of Sorrow,” this album maintains the best parts of The Grascals’ country-tempered style of bluegrass, with lots of banjo from Kristin Scott Benson: The Grascals are back at the top of their game with “…and then there’s this.”

14. Town Mountain- “Southern Crescent” (LoHi Records) “Southern Crescent” isn’t so much a departure from previous albums, especially 2012’s excellent “Leave the Bottle,” as it is an intense continuation of their southern influences and hard-scrabble bluegrass sound. As raucous as this approach is, there is a place within the (sometimes) staid and constrained bluegrass community for exactly this type of music. It isn’t trying to be country, it sure isn’t leaning toward easy listening, NPR pap-it is bluegrass, just not the type favoured by Bill Monroe. For that matter, it isn’t of the flavour projected by Doyle Lawson, Rhonda Vincent, Lonesome River Band, or most of today’s mainstream headliners.

15. The Boxcars- “Familiar With the Ground” (Mountain Home) Continuing their own tradition of excellence, with the self-produced “Familiar With the Ground,” The Boxcars ably demonstrate that there is nothing better than a five-piece bluegrass band.

16. Kristin Scott Benson- “Stringworks” (Mountain Home) A beautifully balanced bluegrass album, one that alternates between instrumentals and songs. A very well-constructed and superbly executed bluegrass release, one that reveals the continued growth of one of bluegrass music’s most respected banjoists and personalities.

17. Audie Blaylock & Redline- “The Road That Winds” (Patuxent Music) Like his previous releases, “The Road That Winds” is a bluegrass album firmly down the dotted, middle line-it holds a steady course without drifting toward the edges, meeting anything in its way head on. Blaylock comes from the Jimmy Martin school, and his music will always be rooted in that tradition. However, over the course of their evolution, the younger members of the group-and obviously, Blaylock, too-have kept their sights on progressing with their music, ensuring they remain relevant as artists and entertainers. It’s straight-ahead bluegrass, but forward looking in execution.

18. Corrina Rose Logston- “Bluegrass Fiddler” (Patuxent Music) The title of the album is an acute summation. This is a bluegrass fiddle album, and a darned fine one. While I will sometimes drift-off (to use a polite term for ‘fall asleep’) listening to a fiddle-dominated recording, “Bluegrass Fiddler” kept me intrigued from start to finish. No doubt part of the reason was that Logston’s assembled band keeps things interesting, not just supporting her fiddling showcase, but sounding like a true band who has worked up a strong set of numbers.

19. Josh Williams- “Modern Day Man” (Rounder Records) A stunning bluegrass vocalist and guitarist, Williams’ contributions to Rhonda Vincent’s concert appearances are significant, never failing to impress. With the release of “Modern Day Man,” Williams delivers evidence that second chances must be earned through honesty, acceptance and no little bit of hard work.

20. Jeff Scroggins & Colorado- “Ramblin Feels Good” (Self-released) With flashes of greatness, “Ramblin Feels Good” is an above-average bluegrass release from a group that has quietly established a reputation as one of the more satisfying bands working the bluegrass circuit.

The Earls of Leicester- Rattle & Roar review   2 comments

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

Inserted chronologically, and originally published elsewhere:

Blueberry Bluegrass & Country Music Festival, Canada’s largest bluegrass fester-and one of its longest running-goes the August long weekend, which in atypically contrary Canadian fashion falls on July 29-31 this year.
Blueberry occurs in Stony Plain, Alberta one of many charming small towns and cities (population 15 000, give or take) surrounding the province’s capital city, Edmonton. Blueberry started in 1985, had the requisite growing pains, and bloomed into maturity in 1995 hosting Bill Monroe & His Blue Grass Boys. The festival experienced a spurt in growth-and budget-around 2005 and has continued, during the last decade, to bring to Alberta some of the finest bluegrass bands performing. The festival grounds underwent a complete upgrade a few years ago, and it is difficult to imagine a better small town festival location.
The sustainability of the festival is a tribute to the efforts of the volunteer-based organization.
(I started showing up in 1997, attending regularly until I became so overly involved in my own bluegrass-promotion efforts-through my association with a Red Deer-based club-that the last thing I wanted to do during the summer was spend time surrounded by people far more interested in talking through sets than they were in listening…fortunately, that rude behaviour appears to be less prevalent today. Also, I got tired of the shameless self-promotion and other irritants I felt had become rampant at the fest. I’m not sure that has stopped, but I have become much better at worrying about only things I can control. I’ve returned the last couple years, and have enjoyed myself quite thoroughly.)
I heartily recommend that Americans looking for something a little different take advantage of the excellent exchange rate and visit Stony Plain and Blueberry this summer. As far as line-ups go, you can’t help but be impressed: The Earls of Leicester, Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen, Chris Jones & the Night Drivers, David Parmley & Cardinal Tradition, Bluegrass, Etc., and The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys will provide a range of bluegrass interpretations throughout the weekend. Unlike some other festivals, artists usually play sets on two or three of the days of the event. (The schedule for this year isn’t yet posted.) I also understand that they are switching from 45-minute sets to sixty and ninety minutes sets, resulting in fewer transitions. A band competition is also featured, as are free workshops in the mornings.
As Blueberry includes-for some damn reason-the words “& Country Music Festival” in its name, there is almost always a couple acts that play some form of the music. Some years it is a well-regarded, welcome name-Suzy Bogguss, Marty Stuart, Michael Martin Murphey-and other years it is a local or area ‘noisy boy’ who plays some semblance of rock ‘n’ roll-inspired country. This year, the country element of the bill will be represented by a set of well-known area country music veterans collectively billed as ‘Canadian Country Music Legends.’ Depending on what they perform, Young Medicine, a First Nations duo, may end up being of most interest.
The management group of the festival work hard to present a family-friendly environment. The local economy is supported via several food trucks and concessionaires on site, as well as a small market of area crafts and other offerings. There are a lot of (unserviced) sites for RVs and the like, and there are many area campgrounds that offer additional amenities.
If there is a criticism of the festival, I would suggest that they have not done enough in recent years to support Canadian bluegrass bands (I well know that Chris Jones has long lived in Canada.) Non-local Canadian bluegrass bands have become a rarity at the fest, and that may be a reflection of the dearth of quality groups across the country-although other fests seem to be able to feature some. Alberta bluegrass bands often get ‘less-than-prime’ performance slots. Why precious financial resources were/are earmarked for less than impressive outfits-musically amateurish (I still haven’t recovered from Trick Ryder a couple years ago) or awkward electric-guitar focused schedule fillers-over the last couple years while ignoring the potential of (reasonably priced) Alberta roots acts-I’m thinking Matt Patershuk, John Wort Hannam, Laura Vinson, or Maria Dunn-to further expand their aural texture, or Canadian bluegrass bands is puzzling. Most likely, these are ‘inside baseball’ factors that will not concern most patrons: if uninterested in the stage performance, most will simply break for lunch or go back to the camper for a nap. Me, I fret and think about what I ‘could’ be listening to if only someone had greater (or at least, more flexible) vision. Okay, so I haven’t completely succeeded in worrying about only that which I can control.
See, for me, anyone can book the top three bands for a bluegrass festival-as long as the group is touring and you have the budget, those deals are easy. Where the skill comes in is in booking the rest of the fest-Who is the under-known band that will be the fan favourite? Which act, a little left (or right) of center, is going to surprise everyone with something different? What veteran can be brought in to connect to the roots of the music? Who can be hired to expand your audience beyond the essential seniors? Which band will be hitting the charts in a year or two? (The bands that would have pushed the fest even further this year might be the likes of The Hillbenders, Della Mae, Sister Sadie, The O’Connor Band, Irene Kelly…still, this year’s Blueberry lineup is very strong.)
No one goes to Blueberry Bluegrass for anything but bluegrass, and with a line-up of stellar American acts playing this year (and a Canadian dollar that is very favourable to south-of-the-border visitors) there is no better time to discover this Alberta festival.
If you are looking for more Canadian content in your bluegrass, there are other festivals from which to choose.
A few weeks after Blueberry, a smaller bluegrass festival goes further south in the province. Near Nanton, the Shady Grove Bluegrass Festival occurs August 19-21. Housed on the Broadway Farm, for a few years a decade ago, Shady Grove gave Blueberry a run for its money. Currently, the festival appears content to be the less flamboyant cousin, quietly going about its business presenting an emerging American act (this year, Jeff Scroggins & Colorado) as well as several Alberta and Canadian bluegrass groups-the very capable Canyon Mountain, 5 on a String, Misery Mountain Boys, All Day Breakfast Stringband, Steve Fisher, Prairie’s Edge, and the Spitzee Post Band.
Again, unserviced camping, a family atmosphere, and plenty of jamming will be present.
In north-central Saskatchewan, near Prince Albert Provincial Park and Big River, is the Northern Lights Bluegrass & Old-Tyme Music Festival, August 12-14. I’ve never attended this fest, but it has been going for more than a decade to good word-of-mouth reviews. The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys are the featured Americans, with a variety of Canadian acts rounding out the bill- The Fitzgeralds, from the Ottawa Valley, The Annie Lou Band-an act I have great regard for-Quebec vets Notre Dame de Grass, All Day Breakfast String Band, Rugged Little Thing, Andrew Sneddon and Matthew Hornell, and others appear. A music camp is held the week following.
The Steep Canyon Rangers and The Kruger Brothers are about all the Edmonton Folk Music Festival is offering this time out for bluegrass, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of great roots music-starting with John Wort Hannam, Mike Farris, Dar Williams, and Colin Linden amongst the usual assortment of bigger names-on offer. The fest goes August 4-7 in the province’s capital city.
July 21-24, the Calgary Folk Music Festival is on in the tranquil environs of Princess Island Park. No hardcore bluegrass, but The Steel Wheels appear, as do Robbie Fulks, Eilen Jewell, Ian Tyson, and Elizabeth Cook, as well as a huge slate of roots, folk, and world acts. Always a good time.
Consider coming north this summer:there is a great deal of bluegrass and roots music occurring in Alberta’s prairie provinces. I would suggest you are not only assured excellent music, but the company of some friendly folks who share your passion for bluegrass music.

 

The Earls of Leicester review   2 comments

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