Archive for the ‘The Special Consensus’ Tag

Fervor Coulee’s Favourite Bluegrass Albums of 2018   1 comment

Favourite, not best. I happen to consider them the best, but you certainly may feel different. One will notice no ‘big tent’ bluegrass on this list-the furthest afield I go is with my #1 album, which is still fair solid bluegrass.

These are the albums I felt delivered in 2018.

1. The Travelin’ McCourys- The Travelin’ McCourys An incredible album. Featuring three capable (and better) lead vocalists and five earth-shattering musicians, The Travelin’ McCourys deliver a set of complex bluegrass that remains firmly rooted while extending branches toward the light. Wonderful stuff: powerful, masterful, and most importantly, memorable. Their live presentation is also aces. (Purchased)

2. Sister Sadie- II There are a lot of great bluegrass bands working today: I would put Sister Sadie up against any one of them. II is even more unified than their debut with the group having melded into a seamless force greater than its exceedingly impressive parts. The quintets’ natural essence is given prominence, a traditional vision bolstered by contemporary approaches. (Serviced by PR)

3. David Davis & the Warrior River Boys- Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poole David Davis is a true follower of The Monroe Doctrine. “Didn’t He Ramble” is a well-considered collection of music from the early years of the twentieth century. Many of the songs are well-known, but Davis and co-producer Robert Montgomery also include less familiar numbers. An album of considerable variation, an acceptance of life’s departures is an apparent theme; one senses Davis and Montgomery drawn to songs where everything doesn’t go to plan. An exemplary example of modern, traditional bluegrass. (Serviced by PR)

4. Rudi Ekstein- Carolina Chimes This ‘All Original Bluegrass Instrumental Showcase’ is 34-minutes of tunes sounding fresh, invigorated, and powerful. The twelve numbers flow brilliantly, a set of mandolin-based bluegrass the likes we haven’t experienced in years. An absolute stunner of a bluegrass album.  (Serviced by PR)

5. High Fidelity- Hills and Home Hills and Home serves as an appealing versatile introduction to this quintet’s energetic, foundationally strong, and vocal-focused representation of contemporary bluegrass. The group presents bluegrass that captures the old-time sounds influenced by Reno & Smiley, with shades of the Louvins in their arrangement choices and production approaches. High Fidelity is bringing bluegrass music’s rich history forward to today’s audience.  (Serviced by label)

6. Special Consensus- Rivers and Roads I didn’t write about this album. I just listened to it about thirty times. I haven’t been disappointed in an album from Special C in a long time, and given the strength of this set, I won’t be in the foreseeable future. A core of solid songs, lively singing, a few notable guest spots, and blazing instrumentation: my kinda bluegrass mix. (Purchased download)

7. Peter Rowan- Carter Stanley’s Eyes An acute reminder of that, when performed with talent, inspiration, and respect, bluegrass is a very powerful thing. Rowan-the target of the infamous Bill Monroe quote, “Don’t go too far out on that limb, there’s enough flowers out there already”-has frequently ventured well-outside the bluegrass realm. He returns to the formidable truck of the bluegrass tree with an album-long tribute to the music and its originators, especially Carter and Ralph Stanley. The light still shines in Peter Rowan’s eyes: that he loves bluegrass music is doubtless. Neither is his ability to create a masterful album of bluegrass classics. 
(Serviced by label)

8. Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road- True Grass Again Carolina Road has always been strongest following Jordan’s keen vision of bluegrass. Here Carolina Dream create a faithful, refreshing representation of the ever-evolving genre by ensuring a secure grounding in the traditional substratum of bluegrass. “True Grass Again” is a fine return to form for this well-established and soulful outfit. (Serviced by PR)

9. Various Artists- Epilogue: A Tribute to John Duffey A lovingly assembled testament to the status John Duffey attained and the influence he continues to impart upon bluegrass music. Compiled from numerous sessions over almost 20 years, it also serves as acknowledgment to the devotion of its producers, Bluegrass 45s’ Akira Otsuka and Ronnie Freeman. Despite being assembled track-by-track, including 53 musicians and singers making contributions in a variety of makeshift studio settings, the 46-minute, 17-song set is coherent, bound as it is by the tensile strength of the bluegrass community. (Serviced by PR)

10. Del McCoury Band- Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass With the exception of the lead track “Hot Wired,” on which Del and the Boys seem to be trying too hard to be edgy, this album delivers on the faith we’ve been placing in Mr. McCoury from the first day we heard him thirty-some years ago. McCoury’s voice isn’t what it once was, but that it just fine; when performances are as strong and true as these, we’ll forgive the effects of time’s passage. (Purchased download)

A note: Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard- Sing Me Back Home: The DC Tapes, 1965-1969 is not included simply because it isn’t fully a ‘bluegrass’ album. While there is no doubting Hazel and Alice was bluegrass and this archival release is tremendous , these practice sessions/kitchen tapes feature little to no bluegrass instrumentation, and are as such ‘just a bit outside’ my definition of bluegrass for the purposes of this list. Without a doubt, it remains one of my favourite five roots releases of the year.

Thoughts or reactions? fervorcoulee@gmail.com

Best to you for the Christmas and holiday season and a terrific New Year. Donald

Addendum: When the Bluegrass Grammy nominees were announced December 7, I was surprised to find three of my top six included: The Travelin’ McCourys, Sister Sadie, and The Special Consensus. I don’t know if such has previously occurred- out of necessity, I take some pride in being a bluegrass outlier. Glad to see that the industry is finally aligning- for one brief moment- with my way of thinking. The other 2 Grammy nominees were two album I didn’t encounter. I might have noticed Mike Barnett’s all-star fiddle album had he and his Kentucky Thunder band-mates (and boss) made an effort to bring merch and shake & howdy at the mercantile at Blueberry this summer, but they didn’t bother. I learned of the existence of Wood & Wire today.

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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.

Reviews recently posted elsewhere   Leave a comment

I was asked to contribute some reviews to Lonesome Road Review recently. I am likely writing a little less for LLR and Country Standard Time than I had in the past, but I do find time to get a couple or three done monthly. These days, there is little to no money in freelance writing on the level I do it-back in the early to mid-aughts I had a steady little stream of revenue coming from various publications, but that has pretty much dried up. Fortunately for me, I have a true career to pay the bills, and I am able to leave paying jobs to those who actually are writing for a living…and who are usually a bit better at it than I am.

longiridecvr

Anyhow, two new reviews have been posted. The Special Consensus is one of my favourite bluegrass bands going back almost twenty years, and their most recent Compass Records release Long I Ride is another really strong recording. Last year Darrell Scott released 10: Songs of Ben Bullington, a masterful recording that I’ve been listening to monthly if not weekly since it came out. We don’t usually review albums so long after release, but Aaron sent it to me and therefore I did; I hope I did the album justice. I also failed to link in my review of Scott’s latest, Couchville Sessions. Sigh. Here it is. Or, if I did, the search tool isn’t finding it.

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In cleaning up Fervor Coulee at year end, I can’t find my review of Josh Williams’ Modern Day Man cross-posted. Country Standard Time had me write about it on release, so if you missed it, there it is.

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And finally, I hope- my review of Dori Freeman’s debut was posted at Lonesome Road Review, but I neglected to link it here. I’m not very good at this, am I?

Anyhow, all these albums are worth your consideration, no matter when you locate the reviews. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

Special Consensus & Eliza Gilkyson reviews   Leave a comment

eliza-bigIt has been a busy week here in the Fervor Coulee bunker, and the fruit of that labour has beenjohn-denver_country-boy-tribute posted over at the Lonesome Road Review in the form of two reviews.

First up is my review of the new Special Consensus album, abluegrass tribute to John Denver.

Also up is my review of the new Eliza Gilkyson album, The Nocturne Diaries.

Both of these albums are absolutely incredible, beautiful stuff.

Special Consensus, riding a career high since joining forces with Compass Records, are approaching their 40th year under the guidance of Greg Cahill, a banjo master. On this new album Country Boy, they are joined by bluegrass and Americana luminaries including Dale Ann Bradley, Jim Lauderdale, John Cowan, and producer Alison Brown. What holds it back from a 5 star label? Two too few songs, that’s it.

Eliza Gilkyson. Man, my words are truly inadequate. I’ve only been listening to her for ten or eleven years, but over that time I’ve come to respect her every bit as much as I do Tom Russell, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Rosanne Cash. Every time I think about Gilkyson, I remember the time- about six or eight years back- that I saw her join a First Nations circle dance at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival: the look of sheer bliss on her face as she danced has stayed with me ever since. Magic.

I appreciate everyone who visits Fervor Coulee- I hope you are finding writing of interest. Keep in touch, Donald

@FervorCoulee

 

Roots Song of the Week: The Special Consensus- Wild Montana Skies   Leave a comment

I became a John Denver fan the first time I heard “Grandma’s Feather Bed.” That goofy opus was perfect for an eleven year-old twisted in his musical development by a diet of school bus sing-a-longs of “Joy To the World,” “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da,” “Patches,” and “Yitsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.”

But, I knew John Denver wasn’t cool. My mom and dad listened to him. I went years denying any appreciation for his music, and it is only now that I am way past worrying about anyone’s definition of cool- and beyond a lot of other things- that I can freely admit to being a casual fan of John Denver’s. Honestly, I’ve not delved too deeply into his music- a vinyl greatest hit package in junior high, quietly singing along with the truck radio when one of his songs would come on, and the purchase of the tribute album that came out last year is about it.

I do get the appeal, without doubt.

When word was released today that The Special Consensus- one of my favourite bluegrass bands- is releasing a ten-song set of Denver songs this coming March, my interest was piqued. I haven’t heard the entire album, but have previewed the three tracks made available to media today. “Take Me Home, Country Roads” is about what I expected- a fine rendering of perhaps Denver’s most familiar song, made more interesting with vocals from both John Cowan and SC’s Dustin Benson. “Back Home Again” has warmth and comfort embedded in each note, and with Dale Ann Bradley singing lead and harmony it is a sure bet to be my favourite song on the recording.

The song I’m featuring as tonight’s Roots Song of the Week would have been “Back Home Again” if a version was available online for streaming. Instead, I’m going with another instantly familiar song, “Wild Montana Skies,” a latter Denver hit with Emmylou Harris. I had thought that this was his last significant hit, never having heard of “Dreamland Express” until this evening. It was definitely the last song of his I recall having heard in regular rotation on the radio.

This version of “Wild Montana Skies” features The Special Consensus joined by Claire Lynch and Rob Ickes, and Compass Records has posted a video of the song on YouTube. The song sounds quite wonderful, with a bluegrass push kicking it up a notch. Lynch’s contributions are significant- she sounds great alongside Rick Faris- and the guitar playing of Benson is just this side of incredible.

The press release for the album reads in part: Grammy-nominated Special Consensus joins forces with contemporary bluegrass music’s best on Country Boy: A Bluegrass Tribute to John Denver slated for release on March 25. There is a natural affinity between bluegrass musicians and John Denver’s repertoire but this is the first purely bluegrass tribute to the iconic singer/songwriter who died in 1997.

Country Boy features Special Consensus at the musical center of each track with a guest cast of Grammy-winning and International Bluegrass Music Association-winning vocalists and instrumentalists joining in.  Produced by Compass Records co-founder Alison Brown, the album’s 10 tracks draw from across Denver’s hits and lesser-known songs.
Talking about the genesis for the idea, band founder Greg Cahill comments:  “I’ve met so many people who were affected by John’s music and so many musicians who mention him as an inspiration.  It felt like a bluegrass interpretation of his songs would be something really special and might also serve as a way to connect more people to bluegrass music.”
With guests listed including the aforementioned Lynch, Ickes, and Bradley as well as Peter Rowan, Jason Carter, and Michael Cleveland, Country Boy is destined to be one of my most played albums of the year.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
@FervorCoulee

 

The Story Behind…The Special Consensus   4 comments

untitledOver at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass, I’ve posted the first in what I am hoping will be an ongoing series about the origins of bluegrass band names. First up, thanks to the skills of Greg Cahill, is the story behind The Special Consensus, one of bluegrass music’s longest running outfits. The link should get you there.

I’ve been so pleased to watch the accession of The Special C. While they have long been a personal favourite, until the last year they have been less well-known, from my perspective, than they should have been within the wider bluegrass world. Within the piece, I touch on what I believe has made the difference, but one has to admire Greg Cahill’s tenacity and ongoing focus in producing a body of work that should be the envy of later generations of bluegrass bandleaders. That you can hear the group daily on the bluegrass satellite channel is a rather recent and overdue development, especially when one considers the track record of the group.

I hope you enjoy reading about The Special Consensus. Pass the word- I’m looking for other bluegrass bands to feature.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald