Archive for the ‘Tribute Albums’ Tag

Jerry Wicentowski- …Thanks, Mac! review   2 comments

Jerry Mac

Jerry Wicentowski …Thanks, Mac! Songs of Mac Wiseman www.WizGrass.com

If not for Mac Wiseman and a pair of brothers named Osborne, I am not certain we would have living ties  to the first generation of bluegrass performers. While Bobby continues to book shows and record, Sonny and Mac have largely eased into retirement to only make rare appearances. More than a year ago, Wiseman was the subject of the incredible collection I Sang the Song: Life of the Voice With a Heart. Next up is Jerry Wicentowski’s well-considered set, …Thanks, Mac! Songs of Mac Wiseman.

I am sure Wicentowski, a long-time member of the Milwaukee bluegrass community, would prefer to hear Mac Wiseman singing his own songs with the strength and clarity evidenced herein, and most certainly so would I. While we have old recordings on various formats to enjoy (until they become further obsolete) Mr. Wiseman’s voice—with all respect—isn’t what it once was, and neither should we expect it to be. To give his many fine songs the ongoing attention they deserve, they must be sung by the generations which follow. And in this regard, and others, …Thanks, Mac! Songs of Mac Wiseman is a complete success.

Wicentowski, while emphasizing the distinctive characteristics of Wiseman’s voice—the rise within a vowel, and the fall at the end of a phrase, along with the immediately familiar phrasing—hasn’t allowed the instrumentation to take a back seat. Supported by bluegrass veterans including Joe Mullins (tenor vocals) and Shad Cobb (fiddle), Wicentowski surrounds himself with names that may not be as familiar: the immensely talented Jeremy Stephens (5-string), the adventurous Paul Kowert (bass), and Jennie Obert (fiddle) augment the collective, as does Marc MacGlashan (mandolin) who appeared on those very fine, Sugar Hill-era Gibson Brother recordings.

Wicentowski can flat sing. Endorsed by Wiseman, Wicentowski’s interpretations of these fifteen timeless songs surprise only in the quality of the interpretation. I haven’t compared Wiseman’s and Wicentowski’s approaches side-by-side (as I write, I am two thousand kilometres from the Bluegrass Bunker and home), but most certainly nothing sounds ‘off.’ Each and every vocal note sounds fitting to the context of songs originating from the 50s, 60s, and earlier. The production presentation is fresh and contemporary; not overly slick, no one is going to mistake these for tracks ripped from 78s long ago.

Wicentowski, no youngster himself,  has his own voice, but—whether by nature or design—is near a dead ringer for Wiseman. To his credit, he isn’t attempting to imitate the bluegrass legend (as a jam singer may do) and I am quite comfortable with “Love Letters in the Sand,” “‘Tis Sweet to be Remembered,” and “Travelin’ This Lonesome Road” being presented in this manner, and as they should ever be. These are songs of another time, and while they should appeal to modern listeners, and Wicentowski realizes they do so best within honest and true structures.

I must say, listening to Stephens ripping through these songs is a true treat. Approaching the instrument in a traditionally-rooted manner, in just over a year Stephens has become one of my favourite banjoists. “Are You Coming Back to Me” “We Live In Two Different Worlds,” and “Homestead on the Farm” contain shining examples of his playing. “We Live In Two Different Worlds,” “‘Tis Sweet To Be Remembered,” and “Four Walls Around Me” are fiddle-centric songs, featuring twin fiddles, I believe (and could very well be wrong!)

A balanced, enjoyable bluegrass listen, I can’t imagine many folks finding fault with these fabulous, faithful interpretations of classic songs.

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From the extensive if not valued Fervor Coulee Archive:

Hillman

The Coal PortersThe Chris Hillman Tribute Concerts (Prima SID 013) 52:03

Within a band of fascinating characters, Chris Hillman was, for me, always the most cool of the Flying Burrito Brothers.  I would like to think it was because I sensed the soulful spirit of bluegrass he brought to their albums.  Perhaps it was the solid sense of musicianship and stability he projected while surrounded by an occasionally raggle-taggle group of musicians.  Maybe it was simply because he co-wrote “Wheels.”  It could have been the hair.

Whatever his reasons, Sid Griffin was similarly taken by the California-born Hillman.

The Coal Porters, Griffin’s (ex-Long Ryders, current music journalist and performer) long running England-based group seemingly dedicated to promoting all things Gram Parsons, turn their collective heads in a respectful nod to Hillman- ex-Byrd, ex- Flying Burrito, ex- Desert Rose Band, and current member of Out Of The Woodwork.

Despite being recorded at various gigs in London, Nashville, Louisville, and New York City and with a variety of sidemen, this album is remarkably cohesive and provides a tremendous overview of the bluegrass tinged legacy and being that is Chris Hillman.

Completely acoustic, there is no arguing the instrumental chops and motivation of eighth generation (both sides) Kentuckian Griffin and his compatriots of Irish, Scottish, and English ancestry.   This is an entertaining, high-octane bluegrass homage to a country-rock pioneer.

The playing is loose- comfortably relaxed, never sloppy- without the gloss of a precision bluegrass band.  The heartfelt intent is to pay tribute to an idol and icon.

The banjo playing of Pat McGarvey is at the forefront of most numbers including a version of Leon Payne’s “The Lost Highway” (sung here by Neil Robert Herd) and “I Am A Pilgrim,” a cut Hillman sang on the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo album.  Griffin’s mandolin performance, while not stellar in the sense of a Thile or Bush, is enthusiastic and spot on.

For those who remember Hillman from the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers (or at least have heard the reissued disc) to those who thought the Desert Rose Band was the brightest spot in the late-eighties neo-traditional country landscape, The Chris Hillman Tribute Concerts is a must purchase.

In true bluegrass spirit the album closes with Griffin’s voice over the P.A.- “CDs in the lobby!”

Originally published 2001, Bluegrass Now; I am fairly certain the editor worked overtime to turn this into something publishable. One day, I will be brave enough to compare the printed copy (in a box somewhere) and what I submitted, this.

 

Rory Block- A Woman’s Soul: A Tribute to Bessie Smith review   2 comments

Rory Block

Rory Block A Woman’s Soul: A Tribute to Bessie Smith Stony Plain Records

What was the name of the Maria Muldaur album a decade or so ago? Naughty, Bawdy, & Blue, that’s it.

That would also work for this new set from Rory Block, the latest in her ongoing mission tracing the historical importance and continuing influence of the blues masters.

While the previous six volumes of her Mentor Series honoured “founding fathers of the blues” she encountered as a teenager, Block has now turned her vision to the ladies with the “Power Women of the Blues.” No better singer to feature on the initial set than Bessie Smith, the Empress of the Blues.

This is how I like my blues. Entirely acoustic with multi-tracked accompaniment (Block also offers unconventional percussion from hat boxes, guitar bongos, plastic tubs, and wooden spoons to go along with her gorgeous, masterful guitar playing) allowing the character of the music to reverberate internally. Stripped of any finery, we are left with the essentials: guitar, bass, voice, and fervent passion.

There is no shortage of double entendre across these ten songs including “Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl,” “Do Your Duty,” and “Kitchen Man.” Other songs offer additional vital relationship insight. “Black Mountain Blues” suggests a razor and a gun, while advising “the bullet will get you if you start your dodging too late.” Little highbrow here with “Gimme a Pigfoot and A Bottle of Beer” and an extended and groovy “Empty Bed Blues” receiving relaxed but riveting, powerful performances. Within “Empty Bed Blues,” Block reveals the ache and hunger of the protagonist in every note she sings.

As appealing as those songs are, and Block’s execution is stellar, I find greater interest in songs like “Weeping Willow Blues” and “I’m Down In The Dumps.” While there is much to dissect within the ‘naughty, bawdy, and blue’ songs—culturally, socially, even politically—when Block presents a more nuanced song, she is at her strongest. Of course, no one advocates wrapping chains around oneself and jumping into the river over the loss of a man, but Block plums the emotional depths of these songs so effectively they sound inspirational. Naturally, Block’s “On Revival Day” is uplifting and heartening.

Bessie Smith was a prolific artist, and volumes have been written of her influence on twentieth century music. That continues today with prominent performers like Rory Block (and Bonnie Raitt and Muldaur) doing their duty in keeping this vibrant music relevant ninety-five years after Smith’s first recording session.

 

Epilogue: A Tribute to John Duffey review   Leave a comment

Duffey

I don’t get to review as much bluegrass as I once did. Over the last ten years, record companies seem to have fewer resources to ‘service’ freelance writers, and it appears select labels have simply chosen to ‘drop’ some writers from their contacts. Also, bands are less willing and able to send out review copies. It isn’t unusual then, when googlating in search of bluegrass reviews to locate only a small handful of opinions. I believe that weakens the industry. I appreciate those of you who do take the time to read reviews at Fervor Coulee, and I hope I don’t guide you wrong too often.

In anticipation of writing my review of Epilogue: A Tribute to John Duffey, I took the time to dive into his expansive catalogue of classic bluegrass recordings. I never had the chance to see Duffey ‘on stage’, and in fact he had passed by the time I started to explore the world of bluegrass with sustained focus. But since at least 1998 I have deeply appreciated his contributions to developing and guiding the music I love. My regard for John Duffey remains strong.

This month I was pleased to receive the assignment from Country Standard Time to review this incredibly enjoyable collection of music. I believe this is an album which should receive IBMA Album of the Year consideration.

Here is Duffey singing his signature song with Charlie Waller’s Country Gentlemen years after he left the group. The pants, oh good gosh, the pants!

David Davis & the Warrior River Boys- Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poole review   1 comment

David Davis

David Davis & The Warrior River Boys Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poole Rounder Records

Even with fewer than a dozen albums featuring his name, David Davis has become a near-legendary member of the bluegrass fraternity, a true follower of The Monroe Doctrine. Having fronted the Warrior River Boys for parts of four decades, Davis has refined and nurtured his vision of traditionally-based bluegrass while consistently presenting among the finest live showcases of the music’s vibrancy.                                                                                                                                            Bill monroe

For his first album in almost ten years, Davis returns to Rounder Records with a well-considered collection of music from the early years of the twentieth century. Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poole is the first Warrior River Boys album since Davis completed his incredible Rebel Records aural triptych in 2009: Troubled Times, David Davis & the Warrior River Boys, and Two Dimes & A Nickel, three of the most impressive bluegrass albums released during the initial decade of this century. [Note to self: dig up and post original reviews of these albums.]

David Davis has the ability to provide insights into the genesis of bluegrass music as few others. He presents as simultaneously intense and affable, a man comfortable with the direction his career has taken him. He has studied the music that informed Bill Monroe’s music, has identified for himself the threads and tendrils that were woven to create bluegrass. These insights inform his music, whether creating impressive interpretations of previously unrecorded songs or crafting fresh understandings of familiar songs, conveying universal experience.

David Davis waskasoo

The music of Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers comes from the post-World War I, pre-Depression era of American history, string band music that influenced generations of professional and amateur pickers and singers. Many of the songs contained within Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poole are well-known, but Davis and co-producer Robert Montgomery have also included less familiar numbers while eschewing proverbial standards such as “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down” and “Take A Drink On Me,” songs already oft recorded in bluegrass.

Still, a spirited and instrumentally well-arranged take on “White House Blues” is included as is “Girl I Left In Sunny Tennessee,” songs every jam regular well knows. Late in the set, a smooth rendition of “If The River Was Whiskey” is offered, with Davis’s voice and light, southern drawl ideally suited to the meandering song.

An album of considerable variation, an acceptance of life’s departures is an apparent theme. Whether pining for a distant love (“Where The Whippoorwill Is Whispering Goodnight”) within a song replete with acute detail (“Around that door the same old ivy vine is clinging,” a vivid image of desolation), cutting off a proposal (“One Moonlight Night”), or acknowledging the ways of a family’s ‘black sheep’ (“He Rambled”), one senses that Davis and Montgomery were attracted to songs where everything wasn’t necessarily going to plan.

The ‘Frankie and Johnny’ lovers of “Leaving Home” reveal different strategies for moving on from their troubled relationship, and the protagonist of “May I Sleep In Your Barn Tonight, Mister?” should have anticipated the ‘fox and henhouse’ outcome of his hospitality.

Does sentimentality get better than the included renditions of “Old and Only In The Way” and “Goodbye Mary Dear,” an enduring war-time tale? I suspect not. The bluesy “Highwayman” fits alongside additional ‘blues’ numbers including “Ramblin’ Blues” and “Milwaukee Blues,” a song previously recorded with a different vocal arrangement on Troubled Times and which led Davis on his Charlie Poole exploration.

Long-time Warrior River Boys Marty Hayes (lead and harmony vocals, bass) and Robert Montgomery (banjo) remain within the fold, with Davis contributing his classic-styled mandolin playing and distinctive voice with Stan Wilemon on guitar. Guest fiddler Billy Hurt is featured across the album. The instrumentation is, as expected, top drawer. The closing “Sweet Sunny South” is extended a mite, allowing  all the players to be showcased to excellent effect. Wilemon’s guitar runs on “Ramblin’ Blues” are especially appealing, as are Hurt’s fiddle fills, while Montgomery gets great tone on the opening title track.

Whatever are the reasons, it has been much too long since David Davis & the Warrior River Boys released an album. Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poole is more than a welcome return; this album allows the listener to travel back in time and witness bluegrass’ evolution from old-timey string band and blues foundations to the music we embrace today. More than academic exercise, Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poole is an exemplary example of modern, traditional bluegrass.

 

Willie Nile Sings Bob Dylan- Positively Bob review   Leave a comment

willie-nile-dylan-500.jpgI’ve never been a huge fan of Willie Nile. Nothing against him; I just haven’t consistently sought out his music although I have a handful of his discs on my shelf. Over at Country Standard Time, I have reviewed his latest, a tribute to Bob Dylan- like the world needed another of those. It is an enjoyable listen, offering lively interpretations of mostly familiar songs. You will find my review HERE.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

Various Artists- The Life & Songs of Emmylou Harris review   Leave a comment

emmylouIf every artist I admired as much as I do Emmylou Harris were on a stage, there would only be a handful present. For me, she is one of those that the Americana conversation should start and end with. Regal and responsive, she is a vocalist with few peers and as an interpreter of song she may be the finest I’ve heard.

My 5 star review of the live recording The Life & Songs of Emmylou Harris was published over at the Lonesome Road Review. It is a recording I feel all should hear and see. Atypically, the CD and DVD have slightly different contents, allowing one to hear more of the evening without having to have the package expand to two audio discs. The presentation successfully crosses musical generations unlike most similar tributes.