Archive for the ‘William Bell’ Tag

Stax Classics- reviews   Leave a comment

As someone who came to William Bell via William Broad, to Sam & Dave by way of ZZ Top, and Carla Thomas through a (most outstanding and life-changing) Rachel Sweet single, I have spent more than 35 of my years listening to select soul and R&B, with the disparate sounds of Northern Soul (still not sure what counts as N.S. and what doesn’t), southern soul, Memphis soul, Muscle Shoals, and 60s and 70s ‘urban’ music becoming a bit of an obsession the last decade. As a rhythm-less man from Alberta, I do spend most of my time writing about bluegrass, roots, and folks music, but this ‘other side’ of Americana is as natural to me as any dusty troubadour’s latest, metaphor-heavy anthem.

STAX_60_Poster_FrontCelebrating 60 years, the reinvigorated Stax imprint is having select titles re-issued and repackaged this year. Some titles are being issued on vinyl (which I haven’t heard—except as noted, all impressions are based on provided downloads or streams) while a handful of single-artist compilations have also been released and are the focus of today’s writing. Regardless of format, there are several reasons to celebrate these releases.

The single-artist CD compilations are nicely but not lavishly packaged, and are accompanied by informative liner notes providing context, credits, and release and chart details. [Only The Dramatics physical CD release was received for review; presuming the rest of the releases follow similar packaging.] As hinted earlier, William Bell, Sam & Dave, and Carla Thomas have their Stax output distilled to 12-track sets. Additionally, Otis Redding, Booker T & the MGs, Isaac Hayes, The Staple Singers, Johnnie Taylor, and Albert King, and The Dramatics are included in the initial slate of Stax Classics.

Depending on personal experience and preference, some of these artists are likely more familiar than others, and the Stax output of Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Isaac Hayes, and several others are readily encountered digitally, on various compilations, and within the used market. Others within this series will be more revelatory.

Stax DramaticsPersonally, The Dramatics were a group I had little heard. While the others are staples (see what I did there!) on oldies radio as well as satellite outfits including SoulTown on Sirius/XM, I had not knowingly encountered The Dramatics previously; a couple songs revealed themselves as vaguely familiar upon listening. Recording for the Stax subsidiary Volt, included here is their initial single for the label, 1969’s “Your Love Was Strange” (which failed to chart) as well as later Billboard Top 10 hits “In the Rain” (#5 in 1972) and “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” (#9, 1971.) By my count, and confirmed via Wikipedia, six of these songs hit the R&B Top 20 between 1971 and 1973.

Featuring Dennis Coffey’s signature guitar electricity, the group’s vocal manner is uniformly impressive across these dozen tracks. William Howard is a terrific lead vocalist, and Willie Ford gets real low in some spots. At times funky—”Gimme Some (Good Soul Music)” and “Get Up and Get Down”—and at other times lush and headin’ for the covers—”Thank You For Your Love” and”  “Feel For You”—the group also sends messages with “Hey You! Get Off My Mountain” and “The Devil Is Dope.” How I went this long without “And I Panicked” is another indication that there are always new things to discover. Recommended if the Isley Brothers are your sort of thing.

Stax CarlaIf Carla Thomas had only recorded the Hayes/Porter classic “B-A-B-Y,” I do believe it would have been enough to set her in my sights given my affection for Rachel Sweet’s stunning and very different 1978 rendition. Thomas’s “B-A-B-Y” is about as perfect a three-minutes of breezy, pop-soul as has ever been committed to wax. While her biggest hit came in 1967 with Otis on “Tramp,” The Queen of Memphis Soul had considerable pop and R&B chart success with Stax and, with the exception of “Gee Whiz (Look In His Eyes)”, a solid overview of Thomas’s recorded output is distillated herein ranging from 1964’s “I Got No Time to Lose” through to 1969’s “I Love What You’re Doing to Me.” For me, I want more of Thomas and will stick to the albums, but for casual listeners this set will suffice.

Stax HayesThe 54-minute Isaac Hayes Stax Classics album provides a concise peek into one of soul’s true innovators. The hits are included (“Theme from Shaft,” “Never Can Say Goodbye,” “Do Your Thing”), but I prefer the album versions of “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” and “Walk On By” to  the truncated renditions included. Positively, all 9-plus glorious minutes of “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic” are here. Any artist having had the lengthy not to mention influential and important a career as Hayes had cannot be expected to have the definitive contained within a single-disc set. Rather, this package is a mighty introduction for those just coming to Hayes.

Stax AlbertThe strongest representation of the blues presented in these Stax issues comes from Albert King, the man who popularized William Bell/Booker T. Jones’ “Born Under A Bad Sign,” and whose definitive versions of “Cross Cut Blues” and “The Sky Is Crying” either became (depending on perspective) overshadowed by Stevie Ray Vaughn’s emergence, or were brought to greater attention because of it. King’s most successful album for Stax may have been I’ll Play the Blues For You, but only two tracks from that release are included, “I’ll Play the Blues For You, Part 1” and “Breaking Up Somebody’s Home.” The seminal and readily available Born Under A Bad Sign album is well-represented. What we are presented with here is a nice little summation of King’s importance to both Stax specifically and the blues in general. Aficionados will already own the albums, but again—a solid introduction.

Stax TaylorJohnnie Taylor could sing. Most known for his 1976 monster hit “Disco Lady,” as with all the artists contained within this Stax series, there is more to explore beyond the best known material. While Stax had gone bankrupt and missed out on “Disco Lady,” included on this set are the pop and R&B hits “Who’s Making Love,” “Jody’s Got Your Girl and Gone,” “Take Care of Your Homework,” and the very groovy, “Love Bones.” “Cheaper to Keep Her,” “I Believe In You (You Believe In Me)”, and “Steal Away” are additional songs that helped make Taylor one of Stax’ most important acts.

Stax Bell“I Forgot to Be You Lover.” “Born Under a Bad Sign.” “You Don’t Miss Your Water.” “A Tribute to a King.” Just four of the William Bell classics included on his Stax Classics album. A couple numbers with Judy Clay, including the funky “My Baby Specializes,” help shape this too brief examination of Bell. Bell didn’t have as broad-based chart impact some of the other artists included in this series did, although he had his successes, but I would argue that his music has aged the best. Every track here is essential. Then again, Bell is my favourite soul singer. With his current resurgence, thanks to the Grammy-winning This Is Where I Live, I need the full albums—you may be satisfied with this wonderful wee set.

With crystal clear sound, the Stax Classics albums appear to be selling for $7 or $8 in the US (double that plus in Canada) and are available digitally for either $5.99 or $9.99 on iTunes Canada. Well worth the investment, I believe. All are highly recommended as introductions to the label and the artists, and provide excellent but limited overviews of the highlighted artists.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

A Year of Stax? Yes, please.   Leave a comment

I very deliberately don’t normally reprint press releases at Fervor Coulee. Those of you who come here are looking for my Roots Music Opinion, not reposting of news releases that you can see in other places. But, today and only today, I am making an exception. I am really excited about the plans made by Concord Music Group and Rhino Entertainment to celebrate the music of Stax Records, one of my favourite ‘historical’ labels, not to mention a label that is back with some force, having nabbed a Grammy this year for William Bell’s absolutely brilliant (and John Leventhal-produced) This Is Where I Live, one of Fervor Coulee’s Top Ten favourite roots albums of last year.

The folks at Concord and Rhino have significant plans for re-introducing the timeless music of Stax to the marketplace, and their presser-pasted below-goes into details that I would simply be repeating if I was to attempt to rewrite- so why bother? If and when I am able to review some of these releases, I will get my Roots Music Opinion up here and/or at Lonesome Road Review. Although classic soul isn’t really within the LRR wheelhouse, it is well within ‘my’ definition of roots music. I can’t wait to hear what Concord and Rhino have promised, especially the Isaac Hayes set (detailed below) and the Otis/Carla vinyl if they come my way; let’s hope the packaging is as beautiful as the music!

Here is the presser, and watch for updates here and on Twitter as I hear the music-

Los Angeles, CA – Concord Music Group and Rhino Entertainment, Warner Music Group’s catalog division, are proud to announce a joint campaign celebrating the 60th anniversary of iconic soul label, Stax Records. This unique partnership marks the first marketing collaboration of the Stax recordings which have been divided since Atlantic Records split with Stax Records in 1967.

StaxHonoring historic Soulsville, USA in Memphis, TN, curated collections of some of the greatest Stax music will be released on new hits compilations, vinyl LPs, digital hi-resolution remasters and deluxe boxed sets. These releases will showcase timeless Stax hits, plus rare tracks from many of the label’s legendary artists including Otis Redding, Booker T & the MGs, Isaac Hayes, The Staple Singers, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas, Johnnie Taylor, Eddie Floyd, William Bell, Sam & Dave, Albert King, Mable John, The Mad Lads and many more.

The collaboration between Rhino and Concord will kick off with the May 19th launch of the Stax Classics series — announced exclusively on Rolling Stone (4/26) — which consists of ten wallet-friendly collections, each highlighting one of the label’s biggest stars with 12 choice tracks and insightful new liner notes. Available on CD and at all digital retailers and streaming services, these albums will celebrate the prolific Stax careers of Otis Redding, William Bell, Johnnie Taylor, Carla Thomas, Booker T & The MGs, The Dramatics, Albert King, Sam & Dave, Isaac Hayes and The Staple Singers.

Throughout the year, both Concord and Rhino will reissue a variety of iconic Stax albums on vinyl, including a 50th anniversary pressing of Otis Redding and Carla ThomasKing & Queen (Rhino), Melvin Van Peebles’ soundtrack to the groundbreaking Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (Concord), rarity John Gary Williams from The Mad Lads front man (Concord) and Otis Redding’s 1965 classic The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads (Rhino). Also, the forthcoming 4-CD anthology Isaac Hayes: The Spirit of Memphis (1962-1976) will be released in August, 2017 to coincide with the multitalented artist’s 75th birth anniversary. In addition, both labels will collaborate on a three-CD Stax 60th set, plus a new installment in the critically acclaimed Complete Stax Singles boxed set series. Volume Four will focus on the diverse nature of the label’s catalog, featuring singles released not only on Stax and Volt, but also Enterprise, Hip, Chalice, Gospel Truth and more. Both Rhino and Concord will also continue an overhaul of digital releases, re-delivering a handful of popular titles in high-resolution and Mastered for iTunes formats, as well as making many albums available to streaming and digital services for the first tim

This soulful partnership marks a special moment in history for the label, and both Rhino and Concord are proud to have the opportunity to collaborate after nearly 50 years. “The Stax catalog features some of the greatest and most culturally significant albums and singles of all time and continues to resonate with music fans 60 years later,” says Mark Pinkus, President of Rhino Entertainment. “We are thrilled to be partnering with Concord’s team on a wide array of new releases fitting of such an important moment in the Stax legacy.”

Sig Sigworth, Chief Catalog Officer of Concord Bicycle Music, Concord Music Group’s mother company, also notes that “Stax has a great history of bringing people together—songwriters, musicians, singers and fans from around the world.  It’s in this same tradition that we are very pleased to work with Mark and his team to bring together both sides of this incredible catalog while celebrating 60 years of Soulsville, US

Founded in 1957 by Memphis banker and fiddle player Jim Stewart, the Memphis label was a labor of love for Stewart, who oversaw operations initially with his sister Estelle Axton and then associate Al Bell. “On the anniversary of Stax Records’ 60th, this Concord/Rhino collaboration signals the beginning of the end of a bitter-sweet relationship between Stax and Atlantic,” says Stewart. “It’s long-overdue and a good omen for the unending popularity of the very best of Memphis Soul music.” “Stax Records,” Mr. Stewart continues, “was my baby.  Stax music was and always will be inspirational. I am so pleased that the music we created and recorded at Stax is still being discovered, and it continues to reside in the hearts of devotees everywhere that know the joy and power of ‘real’ music.”

Stewart and Axton, who changed the name of the label from Satellite Records to Stax in 1960, soon had a self-contained soul music powerhouse, complete with its own recording studio, a growing staff of A&R personnel, songwriters, producers, an inimitable house band, as well as Stax Publicist, Deanie Parker, who continues to fortify the legacy of Stax in Soulsville, USA. “Through the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, the label’s rich musical and cultural history can be studied, felt and enjoyed,” Parker offers. “Stax’s iconic hits and artists come to life through students at the Stax Music Academy and live on thanks to The Soulsville Charter School. And now, partners Concord and Rhino are unleashing some of the first R&B songs from the womb of Stax Records—music that we’ve grown up loving for more than half a century. It’s free at last,” Parker adds.

During its 15-year run, Stax released more than 800 singles and nearly 300 LPs, winning eight GRAMMY® Awards, plus an Academy Award along the way. The label placed more than 167 hit songs in the Top 100 pop charts, and a staggering 243 hits in the Top 100 R&B charts. Today, the original site of Stax Records is home to The Soulsville Foundation, which operates the multi-million dollar campus that houses the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, as well as the Stax Music Academy and The Soulsville Charter School, both of which serve primarily at-risk, inner-city youth. The Soulsville Foundation aims to impart the spirit and soul upon which Stax Records was founded: using the power of music and opportunity to shape a young person’s life, rebuild a community and keep valuable history alive forever.

Fervor Coulee’s Favourite Roots Albums of 2016   1 comment

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 substantial time reviewing the roots/Americana/whatever you want to call them, if they are on the No Depression list I might have considered them, and even if they aren’t I still may have albums I heard during the past year, and have come up with my definitive (at least for today) list of Favourite Roots Albums of 2016. Of course, your kilometreage 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 roots 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.

I’ve already posted my Favourite Bluegrass Albums of 2016, and while bluegrass is an essential part of roots music, I’ve chosen not to intermingle the ‘grass into this list. Reason? This way I get to praise more albums. If you care about such stuff, my favourite bluegrass album of the year, Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands’ The Hazel and Alice Sessions would also top this list if I were to include bluegrass amongst the roots. Likely the top six bluegrass albums would have made my top 20 roots albums, and I likely would have found space for Sam Bush, too…

The number rankings, once past four or five, don’t mean much more than a way for me to stay organized: feel free to move your favourite up a spot or three. Full reviews are linked as artist/title.

My Favourite Roots Albums of 2016 are…

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1.Mark Erelli- For a Song Likely the album I listened to second most all year. Erelli has been at the top of his game over the past number of years, both with his bluegrass band Barnstar!, as an interpreter of others’ music (his Bill Morrissey album of a couple years back, Milltowns,) as a pissed off (alternately, disappointed) topical folkie of the Woody Guthrie vein (“By Degrees,”) and on his latest full length release, For A Song. For a Song is a quiet album, yearnsome and blue in turn, reflective, observant, and above all honest; the album wove its way into my soul, making me appreciate what I understand and consider that which I don’t. I just wish he would show up in Alberta some time.

2.Maria Dunn- Gathering One of Alberta’s foremost folk musicians returns with her sixth collection of lyrically-rich gems. An artist who places her convictions and heart on display in complementary proportions, Dunn has found balance between sharing the inspirational and compelling within songs that are insightful, artfully constructed, and just plain enjoyable. There will always be more than a bit of the Celtic lands in Dunn’s music, and throughout Gathering African, Asian, and Canadian First Nations influences can also be heard. Like the finest troubadours, Dunn communicates: she is the vessel through which others exist. She reveals the innermost, personal, and captivatingly universal perspectives and insights of devoted parents, the down-trodden challenged by circumstance, those connected to the land by more than choice, and the youthful who rise above.

Certainly one of the finest recordings to be released this year. Those who compare Maria Dunn to Woody Guthrie, Hazel Dickens, Jean Ritchie, and Buffy Sainte-Marie aren’t taking the easy way out: with the release of Gathering she demonstrates that she is an international folk artist of significance.

3.Jenny Whiteley- The Original Jenny Whiteley On this recording, Whiteley satisfies a desire to more fully explore the music that provided the foundation for her development—old-time folk sounds that have existed and thrived for generations. A recognition of her rich and diverse Americana/Canadiana upbringing within the venerable Whiteley clan, this fifth recording is a rootsy masterpiece. In a lesser artist’s hands such a multi-dimensional homage might sound disjointed; The Original Jenny Whiteley is united in its eccentric melding of the rich traditional and roots tapestry—folk, jugband, bluegrass, early jazz and ragtime, Francophone, Dylan, and the blues.

4.The Honeycutters- On The Ropes Fronted by Amanda Anne Platt, the Honeycutters offer up country sounds that have a bit of rock ‘n’ roll push, a combination that enhances rather than detracts from their honky-tonk foundation. Their instrumental interplay is excellent, and Platt has an incredible voice, as powerful as needed and as tender as desired. There exists an intimacy within these songs, all but one written by Platt, and that intensity allows the songs (and their performance) to make personal connections with listeners.

The Dixie Chicks seem a reasonable comparison. Playfully rambunctious and justly pointed, a song like “Let’s Get Drunk” resonates: “…and if the ship is really sinking what’s the use in waiting til it’s sunk? Baby, we’re already drinking, so we might as well get drunk.” Where was she 35 years ago?!

5.Western Centuries- Weight of the World I am sure it is no coincidence that the debut album from Western Centuries vaguely resembles the self-titled release from a late 60s band of considerable Americana-roots influence. Fronted by a trio of songwriters, each singing their own songs with distinctiveness, Western Centuries is a modern country band that encourages cerebral shifts as readily as it does two-stepping shuffles. Drawing inspiration from generations of country honky tonk singers and their bands, Western Centuries is something many of us are continually pursuing—a genuine country band that doesn’t take the easy way reinterpreting familiar songs, but rather pushes their talents toward creating modern classics. Weight of the World is pert darn special.

6.Robbie Fulks- Upland Stories Stone classic this one is. Nominated for a Grammy for “Alabama at Night”—wait a second, Robbie Fulks is nominated for a Grammy! Let that percolate for a minute. Maybe 2016 wasn’t an entirely awful year! There are a dozen memorable songs on Upland Stories, none indistinguishable from those surrounding it. Maybe not Fulks’ most exciting or dynamic album (tough to beat those early albums,) but maybe his best.

7.William Bell- This Is Where I Live I have to admit, when I saw a tweet from Rosanne Cash about a new William Bell album, my first thought was “Is that like the Pop Staples album of last year?” Because I truly thought William Bell was dead. Idiot, me. I first heard William Bell after Billy Idol covered “To Be A Lover,” playing the crap out of that pink Soul of a Bell album in the mid-to late-80s. I’ve now played This Is Where I Live as many times. A beautiful sounding, complete album. Another Grammy nominee. Tied with #8 for Comeback of the Year.

8.The Monkees- Good Times! Hands down, my most played album of the year. No Depression has it on their year-end list, so that makes it roots enough for me. “She Makes Me Laugh,” “You Bring the Summer,” and “Love to Love” are just great songs. Pure pop for old people.

9.Caleb Klauder and Reeb Willms- Innocent Road Featuring the Caleb Klauder Country Band, Innocent Road is comprised of a half-dozen Kluader songs, a few obscure covers, and a healthy dollop of familiar country classics from the likes of Buck Owens and George Jones. The kicker is a track from Paul Burch’s stunning Fool For Love album, “C’est le Moment (If You’re Gonna Love Me,)” artfully sung by Willms.

As much as I enjoy Prine and DeMent and Robison and Willis, I think I might just prefer what this duo accomplishes. There is no artifice within these recordings, no hint of sly aside.

10.Northern Cree- It’s A Cree Thing North America’s original roots music perhaps? Northern Cree are a drum group from Alberta, and It’s A Cree Thing has also been nominated for a Grammy, the seventh time this group from Saddle Lake has been recognized in this manner. It’s A Cree Thing is a powerful collection of round dance songs full of energy, personality, and history. “Oh, That Smile” should be a hit single! Gorgeous.

11.Darrell Scott- Couchville Sessions With consistency his strong suit, and similar in most ways to his breakthrough album Family Tree, Couchville Sessions is a welcoming listening experience highlighted by Scott’s warmly distinctive voice and diverse presentation choices. Recorded around the same time Scott was starting to ‘break’ 15 years ago—working with Tim O’Brien and Guy Clark then—this is a set of well-aged performances captured in Scott’s living room, the gestation of which are disguised within the sultry “Come Into This Room.” It provides continuing evidence that Scott is one of Americana’s most vibrant visionaries.

12.Matt Patershuk- I Was So Fond of You Back in January or so of this year, I was listening to the radio and a four-song set was played-some combination of Corb Lund, Guy Clark, John Fulbright, and Patershuk, and I recall realizing that I couldn’t tell which of those guys was from La Glace, Alberta and making his living in construction. Put his songs on WDVX, and Patershuk would sound as comfortable alongside Darrell Scott, Fred Eaglesmith, and Chris Stapleton. Heck, add Sturgill Simpson, Hayes Carll, and the rest to the list. Patershuk is the real deal, folks. If you are missing the country, the kind of country music recorded in the days when there was more grease and a little less gloss, check out I Was So Fond of You.

13.Eric Brace & Peter Cooper- C & O Canal I suspect that I would enjoy passing time about a round table with a cool beverage in my hand in the company of either Eric Brace or Peter Cooper. Two of my favourite musicians, songwriters, and wordsmiths, Cooper and Brace have released a strong slate of albums over the past decade. C & O Canal, their latest, pays homage to the folk and bluegrass music the two encountered in Washington, DC in the 70s and 80s.

14.Rory Block- Keepin’ Outta Trouble A tribute to Bukka White, this set is so strong that it deserves a place in my Top 20 rather than as part of my tributes/collections list that is still being assembled. Block goes beyond White’s music, creating original music inspired by his life and his approach to the blues. With attention to detail, but an even greater sense of purpose, Block enlivens these performances with a balance of passion and precision that breathes life into oft-encountered numbers. Her voice is magic, and her approach to blues guitar is clean, restrained, and just damn fine beautiful.

15.Dori Freeman- Dori Freeman Freeman isn’t interested in presenting herself as some social archeology project, the mountain singer untouched by modern sway. She is a contemporary vocalist, one touched by the influences of her rural mountain upbringing as well as less-rustic contributions. She is a folk singer, a country singer, and a pop singer, all rolled into one appealing vocal package. Having written these ten songs, Freeman most obviously has her own viewpoint and voice, one that has been honed by producer Teddy Thompson; the focus of the arrangements, musicians, and production choices remain on Freeman and her songs.

16.Red Tail Ring- Far Away Blues How did this relatively unheralded set have such a significant impact on me that it took about two months to (barely) uncover the words to attempt a review? It is danged freakin’ good. This Michigan duo of Laurel Premo and Michael Beauchamp is incredible. They have the rare ability to inhabit songs, removing the barrier of time, place, and reality between their performance of ancient tunes “Yarrow” and “Come All Ye Fair & Tender Ladies,” their own timely compositions, the recorded medium, and the audience. You are transported into the recording, watching the pair lean into their songs as they maintain eye contact to communicate chords and progressions.

17.Chicago Farmer- Midwest Side Stories Cody Diekhoff—okay, Chicago Farmer—doesn’t set out to do anything fancy on Midwest Side Stories. He has insight into the experiences and internal dialogues of contemporary working class folks, and has the artistic ability to convert these into songs of substance and interest. “Skateboard Song” touches on a whole lot of stuff—youthful disenchantment, small-mindedness, finger-pointing, and police harassment, just to start—over a hard-beaten melody that would do both Weezer and Dan Bern proud. Chicago Farmer’s mid-western insights do not limit these songs: they appeal whether you are rural or urban, upstate or down, blue- or white- collar, Canadian or American. “Rocco N’ Susie” are our neighbours, the ones we don’t really know, but are more like us than we care to admit—a couple pay cheques away from foreclosure, a few months from desolation, several bad decisions from remand. The gradual journey from independence to dependence is identified in “Farms & Factories,” suspicion thrives in “Revolving Door,” and the night shift margins are explored on “9 pm to 5.”

18.Margo Price- Midwest Farmer’s Daughter I had several albums circling around these final spots, and I went with the ones I did because of their genuineness, their apparent authenticity. There is little to suggest Price considered market configurations or sales ramifications when compiling the songs for this release. Like Hazel Dickens did and Brandy Clark does, Price sings and writes of true life situations, and like Dickens (but not so much Clark) she doesn’t add a lot of spit and polish to the music. When I hear “Four Years of Chances,” “Hurtin’ On the Bottle,” “Desperate and Depressed,” and “This Town Gets Around,” I imagine I’m experiencing something similar to what folks felt listening to Loretta Lynn for the first time more than fifty years ago; still, I don’t think Loretta ever sang of blow jobs.

19.Corey Isenor- A Painted Portrait (Of the Classic Ruse) This is country music. Just not country music. There are times, as in “From Towers to Windmills,” that I am reminded of New Order (“Love Vigilantes.”) At other points Isenor’s approach reminds me of Matthew Lovegrove’s Woodland Telegraph: sparse, minimalist and achingly poignant (“Queen of Calgary” and “Diamonds on the Moon.”) “The Navy Blues” is catchy and complex, with Andrew Sneddon’s pedal steel providing additional melancholy. Rebecca Zolkower and Desiree Gordon’s vocals lend depth to several songs, as do Liam Frier’s guitar contributions. Alt-country continues with Corey Isenor.

20. Grant-Lee Phillips- The Narrows Sometimes you locate an album never realizing you were looking for it. The Narrows is one of those albums. I have a couple Grant-Lee Phillips albums, ones I listened to a few times upon purchase and then filed away in the drawers. I was looking around the internet one night a few months back and clicked on a video link for “Tennessee Rain.” Before the song was finished playing, I had gone into iTunes and hit Buy. Raucous in places (“Rolling Pin”) and atmospheric elsewhere, the deluxe edition of the album provides additional takes that extend the pleasure of the listen. While the Drive By Truckers delivered a more timely and angry disc, GLP produced the more enduring one.

I’m out of words, but also enjoyed these discs:

Brandy Clark- Big Day in a Small Town; Mary Chapin Carpenter- The Things That We Are Made Of; Parker Millsap- The Very Last Day; Lori McKenna- The Bird & the Rifle; Paul Gauthen- My Gospel; Loretta Lynn- Full Circle; Mandolin Orange- Blindfaller; Blackie & the Rodeo Kings- Kings & Kings; Chely Wright- I Am the Rain; Steve Forbert- Flying at Night; and Drive-By Truckers- American Band;

As an aside or addition, my favourite Roots Compilations/Tributes/Reissues of the year are, in no particular order:

VA- 40 Years of Stony Plain

J D Crowe & the New South- S/T vinyl 

Gillian Welch- Boots No. 1- The Official Revival Bootleg

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band- Circlin’ Back: Celebrating 50 Years

VA- Wayfaring Strangers: Cosmic American Music

VA- God Don’t Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson

VA- Just Love: A Tribute to Audrey Auld Mezera

VA- The Life and Songs of Emmylou Harris

VA- Fast Folk: A Tribute to Jack Hardy

Merl Saunders and Jerry Garcia- Keystone Companions: The Complete 1973 Fantasy Recordings vinyl box

(Not included in the above list are excellent tribute [or tribute-ish] albums from Del McCoury Band, Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands, The Earls of Leicester, Rory Block, Jenny Whiteley [tribute to her family’s musical roots,] and Eric Brace/Peter Cooper, all of which made my top Bluegrass or Roots album lists.)

Finally, some 2015 albums didn’t get as much attention from me last year as they did in 2016, for a variety of reasons. But, man- did I play the heck out of them this year: Linda McRae- Shadow Trails; Chris Stapleton- Traveller; Josh Ritter- Sermon on the Rocks; Sam Baker- Say Grace; and Steve Forbert- Compromised.

BUY SOME MUSIC, DAMMIT! Roots musicians deserve our support.

Best for the New Year, Donald