Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Here's a snazzy set of Western swing and roots music, from a band so western, they're based in Banff National Park. The Wardens are named for what they know; two of the members are actual veterans of the park warden service, doing all those marvelous jobs, from protecting the wildlife to rescuing folks out a bit too far in the wilderness. All the while they were collecting stories, and now are passing on those tales in song, which are as colourful and unique as the cowboy music of the region. Warden culture, they call it. and this is their second collection.
Produced by roots music vet Leeroy Stagger, the acoustic trio is aided by all the right sounds, from dobro to fiddle to banjo. The Wardens aren't overly-polished singers, but you don't want them to be. They are campfire-casual and pleasing, with ragged-but-right harmonies. The story-telling is what really matters here, including The Ballad Of Bill Neish, the true story of a Banff warden who helped end a 1935 manhunt for outlaws who had killed four policemen, by shooting two of them in the woods. Troop Train was created using the poetry of Dale Mainprize, a railroad brakeman who had been in a terrible crash in the 1950's. They have their own tales to pass on as well, including Backfire, about wildfires in 2003, where the service had to use fire to fight fire in order to save Banff. It's a slice of Canadian culture I didn't realize existed, and we're richer for it for sure.
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Cormier is already a favourite musician on the East Coast, working in jazz and world music, as well as classical. His desire to do things differently led to his playing classical guitar with a flat pick, and it's not just a worthy experiment, it's a revelation. The tone, the crispness of the notes, the occasional vibrato, it all combines for a mesmerizing listening experience. There's a wonderful, fast pace at times, and combined with the metallic quality, it almost sounds like a plucked keyboard. That hypnotic quality comes into play on the final track here, a version of the Bach/Gounod version of Ave Maria, where he is joined by mezzo-soprano Aurélie Cormier. It's captivating and quite accessible as well, the solo beauty of the guitar work not a stretch for anyone, no matter your tastes.
This collection celebrates the output of the Bad Seeds band, as opposed to Nick Cave himself, so you won't find his soundtrack work here, or old Birthday Party cuts. Certainly there's enough to examine in the 30 years covered here. Available in several packages, including CD, digital and vinyl, you also get the choice of one, two or three CD's worth, plus a two-hour DVD of live appearances. The more, the better of course.
Cave and his colleagues exist in extremes. Loud is very loud, quiet is nearly hushed, experiments are wild. Cave's lyrics are disarming and disconcerting and even scary, and his topics elemental: God, death, love, sex, violence, all at their most intense. It's not mere shock value, although there are plenty of shocking moments. This is a band that refuses to blink, and insists on examining the darkest corners. It's not for the faint of heart, but if you are brave enough to follow along, you'll find deep understanding.
Along the journey, Cave learned a few tricks, and the group changed from a raw wound to a softer presence. Cave had realized the quiet made his love songs, such as Into My Arms that much more potent. Later on, they became something terribly out of fashion, an actual rock and roll band, about as powerful as has ever been, steering his new anthems such as There She Goes, My Beautiful World and Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! At his best, Cave approaches the lyrical strengths of Dylan and Cohen, but with the decadence and darkness of Lou Reed.
The DVD is a fine addition, featuring some brief interview sections that give some insight into Cave's drive, but never too long to get dull. The performances come from all over, including raw YouTube footage, commercial DVD cuts and TV appearances. There's some very strong material from British TV shows, and a live MTV version of the legendary Aussie pairing of Cave and Kylie Minogue on Where The Wild Roses Grow from his Murder Ballads album. Cave's work is going to be examined for a long time, and will probably only grow in stature.
Monday, May 22, 2017
This is Krall's most popular style, her intimate takes on classic vocal numbers, with small combos supporting her piano work. There are a few selections with large string sections, but they are kept as subtle as possible by producer Tommy Lipuma, a gentle accent rather than a lush addition. As always, Krall is able to breathe life and surprising swing into chestnuts such as L-O-V-E (the Nat King Cole number), and Blue Skies.
There are three tasty groups featured on the 11 cuts. The smallest features only Christian McBride on bass and Russell Malone on guitar. The next set has John Clayton Jr. on bass, Anthony Wilson on guitar, and adds drummer Jeff Hamilton. There are lots of smart arrangements that let each player shine, Krall certainly not a spotlight hog on the piano. The most interesting numbers feature a fascinating group long-time Dylan bass player Tony Garnier, drummer Karriem Riggins, the great Marc Ribot on guitar (Tom Waits, Elvis Costello) and most surprisingly, fiddler Stuart Duncan, known for bluegrass and beyond. As top-notch as the other tracks are, I would have loved to hear a whole album with this group, On Moonglow, Duncan winds his way around Krall's vocal, and then takes a solo that sets the song apart from the Songbook era. Then Ribot and Krall come in with their own inspired breaks.
Again, this takes nothing away from the fine versions elsewhere on the album, especially when Moonglow is followed by Blue Skies, where McBride, Malone and especially Krall are on fire, taking the song at a delightful pace. But I can't get enough of the that fiddle band.
Wednesday, May 17, 2017
There is a lot of strong blues music coming out of Houston these days, featured on the Connor Ray Music label. It's been signing up local veterans with plenty of touring experience, the ones who prove it night after night. Not getting down to Houston much (read: never) they are all new names to me, but it's obvious they are first-rate, the kind I'd want to discover at a classic roadhouse. I found out about harp player Steve Krase back in December of 2016 when I heard him all over the latest album by singer Trudy Lynn, took note that he had his own group, and waited for the next album from him.
Luckily, it didn't take long. Here Krase takes the vocal mic as well, and brings his tight, good-time band to fore, with a set of band originals and cool covers. As you'd expect, and hope, there's plenty of sharp harp punctuating each cut, What I like about him is that he's not a huffer-and-puffer; he's controlling the thing, to make sure he's getting the right melody and solo lines out of it. Where many simply rely on volume to cover a couple of bars, Krase is joining in with parts. On Should've Seen It Coming (written by his brother David Krase), he joins lines started by sax player Alisha Pattillo. He also leaves room for the others, wisely letting piano player Randy Wall shine on that same track, along with an awesome jazzy guitar solo by David Carter.
The band is clearly most comfortable playing fun material, and takes off when there's a light-hearted groove to grab, such as on Travellin' Mood, and the Arthur Alexander hit Shot Of Rhythm and Blues, a Cavern Club favourite of The Beatles and covered later by Van Morrison. Krase's own The World's Still In A Tangle is advice for the world-weary to stop getting beaten down by all the negative stuff on the news: "There's salmonella in my burger/it's in my nuggets too/e coli in my lettuce/what am I to do?" I'll repeat what I said about Trudy Lynn's album; This is a group I would rush to see, and stay for each set.
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
For his second album, Stapleton continued on that classic path. He recorded the album in the famous RCA Studio A in Nashville, founded by Chet Atkins and Owen Bradley. That's the room, in From A Room, and Volume 1 means he has another bunch of tracks to come out later this year from the sessions. This one is a little brief, with just nine songs, but it's still another fine blast of fresh air for the country world. Stapleton proud of his twang, as a good Kentucky son of a coal miner should be, and he sounds like a real country singer. The music is just rough enough to let us know is about feel and substance, not the trends. You get the feeling he can knock out these songs one a day, and has lots of great music to make now that he's an artist in his own right.
Broken Halos is a hardy opener, a country-rock anthem that Mellencamp and even Springsteen might drool over. Surprisingly for a prolific writer, he drops a cover version in, with a great version of the Willie Nelson hit Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning, which once again lets you know where he's coming from. Judging by the reaction to Stapleton's music so far, a lot of people like where he's taking country.
Monday, May 15, 2017
Nova Scotia's Mikol moves back and forth between folk and singer-songwriter songs, with some contemporary effects in there to add some layers. Some of the lyrics have a deliberately ancient approach, such as Spirits, with its "Fill my cup, fill my cup boys, with spirits and good luck" chorus, complete with fiddle, bodhran and bouzouki. Cape Breton Child has a more modern rock sound and lyrics but retains the folk pride, declaring "I was born and raised and I'm going to stay a Cape Breton Child."
There's still plenty of room for new sounds and current affairs though. First single Hold feels like a shout-out to the masses, advising them to hold on while lots of political, economic and authority voices are saying give up. Caroline, with its raw guitar, is about a troubled path for a renegade. It's back in time for the closing tracks, with Last Hour's Wage about hard times at home trying to scrape together enough money, while Dust To Dust returns to the connection between land and self. These new folk songs feel like old wisdom brought forward to today, when we need them again in a bad way.