Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Jesse Winchester – A Reasonable Amount of Trouble

A Reasonable Amount of Trouble
Appleseed Recordings

My review of A Reasonable Amount of Trouble, the late Jesse Winchester’s final studio album, is now available on the Montreal Gazette website.

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--Mike Regenstreif

Helen Verger Award

Mike Regenstreif receives the Helen Verger Award from Mark Monahan.

I was humbled and honoured this past weekend to be this year’s recipient of the Helen Verger Award from the Ottawa Folk Festival.

Named in honour of the late Helen Verger, the founder of Rasputin’s Folk Café in Ottawa, the award is presented annually to “to an individual who has made significant, sustained contributions to folk/roots music in Canada.”

Year after year at the Ottawa Folk Festival, I’ve seen the Helen Verger Award presented to an incredible collection of folks and, every year, I’ve thought to myself what great choices each was for the award. Almost all of them have been people I know – including many friends. In the Weavers’ version of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” they sing, “We are travelling in the footsteps of those who’ve gone before,” and, indeed, it is such a great privilege to see my name join theirs in the list of Helen Verger Award recipients.

Thank you so much to the Ottawa Folk Festival, to Mark Monahan and to Ana Miura, for this tremendous honour.

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--Mike Regenstreif

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Shelley Posen – Roseberry Road

Roseberry Road
Well Done Music

On Roseberry Road, Shelley Posen – a member of Finest Kind, the Ottawa-based vocal trio known for their exquisite harmonies – presents a set of 16 well-crafted songs in a variety of styles written over the past decade-and-a-half.

The album opening title song – named for the street in suburban Toronto where Shelley spent his early childhood – is among the highlights. It’s a sweet, lovely and nostalgic reminiscence filled with personal and very specific memories.

Another is “The Campfire Song,” about singing around a campfire and the kind of songs that get sung there. I developed much of my earliest appreciation for folk music from sing-alongs at summer camp in the 1960s and the song brings back a lot of those memories for me.

A few other favorites include “The Gazebo on the Oswegatche,” which seems like it could have been a 1920s pop tune; “The Basket’s Song,” which Shelly sings from the perspective of a basket woven in 1903 as it tells its history from creation to museum exhibit; “Canoeing My Troubles Away,” a country waltz that celebrates getting away from city life; and the closer, “Thanks for the Song,” an end-of-the-night farewell after a fulfilling concert or any kind of gathering for singing and sharing music.

Shelley uses a wide variety of styles on these songs and each features musicians specifically chosen to bring something special to it. Just a few of the contributing players include producer Paul Mills on banjo, guitarist Rick Whitelaw, violinists Anne Lindsay and Mika Posen (Shelley’s daughter), and bassists Dennis Pendrith and David Woodhead.

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--Mike Regenstreif

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Rosalie Sorrels reissues – Travelin’ Lady & Whatever Happened to the Girl That Was

Travelin’ Lady
original LP on Sire

Whatever Happened to the Girl That Was
original LP on Paramount

I first met Rosalie Sorrels, the great singer, songwriter and storyteller, in 1970 when she was in Montreal to play at the too-short-lived Back Door Coffee House. It was a four or five night gig and while she there she wrote “Travelin’ Lady,” which became her signature song and gave her next LP its title.

Travelin’ Lady was her current album when I started to produce concerts for Rosalie in Montreal and it was followed by Whatever Happened to the Girl That Was, a year or so later.

(In the late-‘70s, Rosalie was one of my clients for a couple of years when I operated a folk music booking agency.)

Of all of Rosalie’s albums, these were the only two on major labels and like many albums by non-mainstream artists on the majors, they went out-of-print much too soon.

While most of Rosalie’s albums from over the years have been reissued on CD at one time or another, these two never were until a few years ago when they were put out in Asia by Big Pink, a reissue label in South Korea. Here in North America, they had to be ordered expensively over the Internet (with even more expensive shipping charges).

Those LPs meant a lot to me so after Rosalie assured me she was actually earning royalties from the reissues, I ordered them and they took their place in my complete collection of Rosalie Sorrels CDs.

At age 81 and with some health issues, Rosalie can no longer travel and perform but her son Kevin Sorrels (who I've not seen since he was a kid) is operating her website and is making the two CDs available as a package deal as a way of generating some extra income for her. I believe Kevin is selling copies of the albums he's had manufactured domestically, but the price is significantly cheaper than what I paid a few years ago to order the albums from South Korea.

Travelin’ Lady, with liner notes by Hunter S. Thompson, was highlighted by three of Rosalie’s best songs: “Travelin’ Lady,” the story of her life on the road; “Postcard From India,” a philosophical tribute to endurance and acceptance; and “Rosalie, You Can’t Go Home Again.” Written at a time when Rosalie’s marriage had broken up and she was out on the road earning a hard living for herself and her five kids. The song is about the need to stand on her own and move forward.

Another highlight is Bruce “Utah” Phillips’ “Rock Me to Sleep,” one of the best songs ever about how the commercial music business can suck music and its creators dry.

Whatever Happened to the Girl That Was which features some country, blues and folk-rock arrangements includes some fine examples of Rosalie’s original songwriting but my favorite songs on it are her interpretations of several other writers’ works.

Among them are three songs about the ravages of too much alcohol or the reasons that lead to too much drinking. Gary White’s “Nobody’s,” named for a Greenwich Village bar from back in the day, captures the feelings of loneliness and despair of a woman in pain. The song includes the line that gave the LP its title and I think Rosalie sang it son convincingly because she’s lived those feelings herself. Paul Geremia’s “Elegant Hobo,” arranged very differently from Paul’s own version, let us know that any of us could someday be that hobo, while “The Toast,” also by Gary White, is a powerful late night bar closer about the reasons too many people have been lost in the haze of alcohol. Sung a cappella, Rosalie’s version of the song cuts directly through to the heart.

Rosalie Sorrels & Mike Regenstreif (1993)
The other highlights include a powerful version of Bruce “Utah” Phillips’ “Rock, Salt and Nails,” a bitter song Bruce always refused to sing himself; “Hall of Fame,” Joe Dolce’s declaration of independence from the commercial music business; and Mitch Greenhill’s “Brightwood Fire,” about the thoughts and feelings running through the head of an insomniac unable to sleep.

With reissues of Travelin’ Lady and Whatever Happened to the Girl That Was now available, I’m waiting and hoping for a reissue of Moments of Happiness, now Rosalie’s only album from the 44 or so years that I’ve known her that has never come out on CD.

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--Mike Regenstreif