Sunday, February 7, 2016

John Roberts & Debra Cowan

Ballads Long & Short: The Best of Every Kind
Golden Hind Music

John Roberts, who moved from England to the United States in the 1960s, has long been known for his fine performances and recordings of traditional folksongs – primarily in a duo with fellow British expatriate Tony Barrand. It was at least 45 years ago that I first encountered John and Tony and have seen them often over the decades (and John occasionally as a solo artist).

Debra Cowan is an American singer of traditional songs I first encountered much more recently – maybe 15 years ago. Ballads Long & Short: The Best of Every Kind is the first recorded result of an occasional partnership of John and Debra that began when they booked some split billed concerts together in 2009 and discovered they enjoyed singing together.

The focus on this album – as you might gather from both the album title and past work of both artists – is on traditional balladry (in folk music a ballad is a story song as opposed to a jazz or pop ballad which is any song played slowly or quietly); even the occasional song with a credited writer sounds like a traditional ballad. The approach, too, is very traditional with some of the songs performed a cappella and John’s banjo or concertina as the only instrumentation on most of the others. The only additional musician is Bill Cooley who adds a lovely guitar accompaniment to “Fair Annie.”

Most tracks feature either John or Debra singing together or one or the other singing lead with the other adding a harmony vocal.

The album opens with a nice duet on “Drive Dull Care Away,” a traditional song collected in Prince Edward Island, with a message about how eternity evens out the results for the rich and the poor.

Among the highlights of the songs featuring John are “The Tailor’s Breeches,” a cautionary tale about what can happen when too much wine dulls the senses in the presence of a woman who might be up to no good; and “Jim Jones,” an Australian convict’s ballad.

Debra shines on the lovely “Fair Annie,” the album’s longest ballad; and on Chris Sugden’s “Combing the Mane,” a faux-pirate ballad set on the Spanish Mane that’s a lot of fun.

Other’s I particularly enjoyed include “Gypsum Davy,” a variant of the familiar “Gypsy Laddie” or “Gypsy Davy” ballad; and “Anderson’s Coast,” another Australian song.

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--Mike Regenstreif

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Sussex- Parade Day

Parade Day
Lucky Bear Records

I’ve known Montreal-based singer-songwriter Rob Lutes a long time and have enjoyed watching (and listening) to him develop as a singer, songwriter, guitarist and performer. He knows well how to combine his gritty voice and fluid, blues-based guitar playing into something very compelling. With Sussex, Rob has taken his music to a new level.

Sussex is a collaboration of Rob, who is rooted in folk and blues, and vibraphonist Michael Emenau, whose roots are in classical music and jazz. Rob and Michael played together 25 or so years ago as high school students in New Brunswick and began collaborating again after Michael moved to Montreal in 2011.

Parade Day, the first Sussex album, includes five songs written or co-written by Rob, one by Michael, and five of their songwriting collaborations. They also include a charming cover of Randy Newman’s “Dayton, Ohio – 1903.”

Rob plays acoustic guitar and fronts the band as lead singer while Michael is heard throughout on vibes and occasionally on percussion and piano. And they get some great backup from the likes of guitarist Ben Charest (best known for his infectious film score for Les Triplettes de Bellville); trumpet and flugelhorn player Ivanhoe Jolicoeur; upright bassist Sage Reynolds; and violinist Josh Zubot.

The album opens strongly with “Hollow Log,” a song about maintaining a sense of balance in the face of life’s problems. The vibes weaving in and around the vocal lines give the song an irresistible jazzy-rootsy flavor.

The jazz-meets-roots fusion really comes alive on such numbers as “Truth and Lies,” with some nimble, Reinhardt-like guitar lines by Ben; “Superman’s Escape,” a bouncy song with the vibes, guitars, violin, bass and horn all contributing to the toe-tapping groove; and “Sparkle Blues,” a slow, jazz ballad.

I also really enjoyed Sussex’s take on “Dayton, Ohio – 1903,” a gentle period piece from Randy Newman’s classic 1972 album Sail Away (which was also memorably covered on Priscilla Herdman’s Forgotten Dreams – a 1980 album I had a little something to do with).

Sussex has already launched Parade Day in Quebec City and Montreal. Several more launch concerts are coming up including a show on March 25 here in Ottawa at Irene’s.

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--Mike Regenstreif

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Canadian Spaces – CKCU – Saturday January 23, 2016

CKCU can be heard at 93.1 FM in Ottawa and on the web.

Canadian Spaces on CKCU in Ottawa is Canada’s longest-running folk music radio program. It is heard Saturday mornings from 10:00 am until noon (Eastern time).

It was hosted for more than 33 years by the late Chopper McKinnon and is now hosted by Chris White and a rotating cast of co-hosts.

This week’s show was co-hosted by Mike Regenstreif and Chris White.

Guests: UNAM-Canada Choir; Julie Corrigan; String Masons

Jesse Winchester- All That We Have is Now

Lynn Miles- Wintery Feeling
Winter (Lynn Miles)

Anne Hills & Michael Smith- The Dutchman
Paradise Lost & Found (Redwing)

Anne Lederman with Ian Bell- Two-Step in 3 Keys
Old Man’s Table: Tunes from Grandy Fagnan (Falcon Productions)

Tim O'Brien, Margaret Glaspy, Moira Smiley, Mollie O'Brien, John Magnie, Martin Gilmore, Jayme Stone- Before This Time Another Year
Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project (Borealis)       

Victor Anthony- House of David Blues
Those Nashville Blues (Victor Anthony)

Sussex- Eagle on the Moon
Parade Day (Lucky Bear)

The Lucky Sisters- All That Is
So Lucky (Patio Records)

Garnet Rogers- Old Campfires
Summer’s End (Snow Goose)

Judy Collins- Story of Isaac
Judy Collins Sings Leonard Cohen: Democracy (Elektra/Rhino)

Leonard Cohen- Blessed is the Memory
Songs of Leonard Cohen – 2007 reissue (Columbia/Legacy)

UNAM-Canada Choir- Canción Mixteca
Live on Canadian Spaces

UNAM-Canada Choir- México en la piel
Live on Canadian Spaces

Fred Eaglesmith- Harold Wilson
From the Paradise Motel (Barbed Wire)

Julie Corrigan- Small Town
The Language (Julie Corrigan)

Julie Corrigan- Home
Live on Canadian Spaces

Julie Corrigan- The Lanuage
Live on Canadian Spaces

String Masons- Over the Waterfall
Live on Canadian Spaces

String Masons- Eight More Miles to Louisville
Live on Canadian Spaces

String Masons- Just Like Old Times
Live on Canadian Spaces

The show is now available for online listening.

I’ll be co-hosting Canadian Spaces again on March 5.

Find me on Twitter. @MikeRegenstreif

--Mike Regenstreif