Sunday, June 28, 2009

Jackie Washington 1919-2009

Jackie Washington, the legendary folk/jazz/blues singer, guitarist, pianist and raconteur from Hamilton passed away yesterday at age 89.

From the first time I heard Jackie, at the Mariposa Folk Festival – I think in 1974, maybe ’75 – to the shows I produced for him at the Golem in Montreal until the final concert I saw him do last year with Ken Whiteley and Mose Scarlett at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa, I loved being in his audience. He was a wonderful performer with a seemingly endless repertoire of standards and obscurities. Just as good were the opportunities to sit and visit with him off-stage where the stories and songs would always continue to flow. In 2004, Jackie did a wonderful interview with me on Folk Roots/Folk Branches.

As a guitar player, he had a sense of chords and rhythm that I’ve only ever heard from two other players: the late Freddie Green of the Count Basie Band and the late Ted Bogan of Martin, Bogan & Armstrong. Close your eyes, point your ears to the sky and maybe you’ll hear Jackie sitting in a circle with Freddie and Ted having one heaven of a jam session.

To be in Jackie’s presence was to feel the joy of music and the joy of being alive. I’ll have a Folk Roots/Folk Branches radio feature honouring Jackie sometime in the coming weeks.

This picture, taken in the green room at Library & Archives Canada on May 8, 2008, is of Sneezy Waters, Ken Whiteley and me all kneeling behind Jackie.

--Mike Regenstreif

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Diana Jones -- Better Times Will Come

Diana Jones
Better Times Will Come
Proper American

Diana Jones released a couple of albums in the 1990s – which I’ve never heard and are now out-of-print – but her breakthrough as a major folk music artist came with My Remembrance of You, an excellent album she released in 2006. The CD revealed an extraordinary songwriter who crafts seemingly plain and simple songs that are actually fully developed character studies wedded to timeless melodies. Better Times Will Come, Diana’s new album, is every bit as good as its predecessor.

I was already familiar with a couple of these songs from versions by other artists. The first is “Henry Russell’s Last Words,” recorded last year by Joan Baez on Day After Tomorrow, a deeply moving true story based on a letter written with a piece of coal on a paper bag by a trapped and dying miner after a mine explosion in 1927. The other is “If I Had a Gun,” whose key line, “one to the heart, one to the head,” gave Gretchen Peters the title to her superb CD released early this year. That song – co-written with Celeste Krenz, Rebecca Folsom and Liz Barnez, the only song on the CD not wholly written by Diana – is sung from the perspective of a battered woman imagining she had the power to drop her abuser with a couple of shots.

Diana, herself, is not the protagonist in many of these songs. But, there is certainly something of her in some of them. Diana was an adoptee who, in adulthood, found her birth mother and developed a relationship with her. She draws on that experience in the poignant “All God’s Children,” the story of an 18-year-old adoptee beginning her own search to find her birth mother.

Other highlights include “Better Times Will Come,” the title track, a hopeful song for our current hard times, “Cracked and Broken,” an affirmation that true beauty is to be found in imperfection, and “Soldier Girl,” sung from the perspective of a woman soldier headed off to serve in some place like Iraq or Afghanistan. The song touches on the class differences that draw some poor people into trying to find some measure of security in the military.

Diana Jones is not a me-oriented singer-songwriter. Her songs are deeply influenced by folk traditions and stand tall in the company of timeless traditional folk songs.

--Mike Regenstreif

Monday, June 22, 2009

Rodney Brown -- Northland

Rodney Brown
North Land
Starslik Records

Rodney Brown is a veteran singer-songwriter from Thunder Bay who meticulously researches and finely crafts songs that tell stories mostly drawn from the history of northern Ontario.

Among the historical figures encountered on North Land are William McGillivray, for whom Brown’s hometown of Fort William was named (Fort William was merged with Port Arthur to create Thunder Bay). In “I Followed You Down,” Brown retraces McGillivray’s early life, before he came to Canada, in Scotland and England. He follows that song with “McGillivray’s Dream,” a song based on Lord of the North West, Marjorie Wilkins Campbell’s biography of McGillivray in which he sings in awe of McGillivray’s early life and then admits to not being able to finish the later chapters dealing with the ultimate failure of the dream and of the evils committed by Lord Selkirk. In “What Would Susan Say?” Brown speculates about how Susan, McGillivray’s wife, might have felt about the Cree woman who was McGillivray’s country wife.

My first encounter-in-song with The Nancy, a fur trade schooner loaned to the British by the Northwest Company in the War of 1812, was in a Stan Rogers song called “The Nancy,” in which Stan told the story of a victory engineered by the crew of The Nancy. Ultimately, though, as Brown relates in his liner notes, The Nancy was destroyed by her own crew rather than face defeat at the hands of Americans. His song, “Avenge The Nancy” tells how the crew of The Nancy gained their revenge.

My favourite track is “John Macdonell and Magdeleine Poitras,” an infectious song that tells the story of a fur trader and his Métis wife and the majestic home they built on the Ottawa River.

There are several other fascinating stories in other songs on this fine album. Rodney’s singing, the excellent arrangements featuring some of Canada’s finest musicians, and Paul Mills’ crystalline production, all serve the songs exceptionally well.

--Mike Regenstreif

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Festival Folk sur le canal

Festival Folk sur le canal is returning for a second year on the St. Ambroise Terrace, on the Lachine Canal, behind the McCauslin Brewery at 5080 St. Ambroise Street on Saturday, June 27 from noon until 11 pm.

Joel Plaskett, currently one of the hottest singer-songwriters in Canada, is headlining an excellent line-up that includes a number of artists that I’m always eager to listen to.

Always at the top of my list is Michael Jerome Browne, a master of almost every traditional roots-oriented style from blues to country, from Appalachian music to Cajun and of virtually all stringed instruments.

Others at the festival that I’m looking forward to hearing are Socalled (Josh Dolgin), who blends traditional klezmer and contemporary hip hop into something uniquely his own; Li’l Andy, who’s a fine and insightful country-oriented songwriter; Yonder Hill, whose sublime three-part bluegrass harmonies are something special; and Guy Donis, a most impressive banjo virtuoso.

There are also several groups that I haven’t yet had a chance to see including Ladies of the Canyon, a group that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.

Last year’s festival on the canal was a great day of music and I’m sure this year’s edition will be too.

Oh, BTW, I'll be one of the MCs at Festival Folk sur le canal.

For information, visit or call 514-524-9225.

--Mike Regenstreif

Monday, June 15, 2009

Glengarry Music Festival

As many know, I ride the bus almost every week between Montreal and Ottawa. About halfway there, and halfway back, I pass Vankleek Hill and symbolically wave to Terry Gillespie, the veteran blues and reggae artist who lives out that way.

Terry has put together the Glengarry Music Festival, an interesting series of concerts this summer and early fall in a converted barn in nearby Alexandria featuring an in impressive roster of artists. Actually, it’s really two series of concerts, one spread out over four Saturday nights and the other over four Sunday afternoons. The ticket price – $45 for the evening shows and $35 for the afternoon shows – includes Saturday night dinner or Sunday luncheon.

The Saturday night series opens June 20 with blues artists Sue Foley and Peter Karp teamed up to unveil He Said She Said, their acoustic duet album. While I’ve never seen Peter play, Sue is one of Canada’s mightiest blues artists and I’ve particularly enjoyed the acoustic things I’ve seen her do.

The Saturday night series continues July 18 with legendary South African singer Thandie Klaasen, August 22 with innovative jazz singer Karen Young and September 19 with the excellent blues-soaked singer-songwriter Ray Bonneville.

The Sunday afternoon series begins June 28 with Lynne Hanson, a very fine singer-songwriter from Ottawa, now making her mark all over the place, who blends contemporary folk and alt-country influences.

The Sunday afternoon series continues July 26 with local fiddler Ashley MacLeod, August 30 with Montreal blues legends Stephen Barry and Andrew Cowan in their creative duo setting, and winds up September 27 with Toronto’s Johnny Max Trio playing blues.

For information, visit or call 613-678-5862.

--Mike Regenstreif

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Songs of Steve Gillette

Folk Roots/Folk Branches with Mike Regenstreif is now a 30-minute feature heard occasionally on CKUT, 90.3 FM in Montreal.

Thursday June 11, 2009

The songs of Steve Gillette

For the past 20 or so years, Steve Gillette has been recording and touring in a partnership with his wife, Cindy Mangsen. But Steve’s history on the folk music scene goes back to the mid-1960s. He first came to prominence in the mid-1960s when Darcy Farrow and several other songs he wrote in traditional folk song styles became popular through the recordings of Ian & Sylvia, and then, many other artists.

This Folk Roots/Folk Branches features interpretations of Steve Gillette songs by a variety of artists.

MIKE REGENSTREIF- commentary 1

IAN & SYLVIA- Darcy Farrow
The Complete Vanguard Studio Recordings (Vanguard) or Early Morning Rain (Vanguard)
At Town Hall (Bear Family)
SCOTT ALARIK- Molly and Tenbrooks
All That is True (Scott Alarik)

MIKE REGENSTREIF- commentary 2

RONNY COX- Grapes on the Vine
Songs…with Repercussions (Wind River)
LAUREL CANYON RAMBLERS- Back on the Street Again
Back on the Street Again (Sugar Hill)

MIKE REGENSTREIF- commentary 3

MATT WATROBA- Bed of Roses
The Best is Yet to Be (Ledgewood)
The Ted Hawkins Story: Suffer No More (Rhino) or Happy Hour (Rounder)

MIKE REGENSTREIF- commentary 4

The Ways of the World (Compass Rose)

MIKE REGENSTREIF- commentary 5

For more on Steve Gillette, visit

This feature is available as a podcast (for two months) for streaming or downloading at

Folk Roots/Folk Branches is now a blog featuring Mike Regenstreif’s playlists, CD and DVD reviews, news and commentaries.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Nanci Griffith -- The Loving Kind

Nanci Griffith
The Loving Kind

Back in the early-1980s, when I was running the Golem, I used to book a number of artists – most notably Odetta – through Len Rosenfeld, an agent in New York City. Len asked me to take a chance on an unknown singer-songwriter from Texas that he really liked and sent me copies of Nanci Griffith’s first two LPs, There’s a Light Beyond These Woods and Poet in My Window,released on tiny a Texas label called Featherbed (later reissued by Philo/Rounder). I really liked them too and started booking Nanci at the Golem. She played there regularly through the rest of my tenure at the Golem (the end of 2007). During that period Nanci recorded two of the very best albums of her career, Once in a Very Blue Moon and The Last of the True Believers. Her song, “Banks of the Pontchartrain,” from The Last of the True Believers was based on Nanci’s trips to Montreal to play at the Golem.

This new album, I think, is Nanci’s best set of mostly original material since The Last of the True Believers and her best album, period, since the two Other Voices albums in the 1990s. She’s again writing songs with something to say, she’s singing like she means it and she’s surrounded herself with a tight, small band of ace musicians including Matt McKenzie on bass, Barry Walsh on keyboards, Shad Cobb on fiddle and co-producers Pat McInerney on drums and Thom Jutz on guitar.

My favourite songs on the album are the title song, a tribute to an interracial couple – whose name really was ‘Loving’ – who defied state law to marry in Virginia in 1958. Theirs was the precedent setting case at the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down American laws barring interracial marriage; “One of These Days,” a sweet remake of a tune from The Last of the True Believers; “Across America,” a celebration of the hope that came alive as the old Bush era gave way to the new Obama era; and “Up Against the Rain,” a song for the late, great Townes Van Zandt. I once spent a very intense evening chatting with Townes and I think Nanci’s really captured something of the torment that was at the heart of his soul.

If I’m remembering right, Jerry Jeff Walker, in the liner notes to Guy Clark’s first album – Old No. 1, a great album, BTW – talked about the “natural music of the acoustic guitar.” The Loving Kind, I think, is a return to the natural music of Nanci Griffith.

--Mike Regenstreif

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Corin Raymond -- There will Always be a Small Time

Corin Raymond
There will Always be a Small Time

From reading his bio, I gather that Corin Raymond has an earlier album and one or two before that as a member of a duo called the Undesirables, but this CD was my first exposure to him and his songs. Most of the album is solid stuff – very good songs with nice arrangements and superior production. Raymond turns in fine performances making this an album I can recommend with little hesitation, an album I expect to put on years from now and still enjoy.

There are a few songs, though, that rise above the pack. “Michelene” is a gorgeous love song with the kind of lyrical anglo-franco interplay that Daniel Lanois was doing on a couple of his early songs and an arrangement built around some excellent accordion work by Treasa Levasseur. And “The Lonely One” is a lost-at-love rock ‘n’ roll ballad that could have been a hit for Roy Orbison back in the day.

THE killer song, though, is “There will Always be a Small Time,” a near-perfect piece of songwriting that captures the essence of why musicians are compelled to play music, of why songwriters are compelled to write songs, of why they’re compelled to play their music and perform their songs for whoever’s wanting or willing to listen, and of why they make records to sell from the stage. It’s a song that celebrates the human connections that are possible when real musicians play real music for real people without any kind of corporate filters.

“There will Always be a Small Time” is one of those it’s-worth-the price-of-the-album songs. That there’s lots of other worthwhile stuff on the CD is almost a bonus.

--Mike Regenstreif