Sunday, January 31, 2010

Loudon and Jack win Grammys

A couple of Grammys were won by old friends of Folk Roots/Folk Branches. Congratulations to Loudon Wainwright III and producer Dick Connette for taking home the traditional folk Grammy for High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project and to Ramblin' Jack Elliott for taking the traditional blues Grammy for A Stranger Here.

Both Loudon and Jack used to grace the stage back in the days I was running the Golem Coffee House in Montreal and both albums are departures for them, quite unlike anything either has done before in their long careers. Both albums were listed in my  my Top 20 selections for 2009.

Click here to see my review of The Charlie Poole Project.

Click here to see my review of A Stranger Here.

--Mike Regenstreif

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Marigolds -- That's the State I'm In

That’s the State I’m In
The Marigolds

I’ve always loved listening to the harmonies made possible when fine, simpatico singers come together in interesting collaborations – I especially love listening to such collaborations by great female voices. One of the finest such collaborations is Quartette – the combination of Sylvia Tyson, Cindy Church, Caitlin Hanford and Gwen Swick (who stepped in when founding member Colleen Peterson lost her battle with cancer).

The Marigolds are a trio that includes half of Quartette – Caitlin and Gwen – and Suzie Vinnick, a fine soloist and veteran of several other collaborations. They released their debut CD, The Marigolds – a modest but compelling set of original material and several country and pop standards – in 2005. Now, they’ve returned with That’s the State I’m In, a much more ambitious collection of all-original material steeped in the sounds of country, bluegrass, folk and jazz.

The lead vocals shift, song to song, among each of the three Marigolds and when two aren’t in the spotlight, they’re adding sweet harmonies to the one who is.

Each brings fine songs to the set. Among my favourites are Caitlin’s “Ramble Down the Line,” a clickety-clackety train song that could be a bluegrass standard; Gwen’s “May Your Life Be Ever Blessed, a hauntingly beautiful piece that explores similar themes to Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” or John Martyn’s “May You Never; and Suzie’s bluesy “Why Baby,” co-written with Gwen and Caitlin.

The Marigolds’ Ottawa-area launch for That’s the State I’m In is Sunday, January 31, 4:00 pm, at the Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield, QC. Call 1-888-222-6608 for tickets.

--Mike Regenstreif

Ray Bonneville

Sometimes-Montrealer Ray Bonneville, who mostly lives in Texas these days, will be back in Montreal this Saturday, January 30, 8:00 pm, for a concert at Petit Campus, 57 Prince Arthur East. Contact Hello Darlin’ Productions at 514-524-9224 for information or reservations.

Ray is a fine blues-based singer-songwriter-guitar player whose music reflects a lifetime of musical rambling from Montreal to New Orleans to Texas. This picture is from a workshop I hosted at the 2009 Ottawa Folk Festival with Ray, Michael Jerome Browne and Ellen McIlwaine.

Here’s the review I wrote a couple of years ago for Sing Out! Magazine about Ray’s latest album.

Goin’ by Feel
Red House

Ray Bonneville, the blues-based singer-songwriter who spends his winters in Arkansas and Texas and his summers in Montreal and Eastern Ontario, has always built his music around the groove. To paraphrase from the title track from his latest album, his music goes by feel. The groove, throughout the CD, is based on the interplay between his always fluid fingerpicking on electric guitar, his rack harmonica work and vocals and a drummer: Geoff Arsenault on nine of the tracks, Rick Richards on the other three. A couple of the songs are just Ray and Geoff, but he variously layers on tasty contributions from the likes of co-producer Gurf Morlix on bass and banjo; harmony vocalist Eliza Gilkyson; Nick Connolly on keyboards; and guitarist Brad Hayes on to the rest.

I should mention that while Ray plays an electric guitar, his use of an electric is not really about volume, it’s more about sustain and occasional effects. Mostly, he plays it in a way that listeners accustomed to acoustic guitars will not find alien. And that may be why he spends much of his time touring the folk, rather than rock, circuit.

Ray has long been a good songwriter and this set features some of his best songwriting to date. Among the standout his strongest songs are “I Am the Big Easy,” a post-Hurricane Katrina tribute to New Orleans, and Carry the Fallen, a poignant commentary on how war affects such a wide range of people: those in the countries where the battles take place; the soldiers who come home in flag-draped coffins and their families; the soldiers who come home psychologically damaged; and the politicians in high office who continue to send young people off to fight.

--Mike Regenstreif

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

David Mallett -- Alright Now

Alright Now
North Road

I guess I’ve known Maine singer-songwriter David Mallett since about the time his first LP, the self-titled David Mallett, came out more than 30 years ago. It was a fine debut that included David’s “Garden Song,” an instant classic that’s been covered by countless artists from Pete Seeger to Kermit the Frog. A fine writer whose sound comes from the same neighbourhood as Gordon Lightfoot, virtually all of David’s recordings can be counted on for their engaging lyrics, memorable melodies and economical arrangements. David’s latest release, Alright Now, ranks with his best work.

The album opens with “Ten Men,” a song that paints conspiratorial picture of a mysterious, small but powerful group of men who, between them, control the wealth and resources of the world.

Other songs are not so bleak. “North Meets South” recalls the spirit of hopefulness the pervaded politics when Barack Obama was elected president of the United States, while “Beautiful,” sung to a young daughter, glories in the promise of youth. He follows it with “Innocent Time,” in which he recalls the glory years of his own youth, and “End of the Day,” about the determination to keep on moving forward as he gets older.

David ends the album with “Alright Now,” a song that fondly recalls old friends from years ago that have lost touch.

For the most part, these are mature songs from a writer who can look back authentically at youth, and much of middle age for that matter, as part of the cycle of life.

--Mike Regenstreif

This week in Folk Roots/Folk Branches history (January 26-February 1)

Folk Roots/Folk Branches with Mike Regenstreif was a Thursday tradition on CKUT in Montreal for nearly 14 years from February 3, 1994 until August 30, 2007. Folk Roots/Folk Branches continued as occasional features on CKUT and is now also a blog. Here’s the 22nd instalment of “This week in Folk Roots/Folk Branches,” a weekly look back continuing through next August at some of the most notable guests, features and moments in Folk Roots/Folk Branches history.

January 26, 1995: Extended feature- Garnet Rogers.
February 1, 1996: All-request show celebrating the second anniversary of Folk Roots/Folk Branches.
January 30, 1997: All-request show celebrating the third anniversary of Folk Roots/Folk Branches.
January 29, 1998: Extended feature- Tributes to Jean Ritchie and Lead Belly, 1998 Lifetime Achievement honourees of the North American Folk Alliance.
February 1, 2001: All-request show celebrating the seventh anniversary of Folk Roots/Folk Branches.
January 31, 2002: All-request show celebrating the eighth anniversary of Folk Roots/Folk Branches.
January 30, 2003: Tribute to the late Tommy Thompson of the Red Clay Ramblers.
January 29, 2004: Guests- Lorin Sklamberg, Lisa Gutkin and Matt Darriau of the Klezmatics.
January 27, 2005: Guest- Craig Morrison.
February 1, 2007: All music by past guests celebrating the 13th anniversary of Folk Roots/Folk Branches.

Pictured: Mike Regenstreif and Garnet Rogers on April 29, 2006.

--Mike Regenstreif

Friday, January 22, 2010

Remembering Kate McGarrigle

I’ve been thinking a lot about Kate McGarrigle since waking up Tuesday morning to the sad news that my old friend and colleague passed away Monday night after fighting cancer so bravely over the past three-and-a-half years.

I was just a little too young to have heard Kate and Anna McGarrigle during their Mountain City Four days in the 1960s. I came into the Montreal folk scene just after the Mountain City Four had wound down (although I was involved in getting them back on stage together once or twice in the 1970s).

Anna was the first of the McGarrigle sisters that I got to know. I started producing folk music concerts in Montreal in 1972 and Anna used to come to some of them with Dane Lanken (who she later married). At some point around then, Loudon Wainwright III played in Montreal and I met him and Kate, who were then married.

By this time, Kate and Anna were (quite independently) writing songs and making demos but not performing. In fact, it had been years since Kate and Anna had been on stage together.

“However,” as I wrote in a Sing Out! Magazine cover story about Kate and Anna in 1997, "other artists were beginning to pick up on the songs that Kate and Anna had been writing. The rock group McKendree Spring recorded Anna’s ‘Heart Like a Wheel’ in 1972 and Kate’s ‘We've Come a Long Way’ and ‘The Work Song’ were recorded by Loudon Wainwright III and Maria Muldaur respectively in 1973. ‘Heart Like a Wheel’ also became the title song on Linda Ronstadt's breakthrough album in 1974.

“Also in 1974, still before the release of Ronstadt’s record, Maria Muldaur was doing some tracks for her next album. Kate was asked to be one of the harmony singers on an a cappella gospel song that Muldaur was recording. Meanwhile, Muldaur had pulled ‘Cool River’ from the McGarrigle songwriting demos as a choice for the album. Producer Joe Boyd asked Kate to play piano on the track. Kate didn't know the piano part to it and remembers Boyd demanding ‘what do you mean you don't know it? You wrote it.’ She explained to him that it was one of her sister Anna’s songs; there was not yet a realization that there were two distinct McGarrigle sisters writing songs. Boyd’s response was to get Anna on plane to Los Angeles.

“Anna was working at an office job in Montreal when she got the call to come and work on Muldaur's record. She remembers saying to her co-workers at the end of the day, ‘I'm leaving now and I probably won't be seeing you again.’

“With both Kate and Anna in Los Angeles, they went into the studio and made a demo tape for Warner Bros. Anna recalls that when they made that demo, they didn't even know each other’s songs because they hadn't been singing together since the days of the Mountain City Four. In the studio, they each quickly made up harmonies to the other’s songs. ‘It was in the demo studio that afternoon,’ in April of 1974 ‘that we became Kate and Anna McGarrigle,’ adds Kate.” (Mike Regenstreif, Sing Out! Magazine Vol. 4, #4, 1997).

A few weeks after Kate and Anna “became Kate and Anna McGarrigle,” I took over the Golem Coffee House on Stanley Street in Montreal, an 80-seat (up to 120 SRO) folk club near the McGill campus and invited Kate and Anna to come and play. They did three nights at the Golem as a trio with Roma Baran. The Golem concerts were jam-packed with people getting their first tastes of Kate and Anna’s exceptional songwriting. The Golem was one of a select number of gigs that launched Kate and Anna’s performing career in the summer of 1974. The others were the Mariposa Folk Festival in Toronto, Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs and the Ark in Ann Arbor.

It was during that summer that Kate and I became good friends.

Kate and Anna came back to the Golem in the summer of ’75, this time with back-up from Peter Weldon, Chaim Tannenbaum and Dane Lanken, all of whom had been part of the Mountain City Four. By this time, they’d been recording Kate and Anna McGarrigle, their remarkable debut LP.

Kate was pregnant with Martha when the album was released in 1976 and virtually all of their planned touring was cancelled. One gig that went on, though, was the concert that I produced at Pollack Hall in Montreal. It was a wonderful, sold-out show.

Sometime not long after that concert, Kate said to me that Gaby – Gaby was Kate and Anna’s mother – thought I should be their agent. So I started agenting for Kate and Anna. There was never a contract. Just an understanding that they’d pay me a commission for the concerts I arranged for them. We worked together on that basis for about four years, a period marked by two more albums, Dancer with Bruised Knees and Pronto Monto.

Kate had her two small children – Rufus and Martha – and during that period Anna and Dane had Sylvan and Lily. Raising kids was their priority so they never toured a lot, but there were some incredible shows we did in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, out to Western Canada, and down into the U.S., including their Carnegie Hall debut in 1980.

It was also during that time – 1977 or so – that Kate’s marriage to Loudon broke up and Kate moved back to Montreal. I spent a lot of time with Kate in those years and remember many great times – in Montreal and on jaunts to and from the occasional gigs that Kate and Anna did.

Although I never spent nearly as much time with Kate after 1980 as I did in the ‘70s, the friendship endured. We hung out occasionally and Kate and Anna were regular guests on Folk Roots/Folk Branches, my weekly radio show on CKUT from 1994 to 2007. In 1997, I did the Sing Out! Magazine cover story, a 4,000-word look back at their lives, music and careers.

I was at home one night in 1998 when Kate called. “We’re in the studio tonight with Emmylou and Loudon and we really want to record ‘Green Green Rocky Road’ but nobody knows the words,” she said. So I took out a Dave Van Ronk CD, transcribed the lyrics – this was years before you could just Google them – and faxed them to Kate in the studio. A few months later, Kate and Anna were on Folk Roots/Folk Branches with me launching The McGarrigle Hour CD.

I only had a few visits with Kate over these last years as she battled cancer and I’ve been working in Ottawa during the week and spending quick weekends in Montreal. Kate came over one day in the summer of 2007. We had talked on the phone a few times and exchanged occasional e-mails, but it was the first time I’d seen her since the cancer fight had begun. It was heartbreaking to see how frail and thin she looked. But it was just a month or so before Martha’s wedding and she looked so radiant and beautiful as she looked forward to that big day.

The last time we spent time together was a little over a year later. As Rufus performed his main stage concert at the Ottawa Folk Festival, Kate and I sat talking quietly backstage.

A phone conversation last spring was the last time we talked.

Fare thee well, Kate, fare thee well.

I wrote about Kate’s musical legacy in Wednesday’s Montreal Gazette. The article is linked here.

Donations in Kate’s memory may be made to the Kate McGarrigle Fund by clicking here or by calling 514-931-5656. “The Kate McGarrigle Fund supports cancer care and research at the McGill University Cancer Centre and the renowned teaching hospitals of McGill University in Montreal, including the McGill University Health Centre and the Jewish General Hospital.”

--Mike Regenstreif

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Article on Kate for Montreal Gazette

I was asked to write about Kate McGarrigle's musical legacy for tomorrow's Montreal Gazette coverage of Kate's passing.

The article is already posed on the Gazette web site.

Kate McGarrigle 1946-2010

I woke up this morning to the very sad news that my old friend and colleague Kate McGarrigle passed away following her fight with cancer. Words mostly fail me at the moment. I have to write about Kate's music for tomorrow's Montreal Gazette coverage and prepare an obituary for Sing Out! Magazine. In the next day or two, I'll write more personally in this space.

--Mike Regenstreif

This week in Folk Roots/Folk Branches history (January 19-25)

Folk Roots/Folk Branches with Mike Regenstreif was a Thursday tradition on CKUT in Montreal for nearly 14 years from February 3, 1994 until August 30, 2007. Folk Roots/Folk Branches continued as occasional features on CKUT and is now also a blog. Here’s the 21st instalment of “This week in Folk Roots/Folk Branches,” a weekly look back continuing through next August at some of the most notable guests, features and moments in Folk Roots/Folk Branches history.

January 19, 1995: Extended feature- Music of the Andes Mountains.
January 23, 1997: Extended feature: Songs of Robert Burns.
January 20, 2000: Guest- Loudon Wainwright III.
January 24, 2002: Guest- Jack Nissenson.
January 22, 2004: Guest- Sarah Harmer.
January 19, 2006: Guest- Jeff Daniels.
January 24, 2008 (Folk Roots/Folk Branches feature): Songs of Wade Hemsworth.

--Mike Regenstreif

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bobby Charles 1938-2010

Bobby Charles (Robert Charles Guidry), the great Louisiana songwriter, died today at age 71. Although a cause of death hasn’t yet been announced, Bobby had been living with diabetes and kidney cancer in recent years.

Bobby was probably best known for writing several of the greatest early rock ‘n’ roll songs like “Walking to New Orleans” for Fats Domino and “See You Later, Alligator,” a hit for Bill Haley and the Comets. Many other artists recorded many other Bobby Charles songs over the past half-century or so.

Bobby recorded several of his own albums that blended Cajun, country, blues, folk and rock ‘n’ roll music. One of my all-time favourite songs was his gorgeous “Tennessee Blues,” which he recorded on his classic Bobby Charles album in 1972. There are a bunch of other great versions by such folk as Geoff Muldaur, Jim Rooney, Doug Sahm, Tracy Nelson and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. Another favourite was his insightful “Promises, Promises (The Truth will Set You Free),” from his 1995 album, Wish You Were Here Right Now, and revived after Hurricane Katrina by Dr. John.

--Mike Regenstreif

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Old Man Luedecke

Old Man Luedecke is headlining the Wintergreen Concert Series January event this Saturday. The singer-songwriter-banjo player is among the finest of the young Canadian artists creating vital contemporary music with its roots in the finest traditional folk music. Here are a couple of reviews I wrote for Sing Out! Magazine of Old Man Luedecke CDs from 2006 and 2008.

Black Hen Music

The first you should know about Old Man Luedecke is that he’s not an old man. Chris Luedecke is barely 30 years, lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia and takes the bus back and forth across Canada playing folk festivals and small clubs.

While he writes lyrics like a keen-eyed observer of his own time and place, he sings and plays banjo like an old man from the Appalachian Mountains; a style he picked up from old records by Dock Boggs, Bascom Lamar Lunsford and others of that ilk.

Hinterland is Luedecke’s second album and it’s an appealing collection of modern songs sung and played in traditional styles.

Among the most interesting songs in this set are “Roustabout,” a nifty song that he uses to look at his life’s choices as his 20s come to and end, “Wrong Side of the Country,” in which he finds himself in Vancouver missing his love and his home at the other end of Canada and contemplating whether traveling is the life he wants. Then there’s “Notes from the Banjo Underground,” a weird song that kind of starts as a straight-faced spoof of a navel-gazing singer-songwriter but is actually an erudite bit of intellectual self-examination. In addition to his own songs, Luedecke includes a fine version of “Lost John,” the traditional song about the speedy fugitive from Bowling Green.

Luedecke’s banjo and voice are front and centre throughout this album. Occasionally, there’s some unobtrusive support from producer Steve Dawson on Weissenborn guitar, Benn Ross on homemade percussion, Laura Federson on fiddle and from some chorus singers. --Mike Regenstreif

Proof of Love
Black Hen

Although Proof of Love has more studio production and backing musicians than his past releases, Chris Luedecke –- who is not an old man –- continues to write songs like “Just Like a River” and “Little Bird” that combine old-time banjo traditions with his own contemporary lyrics. He also includes a couple of traditional songs to remind us of the older musicians who inspired him. His music is nice reminder of the timelessness of folk music. --Mike Regenstreif

Old Man Luedecke and Peter Katz perform Saturday, January 16, 8:00 pm, at Petit Campus, 57 Prince Arthur East, Montreal. Contact Hello Darlin’ Productions at 514-524-9225 for tickets or info.

--Mike Regenstreif

This week in Folk Roots/Folk Branches history (January 12-18)

Folk Roots/Folk Branches with Mike Regenstreif was a Thursday tradition on CKUT in Montreal for nearly 14 years from February 3, 1994 until August 30, 2007. Folk Roots/Folk Branches continued as occasional features on CKUT and is now also a blog. Here’s the 20th instalment of “This week in Folk Roots/Folk Branches,” a weekly look back continuing through next August at some of the most notable guests, features and moments in Folk Roots/Folk Branches history.

Sunday January 16, 1994: The special pilot edition of Folk Roots/Folk Branches with Mike Regenstreif.
January 12, 1995: Extended feature- Mary Chapin Carpenter.
January 18, 1996: Extended feature- Jim Stewart’s Marco Polo Suite.
January 16, 1997: Extended feature: The Appalachia Waltz Radio Concert with Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer & Mark O'Connor.
January 15, 1998: Show theme: A tribute to Leonard Cohen.
January 18, 2001: Guest- Steve Forbert.
January 16, 2003: Guests: Bill Garrett & Sue Lothrop and Dave Clarke.

--Mike Regenstreif

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Woody Guthrie book review from 1977

The stuff you find on the Internet. This link takes you to a 1977 review I wrote for the Montreal Gazette about two books written by Woody Guthrie: Bound for Glory, his autobiography then being reissued, and a novel, Seeds of Man, written in 1947-48 but then being published for the first time.

Click here for the 1977 review.

--Mike Regenstreif

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

This week in Folk Roots/Folk Branches history (January 5-11)

Folk Roots/Folk Branches with Mike Regenstreif was a Thursday tradition on CKUT in Montreal for nearly 14 years from February 3, 1994 until August 30, 2007. Folk Roots/Folk Branches continued as occasional features on CKUT and is now also a blog. Here’s the 19th instalment of “This week in Folk Roots/Folk Branches,” a weekly look back continuing through next August at some of the most notable guests, features and moments in Folk Roots/Folk Branches history.

January 5, 1995: Show theme- Water Music: Songs of Rivers, Lakes and Seas.
January 11, 1996: Extended feature- John Stewart.
January 9, 1997: Extended features: The Stones of Callanish, a folk opera by Les Barker; A Tribute to the late Townes Van Zandt.
January 11, 2001: Guest- Elijah Wald, author of Josh White: Society Blues (University of Massachusetts Press).
January 10, 2002: Show theme- Collaborations.
January 8, 2009 (Folk Roots/Folk Branches feature): Honouring the memory of Odetta.

Pictured: Odetta, David Keys and Mike Regenstreif at the 2008 Ottawa Folk Festival.

--Mike Regenstreif

Monday, January 4, 2010

Lhasa de Sela 1972-2010

Lhasa de Sela, the Montreal-based singer who recorded and performed as Lhasa, died New Year's Day just before midnight at home following a battle with breast cancer. She was just 37 years old.

Influenced by Gypsy and Mexican folk music, Lhasa's unforgettable recordings and performances, in Spanish, French and English, magically combined power, intensity and poignancy.

Lhasa's passing is a great loss to the Montreal, Canadian and world music communities.

--Mike Regenstreif