Sunday, October 30, 2011

David Rea 1946-2011

(Photo: Jack Bawden)

David Rea passed away Thursday in Portland, Oregon. He had just turned 65 the day before. Apparently, he’d been ill for several months.

I brought David to play in Montreal a lot in the 1970s. Mostly at the Golem, but he was also on a Pollack Hall concert I produced in 1976 that also included Bruce “Utah” Phillips, Kate & Anna McGarrigle with the Mountain City Four, Erik Frandsen, and the White River Bluegrass Band. David was a sweet guy, an amazing guitarist, a fine songwriter and a great performer.

It was as a guitarist that David first made his mark. Gordon Lightfoot hired David as his lead guitarist when he was just 17. After Lightfoot, he played for several years with Ian & Sylvia and did live and session work with artists ranging from Mike Seeger to Joni Mitchell. He played guitar on Jesse Winchester’s first album.

David made three early LPs with backing from members of bands like Mountain (David co-wrote their hit, “Mississippi Queen”) and the Grateful Dead. But, I think he surpassed those albums with three excellent CDs that were released between 1993 and 2000.

I had a chance to catch up with David at the 2001 Folk Alliance Conference in Vancouver. It was the first time we’d seen each other in 20 or more years. He was as good as I've ever seen him at a couple of too-short showcases I saw him do there.

David was a great musician and – for many years – a great presence in the folk music world. He is missed.

--Mike Regenstreif

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Michael Jerome Browne – The Road is Dark

The Road is Dark

I was going to start this review by saying Michael Jerome Browne is a jack-of-all-root-music-styles. From blues to country to Appalachian mountain music, Cajun, swing, R&B – he can do it all. It’s a bit of understatement, though, to call him a jack-of-all-roots-music-styles when, in fact, he’s a master of most of those styles. He’s got encyclopedic knowledge of the music he plays, a giant repertoire drawn from the legendary artists who pioneered the various genres he plays, and – with songwriting and life partner B.A. Markus – has created a significant body of original material that stands tall with the time-tested standards he plays.

While Michael plays a variety of styles, and just about any instrument with strings, blues has been the dominant genre in his repertoire, much of it from the first few decades of the recording era in the American South (or inspired by that early music).

Whether or not you buy into the mythology of Robert Johnson at the crossroads at midnight, that kind of blues can be a scary music that delves deeply into the dark places of the soul. And that’s where Michael takes us on many of the songs on The Road is Dark – six taken from tradition and/or earlier artists, eight created by Michael and B.

Among the highlights from the songs Michael adapts is “Doin’ My Time,” which sounds like something Furry Lewis might have played if he played electric guitar. Actually, it comes from bluegrass pioneers Flatt & Scruggs and is an example of the stylistic cross-pollination of black and white music in the American South. Another is Michael’s intense version of Reverend Gary Davis’ “Death Don’t Have No Mercy.” The sustain on Michael’s solo electric guitar arrangement allows the notes to seemingly cut deeper into the soul than on some of the familiar acoustic versions of the song.

Among my favourites of the original songs are “Graveyard Blues,” played on the fretless banjo and sounding like a bluesy Appalachian folk song, in which the narrator, a kind of rake and rambling man, seemingly near death and seemingly without regrets, talks about the facts of his life; “If Memphis Don’t Kill Me,” a good-timey jug band song featuring Michael on mandolin with fine back-up from Ottawa musicians Steve Marriner on harmonica, and Ball & ChainMichael Ball and Jody Benjamin – on fiddle and guitar; and “Sing Low,” with Michael on banjo and Mighty Popo on guitar, a haunting song inspired by the code songs African American women sang during slavery and dedicated to the struggle of Afghan women to emerge from their oppression.

I also really enjoyed Michael’s interplay with John McColgan’s inventive percussive washboard on three tracks including “G20 Blues,” a topical commentary on the bungled over-the-top police response to protesters at last year’s G20 Summit in Toronto. (John and Michael played together for years in the Stephen Barry Band.)

Among Michael’s launch concerts for The Road is Dark are shows Saturday, October 29, 8:00 pm at L’Astral, 305 St. Catherine Street West in Montreal; and Saturday, November 5, 8:00 pm, at the Westboro Masonic Hall, 430 Churchill Avenue North, in Ottawa.

--Mike Regenstreif

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Kate Campbell – Two Nights in Texas

Two Nights in Texas
Large River

Since the release of her debut album, Songs from the Levee, in 1995, I’ve felt that Kate Campbell – who grew up in Mississippi – was one of the most compelling singer-songwriters of the Deep South. Her finely-crafted songs beautifully capture the essence of the South and its people, particularly the dramatic changes that began unfolding in the South during Kate’s childhood in the 1960s as the Civil Rights Movement changed forever how people thought and acted.

Two Nights in Texas, recorded April 8-9, 2010 in Wimberley, Texas captures Kate’s warm voice, guitar and occasional piano – superbly backed by Sally Van Meter on Dobro, Scott Ainslie on guitar and banjo and Don Porterfield on bass – as she runs through a retrospective of original songs that, at 65 minutes, only scratches the surface of her rich catalog.

As noted, some of the most affecting of Kate’s songs are those documenting the Civil Rights Movement that she witnessed first-hand as a child in the Deep South in the ‘60s.

“Crazy in Alabama” captures that time and place vividly as she sings about the segregation that “never made one lick of sense,” the violence of the era as groups like the Klan tried to stand in the way of the inevitable changes that were coming – “And the train of change/Was coming fast to my hometown/We had the choice to climb on board/Or get run down” – and the civil rights marchers who “all held hands as they sand and wept/And freedom rang in every step.”

Other songs that recall that era include “Galaxie 500,” in which she recalls a child's joy at times spent in the family car only to have that joy shattered when the car radio announces the murder of Martin Luther King, and “A Cotton Field Away,” which captures that moment in time when white and black children finally encounter each other thanks to court-ordered desegregation and learn how much alike they really were.

Other highlights include “New South,” in which she observes how much contemporary pop culture has homogenized away much of the South’s distinctiveness making it much like anywhere else, “Tupelo’s To Far,” written from the perspective of Elvis Presley at a time when he might have wished he could go back to before stardom had overtaken his life, “See Rock City,” a third-person observation of a young woman’s quest for freedom from the small town life she grew up in, and the final medley of “Rosa’s Coronas/Lanterns on the Levee.” The first song in the finale is written from the perspective of a Cuban woman missing her daughter and granddaughter who’d escaped to America and wondering how they fared there while the second is an inspiring song of friendship, of love, of hope.

--Mike Regenstreif

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Canadian Folk Music Awards nominations

The nominations were announced today for the Seventh Annual Canadian Folk MusicAwards. The award ceremony takes place Sunday, December 4 at the Isabel Bader Theatre in Toronto.

Here are the nominations.


Dave Gunning - A Tribute to John Allan Cameron
Finest Kind - For Honour & For Gain
De Temps Antan - Les Habits de Papier
La Volée d’Castors - Le Retour
Genticorum - Nagez Rameurs


Twilight Hotel - When the Wolves Go Blind
Les Charbonniers de l'Enfer - Nouvelles fréquentations


Kathy Reid-Naiman - I Love to Hear the Sounds
Benoît Archambault - Les pourquoi
Marky Weinstock - Songs For Dreamers
Colleen Power with Crooked Stovepipe - For Little Ones
Will Stroet - Walk & Roll


Dave Gunninga tribute to John Allan Cameron
Lizzy Hoyt - Home
Eileen McGann - Pocketful Of Rhymes
Joel Fafard - Cluck Old Hen


David Myles - Live at the Carleton
Suzie Vinnick - Me 'n' Mabel
Cat Jahnke - The Stories are Taking Their Toll
Matthew Barber - Matthew Barber


Jayme Stone - Room of Wonders
Jaron Freeman-Fox - Manic Almanac : Slow Möbius
Anne Lindsay - Hurry On Home
April Verch - That's How We Run
Don Ross - Breakfast for Dogs


The Creaking Tree String Quartet - Sundogs
Qristina & Quinn Bachand - Family
MAZ - Télescope
Eh?! - Eh?!
RAZ-DE-MARÉE/TIDAL WAVE - Marche du St-Laurent


Finest Kind - For Honour & For Gain
Les Charbonniers de l'Enfer - Nouvelles fréquentations
Genticorum - Nagez Rameurs


The Creaking Tree String Quartet - Sundogs
MAZ - Télescope
Harry Manx & Kevin Breit - Strictly Whatever
Genticorum - Nagez Rameurs



Lynn Miles - Fall for Beauty


Jean-François Lessard - Jean-François Lessard
Alexandre Poulin - Une lumière allumée
Claude Cormier - Acoustique
Les Surveillantes - La racine carrée du coeur


Vince Fontaine - Songs For Turtle Island
Robert Davidson & Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson - New Journeys
janet panic - Samples
Don Amero - The Long Way Home
Kristi Lane Sinclair - I Love You


Lenka Lichtenberg - Fray
Massiel Yanira - Una Voz
Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson - New Journeys
Zekuhl - I BOLO
Kiran Ahluwalia - aam zameen : common ground


Ouzo Power - Greatest Hits (Volume 1)
Nizar Tabcharani & The Backstrings - Bayati Ana
Trio Bembe - Oh My Soul
MAZ - Télescope
Minor Empire - Second Nature


Dave Gunning - a tribute to John Allan Cameron
Andrea Ramolo - The Shadows and the Cracks
Ashley Condon - Come In From The Cold
Joe Nolan - Goodbye Cinderella


Dave Gunning w/ Allie Bennett & John Meir - a tribute to John Allan Cameron (Dave Gunning)
Steve Bell, Dave Zeglinski, Murray Pulver - Kindness (Steve Bell)
David Travers-Smith - Soon The Birds (Oh Susanna)


New Country Rehab - New Country Rehab
Twilight Hotel - When the Wolves Go Blind
Jaron Freeman-Fox - Manic Almanac : Slow Möbius
Evalyn Parry - SPIN
Geoff Berner - Victory Party


Qristina & Quinn Bachand - Family
Olivia Korkola - Playing in Traffic
Rebecca Lappa - Not in Neverland
Molly Thomason - Beauty Queen
The Doll Sisters - The Road - EP

 --Mike Regenstreif

Friday, October 14, 2011

Mighty Popo – Gakondo


The bio on his website tells me I can say Mighty Popo (Popo Murigande), the Ottawa-based singer, songwriter and masterful guitarist is “a Rwandan/Burundian refugee/survivor whose music is steeped in African tradition.”

Although I’ve heard and highly enjoyed Mighty Popo live several times, primarily at the Ottawa Folk Festival, I was unprepared for the remarkable beauty of Gakondo, his first all-acoustic album. The singing, playing and arrangements – some solo, some featuring backup by African and Canadian musicians and singers – are utterly compelling, from the title track, a song about Popo’s family history, which opens the album to “Rwampunga,” an adaptation of a Rwandan traditional song, at the end. The album is a stunning investigation of the traditional musical roots of Mighty Popo’s heritage,

Popo sings all of these songs in Kinyarwanda, a Rwandan language. Except for brief references to some of them in the liner notes, I have no idea what most of them are about. But, even for a lyrics-oriented listener like me, it hardly seems to matter. Mighty Popo’s soulful musicality and quietly-hypnotic performances, even when he whispers on "Nibarize," seem to communicate all that is necessary for a complete appreciation.

--Mike Regenstreif

Monday, October 10, 2011

Joel Mabus – American Anonymous

American Anonymous

As I’ve noted before, Joel Mabus has a most impressive body of work spanning both traditional and contemporary folk music. He’s a fine singer, plays any number of stringed instruments – some at virtuoso level -- has a deep repertoire of traditional ballads, old-time music and blues, and is a songwriter whose work consistently equals the venerable traditional music in his repertoire.

Joel devotes American Anonymous to 14 authentic folksongs, all of which were written by that venerable songwriting team of Trad and Anon. Joel’s impeccable solo performances – his voice and either guitar, banjo or autoharp – are riveting.

Among the highlights are a version of “In the Pines,” played on the autoharp, which brilliantly captures the inherent loneliness of the lyric, and a unique ragtime guitar arrangement of “Rising Sun Blues (House of the Rising Sun)” which turns the song into more of fun thing than the tragic ballad we’re used to.

Other favourites include Joel’s hot-picking takes on “Grieve My Lord No More” and “The Fox” on the guitar, and “Sally Gal” and “Ebenezer,” the album’s only instrumental, on banjo.

Joel ends the set with a great version of “A Closer Walk with Thee” that reminds me a lot of how Merle Travis reinterpreted some great old African American spirituals.

American Anonymous, like virtually every other album Joel Mabus has ever made, gets my  strongest recommendation.

--Mike Regenstreif