Sunday, July 9, 2017

Too Sad for the Public – Vol. 1 – Oysters Ice Cream Lemonade: American Folk Fantasies Written and Arranged by Dick Connette

Vol. 1 – Oysters Ice Cream Lemonade: American Folk Fantasies Written and Arranged by Dick Connette
StorySound Records

For 20 years, since the release of the first CD by Last Forever, I’ve greatly admired the work of composer/songwriter/producer Dick Connette. In Last Forever, he teamed with the late vocalist Sonya Cohen to produce several albums of completely reimagined traditional songs and original songs steeped in tradition. I continue to find great musical riches whenever I return to the Last Forever albums – which I have done often.

Much of the material on Vol. 1 – Oysters Ice Cream Lemonade: American Folk Fantasies Written and Arranged by Dick Connette, his new project – recorded under the group name ‘Too Sad for the Public’ – continues in the vein of Last Forever with original songs based on traditional themes and a couple of fascinating covers of pop songs. The lead vocals are in the capable hands of Suzzy Roche (four songs), Rachelle Garniez (one song), Ana Egge (two songs) and Gabriel Kahane (one song).

All of the vocal songs on the album are entirely praiseworthy. Perhaps my favorite, if I had to pick just one, is “Black River Falls,” sung by Suzzy. The melody and chorus are based on Karen Dalton’s version of the traditional folksong “Same Old Man,” and the verses, each of which stands on its own, are based on Michael Lesy’s book. Wisconsin Death Trap.

Other favorites include “Old Alabama,” sung by Ana, which takes its inspiration from several traditional songs, most notably “Old Country Rock,” a country blues first recorded by William Moore in 1928 (the group name, Too Sad for the Public, comes from a repeated line in this song); and “Orphée in Opelousas,” sung by Gabriel, Dick’s reimagination of the Orpheus legend from Greek mythology which he sets in Louisiana to a score based on traditional Cajun songs.

I also love what he’s done with the two covers. “He’s a Bad Boy,” sung by Suzzy, was written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin in the early-1960s. As John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers (and Sonya Cohen’s father) pointed out to Dick, the song is a teenage variation on “Stagger Lee.”

“Young Loves to Love,” sung by Ana, is a medley of two early Van Morrison songs – “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Sweet Thing.” The latter song came from Astral Weeks (my second favorite Morrison album) and the arrangement is reminiscent of it – and prominently features the nylon-string guitar playing of Jay Berliner, whose playing was a key component of Astral Weeks.  

The other theme that runs through the album is a tribute to the late Chuck Brown, a Washington, D.C. guitarist who was known as “The Godfather of Go-Go,” a form of funk music. This is first heard in “Liberty City,” a Jaco Pastorius tune that Brown quoted in one his own tunes. Dick offers three short passages from “Liberty City” as strategic interludes during the album. Then, as the penultimate track, there is the 12-minute go-go instrumental “Chuck Baby,” a direct tribute to Brown, whose intensity never stops swirling and building.

While the go-go tracks might initially seem an odd coupling with the folk-inspired material, Dick Connette and the musicians of Too Sad for the Public bring it all together in a way that just seems right.

Dick variously plays harmonium, piano, bass and bass drum throughout the album. In addition to the singers, he is joined by a core group of five musicians – including Chaim Tannenbaum on harmonica –and 12 other contributing musicians. Dicks arrangements are masterful from the opening notes of the first track until the end of the album.

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--Mike Regenstreif

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Canadian Spaces – CKCU – Saturday July 8, 2017

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

This particular show is now available for on-demand listening.

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: Ray Barfitt; Campbell Woods & Tim Jackson; Joel LeBlanc; Anthony Toner

Catherine MacLellan- Bidin’ My Time

J. Reissner- If I Ever Get Lucky
Portrait in Blue (J. Reissner)

Katie Moore & Andrew Horton- Lover’s Return
Six More Miles (Katie Moore)

Tom Russell- Sam Bonnifield’s Saloon
Play One More: The Songs of Ian & Sylvia (True North)

Jayme Stone, Moira Smiley, Sumaia Jackson, Joe Phillips, Felicity Williams, & Denzal Sinclaire- Wait on the Rising Sun

Rufus Wainwright- Oliver

Kim Doolittle- Some Loves Never Leave
Into the Blue (Doo-A-Little Music)

Old Man Luedecke- Chester Boat Song
Domestic Eccentric (True North)

The Malvinas- Meteorite
God Bless the Grass (Soona Songs)

Michael Earnie Taylor Orchestra- Man in the Moon
$3 Pants (Laughing Cactus Music)

Suzie Vinnick- Oh My
Me ‘N’ Mabel (Suzie Vinnick)

Scott Cook- Kitchen Dance Party On
Further Down the Line (Scott Cook)

The Jerry Cans- Namulimaaqsimavunga
Aakuluk (The Jerry Cans)

Jesse Winchester- How About You
Let the Rough Side Drag (Stony Plain)

Peggy Seeger- Talking Wheelchair Blues
The Folkways Years 1955-1992: Songs of Love and Politics (Smithsonian Folkways)

Campbell Woods & Tim Jackson- Blood is Thicker than Water
Live in the studio

Campbell Woods & Tim Jackson- If She Stays
Live in the studio

Campbell Woods & Tim Jackson- Let’s Get Back Together
Live in the studio

Anthony Toner- An Alphabet
Ink (Dozens of Cousins)

Anthony Toner- Let the River
Live in the studio

Anthony Toner- The Night Prayer of Saint Augustine
Live in the studio

Anthony Toner- Sailortown
Live in the studio

Claire Lynch- Black Flowers
North By South (Compass)

I’ll be co-hosting Canadian Spaces again on September 16.

In the meantime, I’ll be hosting Saturday Morning (7-10 am) on July 22, August 19 and September 16.

Find me on Twitter. @MikeRegenstreif

--Mike Regenstreif

Monday, July 3, 2017

Catherine MacLellan – If It’s Alright With You: The Songs of Gene MacLellan

If It’s Alright With You: The Songs of Gene MacLellan
True North Records

I remember Gene MacLellan (1938-1995) as a performer I’d occasionally see on CBC-TV programs from the Maritimes like “Don Messer’s Jubilee” and “Singalong Jubilee” and as the songwriter behind several big hits for Anne Murray like “Snowbird” (which sits on my record shelves in a version by Doc Watson) and “The Call” and the gospel crossover hit “Put Your Hand in the Hand” (which I have in a version by Joan Baez), and as the father of Catherine MacLellan, an accomplished singer and songwriter in her own right whose work I have greatly appreciated over the past decade or so.

On If It’s Alright With You: The Songs of Gene MacLellan, Catherine, who was a young teenager when she lost her father, pays tribute to her father’s songwriting legacy by interpreting – and, occasionally, reimagining – 13 of his songs.

It’s the two biggest hits that are most radically reimagined – making them both standout tracks on an album with no weak links. As an Anne Murray hit, “Snowbird” was bright, bouncy and infectious. Catherine, though, slows the song down, and accompanying herself on electric piano with no other musicians, finds the poetic heartbreak at the essence of the lyrics and lovely melody – and includes a seemingly essential verse that Murray did not sing.

“Put Your Hand in the Hand” is also performed in a much less flamboyant style than Ocean’s hit version allowing the emphasis to shift away from the singalong chorus to the verses’ story. Catherine on lead vocal is beautifully supported by J.P. Cormier and Dave Gunning on guitars and harmony vocals.

My favorite track on the album is Catherine’s duet with John Connolly on “The Call,” another hit that her father wrote for Anne Murray (perhaps my favorite of all of Murray’s many hits). The song, a panhandler’s plaintive plea, has a quietly infectious melody that is beautifully stated here by the nylon-string lead guitar work of Chris Corrigan.

Among the other standouts are “Bidin’ My Time,” a gentle country song beautifully sung over an arrangement also highlighted by Corrigan’s lead guitar playing; “Faces,” which captures deep feelings of loneliness and depression; and “Shiloh Song,” which seems like a song of encouragement sung by a parent whose circumstances might dictate too much time away from his kids.

Along with the release of this album, Catherine has also created a new stage show, “If It’s Alright With You: The Life and Music of My Father, Gene MacLellan,” that she is performing through September at the PEI Brewing Company in Charlottetown. And Catherine will be bringing much of the show to her National Arts Centre concert here in Ottawa on November 9.

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--Mike Regenstreif