Sunday, August 27, 2017

Dakota Dave Hull & Sean Blackburn – Ace Pickin’ and Sweet Harmony; North by Southwest; River of Swing

Ace Pickin’ and Sweet Harmony
North by Southwest
River of Swing
Arabica Records

Between 1977 and 1982, I operated a small independent agency booking concert tours for a select clientele of highly regarded artists. One day, circa 1979 or ’80, my friend Bruce Kaplan (who, sadly, died in 1992), the head honcho at Flying Fish Records in Chicago, called and asked me to work with the Minneapolis-based duo of Dakota Dave Hull & Sean Blackburn. Flying Fish had just released (or was soon to release) River of Swing, Dave and Sean’s third LP.

Bruce sent me the LP, I loved it, and I ended up doing some booking for Dave and Sean. Dave – a very good singer and great guitar player – and Sean (who also, sadly, died in 2005) – a very good guitar player and great singer – complemented each other almost perfectly in their adoption and adaptation of western swing, country, and folk classics and originals. As a duo on stage – and with expanded accompaniment in the studio – they made wonderful music together over a 10-year period, and recorded three great albums.

Long out of print, Dakota Dave Hull has just reissued the three LPs on CD for the first time and it’s been such a treat to hear and enjoy these albums again.

The title of the first LP, Ace Pickin’ and Sweet Harmony, recorded in 1977, actually sums up what Dave and Sean’s music was all about. Recorded with a half-dozen of Minneapolis’ finest musicians and – including such enduring notables as Peter Ostroushko on fiddle and mandolin and Butch Thompson on clarinet – the album includes some great western swing classics like “Hillbilly Swing” and “Old Fashioned Love” but I’m particularly fond of the original material.

Dave enjoyed a long songwriting collaboration with Jerry Clark and their three fine co-writes on the album are highly influenced by Woody Guthrie. These include “Drought Year,” a lament for the Midwestern drought of 1976, “The Old Campaigns,” a remembrance of political struggles from the 1930s, and, best of all, “Give the Fiddler a Dram,” sung from the perspective of a fiddler who’s seen too much and has drunk too much and who knows that times will be tough through the long winter approaching. “Give the Fiddler a Dram” is done in a medley with “Midnight on the Water,” one of my favorite fiddle tunes that features some great guitar playing from both Dave and Sean and, of course, fiddling by Peter.

Sean’s songs include the swinging “Jingle in My Jeans” and “When You Go,” a break-up song that seems wiser than most.

The second LP, North by Southwest, recorded in 1978, featured a smaller group of all-acoustic back-up musicians: Tim O’Brien on bass, Peter Ostroushko on mandolin and fiddle and Butch Thompson on clarinet and piano. While the first album had a jam session feel on many of the songs, this one seems tighter and more rehearsed. Some of my favorites of the classic material include “Dixie Cannonball,” on which Dave and Sean trade lead vocals on the verses and harmonize on the chorus, “Take Me to the Land of Jazz,” which is a lot of fun, and “Miss the Mississippi and You,” which convinced me that Sean – had he wanted to – could have been one of the greatest singers in country music.

The original material included a couple more fine songs from Dave and Jerry Clark and a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the art of growing a moustache by Sean.

Dave and Sean’s third and final LP, River of Swing, recorded in 1979, combined the bigger band fun of the first album with the tightness of the second. An expanded group of virtuoso musicians carries up-tempo swing tunes like “Deep Water” and “Mississippi Shore” to new heights while numbers like “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire” showcase Sean’s voice to great effect.

The original numbers include Dave and Jerry Clark’s “Money,” while Eric Peltoniemi has two fine collaborations. “The Wicked Wind of Fargo,” co-written with Dave decades before the Coen Brothers movie, is a toe-tapper that doesn’t make me want to ever visit Dave’s hometown within months of winter, while “River of Swing,” co-written with Sean, is an infectious tribute to the joy of music that explodes into a Dixieland jam worthy of Preservation Hall.

There was a lot of magic in the musical chemistry of Dakota Dave Hull and Sean Blackburn. I’m so happy their three albums are back in print.

After the duo wound down, Dave gave up singing and devoted himself to the guitar. He is now widely recognized as one of the greatest instrumentalists and composers in acoustic folk-rooted and folk-branched music. Dave has a bunch of excellent CDs to his credit. Sean went on to form a superb duo with cowgirl singer Liz Masterson with whom he recorded several fine albums before suffering a heart attack and passing away tragically at the much-too-young age of 56 in 2005.

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--Mike Regenstreif

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Saturday Morning with Mike Regenstreif – CKCU – Saturday August 19, 2017

Saturday Morning is an eclectic roots-oriented program on CKCU in Ottawa heard live on Saturday mornings from 7 until 10 am (Eastern time) and then available for on-demand streaming. I am one of the four rotating hosts of Saturday Morning and base my programming on the Folk Roots/Folk Branches format I developed at CKUT in Montreal.

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

This episode of Saturday Morning can be streamed on-demand at

Extended theme – Songs of Tom Russell.

Bruce Cockburn- States I’m In
Bone on Bone (True North)

Kim & Reggie Harris- Eyes on the Prize
Rock of Ages (Appleseed)
Too Sad for the Public w/Ana Egge- Old Alabama
Odetta- Freedom Trilogy: Oh Freedom, Come & Go with Me, I’m On My Way
Gonna Let It Shine (M.C.)

Shawna Caspi- Never Enough
Forest Fire (Shawna Caspi)
Catherine MacLellan- Shilo Song
Chris Ronald- Fragments
Fragments (Borealis)
Lynn Miles- All the Birds
Black Flowers Vol. 4 (Lynn Miles)
Jolie Holland & Samantha Parton- Biding My Time
Wildflower Blues (Cinquefoil)

The Early Mays- Say-O
Chase the Sun (The Early Mays)
Dakota Dave Hull & Sean Blackburn- Old Fashioned Love
Ball & Chain- Jackson
Trouble All the Time (Ball & Chain)
Ben Hunter, Joe Seamons & Phil Wiggins- Struttin’ with Some Barbecue
A Black & Tan Ball (Tantamount)
Jayme Stone, Moira Smiley, Sumaia Jackson, Joe Phillips, Felicity Williams & Denzal Sinclaire- Wait on the Rising Sun

Bill Staines- Zane Grey
Miles (Mineral River)
Sylvia Tyson- String too Short to Save
Gypsy Cadillac (Silver City)
Dave Alvin- Down the Rio Grande
Ashgrove (Yep Roc)
Tom Russell- Leaving El Paso
Folk Hotel (Frontera) 

Steve Young- Angel of Lyon
Switchblades of Love (Watermelon)
Gretchen Peters- Saint Francis
Hello Cruel World (Scarlet Letter)
Katy Moffatt- Marina
Where the Heart Is (Centerfire)
Tom Russell- Rise Again, Handsome Johnny
Folk Hotel (Frontera)

Mike Regenstreif & Tom Russell (2012)
Jerry Jeff Walker- Navajo Rug
Navajo Rug (Rykodisc)
Joe Ely- Gallo del Cielo
Letter to Laredo (MCA)
Ian Tyson- Wolves No Longer Sing
Carnero Vaquero (Stony Plain)
Tom Russell- I’ll Never Leave These Old Horses
Folk Hotel (Frontera)

Tom Paxton & Anne Hills- Manzanar
Under American Skies (Appleseed)
Tracy Grammer- Blue Wing
Book of Sparrows (Tracy Grammer)
Nanci Griffith- St. Olav’s Gate
The Last of the True Believers (Philo)
Tom Russell- The Light Beyond the Coyote Fence
Folk Hotel (Frontera)

Claire Lynch- Kingdom Come
North By South (Compass)
Dakota Dave Hull & Sean Blackburn- Take Me to the Land of Jazz
Mason Daring & Jeanie Stahl- Chattanooga Choo Choo
Forty (Daring)
Jackie Washington- When that Midnight Choo Choo Leaves for Alabam’
Midnight Choo Choo (Borealis)
Dakota Dave Hull & Sean Blackburn- River of Swing
River of Swing (Arabica)

Terry Gillespie- Another Black Night
Home Boy: Live at the Granary (Terry Gillespie)
Rob Lutes- Better Past
Walk in the Dark (Lucky Bear)
Missy Burgess-- Basket of Blues
Lemon Pie (Missy Burgess)
David Bromberg- Delia
Rob Lutes- I Am the Blues
Walk in the Dark (Lucky Bear)

Beyond the Pale- Ion Dragoi
Ruckus (Borealis)

I’ll be hosting Saturday Morning next on September 16.

Find me on Twitter. @MikeRegenstreif

--Mike Regenstreif