Saturday, April 18, 2015

Bonnie Dobson – Take Me for a Walk in the Morning Dew



BONNIE DOBSON
Take Me for a Walk in the Morning Dew
Hornbeam Recordings

Canadian folksinger Bonnie Dobson began her career, circa 1960, singing traditional songs. She recorded quite prolifically in the ‘60s and is best known for her 1961 song, “Morning Dew,” the classic anti-nuclear war anthem recorded by countless artists from the Grateful Dead to Long John Baldry and Vince Martin & Fred Neil.

By sometime in the 1970s, Bonnie was living in England and stepped away from performing and recording for many years. She has returned with a vengeance, though, with Take Me for a Walk in the Morning Dew, a collection of new recordings on which she revisits some of the most memorable songs – both original and traditional – that she recorded back in the day, as well as several songs I’d not heard from her before.

While Bonnie’s voice is just as beautiful as what I remember from her early Prestige LPs, her singing, more than 50 years later, is much more powerful – and more than a match for the folk rock arrangements and the fine band that accompanies her – which brings a very feeling to the familiar songs. For example, while her 1964 live recording of “Morning Dew” captured the vulnerability and fear of the Cold War period, this new version brings out the anger that such vulnerability and fear should have ever existed.

A few of my other favorite tracks include “Born in the Country,” a rocking version of Judy Roderick’s adaptation of Richard “Rabbit” Brown’s “James Alley Blues,” one of my favorite songs from Harry Smith’s remarkable Anthology of American Folk Music; “Living on Plastic,” a witty, post-divorce piece about living on credit with the bills going to the ex; and “JB’s Song,” a beautiful lament for someone who died at much too young an age.

As much as I enjoyed the band arrangements on most of the album, my very favorite piece here is Bonnie’s stunning a cappella version of the traditional “Dink’s Song.” I’ve got dozens of versions of “Dink’s Song” in my collection and this is one of the best.

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--Mike Regenstreif

Friday, April 17, 2015

Ottawa Grassroots Festival – April 23-26



The Ottawa Grassroots Festival, a small volunteer-run, family-oriented springtime folk festival spearheaded by Bob Nesbitt, returns Thursday-Sunday April 23-26 for its fourth year. It takes place at the Montgomery Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, 330 Kent Street in Ottawa. There are ticketed concerts Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights and all kinds of free events Saturday and Sunday during the day.

Tickets for the evening concerts are $20 (Thursday), $25 (Friday or Saturday) – or $45 for a three-night festival pass.

The Thursday evening concert will be MCed by Alexandre Maheux and features Franco-Ontario performers Sarah Bradley, Eric Dubeau and Stef Paquette.

Old Man Luedecke
The Friday evening concert will be MCed by Tonya Price and begins with a short performance by The Sparrows, a children’s choir directed by Chris White, followed by feature-length sets by Shawna Caspi and Old Man Luedecke.

The Saturday evening concert will be MCed by Arthur McGregor and begins with Max Cossette singing “The Grassroots Festival Song,” followed by feature-length sets by Lyndell Montgomery & Terry Gillespie and Connie Kaldor.

The Saturday and Sunday daytime events include workshops, kids’ activities and concerts, performances, choirs, jam sessions, open stages and much more.

A daytime event that I’m particularly looking forward to is a song circle that I’ll be hosting with
Connie Kaldor
Connie Kaldor, Old Man Luedecke, Shawna Caspi and Terry Gillespie. That’s on Saturday from 2-3:30 pm on the second floor Grass Stage.

Visit ottawagrassrootsfestival.com for all the details including the full schedule and information on all of the performers, or to order tickets (also on sale at the Ottawa Folklore Centre and Compact Music).

Should be a great weekend.

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--Mike Regenstreif

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Jesse Winchester – Seems Like Only Yesterday: Live in Montreal 1976



JESSE WINCHESTER
Seems Like Only Yesterday: Live in Montreal 1976
Real Gone Music

Exactly one year ago today, Jesse Winchester, my friend of more than 40 years, and one of the greatest singer-songwriters ever, passed away following a battle with cancer. A year ago – “seems like only yesterday.”

Looking back, the memories – “everyone’s got him a few” – are vivid. It “seems like only yesterday” that I was struck by Jesse and his songs the first time I heard him play when I was 14 or 15 in 1968 or ’69 (Tom Paxton was sitting beside me at the time, but that’s another story) or when I started booking Jesse to play at some of the early concert series I was running in Montreal, circa 1972-’74.

And it “seems like only yesterday” – it was 1974 – that I took over the Golem, a year-old Montreal folk coffeehouse, and started booking Jesse for three-night gigs, two or three times a year.

In those days, Jesse’s gigs at the Golem were as a solo artist – just him and his nylon-string guitar (although I do remember other musicians occasionally sitting in with him). But, at some point around that time, he also started working with a band. I remember seeing Jesse with the band at venues like the Hotel Nelson in Old Montreal and Norm Silver’s Mustache behind the Montreal Forum.

On October 13, 1976, Jesse and the band – lead guitarist Bobby Cohen, bassist Marty Harris, drummer Dave Lewis, and the late, great pedal steel virtuoso Ron Dann – played a radio concert at Studio Six in Montreal that was broadcast both locally and across the border on FM stations in Boston, New York, Hartford, Providence, Philadelphia and Baltimore-Washington. In those days, before the 1977 amnesty for Vietnam War-era draft evaders like Jesse, he was unable to perform in the United States so this radio concert was the first time that people in the U.S. got to hear him play live. (It was also, apparently, the first time that a state-of-the-art FM radio concert had been broadcast live across international borders.)

That radio concert, unheard and unreleased for almost 39 years, has now been released as Seems Like Only Yesterday: Live in Montreal 1976. And unlike several other live sets from the ‘70s that were released without Jesse’s authorization – and much to his chagrin – Seems Like Only Yesterday has been authorized by Jesse’s family.

Although it’s probably been 35 or so years since I heard this band play live, the familiarity of the songs and the arrangements do make it seem “like only yesterday.” The songs were mostly drawn from the four albums Jesse had released to date – Jesse Winchester; Third Down, 110 to Go; Learn to Love It; and the then-current Let the Rough Side Drag – with a few more that would be on 1977’s Nothing but a Breeze.

Although I always preferred hearing Jesse solo – maybe because that was the context for most of his concerts I was directly involved with – I also always enjoyed his work with this particular set of musicians. Excellent players all, they fleshed out the songs on stage without ever getting in their way.

While some of the numbers – including the classics “Brand New Tennessee Waltz,” “Mississippi You’re On My Mind” and “Yankee Lady,” as well as Martha Carson’s “I Can’t Stand Up Alone”– remained standards of Jesse’s concert repertoire throughout his career, I was particularly thrilled to hear some of the more obscure songs like the beautiful “All of Your Stories,” always one of my very favorite of Jesse’s songs, the dark “Black Dog,” and “Midnight Bus,” which I don’t think I heard Jesse perform in more recent decades. “All of Your Stories,” with an arrangement that is very different from the solo recording on Third Down, 110 to Go, is, perhaps, the most re-imagined song of the set.

Mike Regenstreif & Jesse Winchester (2009)
It was also a treat to hear this particular version of “Tell My Why You Like Roosevelt,” Jesse’s rewrite of Otis Jackson’s song from the 1940s, with its last verse reference to Jean Drapeau, then the highly authoritarian mayor of Montreal. I’d forgotten about that verse which was not included in Jesse’s officially released version on Learn to Love It – and which really could only be understood by those of us who lived in Montreal in those days.

Chuck Gray’s Studio Six was one of Montreal’s top recording facilities in the 1970s and was a familiar spot for Jesse – he had recorded Let the Rough Side Drag there – so the sound quality was unusually high for a live radio concert. Jesse and the band seemed relaxed and comfortable and turned in a set I take great pleasure in revisiting after all these years. Yeah, it does seem “like only yesterday.”

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--Mike Regenstreif