Saturday, April 2, 2016

Corin Raymond – Hobo Jungle Fever Dreams

Hobo Jungle Fever Dreams
Local Rascal

Toronto-based singer-songwriter Corin Raymond arrived on my radar about seven years ago thanks to a brilliant song called “There will Always be a Small Time,” a piece I described at the time as “a near-perfect piece of songwriting.” But, just as there is so much more to Ian Tyson than “Four Strong Winds,” or to Gordon Lightfoot than “The Canadian Railroad Trilogy,” or to Leonard Cohen than “Suzanne,” or to so many other examples, there is more to Corin Raymond than “There will Always be a Small Time.”

That is more than evident on Corin’s new album, “Hobo Jungle Fever Dreams,” a set of nine fine songs he either wrote or co-wrote, and one cover.

Corin is a singer-songwriter whose work engages the listener, the words and melodies combining to draw listeners into the stories he’s telling – and whether the stories are autobiographical or about other people, real or fictional, it’s the story that matters with the lyrics, music, arrangement and delivery all in service to the story.

The album opens strongly with “Hard on Things,” co-written with Rob Vaarmeyer, in which he conversationally describes all those things he’s hard on – from his body to many material things and, by implication (“I’ve worn out two gold wedding rings”), his relationships.

Among the other highlights are “Under the Belly of the Night,” co-written with Jonathan Byrd, which pays tribute to fallen early rock ‘n’ roll and R&B heroes Buddy Holly, Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson and to how their music endures so many decades after their deaths; “Two Miles of Trains,” co-written with Raghu Lokanathan, an upbeat, infectious celebration of hobo culture (the album’s title comes from this song); and “Morning Glories,” a piano-based tribute to some of the characters – flawed but good-hearted folks – that one might encounter walking around a rundown Toronto neighbourhood.

Corin Raymond makes you care about the people in these songs.

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--Mike Regenstreif

Friday, March 25, 2016

Noel Paul Stookey – At Home: The Maine Tour

At Home: The Maine Tour

As I’ve noted before, I was too young to have been caught up in the wave of commercial folk groups – like the Kingston Trio and Limeliters – that became hugely popular in the late-1950s. But several groups that came along just a little bit later – in particular Ian & Sylvia and Peter, Paul & Mary – did have a huge impact on me as my interest in music, and especially folk music, developed in the ‘60s. Years later, I got to know Noel Paul Stookey a little and, through him, met Peter Yarrow and Mary Travers, when Peter, Paul & Mary performed in Montreal in the ‘80s.

Along with the many Peter, Paul & Mary albums, Noel has also recorded many solo albums and his latest, At Home: The Maine Tour, is a warm and intimate, extended live set – 24 songs running 79 minutes – recorded during a tour of Maine, his home state for the past four decades. It’s an entirely solo affair – no back-up musicians or singers – with the spotlight all on his voice and very accomplished guitar arrangements.

The set is a CD/DVD combo with the songs on the CD and videos of them recorded at the concerts on the DVD. Some of the songs are numbers I’ve never heard before while others are new versions of songs from Peter, Paul & Mary or earlier solo albums. (I think one of the songs, the then-unreleased “Facets of the Jewel,” may have had its world premiere when Noel was my guest on the Folk Roots/Folk Branches radio program in 1999.)

The most moving pieces on At Home, are “Jean Claude,” a reflection on the Holocaust from the perspective of an old French man who, as a boy, witnessed his friend, a Jewish boy named Michel, shipped off to a Nazi death camp; “Familia Del Corazon,” an inspiring song I’d never heard before that’s an important reminder of what countries like the United States and Canada truly represent to ourselves and to the rest of the world (and an important message in these Trumpian times); and “Not That Kind of Music,” a tribute to Pete Seeger written a couple of years before Pete passed away.

Among my other favorites in this set are such classics as “Wedding Song (There is Love),” a beautiful piece he wrote to sing at Peter Yarrow’s wedding; “Whatshername,” a jazzy reminiscence, many years later, of one who got away (I’m sure most everyone has a whatshername to recall); “Virtual Party,” a witty, delightful spoof of anonymity in the digital age; and “Glory Train,” Noel’s adaptation of the traditional “This Train,” which brings the set back to the first Peter, Paul & Mary LP 54 or so years ago.

Near the end of the album, Noel sings “In These Times,” and it strikes me that At Home: The Maine Tour is a timeless collection from an artist with a deep understanding of his times.

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--Mike Regenstreif

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Huxtable, Christensen & Hood – Under the Weather; Lisa Null - Legacies

Under the Weather
Fool’s Hill Music

Huxtable, Christensen & Hood Teresina Huxtable, Carol Christensen and Liz Hood – began playing coffeehouses and folk festivals in the 1970s. Around 1980, they released their first LP, the excellent Wallflowers, which effectively mixed traditional folksongs with a few of Terri Huxtable’s originals – mostly sung in glorious three part harmonies. A second LP, Melancholy Babies, came out around 1986 and added a couple of old pop songs to the folk and original material.

Finally, 30 years later, comes Under the Weather, a third album from the trio – a set that expands on the folk, original and pop material to include songs from three superb folk-rooted songwriters who have passed away in recent years.

They open the Under the Weather with a lovely version of “Talk to Me of Mendocino,” my late friend Kate McGarrigle’s exquisite ode to New York State, the California coast and lost love. Later in the set are superb versions the late Victoria Armstrong’s “Santa Fe River,” and the historical narrative “John D. Lee,” written by my late friend Bruce “Utah” Phillips, which vividly describes an 1857 massacre in Utah. All three of these borrowed songs are among the highlights of the album.

Other highlights include “The Isle of St. Helena,” a Napoleonic ballad that effectively uses snare drums and flutes to help provide a military backdrop to the arrangement; a spine tingling solo a cappella version of “Open the Door Softly”; a Nova Scotia version of “Since Love Can Enter an Iron Door,” featuring the voices on top of a reed organ and accordion arrangement (with an effectively a cappella verse); and Terri’s “The Stroll,” whose lyrics evoke high school dances from the long ago and whose arrangement suggests early rock ‘n’ roll.

It’s nice to hear the voices of Huxtable, Christensen & Hood again after all these years.

Folk-Legacy Records

Lisa Null is another artist from the 1970s that I hadn’t heard in decades – save for a track on Singing Through the Hard Times, a Utah Phillips tribute released in 2009.

Although she hadn’t made a new album in more than 30 years, Lisa decided to record much of her repertoire after a serious illness in order to ensure the songs she loves will remain. On Legacies, a 2-CD boxed set, Lisa offers a 72-minute collection of traditional folksongs, a 63-minute collection of mostly original songs, and a 68 page booklet of extensive notes.

My memories of Lisa from back in the day are of a singer of traditional folksongs who worked with guitarist Bill Shute on the folk festival circuit. And, indeed, the CD of traditional material shows that she still knows how to communicate the stories and feelings at the essence of these songs whether singing a cappella or working with some simple, but beautifully arranged accompaniments.

Among the traditional highlights are “The Banks of Champlain,” a historical ballad with piano accompaniment by Donna Long, in which a woman mourns her lover’s death in a War of 1812 battle; “Dink’s Song,” the achingly beautiful song collected by John Lomax more than a century ago that Lisa sings a cappella; and “I Went to See My Mother,” an Ozark song from the singing of Almeda Riddle that Lisa performs with banjo player Bob Claypool.

I don’t recall hearing Lisa singing her own songs back in the day so the second CD in this collection came as a surprise. The only one I previously knew was “I’m Going Home to Georgia,” a beautifully realized song from the perspective of an old man full of regrets, that I remember from one of Sally Rogers’ early LPs. Lisa sings it here with an unusual harp (David Scheim) and electric bass (Pete Kraemer) arrangement that works perfectly.

Other highlights from the collection of “Newer Songs and Tunes” include “Turn Me Loose and Let Me Go,” a song of comfort and farewell also featuring Scheim and Kraemer; “Come Take Me Home Again, Kathleen,” an a cappella song written in the style of a traditional Iriah ballad about the historical troubles in Ireland; and the bouncy “Follow the Money,” with Lisa on electric piano, one of several instrumental tunes she composed.

The second CD also includes several songs Lisa did not write and I was most taken by the quietly powerful “Andy Goodman (To His Mother),” a song written by Jean Ritchie following the brutal 1964 murders of civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Mickey Schwerner. Sung from Goodman’s perspective, it’s a song I’d never heard before (although I own many of Jean’s recordings and saw her perform numerous times).

Like Huxtable, Christensen & Hood, it’s good to hear Lisa again after all these years.

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--Mike Regenstreif