Sunday, March 26, 2017

Guy Davis & Fabrizio Poggi – Sonny & Brownie’s Last Train

Sonny & Brownie’s Last Train
M.C. Records

The magnificent blues duo of singer/harmonica master Sonny Terry and singer/guitarist Brownie McGhee were the first really old musicians I ever got to know. 

Let me qualify what I mean by “really old.” They were 10 to 15 years older than my parents and 10 to 15 years younger than my grandparents. But most of the artists I was encountering in coffeehouses when I was 15 or 16 were in their 20s and 30s and Sonny and Brownie were in their 50s (younger than I am now) – so they seemed “really old.”

Sonny and Brownie started working as duo in the early-1940s and had been playing together for nearly three decades by the time I met them sometime in 1969 or ’70. Sonny and Brownie were playing a five-night gig at the Back Door – a great, but short-lived folk club in Montreal – and I think I went at least three or four of those nights. I remember their sets as being fantastic. I particularly loved songs like “Rock Island Line” that they would sing together. And I remember being fascinated watching the muscles in Brownie’s arms move as he played guitar.

On one of those nights, I screwed up my courage and asked if I could talk to them about Woody Guthrie. I had become fascinated with Woody and had been listening to his records and reading everything I could about him. I had seen their names associated with Woody and I recognized that the amazing and distinctive harmonica player I was listening to at the Back Door was the same harmonica player I heard on some of the Woody Guthrie records I had. Sonny and Brownie were both most gracious in talking with the curious kid that I was. Speakiing with them was an incredible experience that taught me so much more than I realized at the time.

By the mid-1970s, I was producing concerts in Montreal and was honored to present a couple of shows with Sonny and Brownie.

On Sonny & Brownie’s Last Train, Guy Davis, one of the finest blues artists of my generation, combines with the excellent Italian harmonica player Fabrizio Poggi for what Guy describes as “a love letter to Sonny and Brownie.”

Indeed, the entire album is a loving homage to the inspiring folk-blues masters. Guy and Fabrizio include several of Sonny and Brownie’s original songs and a bunch of other songs drawn from their extensive repertoire. Of special note, though, is the opening title track. Guy says he improvised Sonny and Brownie’s Last Trainduring the recording session. The song lets us know how he feels about Sonny and Brownie and about how unique and special they were.
Brownie McGhee (left) and Sonny Terry
While I enjoyed the entire 12-song set from start to finish, some of my favorite numbers included Brownie’s “Walk On,” which, as much as any song, could be called his signature song (I remember driving with him once in Montreal and his car’s California license plate read “Walk On”); “Take This Hammer” and “Midnight Special,” two songs Sonny and Brownie got from their friend Lead Belly; “Step It Up and Go,” a bouncy tune favored by a lot of the Piedmont style bluesmen of their generation; and a sweet version of “Freight Train” that hues closer to Elizabeth Cotton’s original than to Sonny and Brownie’s variant.

As the guitarist, Guy recalls Brownie while Fabrizio on harmonica recalls Sonny for those of us who were lucky enough to have seen Sonny and Brownie on stage (see the drawing on the CD cover). Ill note, though, that Guy is the only singer tackling songs on which both Brownie and Sonny variously took the lead vocals. Ill also note that Guy is playing both harmonica and guitar on “Shortnin Bread” (while Fabrizio plays kick drum) while on the title track, both Guy (right channel) and Fabrizio (left channel) are playing harmonica.

Guy and Fabrizio’s Sonny & Brownie’s Last Train sent me back to the subjects of the homage. Over the past week as I’ve listened to and enjoyed Guy Davis and Fabrizio Poggi doing these songs, I’ve also been listening to and enjoying albums by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.

Sonny & Brownie’s Last Train was released in the U.S. on March 24. It will be released here in Canada on March 31.

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--Mike Regenstreif

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Canadian Spaces – CKCU – Saturday March 25, 2016

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: Sneezy Waters; Brooklyn Doran and Gillian Nicola; Ray Montford; Hannah Shira Naiman and Arnie Naiman; Lynne Hanson

Sneezy Waters- I Threw It All Away
Sneezy Waters Live (Sneezy Waters)

David Clayton-Thomas- Sonny’s Dream
Canadiana (Antoinette/ILS)

Jayme Stone, Moira Smiley, Sumaia Jackson, Joe Phillips, Felicity Williams, & Denzal Sinclaire- Candy Gal
Jayme Stone’s Folklife (Borealis)

April Verch- Light in the Window
The April Verch Anthology (Slab Town)

Murray McLauchlan- When You’re at the Top

Amanda Rheaume w/Chantal Kreviazuk- Red Dress
Holding Patterns (Amanda Rheaume)

Eric Bibb & Michael Jerome Browne- Blacktop
Migration Blues (Stony Plain)

The Wailin Jennys- Bring Me Little Water, Sylvie
The Wailin’ Jennys (The Wailin’ Jennys)

Jenny Whiteley w/Chris & Ken Whiteley- Things are Coming My Way

Maria Dunn- When I was Young
Gathering (Distant Whisper)

James Keelaghan & Oscar Lopez- Gathering Storm
History: The First 25 Years (Borealis)

Wyatt Easterling- Pacing the Cage
Divining Rod (Phoenix Rising)

Doug McArthur- Stumble From Vesuvio
Tears Like Rain (Doug McArthur)

Brooklyn Doran & Gillian Nicola- I Found a Home
Live in the studio

Gillian Nicola & Brooklyn Doran- Oh Marie
Live in the studio

Claire Lynch- Black Flowers
North By South (Compass)

Ray Montford- Let Your River Flow
Live in the studio

Ray Montford- An untitled (so far) tune
Live in the studio

Hannah Shira Naiman & ARNIE NAIMAN- Know the Mountain
Live in the studio

Arnie Naiman & Hannah Shira Naiman- Playing Jane
Live in the studio

Lynne Hanson- Carry Me Home
Uneven Ground (Song Shop)

Lynne Hanson- Just for Now
Live in the Studio

I’ll be co-hosting Canadian Spaces again on May 27.

In the meantime, I’ll be hosting Saturday Morning (7-10 am) on April 1, April 29 and May 27.

Find me on Twitter. @MikeRegenstreif

--Mike Regenstreif

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Murray McLauchlan – Love Can’t Tell Time

Love Can’t Tell Time
True North

On first listen, Love Can’t Tell Time, the latest album by Murray McLauchlan, is reminiscent of the two recent albums of old jazz/pop standards by Bob Dylan. Like the Dylan albums, Murray is working with a small, tight ensemble – actually, smaller than Dylan’s with only three other musicians throughout – that offers tight, but relaxed versions of the standards in a rootsy, but nicely swinging vein.

But, there’s a big difference between Murray’s album and the two Dylan albums (plus the upcoming 3-CD set due in a couple of weeks) in that Murray not only sings standards, he’s writing and co-writing songs that fit seamlessly with the standards. In fact, Murray wrote or co-wrote seven of the 10 tracks on Love Can’t Tell Time and the original material reaches the lofty heights of time-tested standards like “Pick Yourself Up,” “Hey There” and “Come Fly With Me.”

The other big difference between Love Can’t Tell Time and the Dylan albums is the centrality of Murray’s guitar playing to the arrangements. Whereas Dylan is at the microphone fronting a band, Murray is playing as he sings so that the voice and guitar are intimately intertwined – as is the playing of upright bassist Victor Bateman, violinist Drew Jurecka and pedal steel player Burke Carroll. This quartet plays throughout with no other musicians. There’s no drummer, no horn players, no electric guitarist, etc. – and the additional musicians are not missed from this quiet, relaxed set.

Among my favorites from Murray’s songs are “The Second Half of Life,” a gentle celebration of the wisdom and acceptance – and the ability to be one’s self without having to prove anything – that comes with age; “The Luckiest Guy,” which has an infectious swing highlighted by a Grappelli-esque violin solo; and “Love Just Can’t Tell Time,” which astutely tells us that love is possible at any age.

I’ve been listening to Murray’s songs for about 45 years and it’s great to hear him making music for an audience that has matured with him over those years.

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--Mike Regenstreif