Sunday, November 27, 2011

Various Artists – Note of Hope: Woody Guthrie & Rob Wasserman, a collaboration in Words and Music

Note of Hope: Woody Guthrie and Rob Wasserman – a collaboration in words and music
429 Records

“The note of hope is the only note
That can keep us from falling to the bottom of the heap of evolution
Because, largely, about all a human being is anyway
Is just, a hoping machine.”

-Woody Guthrie, Notes About Music, 3/29/1946

During the almost-14-year run of the Folk Roots/Folk Branches radio show on CKUT in Montreal, I did a bunch of special programs devoted to the songs of Woody Guthrie.

Almost 11 years ago, on January 4, 2001, Nora Guthrie, Woody’s daughter and director of the Woody Guthrie Archives, joined me on one of those shows to talk about Woody, the archives and the various projects she had done, or had in the works, to bring the thousands of unheard songs in the archives to life.

One of the projects she mentioned was a multi-artist collection being spearheaded by the great bassist Rob Wasserman. I was already a big fan of Rob’s playing and of his Duets album for which he collaborated with a different artist on every track, so the Woody Guthrie project was something I quickly began looking forward to.

Years passed since that radio show. When I’d see Nora over the years, she’d tell me the project was still ongoing. Finally, Note of Hope is out, released in conjunction with celebration leading to the centennial of Woody’s birth on July 14, 2012.

Rob Wasserman’s bass playing is the heartbeat of this collection, and the soul is Woody Guthrie’s writings, dating from his New York – particularly Brooklyn – years of 1942 to 1954.

It’s an eclectic collection of artists and an eclectic range of material that Rob and Nora have assembled for Note of Hope. There are artists rooted in folk, rock, jazz and hip hop – or various combinations thereof – and the songs, mostly set to music by the individual artists themselves, or in collaboration with Rob, stretch far and away, both lyrically and musically, from the standard Woody Guthrie canon. In addition to having been a prolific songwriter, Woody was also a prolific prose writer and I'm sure some these pieces were not written as songs. Several of the most compelling tracks are performed as spoken word pieces with musical backing.

The spoken word tracks, and a couple of others that are kind of sung-spoken, remind me of Jack Kerouac’s recorded readings with musical backing.

Among the spoken word pieces is “Voice,” performed by Ani DiFranco, a Coney Island meditation on how it is not real, authentic, everyday people reflected in popular culture – something that’s not much different 60 or 70 years later.

Another is “I Heard a Man Talking,” a reading by the late Studs Terkel, the legendary Chicago radio interviewer and oral historian. The piece, written in 1943, is a story that could have come out of Kerouac’s On the Road, written almost a decade later. It makes me wonder if Kerouac’s stream-of-consciousness writing style was at least partially inspired by Woody’s writing.

And then there’s “There’s a Feeling in Music,” read by Pete Seeger on top of a banjo and bass arrangement composed and played Tony Trischka and Rob. Written in 1942 just two years after Woody and Pete met for the first time in New York City, it is a beautifully written rumination on why music and songs are so important and so much a part of our lives.

“The Debt I Owe,” set to music with some of his additional words by Lou Reed is almost a talking song too. The narrator walks around Coney Island – where Woody lived with wife Marjorie Mazia Guthrie and kids Arlo, Joady and Nora – ruminating on money troubles in a way that seems to so reflect the burdens of so many in our own 21st century economic crisis. But, there’s another layer to the song. The real debt is not about money, it’s about the times we’re living in – “the bell is ringing out danger,” Lou sings (and a line Lee Hays and Pete Seeger would use a few years later) – and the people we love and sometimes hurt, and owe so much to.

Other highlights include “Wild Card in the Hole,” set to music and sung by Madeleine Peyroux, another song that seems as reflective of our own times as of 1949 when Woody wrote the words; and “Old Folks,” set to music and sung by Nelly McKay, in which the narrator muses on the weariness and accomplishment of old age and the optimism of youth.

The finale, “You Know the Night,” set to music by Rob and Jackson Browne, and sung by Jackson, is an amazing 15-minute tour-de-force in which Woody vividly recalls the night he met Marjorie. Written in 1943, it almost presages songs like “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” that Bob Dylan would start writing two decades later.

The performing artists in this collection are of our time, but I never cease to be astounded how so much of Woody’s writings, from six or seven decades ago, seems to be as much, or more so, of our time as his.

--Mike Regenstreif

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Healing Garden Music Fest

My friend Terry Eagen from Waltham, Massachusetts, lost his wife, Mary, to leukemia in 1992. Since, then Terry has honoured Mary’s memory by spearheading the creation of healing gardens at several cancer care facilities in Canada and the U.S.

Terry fundraises for the gardens by holding annual Healing Garden Music Fests in several American and Canadian cities. Ottawa’s seventh annual Healing Garden Music Fest is this coming Sunday, November 27, 2:00-5:00 pm, at the Bronson Centre. Proceeds from this concert will support the completion of the Mary Eagen Garden at the Irving Greenberg Family Cancer Centre at the Queensway Carleton Hospital.

Artists appearing on Sunday include Lynn Miles, Missy Burgess, Amanda Rheaume and Ana Miura. Special guest stars are Michael Burgess – Missy’s brother – best known for his starring role in Les Miserables and Keith Glass of Prairie Oyster.

Tickets are $25 at the door. I’m sure it will be a wonderful afternoon. For more info, visit

--Mike Regenstreif

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Stan Rogers – Fogarty’s Cove (reissue)

Fogarty’s Cove
Fogarty’s Cove/Borealis

This review discusses the newly remastered and reissued version of Fogarty’s Cove, Stan Rogers’ first album.

As I noted in my review of The Very Best of Stan Rogers, Stan and I were friends for the last eight years of his life after meeting at the 1975 Mariposa Folk Festival. I invited him to come and play at the Golem, the Montreal folk club that I ran in the 1970s and ‘80s, and he played his first three-night gig there in February 1976.

Stan and I talked a lot that weekend about his artistic vision and the kind of records he’d like to make given the opportunity. As it happened, he got the opportunity to record his first LP later that year, thanks in no small part to the efforts of producer Paul Mills – who would go on to produce all but one of Stan’s albums – and the financial backing of Mitch Podolak, founder and then-artistic director of the Winnipeg Folk Festival, who bankrolled the production and release of Fogarty’s Cove.

Stan was, in my opinion, the finest folk-rooted songwriter that Canada has yet produced – and that was already more than obvious to me from the songs on Fogarty’s Cove – many of which he performed that February weekend at the Golem.

When he died at the so-very-young age of 33, Stan left behind a formidable body of work including several themed albums capturing specific regions of Canada and their distinctive people. He started that ongoing project with Fogarty’s Cove, about Atlantic Canada and its people. Along with several other albums, Stan went on to record Northwest Passage about the prairies and From Fresh Water about the Great Lakes region of Ontario. Eventually, he would have done projects about most, if not all, of Canada’s regions.

Stan’s parents both grew up in Nova Scotia and he spent much time there himself visiting relatives. No contemporary songwriter has captured Maritime life as genuinely as Stan did on Fogarty’s Cove (and in other songs that would later turn up on Turnaround, and two live recordings: Between the Breaks…Live and Home in Halifax). Whether it’s the lives of fishers and their families in songs like “Fogarty’s Cove” and “Make and Break Harbour,” the transformation of modern day Halifax in “Fisherman’s Wharf,” the played-out mining area in “The Rawdon Hills,” or the 18th century story he tells in “Barrett’s Privateers,” a song that seems so real and authentic you’d swear it was a time-tested traditional sea chantey.

Another highlight on the album is “Forty-five Years,” a beautiful love song inspired by his wife-to-be and “a day in Cole Harbour.” It would turn out to be one of Stan’s best-loved and most venerable songs.

I’ve listened to this album countless times. Stan played a cassette for me before it was released and I wore out at least a couple of copies of the original LP before moving on to the first CD version. But Fogarty’s Cove has never sounded as great as it does on this newly remastered version. It’s like hearing these amazing songs for the first time. Stan and accompanists Garnet Rogers and David Woodhead, his touring band of the time, and Curly Boy Stubbs (Paul Mills), Grit Laskin, Ken Whiteley, Bernie Jaffe and John Allan Cameron sound glorious.

--Mike Regenstreif

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sneezy Waters in concert and on CD

Until last night, it must have been the better part of 20 years since the last time I saw Ottawa legend Sneezy Waters do a full evening’s concert. It was too long a wait, but a wait that was richly rewarded last night at the National Arts Centre’s Fourth Stage as Sneezy and his five-piece back-up band put on one of the best shows I’ve seen this year.

Sneezy is yet another artist I’ve seemingly known forever. He played often in the 1970s at the Golem, the Montreal folk club I ran back then. In fact, he was the second artist and the first out-of-towner to play there after I took over the Golem in 1974.

Then, of course, there was his long run brilliantly starring in the stage show (and film adaptation) of Hank Williams: The Show He Never Gave, a show I saw several times in Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa during its 13-year run from 1977 to 1990.

But, over the past couple of decades, Sneezy hasn’t toured very much and his hometown concerts have become special events. Last night’s concert – a celebration of his new CD (see below) – sure was.

Sneezy put together a fabulous band for the occasion. Joining him on guitars were Vince Halfhide and Dave Bignell, Ed Bimm on keyboards, Ann Downey on bass – all of whom play on the new CD – and Alistair Dennett on drums. There was no hint that this was any kind of a pick-up or special occasion band. They sounded like they’ve been playing together for years. Theirs was a full, varied, often-creative sound that never needed to overpower the audience with volume. They stretched out and soloed like veteran jazz players on many of the tunes.

The Fourth Stage at the NAC was completely sold out and most of the audience seemed to be Sneezy fans from way back when. When he launched into familiar songs from the old days like “You’ve Got Sawdust on the Floor of Your Heart,” written by his brother, M. John Hodgson, but forever associated with Sneezy, or “I Saw the Light,” the Hank Williams classic, the audience needed no prompting on when to sing along in just the right places.

And it was a varied repertoire that encompassed, mixed, matched and blended strains of jazz, blues, folk, country, rock, reggae and even African music in an eclectic repertoire that drew on all of those traditions.

In addition to many of the songs on the new CD, concert highlights included “Blue Light Boogie,” the show opener which had Sneezy cast as a 1940s jump blues jazzbo, “Cold Cold Heart,” which proved Sneezy is still the best Hank Williams interpreter around, and the encore song, a bouncy version of Tony Bird’s “Bird of Paradise.”

 And, generous band leader that he was, Sneezy played some fine back-up guitar and provided harmonies on five songs, scattered throughout the concert, featuring band members Vince Halfhide and Ann Downey on two songs each and Ed Bimm on one.

Sneezy Waters

Sneezy Waters has never been a prolific recording artist. By my count, the eponymously titled Sneezy Waters is only his fourth album in a career that stretches back more than four decades, and the first new recording since 1997’s A Letter Home. It’s an album that was well worth waiting for and showcases Sneezy as a mature singer, relaxed in his repertoire, who knows just how to communicate the essence of a song. Just listen to him pull off an a cappella version of Duke Ellington’s “Solitude.” I can’t even think of any jazz singers I’ve heard do that (or who would have the guts to try).

Sneezy is an interpretive singer rather than a typical singer-song-writer. But, there is one almost-original song here. “(When I’m Loving Them) I Only Think of You,” which sounds like it could have come straight out of The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams, and could be a new country classic (if only there were still such a thing) was written by his brother, M. John Hodgson. Speaking of country classics, Sneezy’s version of “I Heard the Bluebirds Sing” has all the requisite harmonies.

There are a lot of other highlights to this 13-song collection. Sneezy beautifully captures the late-night loneliness inherent to Tom Waits’ “Invitation to the Blues,” and with a one-word lyric change at the end of Willie P. Bennett’s “Me and Molly,” turns the song into a poignant elegy for Willie.

There’s a lot of fun to be had in such numbers as Leroy Carr’s “Papa’s On the Housetop,” Mance Lipscomb’s “Buckdance,” a guitar instrumental that’s made even more fun by Brian Sanderson’s sousaphone playing, and “Ever Since You Told Me That You Loved Me (I’m a Nut),” a very early Tin Pan Alley novelty tune.

Sneezy also very effectively brings “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime,” the Yip Harburg-Jay Gorney Depression-era classic, back to life.

My favourite track on the CD is the album-ending version of Mary McCaslin’s “Circle of Friends,” a song that brings me right back to my Golem days when friends like Sneezy and Mary and Willie (and so many more) would ply their song-sharing trade on the small stage.

--Mike Regenstreif

Monday, November 14, 2011

Friday, November 11, 2011

Paul Geremia – Love My Stuff

Love My Stuff
Red House

As I noted in my Sing Out! magazine review of his 2004 album, Love, Murder & Mosquitos, I was a teenager and Paul Geremia was in his mid-20s when I first encountered him at the Back Door Coffee House in Montreal, circa 1969 or ’70. Paul was certainly a factor in my developing a taste for traditional country blues and he’s remained one of my all-time favorite revivalists of pre-war blues traditions, and one of my favorite songwriters within the idiom. Now, after more than 40 dedicated years of playing the music, and despite the fact that he came from outside the culture that originally produced the genre, I am almost loath to still think of Paul as a revivalist; the blues have become as much a part of Paul’s essence as anyone who was born to them.

Love My Stuff is a great 18-song live collection built from many gigs recorded over a long period of time at various locations. While most of the tracks are from the past decade, a few stretch back about three decades. And while most of the performances are solo, Paul singing with his guitar and, sometimes, harmonica, the terrific swinging version of “Dr. Jazz,” a great old King Oliver tune from the 1920s – also done by Jelly Roll Morton – adds Rory MacLeod on bass, and Sleepy John Estes’ “Special Agent,” features Rich DelGrosso on mandolin, in effect playing Yank Rachell to Paul's Sleepy John.

A few of the other highlights include nifty versions of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Shuckin’ Sugar Blues” and “Silver City Bound,” Lead Belly's tribute to Blind Lemon; Blind Willie McTell’s “Savannah Mama,” featuring Paul’s soulful slide work; and a terrific version of “See See Rider,” one of the most popular of the early traditional blues songs featuring some great singing and guitar and harmonica playing.

The vast majority of these songs date from the pre-World War II era. But there are three examples of Paul’s excellent songwriting. “Cocaine Princess” is a clever kiss-off tune to a messed-up woman who wasn’t the woman of his dreams, while “Where Did I Lose Your Love,” is a blues for a woman who might have been. Then, on the infectious “Kick It In the Country,” he sounds like he might be singing to a woman who falls somewhere in between the princess and the woman whose love he lost.

I’ve seen Paul play lots of concerts over the past four decades – I booked him a lot at the Golem, the Montreal folk club I ran in the 1970s and ‘80s – and have never been disappointed at the beginning, middle or end of an evening. I’ll say the same about this live album. Paul Geremia is one of the great ones, he is.

--Mike Regenstreif

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Ottawa Folklore Centre celebrates 35 years

This weekend, the Ottawa Folklore Centre – which quite justifiably bills itself as “not your average music store – celebrates its 35th anniversary this coming Sunday evening with an all-star concert that represents more folk diversity than most of today’s weekend-long folk festivals.

Included on the bill are blues artists Terry Gillespie and Jesse Green, singer-songwriters Ana Miura, Missy Burgess and Doug McArthur, folk vaudevillians Sheesham & Lotus, banjo pickers Mary Gick, Ann Downey and Paul Hornbeck, tango accordionist Alicia Borisonik, harmonica player Marc Seguin, bagpiper Ross Davison, drummer Don Gibbons, the Folka Voca Choir, the Bytown Ukulele Group, and the Ottawa Folklore Centre Jazz Band.

Arthur McGregor, the Ottawa Folklore Centre’s founder and proprietor will host the concert. And if I know Arthur, there's going to be some singing along.

The concert takes place Sunday, November 13, 7:00 pm, at the Mayfair Theatre, 1074 Bank Street in Ottawa (about a 90 second walk from the Ottawa Folklore Centre).

Proceeds from the concert will benefit the May Court Hospice. Call the Ottawa Folklore Centre at 613-730-2887 for tickets or info.

And, as if the concert wasn’t enough, there are some Saturday and Sunday afternoon workshops at the Folklore Centre.

The Ottawa Folklore Centre is an incredible resource: a music store, a music school and the heart and soul of city’s folk music scene. Few cities boast a folklore centre of this calibre. We’re lucky to have it.

Happy Anniversary and congratulations to Arthur and all his crew!

--Mike Regenstreif

Friday, November 4, 2011

Guy Clark – Songs and Stories; Various Artists – This One’s for Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark

I can pinpoint when I became a fan of the songwriting of Guy Clark. It was in 1972 when Jerry Jeff Walker released his eponymously named LP, Jerry Jeff Walker. It was the LP that marked Jerry Jeff’s move from the Greenwich Village folk scene to the Austin folk/outlaw country scene.

Two of the best songs on Jerry Jeff Walker, “That Old Time Feeling” and “L.A. Freeway” were credited to Guy. I was starting to play a little guitar then and learned “L.A. Freeway” from that record.

Not much later, I learned a Guy Clark song called “Lone Star Hotel Café” from my friend Bill Staines.

So Guy Clark’s was a name I already knew when his own first LP, Old No. 1, was released in 1975. By then I was a Montreal Gazette music reviewer and I remember writing glowingly about that LP. I’ve been a fan ever since. I’ve listened a lot to every record he’s ever made and have had a chance to hang out with him a couple of times at folk festivals and on his one trip to Montreal for an Outremont Theatre concert in 2001 with Jesse Winchester (while in Montreal he also did an extended interview with me on the Folk Roots/Folk Branches radio show).

Guy is one of the all-time great singer-songwriters, one of the definitive songwriters of the Texas country-folk school. He turns 70 this week and the milestone is marked by a new live album, Songs and Stories, which was released in August, and This One’s for Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark, a 2-CD homage by 30 fellow artists.

Songs and Stories

Although they were sitting on the stage at the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville, there’s a real living room feeling to Songs and Stories, a friendly, informal, 69-minute set that has Guy Clark and friends sharing songs and stories from across his long career. Joining him on stage are Verlon Thompson, his regular guitar player and occasional songwriting collaborator; guitarist and mandolin player Shawn Camp, also an occasional songwriting collaborator; and the excellent rhythm section of bassist Bryn Davies and drummer Kenny Malone (one of those all-too-rare drummers who knows how to play with acoustic folk musicians without ever getting in the way).

 Guy is older and has had some health problems in recent years which you can hear it in a voice that isn’t as strong as it once was – though it’s still as expressive – and in somewhat diminished energy level. But that’s OK, in essence Guy is a storyteller-in-song and his ability to sing us a story, to instil memories in us that are not our own, remains undiminished.

Among my favourite of Guy’s performances in the set are “The Randall Knife,” a poignant memory of the father he lost three decades ago, “Dublin Blues,” a meditation on beauty, great art and great music set to the old folk melody from “Handsome Molly,” and “The Cape,” a song he introduces as being “about jumping off a garage,” but is really an affirmative song about having confidence in one’s self.

Guy also does a fine version of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You.” There are probably no other artists who understand Townes’ songs on a level with Guy.

Guy also turns things over to Shawn and Verlon – hot pickers both – for two songs each. Shawn does a couple of his co-writes with Guy including “Sis Draper,” the story of a great fiddler that’s one of the most infectious tunes from Guy’s catalog. Verlon does a couple of his own songs that show he’s a fine artist in his own right.

This One’s for Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark
Icehouse Music

“Let’s give her a good go and make old Guy proud of us,” says Rodney Crowell as he kicks off “That Old Time Feeling,” a perfect gem of a song from 40 or so years ago. It’s the opening track to This One’s for Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark, a loving 2-CD, 30-song homage to one of the all-time greatest songwriters on the occasion of his 70th birthday.

This album is filled with lots of great artists singing lots of great songs. Most of the artists are the kind of Texas or Nashville folk you might expect on an album like this. But, there are a few surprises, including Canadian singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith who does a nice version of “Broken Hearted People.”

There are few weak tracks here. A few of my favourites include Rosanne Cash’s lovely version of “Better Days,” highlighted by the superb steel guitar work of Lloyd Maines; Willie Nelson’s mature take on “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train,” a song Guy wrote as a very young man in tribute to an old man of 70 (his grandmother’s boyfriend, Guy told me when he was on Folk Roots/Folk Branches); “Let Him Roll,” a talking song ably performed by John Townes Van Zandt II, Townes’ son; Joe Ely’s version of the fore-mentioned “Dublin Blues”; Ramblin' Jack Elliott's fine version of “The Guitar,” a kind of musician's ghost story; and a sweet duet by John Prine and Emmylou Harris on “Magnolia Wind.”

The album ends by bring me full circle back to Jerry Jeff Walker, the artist who introduced me to Guy Clark songs almost 40 years ago. Jerry Jeff sings “My Favorite Picture of You,” the one song of 30 I’ve never heard before. It’s a beautiful new love song that’s as finely crafted as anything Guy’s written before.

There are few missing artists who should be here – Tom Russell, Nanci Griffith, Bill Staines and Jesse Winchester come to mind. And there are lots of other Guy Clark songs I wish there was room for. Be that as it may, This One’s for Him is a great tribute to a great artist. Kudos to co-producers Tamara Saviano and Shawn Camp; and to Guy’s long-time accompanist, Verlon Thompson, who, with Shawn, plays on most of these songs.

I'm sure, Rodney, you guys made old Guy proud with this album.

Happy Birthday, Guy!

--Mike Regenstreif