Sunday, November 28, 2010

Elizabeth Cook, November 4, 2010 -- Buffalo, New York

Hello everyone,

Well, it's taken me some time to get back to you on the Elizabeth Cook show at the Sportsmen's Tavern in Buffalo, New York about 3 weeks ago. I do apologize. I have to confess, Elizabeth Cook's show is well worth it.

The Sportsmen's Tavern in Buffalo is Western New York's hotbed for Americana, roots and alt-country music. The venue itself is quite small, which makes for wonderful interaction between artist and audience. The packed house for this Sunday afternoon's entertainment had roughly 100 people in it, but given the size of the place, the room was packed. It is a great little place, which brings in national touring acts on a regular basis. If you're in the Buffalo/Western New York/Southern Ontario region, by all means check this place out. It's a great time with great people.

Anyway, back to Elizabeth Cook. Elizabeth Cook has just recently wrapped up her tour of the Northeast United States, with tour stops in Cleveland, the Boston area, New York City, with the final tour stop in Virginia. Performing in Buffalo with her husband Tim Carroll on guitar and accompanied by a gentleman on stand-up bass, Elizabeth essentially split the show with songs from her most recent project Welder, (which by the way, is an excellent piece of work) and her previous album Balls.

Once Elizabeth Cook hits the stage and begins that first note, you can tell you are in the presence of one of the finest country singers of our time. Highly personable, Cook rolled through such Welder gems as All the Time and El Camino, and led the crowd with a rousing rendition of the title cut to Balls. There were two very poignant moments in the afternoon. The first moment was delivered when Cook, with strong guitar playing from husband Tim Carroll, performed a wonderful version of Merle Haggard's classic Today I Started Loving You Again. This song has been recorded hundred's of times by artists the world over. Elizabeth Cook gave this song a brand new life with her refreshing version. It is hoped that she puts this cover version on an upcoming album, as it deserves to be heard by the masses.

The second moment came from a personal story. Cook provided some back story to one of the cuts from her album. The youngest child with nine half-brothers and half-sisters, Elizabeth admittedly had much material to draw from, given the large number of siblings. This story set up the beautifully-performed track from Welder, Heroin Addict Sister. This song was performed with a kind of raw honesty that could only be performed by someone who has lived through such family tragedy and strife.

It never gets old saying that someone deserves your time, as you've seen through these reviews. Elizabeth Cook is at the top of the list. She is a country/Americana singer of the highest order, who brings an honesty to the stage that is not often replicated. This young lady has more talent in her pinky finger than most big-name entertainers out there today. The next time she passes through your area, do take the time to check her out. She travels extensively, with frequent tours to Europe and recently completing a tour of Japan for the first time.

And if you're one of the 20 million or so who have Sirius/XM Satellite Radio, be sure to check out Elizabeth Cook's weekday morning show Apron Strings from 6 to 10am, Eastern time, on Outlaw Country, Sirius 62, XM 12.

For more information on Elizabeth Cook, you can check her out at:

For more information and upcoming shows at the Sportsmen's Tavern in Buffalo, New York, log on to:

Monday, November 15, 2010

With Many Thanks

This is one of those times where this blog, normally reserved for Americana music, takes a moment to remember the soldiers and veterans around the world. Although it's four days after the fact, it is never too late to honor and thank the soldiers who have served their country, regardless of which country you may be reading this in.

In my native Canada, November 11 is called Remembrance Day. It's called Remembrance Day in other countries around the world, mostly in the British Commonwealth countries. In the United States, November 11 is called Veterans Day, but really, it's the same thing. At the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, we pause for two minutes of silence to remember and pay silent tribute to all of our wonderful soldiers who currently serve our country in various theatres around the world, and to those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice fighting for our nation in World Wars 1 and 2, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, various peacekeeping missions and currently the war in Afghanistan.

Perhaps the most popular poem that has been written about the plight of the wartime soldier was written by a Canadian physician in the Army in World War 1, Lieutenant Colonel John McRae. Believed to have been written on May 3, 1915, the day after Colonel McRae had witnessed the death of his friend, the poem was originally published in London, England on December 8, 1915. This poem has been a staple of Remembrance Day ceremonies across Canada and around the world since then. Sadly, Colonel McRae would also lose his life in the first Great War, in 1918. But what a legacy he left behind. A tremendous gift that has allowed generations of people around the world to truly recognize the sacrifice that freedom requires.

Thank you to all our veterans of wars and conflicts, both past and present. Because of your dedication, we're allowed to listen to the music we want to listen to, we're allowed to read what we want to and we're allowed to write what we want to. Please pass this important piece of literature along, In Flanders Fields:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

My Intro to Elizabeth Cook

Elizabeth Cook first came to my attention in one of several articles on CMT written by Chet Flippo. For those of you who have read Chet Flippo, you will no doubt have observed that he speaks what`s on his mind. He seems to be a very schooled writer, especially when it comes to the state of country music today. Mr. Flippo also seems to have a great appreciation for all types of music and how they interact with one another. He is also not afraid to state his opinion, no matter what that opinion is, about various topics in the country music industry. He too, appears to be frustrated with the mainstream.

And so it was with special attention that I read one of his past articles on this young lady who just keeps blowing him away with her music. You won`t find Elizabeth Cook on mainstream country radio, at least not at this point. If you`re a customer of Sirius-XM Satellite Radio, you may know Elizabeth Cook from her weekday morning radio show called Apron Strings. She`s a very capable host and can more than hold her own with the male dominated morning shows out there.

In addition to her morning show, Elizabeth Cook is a recording artist, songwriter and musician. Talent is as natural as breathing to this woman.

I picked up her latest album Welder, released on 31 Tigers Records. The title is an homage to her father who owned his own welding shop in Florida. Produced by the great Don Was, the album covers the gamut of traditional country to Americana. From the opening track of All the Time and rolling in to El Camino, this album catches you right away. For me, the highlight of the album is Not California. Ms. Cook really shows her vocal chops on this track. She covers topics that are too touchy for mainstream country radio, with Heroin Addict Sister telling the story of a young lady coping with drug addiction.

Listening to this album, I can see what Chet Flippo is talking about. She is the real deal. I too, hope that she can someday gain the wide audience that she richly deserves. I`ll have more on Elizabeth Cook in the next couple of days. She is playing in Buffalo, New York this afternoon at 4:00 at the Sportsmen`s Tavern. Upcoming tour dates are November 8 in Albany, New York at The Linda; November 10 in Piermont, New York, at The Turning Point; and in Lewiston, Maine at The Olin Arts Center. If you`re in these areas and have the time do check out the show, it will be time well spent, I promise.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Thank You, Sparky

This spot as you know, is typically dedicated to the sounds of Americana and alt-country music. Today though, I'm going to talk a little bit about another great North American tradition, that of baseball.

It was with a bit of sadness and great memories that brought about a smile that I read of the passing of George 'Sparky' Anderson. It's widely known that Sparky Anderson was the manager for baseball's Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers during the 1970's to the mid-1990's. Growing up in Toronto, Ontario, we had the great fortune of living in close proximity to Detroit, Michigan, where the Toronto Blue Jays enjoyed a fierce rivalry with their divisional rival Tigers. This of course, led to many visits to Toronto by the Tigers, then managed by Sparky. By sheer default, I ended up following the Tigers as well as the Blue Jays. It was a great time to be a baseball fan in both cities, as both teams were doing well. The Tigers had won the World Series in 1984, and the Blue Jays were always competing for the playoffs, eventually to win back-to-back World Series championships in 1992 and 1993.

I always looked forward to seeing the Tigers. The big reason was that it was an opportunity to see Sparky Anderson. There are not too many genuine heroes in life, especially these days. For me, Sparky was one of my heroes. I admired the way he would stand up for his players, no matter how bad their slump was. I admired how proud he was of his players accomplishments. I admired how he would always take the time for the fans and how well respected he was among his peers. Meeting him and getting his autograph on a baseball in 1985 at Tiger Stadium, was one of the big moments of my young life at that time. He was a true gentleman who was in love with the game of baseball. It was a brief meeting, but 25 years later, the memory sits like it happened yesterday.

I was in my mid-20's in 1996 and I had the great fortune of working in the security department at the SkyDome (now known as the Rogers Centre) in Toronto. The SkyDome/Rogers Centre is the home of the Toronto Blue Jays and Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. It was a phone call from my overnight colleagues in the middle of the night that woke up the house saying that I was late for my 2:00am shift. I thought the shift was the next night. They said not to worry, nothing has started yet, so I could still get down to work. I immediately hopped in the shower, and 45 minutes after the phone call, I was walking in the door to start work. My duties for this shift, which was a film shoot for the Toronto Blue Jays broadcasts, was to make sure everything was running smoothly for the crew and that no one would harass the celebrity. That celebrity, as it would turn out, was Sparky Anderson.

As the hours wore on during that early morning shift, it was time for the film crew to call a break. I was standing on the steps by the entrance to the visitors dugout, taking in the film shoot, not really believing that I was watching my hero at work. When the break was called, Sparky walked over to the visitors dugout and sat on the bench. He took out his pipe, filled it with some tobacco, and as he was lighting his pipe, he said "So, how're you doin' today?" I looked around and I'm the only one in the dugout. "Um, I'm not doing to bad this morning sir, how are you?", was my stunned reply. "Oh I'm doing good, it's a little early, but I'm having fun." And so it began, the half hour-plus conversation I had with Sparky Anderson in the visitors dugout at the home of the Toronto Blue Jays. After a few minutes, I found myself sitting on the bench beside Sparky, listening to his stories and participating where I could. We talked about the Tigers, the Blue Jays, his night spent at the White House when the Clintons were the occupants. It felt like I was sitting next to a grandfather, just listening to his experiences in life. That conversation took place 13 years ago and again, the memory remains like it happened yesterday. With Sparky's passing, the importance of that moment in my life becomes that much bigger. I would have worked that day for free. To say I'm fortunate is an understatement. Not everyone gets to share that kind of quality time with one of their heroes. I got that chance.

The baseball world has lost one of its greatest ambassadors, personalities and gentleman. Sparky Anderson is the true embodiment of the sports professional. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be the same type of people that you had at a time when Sparky Anderson was in the game. To be fair, there are a lot of great players and professionals in all sports, but I think you guys know where I'm going here. That certain intangible seems to be missing. A lot of the professional athletes of today would do well to take a look at how Sparky Anderson treated people and recognized his contribution to a team. I will always treasure the two moments in time I had with a true legend and hero.

God bless you, Sparky.

For some great articles and videos on the life and times of Sparky Anderson, please click on the link to ESPN. Be sure to pick up Sparky's book on the 1984 Detroit Tigers season, in which they won the World Series, "Bless You Boys" at your favorite book store.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Ragweed Nation: What's Next?

It has been a little over a week since the final performance of Cross Canadian Ragweed at Joe's Bar in Chicago. For those of us in attendance, the memories linger while the hangover has faded. I'm still thinking about this show. When you get great music from great musicians, in a great venue with great people, it's one of those rare nights where you know that you're going to be a part of something special.

Now that a week has gone by, there is one question I have for Ragweed Nation, if you'll indulge me for a moment. The question I have is, now that Cross Canadian Ragweed are on hiatus, who do you turn to for your fix? I mean, there is no way that anyone replaces Ragweed, let's get that out of the way right off the bat. But, who do you start to follow? Do you start to gravitate toward another band, such as long-time Ragweed running-mates Reckless Kelly? Or, how about some solo acts related to Ragweed, such as Wade Bowen, Stoney Larue or Mike McClure.? The options are endless, if you think of it.

As I write this, I'm listening to the live stream of 95.9 FM The Ranch from Fort Worth, Texas, sampling all things Texas music. As I've mentioned before, Ragweed music and this Ragweed show helped me discover at least a part of what I was looking for when this musical journey started. Although I couldn't put my finger on it at the time, it hit me like a ton of bricks during the show. What I've been looking for in my musical odyssey is the Red Dirt sound, the Texas music sound. There's nothing out there like it. It's hard to even really describe it. But the feeling that you can get from it can be nothing short of exhilarating.

So, to answer the question on this end, I think I'll gravitate to learning more about the Texas music scene. Right now if I'm picking a group that I'm keeping an eye on, it's Reckless Kelly. If I'm tuning in to a solo act right now, it's tough to argue with Wade Bowen. Very unique sounds from both of these acts. Having said all of that, I'm not limiting myself to anything. I've just discovered what the South has known for years, I'm just set to take it all in. For those listening to mainstream country, trust me folks, the Texas music scene goes a lot deeper than Jack Ingram and Pat Green. While they are both excellent artists in their own right, the well is much deeper. Do check it out, you will thank me, I promise.

As always, I'm open to suggestions. So please readers, if you have any favorites out there, please let me know. Leave a comment on this post and let's help each other out, there's lot's of great music out there for all of us to discover.

If you wish to check out some great sounds from the Texas music scene, log on to the following sites:

95.9, The Ranch, Fort Worth, Texas

KNBT-FM, 92.1, New Braunfels, Texas