Thursday, June 23, 2011

Meeting New Friends

I've always held the attitude that I have no real enemies or strangers in my life ... just friends I haven't met yet.  As mentioned in the Jimmy Bowskill review, I recently changed positions in my day job and I now work in Peterborough, Ontario.  Now that I'm spending large amounts of time in Peterborough, I am now realizing what fertile musical ground exists in this part of Canada.  

At my workplace I've made a new friend in John.  John is a great guy, very knowledgeable about a lot of things and is always up for a good conversation about two of his greatest loves in life, that being hockey and music.  They happen to be two of my greatest loves in life as well, so we hit it off well in this regard.  We have had many conversations about the state of music, the quality of singers, the value of being a singer-songwriter, and most importantly, who we're really in to musically.  

John is great friends with a local performer in the Peterborough area named Uncle Jim.  Uncle Jim is a veteran of the Peterborough music scene and has a steady gig at one of the finer local establishments in town called Elements.  This past Saturday, John mentioned that if I wasn't doing anything and would like to see a great show, come on up to Elements and check out Uncle Jim.  The bonus in all of this, was that Uncle Jim's daughter was also going to be on the show and she is a singer and musician "that will just blow you away."  This was the second such time John had mentioned Jim's daughter and that she was incredible, so something told me it Peterborough was the place to be the next night.

And so it was on Saturday that my lovely lady and I made our way up to Peterborough to Elements to see this family in action.  Little did we know that we were going to see one of the most uniquely talented up-and-coming performers I have ever seen.  

When John introduced me to Uncle Jim, it was just before the show was set to begin.  We greeted each other with a warm handshake and Jim was clear on this evening that he was setting the stage for his daughter to go up and take the mike.  While he may have made his intention clear to me, I want to be clear that Uncle Jim is no slouch on stage.  He is an excellent singer, songwriter and first-rate blues musician, as he so capably demonstrated playing the blues on guitar and harmonica at the same time.  I'm always thrilled and impressed when I see something like that.  I once played guitar and tried to sing at the same time ... it was a trainwreck.  I have no idea how people play two instruments fluently at once, but thank God they can do it.  It's a credit to the art when people can perform such a task.

Following Uncle Jim's first thirty minute set, the gushing father turned the stage over to his daughter Billi.  Opening with a Ray Lamontagne number, this young lady had the hair on the back of my neck standing up by the time she hit the fifth word of that song.  Billi Cope is arguably the finest, most talented up-and-coming star that has not been discovered.  I had the great pleasure of meeting Billi briefly before and after her first set.  My assessment of Billi is that she is a singer, songwriter, musician and artist of the highest order.  Her guitar playing is among the best I've seen, clearly the beneficiary of growing up in a musical family.  Perhaps it was those surroundings that gave Billi the skill to develop a strong set list which flowed from solid covers of the aforementioned Lamontagne to Tracey Chapman and a stellar version of John Prine's "Angel From Montgomery", to original material such as the mournful true story of "Josh's Song." Simply put, Billi Cope is the real deal.  This girl is going to be a star.  I may not be the only one who senses that fact.

As I was watching Billi perform, I caught a glimpse of Uncle Jim out of the corner of my eye.  I could see this proud father wiping away a tear as he witnessed his daughter holding the crowd in the palm of her hand and guiding them through her songbook.  I believe the day is coming soon where we won't be able to see Billi perform at Elements anymore.  Rather, she will be performing on the stage next door at the Showplace Theatre in front a much deserved larger gathering.  

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Words and Rhyme of Dolly Parton

It's amazing what albums you can find when you walk in to a store that sells new and used records.  Earlier this week, I was walking in downtown Peterborough on a lunch break from my day job when I happened upon this new and used record shop.  I like walking through and checking out those stores, so I popped inside for a few minutes.  I came across two albums that I meant to pick up when they were originally released, but I never got around to it.  One such album sparked the subject of today's writing. 

The 2007 Sugar Hill Records release of Just Because I'm a Woman: The Songs of Dolly Parton came with much fanfare. I recall being excited when this record was released, as it was to include artist interpretations of songs written by Dolly over the years.  It should be noted that all of the songs performed were monstrous hits in their day.  The performers on the album are all superstars in their own right.  I was curious to hear the interpretations of these other fine female artists as they performed the hits of one of my heroes.  After four years of not having the album, I finally got down to listening to it. 

The album kicks off with a fantastic version of "9 to 5", the song that introduced Dolly to the acting world, as there was a film made of the same name.  Alison Krauss has a wonderful interpretation of the song to kick start the album. Melissa Ethridge makes a wonderful contribution with the iconic "I Will Always Love You."  Norah Jones does simply an amazing turn on "The Grass is Blue."  However, for my money the best track on this album is the Shania Twain with Alison Krauss and Union Station performance of Dolly's autobiographical hit "Coat of Many Colors." 

Of course, that's a brief album review but that isn't the point of today's piece.  I mention this album for two reasons.  The first of course, is to tell everyone to go and pick up this album if they can find it.  It's a wonderful piece of work that will benefit every music lovers collection.  The other reason was to highlight what a really amazing and phenomenol songwriter Dolly is.  When you hear up and coming female performers in country/Americana music speak of their influences, the names that typically come up are Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline and more recently, Reba McEntire.  But somewhere on that list there has to be room for Dolly Parton.  The offerings on this album by these wonderful female artists are performed with such love and admiration for this lady from Sevierville, Tennessee, that the listener can't help but be drawn to the performance.  It's only then do you really hear the words that are said in each song.  They are works of art ... poetry from a woman who grew up in a home that knew nothing of excess and was able to find her creativity and work hard to become a cultural icon.  To this day, Dolly still gives back to her hometown and surrounding community is East Tennessee offering scholarships to graduating high school students and employing thousands at her amusement park, Dollywood. 

Dolly Parton is a deserved and honored member of the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame.  She is still putting out albums and has just started a world tour.   For aspiring musicians and songwriters out there, you would do well to research this remarkable woman, her words and music

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Year in Americana Review

My goodness, how time flies when you're having fun.  It's hard to believe that this past May 2011 marked the first anniversary of Americana Review.  

I find it amazing that over the past year almost 1,700 of you have visited the site.  Amazing, considering that for the first month or so, no one came by to read anything.  It's true.  My first three blog entries generated no traffic ... none.  But that's okay.  If you've decided to click on the hyper-link I think you'll understand why I don't mind.  This site has always been about a learning process, and discovery of new music and unheralded artists.  It's also been about my development as a writer, and as I look back on some of the first entries to this blog, I feel my writing has gotten much better.  I've gone from writing about "What is Americana" to doing some fairly comprehensive concert and album reviews.  Even then, as you review those past columns I think you'll see a big difference between the writing of the Elizabeth Cook review to the Jason Isbell review.  I feel my writing is now now at the point where I'm comfortable sharing the site with my family, friends and associates.  I feel like there is a lot of potential for this site going forward, some of which I will share with you today.

Writing this blog has afforded me the opportunity to do a lot of things I would not normally have done in my past.  I publicly aired my feelings of support for Chely Wright, shared a personal story about one of my sports heroes, Sparky Anderson, and visited Chicago for the first time to watch and review the last performance of Cross Canadian Ragweed.  I also became a proud member of the Americana Music Association.  This October, I will be going to Nashville, Tennessee for the first time in 9 years to attend my first Americana Music Conference and Festival.  I look forward to sharing that experience with all of you on this site.

Speaking of the future, what do I see happening down the road for this blog?  Well, my goal is to really start promoting the site.  For those of you who have been reading and keep returning to the site, I encourage you to share the site with your family, friends and acquaintances.  My goal is to continue to write something that is compelling, relevant, at times moving, but always enjoyable for you to read and share.  I thank you for your support and repeated visits.

Another goal I have is to make this site more interactive.  I love receiving comments on pieces, but I don't always share that with you.  Please leave comments as often as you like, I respond to all of them.  If you have suggestions for a column, sampling of music you would like reviewed, concerts coming to your town that you would like reviewed, or want to carry on a conversation, my e-mail address for this site is  Feel free to drop a line anytime.  My pledge is to write back to everyone who comments or writes, whether those comments are positive or negative.  

If you like what you have seen over the last year on this blog, I would be thrilled if you would add this blog to your list of those blogs you follow regularly.  A big advantage of signing up as a follower is that you will automatically be notified of new postings, which is a great convenience.

What else would I like to see improved on the blog?  Certainly some pictures and other items to brighten up the place. But most of all, I would like to bring consistency to the blog with respect to postings.  When I started, my big commitment not only to this site but to myself, was to write every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.  Sometimes, and sometimes regrettably, life happens and it can get in the way of those simple goals.  I feel I have a better grasp on this now and my pledge to you is to post items regularly on this site.  Starting this Saturday June 4, 2011, you will begin to see the regular postings of a Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday schedule.  Three times a week, that sounds like a good plan.  

As always, this site doesn't happen without you who are there to read it.  A former manager that I used to work for once told us at a department gathering, "You can do your job without me, but I cannot do my job without you."  Those words have stuck with me for a very long time now.  I believe those words ring true in this instance.  All of you reading this have so many choices and options of blog sites to read, and it means a lot that you take the time include this site in your cyberspace travels.  You have all the tools to read many opinions and critiques, but without all of you, I would not be able to lend my voice to the masses and actually be heard.  For that, I thank you and God bless.