Thursday, June 27, 2013

Album Review: Swamp People, Music Inspired From the History Channel Series

By now, it can't be a secret to many of you that I'm way behind on my album reviews.  I have a stack of albums at home that I'm only now beginning to work through.  I say that with many apologies going to those of you who have been kind enough to send me your material.  You put a lot of time and effort in to creating your art, and I have not been the best lately at properly acknowledging your work.  Summertime is here, it's a new season and I'll do better, I promise.

One album that I have popped in to my CD player, is one that was recently released on Rounder Records, Swamp People, Music Inspired by the History Television Series.  Mixing newer and original songs with familiar classics, this album represents a great cross-section of American music.  Its inspiration comes from the bayou's and the swamp's of Cajun country, the great state of Louisiana. 

Swamp People leads off with an original tune of the same name that was written specifically for the show and album, and it's a great number steeped in old swamp-rock tradition.  It sets the perfect tone for the rest of the album.  The following track will be familiar to many listeners, as the late great (and vastly underrated) Jerry Reed tells us the story of Amos Moses.  Mr. Reed's unique style of guitar playing on this wonderful track is more than welcome and appropriate when you're paying tribute to the bayou region.   

Cajun music legend Buckwheat Zydeco takes an instrumental turn on the infectious Zydeco La Louisianne.  As with Jerry's Reed's contribution, you simply cannot have an album inspired by the Cajun region of the United States and not have Buckwheat Zydeco present.  The same can be said for Beausoleil, as they are joined by Michael Doucet on the French tune Kolina.  One track reminded me of the East Coast/Nova Scotia sound that one can get on this side of the border, and that's the wonderful Amanda Shaw contribution, French Jig.  It's perhaps not surprising that this tune does remind me of Nova Scotia, as the Clare region of that province in the original home of the Acadien.  A large portion of the Acadien immigrated to Louisiana forming today's Cajun region, and the rest is history. 

Blues takes center stage as well with singer-songwriter Tony Joe White relating his Polk Salad Annie.  And it wouldn't be a tribute to Cajun country without honoring that amazing Cajun dish, Jambalaya (On the Bayou) by the one and only Hank Williams, Sr.  To round out one of the great musical journey's on an album today, The Neville Brother's kick up the funk on arguably the best track of the album, Fire on the Bayou.

The partnership of Rounder Records and History Television has led to this excellent album that has been released in time summer.  This album would be a great addition to anyone's collection and will sit very well in the CD player's of many cottages, or vehicles on that summer vacation or road trip.  This album has it all --  classic country, blues, a bit of funk and a generous portion of Cajun.  It's a great cross-section of what Americana music is, when it comes right to it.  An excellent album, hopefully there will be a Swamp Music 2 in the future.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Concert Review: Patty Griffin, Danforth Music Hall, Toronto Ontario

If one were to go through, or even create, a list of Americana artists that could be considered legends of the genre, it is a certainty that Patty Griffin would be one of the first names rolling over your lips. Since 1992, Griffin has been a staple on the folk/Americana scene when the term "Americana" was being kicked around as a concept.   With the recent release of her seventh studio album American Kid (New West), Griffin goes about cemeting her legendary status in the genre.  American Kid is her first album of all new material since 2007's Children Running Through.  In between, Griffin has toured with Robert Plant as a member of the Band of Joy, and won a Grammy Award in 2011 for her gospel album Downtown Church. 

Taking the stage last night at the Danforth Music Hall in Toronto as part of her 2013 tour in support of American Kid, Griffin delivered one of the finest performances to ever grace the Danforth stage.  A hearty Tuesday night crowd greeted Ms. Griffin and she responded with a powerful rendition of "Carry Me."  Backed by a wonderfully talented 3-piece band, they rolled from the slow and vocally powerful "Carry Me" to the uptempo "No Bad News."  While Griffin has a sizeable and very impressive catalogue of material to perform and choose from, the show featured many songs from the American Kid album and rightfully so.  The selections from this album during the show are some of the strongest, well written songs I have heard in a while.  

Revealing the personal nature of her selections from American Kid that were included in the show lent to the intimate nature of the show.  The audience was able to get a feel of how deeply personal this album is to Ms. Griffin.  "Don't Let Me Die In Florida" was a song inspired by her Northeastern-raised father who much preferred the cold of Maine to the heat and humidity of, well, anywhere else but Maine. "You Don't Have to Work No More" was clearly her protest song regarding a chapter in recent American history that is only now coming to a close.  

The most beautiful performance of the night was Patty's rendition of her eponymous song "Mary."  Covered by several artists including Beth Neilson Chapman and the Dixie Chicks, it's hard to imagine anyone topping the understated yet vocally powerful performance of the song's creator.  Showing off the diversity of herself and her band, Griffin turned her lead guitarist loose on a Latin number where Griffin performed the song entirely in Spanish, while her guitarist showed off his incredible talent playing flamenco-guitar.  

Last night Patty Griffin showed the Toronto crowd why she is a trailblazer in folk and Americana music who remains relevant to the genre today.  Indeed, Griffin is vital to the Americana scene. A true professional who is gracious to her fans, a gifted songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and powerful vocals that come so naturally to her it will make you watch and listen in awe, Patty Griffin is one of the artists that Americana artists should aspire to follow.  

The tour continues on June 13 at the Pantages Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota; June 15 at the Wilson Theater in Bozeman, Montana; June 18 at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts in Vancouver, British Columbia; and June 19 at Nepture in Seattle, Washington.