Friday, December 2, 2016

2016 Canadian Folk Awards Weekend

The biggest weekend in Canadian folk music kicks off tonight at Hugh's Room in Toronto, Ontario. The Canadian Folk Music Awards has landed in Canada's largest city with a stellar lineup honouring legends, current stars and newcomers alike in a celebration of the country's diverse artistry and roots music.

The 2016 Awards show is set for Saturday night, December 3, at the Isabel Bader Theatre on the campus of the University of Toronto. The Awards are a celebration of the great and creative work of many talented singer-songwriter musicians from across Canada.  The Awards also celebrate and acknowledge the many diverse forms of folk music created in the differing regions of Canada.  Categories range from traditional folk to contemporary, and honour artists of English, French and Aboriginal descent. The Awards ceremony will be presented in English and French, Canada's two official languages.

Performing at the Awards show is the legendary Bruce Cockburn, an artist who has received many honours throughout is long career, including Order of Canada, Governor General's Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement and induction in to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. The incredibly talented Colin Linden steps away from his band mates with Blackie and the Rodeo Kings to grace the Awards stage, along with the wonderful Ennis Sisters, Red Moon Road and Klo Pelgag to round out the evenings entertainment. Tickets can be purchased here

Nominee showcases take place tonight and tomorrow morning at Hugh's Room (2261 Dundas St. West) with Jocelyn Petit, Old Man Leudecke, The Small Glories, Hillsburn and others tonight.  A special Nominee Brunch Showcase will start at 11:00 tomorrow morning and will feature Rosie and the Riveter's, The Andrew Collins Trio, Keltie Monaghan, William Prince and Ten Strings and a Goat Skin.  Tickets for the showcases can be purchased here and will include admission to both showcases and the Awards show.  Showcase only tickets can be purchased through the Hugh's Room website.

An exciting weekend awaits fans and nominees alike as we gather to honour and celebrate the best that Canadian folk music has to offer the world. If you're in Toronto, be sure to take in the festivities of this weekend and support these fine, independent artists.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Merle Haggard: Country Music's Greatest Singer-Songwriter

Image result for merle haggard

The music world is in mourning once again as it suffers another monumental loss with the passing of Merle Haggard on April 6, his 79th birthday.  There have been many biographical articles written about Mr. Haggard over the years, and many more have been written in the past 24 hours since his passing.  This piece will try to somehow put in to context what it means to lose such a giant figure in the North American music scene.

Mr. Haggard's country music chart success ran un-interrupted for roughly 25 years.  His total of 38 number one songs on Billboard's country music chart, along with many more singles that made the top ten, place Mr. Haggard among the giants in any musical genre. Mainstream country artists of today can only dream of reaching these types of numbers with today's fickle market. It's not impossible, but it is rare.  Mr. Haggard's feat was no different. His music endured many different style changes to country music, but his style was always relevant. It was his songwriting that made this so. 

"The warden led a prisoner, down the hallway to his doom
and I stood up to say goodbye like all the rest"

The lyric above is the opening line from an early Haggard hit "Sing Me Back Home."  A story song that was born of life experience.  It's no secret that Mr. Haggard spent time in and out of the prison system, including time served at the infamous San Quentin prison.  This time featured prominently in many of his early hits, including songs he didn't write like "The Fugitive."  

"I'll probably never see you eye to eye again
this letter's meant to be my last farewell"

This mournful opening line is from "Looking For a Place To Fall Apart" is again a true story. Mr. Haggard did indeed write a letter to his soon-to-be ex-wife who called an end to their marriage.  But rather than send the finished letter, he placed in the trash and burned it. Then, he wrote this masterpiece.

If you're a young person reading this article, I cannot stress enough that you go and explore the Merle Haggard lexicon. This is especially so if you are an aspiring songwriter, as Mr. Haggard's songs are perfect examples of how to craft a song. Write about what you know, tell the story of your life and your observations, but most importantly write from the heart.

Mr. Haggard's music is not something you would dance too.  Rather, Mr. Haggard's music is a style that calls for one to sit down and listen to the lyrics.  There is social commentary, heart, soul, feeling and real life in the words.  Consider this: in the recently released documentary on Keith Richards, Mr. Richards sat at a piano and sang "Sing Me Back Home" while stating Merle Haggard was a huge influence on the Rolling Stones, specifically the songwriting.  Indeed, other artists who have cited Merle Haggard's songwriting as a major influence on their work is a lengthy list:  Toby Keith, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Miranda Lambert, Jason Isbell, Kacey Musgraves, the Dixie Chicks, John Mellancamp, Jewel, Ronnie Van Zant/Lynyrd Skynyrd and Jamey Johnson are among the many that have cited Mr. Haggard as having touched their lives through his music. Successful artists and songwriters, all. I mean to say, you have the Beatles and Rolling Stones saying they turned to Merle Haggard music for inspiration ... if that doesn't signal a lasting influence and legacy, I don't know what does.

The heaven's gained one of the most prominent artists in modern history with the passing of Merle Haggard. We are blessed to have such an incredible catalog of music that remains. On a personal note, it's the loss of another one of my country music heroes.  I will be forever grateful for the music Mr. Haggard created, as it formulated my appreciation for the craft of songwriting and performance.  This last video is one which paired two of my heroes together.  They were reunited yesterday morning.  Mr. Merle Haggard and Mr. George Jones.  Sing for the angels, gentlemen.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Album Review: Larry Keel, Experienced

Friday February 26. 2016 will see acoustic and bluegrass virtuoso Larry Keel independently release his 15th studio album Experienced.  The album is comprised of 7 songs, four written by Keel and three by his songwriting partner Will Lee, and showcases the musical talent possessed by Keel that has brought forth praise from such bluegrass luminaries as Sam Bush and Del McCoury. Bush and McCoury, along with Keller Williams, Jason Carter (Del McCoury Band), Mike Guggino (Steep Canyon Rangers) and Anders Beck (Greensky Bluegrass) all make guest appearances on this stellar album. Experienced may be considered a bluegrass album, but to me it represents an exploration of American roots music with folk and blues making appearances on the record.

The opening instrumental track "Ripchord" sets the album off at a frenetic pace, with the talents Keel and his compatriots on full display.  Front and center on this cut is Sam Bush with a blistering mandolin solo. Indeed, "Ripchord" is a song that should be played at full volume, with the full risk that the walls may shake right off their foundation. "Lil' Miss" puts the blues in bluegrass, as this song could easily be played in the smokiest blues joints of Chicago or New Orleans. Anders Beck's work on the dobro, along with Larry's growling vocals set this song apart from the traditional bluegrass sound.

The album's third track, "Memories", brings the listener right back to the traditional bluegrass/folk territory.  A wonderful song about making each day a memorable one, allowing yourself to have a life well lived and worth looking back upon with few regrets. The melody and lyrics are reminiscent of Gordon Lightfoot's earlier works.  "Fill 'Em Up Again" takes us back in to pure bluegrass territory, with brilliant harmonies from Del McCoury, Will Lee and Jenny Keel joining Larry on the chorus.  The album explores much darker territory on "Miles and Miles" and "The Warrior", but wraps up with much brighter subject matter in the traditional country sounding "Another Summer Day."

Larry will be touring throughout the spring and summer promoting Experienced as the touring entity Larry Keel Experience.  The tour will kick off Feb. 26th in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, and then moving on to Washington D.C. at Gypsy Sally's on the 27th.  Do yourself a great favor, pick up a copy of Experienced and check out a show.  It will be an Experience, to be sure.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Soar With the Eagles

This is not what I had in mind for my first blog piece of 2016. We're one month in to the New Year, and we've been reminded in rather rude fashion that we're all getting a little older. The passing of so many great artists in music, film and stage in the span of a few weeks is quite shocking.  For me, like so many others, the passing of David Bowie and Glenn Frey struck home.  Not to take anything away from the passing of Natalie Cole or Lemmy (for all you Motorhead fans out there), but the passing of Bowie and Frey struck deep as they're music was among my first introductions to something outside of the old school country music I grew up listening to.

It was especially the case with Glenn Frey.  It wasn't until high school that my musical tastes expanded. I was still very much a country fan, and it could be argued that the Eagles were more or less a country band. That argument is much stronger when you consider their earlier material ... think pre-Hotel California.  As I entered grade 12, I had something that not every kid had, but every kid wanted.  I had the car. 

Which meant, there was a lot of driving (perhaps when I should have been in school), and a lot of music that was being blasted from that stereo. Not all of it was country.  It was my first exposure to the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd and of course, the Eagles.  Like so many other music fans, the Hotel California album was (and still is) something special to hear.  Glenn Frey and his singing/songwriting partner Don Henley were at their creative peak. Don Felder had created one of the most recognizable guitar intros in the history of song, and the band had just added Joe Walsh as their second lead guitarist.  Randy Meisner was still with the band delivering that high vocal that only he can do.  The Eagles became my favorite band in those days and remain so to this day. 

The passing of Glenn Frey was a turning of the page, the end of a glorious chapter in music. There will never be another band like the Eagles with their quality of songwriting and five part harmonies.  The influence they've had on rock, country and North American music in general cannot ever be measured. They have been inducted in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I can only hope the Country Music Hall of Fame follows suit. Really, the best way to honor a great artist and great band is to present their music.  Below is one of the finest songs to feature Glenn Frey on lead vocal and is the best example of their five part harmonies.  It's a country tinged song that was written by Tom Waits and was a B-side off the On The Border album.  Here is "Ol' 55."