The dawn of a new year is a great time to look forward, and just as importantly, to reflect on what has passed, and 2012 proved another great year for Stony Plain.
We were delighted to work on two projects with Eric Bibb, who ends 2012 with two nominations in the Blues Music Awards, including in the "Acoustic Artist" category that he won in May. His first release of the year took us on a relaxed float on a Louisianan bayou with Deeper In The Well. Then, on a collaboration with Habib Koité, the renowned Malian singer/guitarist, the duo crafted Brothers In Bamako, a touching blend of Blues and World music - an exhilirating journey for us as, after 37 years, this was our first foray into World music.
Maria Muldaur, with ....First Came Memphis Minnie, called on her Sisters in Music (Rory Block, Ruthie Foster, Bonnie Raitt, Phoebe Snow and Koko Taylor) to create a touching tribute to Memphis Minnie, the trailblazing blues woman. This is Maria's 40th album, and that excellent catalogue earns her recognition from the Blues Foundation with a nomination in their Koko Taylor (Traditional Blues Female) category for 2013.
Ian Tyson, the legendary Canadian songwriter that was recently bestowed the name "raven that sings" by the Stoney-Nakoda First Nation, honours that name with Raven Singer, Tyson's 14th release for Stony Plain. We're looking forward to All The Good 'Uns II, a second "best of" that Ian's currently putting together with the highlights from his albums since his 1996 best of, All The Good 'Uns.
Rory Block, who The Blues Foundation says is "regarded as the top female interpreter and authority on traditional country blues worldwide," released I Belong To The Band: A Tribute To Rev. Gary Davis. It's a "hauntingly accurate, soul deep, and moving" tribute, effuses Mark S. Tucker, who writes for the FAME website.
Peter Karp and Sue Foley, the pairing of accomplished male songwriter, guitarist and pianist with the inimitable guitarist, followed up their critically acclaimed debut, He Said She Said, with Beyond The Crossroads.
And to 2013? Well Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters had a celebratory year, performing live at a number of venues in the eastern US. Just For Today will be released in the Spring, and will grant you front row seats with recordings from three of those intimate shows.
MonkeyJunk, the blues trio from Ottawa who in 2012 won a Juno award and three MapleBlues Awards for To Behold, are heading back in to the studio. We're expecting the fruits of that labour to be ripe by late-Spring.
Then, Duke Robillard, one of Stony Plain's linchpin musicians, and renowned blues guitarist and singer, will have a new project out, also for the Spring.
We can't wait for you to hear those new projects, but in the meantime, please pull up a chair and have a listen to some of the amazing music we've already had the pleasure to release.
By John Emms
This collection of 19 songs taken from 1999 to 2012 is a very potent reminder why Ian Tyson is considered one of the most important songwriters of his generation. The quality of the cowboy narratives, and the evolution of his songwriting powers is simply a force of nature.
It cannot be explained any other way.
Songs like This Is My Sky, Lost Herd, Little High Plains Town, The Road To Los Cruces and the pureness of the track Song In A Dream have no equal except for possibly Bob Dylan.
Tyson would be the first to acknowledge that the musicianship of the players he chooses is important. That may be true, but like his peers Gordon Lightfoot and Leonard Cohen it’s the songs that are key.
Now nearing 80 years of age and in almost full recovery of a damaged voice and still touring and writing Ian Tyson’s influence on folk/country music cannot even be calculated.
If indeed everything is fast forward and the years go flying by Ian Tyson continues to redefine his role as the ultimate cowboy.
This album/cd is available May 21 in Canada and in the United States June 18th 2013.(less)
By Reverend Keith A. Gordon
Grade A+ "More entertaining than just about any blues album you'll hear this year."(more)
Duke Robillard Band – Independently Blue
Guitarist Duke Robillard is the "Old Faithful" of the blues these days, a jack of all trades and an undeniable master of them all. He releases a new album nearly every year like clockwork, recorded, presumably, when he's not off touring or in the studio producing another artist's new CD. Really, Duke is a serious workaholic, or maybe he's just hopelessly bitten by the muse of the blues, but either way a new Robillard album is a thing of pure joy, and Independently Blue is no exception.
The follow-up to Low Down and Tore Up, the guitarist's 2011 covers album, Independently Blue offers up mostly new material, penned either by Robillard or his former Roomful of Blues bandmate Al Basile, with a pair of songs written by guest guitarist "Monster" Mike Welch. The resulting slate of songs is a blues lover's smorgasbord of styles and sounds, beginning with the album's opening "I Wouldn't-a Done That." With Robillard's gruff vocals and subtle fretwork, Bruce Bear's tinkling piano, and a shuffling beat, the song is a delightful throwback to the Chicago blues of the 1950s.
The rest of Independently Blue romps across a varied blues landscape, from Welch's rocking instrumental "Stapled To The Chicken's Back," which pits the two talented fretburners against each other above a reckless groove, to the 1920s-era New Orleans blues-jazz vamp "Patrol Wagon Blues," which features Bears' piano and Doug Woolverton's period-perfect trumpet sounding Red Allen's spry original. The swinging "Laurene" gives off an energetic rockabilly vibe while Robillard's original instrumental "Strollin With Lowell and B.B." does an impressive job of capturing the spirit of both R&B legend Lowell Fulsom and the great guitarist B.B. King.
In the hands of a less talented musician, bandleader, and arranger, the wide swath of material displayed on Independently Blue would come out of the oven a tasteless mess of notes. Robillard is a traditionalist, however, a skilled instrumental stylist with a deep knowledge of, and respect for the history of the blues. As such, the performances throughout Independently Blue are inspired, wired, and more entertaining than just about any blues album you'll hear this year. Grade: A+ (Stony Plain Records, released April 9, 2013)(less)
By Chris Spector
RORY BLOCK/Avalon-A Tribute to Mississippi John Hurt
Chris Spector (less)
By Mike Rick
Guitar Week continues: Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters' Just for Today more like one for the ages
By Stephen A. King
LIVING BLUES – FEBRUARY, 2013
HABIB KOITÉ AND ERIC BIBB
Brothers in Bamako
Stony Plain Records - SPCD 1362
On his highly successful Deeper in the Well (2012), songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Eric Bibb found musical inspiration down south in the bayous and Cajun country of Louisiana. On his latest release, Brothers in Bamako, Bibb turned east to Africa and combined forces with noted Malian musician Habib Koité. According to the disc’s liner notes, Bibb and Koité met a decade ago during the recording of Mali to Memphis. The two developed a friendship and Bibb recently decided to travel to Bamako, the capital of Mali, to record 13 songs with his new musical partner. The results are impressive. Brothers in Bamako is worthy of a Grammy nomination.
Brothers in Bamako is a real partnership. Bibb and Koité contribute individual songs and collaborate on four songs including Touma Ni Kelen/Needed Time and Tombouctou. Koité and Bibb stretch out on a variety of stringed instruments, including acoustic and electric guitars, banjos, and an assortment of ukuleles. They are accompanied by Mamadou Kone on percussion with cameo appearances by Kafoune (backing vocals) and Olli Haavisto (pedal steel guitar). This partnership has created music that truly transcends any individual influence, whether it be blues, folk, gospel, or West African/Malian.
Brothers in Bamako begins with a travel tale, the lilting On My Way to Bamako. Calling Koité a “good friend” and a “great musician,” Bibb sings of his impending visit: “It’s my first trip to West Africa / But I’m pretty sure / In some kinda way / It’s gonna feel like comin’ home.” The song really feels like the two are at home, and it previews the disc’s beautiful musical synchronicity. Listen to every track, especially On My Way to Bamako, Touma Ni Kelen/Needed Time, Nani Le, Foro Bana, and Mami Wata, and hear the two musicians weaving their individual musical parts together in the spirit of genuine collaboration. Because Koité and Bibb play essentially the same instruments, it is difficult to determine who is playing what on Brothers in Bamako, but perhaps this is by design. Brothers in Bamako is not about separation, but interdependence and unification. The four songs the two wrote and composed together find Koité and Bibb trading verses (one sung in English, the other in French, the official language of Mali). Bibb and Koité also wrap their voices around each other, and when these moments appear, especially on Khafolé, it’s as if the two are singing with one voice.
Beyond the exquisite musical interplay that permeates every track, Bibb and Koité are social critics, casting a skeptical eye on a seemingly unfair and unjust world. Given the recent eruption of violence in Mali, it’s not surprising to find Send Us Brighter Days, a cautiously optimistic song that calls for “brighter days” and “blues skies” to heal a world “so sad.” Socio-political commentary can also be found in With My Maker I Am One and We Don’t Care. The latter comments about the disconnect between labor and consumption: “We want the gold / As long as we don’t have to mine it / Don’t care who suffers / Or who’s behind it.” Other songs, including Khafolé, do not include English translations, but it is safe to assume that the lyrics are not throwaways—the words have some story to tell. Similar to Deeper in the Well, Bibb includes a Dylan song and this time it’s Blowin’ in the Wind. Commenting on both human rights and war, Blowin’ in the Wind is a perfect choice.
This cross-cultural experiment could have been a disaster, but it wasn’t. In the disc’s liner notes, Etienne Bours traces the intriguing musical similarities between Bibb and Koité and makes an argument for why Brothers in Bamako sounds so right: “What could be more natural than for this Malian and African American to join the rhythms of their guitars and voices in some transatlantic blues?” Brothers in Bamako’s “transatlantic blues” sounds natural and it sounds right. Although divided by geography and culture, Bibb and Koité share a beautiful brotherhood of sounds and words.
—Stephen A. King
First Came Memphis Minnie
Maria Muldaur & Special Guests
Stony Plain Records, Canada
This tribute compilation to Memphis Minnie is, in some ways, a form of musical emancipation of all women. The blues are undeniably a very male dominated genre. A case can be made that the great pioneer female blues singers never received their rightful place in the blues annals as bestowed on their male peers. Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Sippie Wallace, Victoria Spivey, Lucille Bogan, Albert Hunter, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Big Mama Thornton, Big Maybelle, and even Billie Holiday, were well acknowledged but not always respected and honored in the same way their male compatriots received acclaim – some of whom were exalted and venerated to great, sometimes exaggerated heights. A case can be made that in blues radio, print and performance, the female singers unfairly took a diminished, minor role. In several decades of interviewing blues musicians and reading blues biographies, this writer cannot think of a single instance when a male blues musician has cited one of the great female singers as a major influence on their musical development. No wonder that it has been the mission of today’s leading blues women to give recognition and awareness to the women who proceeded them – because these trailblazing classic women should be listened to. The women rightly insist on some respect and honor for their musical inspirations. In 2003, they already paid tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe on “Shout, Sister, Shout” and now it’s time for the tribute of the musician who has been championed by Maria Muldaur for so many years, someone she has loved since 1963, the one she most often quotes as a major source of inspiration and the musician she has covered most often. Maria Muldaur called out some of her female blues compatriots to take matters into their own capable hands, and voila, here is a fine tribute done with love and admiration.
Let’s start by overcoming the likely objections: A fair number of the tunes included on “First Came Memphis Minnie” were previously released. Indeed, all eight tracks featuring Maria Muldaur came from her previously-released Grammy-nominated albums. Only three of the songs on this album are new recordings by Rory Block, Ruthie Foster and Bonnie Raitt. “First Came Memphis Minnie” also features two classic songs from Koko Taylor and Phoebe Snow. Koko’s track comes from her CD, “Old School”, released in 2007; and Phoebe’s from “It Looks Like Snow”, released in 1976.
That means, if you already own the albums from which Maria took these reissues, you may just want to get the new tracks from i-Tunes and not pay for the whole new CD.
On the other hand, chances are that most people do not have all or most of these songs, so this compilation becomes a convenience. That having been said, the fact that this “loving tribute” is heavy on reissues is far surpassed by the many wonderful aspects of the album.
Maria Muldaur said of her idol, “At a time when women were ‘kept in their place,’ both personally and professionally, Memphis Minnie was tough, independent, outspoken, and played a mean guitar! But, she was more than just a guitar hero of early country blues. She ably adapted to newer trends and modernized her style, which helped account for her years of popularity. Memphis Minnie was one of the few figures to make the successful transition from the rural, acoustic guitar-dominated blues of the 1920s to the urban nightclub styles of the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. She was tough, determined, talented, and courageous enough to defy and overcome all the racial, social, economic, and gender barriers that existed in her time, forging the life she envisioned for herself on nothing but her own terms!”
That may well be an overly romanticized description of Minnie’s life and career as some sort of feminist icon, which certainly was not the whole picture, as Minnie (whose birth name was Lizzie Douglas) did not walk an easy road as some sort of superwoman heroine. While she was a successful blues artist in her time, she nonetheless had a hard life that included running away from home as a 13 year old kid and making her way on bawdry Beale Street in Memphis in the turbulent year of 1900, which was, at the time, one of the wildest black entertainment districts in the USA. Besides playing guitar and singing on the street corners, she slipped into prostitution. She was married three times. All indicators are that she fared a bit better in her musical career than most women of her time (or most blues musicians, period) she nonetheless lived a tough life that was not free of exploitation and abuse. Unquestionably, Memphis Minnie was a gutsy woman, a bit wild and headstrong, with all her raw sensuality and sexy juke joint teasing. Mostly, she was a powerful singer and songwriter, an incredible guitarist and a huge influence on all women in the blues who followed her footsteps. She was also a pioneer as one of the first women to bring the electric guitar into her performances.
This album showcases not just some of the great songs written or performed by Memphis Minnie, it brings these songs to life with passion and truehearted love for this great singer. The protagonists honor their lascivious and headstrong heroine with graceful versions of the original. Maria Muldaur’s ardent eight covers are exquisitely performed with sheer devotion. Her love for Memphis Minnie comes through unencumbered, as perhaps Minnie’s greatest fan and advocate. The set of Minnie’s songs as performed by Maria Muldaur is backed by some of the finest instrumentalists in the acoustic blues: Alvin Youngblood Hart, Del Rey, and Steve James on guitar and slide guitar; Dave Earl and Steve James on mandolin
Bonnie Raitt has only one song on this album, “Ain’t Nothin’ but Rambling” which will drive Bonnie’s large fan base wild. Steve Freund accompanies her on acoustic guitar with tasteful subtlety as she takes you back to Bonnie’s early days as an acoustic country blues singer, and this wonderful cover alone make it worth to buy the album. Rory Block showcases her refined skills, mimicking Memphis Minnie’s sexy charm, on “I’m going back home” which she sings in her sultry, captivating way, accompanying herself superbly on guitar. The late Phoebe Snow’s version of “In my Girlish Ways” , backed by David Bromberg, reminds us what a wonderful blues singer we lost. Her captivating rendition of the famed song, so often performed by Maria Muldaur, is sung in her trademark sweet and angelic voice, perfectly and pointedly. Ruthie Foster’s version of “Keep Your Big Mouth Closed”, also with Steve Freund on acoustic guitar is simply wonderful, a testament to Ruthie’s status as one of today’s most important blues women.
The late Koko Taylor, one of the true heir to Minnie’s legacy closes the album with “Black Rat Swing” backed by a full electric blues band featuring Muddy Water’s guitarist Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin on guitar.(less)