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Friday, March 1, 2013

NEWS & REVIEWS: CD review – SUSIE GLAZE & THE HILONESOME BAND, “White Swan”

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Here’s a Special Edition – with a single-review – as today’s NEWS & REVIEWS. The CD release show for this album is March 3, 2013, at McCabe’s in Santa Monica. Tickets are still available at press time.
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CD review – SUSIE GLAZE & THE HILONESOME BAND, “White Swan”
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by Larry Wines, for the Acoustic Americana Music Guide
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CD Release date: March 3, 2013, in concert at McCabe’s in Santa Monica.
Label: Independent release (Hilonesome Music, www.susieglaze.com.)
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They’re a band who could be the next bright stars of the roots music / folk-Americana world. This new album could be the launch vehicle that does that for them.
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Susie Glaze & The Hilonesome Band had plenty of momentum coming into the new album, “White Swan.” They’ve played the theater at the Hollywood Bowl. The Guide’s editor, writing the annual “Best of / Top Ten” for FolkWorks back in 2008, named them among the best acoustic bands in Southern California. And that’s far from the only coverage they’ve gotten, being one of the most-written-about bands in the Acoustic Americana Music Guide. They won the "Just Plain Folks 2006 Music Award" for "Best Roots Album," and were named by the Guide's editor as FolkWorks Magazine’s Pick for "Best Bluegrass Album of 2005" for the band’s debut album, "Blue Eyed Darlin'." Each of their subsequent albums has received crtical acclaim as their audience grows numerically and geographically. Their most recent prevuious recording, "Live at the Freight & Salvage," was released in 2011 and featured guest banjo virtuoso Bill Evans.
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This time, on “White Swan,” it’s abundantly clear that the band’s regular line-up is quite formidable on its own, and this new CD is a gem.
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Susie Glaze and Hilonesome are now a group of veteran and accomplished acoustic musicians, and on “White Swan,” they have crafted instrumentations and arrangements that exceed all expectations for an indie project. Indeed, it’s doubtful that a major label would have opted to defy the current self-imposed constraints of formulaic bluegrass and allowed a recording like this to happen from an ostensibly bluegrass outfit.
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And that raises two points. One, it’s time to stop seeing their genre, and even their emphasis, as singularly bluegrass. And, two, as Susie Glaze says in the liner notes, “This is the most truly collaborative work I’ve ever released.” Her statement speaks volumes.
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As everyone knows, when artists collaborate, anything is possible. That’s where the contribution of Rick Cunha, the masterful mixer, needs to share the compliments. The cited “collaborative work” is evident in every aspect of every track. We first thought of this album as an aural buffet, but that’s not it: that would ignore a total presentation that includes rich side dishes and tasty seasonings in the relish tray, all served with care and finesse.
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Next, we can’t flippantly dismiss the band’s identity in the bluegrass world. Indeed, bluegrass has been the genre of their past recordings, and it’s where they’ve build a strong following. They’ve been booked as bluegrass headliners and at bluegrass festivals. That remained true even after a personnel change left them without a banjo player, and the lineup began to emphasize the prowess of fiddler Mark Indictor. (Interestingly enough, the Guide’s editor introduced Mark to Susie, when he backed her band at a charity concert produced by the Guide after the Haiti disaster.)
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The point here – playing bluegrass with no banjo – could serve as a starting place to critique the difference between East Coast and West Coast bluegrass. Since Nashville took-over everything they believed could be homogenized into their version of “country,” even Eastern bluegrass fell prey to having the clamps screwed-down tight on anything “different” or innovative. Too often, Eastern bluegrass has been characterized by the repetitive sameness of each player taking a solo of the same duration, in the same sequence, in every tune they play. Even those blazing-fast, nimble-fingered runs fail to dazzle when you’re seeing and hearing it all for the fifth time in five songs.
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West Coast bluegrass has been far less subject to any of that, and far more prone to incorporating other influences. Sometimes that’s good, and sometimes, the hound dawg sniffed around the place down yonder and the puppies are mongrels.
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In the case of this band, with its very Apallachian-sounding name – Susie Glaze and Hilonesome – the musical repertoire has always spanned a spectrum from traditional bluegrass to nu-grass, from pre-bluegrass tunes of the mountain hollars to contemporary alt-country and traditional folk-Americana. They’ve always done all of that remarkably well, often superbly – including nimble-fingered playing – even through personnel departures that changed the emphasis of instrumentation.
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Thus, the new album is different. Does that mean bluegrass fans will sigh, shake their heads, and shuffle dejectedly to the exits? Hardly. The band has been sans-banjo long enough that they’ve built a solid identity as a guitar / mandolin / upright-bass ensemble that fluidly exchanges leads with Susie Glaze’s perfect-pitch vocals and guitar and sometimes her mountain (fretted) dulcimer.
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We’ve complimented Susie for years for getting everything she can from her talented band, doing what musicians call “being generous” on stage, giving each player their own credited lead roles on “their” songs, while everyone else, including Susie, becomes that member’s back-up band for that song or tune. Few band leaders do it so well, and keep everyone happy so easily. In concert and on the new CD, audiences enjoy the variety as the spotlight moves from player to player, song by song. And that way of doing business has perfectly translated to “While Swan,” their “most truly collaborative” new album.
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All of it seems to come naturally for Susie Glaze, given her start in show biz, singing in the Broadway cast of “Big River.” The result of that kind of formative experience? This band is a musical collaborative that fires on all cylinders and runs smoothly with lots of horsepower. It’s evident from any angle, and in every track of the new CD.
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Susie takes lead vocals on nine of the eleven tracks, playing guitar on three and mountain dulcimer on one. Steve Rankin and Fred Sanders each get one lead vocal. Backing vocals are minimalist presences, always just right, harmonizing without becoming choir-like. Rankin plays mandolin, bouzouki, and acoustic guitar. Sanders is a wonderful presence on bass. Rob Carlson plays acoustic lead guitar and resonator guitar. Mark Indictor’s fiddle-playing is mesmerizing. Guest musicians on the record appear on only one track, “Fair Ellender,” contributing nicely-woven hammer and mountain (fretted) dulcimers played by Peter and Jon Pickow, respectively, and there’s fine fiddle by Kenny Kosek.
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Everything on the album creates a tapestry of sound, with all the threads creating bright and intricate images that are seamlessly woven together.
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Every songwriter knows the solitary side of that endeavor. The band’s chief songwriter, guitarist Rob Carlson (billed for the first time on this album as Robert Ralph Carlson) is, by all appearances, free of the characteristics of creative ego that make other band’s songwriter-members difficult. This time, he has only one solo writing credit and three as lead co-writer, and he beams with pride at the resulting record.
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Here’s a track-by-track description:
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Track 1, “Mill Worker,” is an old James Taylor song sung by Susie, recorded here with a traditional old Irish piece as a most effective intro. Though jobs in the mills have all gone to grossly underpaid workers on foreign shores, America’s tough economic times make the song resonate.
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Track 2, “Little Rabbit,” is a rousing song with Western lyrics and animal imagery about a fox and a hawk and border crossings and Cimarron. It’s a delectable co-write by Carlson and singer-songwriter Fur Dixon. It’s sung by Susie, and she shows her vocal dexterity with a diffrerent approach than she uses elsewhere. Stylistically, it’s a exemplary piece of acoustic Americana, with Mark Indictor featured in a smooth-as-silk fiddle run and Sanders showing his prowess on the standup bass.
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Track 3, “Evangeline,” is an Ernest Troost classic, he being a Music Emmy-winning artist-composer. Ernest is also L.A.’s resident expert of the Piedmont Blues genre. In any style, the lyrics are haunting, sometimes even creepy, but the song is always compelling. Susie and her band aren’the only ones, or even the first, to cover this song. Their performance makes the song a backwoods murder ballad in the best tradition of pre-bluegrass Apallachian music.
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Track 4, “Me and the Eagle,” sung by Steve Rankin, who lays his mandolin aside and plays a strong lead guitar, is a Steve Earle song that this band has been performing live for a long time, always to much approval of audiences. This recording has an especially splendid instrumental arrangement that’s an archetype for full-on stringband orchestration.
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Track 5, “Fair Ellender,” is an old traditional song, likely of ancient origins. Susie and her band recorded it on their tribute album to Apallachian music legend Jean Ritchie. This time, the nicely woven hammer and mountain (fretted) dulcimers of guest musicians Peter and Jon Pickow, respectively, and fiddle by Kenny Kosek, make an old gem sparkle afresh.
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Track 6, “Harlan County Boys,” perfectly fits what this band has always done, but the surprise is the song’s writer – Ernest Troost. Expect it to become a much-covered favorite by bluegrass/nu-grass bands everywhere.
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Track 7, “Rockin’ in Your Granddaddy’s Chair,” is an original by longtime band member Fred Sanders, who does the lead vocal, with understated harmony accompaniment by other band members. Rob Carlson’s resonator guitar completes the arrangement nicely.
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Track 8, “April Fools,” a Carlson original, brings a showpiece classic folksinger vocal by Susie Glaze, tastful fiddle from Mark Indictor, and a samba-style arrangement that’s sunny and reminiscent of the glory days of the best female singers from Austin. This could well be the breakout single from this album on folk radio.
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Track 9, “The Dark Eileen,” is Carlson donning his mountain holler murder ballad cloak again. He thoroughly “gets” the genre, writing songs that sound jaunty and pleasant until you listen to the lyrics. Instrumentally tasty, another inspired arrangement. And Susie’s high sweet voice informing you that the song’s main character is, of course, “lying in his grave.”
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Track 10, “White Swan,” the title track and a Carlson original, brings Rankin on bouzouki (he also plays it in track 9) instead of his primary instrument, mandolin, or guitar, which he plays well whenever called on. Along with her lead vocal, Susie plays mountain dulcimer on this track only.
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Track 11, “The Soldier,” is this album’s sole Jean Ritchie original, in which, “They say that the war’s nearly won,” when, of course, it isn’t for those who fought it. For Ritchie, it was an in-demand part of her repertoire in the Vietnam era. Susie’s perfect timing in the vocalization of the lyrics makes the song completely contemporary and especially haunting after more than a decade of soldiers returning damaged from distant barren hells.
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It’s been a long time since Susie Glaze and Hilonesome performed live on “Tied to the Tracks,” doing their first live radio, back in the mid double-aughts. We’ve followed their career and cheered them on, before and since, and we’re thrilled to be able to offer our readers a strong and well-deserved recommendation for purchasing this album, and seeing them in concert.
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CD RELEASE SHOW: Sunday, March 3, at 7 pm, in concert at at McCabe’s, 3101 Pico Bl, Santa Monica 90405; www.mccabes.com; 310-828-4497. This show may sell-out, so get tix in advance from the venue, online or by phone.
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This is one of the parallel editions of the Acoustic Americana Music Guide. All current and archived editions, including live music event and news feature and review editions, are available at the following websites:
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Contents copyright © 2013,
Lawrence Wines & Tied to the Tracks.
All rights reserved.
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The ACOUSTIC AMERICANA MUSIC GUIDE endeavors to bring you NEWS and views of interest to artists everywhere, more specifically to musicians and the creative community, and music makers and fans of acoustic and Folk-Americana music, both traditional and innovative. We provide a wealth of resources, including a HUGE catalog of acoustic-friendly venues, and schedules of performances in Southern California venues large and small. We cover workshops and other events for artists and folks in the music industry, and all kids o’ things in the world of acoustic and Americana and accessible classical music. From washtub bass to musical spoons to oboe to viola to banjo to squeezebox, from Djangostyle to new-fangled-old-time string band music, from sweet Cajun fiddle to pre-bluegrass Appalachian mountain music to proto blues… The Acoustic Americana Music Guide. We’re on it.
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1 comment:

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