Welcome to our first Folk Off! What’s a “Folk Off!” you ask? Well I’m glad you did. This is the section of the website where we will have little impromptu debates with some of our writers in a roundtable fashion. We want to hear from you too — please feel free to agree or disagree in the comments!
The New/Emerging Artist of the Year nominees include: Ashley Condon for This Great Compromise, Lemon Bucket Orkestra for Lume, Lume, Mo Kenney for Mo Kenney, Ten Strings And A Goat Skin for Corbeau and Trent Severn for Trent Severn.
Jeff: I think Mo Kenney has this one wrapped up. She’s got the blessing of Joel Plaskett and the vocal chords and sheer writing ability to back it up. This category has bucket loads of talent, though, and I think we will see great things from all these artists in the future.
Donna: Mo Kenney, huh? Do you think that might be your East Coast loyalty/bias showing, Mr. Harper? Not that I don’t recognize Ms. Kenney’s obvious songwriting talent (and her voice does have a unique quality that definitely grabbed me from the first time I heard “Sucker” on CBC Radio 3), but I think there’s some strong, strong musicianship in evidence in some of the other nominees. My vote’s on Lemon Bucket Orkestra, actually. Those folks kick ass in all directions. Slightly tangential: I hope Mo Kenney can shed the Joel Plaskett connection soon and stand on her own merits. What undeniably helped her initially might prove to be an albatross over time.
The nominees for the Pushing The Boundaries category are: Kevin Breit for Field Recording, Jaron Freeman-Fox & The Opposite of Everything for Jaron Freeman-Fox & The Opposite of Everything, New Country Rehab for Ghost of Your Charms, Orchid Ensemble for Life Death Tears Dream and the Wilderness of Manitoba for Island of Echoes.
Donna: This category is completely stacked with talent. Every album is strong enough to win — and I’m relieved that I’m not actually a judge of these awards — but as good as the other three nominees are, it comes down to a face-off between Jaron Freeman-Fox and New Country Rehab for me. Both of these bands have not a bad player among them, and in my dreams they’re all playing together in some massive jam session that never ends. But a choice must be made, and if we really consider the criteria of this category, I think the album by Jaron Freeman-Fox & The Opposite of Everything does in fact “push the boundaries” of folk music. There are so many eclectic and multi-ethnic influences here — all expertly expressed — that it could never be called a traditional “folk” album, yet the label still applies. And that’s what this category is all about, isn’t it?
Jeff: If we are talking about “Pushing the Boundaries” then definitely Jaron Free-Fox & The Opposite of Everything is the definition of this. In a world where increasingly it’s “all be done before” this album was stood out as something completely different for me. Of course I was a huge Oliver Schroer fan, who Jason Freeman-Fox cites as his mentor. If it’s a lazy Sunday around the house, then I prefer New Country Rehab’s Ghost of Your Charms, which is a solid album, but I don’t think it pushes any boundaries whatsoever.
This year’s English Songwriter of the Year nominees are: David Francey for So Say We All, Old Man Luedecke for Tender is the Night, Lynn Miles for Downpour, Justin Rutledge for Valleyheart and John Wort Hannam for Brambles And Thorns.
Donna: Another tough category, although I have to make a confession right off the top: that Justin Rutledge album bores me to tears. No offense, Justin — I love the “Jellybean” song and I’ve been known to join in enthusiastically with its sing-along chorus at live shows, but this album is a yawner. Maybe I haven’t been in right state of mellow to appreciate it, but I can barely get through the whole thing. Not my pick, I’m afraid. For me it comes down to David Francey, who never puts out a bad album, and Old Man Luedecke, who, well, never does either. Having said that, though, I think I enjoyed OML’s previous album a bit more than this one, so that prompts me to give the edge to Mr. Francey in this category. He is certainly an English songwriter, in every sense of the word.
Jeff: As a banjo player, this is a tough category for me. It comes down to So Say We All and Tender is the Night for me. Francey has enlisted the help of one of the best clawhammer players in Canada (Chris Coole) for his So Say We All album; and Chris Luedecke made the long trek to Nashville to get the legendary Tim O’Brien to produce his latest disc, which I think is his strongest since his Juno award winning Proof of Love. Now I realize it’s not a banjo category – so lets focus on the songwriting – David has a unique ability to make a song out of everything and Luedecke is probably one of the most prolific songwriters of late. I’m flipping a coin here, but I’d put my money on Luedecke to win this one. You can’t count out Lynn Miles here either, although there is a definite lack of banjo….
Nominees for World Solo Artist of the Year are: Aviva Chernick for When I Arrived You Were Already There, Alex Cuba for Ruido En El Sistema, Lenka Lichtenberg for Embrace, Jorge Miguel for Guitarra Flamenca/Flamenco Guitar and Sora for Scorpion Moon.
Jeff: To be honest, I am not familiar with a lot of these artists, but Jorge Miguel’s Guitarra Flamenca blew me away when I listened to it. His mission is to deliver pure flamenco music to North American audiences and this disc does just that — it’s pure virtuosistic skill captured with no special production effects or modern interpretations.
Donna: OK, I’m going to surprise even myself here and pick Alex Cuba. Even though I found parts of that album veering into the zone of cheese sometimes, the playing is always great. He has a kickass horn section, and he’s really good at what he does. Also, there’s an aspect of hedging one’s bets when picking winners for these award-type things. Do I go with the artist I’d most like to win, or the one I think will win? This time around I’m going with the latter. We’ll see how that plays out, I guess.
Nominees for World Group of the Year are: Njacko Backo & Kalimba Kalimba for Ici Bas, Rien N’est Impossible David Buchbinder & Odessa for Havana Walk to the Sea, Lemon Bucket Orkestra for Lume, Lume, Jaron Freeman-Fox & The Opposite of Everything for Jaron Freeman-Fox & The Opposite of Everything and Jaffa Road for Where The Light Gets In.
Jeff: This category is really a battle between Jaron Freeman-Fox and the Lemon Bucket Orkestra. I think Jaron Freeman-Fox is going to win this one, but if the judges are looking more for the traditional definition of “world” music Lume, Lume might be more their speed. The listeners who take the time to check out all these albums are the true winners here though.
Donna: I feel like there’s some kind of jazz/world music convergence going on, where every artist or group in this genre has to have an obviously jazz-trained saxophone player and/or a horn section on their album to give that extra “punch,” or something. I mean, don’t get me wrong — I love jazz and hearing people like Jane Bunnett or Sundar Viswanathan is never a bad thing, but it just makes the assignation of genre labels that much more moot. But that’s probably a topic for another conversation. Um, that Jaron Freeman-Fox album completely blows me away. I want it to win everything.
The Traditional Album of the Year nominees are: Long Gone Out West Blues by Pharis Romero and Jason Romero, Lume, Lume by Lemon Bucket Orkestra, Mosaïk by Vishtèn, Seinn by Mary Jane Lamond and Wendy MacIsaac and Tune Tramp by Erynn Marshall.
Jeff: I can’t get enough of Pharis and Jason Romero — they have really carved out a unique niche in the Canadian Music landscape with their last two albums. They go head to head with an Haints Old Time Stringband band mate, Erynn Marshall, in this category too, which is interesting. I just saw Vishtèn live at the Re-Jigged Festival in Dartmouth recently too, so it’s a tough call. I’d pick Long Gone Out West Blues hands down, but I think since it’s a “traditional” category, Vishtèn’s jigs and reels will squeak out the win.
Donna: I think I’m going to go with Long Gone Out West Blues on this one. As much as I love the Lemon Bucket album and/or a great collection of driving Francophone tunes a la Vishtèn, I think if I overlook my own musical preferences and really try to think objectively about what constitutes a “traditional” folk album, Pharis and Jason Romero really fit the bill for this category.
The Traditional Singer of the Year nominees are: Natalie Edelson of The Blue Warblers for Birds, Ian Bell for Forget Me Not, When Far Away, Ken Whiteley for The Light Of Christmas, Pharis Romero for Long Gone Out West Blues and Mary Jane Lamond for Seinn.
Jeff: Pharis Romero definitely deserves to win in this category for Long Gone Out West Blues. Not only can she put her own spin on traditional tunes, she can write original music with that same feel. She won’t have an easy time winning this one though, going up against household names like Ken Whiteley and Mary Jane Lamond.
Donna: I love Mary Jane Lamond’s voice, and she’s in fine form on this album. While I agree the Whiteley name carries a lot of weight in the folk world, I hope Lamond’s is still influential enough to take this category.
The nominees for Contemporary Album of the Year are: Downpour by Lynn Miles, Rise by Annabelle Chvostek, So Say We All by David Francey, These Wilder Things by Ruth Moody and Valleyheart by Justin Rutledge.
Donna: Oh man, it’s tough to pick in this category. Aside from my ambivalence about Valleyheart (see previous comments), the rest of the albums here are fine examples of the genre label “contemporary folk.” Solid songwriting and arrangements, great voices, good playing – that’s what this category should be about, in my opinion, and it’s all represented here. The standout, though, does indeed belong to Ruth Moody’s gorgeous album. Ruth’s voice is a bell, and I swear I could listen to her arrangement of “Dancing the Dark” for days. This award is hers to win, I think.
Jeff: This category is definitely the battle of the Wailin’ Jennys, both past and present — Chvostek is a former member and Moody is 1/3 of the current lineup. Moody’s album These Wilder Things really stands out for me. It’s probably one of my favourite album in this category, if not for the entire year and includes a long list of superstar guests like Jerry Douglas and Mark Knopfler.
Contemporary Singer of the Year nominees include: Stephen Fearing for Between Hurricanes, Old Man Luedecke for Tender is the Night, Justin Rutledge Valleyheart, Ian Sherwood for Live At The Hive and John Wort Hannam for Brambles And Thorns.
Jeff: Why Ruth Moody or Lynn Miles isn’t nominated for this category is beyond me. So since neither of them are nominated, it’s a tough choice for me. Luedecke’s album is one of my favourites for the year, but if the judges are looking purely at singing, it’s probably a toss up between western singers Stephen Fearing and John Wort Hannam.
Donna: This award is given to a “contemporary solo vocalist or specified vocalist within a group,” so say the CFMA criteria, which pretty much means that if you’re a vocalist nominated in this category, you’re not nominated in the Traditional Singer of the Year category. Sigh, genres, genres. Anyway…I’ve always loved Stephen Fearing’s voice. He has a lot of facility, vocally-speaking, and that’s been true since the beginning of his long career. My vote’s on him.
Instrumental Group of the Year nominees include: The Boxcar Boys for Rye Whiskey, Jaron Freeman-Fox & The Opposite of Everything for Jaron Freeman-Fox & The Opposite of Everything, Gordon Grdina’s Haram for Her Eyes Illuminate, Lemon Bucket Orkestra for Lume, Lume and The Log Drivers for The Log Drivers.
Donna: I’m going with Gord Grdina for this category. Not only does this guy play the guitar like he “has the devil in him,” as one of my friends once observed, he has surrounded himself with equally-stellar musicians who play the hell out of their instruments (pun definitely intended), feed off and build on each others’ strengths, and create a completely unique hybrid of classical/jazz/Arabic music. That’s more than enough to deserve a win, in my opinion.
Jeff: While Gord’s guitar greatness is definitely genuine, I really think this is going to be Jaron Freeman-Fox’s year. At this point I am sounding like a broken record, but his album is really a unique, shining diamond of this years crop of Canadian Folk Music Awards nominees.
The nominees for Instrumental Solo Artist of the Year are: Stephanie Cadman for Foggy New Year, Maxim Cormier for Maxim Cormier, Chrissy Crowley for Last Night’s Fun, Rachel Davis for Turns and Jorge Miguel for Guitarra Flamenca/Flamenco Guitar.
Jeff: A bunch of fiddlers and a flamenco player in this category! I’d really love to see Chrissy Crowley win this category — she’s the latest great fiddler to come out of the Maritimes and her new album sounds fantastic. The pairing of Crowley and Darren McMullen (who also plays on David Francey’s So Say We All) really makes this album stand out above the rest.
Donna: I’ve been obsessed with flamenco since a friend of mine made a documentary recently about the dance aspect of this tradition, so I started listening to these artists really wanting to love Jorge Miguel. I did enjoy his album, but I have to admit that I liked Chrissy Crowley’s better. She’s a great player, and the arrangements are all very interesting and ear-catching. I also believe that overcoming my initial thoughts about this category proves that I am not subject to predisposition or bias when evaluating recordings (I can only hope).
Vocal Group of the Year nominees include: Dawn and Marra for Teaspoons and Tablespoons, Good Lovelies for Live at Revolution, Trent Severn for Trent Severn, The Sweet Lowdown for May and the Wilderness of Manitoba for Island of Echoes.
Jeff: I think the news kids on the block, Trent Severn, are going to win this one. Their debut disc features some pretty tight and tasteful three-part harmony throughout.
Donna: tight vocal harmonies are a hallmark of this category (as well they should be) but I think the Wilderness of Manitoba takes the proverbial cake in this department. I can’t get over how their voices move in complete sync on every song in that sweet, sweet 70s style. And I maintain that my preference has nothing to do with the fact that I live in Manitoba. They don’t either, so I don’t really know why I even mentioned it.
Ensemble of the Year nominees include: Genticorum for Enregistré Live, Good Lovelies for Live at Revolution, Mary Jane Lamond and Wendy MacIsaac for Seinn, Corin Raymond & The Sundowners for Paper Nickels and Vishtèn for Mosaïk.
Jeff: Straight up honesty: I haven’t heard many of the albums here, but I just saw Vishtèn live and they completely blew me away with their stage presence, hard-driving traditional energy and tasteful choice of songs.
Donna: Yes, I kind of feel like the Oscar jurors must have felt when the Best Picture category was expanded to include twice as many movies. We’re scrambling to listen to everything closely enough to be able to evaluate it, but we’ll get more of a headstart next year. Anyway, my pick: if we’re talking about ensemble quality, I think the tightness of the playing is the deciding factor, and that would certainly be in evidence in a live show. I’ve never seen Vishtèn live but I have seen Genticorum, and I’m going to vote for them here because their entry is a live album — one that gives you just a taste of how exciting they can be in real life.
The nominees for Solo Artist of the Year include: Maria Dunn for Piece By Piece, Stephen Fearing for Between Hurricanes, David Francey for So Say We All, Lynn Miles for Downpour and John Wort Hannam for Brambles And Thorns.
Jeff: I think it’s going to be a tough battle between David Francey and Lynn Miles. Both artists have some solid albums here, packed with original, powerful songs. I’ll have to go with Francey here, because I loved the way the album sounds — the musicians he picked really highlighted his vocal ability, songwriting style and help give him the edge over the other artists in this category.
Donna: I’m not sure if I’m really straight on the nuances of this category and the differences between it and the Contemporary Singer of the Year, especially since two of these acts are nominated for that award as well. Oh wait: checking the CFMA website reveals that this award may be given to either a vocal or instrumental artist, which I guess makes sense. It does seem particularly skewed towards vocalists this year, however. I agree it’s between Francey and Miles, but — maybe just be contrarian — I’m going to go with Miles. She never seems to write a bad song, and has the voice to convey them, too. May the best solo artist win.
Producer of the Year nominees are: David Francey for So Say We All, David Travers-Smith for These Wilder Things by Ruth Moody and for Jaron Freeman-Fox and The Opposite of Everything, Jory Nash for Little Pilgrim, Rick Scott for The Great Gazzoon - A Tall Tale With Tunes & Turbulence, Steve Dawson for Brother Sinner & The Whale by Kelly Joe Phelps and for I Hear The Wind In The Wires by Jim Byrnes
Jeff: I think this is David Travers-Smith’s category to win, hands down. Jaron Freeman-Fox and The Opposite of Everything and These Wilder Things are two of the best sounding albums in a long time. If he had anything to do with the inclusion and arrangement of Moody’s cover version of “Dancing in the Dark”, then he should get bonus points.
Donna: Oh ya, I think this is a cake-walk for Travers-Smith. Those albums are two of my favourites of the year, and his touch in the studio is a big reason for that. it seems like this category was created to give him an award, and I’ll be really surprised if he doesn’t take it home.
There are a few categories we didn’t review because we didn’t feel we had a deep knowledge of the artists and/or the category. You can view a full list of nominees here. The Canadian Folk Music Awards are November 8-10, 2013.