Friday, November 13, 2009

La Belle Poisoneuse - Guthrie Thomas

La Belle Poisoneuse 1

La Belle Poisoneuse
Guthrie Thomas
Eagle Records

I had never heard of Guthrie Thomas before, a fact that I deeply regret. He's had quite a career, with a ton of albums (most of seem to be very hard to find, even the ones released on CD recently) and a ton of connections. He's played with Ramblin' Jack, Arlo Guthrie, and Ringo Starr. He's also a pharmacist. And a damn good singer/songwriter.

This album is a collection of acoustic songs. It's just Guthrie and a guitar and a set of well-crafted songs. There's some good fingerpicking on these tracks, but it's not the focus. He's got an earth baritone voice that is expressive and appealing and imbued with confidence and urgency. He reminds me of one of my heroes, the great John Stewart. Lyrically, he is more straightforward than Stewart. His songs don't have the poetic imagery or clever hooks that Stewart has, but there's something warmly honest about these songs, in their archetypal nature, and in their balance between sorrow and joy. I don't think any of these songs could be called "sad" or "happy," they are a mixture of the two. On one hand, these songs celebrate life and love, on the other, they regret the toll of the road, and loneliness and uncertainty. He mentions his daughter more than once, and I get the sense that the "poisonous beauty" alluded to in the title is the life of the folksinger - the allure and freedom of the open road, the compulsion to write and sing, offset against the responsibilities of fatherhood and the loved ones left behind. My personal favorite is "Knowin' that She's Waitin'."

Released in 1979, only 500 copies were pressed. It's now a pretty rare find. I really want to get some more of his albums. His web site is really the only source of information about him, and it doesn't give any details about tour dates, and it doesn't have an online store, which is frustrating. I don't know about the rest of you, but with a lot of my favorite artists, I try to buy their albums directly from them, at a concert, to make sure the money's not going to some chain store or something. If anyone's seen him in concert, I'd love to hear about it.

Here's his official page. Looks like he's a jack-of-all trades, selling guitar picks and such as well.
Guthrie Thomas Official Web Site

  1. You Can't Buy No Love Songs
  2. You Make it Easy
  3. Knowin That My Baby's Waitin'
  4. Come to a Road
  5. What Must I Do
  6. Will I Love Again
  7. If I Could Find the Words
  8. Sarah Maris
  9. Catch the Clown
  10. Lady on the Piano

Download Album Here


Saturday, October 24, 2009

New Moon by Charlie Ortman

New Moon 1

New Moon
by Charlie Ortman
Private Release
Desert Rose Music 1986

A gem. This was a chance find on ebay, and my rip from the vinyl does not do it justice. Singer/songwriter Charlie Ortman got his start in Chicago and performed throughout Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin for about 20 years. He even toured Europe briefly. This album from 1986 is his lone recording, a collection of original songs brimming with warmth and energy. I especially like the title song "New Moon," and "It Won't Take Long," a catchy but bittersweet tune about unrequited love.

The best thing about the album is Charlie's voice. He reminds me of Billy Joel in a way - a clear, powerful voice that renders the songs with nuance and feeling. He's also got a great group of background singers, and the vocal arrangements and harmonies offer solid support. The instrumentation is nice, but I think his vocal work is the best part. The songs have a dynamic range between long and short notes, and express a positive and energetic view of humanity. Listening to New Moon left me wanting more.

Charlie retired from performing in 1990, and is now a Unitarian minister. He's currently writing a book about his adventures bicycling across the US.

I hope you all enjoy this album as much as I have. This is definitely going to be on my car stereo next spring on my big road trip back home, as soon as I hit the Illinois border, heading east.

  1. Illinois Prairie
  2. New Moon
  3. Once Again
  4. Desert Rose
  5. Lady of the Ozarks
  6. It Won't Take Long
  7. Rainy Day Momma
  8. Will's Song
  9. Peggy Jones
  10. Spring Fever
  11. Mississippi River Song

Download New Moon Here

Monday, October 5, 2009

The October of Awesome

Coming up this month:

"New Moon," by Charlie Ortman
"La Belle Poisoneuse" by Guthrie Thomas
and an album by Bill Wilson, but I can't remember the name of it because it hasn't arrived yet.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Children of the Storm by Paul McNeill

Children of the Storm 1

"Children of the Storm"
Paul McNeill
Private Release

There are some people who really should have been more well-known. Paul McNeill is one of them. A British-born folksinger, Paul was a fixture of the London folk scene in the 60's, with a residency at the famous Troubadour Club, as well as associations and friendships that included Bert Jansch, Sandy Denny, Alex Campbell, Paul Simon, and Linda Thompson. He was one of (if not the) first people to ever record cover versions of Paul Simon songs. With Linda Thompson (nee Peters) he formed a duo that recorded several singles.

McNeill recorded two albums on Decca in the mid 60's, and then left the country and eventually settled in Fribourg, Swizterland, where he lived until his death. He died in Norway in 1989, of cancer. His later years as a busker and street musician in Fribourg provided the material for "Children of the Storm," his third and final album. It was a private release. I'm not sure how many copies were made.

The album showcases a proficient guitarist with a decent voice and strong, clear arrangements. It is the song lyrics, however, that really shine. McNeill's writing is poetic, specific, and compelling. I particularly enjoyed "The Cathedral" and "Cookie," although I wish I knew the stories behind the songs. The title track is rousing and epic. The album ends with "The Air I Breathe" which is joyful and celebratory. A fitting end to a long career. I wish he had been more prolific, because Children of the Storm is a short album, with only 8 tracks, and it leaves you wanting more.

According to the jacket, the album was recorded live. The engineering is not the greatest, McNeill's vocals are sometimes distant and overpowered by the excellent music, and there are several lines that I can't understand at all, which is why I did not type up the lyrics in this case.

Those who knew Paul remember him fondly, and I hope that others will enjoy this album as I have.


  1. Audrey
  2. The Cathedral
  3. Trooper
  4. Children of the Storm
  5. Prelude, Grandads Song
  6. Cookie
  7. Red Eye Blues
  8. The Air I Breathe

Note: This album is no longer available on my blog, but Paul's son, Marco, has created an official web site where you may be able to get it in the future. Anyone interested in "Children of the Storm" should check with him. Thanks!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Ferron Backed Up 1978 album mp3 rip


"Backed Up"
by Ferron
1978 Lucy Records

The rare, out of print sophomore recording of one of the great Canadian singer/songwriters. I've written about Ferron's origins in an earlier post, so I won't cover that ground again. This album was recorded only a year after her debut album, and shows her continuing development as a writer and musician. I've read that, like her first, this was also recorded on a four-track in a TV studio, and only one thousand copies were pressed. It was self-released on her own Lucy Records.

Some of the songs might be familiar, as they appear on later records. Several appeared on Testimony, which was her third album and first major release. "Light of My Light" appears later, in her live concert album "Not A Still Life."

Ferron sounds more mature and confident on this album, in which she has backing musicians for the first time. I don't actually own the physical record, so I don't know who they are. But they add some punch to her otherwise sparse arrangements, with some very emotive strings, some percussion, and lead guitar. I've heard that she was never very happy with the results, and found them amateurish, but this is probably my favorite album of hers, with the possible exception of Not A Still Life. In particular, "Light of My Light" is a favorite. In this early version of the song, it's a bit jauntier than on the later, more introspective version, but the charisma of this strange, beautiful song shines through. It was the first song of hers that I ever heard, years ago. Wanda Fischer played it on WAMC one dark, cold winter night. I remember driving along a winding, icy road from Burnt Hills when the song came on, and a full moon shone through the blackness. It's haunted me ever since.

The rip I have is pretty good, with some minor pops and crackle. I removed the biggest pops, ran a limiter to boost the recording levels (the rip was on the soft side) and made a pass with a light hiss remover, to take away the distracting record noise. It's hard to say how the record is supposed to actually sound, since the only reference is an old piece of vinyl. I found that if I tried to clean up the signal too much it cut away some of the life in her vocals, which all sound a bit distant. The frequencies of her voice that have been recorded are a pretty narrow band, and I'm not sure why. I decided that leaving some of the hiss and crackle would be less distracting than trying to take it all out and losing brightness in her voice. The result is better than my attempt at her first record, in part because the rip and, I suspect, the vinyl source, is better.

Clicking on the link below will take you to sharebee, where you can select a link from three different file hosting services to download the album. I hope you enjoy it, and please check out Ferron's other music on her web site. She has had some health trouble recently, but her new album is fantastic and so is the rest of her work.

1. Boom Boom
2. The Kids Song
3. Dear Marly
4. Willow Tree
5. White Wing Mercy
6. Light of My Light
7. Soggy Dream
8. I Come to Your Window
9. Call Me Friend
10. Misty Mountain
11. Testimony