No Depression

 
 February 27, 2015
Sometimes in the midst of everyone trying to inject new sounds into the genre, it’s nice to hear a classic country voice. Craig Moreau is just that: to me, he’s might be a new George Strait. His recent album, The Daredevil Kid, is a tribute to the kind of music that characterized neo-trad country of the 80s.

Filled with arrangements that tend towards the simpler side, the album lets Moreau’s songwriting and rich voice dominate. A wistful sentiment governs the album; it seems he (or his characters) are intent on ruminating past mistakes while trying to look ahead to a future of possibility. Songs like the title track see the protagonist return to creative work after giving it up for a day job and child-rearing, whereas others like “Sweet Luanne” spin verbose narratives about mysterious and troubled characters.

I’m partial to the really country tunes, always a sucker for the melancholy that a bit of steel guitar can evoke, like it does on “Stranded”; others such as “Casey, Illinois” rely only on the instrument’s gentle accents and a guitar picking in the background, highlighting the tale of distance-generated heartbreak.

Well, the reason the pedal steel is so strong is it’s played by longtime Blue Rodeo/Cowboy Junkies member Kim Deschamps. The band is filled out by guest appearances by Gurf Morlix, Kevin Welch, and Elana James. Producer Mark Hallman (Carole King, Tom Russell, Ani Difranco) takes on the bulk of playing duties, appearing on drums, mandolin, banjo, and Hammond B3, among others. But all of these perqs are just that: accents to a collection of solidly written songs.

Moreau is touring throughout the year; his album and dates can be found on his website. Meantime, check out the opening track below.

3rd Coast Music, November 2014

 

Hard to get a straight answer from the Intertoobz but, as far as I can make out, there are at least 17 recording studios in Calgary, Alberta, maybe more. It is, after all, about the same size as Austin, which, last time I did a rough count, has around 100. I have absolutely no idea whether any of Calgary’s sound shops are any use, but you can draw your own conclusions from the fact that Craig Moreau preferred to spend six days driving the 2000 miles each way, along with his nephew/Ben Tagseth, guitarist in his The Taurino Band, to get from his home in Calgary to Austin’s Congress House Studio. Actually, Congress House was the fallback, he was originally aiming for Gurf Morlix’s Rootball Studio. Moreau, now 49, has one of those bios you used to see on the back of Kerouac-era novels, ten years on the rodeo circuit, he’s been a roadie, bartender, farmer, cowhand, truck driver, stuntman, actor, carpenter, mechanic and postman. He hung up the post office gig after nine years because they wanted him to park his truck and deliver on foot, “that was out for me.” With his pension money, he decided to make a follow-up to his 1999 album Every Now And Then, and contacted Morlix. “I research these things, so I knew of him from the producer credits on Robert Earl Keen and Lucinda Williams albums, I was a big fan of his work.” However, Moreau, because of tax liability, had a 2013 deadline and Morlix was tied up for the rest of that year, so he gave Moreau three suggestions, Mark Hallman, Scrappy Jud Newcombe and Lloyd Maines. Moreau ended up with Hallman mainly because f inances dictated that the producer and studio be a package, he couldn’t afford them separately. Also, he thought Maines might be “a little more country than I wanted. I call my music ‘Americana/roots’ and I get gigs. If I was to bill myself as ‘country,’ with the exact same material, nobody would book me in Alberta.” Hallman, who plays (deep breath) drums, bass, mandolin, mandola, accordion, 12 string, electric and acoustic guitars, piano, banjo, B3, percussion and harmony vocals, brought in Elana James on violin and Kim Deschamps pedal steel, also lining up Kimmie Rhodes and Kevin Welch as guest vocalists, while Morlix dropped by to add lap steel and harmony vocals to the title track. Moreau’s first face to face meeting with Morlix went a little awry when he mentioned hearing Gurf on the radio covering a John Prine song, which surprised Gurf more then somewhat as he’s never sung a John Prine song in his life. What Moreau had heard was actually Blaze Foley’s Clay Pigeons! Along with his various day jobs, Moreau has also consistently been a musician and songwriter, Indeed, back in the 80s, he tried his luck in Nashville, inspired by the success of proto-Americana acts like Guy Clark, Lyle Lovett and Steve Earle. Unfortunately, he got there just as any interest in folk based country music evaporated, and, only lasting six months, describes himself as a victim of what Earle called “The Great Credibility Scare.” Back in Canada, he focused on bars, coffee houses, festivals and private parties, the life support system of the local hero. While Every Now And Then, recorded in Alberta, took a while to come to fruition, mainly serving to raise his profile locally, The Daredevil Kid finds him striking out more ambitiously. In this, he joins some other recent 3CM favorites, such as Yvette Landry, Rod Balch and George Wirth, artists who bring a level of maturity to their work. The importance of life experience is a vexed issue, there have been young songwriters who’ve done astonishing work, Townes Van Zandt, for instance, was only 24 when he recorded For The Sake Of The Song, which hardly sound like juvenilia, other examples are easy to find. However, though I’m speaking as an old fart myself, there’s a very real attraction to listening to songwriters who’ve spent time in life’s trenches and have the scars to show for it. Moreau says he drew material not from the various jobs he’s held but from the people he met along the way, and his resume suggests that they were a bit different from the people you’d meet playing open mikes and coffeehouses. He’s also rewritten many of his earlier songs as his perspectives changed. Whether or not you’d call it maturity, Moreau is adamant that “I can’t be in it for the money. It has to be about the music.” I’ve seen several pieces by established artists who don’t have to worry about themselves, lamenting about how hard the music business has become for young artists trying to get started, to which Moreau responds, “It’s just as tough for an older person!” However, at least here at 3CM Towers, the very fact that he and Gurf Morlix were talking about working together right there validates his parking on this spot. Morlix has an almost preternatural ability to see diamonds in the rough, and by the time Hallman had spent three days polishing them, Moreau’s songs more than justified Morlix’s interest in them. Whether or not you think age matters, lines like “I hung up the guitar when the baby was born along with a piece of my soul,” “10,000 yesterdays running through my ragged brain, put on my warmest coat, step out and light a smoke, start to sing along with the pouring rain,” “I’m not lost, just unforgiven,” not to mention Sweet Luanne, about a girl sliding into prostitution, and Somebody Tell Her (“she’ll be lonely if she falls for me”) in their entirety speak to a weltanschauung won the hard way. The closing song was inspired by Hayes Carll, who challenged the other songwriters at a workshop to use the phrase Against The Skyline in a song. Moreau’s take, which features Kevin Welch, won him a $500 prize at this year’s Calgary Folk Festival, “which I promptly spent on new speakers!” Incidentally, Moreau became friends with Carll because they were the only participants at the workshop who took cigarette breaks. On top of everything else, Moreau is a fine, expressive singer, every word of his songs coming across clear as a bell. How far his combined talents as a singer-songwriter will take a 49-year old from Calagary remains, of course, to be seen. For now, he’s aiming at next year’s Folk Alliance, with a possible trip to Austin for NotSXSW 2015. Watch this space, or anyway the Annual Incomplete & Unofficial Guide next March. JC

Fervor Coulee

 

Calgarian Craig Moreau recently unleashed an incredible album of modern country music that actually earns that designation. (And no, I’m not going to go off on another old-codger rant about what passes as ‘country’ today.)

Progressive enough certainly to find favour within the wide-open Americana field, The Daredevil Kid is truly an album that recalls everyone’s songwriting heroes…if those happen to be folks like Tom T. Hall, Merle Haggard, Henson Cargill, and Kevin Welch, who actually appears on the album’s closing track “Against the Skyline.”

Vocally, Moreau reminded me first of Ray Materick, but there are certainly a few Randy Travis, Blaze Foley, and Vern Gosdin influences hinted on songs such as “The Uptown Pony” and “Blame It On The Fields.” And while those references may be dated, one suggests they are more accurately labeled ‘classic.’ Moreau has some smoothness about him, but no slickness. Life lessons abound in the frisky “Call It Ignorance,” with “Sweet Luanne” providing a darker, nuanced bit of instruction: Moreau’s vocal depth allows him to bridge the stylistic distance his songs encompass.

If additional evidence of Moreau’s ability to convey the intensity of a song was necessary, I offer up the album’s sole cover, Bill Morrissey’s “Casey, Illinois.” Yup, that’ll do.

Austin producer and musician Mark Hallman has a significant presence on this recording resulting in an Alberta roots album that speaks to home while having the gravitas of Texas connections. Kimmie Rhodes lends her voice to the refrain of “Stranded,” a highlight. Gurf Morlix sings on the title cut, a song well set in the Jerry Jeff Walker mold. Kim Deschamps handles the pedal steel and Elana James (Hot Club of Cowtown, Bob Dylan) violin, each providing expressive textures rooted in tradition.

Before Moreau sent me a text offering to send me the album for review, I had never knowingly heard of him. Man, have I missed out. I was inclined to purchase his previous album Every Know And Then as few weeks back, and was further impressed. Not only does he have Jane Hawley singing on that 2000 release (never a bad idea, that!), but it also contains great songs. The unsettling “The Final Price of Grain” is every bit as powerful as “Thirty Years of Farming,” while “Eighteen Dollar Room” and “Couldn’t Have Done It Better” aren’t going to be pushed off the iPod anytime soon.

Whether categorized as country, folk, Americana, or simply slipping into the indefinable OMFUG, The Daredevil Kid is a strong, dynamic, and eminently listenable platter of fresh sounds.

Orca Sound (Kate Appleton)

 

Country music today is an odd beast. You get acts like Taylor Swift who should be in the pop category alongside a rash of country heartthrobs like Luke Bryan, Dustin Lynch and Sam Hunt alongside tried and true country guys like Blake Shelton and Tim McGraw. In other words it is all very confusing. Leave it to a guy from Calgary, Alberta to show us what modern country truly is. A true trubador, each song on the album is a story that is a slice of life. That life is the crazy one lived by Craig Moreau. A life that has seen him work as a truck driver, stuntman, carpenter, postal worker and bartender. He also worked the rodeo circuit for ten years. The guy has been a lot of places, seen a lot of faces and done a lot of things. Now he has assembled all that experience into twelve songs. The songwriting on the album is what is going to make you sit up and take notice. Life lessons, experiences lived and all without sounding preachy. His voice isn’t shabby either and has a real “classic” country feel to it. All this adds up to a very listenable album.

Americana-uk (Tim Stokes)

 

Dependable if not daredevil

There’s nothing particularly “daredevil” about Craig Moreau’s latest record. The Calgary-based singer/songwriter may have spent a lifetime working as a stuntman, a cowhand and in the rodeo but ‘The Daredevil Kid’ is 50 minutes of dependable straight-down-the-middle country music. This may only be his second album but it feels like Craig Moreau has been creating records for years. His music carries a real certainty to it and even though it lacks any real surprises, ‘The Daredevil Kid’ feels like the creation of somebody who has been plying their trade for decades.

The record itself is pure unadulterated country, drenched in the likes of acoustic guitars, lap steels and sing-a-long male/female harmonies. Across 12 tracks, the album is littered with the usual mix of bouncing melodies such as on ‘It Ain’t Nuthin’’, intertwined with heart-wrenching ballads and slower Americana like the title track and ‘Stranded’. There’s little here that makes ‘The Daredevil Kid’ stand out much from similar albums. Nevertheless, with this record Craig Moreau has proven himself to be a fine technician of solid country music.