Album Cuts

Garrett Wieland
What Keeps the Heart Afloat
Thieves’ Den Records

The songs on this set span years of development, from the introspective “Dennis” (“What makes a man go under/And what keeps the heart afloat”) to the evocative “Jesus What a Mess,” all encased in a predominantly folk backdrop that further fans the fruitful Texas roots scenery. This is the land of Garrett Wieland that folks are familiar with, stemming from his long-standing “Some Call It Folk” radio show, which accommodates Old West tunes and information, and singing lead in the Americana outfit The Independent Thieves. Taking guidance ranging from The Band’s Levon Helm to fellow Texan guitarist and lyricist Townes Van Zandt (renowned for “Pancho and Lefty” and whose body of work has been recorded by Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson), the sophomore follow-up to 2015’s Letter from the End of the World fuses country & western and folk idioms inspired by love, personal evolution, and odes to the American frontier (such as Billy the Kid in “Outlaw’s Farewell,” which employs a couple of Spanish lyrics) to modern social implications (as heard in the Zandt tribute “To Carry Rain”).

“These rivers run through my heart/Well it’s time for a brand-new start,” from album starter “Resolutions,” is like a thematic revolving door for the breadth of the release. “Devotion” (“The story will be told/Not everything grows old”) delves into a more upbeat affair of rock and country while “Make It Count” is seeded in a steady crop of country tuning. More tales abound in “Prairie Doctor and the Gunman,” and Biblical allusions accompany “The Firewatch (Gabriel’s Story).” What Keeps the Heart Afloat will appeal to those who prefer interactive and thoughtful lyricism with unadorned musical accompaniment, and fans should be pleased with another solid output that Wieland is known for.

by Jeff Boyce

Gordie MacKeeman
Folk for Little Folk Volume 1
Self release

Music for children and families today is more prevalent on account of the proliferation of online radio channels and streaming capabilities tailored to suit individualistic tastes. And the fiddle, while thought of as an instrument mainly in the realm of “old time music” in America and a mainstay in the British Isles and Nordic countries in Europe, continues to inform popular music trends, whether in bluegrass and country music or in sounds as disparate as mariachi and Native American music. Accomplished fiddler Gordie “Crazylegs” MacKeeman and his Rhythm Boys continue their fiddle music brand hailing from Canada, this time in a danceable confection for children and families In Folk for Little Folk, the first installment. Music remained a significant part of MacKeeman’s childhood: “Now, as a father, it is one of my favourite activities to share with my children”; and he continues to carry the mantle of the rich Canadian fiddle tradition not only for his children but for families as well.

Album opener “All Around the Kitchen,” as depicted on the front cover of the release, is a traditional folk song that sets the mood for the piece in terms of propulsive energy. Harry McClintock’s 1928 country classic “Big Rock Candy Mountain” is given a lively treatment and signals to the listener the varied inspirations incorporated into the record: “Ladybugs’ Picnic,” from the perennial Sesame Street; the Tin Pan Alley hit “Chicken Reel”; the redress of the older blues and country music-adapted “Mama Don’t Allow”; and the recognizability in the legendary nursery rhyme “Old MacDonald” and campfire dance song “Hokey Pokey.” “Snaccident” will appeal to children favoring eating pastimes while the Canadian-borne “The Log Driver’s Waltz” hits MacKeeman’s home. Comprised of an assortment of vocal-led tunes and instrumentals and excited virtuosity, the album fittingly ends with the lilting waltz “Dreamland” – as a cool down after a burst of continued energy, and the notion that the dreams of children should never be extinguished.

by Jeff Boyce