One of the biggest challenges in bluegrass music is to draw heavily on a traditional style, yet still make it sound fresh. The Slocan Ramblers, a young Canadian quartet, have managed to find a sparkling balance on Queen City Jubilee, their third recording.
I’ve not heard, or even heard of, this group before, so I have no sense of how they’ve evolved over their time together. But what this album demonstrates is a well-honed combination of propulsive bluegrass rhythm with just the right touch of old-time grittiness. Their vocal harmonies are tight and full without sounding excessively slick, and banjoist Frank Evans, guitarist Darryl Poulsen, mandolinist Adrian Gross, and bassist Alastair Whitehead make it clear that they know how to kick their solos into overdrive when needed. Evans’ break on the instrumental “Down In The Sugarbush” segues seamlessly from old-time to bluegrass, and Whitehead’s brief feature on the tune is smooth and in the pocket.
The band does a brilliant job of freshening up traditional songs like “Riley The Furniture Man,” “Sun’s Gonna Shine On My Back Door Someday,” “Mississippi Heavy Water Blues,” and “Hillbilly Blues” (aka “Hesitation Blues”). Evans’ original songs “Mighty Hard Road” and “Just To Know” and Gross’ “Through And Through” show how thoroughly they have synthesized the feel of old songs into their songwriting, allowing their new material to sound like newly-mined gems from the past. It’s this skillful balancing of old and new influences that allows them to bring in a track such as Don Stover’s “Long Chain Charlie And Moundsville” and make it sound like a contemporary original. Then, just when the listener thinks they know what to expect, the band brings in the instrumental “Shut The Door,” an exciting and twisted showcase for the band’s impressive chops.
The Slocan Ramblers have successfully blended bluegrass and old-time and traditional and modern influences into a fun and original hybrid that’s all their own. It’s quite gratifying to hear a group making music at such a high level. Queen City Jubileecomes highly recommended. (www.slocanramblers.com)HK