The Slocan Ramblers – Up the Hill and Through the Fog
The instrumentation’s tight as a knot in a string. Vocals are unified & powerful. The banjo is always hot pickin’ bright, speedy & delightful. The Slocan Ramblers always ignite from the moment you press play.
The added bonus is how the mandolin heats up the performance – “You Said Goodbye,” is nothing short of a barn of hay ablaze. While the flames spread (instruments), the smoke rises (melody) & the wood crackles (sings). What a trio.
Recorded in Toronto, Canada you’d have to wonder where they managed to accumulate all that down-home energy, finesse & authenticity. If Alison Krauss ever left her band Union Station this trio would be ideal with her added fiddle & vocals mixed with the Poulson-Gross-Evans conglomeration.
“A Mind With a Heart of Its Own,” (a Tom Petty cover) is an ear-caressing bluegrass-rocker. “Bill Fernie,” however, despite being well-played teeters on corny novelty. I found it out of synch with the quality of the others. The band is too accomplished — has so much butter in their showcase. It’s a bit of a pimple on otherwise smooth skin.
Back on track is “Platform Four,” an instrumental that sizzles. But “Streetcar Lullaby,” finds the band skidding into schlock. There’s a crucial difference between sounding light rather than lightweight. They should not compromise their expertise for camp. They’re too good for that. Continuity should be an ingredient.
Produced by Chris Stringer & the Slocan Ramblers this is a joyous collection of 12-songs from the award-winning trio. Up the Hill and Through the Fog (Drops June 10–Independent) showcases their wide-musical spectrum – at times hokey, but all in fun & none pretentious.
Their PR noted what was said by Adrian Gross (mandolin/mandola/vocals) after his father’s passing. He took a chair down to the riverside where he was inspired to write. He wrestled with constant change & noticed it everywhere. In the flowing river, as the seasons change & people pass. That’s intense. Yet beautiful.
In true Slocan form comes “Bury My Troubles.” What’s needed is a good final track listing editor. Those novelty-type songs could be released — but as flipsides, bonus’ or tagged onto a package that doesn’t require consistency. The band should have a sense of humor but they excel nicely with inspired instrumentals & many times they’ll turn up the pilot light on their musical stove to cook great tasty tunes. Don’t spoil the pot roast with catsup.
The John Hartford-inspired “The River Roaming Song,” is an unpolished jewel in the old tradition. I wish John could’ve played fiddle on this. I liked Hartford; I like what The Slocan Ramblers did in his memory. Cool stuff. Along with Adrian Gross are Darryl Poulsen (guitar/vocals) & Frank Evans (banjo/vocals) with guest Charles James (bass/vocals).
There’s some cheese here, some salami too, but with the Slocan Ramblers, you’ll never…ever find any baloney.
Color image: Jen Squires. CD @ https://slocanramblers.com/products/up-the-hill-and-through-the-fog