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Archive for April 2009
United Steel Workers of Montreal
Three on the Tree
One of Montreal’s most popular live acts, the United Steel Workers of Montreal combine country, bluegrass, folk, and rock elements in a manner similar to, but not exceeding, roots supergroup The Knitters.
There is little on this third album that is groundbreaking. Ballads revealing poor decision making and tough times bumper up to hard rocking drivers that aren’t nearly as dark as they seem. Nonetheless, the album provides more than a terrific listen, allowing those of us who don’t live on the wild side opportunity to vicariously experience others’ exploits.
This tough, edgy blend may be favoured by those who have enjoyed Drive-By Truckers, the Earl Brothers, and The Gourds; USWM’s music attacks the listener without being obnoxious. The instrumentation is not dissimilar to that emanating from any roots bar, but Matt Watson’s electric guitar work encourages the sound above and beyond a boisterous din. Banjo, accordion, and mandolin float in and out, providing a neat, tight tapestry of music.
Vocally, listeners are in for a treat. Gern f.- yes, that’s his name- has a growl that wouldn’t be out of place on any Bloodshot compilation, but he never slips into parody. The songs possess a tension, and one is unsure if he is going to keep things between the lines. However, Gern f. is a rich, melodic singer; the subtle textures of his voice are likely missed on first listen, but with familiarity one comes to more fully appreciate the complexity of his sound.
Also impressive are Shawn ‘Gus’ Beauchamp’s killer honky tonk lead vocals; he can flat out sing a country song, as revealed on Son, Your Daddy Was Bad. Balancing the male voices is the spry-voiced Felicity Hamer, who takes lead on a few tracks while providing lovely harmony throughout. The Ballad of Mary Gallagher is certain to haunt listeners, a contemporary folk tale of a life unjustly ended.
Three on the Tree is an intriguing example of Canadian music, and a breath of freshness amidst the quaint faux folk permeating the roots landscape.
Enter the Haggis
United for Opportunity
As someone who had enough of Celtic-pop after the fifth or ninth same-sounding album from Great Big Sea, Toronto’s Enter the Haggis renews a flagging interest.
The hard-touring band’s new album Gutter Anthems pounds out percussive beats enhanced by a battery of pipes, guitars, whistles, and keys that are engrossing and in many ways reminiscent of Wolfstone and Boiled in Lead, favourites from the Great Celtic Scare of fifteen years ago.
Delve below the bombast and one finds substantive lyrical content. DNA looks at the nature of men, and whether the violence that too frequently occurs by their hand is a product of who they are or what they experience. The Death of Johnny Mooring captures the final moments of a touring musician’s life, where Noseworthy and Piercy is a fine telling of a Maritime tale.
“I’m gonna bury my demons in the cold, cold ground,” sings the band’s third lead vocalist Craig Downie on Bury My Demons. But one shouldn’t think that ETH’s seventh album is an entirely heavy affair. Brian Bchanan’s powerful voice brings a spry mood to each track on which he is featured, while Trevor Lewington’s is more other-worldy, but equally energetic.
Gutter Anthems is a rockin’ roots disc deftly capturing the rhythms of modern Celtic music.