Roots music column, June 18, 2010

Two reviews this week (originally published in the Red Deer Advocate June 18, 2010)- The Farewell Drifter’s Yellow Tag Mondays and Oliver Schroer & The Stewed Tomatoes’ Freedom Row. I was fortunate to receive the first album some time ago, and was able to allow it to weave itself into my conciousness over a period of weeks. While it was appealing from first listen, after listening to it six or eight times, my appreciation for the album grew. The second arrived on a Thursday and I listened to it the following Saturday; my plans for this week’s column immediately changed and I listened to Freedom Row over and over again on Sunday while formulating my thoughts. The album has an immediacy I would never have expected from a Schroer disc. Anyhow, give them a read and then- if they sound up your alley- buy them. Both are well worth cash money. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee.

Oliver Schroer & the Stewed Tomatoes Freedom Row Borealis

Since his death two years ago, Oliver Schroer’s impact on Canadian folk music has become increasingly apparent.

Like Tim O’Brien’s, Schroer’s albums cross genres- from Celtic to ambient, classical and world to folk- without warning. Always powerful, the Ontario fiddler and composer, who lived for many years in Smithers, B.C., never stayed in one place too long.

With Freedom Row­– completed in the months before succumbing to leukemia- Schroer completes a band recording initiated the previous decade. Within minimal vocals, Schroer and his compatriots have breathed story into fiddle-centered tunes that cut a swath through the musical lands Schroer explores. It is an intimately appealing recording, and not only because of the circumstances of its final gestation; the instrumentalists play off each other in dramatic ways, and the songs often go places that the initial bars don’t hint toward.

 Schroer’s song notes read like fiction, revealing tales and influences the captured sounds hint toward, and the packaging is- like most Borealis projects- as impressive as the recording it houses. I never expected to enjoy this album as much as I have.

 The Farewell Drifters Yellow Tag Mondays Thirty Tigers

Like The Infamous Stringdusters, Cadillac Sky, and Nickel Creek before them, The Farewell Drifters are a string band that uses the structures and instrumentation of bluegrass as a springboard to acoustic pop reinvention.

With youthful enthusiasm and instrumental acumen, the second album from this Nashville band extends their explorations and acutely focuses their vision. Vocal diversity and harmonies that echo both The Beatles and Hot Rize provide the group with a dynamic that has wide appeal.

In-house songwriting provides a bit of narrative mixed with artistic wordplay, maintaining listeners’ attention. Similarly, the instrumentation is spirited and engaging with songs ebbing and flowing with clever, unexpected changes.

The cumulative result is a catchy album of which one is not likely soon to tire.

 Best, Donald

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