Five days before his death from typhoid fever and the final tertiary stage of syphilis in November 1828, Franz Schubert requested that a friend, Karl Holz, bring his string quartet to his deathbed and play for him Beethoven’s sublime String Quartet in C Sharp Major Op. 131. This divine sound was the last music Schubert ever heard, and he was reputed to have said: ‘Now, I can die happy,’ before he drifted into unconsciousness and death. Canadian ensemble The Bills have a distinctive chamber music sound infused with their frontier roots music. It’s a magnificent blend and it’s apparent that several, if not all of their number learnt their consummate skills from a classical background. If I was on my death bed, I would send word to The Bills to serenade me. The delightful melody of ‘Wonders I’ve Seen’ would enable even Lazarus to take up his bed and boogie.
‘Trail of Tales’ was crowd-funded into existence by 182 donors of excellent taste and deep pockets. The Bills are an ensemble who because of their training and the twenty years they have shared a tour bus and a stage, communicate telepathically, melding their very breath and sinew into poignant and feel-good three-minute musical works that creep into the blood-stream via the old ear trumpet and the autonomic nervous system. They order one’s feet to move almost as though Herbert Von Karajan was keeping time with his insistent, metronomic, razor-sharp baton.
“You vill be h-a-p-p-y! You must enjoy ze muzzzzzik!” Karajan would shout, were he conducting The Bills in their awesome self-authored ‘Happy Be’. I can see this track being used for a car advert before the year is out. Either that or an Anusol Cream advert. First attach applicator. Aaaaah, that’s much better. Now, I happy be.
Karajan would have to exchange his baton for a cowboy hat on ‘Hittin’ The Do’ and get those old jackboots doin’ a bit of line dancin’. As the lads say: ‘Fresh from the haberdash / Do the Charleston two step polka butterfly / sock hop shimmy down back flip heel toe / schottische ballroom ragtime square dance. This is strictly come dancing for those with the vitality and stamina that comes natural to men who’ve grown up in British Columbia, doing all those manly things that Benton Fraser and the Trailer Park Boys are wont to do in their spare time.
‘Wonder’ and ‘Pebble Beach’ are two delightfully pleasing instrumentals that display the delicious tone of the strings, exemplifying their finesse, their brightness and heart-rending passion.
In his novel An Equal Music, which is about a string quartet, Vikram Seth relays how: ‘The audiences who listen to us cannot imagine how earnest, how petulant, how accommodating, how wilful is our quest for something beyond ourselves that we imagine with our separate spirits but are compelled to embody together.’ Listen to the instrumental ‘West Bay Crossing’ and I think you’ll understand what he means.
One wouldn’t be surprised if anyone with the nous in Nashville covered ‘What Trouble Is’. It’s got chart hit written through its grooves and catchy vocal. I could hear Vince Gill or Rodney Crowell giving a fine rendition. Or even Luke Wheeler.
With Autumn now upon us, the timely ‘When The Last Leaf Falls’ is a sensitive a cappella rendition that shows off the warmth, vocal strength and dexterity of these fine figures of men.
The Bills unique musical amalgam works perfectly upon the senses and the emotions. Let’s ratify these Bills immediately and pass them into law.
If Schubert had the good fortune to be alive, I’m sure he’d be out on the dance floor, (as he used to enjoy very much) grooving, with his arm around his peacock, he would salute The Bills and might shout: ‘Good sirs, your Trail of Tales, makes me forget all of my travails.’