Canadian trio The Lonesome Ace Stringband reveal new existence in their fourth and aptly titled album, ‘Modern Old Time Sounds For The Bluegrass And Folksong Jamboree’. It is unsurprising to hear after a full preview of the album, that the band concrete so much history together. Performing at Toronto’s legendary Dakota Tavern as the resident band for 7 years is a sure-fire way to interweave a meaningful musical companionship. The setup, although lean, never fails to impress as banjoist and guitarist Chris Coole, fiddle player John Showman and bassist Max Heineman showcase their fresh arrangements of traditional bluegrass songs, bringing an individual character and tonality to the vocal arrangements as all three take turns to sing.
Although some may fear for a percussion-less setup (perhaps not all), we’re quickly taught that the minimalistic setup of the band never tethers the song, but only serves to lend perspective to the string players. Through ‘Going To German’ we hear dissonant playing and tangibility with great clarity as each player takes turn on solo duties. Even though this setup would not suit all bluegrass ensembles, here it feels right at home where the band’s own arrangements could easily fool you in to thinking they wrote the songs themselves. Married with a voice not dissimilar to that of Chris Wood (The Wood Brothers) we begin on this journey of modern meets traditional.
Among the itinerary is an introduction from Coole on banjo that feels like it has come from somewhere as desolate and isolated as the ‘Stone Walls and Steel Bars’ it speaks of. Compared to its predecessor we are struck by the contrasting vocal arrangements. Three beautiful harmonies, rich in tonality and pleasingly soft, convey a convincing narrative of one man’s despair. Again, in contrast to the original this time, the pace is eased, aiding the listener more time to feel for this painful narrative. Complementing the account is Showman’s fiddle playing, evoking images of cold, harsh icy shores from the British Isles.
Showman’s bluegrass chops feature in a small number of instrumentals including, ‘Cluck Old Hen’ and ‘Farewell Medley’ which break up the album nicely, leaving enough meat on the bone for those that aren’t discerning musicians. It’s not until halfway through ‘Farewell Medley’ that bassist Heineman even contemplates entering, proving meticulous attention to the arrangements and a great deal of patience in playing for the song. An ongoing theme throughout the album, where justice is paid and no song gets left behind.
With so many excellent renditions, it is definitely a listen worth considering for all, especially those that have a slight interest in bluegrass but have not yet found their entry point. Released on the 15th of November, it would be great to hear their warmth delivered live. Unfortunately, there are no UK tour dates set, although they do visit the continent, but we are lucky to have the latest album, ‘Modern Old Time Sounds For The Bluegrass And Folksong Jamboree’ which evokes the magic a live experience brings in equal measures through togetherness and being in the moment.