Published Jan 24, 2011They may feature some of Toronto, ON's best, and most seasoned, musicians, but spirit trumps technique on this refreshingly exuberant debut album. New Country Rehab are led by singer/fiddle player John Showman, known for his virtuoso, award-winning work in bluegrass heroes the Foggy Hometown Boys and sonic adventurers Creaking Tree String Quartet. Showman shares songwriting duties with guitarist Champagne James Robertson (Run with the Kittens), while the rhythm section of Ben Whiteley and Roman Tome is rock solid. Springsteen's "State Trooper" is given an adrenalized remake via the vigorous interplay between fiddle and guitar, while three Hank Williams covers pay homage to their key inspiration. Showman's robust vocals are always convincing, never more so than on the haunting "Cameo." Their sound may be rooted in tradition, but the band are unafraid to mix things up, as with the dub effects and Allman Brothers-style guitar spicing up "Ramblin' Man." The strength of original tunes "Angel of Death" and "Cameo" mark NCR as a band to watch closely. The album was recorded and mixed by Chris Stringer, who neatly captures the energy that's made NCR a live favourite. This is bracing stuff.
Was making an album always in the cards?
John Showman: Initially, I did envisage it as just a live project, with me, Roman and James. After just a few gigs, the reaction was really positive, to the point where we were a little surprised at how much people were liking it. Then we sat down one night and figured out we probably needed a bass player. Ben was a great fit and suddenly we were a band with a big sound, and we could play much larger rooms. We started thinking bigger and it became basically what the album is. We are continuing to push it forward, writing new songs all the time.
James Robertson: It was about enjoying the process of creating a new sound, and then figuring out what that actually was and how far we could take it. Making the album was easy and fun; we had a really good producer, Chris Stringer, and it was done very quickly. I think this group work best when we are thinking on our feet.
How does the writing process work?
Showman: At first, I brought in a bunch of songs I wanted to perform live. We'd sit down and talk about how we wanted to rewrite the music on these classic Hank Williams songs and a few Springsteen songs. We developed a system on what to do with it. As we got more confident, we realised we needed some original material; we figured we'd emulate what we were doing to songs that weren't ours and try to do it on our own. We'd even use old country songs as templates, and James and I shared that process a lot.
What's the story behind the band name?
Showman: Even before we'd played, I was hanging out with my wife outside a Toronto club. There was a furniture-refurbishing store opposite. I was thinking, "what kind of music are we playing?" My wife said, "well, you're playing country music, but you're doing something to it." The term "new country" is a dirty one and people really react to those two words side by side. She suggested "renovation" or "rehab" and I said, "that's it." It applies nicely to what we're doing. It's an antidote to new country and it's also rehabilitating old country. (Independent)