The Slocan Ramblers Coffee Creek

The Slocan Ramblers Coffee Creek
9
If the Slocan Ramblers' first album, Shaking Down the Acorns, was an impressive debut, this second offering is pure gold. The Toronto-based band do all the right things on this recording. Nicely crafted original songs and instrumental tunes are interspersed with traditional numbers and classics by the likes of Woody Guthrie, Dave Evans and Roy Acuff, while great musicianship is balanced by punchy arrangements and an adventurous, hold-onto-your-hat approach to solos.
 
Frank Evans might just be one of the most interesting banjo players on the Canadian scene these days, and his creative playing and strong lead singing really drive this music.  His talents are on full display on "Pastures of Plenty/Honey Babe," a medley of a Woody Guthrie song and an Evans original. And while most of his playing here is the classic, three-finger bluegrass style, Evans also gives us a taste of his clawhammer virtuosity on the title track.
 
Adrian Gross's mandolin provides the feel for many of these songs, from the pretty intro on "Angeline" to the way-out solo on "Groundhog." Gross also wrote many of the instrumentals on the album, including the title track and the melodic, mid-tempo "Lone Pine." Darryl Poulsen's subtle approach to the guitar brings out the dynamic range of the instrument, and while he takes some great solos on this record (especially on the hard-driving "Honey Babe"), he also lays down creative and musical rhythm throughout. Alastair Whitehead isn't afraid to pull a bow across the bass strings to warm up certain songs on the album, like "Rambling Sailor," and takes two very good solos on "April's Waltz" and "Mississippi Shore." Whitehead also wrote, and sings on, the anthemic "Elk River."
 
Recorded live off the floor, and co-produced by Chris Coole (The Foggy Hogtown Boys), Coffee Creek strikes that perfect modern bluegrass balance of a deep respect for tradition and an itch for exploration. With this album, the Slocan Ramblers are living up to their reputation as the Canadian bluegrass band to watch, and then some. (Independent)