The Guthries's Blessings and Curses

The Guthries's Blessings and Curses
The debut album by Halifax country band the Guthries, 2000's Off Windmill, seemingly came from nowhere, and the reaction was instantaneous. Their melancholic honky tonkin' heartache made them immediately loveable, and with three lead singers providing rich harmony there was plenty of variety to keep live audiences guessing. Together with their friends in the Heavy Blinkers — Guthries' Dale Murray plays guitar on the Blinkers' latest, while vocalist Ruth Minnikin is a member of both — there seemed to be a new Halifax pop explosion on the new Brobdingnagian label.

It helped when all those bands started getting praise in British magazines, which in the Guthries' case led to a three-week tour of the UK, where the good times continued to roll. "Reaction was probably better outside the country than in," says drummer Brian Murray. "It opened our eyes a lot to not selling ourselves short, and putting out the word to different countries."

The next year would throw some roadblocks in the band's way, beginning with a business disagreement with Brobdingnagian that led to a severing of ties. That was followed by the departure of singer/songwriter Matt Mays, who had penned some of their best-loved songs, in the middle of recording their second, self-titled album.

The Guthries is being released this month, followed by a seven-week Canadian tour and four weeks in the UK. It features more elaborate arrangements, akin to the lushness of the Heavy Blinkers, and the recorded vocal debut of mandolin player Gabe Minnikin, whose deep baritone makes Johnny Cash sound like the Bee Gees. "After that first record came out, Gabe brought some songs to the table and they were good tunes and went over really well," says Dale. "At that point Matt was in the band and we had four singers, and that was fine. It looks like one songwriter left and another one stepped up, but it's just a coincidence and an evolution."

"The label thing happened last April," Dale continues. "All of that stuff together certainly doesn't make you feel great about things, but it's brought the core members together. Matt came in about a year after we started, so this is a return to the original members. We were a band before him, and we are after as well. Those are all the trials you go through, and they either put you out of your misery or they make you stronger."