Monday, 5 January 2015

THE SWEET LOWDOWN

CD Review

Chasing The Sun

If you like your bluegrass music mellower and with a seriously feminine touch then you don't want to miss this album from Shanti Bremer, Miriam Sonstenes and Amanda Blied, collectively known as The Sweet Lowdown.

The Sweet Lowdown
The Canadian trio's new album, their fourth collection of songs, is subtle, gentle and comes with harmonies as delicate as a breeze across a field of corn.
This is a feel-good album, a musical hot bubble bath you can slide into and feel the tensions of the day soaking away.
Opener River Winding Down has some extremely elegant banjo picking from Bremer which is matched by her gentle voice and balanced beautifully by Sonstenes fiddle and Blied's guitar.
But don't get too comfortable because there is the odd barb hidden in there. Fallout, is about the nuclear pollution leaking into the Pacific from the Fukushima disaster caused by a tsunami. Blied's slightly smokier tones tell about the environmental disaster which is still going on.
Strangely enough the title track is an instrumental which gives Sonstenes a chance to shine on the fiddle with her slightly rasping sound which is under picked by Bremer.
Their delicious harmonies are given more of an outing with The Birds & The Bees which sound remarkably like The Staves whose close harmony singing is just magnificent.
Instrumental April 29th was simply named after the date on which Bremer wrote the track and with her claw hammer picking skills, she proves that banjo music can be subtle, light and delightful to listen to, regardless what the naysayers come up with to malign the instrument.
Blied's distinctive voice takes the lead for You Can Find The North, again it is gently carried along by Bremer's banjo picking, the precise harmonies and her subtle weaving of Sonstenes' fiddle over the top of her guitar playing.
This is followed by another instrumental riding along with that slight rasp on the strings by Sonstenes. Bunching Up The Sheets is another example that bluegrass doesn't have be all boot stomping and hoe downs but can be sylph-like and have the characteristic of a classical largo.
It's probably a fact of life that sooner or later every group will produce a song about life on the road and The Sweet Lowdown have now brought theirs to light.
From left,Amanda Blied, Shanti Bremer and Miriam Sonstenes
The appropriately titled Road Song is much more upbeat but still carries that gentleness which they seem to have woven into their style of playing, it's hard to believe that a male bluegrass group could produce such undulating subtleties while still keeping the essence of the country music.
The instruments are laid down for Leaving, with Sonstenes upfront for the a cappella rendition with her band mates providing the incredibly sweet and effective harmonies.
There is something just remarkably likeable, enjoyable and listenable about this band, and even with a title such as Hell Flu/Margaret's Jig/Brokedown Breakdown they still manage to elevate the bluegrass sound to almost a high art, classical level, that wouldn't be out of place at Covent Garden or Sydney Opera House. Even when they pick up the pace there is still that caramel smoothness to their playing.
Final track, The Rain, is the only one on the album that was not written by one of the trio but by a friend of the band Zane Parker, nonetheless with their deft treatment it comes out with a retro feel sounding like something you would have heard on the radio way back in the 1920s.
Last year they spent two months touring the UK let's hope it's not too long before audiences this side of The Pond can again enjoy the sound of their harmonies live.

Chasing the Sun is available now through the band's website.









The Mike Harding Folk Show