It’s not that Toronto band The Slocan Ramblers are old-fashioned, it’s that they’re making bluegrass that harkens back to an older need. They’re not here for the concert halls, they’re not here for the flash and glitz of the music industry, they’re here to grind out the hottest tunes they can, picking fast and furious through traditional and original pieces, and they’re here to sing their songs to hardworn people looking for release. They came out of Toronto’s gritty bluegrass scene, playing late-night bars to rowdy crowds in a city once known for its industrial pigmeat industry.
The dust in banjo player Frank Evans’ voice fits perfectly into an older world of bluegrass that still remembers its roots in working class communities. They’re more Louvin Brothers than Ricky Skaggs, and some of this comes for their long-term interest in and respect for old-time Appalachian traditions. Evans moves back and forth between clawhammer and Scruggs-style banjo, while mandolinist Adrian Gross has the speed and aggression of Big Mon himself in his playing. Thundering bassist Alastair Whitehead has a softer voice than Evans, but with a hint of world-weary wistfulness. Guitarist Darryl Poulsen’s as steady as rolling train, shoveling coal into the red-hot furnace of racing bluegrass tempos.
These four young men are at the top of their game, each of them powerful enough in the genre to move these old sounds in fascinating new directions. On their new album, Queen City Jubilee, coming on June 15, The Slocan Ramblers mix original and traditional songs with instrumental tunes, tapping the old vein of Appalachian music that first inspired so many early bluegrass bands, but also looking to the softer side of folk and Americana for its complex, interwoven songcraft.
Today Glide is excited to premiere “Mighty Hard Road”, a clear standout on Queen City Jubilee. The song encapsulates the band’s ability to fuse tradition and modern sounds. With the banjo and fiddle at the helm, there is an old timey bluegrass sound, but the lyrics and vocals take it into more of an Americana realm. It also captures the band’s ability to balance strong, well-written lyrics with a high level of instrumental prowess. It’s no secret that the band is heavily influenced by Appalachian old-time music, but they also do a fine job of transcending it for a sound that is completely their own.
Reflecting on the inspiration behind the song, banjo player and songwriter Frank Evans has this say:
“‘Mighty Hard Road’ was one those songs that came to me really quickly. The hook of the chorus had been playing in my head for a couple of days but I didn’t have an idea for the rest of the song. I had been listening to a lot of British folk ballads and doing quite a bit of traveling at the time so it only makes sense that the rest of a song ended up being about yearning for home and regretting all the decisions you made since you left.”
The Slocan Ramblers release Queen City Jubilee on June 15. For more music and info visit slocanramblers.com.