Shaking Down the Acorns
A lot of good bluegrass has come out of Canada over the decades, and Toronto has surprisingly become something of a hotbed for the music in recent years, with the Slocan Ramblers exemplifying the younger musicians who have made their homes in the town. Individually they are Frank Evans, banjo; Adrian Gross, mandolin; Darryl Poulsen, guitar; and Alastair Whitehead, bass. While Shaking Down The Acorns shows them to be not quite a prototypical “high lonesome” kind of band, they are firmly grounded in the traditional end of the music (one of the better cuts is their rendition of Charlie Monroe’s “I’m Coming Back (But I Don’t Know When)”) and, with the aid of some intelligent production, present a sound that features clean, crisp picking matched with solid, sometimes unconventional harmonies by Evans, Poulsen and Whitehead. The inclusion of the Monroe song is apt, because at times they seem to be emulating, consciously or not, the sound that made Charlie and brother Bill country duet stars in the 1930s. It’s not easy to do, but they manage it nicely.
Each of the four is a thoroughly professional musician and, alas though no bass solos for Whitehead, they all clearly understand the virtues of backing each other up when not taking a solo break. This is a tight-knit ensemble with a lot of drive, yet with something of a tantalizing “rough edge” to their sound. Poulsen in particular is one of those flatpickers who doesn’t rush the melody – timing, taste and tone, as the late Doc Watson is attributed as saying. A few of the five instrumental cuts on the disc are original to the band, but for the vocal numbers they’ve relied on traditional songs like “I’ve Always Been A Rambler” and “Wild Bill Jones” and classic country fare from the likes of, in addition to Monroe, Buddy Dee (“Tragic Love”) and Hank Williams (whose “Weary Blues From Waitin” is among his lesser known and more under-appreciated songs). This is their debut album, and one hopes it won’t be their swan song as well.
— John Lupton