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This lot might be about the best named band I’ve ever come across: traditional acoustic music on guitar, fiddle and banjo is wedded to beautiful harmonies that gives us an album with sweetness and depth by the bucketload – sweet and lowdown indeed. Based in Victoria on the Pacific side of Canada, these three women are steeped in the folk tradition so thoroughly that it’s a slight surprise to find that only two out of the dozen tracks here (Reuben’s Train and Sail Away Ladies) are not originals.
Of the ten original tracks, six are songs and four are instrumentals – proper folk musicians, see – and the overall balance of material is richly rewarding as the mood and the pace shift gently from one track to another. The songs represent a random selection of subject matter: a few personal, reflective ones but also a slightly political one about the growing problem of water rights and one that finds a broad metaphor for life in a joyous night-time toboggan ride. For me, though, it’s the instrumentals that see these girls really shine; they can play with verve but it’s the interplay between them that’s a joy to hear. Quite often it seems to be Miriam Sonstenes’ fiddle that takes the driving lead but it’s always clear that this is a band that adds up to more than the sum of its parts. Shanti Bremer’s banjo playing is distinctly mountain style while Amanda Blied’s guitar and majority share in lead vocal performance holds the centre nicely. Sam Howard guests on bass – and makes a major contribution to the enjoyably driving pace of Reuben’s Train – whilst producer Adrian Dolan contributes a couple of guest spots on mandola and viola.
The really nice thing about The Sweet Lowdown is that their years of playing together have resulted in them conjuring something distinctive, epitomised when Amanda is singing and Shanti’s banjo is balanced against Miriam’s fiddle: they play as separate voices, in tension with each other I think, but it’s a compelling musical conversation we’re listening in on. Hugely enjoyable, anyway, and heading to the UK in April for a few weeks – worth cheering on, I reckon.
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