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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.

             

John Davy

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May 2018

1
John Prine
67 pts.
The Tree of Forgiveness
Oh Boy Records
JJC,MB,SP,RM
2
Levi Parham
58 pts.
It's All Good
Continental Records
CRS,JB,TK
3
Jeb Barry and the Pawn Shop Saints
55 pts.
Texas, etc...
DollyRocker
HDB,CVL,DHO
4
Michael McDermott
54 pts.
Out From Under
Continental Song City
JDO,LK,BK
5
Sam Morrow
48 pts.
Concrete and Mud
Forty Below Records
MA,JBO,HB
6
Caleb Caudle
39 pts.
Crushed Coins
Cornelius Chapel Records
 
7
Western Centuries
36 pts.
Songs From The Deluge
Free Dirt Records
MF
8
Carter Sampson
34 pts.
Lucky
Continental Song City
 
9
Charley Crockett
30 pts.
Lonesome as a Shadow
Son of Davy/30 Tigers
 
10
Courtney Marie Andrews
28 pts.
May Your Kindness Remain
Loose Music
JV
11
Ed Romanoff
27 pts.
The Orphan King
Pinerock Records
 
 
Joan Baez
27 pts.
Whistle Down The Wind
Proper Records
HD
 
Pharis and Jason Romero
27 pts.
Sweet Old Religion
Lula Records
SZ,LM
14
Gretchen Peters
24 pts.
Dancing With The Beast
Proper Records
KG
 
Old Crow Medicine Show
24 pts.
Volunteer
Columbia Records
GF
 
Will Stewart
24 pts.
County Seat
Cornelius Chapel Records
 
17
Ben Reel
22 pts.
Land Of Escape
B REEL Records
GC,FC
 
Birds Of Chicago
22 pts.
Love In Wartime
Signature Sounds
 
 
Emily Herring
22 pts.
Gliding
Eight 30 Records
RST,RH
20
Jenny van West
21 pts.
Happiness To Burn
Independent
PJ,FS,JJ
 
Mary Gauthier
21 pts.
Rifles And Rosary Beads
In the Black Records
 
22
Sarah Shook & The Disarmers
20 pts.
Years
Bloodshot Records
FCE
23
David Starr
19 pts.
South And East
Independent
HM
24
Cold Tone Harvest
18 pts.
After You
Independent
 
25
Grant Peeples
17 pts.
Settling Scores vol. 2
Continental

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