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Probably my favourite bluegrass band of the moment, Vancouver’s Viper Central are back with a new album of eleven original songs, one Bill Monroe cover and a couple of old tunes from the Canadian Métis tradition. Their debut album, The Devil Sure is Hard to Please married wonderful musicianship with original, contemporary songs absolutely steeped in the tradition. This new album, again produced by band member Mark Vaughan, retains all the virtues of their first collection whilst being a notch sharper, richer and self confident.

      From the opening bars of the first track (Saskatchewan, written by fiddler/singer Kathleen Nisbet)  you’ll know you’re in the company of some high-grade musicians; they create a relaxed vibe as they ease into gear, their well-practised togetherness sounding as easy as a front porch swing, even as their joy and enthusiasm for making this music shines brightly. One of the many good things about this band is that the six players all bring wide experience of other musical enthusiasms to this particular project. Between them they seem to have played everything from classical to jazz, Hawaiian to gospel, and this breadth of expertise seems to give them more scope in their arrangements. It all sounds like bluegrass, but Tyler Rudolph’s Donkeyliner’s Waltz can sound like an old time folk ballad, whilst Thump and Howl sounds more like classic country-meets-swing. At all stops along the way there’s some glorious playing from every band member to relish, from Tim Tweedale’s versatility on dobro and pedal steel to Kathleen Nesbit’s spirited fiddle playing.

       Sharing the writing and the singing around the band works really well for these guys; to have as characterful a singer as Kathleen Nesbit is one thing but to be able to call on three other vocalists just as strong and characterful is quite marvellous, and makes for a really rich experience for the listener. They ring the changes on their arrangements too, keeping it pure and simple for the Métis tunes (just Kathleen on fiddle and Mark Vaughan on mandolin) and the Bill Monroe cover (a quite magical combination of Lorraine Cobb’s vocal and Tim Tweedale’s dobro), or going the whole hog on the likes of A Northern Midwife with some nice’n’easy harmony vocals and pretty much everyone joining in and getting their moment in the spotlight, in traditional bluegrass style. I’m tempted to imagine that their distinctive sound owes much to them being a Canadian band, though I really couldn’t tell you how that works. I just know that these guys make music that’s so straightforwardly joyous, you just can’t resist them.

John Davy

Medicine Show Videolog of a recent visit 

Viper Central play The Medicine Show Stage at Southern Fried Festival Perth and Wild West Fest Bogbain Farm Inverness at the end of July. 

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Year 2016

Levi Parham
90 pts.
These American Blues
Music Road Records
Martha Fields
86 pts.
Southern White Lies
Carter Sampson
75 pts.
Wilder Side
Anna Elizabeth Laube
65 pts.
Ahh...Pockets! Records
Michael McDermott
60 pts.
Willow Springs
Pauper Sky Records
Shovels & Rope
54 pts.
Little Seeds
New West
Robert Ellis
53 pts.
Robert Ellis
New West Records
Sturgill Simpson
52 pts.
A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
Atlantic Records
Douglas Greer
50 pts.
Baja Louisiana
Zilker Park Records
Lucinda Williams
46 pts.
The Ghosts Of Highway 20
Highway 20 Records
Buddy Miller & Friends
44 pts.
Cayamo Sessions at Sea
New West Records
Wink Burcham
43 pts.
Cleveland Summer Nights
Continental Song City
Eric Brace & Peter Cooper
42 pts.
C&O Canal
Red Beet Records
Brent Cobb
41 pts.
Shine On A Rainy Day
Elektra Records
Daniel Romano
41 pts.
New West
Leonard Cohen
41 pts.
You Want it Darker
Sony Music
Christian Kjellvander
40 pts.
A Village: Natural Light
Tapete Records
Drive-By Truckers
39 pts.
American Band
ATO Records
Birds of Chicago
38 pts.
Real Midnight
Five Head Entertainment
John Prine
37 pts.
For Better, or Worse
Oh Boy Records
The Cactus Blossoms
36 pts.
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Richmond Fontaine
35 pts.
You Can’t Go Back
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Gillian Welch
34 pts.
Boots No.1: The Official Revival Bootleg
Acony Records
Sarah Jarosz
33 pts.
Sugar Hill
Joe Purdy
32 pts.
Who Will Be Next?
Mudtown Crier Records
The Devil Makes Three
32 pts.
Redemption & Ruin
New West

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