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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.
Medicine Show Videolog of a recent visit http://flyinshoes.ning.com/profiles/blogs/viper-central-medicine-sh...
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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