Wed, Oct 24, 2012.
When you compare us to, say, Quebec or Ontario, New Brunswick's not really a big province. Whatever way you choose to measure - population, square kilometres, we're a pretty small community of cities, towns and villages. If you're like me, you've been to most places in the province, and are probably related to half the people. Unlike me, it's not your job to get around New Brunswick to see all the bands, and get to know the scene. And let me tell you, we might be small, but it's a big task to get to know everybody. Each area has its own favourites, and not everybody tours. That's where events like the recent Music New Brunswick awards come in handy, with lots of musicians making the trek to get together, and be in one place. It's like shooting fish in a barrel for me, I can take in a couple of dozen shows in one weekend.
Still, there's no excuse for me not checking out Edmundston's The Lonesome Line before. Yes, they do spend most of their playing time three hours away from me, but they aren't new, either. The trio has been together for three years, and their debut album came out a year ago. At that time, they also had a very surprising win at the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival, when they walked away with the Galaxie Rising Star award, seemingly out of nowhere. So I've been itching to see them for a year now, and finally got the chance in Moncton at the MNB Awards.
Despite being on the geographical opposite end of the province, The Lonesome Line fits right it with the Moncton alternative country scene. These guys could be brothers to the players in The Divorcees and The Backyard Devils. The group's attitude towards country is the same; some outlaw, some old-time, some rockabilly, classic values of outsider country, not playing for hits but for attitude. They do differ, however, in that they have a much more pronounced folk influence. Stripped down, the emphasis isn't so much on ensemble group playing, and electric guitars, but rather the acoustic sound. The basic line-up is acoustic guitar, stand-up bass and drums. Lead singer and guitarist Michael Sullivan writes all the material, and it's all original on the self-titled debut disc. When he isn't plucking guitar, he'll swap for banjo or mandolin, so you get a bit of that bluegrass, even cowboy music. The tales in the songs back that up too; Holy Water is a renegade song, with a bad dude who needs redemption, needs those waters to wash his sins away. It could come straight out of a 60's Clint Eastwood movie.
Elsewhere, there are some 60's-styled folk songs, like Tim Hardin and Ian and Sylvia used to make, even a touch of protest in there, with echoes of The Byrds, and yes, even Dylan. There was always a connection between 60's folk and country, especially towards the end of the decade, and that's the sound I'm hearing in that side of The Lonesome Line. But they can also rock it up a bit too. The Great Divine is one of their main numbers, a look at the negative side of society, the hypocrites running politics and corporations. Now we're into Steve Earle territory. It's not all serious. The group take it way back to do a little Sun rockabilly on Poor Man's Blues, with Sullivan doing his best Jerry Lee Lewis imitation.
So, if you're like me and have missed out on The Lonesome Line until now, the group is playing quite a bit in the next month, both home and, good news, on the road too. There are two Friday night gigs in Edmundston coming up, the 2nd and the 9th of November, then it's out of town for a show at Moncton's Plan B on Saturday November 10th, and later in the month, the 23rd, they're at The Cellar Pub in Fredericton.
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Bob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).