Fri, Oct 11, 2013.
Everybody has a banjo these days, and there are lots of groups out there calling themselves folk music, but really, it's pretty much pop music with some acoustic instruments. Not that there's much wrong with that, but the downside is that actual folk gets pushed to the side for a time. Of course, folk music can weather such storms, it has been around for centuries, taking every modern hit in stride. Even here on the East Coast, where folk has always been deeply embedded, there's a dearth right now. At the past couple of East Coast Music Awards, I've heard people asking where all the traditional music was. Yipes!
Maybe that's why Nova Scotia's Naming The Twins is enjoying lots of recognition right now for the new disc, Drifters & Dreamers. The duo of Robbie Smith and Kathleen Glauser make folk music without any tricks or nods to Mumford & Sons. You get songs about boats and settlers, soldiers and sailors, hills and valleys. The songs sound old, because they're singing about old topics and old times, largely our cultural history here. They sing and play old, too. There's no effects on the instruments, guitars sounds like guitars, the piano is acoustic, and the banjo belongs on these songs. Both are wonderful, old-time singers, and the album is full of sweet harmonies. They could easily have walked into Greenwich Village or Yorkville Village in 1962, got a gig, and probably a recording contract too.
Best of all, Drifters & Dreamers has several strong new (and old-sounding) songs, ones that add to the collection of fine Maritime folk. Like a Stan Rogers album, these are all new compositions (by Smith), but they could pass for decades or centuries old. Skippers and Mates stands right up there with any nautical number, always the favourite topic of the East Coast. The Streetsweeper is a melancholy one, with fine lines: "The streetsweeper knows that the ending for all is dust." Best of the bunch is The Coming Of The Loyalists, a group that never gets their due in my books (ya, I'm one). It celebrates the folks who came and settled Shelburne, N.S., but of course it could be about Saint John, or any number of small towns in the Maritimes. Right there, that's what I'm talking about, cultural history. There's always room for that, especially when it's presented by two fine voices.
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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).