It's definitely one of the only records to come out of Hamilton this year that starts with the drone of bagpipes.
The Gathering — the opening and title track on the new record from Hamilton's Poor Angus — is undeniably folk. It's only fitting the pipes come at the start of the record, too. They usually signal the introduction of a celebration.
"They're the grand entrance," said Brian LeBlanc, who plays guitar, mandolin and sings on the album.
But the song also hints at something new bubbling underneath its surface. The way the backing instrumentation effortlessly shifts from major to minor under the melody and the deft bagpipe harmonies quickly allude to a traditional album that's anything but traditional.
"That song is the harbinger of what is to come — the change of pace," LeBlanc says.
'It isn't dead. It's a living art form that's constantly in flux.'—Brian LeBlanc, Poor Angus
New vocalist Joel Guenther was a big part of ushering in that change. Though he's been with the band for a while, Gathering is his first real opportunity to help Poor Angus branch out.
Guenther's background is as a singer/songwriter, with influences steeped in blues and rock music. As he's not confined to any one idiom, the band dips in and out of several genres and is all the better for it. Think Floggy Molly when they dial it down a notch.
A standout track is the lilting ballad Something I Can't See, which made it all the way to the finals of the CBC Music Searchlight competition, before dropping to Sherman Downey and the Ambiguous Case from Newfoundland. Still, it's a perfect snapshot of a band really finding its footing with a new member.
"Honestly, some of Joel's melodies are some of my favourite things ever recorded," LeBlanc said.
But for all the branching out, Poor Angus still holds true to its celtic roots on Gathering. There are some strong traditional arrangements on there, as well as a faithful rendition of Barrett's Privateers by Canadian folk icon Stan Rogers.
The famous A cappella "modern sea shanty" is one of the band's most requested songs, LeBlanc says.
Performing a tune like that is no small feat, but the band nails it — even going so far as to do all the harmonies in one track, live off the floor. "It's a very honest track," LeBlanc said. "Either you enjoy doing harmony and you get it, or you don't."
The band has a personal connection to Rogers — former lead singer and current band manager Scott Cameron Smith is married to Ariel Rogers, Stan's widow. She's also credited as an executive producer on all of the band's albums and Gathering's closer, Ariel's Waltz, is named after her.
'It isn't dead'
Poor Angus has gotten a really strong response from fans in advance of the album's July 4 release date, LeBlanc says. It was recorded at the local Grant Avenue Studios and released on Dundas-based label Fogarty's Cove Music.
More than anything, LeBlanc is hoping that people listen to this record and get a sense that traditional music isn't stale, he says.
"It isn't dead. It's a living art form that's constantly in flux."
The album release show is happening this Friday at the Pour House at 1115 Fennell Ave E. Cover is $10 in advance through the band's website or $15 at the door. The show starts at 8 p.m.
For more on Poor Angus or to pick up the album, visit Poorangus.com.