Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Steel Rail rides again; Bill Garrett & Sue Lothrop

Steel Rail concerts have been too few and too far between in the years since guitarist and songwriter Dave Clarke left Montreal for the milder climes of Victoria, BC. Soon, though, Dave will be back in Steel Rail action with bass player and singer Ellen Shizgal and singer-guitarist Todd Gorr for concerts in Lennoxville and Montreal. They’re promising some new songs and lots of the old favourites in their patented folk-meets-bluegrass style.

The concerts are both double bills with the most excellent duo of Bill Garrett & Sue Lothrop.

The Lennoxville concert is Friday November  26, 8:00 pm, at the Church Street Cafe, 6 Church Street in Lennoxville. Call 819-875-5696.

The Montreal concert, part of the Wintergreen Concert Series, is Saturday November 27, 8:00 pm, at Club Lambi, 4465 St. Laurent in Montreal. Call 514-524-9225.

Here are my Montreal Gazette reviews of the most recent CDs by Steel Rail and Bill Garrett & Sue Lothrop.

River Song

This third album by Steel Rail, rooted almost equally in country, bluegrass and folk music, is their best effort yet. The trio’s ensemble sound features vocalist and rhythm guitarist Tod Gorr, who has one of the most naturally country voices this side of George Jones, lead guitarist Dave Clarke, one of the most fluid acoustic pickers in the country, and bassist Ellen Shizgal, who provides the band’s heartbeat, some gorgeous harmonies and two lead vocals. Steel Rail’s secret weapon, though, is the fine craftsmanship of their songwriting. Songs of love and loss mix with pieces that nostalgically recall Belmont Park or that conjure images of the sailor’s church in Old Montreal, the Quebec countryside, beautiful prairie skies and the tough streets of downtown Winnipeg. ****

Red Shoes

On their duo debut, veteran Montreal singer-guitarists Bill Garrett and Sue Lothrop have crafted a fine blend of country, Cajun and folk-rooted material. One of the most affecting songs is the beautiful title track written about Lothrop’s mother at the end of her life. Another is "That’s How the Summer Slips Away," a poetic and wistful piece written by Lucinda Chodan and Dave Clarke. Two topical songs, Shelley Posen’s "No More Fish," and Terry Tufts’s "Never No More," provide moving commentary on contemporary issues, while "Leaving Louisiana," Rodney Crowell’s Cajun stomper, is the album’s most exciting tune. Garrett and Lothrop share the lead and harmony vocals and are well served by a supporting cast that includes Clarke and Tufts, fiddler Don Reed and clarinetist Vern Dorge. ****

--Mike Regenstreif

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