Canada’s April Verch isn’t yet a household name, even after releasing nine albums to date (and she’s still only in her thirties!). I’ve only managed to get hold of a couple of her previous records for review, and more’s the pity, for I found each to be a highlight of their respective listening years (2006 and 2013), finding fresh insights therein on each subsequent revisit; naturally, I praised both albums in glowing terms.
Album number ten, The Newpart, turns out to be every bit as charming a prospect as its predecessor, the highly captivating Bright Like Gold. It’s no wonder that April’s latterly been referred to as a veritable “trifecta of talent”: a fiddler, singer and stepdancer who’s tremendously adept on bow, feet and vox alike. For this new set April, with the aid of producer Casey Driessen, digs deep into songs and tunes from the era before the mid-century heyday of bluegrass and folk, harking back to vaudeville and beyond. Here she’s recalling her upbringing in her native Ottawa Valley, surrounded by living, breathing roots music – the sound of her father’s country band rehearsing in the “newpart”, the Verch family room that was built as an extension to the house, a room of which April has especially fond memories. There’s a great down-home session feel to the proceedings, as April and her trusty musicians (Cody Walters on upright bass and clawhammer banjo and Hayes Griffin on guitar and mandolin) draw you into their world with unpretentious skill and welcoming intimacy. The music they play forms a timeless bridge between old-time and contemporary traditions, a brilliantly balanced sequence of vocal and instrumental items which possess all the authentic old-timey feel yet also sound confidently contemporary (in the sense of being just as relevant to our own time rather than specifically radical in any purely musical sense).
April’s fiddle playing is genuinely exciting – I’m tempted to dub it “verchuosic” (ouch! – but I’ve just now discovered that’s suspiciously similar to the title of one of April’s earlier CDs!), but no, actually it’s a stage beyond that, for her stunning technique has by this stage of her career become more of a means to an end rather than just an attention-drawing gambit for its own sake. Yet at the same time there’s a relaxed demeanour, a sense of comforting accomplishment about April’s playing too. This complements her slightly unusual, indeed occasionally quirky – although undeniably appealing – singing style, which encompasses both a girlish sweetness and a mature expressiveness, one that quickly imprints itself on your memory, and I’m sure you’ll just keep on wanting to hear more.
For me, the standout cuts on this latest collection are the engagingly sparse closing fiddle-song This Melody (one of a handful of April’s own idiomatic compositions sprinkled across the disc) and the gloriously authentic-sounding It Makes No Difference To Me (co-authored with Cody); but April also beguiles with her delicately phrased takes on originals by the Brown/Henderson/Rose partnership (If You Hadn’t Gone Away), Seger Ellis (the sensuous Montana Call) and Hod Pharis (the truly delightful I Heard The Bluebirds Sing, on which April duets with Cody), in each of which cases we’re left in no doubt that she’s been touched by, old recordings. There’s a slice of spirited sanctified gospel too, in a fabulous version of Dry Bones inspired by that of Bascom Lamar Lunsford, while the rustic Bring Your Clothes Back Home, from the pen of John Hartford, is carried off equally persuasively.
Just under half of the disc is taken up with instrumental cuts, which range from the evocative misty-mountain tune Cruel Willie (from the repertoire of Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith) to the feisty uptempo medley Midnight Wheeler. The latter is one of a number of tracks to prominently feature April’s fancy footwork – indeed, one other track (Gilchrist) presents a solo stepdance that manages to preserve an acute element of melody (now there’s a thing!) amongst its gleeful rhythms (apparently, the dance steps were slightly rewritten by April specially for the audio recording, to make sense without the visuals…). For whether it’s in song or dance mode, April sure knows how to connect with her audience.
Once again April has delivered the goods on all counts here, with an album that rewards constant replay – I’ve played it through three times in a session and not grown tired of it, while also stopping for repeats along the way! Having wowed Irish (and, for two dates only, English) audiences back in May this year with her energy-fuelled high-spirited stage act, April and her Band (i.e. Cody with Lucas Chohany who just recently took over from Hayes) will be returning to our shores next month for a second (only slightly more embracing) helping that takes in four dates in England and two in Scotland; go see ’em!
Review by: David Kidman
The Newpart is Out Now
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UK & European Tour Dates
05 November – Kings Place London,
06 November – The Live Room Saltaire, England,
07 November – Kardomah94 Hull, England,
08 November – The Greystones Sheffield,
09 November – Traverse Theatre Edinburgh, Scotland,
12 – 15 November – Thomas Fraser Memorial Festival Hamnavoe, Shetland Islands, Scotland,
19 November – Baltoppen LIVE Copenhagen, Denmark
20 November – Troubaduren Soroe, Denmark
21 November – Malmö Live Konserthus Malmo, Sweden
23 November – Columbi Egg Bergen, Norway
26 November – Riksscenen Oslo, Norway
27 November – Kulturhuset Blå Grotte Fredrikstad, Norway
28 November – 5:00 jam session with AVB at ‘t Ey Belsele, Belgium
29 November – Folk Club ’t Ey Belsele, Belgium