Hailing from Canada’s beautiful Vancouver Island, Genevieve and The Wild Sundays release their debut album Fine Line, a collection of twelve original songs rooted in folk, old-time country and bluegrass, with a refined pop sensibility. Produced by the well-respected Wynn Gogol at One Ton Studios in Victoria, BC, the result is a full and warm sound which displays the material – accurately described in the PR notes as “ranging from insightful ballads to rollicking political hootenannies” – to great effect.
The bluegrass-tinged ‘Highway’ gets the album off to a good start with Genevieve’s honeyed vocals and a bittersweet lyric over a nice minor/major song structure, interspersed with some well-placed, fluid instrumental fills by Chandra Crowe (mandolin) and Zavallennahh Huscroft on fidola. Kelly Sherwin and Laura Carleton make a solid rhythm section on upright bass and percussion respectively on a song which provides a good representation of their laidback musical style.
An unexpected pleasure of this album is Genevieve’s flair for writing lyrics which are both perceptive and laced with a dry wit, and ‘Lost Cell Phone Blues’ is a great example. Over a country-blues(-ish), waltz time arrangement, she encapsulates that intense grief felt when a disaster befalls our electronic devices – and the unexpected benefits of suddenly being offline. The group’s harmonies are suitably anguished while the interplay between Laura’s deft percussion and Chandra’s mandolin is impressively tight. One of my favourite tunes on the album, with bonus points for the live video: never mind losing a cellphone, I’d have been more worried about a musical instrument (or even a bandmate) ending up underwater!
‘Winter’s Tune’ is another favourite and a definite highlight. The juxtaposition of the heartbroken lyric and the stomping bluegrass arrangement works incredibly well; add in a truly sublime drop in the middle eight, with a huge upright bass sound, and a musical tip o’the hat to prime J.J. Cale, this is a strong tune in every way. Joyously radio-friendly, this has all the necessary ingredients to be a big crossover success.
The gently swaying, midtempo ballad ‘You Could Never Be’ allows the band to stretch out a little; particular features of the folksy arrangement include some gorgeous close harmony vocals over some precise, staccato chord changes. The rhythmic interplay between Kelly’s bass and Laura’s percussion again impresses, while Zavallennahh adds some well-placed, edgy fidola fills.
The mellow mood continues into ‘Blackberry Crisp’, a downhome celebration of the simple life and the restorative powers of home cooking. It’s charming without being twee – Chandra’s mandolin adds a welcome zing to the proceedings – and its evocation of hazy summer days outside is enough to make even a hardened city-dweller think about escaping to the country.
Deriving its melody from ‘Rano Rani’ (a Pirin folk song learned from Iliana Bozhanova and Todor Yankov), the slow ballad ‘Ripples’ is a dreamy, introspective song, contemplating the vagaries and insecurities of love and relationships; Zavallennahh contributes a heart-melting fidola solo and the song makes a nicely reflective interlude. The quieter mood continues into ‘Consequences’ and it’s Genevieve’s lyrics which catch this listener’s ear; it’s a well-observed piece of social commentary which makes its point without resorting to tub-thumping polemicism. Musically, the band knit the arrangement together tightly, leaving enough space for the song to breathe and letting a well-paced mandolin solo by Chandra take the spotlight.
Title track ‘Fine Line’ shakes the listener from her reverie with a polka-esque arrangement taken at breakneck speed and punctuated with some stunningly good a capella breaks. Genevieve’s lyric bears close listening: well-observed, incisive social commentary which makes its point without being overtly moralising and, as a result, elevating the song to one of the album’s highlights.
The lyric of ‘Chain Link Fence’ captures the sense of anticipation around a blossoming relationship and is matched by the musical arrangement. Wearing its country and bluegrass influences on its sleeve, it’s an upbeat, syncopated foot-tapper; Catherine Black’s intricate banjo contributions being a particular standout.
The penultimate ‘Long Way To Go’ offers a subtle feminist analyst of growing up and making your way in an essentially patriarchal society, set to a rousing arrangement with some fabulous harmony vocals. I can neither confirm nor deny that it inspired an outbreak of punching the air and leaping wildly around in solidarity with the sisterhood during the review process…
‘Showers Of Songs’ brings the album to a close with a slow waltz dedicated to the memory of Oliver Schroer, the late, lamented fiddler and composer and, fittingly, foregrounds the contributions from Zavallennahh Huscroft on fidola. Musically and lyrically it’s a really lovely tribute, bittersweet yet optimistic and it makes a great closing number.
Possessed of a rare blend of skilful musicianship and quality songwriting, Genevieve and The Wild Sundays have created an impressive and likeable debut. A self-assured and stylish collection of very listenable contemporary folk-roots songs, Fine Line has all the necessary ingredients to become a big crossover success without compromising the band’s musical vision.
Fine Line is out now.