The Burying Ground: The Burying Ground
Independent – 2 June 2017
From a cultural perspective, one of the many great things about living where I do (Vancouver Island) is that the musical landscape is rich with thriving scenes dedicated to preserving the sounds of yesteryear. Whether covering beloved standards, penning original material, or both, here and across the Georgia Strait there are scores of musicians, like Vancouver band The Burying Ground, that draw inspiration and stylistic chops from the roots music of bygone eras. And my world is all the better for it because for around the last three years I have been listening to a huge amount of vintage jazz (Sidney Bechet is playing as I type) and blues, a fair proportion of it approaching a century old.
Emerging from a punk rock background and a blues string band named The Dire Wolves, The Burying Ground trades in authentically delivered, rustic old-timey country-blues, and swinging, jazz-flecked folk music. In all honesty, beyond this you need little in the way of descriptors from me, as a look at the influences listed on the band’s website presents a rounded summation of what The Burying Ground is all about: Blind Blake, Bessie Smith, the Reverend Gary Davis, Memphis Minnie, Big Bill Broonzy and Jimmie Rodgers are all cited, and other unlisted artists – such as Louis Armstrong – spring to mind when listening to this eponymous new release. These inspirations considered, I will take an educated guess that the band named themselves after the Mississippi Fred McDowell song, Standing at the Burying Ground.
The Burying Ground is the trio’s second album in six months, following on from the self-explanatorily titled Country Blues and Rags, and their third since June 2015, when the 15-song Big City Blues debut was issued. Across the three releases Woody Forster (vocals, guitar, harmonica), Devora Laye (vocals, washboard, singing saw) and Joseph Lubinsky-Mast (double bass) have established a sound that, should the fuzz, crackle and hiss of a well-loved 78 RPM record be added, would feel directly transported from the juke joints and speakeasies of the Prohibition era. This is beautifully realised, pure roots music created in the same spirit of contemporaries such as the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, The Crow Quill Night Owls, or fellow Vancouverites, Petunia & the Vipers. And, frankly, I cannot get enough of this wonderful stuff!
Like the previous two releases, The Burying Ground is wrapped in beautiful and period-appropriate artwork by ‘Yann,’ and as far as the musical content is concerned I would not have been at all surprised if informed that any one of the all-original songs or guitar rags dated back to the era the band aims to accurately sonically recreate. And to assist them in doing so on this album the trio has enlisted some heavyweight contributors, namely fiddler Trent Freeman of 2017 Juno winners, The Fretless; trumpeter Jack Garton (leader of the Demon Squadron); Josh Doherty on harmonica, and backing singer Candice Roberts (of the Myrtle Family Band, in which Laye also performs).
There are stunning moments aplenty here, beginning with the opener, Come Back Home, featuring Forster’s slightly husky vocal and loose, easy guitar picking, and Garton’s sassy muted trumpet, as the clickety-clacks of Laye’s washboard gently propel the track along percussively. Freeman’s silky fiddle stars on the following Old Wolf, then – as she does on the later Mean Spirit Blues and beautiful closer, Longing for Home – Laye takes centre stage for lead vocal for the fabulous Wild Woman Blues, also notable for Garton’s sexy, rasping trumpet.
On Howlin’ Wind Rag the wind in question is amply represented by Laye’s quavering saw, blowing away behind Forster’s deft picking of the jaunty tune. Next up, although a stark, haunting blues number that in its sombre mood is diametrically opposed to the rest of the album, the six-minute Death Don’t Hear No One’s Prayers is my personal favourite here. The gravitas of Forster’s vocal delivery atop Laye’s spooky saw and Doherty’s mournful harmonica combine for a powerful experience that, in respect of its centrally sequenced position, serves as the perfect fulcrum of the album. An entire collection of this darker blues material from The Burying Ground would be something to relish.
In fact, dark or otherwise I will look forward to anything The Burying Ground offer up from here on in. While they may be devoted to the precious music of a long gone golden era, they still have an awful lot to offer the present and future, as music this good is evidently timeless.
Photo Credit: MARY MATHESON PHOTOGRAPHY