Joe Newberry & April Verch – Going Home
Slab Town Records via Discovery Records – 2017
Having released some ten albums, you’ll likely know April Verch as the acclaimed Canadian fiddler and step-dancer; however, Missouri-born, North Carolina-based fiddler Joe Newberry is maybe less likely to have crossed your radar. Although once part of the bluegrass outfit Big Medicine and having penned Singing As We Rise for The Gibson Brothers, he’s released only one solo album, although he was part of the recent Transatlantic Sessions alongside Aly Bain and Jerry Douglas.
Brought together by a love of traditional bluegrass, as you might expect their debut album features a plethora of fiddle and banjo duets, a goodly proportion of which are original numbers.
It starts with the lively Yellow Jacket/Half Past Four, an instrumental pairing of the latter traditional tune with the former written by the late Charleston fiddler Garry Harrison. Newberry contributes four numbers, two written with Si Khan, the first being the wistful, reflective I’m Going Home, showcasing his grained, relaxed, world-weary vocals with Verch on harmonies. The other Khan co-write also adopts a reflective tone, My Dear Childhood Days featuring just a sparse fiddle backing. The other two are solo compositions, with the jaunty bluegrass gospel duet Jericho and the more melancholic aching heart Baby I’m Blue with its forlorn fiddle echoing the tears.
In turn, Verch has three numbers, Will You Wait For Me?, an old school prairie spiritual-styled co-write with Jon Weisberger that could have slipped comfortably into the Oh Brother soundtrack. The other two are both fiddle instrumentals, the sprightly Waiting For Joe and, doing exactly what it says on the label, New Waltz, conjuring thoughts of the dance hall scenes in Heaven’s Gate.
Verch also sings lead on another waltzer with their cover of Doc Williams’ Roses Are Blooming while, on the medley of Back Up and Push/Carleton County Breakdown/John Brown’s Dream, she slips on her step-dancing shoes during the latter section while Newberry sings and provides a dextrous clawhammer banjo solo.
The pair trade vocals for the penultimate cut, a version of Godfather of Bluegrass Wade Mainer’s gospel I Can’t Sit Down, the album closing in suitably frisky form with the fiddle and banjo interplay of two related traditional tunes, Arcand-Saw Traveler and, in the tempo gathering style of Duelling Banjos, the breakneck Arkansaw Traveler.
The two clearly had a great time recording together and their enthusiasm for the material springs from the speakers, you just can’t help but be swept along on the tide.