Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Grassmarket - Port City Album Review (2009)

I like discovering new bands. And when they are Canadian folk bands it is even better. This is another review for Altsounds.

The review...

In no way connected to the district of Edinburgh in Scotland, Grassmarket is a trio of folk musicians from Nova Scotia, Canada. Following the seven track EP Waiting, Port City is the band’s first full-length recording combining pop tunes with banjo, guitar and violin driven North American roots. Penelope Jackson, Dan MacCormack and David Bradshaw all share vocal duty and instruments throughout the Jackson/MacCormack compositions; songs that transcend the years, connecting the old with the new, blending fresh ideas with traditional sounds and textures.

Opener Endless Summer is a gliding ballad building slowly to a soft harmonious chorus keeping the consistent feel right to the wordless ending - a perfectly controlled four minutes. Jackson takes lead vocal for the sublime This Is The Life, her voice bringing together elements of Thea Gilmore, Elana James (Hot Club of Cowtown) and Rebecca Taylor (Slow Club) to create a magically evocative voice of clear quality and depth. After a short guitar solo she is joined by the guys for a brief time before they hand her the last word. Miles And Miles is different again, underpinned with a frantic jolly banjo that gives the song an odd urgency, for the vocals are slower and measured, bringing in the trio of voices for the chorus. Into the last minute is the world’s smallest guitar solo. Lyrically, the themes wander into “I’ll trade mine for the life of a Yeti, I’ll be my own disguise. Running free on the frozen Serengeti…”.

The best song on the first half of Port City is the beautiful It’ll Be Dark, again sung by Jackson and a gorgeous melody allowed to glide across the sparse music. Into Good Man, and some of the best music on the album and a much more traditional feel. “As you come across the prairies, leave your trouble in every town, and the next time you climb Kelly’s mountain, you’ll be light enough to float back down…” is more wonderful song writing. Heartful is a sweet minute and a half blast to complete the Jackson trilogy. It should be twice as long but races through it’s brief lifetime, from frenetic verse: “My boy smells of grass and clover, chase a rock and turns it over, intrepid and unsteady rover. Little boy, a heart full of joy…” to a clever chorus of glorious vocal sparing.

A Canadian roots album would not be the same without one song about the country. Bearkill At Quajon Fiord (a coastal area in Nunavut, the largest and newest federal territory in Canada) rattles through its instrumental two and bit minutes like the soundtrack to a silent movie or a cool episode of Wacky Races. Brilliantly played and thoroughly enjoyable. Road Often Travelled brings back the lyrics, the life story of family life and leaving your friends. More sultry vocals are combined with stark harmonica. Another short track, the tongue-in-cheek I’m Gonna Make A Great Fossil follows with more great lyrics “…my footprint in the rock. I‘m gonna be the subject of future Archaeological talks…” then duelling vocals right to the end. But the best is left until last. The whimsical title track closes things in style, changing pace and slowly building the instrumentation into the last minute before a harmonious finale.

Port City delivers exactly what it promises. The musical threesome combine harmonies and instrumentation with talent and charm, juxtaposing the quick and the slow, the old and the new, and different lyrical and vocal styles. A constant joy, this is music to get lost in. If there is a criticism, Port City is just a bit too short. At just shy of half an hour, it is over too quickly but great while it lasts. This music will never change the world. But it will preserve a small yet celebrated part of it for future proud generations.

-- CS (for Altsounds)

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