New April Verch Mines Early Old-Timey Recording Industry

The Newpart
No Depression Music
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The title track of April Verch's new album—her tenth–refers to the family room her parents added in the 1970s, a place where she played music with her father, honed her fiddle skills, danced, and held house parties. It, and a few other tunes such as "Belle Election," are rooted in the rural traditions of the Ontario countryside where she grew up, but this album's true "new part" is that most of the material is more Tin Pan Alley, Appalachian, and Austin than Ottawa Valley. Verch band mates Hayes Griffin (guitar) and Cody Walters (banjo/acoustic bass) have mined early- and mid-20th century American music for an album that places Griffin's flat-picking on equal par with Verch's fiddling, vocals, and step dancing. Inevitably, a female traditional fiddler who bows less and sings more is going to draw comparisons to Alison Krauss. Fear not; this collection is more Bob Wills than Alison Krauss. That is to say, it's swingier and its tunes are as open as the prairies, though Verch opts for a spare feel rather than the slickness of either Krauss or Wills. For example, she takes a 1925 song, "If You Hadn't Gone Away," and reworks in waltz time to give it a simple, but brighter feel. Texan jazz pianist Seger Ellis popularized another from the same period, "Montana Call," but Verch's controlled theatrical take makes it sound like Cole Porter gone cowboy. She even swings a gospel song, "Dry Bones," and slows and quiets "Cruel Willie," a tune much favored by fretted instrument players, so that Walters' banjo sounds straight out of Stephen Foster. The overall feel is so thoroughly retro her usual material, a Swedish polksa, and step dance interludes seem more out of place more than change of pace. In a similar vein, as much as I thrill to watch Ms. Verch dance in her live shows, recorded solo percussive feet often lack the intended dramatic impact. In my view, this is a good record, but not a great one. Her love of these old songs and tunes is laudable, but I suspect I'm not alone among longtime April Verch fans in longing for more from her traditions than a trip through the early recording industry. Rob Weir

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