various artists,
North to Ontario 2009
(independent, 2009)

Invented in the mid-1940s, bluegrass long ago transcended its Southern roots. It has, for example, thrived in Japan for decades. I've heard European bands, albeit mostly of little distinction. I once entered a pub in Sydney, Australia, where a poster announced a local outfit's regularly scheduled appearance at the venue -- which happened, alas, to be at some other time than the one that coincided with my passing presence. If memory serves, the band actually had "Kentucky" in its name.

Inasmuch as Canada boasts country and blues musicians in reasonable abundance, it should be no surprise that another Southern genre is well represented, too. The current edition of North to Ontario -- there are three predecessors, none heard by me -- documents the bluegrass scene in Canada's most cosmopolitan province. Appropriately, however, the two compilers, Gene Gouthro and Tom McCreight, have rural or small-town mailing addresses, possibly quelling fears of the traditionally minded that the sounds to follow are uptown ones. It turns out that -- at least if North is any indication -- Ontario bluegrassers tend to opt for the downhome approach.

Gouthro, a mandolinist and guitarist, appears on a few of the 17 cuts. Except for the one non-bluegrass performance (a competent but rather ordinary version of the Fred Rose standard "Blues Eyes Crying the Rain"), the songs are the creations of band leaders or members. When I say I have had heard none of these songs or knew nothing of their makers, I mean no disrespect whatever. Good music is always being made by non-famous people (and lousy music aplenty by the famous). Nearly everything here is capably composed, decently sung and picked, and tastefully arranged.

In short, if you favor bluegrass, you'll enjoy this. And you'll laugh as hard as I did it when you see that one band has the wit, ironic sense, and self-assured mockery to call itself the Canucky Bluegrass Boys.

review by
Jerome Clark

21 November 2009

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