April Verch,
The April Verch Anthology
(Slab Town, 2017)

Hailing from rural Ontario, April Verch is a champion fiddler in a style that owes to grassroots French and Anglo-Irish influences. In other words, not the sound characteristic of any you're likely to hear in America outside provincial New England. I think the adjective that best defines the result is "joyful." Her step-dancing is often remarked upon -- performed at times while she's fiddling, on some occasions when she's fiddling and singing. But of course, if you haven't seen her perform, you have to take others' word for her facility in that regard. I'm willing to believe it.

The April Verch Anthology is, as the title suggests, a retrospective on her recording career, which has not been devoted solely to old fiddle tunes. Verch is an able singer, with a voice unusual enough that she doesn't sound quite like anybody else. As seems inescapable these days, she's taken to writing or co-writing her own songs -- seven of the 18 here represented -- composed as relaxed country-folk exercises and incorporating most audibly influences from Appalachian oldtime and bluegrass. Mac Wiseman, to whom the often-abused "legendary" applies if it applies to any living American roots artist, guests on the gospel "My Home in the Sky."

Besides Verch and tradition (on the instrumental pieces), writers include Hayes Carll (whose "Long Way Home" stands out), Buddy & Julie Miller, Mark Schatz and Greg Trooper. The last-named, who died before his time this past January, was an under-recognized Brooklyn-based songwriter who I hope will get his due in times to come (see my reviews here on 16 November 2013 and 13 June 2015). Written with Jon Walmsley, "Light in the Window" exudes the kind of cozy parlor feeling Wiseman has evoked so memorably in classic recordings over the decades. Verch doesn't dress it a hard-core bluegrass arrangement, but it could easily be a genre standard.

In some ways Verch's approach calls to mind, albeit with notably less country-pop inflection, what Alison Krauss has done on some of her acoustic solo albums. The Canadian dance tunes represent Verch at her naturally most artistically ambitious. The songs, on the other hand, seek to communicate quiet strength and everyday emotion, and manage to do so satisfyingly.

music review by
Jerome Clark

4 March 2017

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