The Wayfaring Strangers,
This Train
(Rounder, 2003)

Presenting a blend of bluegrass, jazz and klezmer, with elements of folk and country thrown in for good measure, the Wayfaring Strangers is the brainchild of fiddler Matt Glaser. The band includes Tony Trischka on banjo, Laszlo Gardony on piano, Jamey Haddad on drums, Jim Whitney on bass and John McGann on guitar and mandolin. But leading the way on this, their second recording, is a trio of significant female voices: Tracy Bonham, Aoife O'Donovan and Ruth Ungar.

The ladies trade lead vocals throughout and throw out some pretty beautiful harmonies in between. Most of the songs on the record are Matt Glaser's interpretations of traditional songs, so there's a unique feel to songs that may sound familiar to many listeners. His arrangements are lush and varied, and sound even more so due to the sheer number of players in the band.

Highlights on the record are Bonham's spirited and soulful vocals, especially on the title track and "Lord Search My Heart." The presence of 15 players and singers on "Cluck Old Hen" has made it sound like a broken cart running amok in the barnyard -- and it's great. O'Donovan's gentle but expressive voice, which could easily be compared to Alison Krauss's, takes centre stage on the aching "Don't This Road Look Rough and Rocky." Bonham takes the lead again on Bill Monroe's fire and brimstone exhortation "Don't Put Off 'Til Tomorrow." The urgency of her singing is offset before the last verse by a pretty little piano solo that adds a little happy to the mix.

The Wayfaring Strangers are a good band with talented members, and the record sounds better with each spin. It takes some time to get used to the variety of musical styles presented and mixed here; but, in the end, This Train leaves me with a good feeling, one that makes me want to look out for the next recording from this unlikely supergroup, if only to see where they go next. And there ain't nothin' wrong with that.

- Rambles
written by Rachel Jagt
published 25 September 2004

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