The Slocan Ramblers are an ideal example of grassicana’s northern sweep and universal embrace, dancing along the line between bluegrass and old time music. Hailing from Canada, the quartet — Frank Evans (banjo, harmonica, vocals), Adrian Gross (mandolin), Darryl Poulsen (guitar, vocals), and Alastair Whitehead (bass, vocals) — are remarkably adept as both individual players (their performance at Jam in the Trees two weekends back proved one of the festival highlights), and bring an amiable approach that underscores their assured grip on bluegrass basics. While their songs are clearly rooted in tradition — Mississippi Heavy Water Blues, Just to Know, Sun’s Gonna Shine In My Back Door Someday and Hill To Climb being but four of the more obvious examples — their’s is a populist approach that finds a common bond with bands like the Steep Canyon Rangers, the Infamous Stringdusters, Town Mountain, and Mountain Heart in particular. It’s a knowing sensibility that embraces modern musical aesthetics while still retaining the vintage trappings that accompany tradition.
Queen City Jubilee, the band’s third outing to date, is also their most confident and assured. While most of the music is upbeat and effusive, it’s the slower songs — Long Chain Charlie and Moundsville, Makin’ Home, First Train in the Morning — that allow for a vibe of reflection and contemplation, while also exploring opportunity to appreciate the deeper nuances of melody and melancholy. That’s not to say their upbeat outlays aren’t equally well pronounced; instrumentals such as Down in the Sugarbrush, Shut the Door and New Morning show off their skills with a knowing sense of drive and determination, allowing each individual member to shine through their solos.
That adherence to form is also reflected in the uptempo tunes as well. Through and Through, Just to Know and Mighty Hard Road all come across with an honesty and integrity that informs authenticity at its very core. There’s no presumption or pretence associated with Slocan Ramblers’ sound, but rather there’s a reverence for the bonds that bluegrass imposes on those that follow its dictates so tacitly and tenaciously. As its title implies, Queen City Jubilee is both festive and frenzied, but it’s skill and subtlety that form its essential additives and, in turn, make it the soaring celebration it is.