Stone Walls and Steel Bars video from Lonesome Ace Stringband

Toronto’s Lonesome Ace Stringband is a trio that truly defies description. Driven by Chris Coole’s clawhammer banjo, you might be tempted to call them an old time group, but they feature a good bit of bluegrass music in their show. There is clearly a love and deep understanding of the folk traditions of Appalachia, but this is three Canadian boys with long experience with bands in that country.

Their own characterization of themselves seems to hit it just right – an old-time band with bluegrass chops that play some righteous folk and country music. Just so.

We first got a good look at these Lonesome Aces during their showcase performance for the 2020 IBMA World of Bluegrass, hosted virtually last year owing to widespread pandemic restrictions. With all the showcase artists having to submit a set on video, we saw a good bit of disparity in the quality of the presentations. Some were no more than the artists sitting in their living rooms absent any special lighting, to fairly complex set ups in a studio environment. But none held our attention like the riveting and often haunting show put on by Chris Coole, John Showman (fiddle), and Max Heineman (bass), The Lonesome Ace Stringband.

This month a live album from that set, recorded at the Anza Club in Vancouver, BC in 2019, will be released, titled, appropriately enough, Lively Times – Live at the Anza Club!

The album doesn’t release until later this month, but a teaser video is available today, their take on an absolute classic from the repertoire of The Stanley Brothers, Stone Walls and Steel Bars, a prison song delivered by a man on death row, awaiting his final sentence.

Coole says that this is one of his favorites.

“Apart from Carter’s chilling delivery, I’ve always been drawn to this song for its ability to paint such a vivid story with so few words. It almost feels like you’re watching a movie (in Technicolor).

To me, the killer lines are at the beginning of each verse… ‘Jealousy has took my young life, all for the love of another man’s wife’ and ‘Grey-haired warden, deep ‘Frisco Bay, Guards all around me, leading the way.’ 26 words, and you can see the whole thing from beginning to end!”

Have a look/listen…

Pre-orders for Lively Times – Live at the Anza Club! are enabled now online ahead of its November 26 release date.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.