14 tracks / 57:10
A wide variety of new music comes into Blues Blast Magazine, and some of it is a harder to pigeonhole into a category, which is where we find the Durham County Poets. These fellows come to us from southwest Quebec, but their sound is straight out of the south, with a definite hill country feel. Their latest album, Grimshaw Road, is a wonderful blend of blues, folk, gospel, country, rock, soul, jazz, and maybe even some Cajun influences. Maybe it is best to just call it Americana or roots music and leave it at that – either way it is unique and very listenable.
Durham County Poets have been around since 2011, and Grimshaw Road is a their third disc. The band has been popular at festivals and clubs in their home country, and this project should prove palatable for audiences south of the border too. The band is fronted by Kevin Harvey on vocals and harmonica, and he was joined in the studio by David Whyte on guitar and sax, Neil Elsmore on guitar, Carl Rufh on bass and trombone, and James Preimel on the drums. This CD runs almost an hour, and has fourteen tracks with only two covers. All of the band members pitched in on the songwriting and each song plays out like a poem that is set to music, which seems like a basic skill, but a lot of bands seem to forget about this.
The title track kicks off Grimshaw Road, and the lyrics use vivid imagery to describe a moment when the right path in life was chosen. This somber tune might be one of the bluesier songs on the album, with a lush acoustic sound that builds from the start. Harvey is a fine singer, and his smooth vocals are a perfect fit with the subject and style. The mood and sound changes for each track after this, but each of them fits in with the next, allowing the album to work well as a whole.
As the album progresses, the listeners get to experience this for themselves. There are plenty of folk-inspired tunes, but there is also “Monday Morning” with its Louisiana feel thanks to the horns and innovative percussion (not to mention a well-placed electric drill). “Bowlful of Lazy” has definite jazz influences, with spoken-word vocals and Jody Golick’s smoky sax work. And there is even a bit of swing with “Outside Cat,” which is a hip story of a man who “plays by his own rules.”
It is hard to pick favorites on this CD, but there are a few songs that stand out. “Hard Times” has a lazy Louisiana barroom feel with guest artist Tony Costantini on piano. When this is mixed in with the trombone of Rufh and the innovative drumming of Preimel the results are a guaranteed good time. The other knockout is “Club Mellow” which almost approaches the world of blues-rock with its distorted guitars and killer groove.
The two covers are not ones that many blues band choose to revisit. The first is “Diamonds on the Water,” which was written and recorded by Canadian folk legend Penny Lang in 2006. The band rearranged this tune with a few more layers of guitars, including some excellent 12-string playing from guest artist Michael Jerome Browne, a three-time Canadian Folk Music Award winner. It does not lose its peaceful acoustic feel in the translation, and the vocal harmonies are a lovely addition. “On Your Bond” is the other cover, and Blind Willie Johnson recorded (and possibly wrote) this traditional song in 1930 as “You’ll Need Somebody on Your Bond.” The original has a bare bones sound with just vocals and slide guitar, and this revision is a more complex (yet mellow) country rock song that delivers the assertion that gaining entrance to heaven is a legal contract, and that you are going to need somebody on your side if you want to make the cut.
The Durham County Poets’ talent did not lose anything in the studio, as this disc is well produced with a good balance of instruments and vocals and a clear sound. Also, the band has included a booklet of the song lyrics for all fourteen songs, which is a thoughtful addition in an age where liner notes have become quite rare. It would be nice if more artists would do this for their listeners.
Grimshaw Road is a solid collection of roots and blues from Durham County Poets, and each song is a story that is worth listening to. The band has plenty of gigs coming up, so check in at their web page to see where they are playing. If you are in Ontario, Quebec or the Northeast United States you are in luck as they are hitting a lot of venues this summer and fall. While you are online you can also listen to their new music, and I think you agree that all blues fans will find something there to enjoy!