Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Trent Severn - Trent Severn [album review]


Released in November

Named after the Southern Ontario waterway system, Trent Severn is a Stratford, Ontario-based female folk trio comprised of indie singer-songwriters Dayna Manning (on banjo and guitars) and Emm Gryner (playing bass and stompbox), plus fiddle player/violinist Laura C. Bates. Gryner's name should be familiar to anybody who's stopped by this blog more than once over the past six months, considering I've done three glowing blog entries about her over that period. The group is a labour of love for the women who have "...no interest in conquering markets outside of Canada", as Gryner recently said in an online interview. A couple of the trio's goals in their manifesto are to "Play instruments we can carry" and "Write songs that touch the hearts and tell the stories of our Canadian friends, neighbors, and legends". 

And albums don't get much more Canadian than Trent Severn, with six of the ten songs immediately standing out for their Canadian content titles: "Snowy Soul", "Bluenose On A Dime", "Like A Donnelly", "Muskoka Bound", "Mulroney Times", and "Truscott". The entire album is positively bursting with more Canuck references to The Tragically Hip and Gord Downie, the LCBO, the Arctic, NHL sweaters, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal, Revelstoke and the B.C. shore, parkas, the northern lights, Kate McGarrigle, and John Livingston, the naturalist and voice of the Hinterland Who's Who television spots (talk about an out-of-left-field reference). And that's just scratching the surface. Most of the heaping portions of Canadiana will likely fly over the head of anyone not from this country, but there's enough other qualities to appreciate in Trent Severn's pleasing three part harmony vocals and instrumental interplay rooted in folk, old school country, and bluegrass music.  


Although I'm a huge fan of Gryner's music, that fact that I don't have a large appreciation for any of the aforementioned genres was a definite concern as I approached this album. As mentioned in my recent review of Carrie Underwood's latest album, classic country isn't exactly my bag, nor is folk music, and my interest in bluegrass begins and ends with Alison Krauss (and only when her and her band aren't in full-on hillbilly banjo music mode). Trent Severn unexpectedly fought its way past my general aversion to these genres, although it did take a lot of patience - the first three or four listens to the album were actually a major disappointment and by playthrough ten or so (far more listens than I'll normally give for an album to sink in), the ladies' talents had, by and large, managed to win me over.  


Opening track "Snowy Soul" was one of a handful of songs that immediately grabbed me. It was inspired by an overheard conversation by Gryner in her local bookstore by a man talking about his trip to the Arctic and features some interesting musical layers. The tone shifts from the sunny sounds of the musicians' amazing harmony vocals to the haunting violin lines and there's even a funky bass line underneath Bates' instrumental solo. Unsurprisingly, I found myself warming up a little quicker to the songs where Gryner takes the lead vocal lines, as she does on "Like A Donnelly", "Bluenose On A Dime", and the celebratory Celtic music-infused "Answers". When there is a lead vocalist (accompanying harmony vocals are never far away, though), it's Gryner and Manning who do the bulk of the work, with Bates taking her first ever lead vocal turn on "Wild One". Bates' voice lacks the presence and experience of her partners', however, which detracted somewhat from my enjoyment of the otherwise decent song. Some other observations: "Freedom" succeeds more for its winning chorus than its less memorable verse sections, "Road Less Travelled" evokes the soothing sound of Emmylou Harris, and album closer "Truscott" emerges as one of the LP's best tracks.


Along with enough celebration of Canadiana to make Stompin' Tom Connors proud, the harmony vocal-driven and simplistic, stripped down instrumental framework that Trent Severn rely on results in an intriguing musical venture that isn't perfect, but contains some great moments and makes for a quite satisfying album to wind your day down to. 


Rating: B-

Related posts: my "Get to know Emm Gryner" post from June and reviews from earlier this year of Gryner's Northern Gospel and Best Of albums

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