There are many great bands from beyond America’s borders playing wonderful bluegrass; so many that it now seems a bit old-fashioned (not to mention very condescending) to even mention their origins. But just for purposes of orientation, we’ll note that the talented Spinney Brothers (Allan, guitar and vocals; Rick, banjo and vocals) were born in Ontario, Canada, and now make their homes in the Annapolis Valley of the province of Nova Scotia. Their bandmates (Gary Dalrymble, mandolin, and Darryl Hebb, bass) also dwell in Nova Scotia and are also highly enjoyable pickers.
This is the brothers’ fifth album in a career that started as the Spinney Brothers Bluegrass Band in 1991 and, two years later, continued with their recording debut as the Spinney Brothers & Close Company. But Memories is their first outing on the Virginia-based Mountain Fever label; the fine results suggest there will be many great memories to come from this new collaboration.
The band’s musical foundation is as solid as Nova Scotia granite, thanks to the strong, confident and essentially faultless banjo and guitar work of Rick and Allan and their well-blended duets. And at times, the band’s sound is as colorful and faceted as one of the province’s stilbite crystals. Much credit for this goes to discerning choices of varied material. The title track, “Memories,” happily celebrates the simple pleasures and enduring values of the country life. “Old Roman Solider” is a compelling religious number in which Jesus’ crucifixion is seen from a unique perspective. The Spinneys draw on several songs created or co-written by Carl Jackson, including a wry testimony to the sweet revenge of profiting from a broken heart “Makin’ A Killin’.”
The Spinneys have avoided over-recorded songs (which can become worn-out musical memories) and that’s another plus. But it’s good to hear the Charlie Moore and Bill Napier number “Truck Driver’s Queen” and the authentic feeling they get into this bluegrass-country classic. Then the Spinneys can turn around and showcase the intriguing “Rebel Ye Rest” by Pauline Beauchamp, a pleasing songwriter who seems to deserve a wider audience. Listeners will also want to hear more of the band’s originals: the only example here is “One Day Late And A Dollar Short,” which is quite good. The group is also so entertaining instrumentally that I’d love for them to cut loose next time on a driving banjo or mandolin tune.
The superb and seemingly effortlessness blend here bespeaks a real joy for the music and many years of dedicated picking. If that weren’t enough, the basic foursome is joined on Memories by two exceptional guest sidemen, Ron Stewart on fiddle and Rob Ickes on resonator guitar. These guys fit in so well, it sounds like they’ve been gigging with the Spinneys back to their start in the early ’90s. We’ll probably be hearing much more from the Spinney Brothers. For now, give Memories a spin. (Mountain Fever Records, 1177 Alum Ridge Rd. NW, Willis, VA 24380, www.mountainfever.com.)RDS