The Sweet Lowdown is comprised of three very talented women who reside on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Featuring fiddle, banjo, guitar, and three lovely singing voices with a seamless harmony, they easily inhabit a shifting musical landscape where bluegrass, old-time, folk, and Celtic music all feel like equal partners.
Sometimes with new regional bands, there’s a tendency to be stronger on either the vocal or instrumental side of things. But this group has an impressively balanced and mature skill set in both areas. Their three voices have an easy, relaxed blend, almost like sisters, with an overall sense of…well…sweetness. But when they dig into an instrumental, they can ramp up the energy level a notch or three. Most impressive is fiddler Miriam Sonstenes’ “Big Wave,” which passes the ultimate test by making this reviewer want to leave his computer behind, pick up an instrument, and learn the piece himself. Banjoist Shanti Bremer matches the fiddle skillfully, with their notes intertwining on the Celtic/Americana medley “Insa And Liam’s Jig”/“Stones In My Pocket.”
Most of the album’s dozen tracks are original songs and tunes, which is the brave and advisable path for a new band to take. The only potential pitfall is that when the originals don’t quite stand out as much as the covers of “Sail Away Ladies” and “Reuben’s Train,” then the band’s compositions run the risk of being little more than frameworks on which to display their vocal and instrumental prowess. Probably the best of the bunch are a pair of songs by guitarist Amanda Blied that bookend the CD, “The Heart Is A Hollow Thing” and “What Goes Up.”
For all that, May is still a significantly polished representation of a group, given that it’s only their second full-length recording. When a group is sounding this good this soon, it won’t take much to lift them to a higher level of prominence in the acoustic music scene. (Sweet Lowdown, Unit C, 1405 Fernwood Rd., Victoria, BC, V8V 4P6, Canada, www.thesweetlowdown.ca.)HK