In another feature, Vancouver was spoken about as a great Canadian city for music, arguably moreso than Toronto and Montreal with its diversity. But what about a smaller city, one not considered a sprawling metropolis? Look no further than Hamilton, Ontario. Home to about 500,000 people and located about an hour west of Toronto, Hamilton is known as Canada’s equivalent to Pittsburgh – the Steel City. And like Pittsburgh, Hamilton is going through a phase of re-gentrification and renewal, and this is reflected in its growing music scene.
Some great musicians have come out of Hamilton over the years, such as Whitehorse, Kim Koren, and The Arkells. In addition, it has fostered the growth of several emerging bands such as Dark Mean and Young Rival. Dinner Belles are another band from the city to get know.
Yesterday, the septet released their new LP and their first with Sonic Unyon, The River and The Willow, which comprises of eleven songs of some of the best roots, Americana, and country north of the 49th parallel. It’s a touch of Mumford and Sons, a little dash of Hank Williams, a pinch of Great Lake Swimmers, and a hint of Gillian Welch. When an album reminds you of such names, then it’s likely one that will please, which it definitely does.
The River and The Willow is an encyclopedia of country music and its extensions of the past 30 to 40 years. There are classic country songs that you might hear in the apse of a wooden church, such as the splendid opening track “I Might Do Everything Wrong” or the wallowing “Back Home (In the Valley)”.
There are rousing, barn-burning country and Americana tracks that will have you kicking up your heels and dancing or just sitting there stomping your feet and clapping. Regardless of how you choose to get involved with this album, “Wandering Eye” and “(And I Ain’t No) Sonny Boy” are the most upbeat tracks on the album. The latter, in particular, is infectious and catchy that might you hollering the chorus. The song recalls the great country and bluegrass band Alabama, in particular of the late ’70s and early ’80s. “No Good”, the final track on the album, captures modern Americana with the quick finger plucking of the banjo and guitars and the upbeat pace, and the song will recall the energy and spontaneity of Trampled by Turtles.
Gospel and hymnal roots and bluegrass are also prominent on the album. “I Might Be Wrong,“Be Good to the Earth” and “Long Day’s Journey” are melodic, pleasing tunes with themes that you might here in a church – love, community, and redemption. Meanwhile, the album’s title track, “The River and the Willow”, has a southern country-folk sound that you might in Hurray for the Riff Raff and The Milk Carton Kids.
The strength of The River and The Willow is the Dinner Belles’ treatment of classic genres that many of us have grown up with – paying respect to country, roots, bluegrass, and Americana as oppose to attempting to reinvent them. The album builds on the sounds of past and present artists in a way that is pleasing, fun, and at times rapturous. It’s a wonderful album that will be played and showcased over the next few months. Don’t be surprised to see the Dinner Belles at a festival near you in 2015. In the meantime, make your way to Hamilton to hear the seven-member collective and many of the Steel City’s other, exciting bands.
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