Regulars at Pressed‘s Bluegrass Night will already know and love Concession 23, a bluegrass quartet known for their strong vocal harmonies, rhythmic energy, and their ability to build a rapport with their audiences. Walter and Alice is the band’s third CD, and represents a step up for the already accomplished band from the Ottawa/Ottawa Valley region. Walter and Alice is fresh, often playful, full and yet sometimes appropriately sparse.
The band’s choice of songs is part of what makes this collection fresh – these are not songs you hear on “every other bluegrass album”. There’s a great selection of traditional and well-crafted original songs. Their originals also promise to stand the test of time. “Walter and Alice”, tenderly penned by Nick Strachan and Sherry Philp has been a crowd favourite for a few years now. Well chosen as the title track, “Walter and Alice” gently brings to life the tragic impact Alzheimer’s has on relationships. Also penned by Strachan and Philp is “What Was I Drinking” which plays with the folly of poor choices in love.
There’s playfulness sprinkled all through this album, from Strachan’s guitar solos, to the “Reno and Smiley treatment” on “Maybe You Will Change Your Mind”. The band does a great job on the chorus, switching lead line-by-line (I must say that Sherry’s vocal flip on the line “someday you’ll find” is among my favourite moments in their live shows, and I was equally pleased with the recorded version.)
There are so many positives about this album, from the production of voices beautifully carved and out front, balanced and well played instrumental work (including some fun bass solos), to the matured lead vocals of Kevin Golka (as in “When I Get You Off My Mind” and “What Was I Drinking”) and Jonathan Ferrabee (as in “Don’t Ease Me In”). “I Wasted My Tears” (a song co-written by Dolly Parton, along with Bill Owens and Robert Owens) and “If it Hadn’t Been for You” are great examples of Sherry’s ability to draw your attention right away with her pure clear voice. You hear that again on “Maybe You Will Change Your Mind”, and “I Don’t Care”, which are also examples of the band’s great trio harmony.
The great surprise for this album is Jonathan Ferrabee’s rendition of “I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground”. I was moved by this song: the gentle approach and tone in Ferrabee’s voice, his phrasing, and Philp’s harmony, which leaves both voices carved nicely with just the right amount of blend, and Strachan’s guitar solo, which is appropriately light and melodic. Produced by Concession 23 and Jason Jaknunas, this is a job well done, and artistically packaged. Walter and Alice is a must have for any bluegrass collection, and a great choice for crossover listeners of any roots or folk music.
Pat Moore is the host of CKCU 93.1 FM’s “The Saturday Morning Show”