Two guitars on a stand, a three-quarter upright bass lying on its side, a mic’d small kick drum, a few percussion instruments, and a solitary silver standard compressor mic in the center of it all, laid in waiting for three Ottawa musicians to take the stage at Irene’s Pub on Bank St. Saturday night.
Ally Snedker (vocals/percussion), Peter Klaassen (bass/guitar/vocals), and Jensen Grant (vocals/guitar), make up the trio known as Old Man Grant, described on their Facebook page as “Thunder and spit and harmonious clatter”. During their performance of less than an hour, they would lead this packed house on a pied piper trip of hand-clapping, foot-stomping, and high-speed jigging.
The three gathered around a single mic and sang a series of original material, most of which was taken from their eponymous debut CD, which was released in May earlier this year. They led us on a genre-hopping melange of bluegrass, folk, blues, vaudeville 20’s jazz, rockabilly country, Dixieland, and more, that pulsed with energy. Add to that their rich three-part vocal harmonies, and song material that ranged from general whiskey-swilling to positive and fun themes of life and love.
Right from the first note, it was impossible to sit still. I loved the quick-paced country/blues wild west energy of “Crazy”, which featured Jensen’s multi-tasking abilities on lead vocals, guitar, and kick drum. His big gravelly voice gave the song a great rough-edged power that provided the main vein in all their material. Their version of MD3‘s, “Gracefully Face Down” had us finger-snapping to its catchy Tennessee bluegrass beat, as the dance floor began to fill. Both Ally and Peter shone, as they moved in with their precision harmonies, call/answer exchanges, counterpoint melodies, and vocal crescendos that added a grandness of texture to everything.
Peter showed his bass dexterity as he shredded up and down the neck during his solo in the band’s rendition of Ray Charles’ “I Don’t Need No Doctor”, which grooved with jazzy R&B energy. Ally’s warm vocal resonance would take front and center on a few, including their front porch blues fusion of “Insane”, from their current album.
“Devil Take Me” was soaked in gospel/blues two-stepping goodness. I loved its sinful tale of lust and human weakness, wrapped inside the song’s minor-chorded darkness. Others played were the result of time spent in the creative throes of songwriting while at an aunt’s cottage, and during their recent tour to eastern Canada. The crowd went from shindigging to sitting cross-legged on the dance floor for some of the quieter songs, one of which was filled with a beautiful fingerpicking melody that had an almost Blind Faith quality to it. Their music displayed a variety of different genres, tempo and rhythm changes, and vocal dynamics that supremely entertained the crowd, and their stage interaction was a delight to watch.
When I spoke with Jensen briefly before the show, I was surprised to find the band had only been together a short time. “We’re inspired by Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, seventies music, blues… all kinds of stuff. We’re putting more and more variety into our music and never want to limit ourselves… always challenging ourselves to just keep writing.” Another product that came out of their eastern Canada road experience came with, “Not Too Long From Now”, a song that filled the room with its uplifting message of maximizing the time we all have to live. Its infectious hand-clapping melody had the audience on their feet, and the words offered its prescription of one of the primal joys in life:
“Dance to forget where you’re goin’ –
Dance to forget where you’ve been –
Dance to remember the earth beneath your feet –
Dance to feel this moment that you’re in.”