Announcing…April Verch’s Heartland Expedition
Geography has always transcended nationality. The earth seems to put its mark on what human beings create, whatever their rulers do and whatever borders they draw. The concept of ‘terroir’ is used by producers and harvesters of some of life’s finer things- wine, truffles, mushrooms- to express what the geology, geography and climate contribute. It applies to music as well, something Canadian fiddling champ April Verch has long known and now develops in a new project. Having explored the musical soil of her native Ottawa Valley, April now has expanded her creative vision to embrace the Appalachians and Quebec with a group of stellar collaborators. Drawing on the common origin of many of its inhabitants in the Celtic lands of Scotland, Ireland and Brittany, this tri national ensemble draws on a musical lexicon that has been used to create some of the most expressive traditional and contemporary music in North America.
Ms. Verch is what can be described as a ‘quintuple threat’, being adept as an instrumentalist, singer, dancer, composer and songwriter. Aficionados and critics can argue over which she does best; intelligent listeners of music just sit back and enjoy her many splendored abilities. She has won just about any fiddle contest worth winning, recorded a whole bunch of CDs and authored a couple of books of fiddle tunes. April has also become an accomplished songwriter. Just recently the title song of April’s latest recording- “That’s How We Run” was lauded by the music critic of Canada’s paper of record, The Globe and Mail. Robert Everett-Green called attention to the song as one of ‘four new songs worth a listen”- “Ontario fiddler and vocalist April Verch wrote a tune that sounds as old as the hills, with a metric hiccup as her bright voice climbs through the verse. But the dark undertone of this song feels current: the sounds of the past stained by the troubles of today.” A decade of tours has taken her to China, Australia, various European destinations and hundreds of North American locales. All this has earned April the sobriquet of “established artist”. Among other things, that means that you have the motivation, the credibility and the freedom to do new and interesting things.
April Verch’s new and interesting thing is to take her touring band- a tidy trio of April on violin, voice and feet, Clay Ross on guitar and Cody Walters on bass and banjo- and double it into a sextet. The featured guests are Riley Baugus on vocals and banjo, and two fellow fiddlers- Stephen “Sammy” Lind and André Brunet. All three are players of the first rank. Riley is one of the finest old time musicians alive. He learned at the feet of legendary fiddler and banjo player, Tommy Jarrell, and never looked back. He performed on the Allison Kraus/ Robert Plant “Raising Sand” and on Willie Nelson’s “Country Music”, both Grammy winners. He also teaches, builds banjos and does just about everything else associated with traditional music. “Sammy” is a founder of the Oregon based Foghorn Stringband, who describe themselves as the purveyors of “ass kicking redneck string band music”. He is equally at home working with old timey, bluegrass and Cajun bands- he’s in Joel Savoy’s Cajun Country Revival. Monsieur Brunet is Quebecois from the Montérégie region- that part of Quebec, south of the Saint Lawrence River, between Montreal and the US border- and spent 10 years with La Bottine Souriante- the gold standard of Quebecois traditional music. He is presently in De Temps Antan, one of Quebec’s most respected traditional music ensembles. He and April were two of the six fiddlers selected to represent the Canadian fiddle tradition to billions of viewers at the Opening Ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. It seemed reasonable to continue their collaboration.
It is not news that the Appalachian mountain range seems to leave its mark on the music the diverse inhabitants of its hills and valleys produce. This is the land that gave renowned English folklorist Cecil Sharp an abundance of traditional Anglo-Scottish ballads in the nineteen teens and where WSM began broadcasting the Grand Ole Opry a decade or so later- both key events in the evolution of folk based popular music. It is also the land that produced much of the raw material of what has been called the ‘folk revival’. April Verch‘s native Ottawa Valley, while not an organic part of the Appalachians, shares a very similar history and aesthetic. Like Appalachia the early white immigration came from Ireland, England and Scotland. Unlike Appalachia there was also the French fact and, later, Polish and German settlers who brought their own traditions to towns like Wilno. The ongoing preservation of fiddle tunes, dances, traditional ballads as well as contemporary songwriting is shared on both sides of what would become the border. Looking at a map of the Appalachian region, all 2400 kilometers of it, from Alabama through the north eastern United States, southern Quebec, New Brunswick and the west coast of Newfoundland, and adding the Ottawa Valley spur, you could make a pretty good argument that this is the richest vein of folk music and folk based popular music in North America. That is what April Verch thinks and she has decided to mine it for the hoard of rich musical possibilities it contains. The new project is going to turn heads and delight hearts.
Add three stellar collaborators to April’s trio and you have as talented, dynamic, creative (and a whole bunch of other adjectives) an ensemble as had ever trod the boards. They play -goodness how they play!- they sing and they dance. And what do they play, sing and dance? The music, songs and dances of Appalachia, Quebec and the Ottawa Valley. They play music that shares its origins in the creations of poor farmers, miners, lumber workers and other folks far from the centre of the artistic action, folks who created, out of their traditions and brains, some of the most passionate, sad, happy and enduring music ever heard. Many of the tunes share common origins in Europe that go back to the Middle Ages. The dancing ranges from the seated jigging that is unique to Quebec to April’s Ottawa Valley approach of dancing while she fiddles- something April is exceptionally good at. In Appalachia clog dancing is the thing and while not a big part of Riley’s repertoire, he says- “you kind of have to dance, at least a little bit… the dancing is a huge part of the music”. The songs range from traditional ballads to self penned numbers written by group members.
Given the deep roots in the tradition and their own creative abilities, this is an ensemble that is never going to have trouble finding interesting music to play. And playing is exactly what they want to do. This exceptional ensemble- April Verch’s Heartland Expedition – is ready! They are looking for audiences- festival audiences, concert audiences, all audiences who appreciate the finer things in life. If you are ready to go on a sonic expedition through the Appalachians and related ‘terroirs’, exploring the varied possibilities to be found, April Verch’s Heartland Expedition will take you there. Get on board!