Hearth Music: Songs We Can’t Stop Listening To
It’s been a while since our last installment of “Songs We Can’t Stop Listening To!” Sorry about that! Here are some of the songs we’ve got stuck in our heads the past month. We’ve been on a real old-time fiddle kick recently, so these songs come out of that long-time interest. Enjoy!
April Verch: “Jim Shank/Ti-Jacques Jarret”
I love old-time fiddling and have dabbled for a few years in playing old-time fiddle. But since I come from a background in Irish music, I’m always accused by real old-time fiddles of having a “Celtic feel” to my music. On her new album, That’s How We Run, the great Canadian Celtic fiddler April Verch turns this influence to her advantage, holding forth on a host of old-time tunes and unabashedly dropping in the bouncy rhythms and complex notesmanship of her native Ottawa Valley fiddle traditions. Some of the best music is made by artists pushing themselves out of their genres and experimenting with other traditions, and this is certainly the case here. The tune “Jim Shank” is one of my favorite old-time tunes, the kind of tune you can play for about an hour without getting tired of it. April follows it with a tune of her own composition, “Ti-Jacques Jarret”, written presumably in the Ottawa Valley style. On this album, April’s joined by the cream of the crop of American old-time players: Rayna Gellert, Riley Baugus, Dirk Powell, Bobby Hicks (!), Bob Carlin, and more. DANG!
Journal Register News: CD Review
Sean Hickey – October 4, 2011
April Verch is known for being one of the world’s finest fiddlers and performers of Canadian traditional music. On this recording, she digs deep into the heart of traditional music and melds influences from her native Ottawa Valley with those of the Appalachian mountains.
Never one to be pigeon-holed by one, single style, Verch jumps all over the North American map here delivering the Southern blues of the title track along with old-time American reels and Canadians hops. She is equally at home singing the Canadian classic “Moonshine Mac” as she is putting her own spin on traditional favorites like “Lazy John,” “Five Miles from Town,” and “Ducks on the Millpond.” She even throws in a great cover of the Kasey Chambers tune “This Flower” and totally makes it her own. But it’s the songs that were penned by Verch herself like “Worth the Wait” and “Guide Me Home” that really show her overall talent.
She does a fine job here of mixing in other styles such as funk, jazz, and Eastern European motifs in her fine bluegrass fiddling, but even traditionalists will find much to admire in the mix of folk and original tunes on this disc.
Inside World Music: CD Review
Matthew Forss – September 28, 2011
Already known amongst Canadians, April Verch is Ottawa Valley’s shining star on the fiddle. Now, a regular fixture on the U.S. touring circuit, April has made a name for her fiddling away and proclaiming the historical and original tunes of Canada for most of her life. The last few recordings touched on U.S. folk tunes and traditions, which are relatively connected with their northern kin of Canada. Nevertheless, April presents us with seventeen delicious tracks of original and traditional tunes. Some are completely instrumental, incorporating the fiddle, banjo, bass, guitar, accordion, and pedal steel, while others possess April’s sweet and tender vocal abilities. Though, Riley Baugus adds vocals to “Lazy John.” Each track is upbeat and spritely. Anyone with an interest in fiddle tunes, bluegrass, Americana, and folk music should add April Verch to their collection.
Bluegrass Today.com – An Outbreak of Bluegrass
David Morris – September 29, 2011
A funny thing happened during Wednesday night’s showcases at IBMA’s World of Bluegrass – some bluegrass broke out. Unfortunately, not a lot of folks witnessed it; the crowd was the smallest of the week.
But those who stuck with the program were rewarded with a solid set of showcases that encapsulated the past, present and future of the music. (I’ll focus here on two up-and-coming bands and an established European act, while my colleague Cliff Abbott will write about three other bands that graced the ballroom stage).
April Verch is one of those young pickers who can drive away any angst you might feel about the future of bluegrass. As she danced her way onto the stage, some folks in the crowd no doubt resigned themselves to another performance on the fringes.
But once the two-time Canadian champion started fiddling, all of the hallmarks of great bluegrass were there – a Flatt and Scruggs tune (Waiting to Hear You Call Me Darlin’), tight three-part harmonies around a single microphone, a couple of fiddle tunes and some scorching instrumental work by April, Cody Walters (who traded off between banjo and upright bass) and Clay Ross (guitar).
Most of the band’s showcase songs were from April’s CD, That’s How We Run, which features some of the year’s hottest fiddling. But the CD masks one thing that smacks live audiences right in the face – April’s unflagging energy. Whether fiddling or dancing, she’s fully engaged.
“We love to do a lot of things and bluegrass is one of our favorites,” April said at one point. But even when the April Verch Band strayed to some of those other “things” – step dancing or a new song with a classic country feel – the pickers remained firmly in the bluegrass camp to the end.
And what an end it was. April’s tribute to John Hartford, A Riverboat’s Gone, transitioned into a Hartford tune with such intense fiddle licks that April’s bow was shedding hair.
Then, April left the stage the same way she had entered – dancing. The crowd, its doubts dispelled, responded with a standing ovation.
Penguin Eggs Magazine, Fall 2011, Issue No. 51
Mike Sadava – September 2011
April Verch has taken a trip down the road of old-time music, but she’s still a Valley girl at heart. Ottawa Valley, that is.
Although she has ventured into other forms of music, such as bluegrass, Verch is largely known for her Ottawa Valley style of fiddling. That unique blend of Irish, Scottish, Quebecois and even a little eastern European has defined Verch, who lives in the tiny community of Rankin, ON, about an hour west of Ottawa.
Her latest offering, That’s How We Run, has a very healthy dose of traditional American old-time tunes and originals in that style, with a lot of clawhammer banjo to back her up. Along with her longtime band of Cody Walters and Clay Ross, Verch has recruited some of the top players in the genre, including Dirk Powell.
In a telephone interview from Boston, where she was about to teach at a fiddle camp, Verch says she has loved old-time for a long time, but only now does she feel capable of recording it. At first, while learning the bowing technique, she tried to play it as if she grew up with it. Now she’s able to put herself into the music.
“When I play it (old-time) I still want it to go through the Ottawa Valley filter, so it sounds like me,” she explains.
She’s also lost the fear that people will perceive that she has forsaken her Ottawa Valley roots. “I’m older (an ancient 33) and I know that people won’t think that. I have enough of a history and a fan base that people will know where I’m coming from.”
For playing old-time Verch has had to adjust her technique to be a bit less clean, a little more pulsing and with more drone notes from cross-tuning her fiddle, but she still has that Ottawa Valley snap. And, thankfully, she hasn’t adopted an Appalachian accent in her vocals, but sings in her usual crystal-clear central Canadian voice.
Getting Dirk Powell on this disc happened by accident. Verch and her band were on a dinner break while recording in Asheville, NC, when they saw a newspaper ad that Powell and Ryley Baugus were playing a gig in the same city. They had met six years earlier when Powell produced one of Verch’s discs and they had become good friends. Verch called Powell, and Powell and Baugus came down to the studio. “We did three tunes with them because they had an hour and a half.”
Verch, who spends 90 per cent of her touring time in the U. S. is still spreading the good word about the rich musical tradition coming from her Ottawa Valley home. The new disc even includes a singalong ditty written by the legendary Mac Beattie.
Powell, for one, has become interested in that tradition, and has expressed a desire to explore the Pembroke area and its regional music. Perhaps the day will come, thanks to Verch, when you can travel to West Virginia and hear the odd, “G’day, I’m from the Valley.”
Fervor Coulee – roots music opinion
Donald Teplyske – September 19, 2011
A native of the Ottawa Valley, April Verch’s name has been so prominent within the roots music community for the past decade and a half that it seems impossible that she is only in her early 30s. A veteran of the road, Verch’s eighth album is of the quality that causes the phrase tour de force to come to mind.
Having flirted with various music styles over the years, and mastering them all, on That’s How We Run Verch deeply delves into old-time Appalachian traditions. With her roots in the foot-stompin’ traditions of community dances, Verch brings the vitality of live performance to this recording.
Comprised of a succession of ascending notes, the title track is a plaintive cry for understanding within a fracturing relationship. Traditional numbers comprise a goodly chunk of the album with Kasey Chambers’ “This Flower” providing a contemporary interlude. One of the album’s most memorable pieces, “This Flower” is dually highlighted by Verch’s honest vocal interpretation and Clay Ross’s guitar.
As well, Verch contributes half a dozen originals. Any concern over one fiddle tune blending with those before it are put asunder early. While there is certainly no shortage of instrumentals included, each is lent distinction by featuring a variety of instrumental lineups, tempos, and styles. Especially impressive are Cody Walters’ clawhammer parts, prominent on the album’s first three tracks and –in large measure- establishing the album’s tone.
Riley Baugus provides a masculine interlude on “Lazy John” while Verch takes several leads. Band members Ross and Walters share lead turns with Verch on the campfire-y “Moonshine Mac.” Verch has a sweet voice, not as emotive say as Alison Krauss but more chipper and certainly enjoyable.
Verch successfully mixes in a mainstream (circa 1955) old-time country vibe with renditions of “I’m Waiting to Hear You Call Me Darlin’” (a bluegrass standard from the Flatt & Scruggs repertoire) and “Still Trying,” an original song that should have been recorded by Kitty Wells.
Verch and her touring band- Walters and Ross- provide the instrumental core augmented by the likes of Baugus, Bob Carlin, Chris Sharp, and Dirk Powell here and there.
Generously timed at almost 57 minutes, That’s How We Run is much more than a fiddler’s latest project. It is one of the most impressive roots music albums I’ve heard this year.
Globe and Mail – Four new songs worth a listen
Robert Everett-Green – September 12, 2011
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.
Fair Lawn Patch – concert review
Don Smith – September 11, 2011
Read a concert review of the April Verch Band’s performance for the Hurdy Gurdy Folk Club in Fair Lawn, NJ right here.
thewholenote.com – Discoveries / Records Reviewed
David Olds – September 1, 2011
I was so pleased to receive, That’s How We Run, the latest from Ottawa Valley fiddler extraordinaire April Verch (Slab Town Records STRf I-01 www.aprilverch,com).
Verch, the first woman in his- tory to win both of Canada’s most prestigious fiddle championships, the Grand Masters and Canadian Open, is renowned as a performer of traditional Canadian music.
She has branched out in this latest release which was recorded in North Carolina and mastered in Colorado and here embraces the musical traditions of our neighbour to the south. Although there are several traditional otd-timey tunes and such writers as Lester Flatt are represented, most of the 17 tracks were composed by April Verch in the styles of Appalachia, the Ozarks, the Mid-Western States and Louisiana. Her scratchy descant vocals are particularly well suited to the medium and the claw-hammer banjo accom- paniment on many songs is very effective. There’s plenty to tap your toes to too, not to mention the stellar fiddling!
Summer 2011 Re-cap
Craig Shelburne – CMT.com, September 7, 2011
Read the article here and pay special attention to paragraphs 10/11! ;)
5th gives you 20 on latest “Roots & Rhythms”
Amy Maestas – The Durango Herald, Tuesday, August 23, 2011
KSUT Public Radio has released its fifth “Roots & Rhythms” CD, and like the last four past years, this compilation of in- studio performances is an eclectic treasure…
Take, for example, April Verch, who on track 7 plays “A Riverboat’s Gone/Bumblebee in a Jug.” The Canadian fiddler is a vibrant young musician, holding steadfastly to her roots in the northern part of her native country. But listeners don’t need to pay any mind to where she hails from because this all-instrumental track could just as easily be coming from Appalachia. Verch can blend tradition and region well with her elegant fiddle phrasing. It’s a standout track on the CD. The song builds tempo as it goes along, rising to a frenetic pace at the end that I’m certain will have many listeners quickly pressing the rewind button. (Some of you might have been impressed by Verch pre-KSUT CD because she played at the 2010 Olympics opening ceremonies in Canada.)
Read the whole Durango Herald review.
John Gavin – Atlantic Seabreeze, August 7, 2011
Internationally renowned Canadian fiddler, singer, songwriter and stepdancer from the Otawa valley, APRIL VERCH has just released her eighth CD entitled, THAT’S HOW WE RUN in June 2011.
On this CD she combines her native Otawa Valley roots with traditional Southern sounds and earthy vocal aesthetics. The result is a dynamic repertoire of music drawn from various roots and infused with originality.
The year long promotional tour in support of this release kicked off in July taking in some of the most sought after venues. Her talent, energy, showmanship and versatility is what makes her a perfect fit at any venue and for any audience. The CD explores the Southern Mountain traditions known as old time music, but always brings her Northern roots with her. Plucky, straight-backed Canadian tunes fit so snugly beside ancient Appalachian airs that you’d think they’d been neighbours for centuries.
Just a great listening CD and Atlantic Seabreeze gives this CD top ratings on its rating list.
Verch draws a crowd on busy evening
Andrew Bennett – Rossland News, April 20, 2011
Despite a lot of competition for places to be and people to see on Saturday night, fiddler April Verch and her band held a large crowd at the Miners’ Hall rapt with stunning displays of musicianship, dancing, and their good sense of down-home humour.
“There might be a roller derby, there might be fight night down the road, but it’s Ottawa Valley fiddle night here,” Verch said as she, Cody Walters on bass, and Clay Ross on guitar swung into their first number.
Rossland is the last stop on this tour and the last time the band will play in B.C. until November. “We’ve saved the best for last,” Verch said. “And today we’re in his home land,” she said, nodding towards Ross.
A fabulous multi-instrumentalist, Ross didn’t miss a beat, figuratively or literally: “I like it here in Ross Land,” he grinned. “Tomorrow when I wake up, I’m going to go down and get my photo taken in front of Ross Vegas.”
“They have T-shirts!” yelled a member of the audience. “T-shirts?” Ross said, “Well, I’m going to have to get my dad and my brother one.”
“[Rossland] really reminds me of home,” he said later, “not where i’m currently living in New York city, but the home I’m from in South Carolina. I grew up right in the foothills of Appalachia.”
He was introducing a set of Appalachian banjo-fiddle duets, with Kansas native Walters on clawhammer banjo. Included in the set was a piece Walters wrote in the old time hill style called Jimmy got a Lizard.
“Jimmy was a cat,” Walters explained. “The lizard is no longer with us.”
This is the April Verch Band’s fourth tour of B.C. since the beginning of January. “We’ve seen a lot of your province,” said Verch, a native of Pembroke, Ont., whose father was an old country guitrist and singer in the style of Hank Williams.
“When we’re in one place people are always asking us, Where are you going next?” she laughed. “And then they tell us, Oh, you’re going to love it there! Then we get to the next town and the same thing happens. Basically it’s just because British Columbia rocks!”
And the April Verch Band rocks too. Verch, for example, is not only a world-class fiddler in many styles, but also sings rich melodies and is a wickedly fast step dancer.
She explained that the Ottawa Valley style of dance was born in logging camps inhabited by Irish, Scots, French, Germans, and Poles, “so it’s a mixture. A little bit of tap dancing, a little bit of clogging, some Irish hard shoe, some French Canadian, all rolled into one.”
She had shared some of her fiddling skills in an afternoon workshop attended by about ten local fiddlers, and she appealed to them again in the concert, letting them in on “cross-tunings” she used, such as E-A-D-A and D-A-D-A instead of the usual E-A-D-G. The tunings create new overtones, drones, and double stops, making “the fiddle ring in a different way,” Verch explained.
The range of styles the band performed wasn’t just technical showmanship, but an evocative experience. Introducing one of the band’s compositions, Walters recalled a 40-acre farm in Virginia that the band travels to every June for a fiddle camp.
“Everything’s green, it smells good, you can see the stars at night, there’s fireflies,” he said, “That’s what this song is for us, we get to go there in our minds for a four minute vacation.”
But technical feats are fun too. Ross wowed the crowd with his mastery of the Kashakas, an African instrument that might be mistaken for a toy — two shaker-balls connected by a string — if it weren’t played with such dexterity as Ross displayed.
He has combined bluegrass and Brazilian rhythms in his own CD, Matuto — Brazilian slang for country bumpkin. Verch elucidated, “picture having Carnival in the Appalachian mountains.”
Walters also has gigs on the side, including a new CD, Strung, released with Verch, Scottish master guitarist Tony McManus, and Doug Cox on Dobro. It “leans towards the Celtic side,” Verch said.
With some 250 gigs per year as the April Verch Band, it’s hard to know how they fit in more on the side.
“We’re on the road a lot,” Ross said. And now they’re in the air too, having departed Rossland for Kelowna, and Kelowna for China for a month of music there.
“It’s a great way to end this tour,” Verch said about playing for the receptive Rossland audience. In closing, she added her thanks to the Rossland Council for Arts and Culture “for everything they do in support of live music, the time and effort they put in.”
Journal Star – Lincoln, NE
BY John Cutler, Wednesday March 30, 2011
April Verch may not be the first name in your phone contacts. But after her engaging performance at the Lied Center for Performing Arts, it may be a name many patrons will remember for some time to come.
Verch brought her talents and those of her two band members, bassist Cody Walters and Clay Ross on guitar, for Wednesday’s event.
The Canadian-born fiddler does several musical things. Her step-dance style bridges cultures. Her clear soprano voice sounds like a mix of a young Olivia Newton-John and a younger Dolly Parton. Add to that her Canadian Grand Masters Fiddle Championship, and Verch’s image smacks of eclecticism.
But the crowd of 1,000 at the Lied Center seemed skeptical. Who was this person, and who were her two band members? Verch’s warm, personal approach cast off the questions quickly.
The group’s playing of traditional bluegrass-country music pleased patrons. Verch’s own compositions were also well received, with her “Independence, Missouri” drawing heavy applause.
The step-dance routines were perhaps the biggest crowd-pleasers. The “Reels Tadoussac e Lindbergh” was traditional in nature and an excellent venue for Verch to show off the reason she won those medals.
“Where I come from in the Ottawa valley, step-dancing is a little bit Irish-Scotch-French-Scottish-Polish,” Verch mused. The crowd laughed.
But the laughter turned into heavy applause as Verch fiddled and danced a reel at speeds approaching undanceable. Never missing a beat, Verch and her band drew the dance to a commanding ending that inspired raves.
When the show was over, the Lied crowd stood and cheered, convinced of the amazing maturity of dancer-fiddler-singer April Verch and the gifts of her talented band. The musicians mirrored that feeling in an encore.
April Verch Band Exceeds Expecations in Burns Lake
What follows is a letter sent to Near North Music by John and Sandra Barth, BCTC Members and presenters in Burns Lake, BC.
January 25, 2011
Thank you again for making the trip, on ‘dicey’ roads, to Burns Lake last night for the performance by April Verch and her band. Now that the dust has settled a bit, and we’re getting a chance to catch our breath, we thought you’d appreciate some reflections on the performance.
As you were no doubt able to judge from the electric atmosphere in the church, and by the really genuine standing ovation after her last number, April and her band were a great hit with our audience. We had the best house of the 10/11 season to date: 280 patrons, including the largest number of ‘Arts 4 Youth’ guests – young people attending the show with tickets donated by local employers and service organizations. Many of these young people were fiddle players themselves, and they seemed to have a special connection with April. She herself commented to us on the large number of young people who attended the show: “definitely not something we see everywhere we go”, as she put it. And we sold almost $1,000 worth of CD’s and books last night – “by far the best result on this tour so far”, April said.
The audience ‘buzz’ during and after the performance, including today, as we made our rounds of the community, has been for the most part strong and positive. Audience members are commenting on April’s extraordinary energy, on the variety of music performed by her and the band, and by the great skill of her accompanists, Cody and Clay. Several folks we talked to last night and today have called this “the best show to date”. One discerning audience member told us: “You know this is not my favorite style of music. But I admire virtuosity. She is an amazing musician, singer and dancer, and the band was really entertaining. I really enjoyed the show.” Another audience member told us this afternoon: “I couldn’t go to sleep for a couple of hours after the show, I was so excited. How are you ever going to top this show?” Another patron told us: “The roads were so bad, my husband and I were thinking of not going at all. But we decided to go to the show, and I told him: ‘If the roads look bad, we can go home early.’ But after the first or second number, I KNEW we were going to stay right to the end. And … I think I lost a couple of pounds on my butt, I danced and jumped around so much, right there in the pew!” And finally, one of our strong corporate supporters met us in his store today and said: “Great show. You guys sure know how to pick ‘em!”
As presenters, we’d also like to comment on April’s generosity and intuition as a performer. She spent all of the intermission time signing CD’s and talking to audience members – and in our experience it is VERY unusual for a performer to come out and meet audience members at intermission. After the show she and the band members waited until they had talked to the very last patron before they started to pack up their gear and change for the road. And April was kind and thoughtful enough to mention from the stage, and to send out a song to, “a new friend”: a young man from Burns Lake who had performed as a First Nations dancer in the Opening Ceremonies of the Winter Olympics. He had been waiting for months to attend this show, and to meet a fellow Opening Ceremonies performer. This was a very great moment for that young man – and for our audience.
Then, today … the school show at Francois Lake School. We saw a different side of April, Cody and Clay at the school, as they talked to kids, showed off their instruments, took questions and entertained primary and intermediate kids. As parents, grandparents and teachers, we can tell you confidently: the kids WERE entertained! They clapped (even the older kids!) and laughed and bounced around and cheered. The teachers and principals were very pleased. And one intermediate girl came up to us after the school show and said: “Thank you so much for bringing her to our school! It was great!”
So, all in all, Frank – a grand slam home run! We knew the evening show would be very good, and we were confident our audience would like April and the Band. But the show, and our audience’s – and the students’ – reactions, have exceeded even our high expectations. Thanks so much for helping to make it all happen – and for making the time to share the evening with us. Best wishes to you and April and the Band for the rest of the tour, and for many tours to come.
Cheers and best wishes!
John and Sandra for the LDAC in Burns Lake