Coffee Creek is one of those albums you might find yourself returning to when the tired trappings of modern music demand something more honest and unaffected.
Authenticity is a hard commodity to come by, and in the case of most modern music, it’s forsaken altogether. In many instances, it’s the sad result of commercial consideration. Traditional music isn’t the most viable commodity in the marketplace, especially when it’s tied to a particular genre. Fortunately, that seems to be changing these days. For example, bluegrass once had a limited audience, but with the success of bands like Steep Canyon Rangers and others of their ilk, it’s been shown that even a sound that specific to Americana has an opportunity to attract notice, win Grammys and sell lots of records.
That’s a good thing of course, and offers ample reason why more bands are going back to their roots and realizing the rewards -- financial and otherwise -- that come along with it. Even a band that doesn’t hail from the American heartland can feel confident that they can make music without gimmickry or pretence and still attract a devoted following in their home environs.
In this case, the group in question is the Slocan Ramblers, a Canadian collective whose name sounds as authentic as the rustic roots music that’s emanated from their grooves. They don’t just adapt bluegrass to their mantra; they devote themselves to it entirely, with the result being that they sound so authentic, they could easily pass for an Appalachian ensemble circa the ‘30s or ‘40s. To achieve that goal they eschew most modern accoutrements in favor of banjos, guitars and mandolin, even to the point of integrating an ample number of instrumentals into their musical mix. Indeed, their latest effort, Coffee Creek, not only boasts its share of cover songs (Roy Acuff’s “Streamline Cannonball”, Alton Delmore’s “Mississippi Shore”, Woody Guthrie’s “Pastures of Plenty”) and traditional tunes (“Groundhog” “Rambling Sailor”) but also well-etched originals (“Coffee Creek”, “Call Me Long Gone”, Galilee”) that sound like they were hewn in the same area of the heartland. In fact, it’s hard to tell what came from the pens of the band members and what was borrowed from other sources. That again is a tribute to their authenticity and their clear commitment to purpose.
Still, none of this would matter if the Slocans weren’t up to the task. Happily, they are. Their drive and determination steer these tracks in an inspired way, making even the classic songs sound as if it was being presented for the first time. It’s unpretentious to be sure, but it’s also riveting to the point where it’s hard to sit still. This is bluegrass the way it was meant to be played, with energy, exhilaration and commitment.
Ultimately this Canadian combo accomplishes all they’ve set out to do, and while they don’t break any boundaries necessarily, they prove their mettle regardless. Coffee Creek is one of those albums you might find yourself returning to when the tired trappings of modern music demand something more honest and unaffected. When it gets to that point, let Coffee Creek revive you.