It seems that the idea was to take five well-known old-timey musicians and stick them in a cabin in the Canadian wilderness in the middle of winter where the only way to keep warm was to play their instruments very fast. Actually, I’m probably making it sound much worse than it was and I’m sure it was all going splendidly until the power went out. But that’s how fiddler John Showman got together with Adrian Gross on mandolin, guitarist Mark Killanski, bassist Sam Allison and Chris Coole on banjo and how Adeline came to be recorded.
There are fifteen tracks here, mostly old-time old-timey tunes, and it may be a bit specialist for the casual listener. I’m not an expert and so the only source I recognise is Bill Monroe. That said, there are some damn fine tunes here. The opener, ‘Evening Prayer Blues’, sounds rather as though the players were feeling around what they were doing rather than going at it with gusto but by the time we get down to track five, ‘Katydid’, they are really rocking and you can begin to pick out little tricks, particularly from Showman. It’s clear that all five are having a whale of a time.
The tunes were mostly written for fiddle and so it’s Showman who takes the lion’s share of the lead time. The recording is well balanced, though, and it’s easy to follow Allison’s bass lines – something I always listen for in live shows, particularly when brass is involved. But I digress. My top tracks are ‘Battle Of Cedar Creek’ which starts out like the opening theme of a western movie and, in complete contrast, the funky ‘Red Prairie Down’ which follows it. Allison plays bass harmonica on this one.
The only new tune is Chris Coole’s ‘Paul David’ and he just about manages to hold the fiddle at bay. He tries to do the same thing on ‘Old Melinda’ but Showman is too strong for him this time. ‘Whitehorse Breakdown’, another Bill Monroe tune, is an absolute cracker and so is ‘There’s A Gal Down The Road Somewhere’ – a title edited in line with modern sensibilities – by Eck Robertson, who is perhaps better known for ‘The Brilliancy Medley’. The title track, ‘Adeline’, closes the set in a rather more laid-back fashion.
As I said, Adeline is probably an album for the specialists, particularly as the players haven’t picked the best known tunes – certainly not on this side of the pond – but you do have five of the finest old-timey musicians playing together, some coming together for the first time, and that’s worth the price of a ticket.
Artists’ website (more or less): www.johnshowman.com
‘Adeline’ – the promo: