THE BILLS – Trail of Tales (Borealis BCD239)

Trail Of TalesThey’ve been knocking round for twenty years, releasing their debut album at the start of the century, Trail Of Tales marking the Canadian quintet’s fifth excursion into folk and bluegrass territory.

Lining up as Marc Atkinson on mandolin and guitar, Adrian Dolan on fiddle, accordion and piano, guitarist Chris Frye, Scott White on upright bass and Richard Moody handling violin, mandolin and viola, with all of them contributing vocals and material, it’s a lively and upbeat set, kicking off with the strummed chug of ‘Wonders I’ve Seen’’s call to ensure the planet survives for other generations to enjoy its beauty. A similar theme of keeping the line going also informs the fiddle-led title track before Moody whistles his way into the jaunty rolling New Orleans tinted ‘Happy Be’, which, basically, is all about easing back and soaking up the world as it goes by. They get a tad funky with ‘Jungle Doctor’, another song about appreciating the womders around you, leading in turn to the bass, mandolin and twin violin driven chamber styled instrumental lament, ‘Wonder’. It’s the first of four instrumentals, second up being the buoyant ‘Pebble Beach’, while, sandwiched in-between, the positivity continues with the call to dance that is thigh-slapping swing ‘Hittin’ The Do’.

The falsetto sung ‘She Went Up’, one of the few songs to cast a cloud over the general sunny disposition, is also one of the less successful tracks, even if it does showcase the chamber music element of their string work. ‘Forgotten Beech Groove’ picks things back up with its roots-rock fiddle backed, mid-tempo march beat, though I’d have liked it to have rounded things off with an a capella chorus. The third instrumental, a Celtic-tinged air, ‘West Bay Crossing’ complements the violin and mandolin with Dolan’s accordion, before, introduced with Moody’s mandolin, Beatles influences make themselves felt on the self-explanatory conservationist-themed ‘Lullaby For Elephants’.

The album heads into its final stretch with the a capalla intro to the rousing bluesy rock shaded stomp of ‘What Trouble Is’, the album’s most overtly political number in addressing the refugee crisis before returning the pervasive environmental theme with the unaccompanied, four part harmony ‘When The Last Leaf Falls’. Again showcasing mandolin and strings, the last of the instrumentals brings down the curtain with Moody’s ‘Mando Coloured Glasses’, a reflective number that draws influences from both Eastern Europe and Andalucia.

After all these years, you get the sense they could play this in their sleep, their appeal and strength is they never sound as if they are.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website:

‘Trail Of Tales’ – official video: