Hailing from Toronto, the Slocan Ramblers play their bluegrass close to the edge of country, pop, and rock, citing Jim Croce and Jerry Reed as influences and dangling a cover of Tom Petty’s “A Mind with a Heart of Its Own” as the first “single” on Up the Hill and Through the Fog. By now, they’ve shown how tightly they can play, and with the benefit of a pandemic year’s woodshedding, they’re proving how tightly they can write, too.
With IBMA’s 2020 Momentum award firmly behind them, the band’s songwriters—Frank Evans (banjo), Adrian Gross (mandolin), and Darryl Poulsen (guitar)—bring new strengths to this fourth album, making a clean break from their folk-trad past and establishing three distinctive voices to make the group greater than the sum of its parts. Teasing the conventions of bluegrass heartache, Evans keeps his tongue in cheek, enjoying the wordplay of kiss-offs like “Bring Me Down Low” and under-committed-love songs like “I Don’t Know.” Gross, who teaches music at Concordia University, weighs in with two of the album’s smartest, sharpest instrumentals, cleverly defying expectations on “Snow Owl” and “Harefoot’s Retreat.”
Holding them together, Poulsen contributes the tightest, hottest, foot-tappingest song of all, “You Said Goodbye,” which barely tops two-and-a-half minutes in its headlong rush to wrap up a failed romance in three chords and as few words as needed: “You said goodbye/ hung my head and cried/ when you said goodbye last night.” Playing a 2014 Collings D1A VN, Poulsen burns through the guitar solo at door-slamming speed, followed by hard-driving breaks from Evans and Gross to add an exclamation point to the band’s strongest album yet.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.