I’ll confess: I’m predisposed to John Showman’s fiddle playing. I first encountered this McGill-trained violinist in the mid-1990s, when he was touring Canada with the Celtic/Balkan/folk trio Nobody You Know, and although the band as a whole was great it was Showman’s musicianship that stood out. It seemed like he was going places, and now I’d say he’s arrived.
New Country Rehab, led by Showman’s vocals and string prowess, is a four-piece Toronto-based band rounded out by James Robertson on guitar, Ben Whiteley on bass, and Roman Tome on drums. If you’re familiar with the folk scene in Canada you may perk up at the name Whiteley, and you’d be right to in this case. Ben, in addition to being the son of Canadian folk legend Ken Whiteley, has numerous credits to his own name as the producer of artists from Raffi to John Hammond, Jr.
So this band has credibility, but what about the music? Well, it’s safe to say it doesn’t disappoint. From the opening notes of “Empty Room Blues” the feeling is one of anticipation. There’s a coiled energy in the sustained chords under Showman’s vocals, and a sense that once that energy is released, it won’t let up until the last song dies away. These players all definitely have chops, but they hold their cards, and their virtuosity is never gratuitous. They’d rather let grooves unfold in a decidedly unfolky way (as in the loping rhythms of “Back in Time” and the heavy backbeat of “Lost Highway”) in tunes that nonetheless sound entirely appropriate to the tradition.
The weakest track is probably at the album’s midpoint. Perhaps I’m just not a fan of the surf-blues vibe of “Rollin’,” but the momentum seems to drop a bit here, and the tremolos and repeated unison figures kind of get on my nerves. But don’t let that stop you from picking up this album. Every tune on it is solid in its own way, and I guarantee you’ll be chair-dancing from the first minutes.
Take a listen to this freight-train of a tune, the driving “Lizzy Dying of a Broken Heart.”
Ghost of Your Charms – New Country Rehab is available on iTunes.
These players all definitely have chops, but they hold their cards, and their virtuosity is never gratuitous.