Like many banjo acts, The Schomberg Fair grew from humble beginnings and traditional roots. Matt Bahen’s surgically repaired hands picked fire and he sang with fury as he searched for salvation. He was backed by Nathan Sidon’s baritone vocals and a compact, aggressive rhythm section.
A casual listener might have assumed the trio just swapped a stand-up for an electric bass and switched the turntable from 33 1/3 to 45 RPMs, but unlike so many other local bar bands fusing their songs with banjo, the trio wrote songs that were as punk rock as they were roots. There was no formula, just an appreciation of traditional imagery and an intensity that burned into your soul.
Over time, The Fair has gotten bolder, become less of a roots outfit and worked hard to find a unique sound. The latest EP, Providence is huge in sound and scope, with the three-piece exploring arrangements thickened with electric guitar riffs and enough distortion to shake the fillings from your teeth. Undoubtedly, the core of the band remains in tact; Bahen’s vocals, lightening quick picks and crashing percussion dominate the first two songs on the EP, and (though it is more controlled than ever before) Nathan’s vocals still add an ominous tone to the songs when needed, but the rest of the EP continues a shift in sound that was needed in terms of the band’s longevity.
The final three songs are slow burners, and even though The Fair was comfortable slowing things down, they continue to move the band further away from Gospel. “Don’t Forget Me” start with military drums but instead of a huge build thumping chorus, the band shows restraint and slowly morphs into a surprisingly heavy electric jam. “Black Crow River”, the band’s most adventurous song to date, ignores any of the trademark elements and finds the band getting even more comfortable with metal riffs.
But to be honest, it’s “The Fire The Flood” that marks the best path for the band to follow. The song still lets Matt and Nathan harmonize and the banjo work keeps the band rooted, but the mood is more severe. It’s more than another take on dark versus light or God versus the devil; the emotion and tone seems sinister and more threatening.
This EP might not be the same Schomberg Fair you remember, but to anyone that’s seen the band live and followed their arc, the seismic sonic shift seems completely natural. Providence (and its companion EP, Mercy), marks the end of a journey for the three Toronto residents and sets the tone for an LP that will ultimately define the band.
The band was gracious enough to let us premier “The Fire The Flood” today, and we think it’s some must hear stuff.
MP3:: The Schomberg Fair - The Fire The Flood