Reviews:: Grassmarket Waiting

There is something heart warming about the term family band. It conjures so many images and memories; a powerful female voice harmonizing with a grittier male counterpoint over fiddles, banjo and a plucked stand up bass. Normally those family bands are ones I stumble upon in old record bins, not the product of two young Capers and a girl from Northern Ontario.

Grassmarket, while definitely influenced by artists long since gone, writes songs that are purely their own. The music may pay homage to the days past, but the lyrics are portals into their lives. The EP opens with a beautiful banjo laden track, Easy Choice. Penelope Jackson takes the vocal lead as she ponders the choice between a new city with a new love and the town where she grew up, asking herself which is her real home now? Her voice is crystal clear and when the harmonies kick in you are taken to another time. Scott's plucked bass line and Dan's frantic banjo really compliment her lyrics about the affinity for the things she loves and the turmoil she faced moving from Ontario to Nova Scotia.

The band slows things down on Waiting, a song written as Penelope and Dan wait for the arrival of their new child. You can almost picture them lying on the couch, playing with her ever expanding belly as they sing to the baby. Sure they have concerns, but the joy of starting a family resonates throughout the summery song. Even the guitar solo they add seems to be an expression of joy.

Never Enough is a song about a man giving up his demons - drinking and drugs - for his true love. If you didn't know this band was so young, you'd think it was an old time folk song. The bass work on the track really keeps the song moving and lets the guitar jangle along finding interesting creases and crevasses in the song, but again the star of the show is the amazing harmonies. Grassmarket's harmonies are light and effortless, but somehow still manage to pack a big punch.

The EP takes a turn towards the South on bluegrass heavy When I Get Time and Appalachian folk instrumental The Caboose. The frantic banjo work on When I Get Time makes you want to dance around the room and the mandolin and acoustic guitar on The Caboose really mesh well. The brief retreat from the vocal harmonies really works well as an primer for the Cape Breton fiddle heavy Where Did Your Heart Go.

Country and folk is nothing without pining over lost loves, and Penelope voice sounds so pure that you wonder how any man could leave her. I like what the band did with the last two songs, because just as you are siding with Penelope the EP drifts into the final track, Life of Better Days, and it almost plays like an apology. Dan wishes he could have been a better man and that he could have changed to make things work. He wanted to, but couldn't and it's a great way to help the vocalists really find a home with the listeners.

This band isn't going to find a home with most of the indie brethren, but they have more talent than the majority of the dance-punking/post rocking outfits people flip their lids over. It's tough to want to blast the bluegrass folk tracks when winter gets it's chilling grip on you, but this EP is well worth a listen and will warm up nicely for you when the seasons change.

MP3:: Easy Choice

If you are heading to the amazing In the Dead of Winter festival in Halifax, make sure you take the time to see Grassmarket:
Feb. 1st/08 19:00 @ the Italian Cultural Centre

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