Hot on the heels of ten dates in Ireland Portland’s acclaimed “Ass Kickin’ Redneck Stringband” ferried over for the first of their two Scottish dates on this tour. Suitably limbered up The Foghorn Stringband proceeded to offer up a master class in old time music with songs and tunes dredged from the past and from across the USA. Fiddle tunes, Cajun waltzes, Appalachian ballads and bluegrass workouts all testified to the band’s collective force as they flipped from one to another deftly changing places around the microphone depending on who was leading. With four superb singers, each with their own distinctive style, there was a cornucopia of vocal delights and harmonies galore as they ranged from the high lonesome sound of The Carter Family, the goofiness of old time country and the plaintive yearnings of Acadian settlers.
There was fine picking and strumming with Nadine Landry on double bass providing a solid bedrock for Reeb William’s assured guitar while Stephen “Sammy” Lind excelled on fiddle and occasional banjo. Caleb Klauder played fiddle as well but for most of the night he handled his mandolin with a deftness and alacrity that was somewhat astonishing, bursts of notes spilling from him as he sang with a huge grin on his face. There was of course that choreography, unique (I think) to old time string bands where they participate in what amounts to a dance on stage with the vocalists and solo instrumentalists weaving in and out to offer the best amplification around the single microphone. It’s always a joy to watch and the Foghorn crew have it down to a T with Ms. Landry moving her bass with no discernible effort. In addition there is no better sound than when a good acoustic band is in full tilt, meshed in and tight and this was evident throughout the show but particularly on the outstanding version of Fall On My Knees.
There was a good deal of humour on stage despite the usual country tales of heartbreak. Their version of The Carter Family’s Charlie and Nellie, a tale of long ago love letters and let downs led to a discussion of how best to break up by email these days while Reeb’s rendition of the Stanley Brother’s Pretty Little Miss In the Garden caused Caleb to ask if it was the same couple. There were some spine tingling moments however with Reeb and Nadine offering an excellent a capella duet on What Will We Do.
Overall the band were in fine fettle but for a show that almost demands participation be it singing along, dancing or foot stomping the confines of the CCA were not too conducive. A black box of a room with fixed seating subdued the audience. Klauder’s entreatments to ask for requests were blanked with only the promoter’s request for New Shoes, a Klauder song that was sung in the same room some months ago by The Stray Birds coming to light. Nevertheless it was a fine show and proof that The Foghorn Stringband are prime purveyors of that old time Americana, a well we all should sup from from time to time.