Album Review: April Verch – The Newpart – Traditional fiddle music for the toetapper in all of us
April Verch’s music shows that you don’t need to have lyrics to make a compelling and fun album. Verch’s traditional fiddle playing is exciting from start to finish on her robust new album, The Newpart. It’s the kind of songwriting that’ll get your toes tapping and might even draw you out on the barn floor for a dance. Seriously this is a charming album.
The opener “Belle Election” is exactly what you might expect on this type of album. It swings and sways across a delightful traditional song. It sounds like something that could have been written and performed in the 19th century.
The following “If You Hadn’t Gone Away” is a completely different sound. It sounds like a 1920s era song, complete with the overly theatrical vocal performance. And the fiddle is much less prominent, with the guitar playing lead and the vocals driving the song. But the fiddle, make no mistake, brings the soul of the song. It’s really sweet.
“Bring Your Clothes Back Home” is what folks in the business call the “single” from this album. It’s got a dash of crossover appeal because it straddles that careful line of traditional music and something with a little more swing, maybe even jazz. The vocal quality on this one sounds a little more like Sara Watkins than the more theatrical vocals on the previous track. It’s a quaint little ditty about getting back together with someone. Like great traditional music ought to, it dances politely around what is most assuredly a risque proposal.
Title track “The Newpart” is back to something from the 19th century. The guitar work on this one is really spectacular. The song itself rollicks and rises quite nicely. It’s got an active and imaginative fiddle melody. “Cruel Willie” has a nice banjo line for the opening that leads into a simple and easy-going track. It’s like a breath of fresh air on a warm summer afternoon, maybe on a porch with a glass of sweet tea. It’s that kind of refreshing.
“Gilchrist” is composed of literal toe tapping. It’s a tapdancing solo. The rhythm is fun and only hearing it rather than watching it creates a really unique sensation. It sets up nicely the western sound of “Montana Call,” a bit of a melancholic “song on the range.” It really harkens great images of the big sky country. Again the vocal reminds me of a show tune.
“Polksa from Kumla” has a different sort of flavor to it. The influence sounds like it might be non-traditional and more modern. The smoother lines roll into one another differently than the far more staccato stylings of dance music. This feels more like contemporary jazz and it makes me wonder what Verch could do with a full album of this more formal violin style.
“I heard the bluebirds sing” is exactly the kind of song you hope to get from a traditional fiddle player. It even uses duet vocals to create a different feeling than the rest of the album. The image of singing birds works well, especially for Verch’s vocal style. The song feels like something you’d hear up in the hills. It’s a bit more optimistic than a lot of the music in the style that it fits, but it does a nice job of preserving the sonic structure of traditional music. And again the guitar work is top notch. I could go for a full album of solo stuff from the acoustic guitarist, Hayes Griffin, on this album!
“Dry Bones” has an appropriate gospel feel. It uses similar duet vocals as the last track, but with a more traditional dance swing to it. Although it might be strange to doe-si-doe to a gospel tune, it’s just the right kind of swing that it would be pretty hard not to feel the spirit on this one. Then the final track on the album, “The Melody,” does something unexpected (sorry… spoiler?), it begins with an acapella vocal lead and a beautiful understated violin solo. It feels like it’s the raw, unfettered April Verch, being herself. It’s a wonderful ending to the album.
All told, this is a solid album for fans of traditional or roots country music. There are elements here for a wide variety of music fans. Folks who enjoy Americana, or in this case Canadiana, will find much to appreciate here. For me, the highlights are definitely Verch’s fiddle playing, Griffin’s guitar playing, and the overall familiar feeling of a style of music that reminds me of my own ancestors. That’s a pretty nice take for an impressively likeable album.