The Strumbellas – My Father and the Hunter CD Review
by Samantha Wu
I’m not entirely unfamiliar with the music of The Strumbellas after having heard them perform with the Sunparlour Players back in December. Their sound is admittedly not something that I normally gravitate to, as the metalhead I claim to be. Though labels aside, I am a true fan of beautifully unique and interesting music and that is what The Strumbellas provide. Theirs is a sound that is haunting and forlorn with rhythms and lyrics that stick to you, evoking distant memories you never knew you had.
Bluegrass, country, folk - these are the standard terms often used to describe The Strumbellas. But what this Toronto-based septet offers up leaves the stereotypical twangy “cornstalks and overalls” impression often associated with these genres in the dust. With the release of their debut album My Father and the Hunter, The Strumbellas are set to showcase their music combining gentle southern tunes with that necessary catchy pop hook, selectively amped to reach stadium crowds and even small, intimate engagements. The music – some songs lively and danceable, others distinctly downbeat and lonesome, are paired with lyrics ranging from relationships with God, relationships between people and the relationship between life and death.
The Strumbellas are comprised of Simon Ward, (vocals and acoustic guitar), James Oliver (banjo, ukulele, piano and vocals), David Ritter (piano, organ, percussion and vocals), Jeremy Drury (drums and percussion), Isabel Ritchie (violin, viola, and vocals), Jon Hembrey (electric guitar and mandolin) and Darryl James (bass). Upon first look at the faces of this band, you can’t ignore that this is a fairly young set of musicians playing music reminiscent of what grandma used to cut a rug to. The Strumbellas, despite being Toronto-based, were conceived in Lindsay, Ontario where their grassroots origins run deep but their Toronto exposure draws in many an indie-rock element comingling to create something distinctly alt-country.
As I sit here, bobbing my head along to the track “Lakes”, I’m captured by the juxtaposition of the upbeat rhythm paired with the somber and melancholic lyrics “I miss those dreams, those ones we just to have, oh I miss my friends, oh I miss my dad, I don’t want to die but it’s everywhere I go.” Other noteworthy tracks include “Rhinestone” which starts out very simply with male/female vocals accompanied by a light guitar (“Want to get married in a shotgun chapel, dressed in rhinestones, my family there”) before quickly rocking out with large, big band appeal. “Underneath a Mountain” is a softer, more melodic track rich with acoustic guitar and lulling vocal harmonies.
While summing up my experience seeing The Strumbellas play with Sunparlour Players, I noted the rich diversity of the Toronto-based music scene. With the release of My Father and The Hunter, The Strumbellas have proven to be one of those hidden gems that can be found by exploring what home-grown talent has to offer.
The Strumbellas “My Father and the Hunter” track listing:
The Bird that Follows Me
I Just had a Baby
Left for Dead
Underneath a Mountain
Carry My Body