Formed in January 2008 as the happy result of an impromptu holiday jam session, Crowdis Bridge are a three piece bluegrass band who have succeeded in riding their cool cadence to recent national radio airplay on CBC Radio 2’s Drive and an upcoming showcase on the Discovery Stage during the 2010 East Coast Music Awards and Conference weekend.
Members Andrew Fedora, Jason Rudderham and Ben Furey describe the band’s style as “Bluegrass influenced folk” that combines the technical aspects inherent in bluegrass (flat-picking, multi instrumental solos, and vocal harmonies) with the lyrical clarity and quality found in timeless folk music.
The band’s formative influences run the gamut from metal to jazz, celtic, funk and electronica. Rudderham is an experienced bassist who co-founded funk rock band Bemus Tun, rising to regional popularity in the late ‘90s before touring the United States with New Glasgow-based Celtic-rock act MacKeel. Furey grew up collecting indie rock records and finished studying jazz at St. FX before spending time performing with alt-county group Red Barn and bluegrass influenced Dark Mountain. Fedora followed an enthusiasm for the blues to a fascination with various acoustic guitar finger-picking styles.
Oddly for a group of young traditional Cape Breton musicians, of the five stringed instruments considered to be part of the traditional bluegrass set-up—mandolin, fiddle, guitar, banjo and upright bass—Crowdis Bridge is missing only the fiddle. Like local culture bearers, however, the trio keeps with the qualities that make all trad music timeless: familiar lyrical themes, a focus on musicianship, and a joyous swing capable of filling dance floors despite the absence of drum samples and amplified bass lines.
Throughout the band’s debut album, the banjo and finger-picked guitar do-si-do around the mandolin while the double bass stands firmly in the corner calling the changes and ensuring that the pulse keeps the instrumental and vocal melodies in motion. Furey’s vocals are gentle, but solid, while Fedora takes on a more manufactured “Old Timer” voice that is well suited to the material that features him as lead. All three members deliver steady harmonies that temper and flesh out the percussive bluegrass sound.
The lyrical themes of the album are consistent with the folk tradition. Trails and cabins are mentioned specifically while frequent references to simple images from the natural world—trees, flowers, waves and shores—are used to beautiful effect. (Indeed, Fedora is a full time forestry professional.)
Left to my memories the afternoon showers,
that rested on flowers in the summertime there
The changing of seasons is mentioned to mark the passing of time between romantic encounters or given anthropomorphic characteristics to describe the ebb and flow of a long-term relationship:
There’s a cold breeze that rips the leaves from the trees,
still the autumn’s hard to please though the summer’s on its knees,
but then the warm spring air will make the winter’s heart to care,
for he knows that he’d despair if he couldn’t feel her there.
The songs’ protagonists use sunshine as a metaphor for good fortune and are invariably lamenting a dearth of it or expressing their gratitude for its presence. Themes of lost love are prevalent with many mentions of broken hearts, separation and isolation. The lyricists speak as though they are much older than their average 31 years, describing faded photographs and hearts in need of rest. Eternal wanderers, they are often on the move contemplating trips to Mexico or “riding that slow train.”
Not all is melancholy at Crowdis Bridge, however. “I Dare You (to make less sense)” is a lighthearted poke at the ups and downs of coping with a fickle lover while “Choosey Beggar” is a sharp parody of old time blues:
I got a twenty dollar banjo
The strings are made of twine
I got a leopard skin tuxedo
But I ain’t got no tie
And my shoes are made of leather
But they’re too small for my size
Ultimately, the lyrics relate the tales of people who value contentment and piece of mind over romance or adventure:
As I pack my bag to go, I remember something I’ve always known
The life that I have, it ain’t so bad
Catch Crowdis Bridge at Governor’s Pub on January 30th, and during ECMA weekend March 4th at Smooth Hermans and March 7th at the Capri Club and support young people who have finely honed a traditional craft to such an appealing edge, despite the lack of fortune and fame promised to rural dance bands in the twenty first century.