When Cape Breton fiddler Colin Grant first got together with Jason Roach (piano), Darren McMullen (mandolin, guitar, banjo, flute), Donnie Calabrese (bass), and Colin “Merlin” Clarke (drums) just over two years ago, it was to record two tunes for an album Grant was working on. Now Sprag Session is set to release their own self-titled debut, available online at spragsession.com, Tuesday, April 3.
Sprag Session carries on in the tradition of innovative Cape Breton groups like Slainte Mhath and Beòlach, driving the laid-back medleys of Cape Breton-style dance music in under-explored directions towards rock, funk, reggae, bluegrass and world music. Going beyond the more traditional setting of fiddle-led tunes with piano and guitar, banjo or mandolin accompaniment, Sprag Session explores new territory in dynamics, unison, and emotion as a five-piece band that pays particular attention to the dancers.
Sprag Session was recorded in early July 2011 at The Sonic Temple Recording Studio in Halifax by Darren van Niekerk (Hey Rosetta!, Great Big Sea), and mixed and mastered by award-winning engineer Jamie Foulds at Soundpark Studios in Sydney.
Much of the material on the 12 track, instrumental album was composed by McMullen, Roach, and Grant. They have put together both lyrical and melodic lines that sound like the folk song you always remembered, and machine-gun precision grooves that would sound just right behind a car chase sequence.
McMullen’s guitar, mandolin, and banjo, paired with Roach’s “leaden left-hand” attack on the piano and keyboard, push the boundaries of Cape Breton traditional accompaniment, cranking out tunes based on rock solid arrangements. The punchy laid-back grit of the bass, swaggers along with the driving, tuneful groove of the drums and makes you want to get up and dance. Calabrese and Clarke are in exactly the right place at the right time. Blending melodic lines with rhythmic accompaniment, Grant enjoys contradicting the notion that the fiddler is supposed to be the focus.
Whether they’re playing with time signatures, supporting Cape Breton step dancers, or laying down a strathspey-inspired reggae groove, Sprag Session’s lively sound never strays too far from its Cape Breton roots. While it has long been thought the fiddler wore the pants in Cape Breton, it has really always been all about the dancers, and Sprag Session is going to make sure that everybody knows it.
Sprag Session will be playing two shows in Cape Breton in support of their debut CD. Thursday, April 5 they will be at Flavor 19, in Sydney (8-10pm, $10). They return to the Doryman Tavern in Cheticamp Saturday, May 26 ($10).