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Viper Central Viper Central
Album: The Spirit Of God And Madness
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 14

An acoustic bluegrass quintet (with interchangeable drummers and assorted contributions on brass, strings and keys) from British Columbia, this is their third album and again pulls together a mix of the self-penned, traditional and covers for a collection of storytelling songs that sees singer Kathleen Nisbet taking on a variety of different personas.

The first eight numbers are all originals, opening with 'Gold Mine', which, in fact, is a jazzier tune with upright bass, shuffling rhythm and tenor guitar and honky tonk piano solos, while the tempo shifting 'Losing My Mind' is all jazzy mandolin, hot club swing and Mariachi trumpets.

Featuring fiddle flourishes and a stomping tribal drum rhythm, 'Prophet of the New World', from whence comes the title line is a actually about one of Nisbet's ancestors, Louis Riel, the founder of the province of Manitoba, and apolitical leader of the indigenous M├ętis people of the prairies who mounted two resistance movements against the Canadian government in the late 1800s., the second of which led to his execution.

Another real-life figures informs 'I Won't Be Left Behind', John Reischman's tinkling mandolin backdropping the tale of Catherine O'Hare Schubert who, at sixteen left Ireland for Massachusetts and, three years later met and married a German carpenter, moving to St.Paul and opening a grocery store before the depression led to them relocating to Winnipeg. When, in 1882, her husband decided to go in search of gold in what is now British Columbia, she refused to stay behind and, four months pregnant, took her three children and, as the song says, "Ten hours a day, two miles an hour took the good part of a year to walk the high pass of the Rockies" , becoming the first European woman to enter as the first European woman to enter British Columbia overland from eastern Canada.

To not a true story in the details, but the sentiment and the narrative will strike a chord, '99 Cents Short', the jaunty dobro and fiddle coloured swing of '99 Cents Short' is a depression story based about a Saskatchewan farmer-turned-musician who, worked for forty years with nothing to show for it, but, with "accordian and banjo, clarinet and fiddles and trombones, even sousaphone" still lifted the spirits of those faced with dying crops, striking up the band to "cut a rug or swing your partner, jump n' Jive and jig or you can cut a shine."

Given the song lists Turkey in the Straw and Arkansas, Crooked Stovepipe, Seven-step, French Minuet, Big John, Maple Sugar, Butterfly and Red River Jig, it's only right the album should make its own instrumental contributions, duly doing so with the traditional fiddle tune 'Devil's Reel', segueing into the 'Devil's String' with its sung middle passage, and from that to 'Bloodvein Breakdown' by Winnipeg fiddler Reg Bouvette.

Among the other tracks, 'Say Say' is a wearily-laden slow march number with shades of blues and psychedelia, the mid-tempo 'Ned Kelly', sung by banjo player Steve Charles is another bluesy number, here built around C.R. Avery's ominous harmonica while, featuring Tim Tweedale on dobro with Nisbet playing fiddle, 'The Mission' is a bittersweet, and I assume personal, memory that references The Fairmont Empress, better known as the Empress, the oldest and most famous hotel in British Columbia with its lines about how "On the steps of the church where the only thing that works is for sale and the price is high, we talked of the hope that kept you off of the dope, sang the songs that made you cry."

The end with another cover, a fine, fiddle-blazing romp through Gram Parsons' 'Luxury Liner' that seems sure to be live favourite when they tour the UK later this year, which, to take a cue from the album cover, promises to be a whale of a time.

Mike Davies