Sunday, December 5, 2010


Fafard's instrumental prowess is already established. His past three instrumental albums have proven him one of the country's top guitarists, with a Juno nomination and lots of acclaim in the national folk community. But the axe is only part of his show, and this time out he's made a full vocal disc, consisting mostly of classic blues and folk, done acoustic. There are a whole lot of standards here, from Spoonful to Come On In My Kitchen to John Hardy. Fafard rips through with his customery virtuoso playing, here sticking to dobro with a slide. And while he rips and zips his way through, what sets this collection apart is what's also featured.

Fafard and producer Steve Dawson (who has quickly become a big favourite of mine) don't just stick with the acoustic, they move it into a whole new sound. Joining Fafard is double-bassist Gilles Founier, and violin and viola player Richard Moody. The trio dig deep into the classic material, finding patterns and places to weave and harmonize with their sliding and plucking. The viola is especially effective, its slurred, bowed tones a wonderful new partner to the blues.

The two modern covers here don't work as well. Lyle Lovett's If I Had A Boat and Richard Thompson's 1952 Vincent Black Lightning are both excellent songs, but Fafard adds nothing to them, they were already stripped down and the original singers are much better. That's actually the major criticism here: Fafard is not really that much of a vocalist. His gruff voice doesn't have much range or power. The older songs work much better because they were originally done by similarly limited singers for the most part, and require a weary sound, which he can handle well. Given the excellence of the playing, and the mighty trio of stringed things, Cluck Old Hen is an overall winner for folk and blues fans.

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