The Sweet Lowdown

‘May’ (2012)

Our NEW album!

Island Roots Album of the Year Winner, 2013 Vancouver Island Music Awards

Vocal Group of the Year Nominee, 2013 Canadian Folk Music Awards

 

Released November 15, 2012. 

Recorded on Mayne Island BC, with special guests Adrian Dolan (mandola, viola) and Sam Howard (bass). Produced by Adrian Dolan.

Digital Booklet:

Our albums are available in Victoria at Larsen Music Lyle’s Place, and Gordie’s Music.

ONLINE SALES:

CD Baby (North Amercia)

Fish Records (UK)

 

 


Reviews:

 

FlyinShoes (UK) “May” Album Review, January 2014

This lot might be about the best named band I’ve ever come across: traditional acoustic music on guitar, fiddle and banjo is wedded to beautiful harmonies that gives us an album with sweetness and depth by the bucketload – sweet and lowdown indeed.  Based in Victoria on the Pacific side of Canada, these three women are steeped in the folk tradition so thoroughly that it’s a slight surprise to find that only two out of the dozen tracks here  (Reuben’s Train and Sail Away Ladies) are not originals.

Of the ten original tracks, six are songs and four are instrumentals – proper folk musicians, see – and the overall balance of material is richly rewarding as the mood and the pace shift gently from one track to another.  The songs represent a random selection of subject matter: a few personal, reflective ones but also a slightly political one about the growing problem of water rights and one that finds a broad metaphor for life in a joyous night-time toboggan ride. For me, though, it’s the instrumentals that see these girls really shine; they can play with verve but it’s the interplay between them that’s a joy to hear. Quite often it seems to be Miriam Sonstenes’ fiddle that takes the driving lead but it’s always clear that this is a band that adds up to more than the sum of its parts. Shanti Bremer’s banjo playing is distinctly mountain style while Amanda Blied’s guitar and majority share in lead vocal performance holds the centre nicely. Sam Howard guests on bass – and makes a major contribution to the enjoyably driving pace of Reuben’s Train – whilst producer Adrian Dolan contributes a couple of guest spots on mandola and viola.

The really nice thing about The Sweet Lowdown is that their years of playing together have resulted in them conjuring something distinctive, epitomised when Amanda is singing and Shanti’s banjo is balanced against Miriam’s fiddle: they play as separate voices, in tension with each other I think, but it’s a compelling musical conversation we’re listening in on.  Hugely enjoyable, anyway, and heading to the UK in April for a few weeks – worth cheering on, I reckon.

John Davy  

 

BLUEGRASS UNLIMITED MAGAZINE “May” Album Review, June 2013

The Sweet Lowdown is comprised of three very talented women who reside on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Featuring fiddle, banjo, guitar, and three lovely singing voices with a seamless harmony, they easily inhabit a shifting musical landscape where bluegrass, old-time, folk, and Celtic music all feel like equal partners.

Sometimes with new regional bands, there’s a tendency to be stronger on either the vocal or instrumental side of things. But this group has an impressively balanced and mature skill set in both areas. Their three voices have an easy, relaxed blend, almost like sisters, with an overall sense of…well…sweetness. But when they dig into an instrumental, they can ramp up the energy level a notch or three. Most impressive is fiddler Miriam Sonstenes’ “Big Wave,” which passes the ultimate test by making this reviewer want to leave his computer behind, pick up an instrument, and learn the piece himself. Banjoist Shanti Bremer matches the fiddle skillfully, with their notes intertwining on the Celtic/Americana medley “Insa And Liam’s Jig”/“Stones In My Pocket.”

Most of the album’s dozen tracks are original songs and tunes, which is the brave and advisable path for a new band to take. The only potential pitfall is that when the originals don’t quite stand out as much as the covers of “Sail Away Ladies” and “Reuben’s Train,” then the band’s compositions run the risk of being little more than frameworks on which to display their vocal and instrumental prowess. Probably the best of the bunch are a pair of songs by guitarist Amanda Blied that bookend the CD, “The Heart Is A Hollow Thing” and “What Goes Up.”

For all that, May is still a significantly polished representation of a group, given that it’s only their second full-length recording. When a group is sounding this good this soon, it won’t take much to lift them to a higher level of prominence in the acoustic music scene. HK

 

fROOTS MAGAZINE “May” Album Review, Spring 2013

What is it about Canada and female harmonies? From The McGarrigles through the Be Good Tanyas to the Abramson Singers and beyond, there’s something very special going on which is obviously related to, but subtly different from, what’s been produced below their southern border.

The Sweet Lowdown – there’s no way of saying this without offending the person who rather nastily attacked a fellow fRoots reviewer as sexist recently for daring to mention that another quartet were all-female – are a trio of women from Victoria BC. Well, I’ll take my punishment, because it’s the blend of female voices which gives them their distinctive sound. Amanda Blied’s guitar, Shanti Bremer’s banjo and Miriam Sonstenes’ fiddle combine in a really good string band mix that can give the likes of that old warhorse Reuben’s Train a good motoring. Their songwriting’s a neat mixture of traditional, old-time and folk revival influences too. But it’s those voices which really hook you in and this, their second album, is a bit of a gem because of it.

I’d really better not mention that Amanda Blied – writer and lead singer on earworm tracks like The Heart Is A Hollow Thing and Hushabye – apparently used to sing in an Eastern European-styled a cappella ensemble called the Balkan Babes, had I?

Ian Anderson

 

RHYTHMS MUSIC MAGAZINE (Australia) “May”Album Review, February 2013 

Canadian trio The Sweet Lowdown continue to indulge their love of old-time string music on this, their second album since forming in 2008. Vintage purists in sound, the three girls blend acoustic guitars, banjo, violin and vocal harmonies exploring the crossover between Celtic and early American folk and bluegrass.

In that pursuit, they do include traditional material in their sets and this album features two such compositions, ‘Reuben’s Train’ and ‘Sail Way Ladies’. The remaining songs credits are shared between the three band members, Shanti Bremer, Amanda Blied, and Miriam Sonstenes.

Sometimes those compositions revel in traditional forms, especially in instrumental form, like the jig ‘Insa and Liam’s Jig/Stones In My Pocket’. When the trio fire up their three-part harmonies, there’s a slightly more contemporary tone in the vocal swing and structure.

I’m not sure if this trio has made it to Australia yet, but it’s easy to foresee them becoming beloved regulars at festivals like Port Fairy, Brunswick Music Festival and Blue Mountains Folk Festival.

Martin Jones

 

MAVERICK MAGAZINE (UK) “May” Album Review, January 2013

This album is a must have for any lover of old-time country with a fresh modern-day approach.

This is genuine old-time, traditional country music performed by three young ladies from Victoria, British Columbia. Shanti Bremer (banjo), Miriam Sonstenes (fiddle) and Amanda Blied (guitar) write their own songs and sing and play them with verve and drive mixing in sweet harmonies as they evoke a musical past, yet make it all sound just perfect for the 21st century. The first thing that comes to mind when you start spinning this album is sitting on a porch swing in the hearland of America (or in this case, Canada!). Though the musical arrangements are steeped in the past, they don’t sound overtly too rustic, so that the gentle The Heart Is A Hollow Thing is lyrically very much of today. Showcasing their musical skills, the upbeat and wild flowing Big Wave, the folksy Insa And Liam’s Jig/Stones In My Pocket and the slightly surreal Lucknow are instrumentals featuring some excellent guitar, banjo and fiddle playing that flows with a nice polished technique.

In Hushaby they sing with beautiful harmony over quickly paces, yet calm, acoustic guitar playing and softly-stroked fiddle. Ending up the album with What Goes Up once again has those rootsy and melodic lyrics that charms you with a soulful lead voice, exquisite harmonies and acoustic guitar, banjo and fiddle inter-playing perfectly.

Alan Cackett

 

PENGUIN EGGS MAGAZINE “May” Album Review, January 2013

“After five years, the three young women from Victoria who make up the Sweet Lowdown just keep getting better. In fact, good enough to create a gem in their sophomore disc. Their melange of folk, old-time and bluegrass music is so easy to listen to. Soaring harmonies, a good mixture of self-written songs and instrumentals, as well as a couple of traditional tunes all make for a mighty fine package…”

Mike Sadava

 

THE COASTAL SPECTATOR (BC) “May” Album Review, November 2012

If you’re a Sweet Lowdown fan, you probably fell in love with them for their rich bluegrass harmonies, formidable musicianship, and old-time folk sound. You’ll be thrilled with their third album (with 12 tracks), May.

As always, Sweet Lowdown delivers banjo and fiddle solos that impress the most experienced musicians, and for the rest of us, make us nod dumbly, follow with, “Wow. She’s good.” And just so you don’t forget that, May includes four instrumental tracks incorporating elements of bluegrass, celtic folk and even Indian-style melodies and arrangements as in “Lucknow,” a song inspired by an Indian city which banjo player Shanti Bremer visited. I’m not usually big on instrumental numbers, but I was sucked into this one instantly, with the fiddle mimicking a harmonium’s drone and the crazy Indian gypsy melodies in the banjo.

But May delivers an overall sound that I feel is signature Sweet Lowdown. With simple song forms, unadorned vocals, and three-part harmonies, May offers a kind of folk lullaby. The opening track, “The Heart Is A Hollow Thing,” evokes this lullaby quality not only musically, but lyrically, with lines like, “sticks and stones, Oh, hollow bones, bird take wing, fly high and sing.” This song is written by primary vocalist Amanda Blied (formerly of Balkan Babes), and her love of lullaby is evident in her other compositions, too, like “Hushabye,” which she calls “a lullaby for hard times,” and “What Goes Up,” a song about tobogganing on the winter solstice: “So just like Jack and Jill, we’ll go back up the hill. Just to ride right back down again like friends.” I loved this one for the Sarah Harmer-like melodies. You know the kind–the ones that feel like they’re coming to an end, but there’s still those last two words that carry the line downward in that suprising way.

I was also happy to hear Blied rip it up a little, vocally, in the cover of “Reuben’s Train.” Why “Reuben’s Train” in this album of water imagery, snow and flowers? Because every Canadian folk album must have a train song, of course!

But Blied isn’t the only songwriter with surprises. Banjo player Shanti Bremer showcases her talents in that exciting instrumental, “Lucknow,” and title track, “May.” And Bremer is a singer, too, with two of these songs on the album, “Please Take Me Home,” and “Drink It Down.” Bremer’s voice almost sounds timid on their previous album, but here she sings with steady confidence, while maintaining that angelic quality. Bremer pulls the album into the political with “Drink It Down,” a song about water rights and the impending shortage, and how she considers this in the context of the water-rich Pacific Northwest.

My favourite song on this album, though, is “Let It Go,” by fiddle player Miriam Sonstenes. It is the only song she sings, and I’m not sure why. Sonstenes voice has a clear, straight-forward quality that gives it a youthful naivety which I really loved. “Let It Go” is a song about visiting “old haunts with a dear old friend,” as Sonstenes writes in the insert. Having just recently visited my hometown for an old friend’s memorial service, I found myself connecting deeply with this piece. Sonstenes evokes a connection with place simply and poignantly with lines like “for every grain of sand there’s a tear that I have cried.” But my music-self loved the chorus best. With phrases of three measures, this asymmetrical pattern propelled the song forward in an unhurried yet exciting way. It’s a simple thing, but has a big effect. And you can always count on Sweet Lowdown to offer those simple yet stunning little juicy bits, whether in their stellar musical leads or little unexpected melodic thoughts. http://coastalspectator.ca/?p=1156

Andrea Routley