‘Chasing The Sun’ (2014)
Roots Duo/Group Recording of the Year Nominee, 2015 Western Canadian Music Awards
Ensemble of the Year Nominee, 2015 Canadian Folk Music Awards
Released November 20, 2014.
Recorded on Mayne Island, BC, with special guests Adrian Dolan (mandolin, viola, percussion), Sam Howard (bass), and Darren Nicholson (mandolin). Produced by Adrian Dolan.
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SONGLINES MAGAZINE “Chasing The Sun” Album Review (Issue 109 – July 2015)
The Sweet Lowdown – Chasing The Sun
“More proof Canada is America’s spiritual home”
Trilling banjo and strummed guitar, expressive fiddle lines and the purest close-harmony vocals: Chasing the Sun opens with a gorgeous, light-filled song that, paradoxically, is about a flooded town and environmental concerns. It is an auspicious start to the third studio album from this Vancouver Island-based vocal and instrumental trio: Amanda Blied on guitar, Shanti Bremer on banjo and Miriam Sonstenes on fiddle.
Like other bands from this region, they are inspired by the natural environment and beauty of British Columbia. But musically the trio pull together styles from across North America – bluegrass and country most strongly, due to Bremer’s banjo – to create their own, original roots music. Lead vocals are shared and songwriting is split equally (only one track isn’t an original), leading to satisfying stylistic and atmospheric breadth. Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of The Sweet Lowdown’s music is their singing, however. The a capella tune ‘Leaving’ is spine-tingling in its mournful stillness. Final track ‘The Rain’, composed by a friend of the group, juxtaposes the solo verses with group-sung chorus, to soulful effect. Appropriately, this album is built from music of warmth and beauty, skillfully performed. Track To Try: River Winding Down
FIDDLER MAGAZINE “Chasing The Sun” Album Review, Spring 2015
This trio of ladies from British Columbia is a force to be reckoned with. They sing with great skill and play with aplomb. Amanda Blied sings lead and plays guitar. Shanti Bremer plays banjo in several styles, equally adept in bluegrass and clawhammer, and able to cruise in jig time and waltz time as easily as she does on a hot breakdown. Fiddler Miriam Sonstenes slides through the styles with ease and skill, at home with a bow in her hand. All three of them can sing, making a wonderful sound in the process.
There are some great songs as well as some interesting and genre-bending tunes. The title cut is a dreamy soundscape. “April 29th” is a western alternative to those Appalachian tunes like “28th of January,” interesting and very different. They also have a tune, “Bunching Up the Sheets,” in contrast to the old gem “Folding Down the Sheets”. The medley on track ten is a jewel with great playing by all as they romp through the tunes.
There are standout songs like “You Can Find The North” and the a cappella “Leaving,” and then the driving bluegrass of “Road Song.” They take you on a road trip in the gentle sounds of acoustic folk, flavored with some great fiddling, vocals, and some very nice banjo picking. This one is a keeper.
FOLK RADIO UK “Chasing The Sun” Album Review, May 2015
Only last summer, I belatedly discovered this Canadian trio’s excellent third album May, which by then was close on a year old; so I profoundly regretted having missed out on their 2014 UK tour. I’ve kinda made up for that by getting hold of their latest offering Chasing The Sun just as soon as I heard of its release. And I’m glad to report that it’s every bit as good, with further unassuming displays of typically confident songwriting and intuitive musicianship of the exact correct sensibility for their chosen musical idiom – which in this case is a captivating and vital blend of old-time, bluegrass and folk music.
Each member of the trio is a charismatic solo singer in her own right (tho’ not necessarily in the bluegrass field originally), but when they combine in harmony the bar is sure raised, and the softly passionate a cappella lament of Leaving (one of a number of tracks penned by the group’s fiddle player Miriam Sonstenes – the others, perhaps unbelievably, are instrumentals!) is a definite disc standout: it sure stopped me in my tracks. Original songwriting (and tunesmithery) is increasingly the cornerstone of The Sweet Lowdown’s music; this new record finds guitarist Amanda Blied contributing three songs, and banjoist Shanti Bremer a further three songs and a tune, the remaining track being a cover of The Rain by the group’s friend Zane Parker.
Highlight tracks? Perhaps The Birds And The Bees (a joyous celebration of spring and such matters), the brooding, foreboding Fallout (a commentary on the legacy of the 2012 Fukushima nuclear disaster), the fancy-free Road Song, and almost any one of the disc’s four spiritful instrumental outings (probably April 29th, or the ebullient breakdown-and-jigs medley). The sheer exuberance of the trio’s playing is infectious albeit expertly controlled, and you rarely feel the need for any further embellishment; even so, they do bring in some musician friends very occasionally, including Sam Howard who does sterling duty on upright bass for around half of the album’s tracks. Digipack presentation and design/artwork are most appealing too, making the whole product eminently desirable.
Don’t hesitate to catch The Sweet Lowdown live when they next get over here – in the meantime, this new album will keep your CD machine well occupied and very likely locked on repeat play.
R2 MAGAZINE (UK) “Chasing The Sun” Album Review, March 2015
Hailing from Victoria, Canada, The Sweet Lowdown is a female trio whose love of bluegrass and old-time music ignites their ear-grabbing original material. Add to this gorgeous three-part harmonies and it’s no surprise that their last album, May, earned them plaudits and awards in 2013.
Chasing The Sun looks well set to follow this success. Though steeped in tradition, there is nothing quaint or anachronistic about the material here, all but one song of which is by band members. There’s a contemporary edge that comes from not only looking back, but looking around. A case in point is ‘Fallout’, its lyrics incisively commenting on the radioactive legacy of Fukushima, while fiddle and banjo weave foreboding textures you wouldn’t find in a more traditional roots outfit.
The greater part of the record, though, is infectiously upbeat, whether that’s the warm glow of the lilting instrumental title track, the clattering, no-sleep-’til-morning exuberance of ‘Road Song’, or the folky playfulness of ‘The Birds & The Bees’. And then there are those harmonies: when the three voices combine in the a cappella ‘Leaving’ it sends shivers up the spine. The Sweet Lowdown had better clear a little more space on the mantelpiece, as I sense another award or two in the offing.
AMERICANA UK “Chasing The Sun” Album Review, Feb 2015
Polished and proficient – Chasing The Sun is a classy album of bluegrass, folk and old-timey music by a classy band. The Sweet Lowdown hail out of Vancouver Island, and their music carries elements from the myriad of traditions brought to Canada by European settlers – and there’s also more than a touch of the Appalachian style that developed in the near-neighbour to the south. The album is a mix of songs and tunes written by the band members – Shanti Bremer (banjo), Miriam Sonstenes (fiddle) and Amanda Blied (guitar). All three sing, and there’s a more than pleasing blend of voices when they sing harmonies.
There are some wonderful sets of tunes on Chasing the Sun – April 29th is a rewarding claw hammer banjo tune that came out of “noodling around”. Shanti Bremer should certainly noodle more if this kind of melodic joy is the result. And, whilst I wouldn’t wish her sickness, it was a raging flu that brought her the first of an excellent set of dance tunes Hell Flu Jig / Margaret’s jig / Brokedown Breakdown. Miriam Sonstenes contributes several lively fiddle led tunes such as Bunching Up The Sheets which conjures up images of Appalachian cloggers stomping around a bare boarded room, and she also wrote the lilting title tune. This is not to neglect the songs – Amanda Blied’s Fallout addresses the Fukushima nuclear disaster, it’s an eerie and unsettling lament, plaintively sung, that also reflects on Canada’s involvement in uranium mining. You Can Find The North is an upbeat country-folk declaration of Blied’s preference for the open wilds over the somewhat muted joys of city life “We used to follow other stars / Before we so lit up the dark / Neon signs / Fast food take out lines”. It’s another song that carries that underlying plaintive edge. The pure bluegrass of Road Song gives each band member a lead vocal as they take verses in turn on a document of life on the road for a travelling band : “Play the show back on the road / Nowhere to rest, gotta keep moving on / Pour a drink and play a tune / The mornin’s coming and it’s comin’ soon”. It clicks along at as fast a pace as the tour bus cutting its way across country.
It’s this well blended mix of songs and tunes as well as musical styles that adds splendour to Chasing The Sun. It’s smooth without being overly slick; it’s sweet, without being saccharine; and it’s chock full of great playing.
MUSIC NEWS NASHVILLE “Chasing The Sun” Album Review, Feb 2015
Whether performing beautiful harmonies-anchored acoustic folk songs or virtuoso instrumental material, Canadian trio The Sweet Lowdown shines. On the group’s latest release “Chasing The Sun,” Amanda Blied (guitar, vocals), Miriam Sonstenes (fiddle, vocals) and Shanti Bremer (banjo, vocals) put their formidable powers as top-tier musicians into the service of the bluegrass-minded “River Winding Down,” blazing instrumental “April 29th,” Celtic ballad “Leaving” and other wonderful originals.
CD HOTLIST “Chasing The Sun” Album Review, Jan 2015
When you see an ensemble of fiddle, guitar, and banjo, you naturally expect to hear old-timey music. That is not what you get with The Sweet Lowdown. Instead, these three Canadiennes play mostly original music in a modern-folk-with-a-hint-of-string-band style, singing in tight and sweet harmony and only occasionally dipping into what might be regarded as straight-up old-timeyness. Banjoist Shanti Bremer alternates between clawhammer and bluegrass techniques, which broadens the trio’s stylistic range that much further — but what will really knock you out is the singing; these three women’s voices blend like honey from three different kinds of flowers. Great stuff.
FOLKWORDS (UK) “Chasing The Sun” Album Review, Jan 2015
Canadian roots trio The Sweet Lowdown deliver original acoustic roots music with an inventive approach that creates a style that’s all their own. The influence of their collective heritage is all too clear – Celtic to Scandinavian, bluegrass to classical, Appalachian to Eastern Europe – they’re all rubbing shoulders with a flash of fearless Canadian originality.
The evidence is their third album, ‘Chasing the Sun’.It could be called ‘traditional mountain music’, perhaps ‘revealing old time’, or maybe ‘21st century bluegrass’ whatever label you devise, it’s original, innovative instrumentation, with striking arrangements allied to sparklingly attractive harmonies.
There’s a subtle majesty that runs through their music that gives this album a feel that’s infinitely attractive and pleasurably addictive. Should your view of acoustic roots music imagine something staid and predictable – think again. The material on Chasing The Sun imbues it with a sense of well-being and calm, the overall texture being both smooth and tight. Despite lyrics that cover the 2013 Calgary floods ‘River Winding Down’ and the tsunami in Japan and subsequent Fukushima nuclear disaster ‘Fallout’, a feeling of quiet serenity persists. There’s mood-development you can reach out and touch – the lushness of ‘You Can Find The North’ and shared journeys with ‘Road Song’. Instrumentals add to the mix with ‘Chasing The Sun’, ‘April 29th’, ‘Bunching Up The Sheets’ and the expressive ‘Hell Flu Jig/ Margaret’s Jig/ Brokedown/Breakdown’.
The Sweet Lowdown are Miriam Sonstenes (fiddle) mixing a classical violin pedigree with traditional fiddle, Amanda Blied (guitar) blending Appalachian music with Balkan song, and Shanti Bremer (banjo) moulding bluegrass and old-time clawhammer.
NO DEPRESSION “Chasing The Sun” Album Review, Dec 2014
I had the pleasure of encountering The Sweet Lowdown at last summer’s Mission Folk Festival held about an hour east of Vancouver. The fiddle, guitar and banjo picking trio did nice job that glorious, sunny weekend of keeping the crowd entertained with their beautiful harmonies.
Chasing The Sun is the trio’s third album and continues in the tradition of past releases: nicely written beautifully arranged songs in a fairly classic bluegrass and folk tradition. The trio touches on current issues with songs like Fallout, a memorial of Japan’s Fukushima reactor meltdown that still sees lost items washing up on the coastline of the Victoria, BC band’s island home. River Winding Down tells the story of massive floods that devastated and virtually shut down one of Canada’s major cities for a few days last year.
Chasing The Sun is a collection of well written, modern songs sung by a trio that blends traditional styles into a refreshing sound that’s very much their own. It’s about as far from Lisa LeBlanc’s album (see above) as you can imagine but it’s perfect for a quiet night at home—or a warm weekend at a festival.
If you’ve liked the Wailin’ Jenny’s, the Be Good Tanyas or the Good Lovelies, Chasing The Sun should be on your Christmas list.
fROOTS MAGAZINE “Chasing The Sun” Album Review, Dec 2014
THE SWEET LOWDOWN
Chasing The Sun, Own label SLD2014
The fourth album in six years from the Victoria, British Columbia, trio of Amanda Blied, Shanti Bremer and Miriam Sonstenes captures a band who have spent the best part of 2014 on the move, an experience revealed in lyrics like: “What town is this? I think I know by how far we’ve come,” and “I am leaving I am leaving, don’t you cry, it won’t be long.”
Extensive touring can, of course, simply tire a band out, but The Sweet Lowdown appear to have been energised, as here they’re brimming with confident creativity. Featuring the kind of concise, dynamic arrangements that only come from prolonged experience of performing to audiences, Blied’s guitar, Bremer’s banjo and Sonstene’s fiddle interact beautifully, while guest musicians Adrian Dolan, Darren Nicholson and Sam Howard effectively contribute mandolins and bass without ever compromising the core trio sound.
There’s an unassuming strength in their writing, and it’s easy to envisage an appeal beyond the aficionado bluegrass and old-time country music audiences. Sonstenes’ title track is the kind of lyrical fiddle tune that Aly Bain and Jerry Douglas shift truckloads of Transatlantic Sessions DVDs with, while Blied’s You Can Find The North possess the kind of melodic hooks that Kacey Musgraves and her Nashville chums would gladly give their rhinestoned buckskin mini-skirts for. The celebrated vocal harmonies that set our editor all a-quiver (in his fR 376 Root Salad fea- ture) are showcased in all their unaccompanied glory on Leaving.
Arriving too late to feature in anyone’s albums of the year list, this original material with traditional musical values nonetheless provides heartwarming fare for the long winter evenings. www.thesweetlowdown.ca
FATEA MAGAZINE (UK) “Chasing The Sun” Album Review, Nov 2014
I discovered British Columbian band The Sweet Lowdown quite by chance. I was sent their second album, the lovely “May”, to review and I was immediately captivated by their sweet harmonies and marvellous musicianship.
The Sweet Lowdown comprises Amanda Blied (guitar and vocals), Shanti Bremer (banjo and vocals) and Miriam Sonstenes (fiddle and vocals). Together they are a force to be reckoned with as not only are they superb musicians and singers but they are all, individually, formidable songwriters/composers.
I was fortunate to see The Sweet Lowdown play live in April of this year and I was hugely impressed with their performance which highlighted their prodigious talents. At that show, they played several new compositions which now appear on their new album “Chasing The Sun”.
The big question for me was whether their new album would live up to its glorious predecessor, “May”. The answer is a resounding “Yes”.
As before, the playing and singing on this new album is exemplary, from the opening “River Winding Down” to the closing “The Rain” which is the only non-original on the album, having been written by Zane Parker.
This band is clearly a democracy as each member has contributed three compositions, with one co-write and the afore-mentioned cover. One of the appealing aspects of The Sweet Lowdown is that they write songs that reflect real issues, such as climate change (Shanti’s “River Winding Down”), pollution of the sea by nuclear waste (Amanda’s “Fallout”) and light pollution (“You Can Find The North” also written by Amanda).
On a more personal level is Amanda’s “Birds And The Bees” (I’ll let you guess what that is about) . One track that I particularly enjoy is Shanti’s “Road Song”. I know what you are thinking, “Not another song about life on the road by a travelling musician”. However, this one is irresistible, being a superb bluegrass breakdown featuring wonderful solos from Shanti (banjo), Miriam (fiddle) and guesting mandolinist Darren Nicholson. Great stuff.
By way of contrast is Miriam’s beautiful a cappella ballad “Leaving”, in which she laments being separated from family . This Celtic-influenced piece is a real treasure and with a little encouragement could become a folk club standard.
So far, I have only mentioned the songs. I should add that there are four excellent instrumentals on offer here as well. Miriam composed the albums title track , “Chasing The Sun”, a glorious depiction of a flight from sunset into sunrise. Also written by Miriam is “Bunching Up The Sheets”, a fiddle tour de force which, as I recall, went down a storm in concert.
Shanti’s tune is “April 29th” which features her nimble banjo picking as well as some fine fiddling by Miriam.
The band’s first co-write is “Brokedown Breakdown” by Shanti and Miriam and we are invited to guess who wrote which part.
On the CD sleeve it states “Made with love in Canada”. It is abundantly clear that a great deal of love went into the making of this wonderful album. Do yourself a favour and give it a listen.