The Sweet Lowdown



There’s something about living on the edge of the world that tends to encourage far-reaching perspectives. Canadian roots trio THE SWEET LOWDOWN (Amanda Blied, guitar; Tad Ruszel, mandolin; Miriam Sonstenes, fiddle), based on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, certainly understand this.

With the rough waters of the Pacific around them and the wilds of the Canadian North above them, THE SWEET LOWDOWN have developed original acoustic roots music that draws from earth and sky. As such, you’ll hear influences as far-ranging as Celtic jigs, Appalachian fiddling, contemporary pop, and that particularly Canadian blend of driving tradition and ground-breaking originality. The Sweet Lowdown draw from these styles, but are not beholden to them, instead blaze a new trail with original songwriting and innovative instrumentals.

Gaining critical acclaim wherever their music takes them, The Sweet Lowdown have accomplished much in the past 10 years. In 2015 Fiddler Magazine wrote “This trio of ladies from British Columbia is a force to be reckoned with.” With three full length albums, an EP, and numerous awards and award nominations, the group has toured Canada, the US and the UK. Highlights include performances at the Canadian Folk Music Awards, Canmore Folk Fest and a tour with Stuart McLean and the Vinyl Cafe.

The Sweet Lowdown was formed in 2008 by Amanda Blied and Shanti Bremer, in Victoria, BC. After recording a seven song EP titled Live off the Floor, the duo was joined by west coast fiddler Miriam Sonstenes in 2010. The group quickly established a solid repertoire of old time and bluegrass songs and tunes, both traditional and original, and in 2011 began recording their self titled debut album. Produced by Andrew Collins (Creaking Tree String Quartet, The Foggy Hogtown Boys), the album was nominated for Album of The Year at the Vancouver Island Music Awards. Earshot Magazine called it an “…incredibly original CD that recreates an old-time feel for contemporary compositions.” Many reviews noted the band’s instrumental versatility, including Penguin Eggs Magazine: “While rooted in old time music driven by clawhammer banjo and fiddle with plenty of double stops, they can also crank out the bluegrass led by Bremer’s rock-solid banjo playing.”

On the heels of their successful first album, the band toured western Canada, and headed back into the studio the following year, this time with producer Adrian Dolan (The Bills, The Wailin’ Jenny’s), and recorded “May”, their second full length album. It won Island Roots Album of the Year at the Vancouver Island Music Awards (as well as nominations in the Island Artist of the Year, and BC-Wide Artist of the Year categories). For the 2013 Canadian Folk Music Awards it earned the trio a nomination for Vocal Group of the Year. Maverick Magazine called it “a must have for any lover of old-time country with a fresh modern-day approach; this is genuine old-time, traditional country music…[they] 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.” Their album review in Penguin Eggs states “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…”

2013 and 2014 were busy years, with tours in western Canada, the US (North Carolina and Virginia) and the UK (England, Scotland and Wales), and an official showcase at Folk Alliance International. The band’s third album, “Chasing The Sun” (again produced by Adrian Dolan) was released in the fall of 2014. A reviewer for Folk Radio UK wrote “The sheer exuberance of the trio’s playing is infectious albeit expertly controlled…this new album will keep your CD machine well occupied and very likely locked on repeat play.” The album reached No.1 on three separate International Folk DJ Charts in January 2015: Top Album, Top Song (“River Winding Down”), and International Top Artist. Award nominations included Roots Recording of the Year for the Western Canadian Music Awards, as well as Ensemble of the Year for the Canadian Folk Music Awards. “River Winding Down”, by Shanti Bremer received a nomination for Song of the Year from the International Folk Music Awards. R2 Magazine described the album as “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.” UK’s Folkwords review applauded the album, stating “There’s a subtle majesty that runs through their music that gives this album a feel that’s infinitely attractive and pleasurably addictive.” No Depression wrote “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.”

Since the release of their first album, The Sweet Lowdown have toured much of North America’s top folk circuits, including venues and festivals such as Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music (2012) Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival (Whitehorse, 2012), Northern Lights Bluegrass & Old Time Festival (Ness Creek, 2012), Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival (2013), Folk on the Rocks (Yellowknife, 2013), Mission Folk Festival (2013, 2014), Blackpot Festival (Lafayette, LA, 2014), Calgary Folk Club (2014), Hornby Island Music Festival (2014), The Nickelodeon Music Club (Calgary, 2015), The Rogue Folk Club (Vancouver, 2015), Alianait Arts Festival (Iqaluit, 2015), and Columbia Gorge Bluegrass Festival (Stevenson, WA, 2016). 2018 will see them returning to Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival and Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival.

The Sweet Lowdown has always played to a diverse audience – young and old, lovers of traditional music as well as those new to it. As well as sharing their love of music in performance, the band has taught instrumental workshops and harmony singing at camps and festivals across Canada. 2017 marked a bit of time off for the band, and a change of personnel. Banjo player and founding member Shanti Bremer left the group to pursue other goals, and Vancouver Island musician Tad Ruszel (The Karuna Movement, West My Friend) joined, bringing distinctive vocals and skillful mandolin playing. Expect to hear much of The Sweet Lowdown’s original material with a slight new twist, along with brand new music penned by all three members.