The Sweet Lowdown

‘The Sweet Lowdown’ (2011)

“Album of the Year” Nominee,  2012 VANCOUVER ISLAND MUSIC AWARDS

Released June 23, 2011.

Recorded January 2011, in Parry Sound Ontario, with special guests Andrew Collins (mandolin), and Andrew Downing (bass). Produced by Andrew Collins.

 

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)

 

NEXUS NEWSPAPER Review by Carol-Lynne Michaels

Local band The Sweet Lowdown feature fiddle, banjo, and guitar backed by crisp female vocals that can tear down the night like it’s Virginia, 1957.

The Lowdown ladies are experts at their instruments; they found them at a young age. They champion the DIY spirit. Show bookings, album art, sound tech, and promotions—they do it all.

Live off the Floor, their self-recorded first album, has a modest seven tracks that leave the listener wanting more. The follow-up album comes out in May. The old-time musical genre is associated with a specific era, but has yet to fade from the scene

“What keeps it alive is the harmonies,” says Lowdown’s fiddler Miriam Sonstenes. “People are drawn to the sound of pure harmonies, and that feel.”

Sonstenes says people will always relate to harmony as an uplifting symbol of what we all strive for in our lives.

“The tradition is rooted in the past, but it’s very much a living tradition, even though its roots go back very far,” adds guitarist Amanda Blied. “But people are still writing music in this genre.”

Blied, Sonstenes, and banjo player Shanti Bremer spent 10 days recording after wrapping up a national rail tour between Vancouver and Toronto. The VIA Rail On-Board Musicians program had them play their way across Canada as main entertainment in lounge and dining train cars.

Their new album is sure to kick down the door their first album got its foot into.

“We are definitely rooted in old-time music,” says Blied. “But then, we do quite a bit of bluegrass now, too—sort of hard-driving bluegrass songs, pickers, and instrumentals. And a lot of originals.”

The band will tour the Gulf Islands and Vancouver before coming home to celebrate in June for a CD release party at the Victoria Event Centre. Bluegrass and old country fans can also lap up the Lowdown weekly show at the Fernwood Inn

The music brings together an entire demographic. People pack the back room of the neighbourhood pub to carve grooves in the dance floor, toe-heel-toe, and pat bouncing knees in time with the trio.

On some nights, their shows even find kids up past their bedtimes, gleefully spinning about in pajamas. Link to article. 

 

ROOTS MUSIC REPORT Debut CD Review by Joe Ross

From Victoria, B.C., The Sweet Lowdown is a trio that plays a blend of old-time and roots music. The three women are Amanda Blied (guitar), Shanti Bremer (banjo), and Miriam Sonstenes (fiddle).

Blied and Bremer have performed together since 2008, and Sonstenes joined up in 2010. While their old-time instrumental groove is engaging (albeit a tad restrained), it’s the trio’s breezy vocals that are the center of attention on this project. Take a listen to the trio’s a cappella “Lights Across the Water.” Their rustic purity and earthy sensuality is the heart of the current roots music revival. The Sweet Lowdown reminds me of another west coast group of accomplished women, Misty River, which unfortunately is no longer together. The Sweet Lowdown’s rendition of the traditional “Western Country” imparts powerful rhythmic intensity and cohesive vocalizing.

Each of the young women sings with their own unique flair, with Sonstenes demonstrating more bluegrass influence in her rendition of the self-penned “Don’t Walk Away” that also features guests Andrew Collins’ mandolin and Andrew Downing’s bass. Bremer vocalizes with wistful nostalgia on her own compositions, “Sing It High to Low” and “River’s Deep,” as well as the traditional “Going Up on the Mountain.” Blied’s lead vocals are prominent on her compositions that open and close the album, as well as on Chris Goole’s song, “$100,” that laments the fact that a C-note doesn’t go far and that nobody pays for music anymore. While that song conveys a lot of truth for musicians, I hope these three gals keep on trudging and don’t get the least bit discouraged. They have a great deal of potential and could go far.

With a fresh sound and originality, they’re walking a musical road with a clear vision for their songs. (Joe Ross) Link to article.

 

THE PROVINCE Debut CD Review, Jan 22, 2012

And sweet it is. Victoria folk trio makes its album in Parry Sound, Ont., which has a way of purifying its sound. Nothing fussy here, just some lovely vocals with harmony, banjo and acoustic guitar for a spare but sturdy backbone and emotional colur added by Miriam Sonstenes’ fiddle. The few trad songs have a slight gospel flavour but they fit well with some beguiling originals written mostly by Amanda Blied or Shanti Bremer. (B  Tom Harrison) Link to article.

 

EARSHOT MAGAZINE Debut CD Review, Nov 22, 2011 by Marshall Hignett

The Sweet Lowdown are an acoustic roots trio from Victoria, British Columbia. The band consists of guitarist Amanda Blied, banjo player Shanti Bremer, and fiddle player Miriam Sonstenes. All three share vocal duties, with Blied taking lead on most songs.

After releasing an EP in 2008, The Sweet Lowdown is their debut full-length album. The CD is full of great three-part harmonies, finger-picked melodies, and technically advanced fiddle soloing.

Bremer takes lead on a few tracks, and has a quite interesting tone to her delivery. Her vocals are featured mainly on “Sing it High to Low”, “River’s Deep”, and a cover of the traditional folk song “Going Up On the Mountain”. The album also has a cover of bluegrass artist Chris Coole’s “$100”, and a traditional rendition of “Western Country”.

Andrew Downing is featured on bass on some tracks, including “Don’t Walk Away”–which has mandolin from Andrew Collins as well. The Sweet Lowdown also have three instrumental jams that showcase astounding exchanges of melodies between all members.

The Sweet Lowdown is an incredibly original CD that recreates an old-time feel for contemporary compositions. (Marshal Hignett) Link to article.

 

PENGUIN EGGS Debut CD Review by Mike Sadava, Fall 2011

“Victoria’s Secret”

The Sweet Lowdown nurtured their impressive folk, old time and bluegrass instrumental flair and glorious harmonies amidst one of the most vibrant musical communities in the country. Mike Sadava charts their progress.

What is it about Victoria? This small city with a sleepy reputation has been cranking out some of Canada’s best roots music in recent years. Fish and Bird, Shearwater, Outlaw Social, the Bills, Jon and Roy… the list goes on.

The latest group from British Columbia’s capital is The Sweet Lowdown. Contacted from Vancouver, where they were getting ready to fly to perform at the Edge of the World Festival in Hada G’waii (formerly known as the Queen Charlottes), banjo player Shanti Bremer raves about the sense of community among Victoria musicians. “I just think there’s a lot of enthusiasm, with a lot of young people playing old time and bluegrass,” Bremer says. “Its so accessible that people are getting into it easily, and starting to form bands.”

While Vancouver has a lot of musicians chasing few gigs, Victoria has lots of opportunities, and people show up to the gigs, she says. A weekly Tuesday show at the Fernwood Inn consistently draws a full house.

And those Fernwood gigs helped finance the band’s eponymous first CD. Recorded in the home studio of mandolinist extraordinaire Andrew Collins of the Foggy Hogtown Boys and Creaking Tree String Quartet, the disc is much more than three young women who sing well together. For sure, they do sing like birds, and their harmonies are sweet, if not lowdown. The a cappella three-part harmony on Amanda Blied’s Lights Across The Water evokes a sense of terror and melancholy at the same time in witnessing a fire consuming a mountainside, and they more than do justice to that gospel chestnut, Going Up On the Mountain.

While many of the young Canadian female bands from the Wailin’ Jennys on down have great singers, often the level of instrumental playing is basic—they’re strummers. But the Sweet Lowdown have chops galore. Bremer has been playing banjo since the age of 12, when she decided she wanted a banjo on her knee because of the song Oh Susanna. Unlike most banjo pickers, she plays both clawhammer and Scruggs style, and is in demand as a teacher, including the internationally renowned British Columbia Bluegrass Workshop at Sorrento, BC. Fiddle player Miriam Sonstenes is classically trained and also teaches, including the Sorrento workshop.

The band also puts out a big dollop of versatility. Whilte 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 Don’t Walk Away. Sonstenes has written a melody in Sapphire Waltz I can easily imagine will be played at many a campfire jam, while the opening track, The Circle Song, is as folk as you can get.

Blied is most proud of the band’s songwriting ability. All three women write, which also creates a nice mix and the differences in style that makes it so difficult to pun them down in one box. And they’re quite canny about the covers they choose, whether its old time Chicken Under the Washtub by Vivian Williams or Chris Coole’s $100. “Its definitely not an old time album or a bluegrass album, but its definitely a folk album,” says Blied.

Last winter the trio spent nine days at Collin’s studio in Parry Sound, ON an experience they say really brought the band together and sharpened their performance. As Blied says, “We didn’t totally break the bank to do it but we put a lot of energy into it. And we lived to tell the tale.”

They chose Collins because they knew him and admired his work as both a musician and a producer. “He just hears music so well and we knew he would mix it the way we wanted it,” Blied says. They spent a few days to get there—they managed to get on Via Rail’s program that offers musicians free fares for entertaining passengers in the dining car. There’s lots of time to practice on a train chugging across Canada in January.

The band has actually been around for more than three years, starting out as a Bremer/Blied duo. Both are dual citizens, so they were able to tour the western United States, traveling as far as California. Last year they added Sonstenes, who was born in Germany, to cement the old time feel with her fiddle and add the third voice to bring the harmonies to a new level. “Its not like it just started, but it feels like the momentum has picked up,” Blied says. Bremer doesn’t know how far the band will go, but they are all committed to at east the next couple of years.

Mike Brooks, a veteran of the Victoria folk/bluegrass scene, has been a mentor for the Sweet Lowdown, occasionally sitting in on mandolin and giving them ideas when it came to the final mix of their disc. Brooks says there is magic in what they’ve accomplished. He especially likes the idea that old time Appalachian music is the engine behind their music but they don’t fit into the mould. And unlike many of the all-female groups, they are serious instrumentalists and continually work on becoming better players. “They are pretty unique and I think they have a real appeal that will take them somewhere outside the old time and bluegrass circuit,” Brooks says.

Linda Thorburn, who books the bands at the Coombs Bluegrass Festival, had heard them at Sorrento and hiring them was an easy decision. She is in awe at their instrumental abilities, and they are just coming into their own. “They’re young, they’re talented, and they sing beautiful harmony together. What more can you ask of a three-piece band?”

The name of the trio is similar to the title of a Woody Allen film (Sweet and Lowdown) but they insist the movie about a fictional dastardly jazz guitarist in the ‘30s who lives in fear of Django Reinhart is not the inspiration for the band name. As Blied says, they just liked the sound of it: raunchy and sweet, coarse and fine. And it aptly describes the range of their music. For more info visit thesweetlowdown.ca.