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Age-old entertainments–sitting around the fire, telling tales–can take on ever-new faces. Young acoustic power trio Ten Strings and a Goat Skin from Canada’s Prince Edward Isle know this, transforming tradition with vigor, curiosity, and sparks of goofy humor.
They’re inviting a new circle of listeners Auprès du Poêle (“around the woodstove”; release: June 12, 2016) for sometimes moody, sometimes high-energy set of original and traditional songs. Expanding on the Scottish and Acadian roots of PEI’s traditional music, Ten Strings and a Goatskin weave old-school Franco-Canadian, Breton, Irish, and Scottish tunes with wickedly current grooves and clever quirks, flirting with indie’s best moments.
“We’re less anchored in traditional structures, the way many players assemble dance sets,” remarks Rowen Gallant, one of the trio’s string players. “We’ve left them by the wayside. We retain the melodic elements, but we’re not opposed to messing with things.”
Working closely with producer Leonard Podolak of Grammy- and Juno-winning eclectic roots favorites The Duhks, Ten Strings and a Goat Skin push their music into new territory, adding B3 and crazed pump organ, clever effects and taut vocal harmonies, for a rich sound with a direct, funky edge. It promises to gather listeners outside of folk circles, where they are already darlings, around the warm glow of fast-burning tradition.
“Leonard really urged us to create themes and then keep coming back and hinting at them. We never do a movement the same way twice,” adds Caleb Gallant, whose main role in the group is traditional percussion. “We’re always refreshing the feel of the tune, as the idea changes ever so slightly.”
“It’s been a wild ride. It happened to us early,” explains Rowen, considering the trio’s rapid rise to prominence on the folk circuit. Already embraced by the Canadian folk scene, they recently made the Kansas City Star’s list of top traditional acts at this year’s Folk Alliance.
“We were fortunate to start touring and engaging more professionally in our teens,” Rowen muses. “There have been great resources to help us along in that change. But really, it’s only been in the last year or so, that we reached a point where we’re doing most of the songwriting and all the arrangements. The project has embraced more and more of who we are, with tradition acting as our anchor point.”
It’s been a lifelong anchor for the Gallants, who remember travelling with their mother to Irish and Scottish music sessions around the Canadian Maritimes. They started a band with schoolmate and guitarist Jesse Périard, sticking to traditional repertoire at first. Soon, however, inspired by musicians friends from PEI’s lively avant-pop and rock scene, they began exploring new approaches to arranging and began crafting their own songs and instrumentals. Their work with Podolak, a trailblazer in making folk fresh, urged them in dynamic, engaging directions.
“We love trad music and we have a long list of bands we listen to all the time,” notes Périard. “But we get lots of other ideas from other music. There’s lots of amazing music from PEI that’s less trad, more pop, and that’s shaped us.” “Coal not Dole” and “Maudit Anglais” (featuring the gorgeous voices of Montreal’s alt-folk favorites Les Poules à Colin) highlight this cross pollination.
Yet the trio never forgets its powerful ties to the many musics of PEI, the island’s rich mix of Celtic and Francophone elements that ramble from mouth music to foot percussion. Originals take their cues sonically from this wealth and lyrically from a deeply felt connection to the history of Eastern Canada (“Caledonia”).
The album’s title track, “Auprès du Poêle,” highlights where these connections twine with contemporary sensibilities. Caleb penned the poem after the first snow fell on PEI. It chronicles the joys of work completed, of chasing winter’s gloom away around the stove, a feeling that stuck with the trio as they recorded in Quebec with Podolak.
“We’d come home after a 12-hour studio day and enjoy the most wonderful elements of traditional culture in the winter,” recalls Rowen. “Lots of wonderful music was played all around us, thanks to Leonard and the Duhks,” who make guest appearances on the album’s party-set closer “Duhk Duhk Goat.” “Those moments became the inspiration for the record. There’s a culture of fighting off the doldrums of winter that’s build into the traditional home. The stove is an integral part of that.”
“Musically the song takes you in a bunch of different directions, and shows how far we’ve come as arrangers,” adds Périard. It’s something that all three of us put an even amount of work into, and we’re very proud of it.”
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