Early into The Clumsy Lovers’ return performance last night at The Dame, vocalist/guitarist Trevor Rogers remarked how the band was on its guard. After all, he suggested, how might the banjo and fiddle accents that drive the bulk of its music be received in the heart of bluegrass country? The catch, of course, is that The Clumsy Lovers, hail from that little known string music metropolis of Vancouver, British Columbia.
It was a fun, good-hearted ice-breaker of a remark – especially given how the Monday night crowd at The Dame numbered something like 15. What was curious, though, was how Rogers and company didn’t bat an eye (or an ear, for that matter) when they later covered Uncle Pen, a near 60 year old signature tune of the great Bill Monroe.
Canadians kicking up the strings is one thing. Go messing with the Father of Bluegrass in the Bluegrass State and even a docile crowd of a dozen can seem like an angry mob.
Luckily, there was no need for bloodshed. The Clumsy Lovers have long been adept at incorporating a variety of string sounds into friendly folk-pop environments. Taking on Uncle Pen, much like addressing the equally feisty Old Plank Road late into the sadly brief 50 minute performance, reflected considerable respect for the songs’ homey heritage. But the pairing of fiddler Rebecca Smith and drummer Tyler Thompson – both new members since the band last played at the old, now-demolished West Main Dame location – gave the tunes a crisp, contemporary dusting.
There were similar echoes of country and bluegrass even in such seemingly poppish originals as Is This My Life and Walk in the Light of Your Fire, which, along with the covers, make up the bulk of The Clumsy Lovers’ new Make Yourself Known album.
But the band’s primary strengths continue to be Celtic fusion instrumental medleys that bring up banjoist Jason Homey and bassist Chris Jonat in the mix to move the music along at a crisp, rockish clip.
That the medleys often revealed a surprise finale – such as, in one instance, a verse of The Beatles’ Octopus’ Garden sung with cheerleading reverence by Rogers – simply cemented the merry continental shift that occurs when industrious Canadians tighten up the bows in Bluegrass country.