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Various Artists | Showdown (independent)
Regular readers cannot have failed to notice the wealth of independent releases I cover from Canada, particularly Vancouver, and especially of an alt.country bent. A chance peek a couple of years back has grown to a panoramic vista of the very best of CanAmericana (or Canadiana, as I prefer to tag it), and now it rains down on me like confetti. R.A.N.C.H. is a collection of some 30 like-minded outfits; all digging each other as people and artists, and all from Vancouver or Victoria ?? a 95-minute ferry ride across the Georgia Strait. They all pay subs to the ones that keep them organised, and help or guest at each other's shows, and on recordings. It's very cool, and R.A.N.C.H activities have served some of its members well, far beyond the city limits. 'Showdown' is a thrilling collection of twenty-two such members, and as fine an introduction to this thriving community as you could ever hope for. However, it contains surprises, revealing a Vancouver that I had not previously encountered. Besides breaking hearts with torch and twang, or scuffing up dust in a hoedown stylee, Vancouver also likes to rock, it seems. But in a rootsy fashion, naturally. Consequently, 'Showdown' is divided roughly 60/40 country-based material to some mainly nifty rock 'n' roll sillybilly. Of the former camp, circuit vet Graham Brown kicks things off with the slick but fierce Shotguns, Cacti and Vengeance; Dave Edmunds and Jason Ringenberg would listen in seething envy. JT King has been a favourite for a while, and the soft Rickie Lee meets Lucinda shuffle of Northern Towns is typical of their quality. The oddball but brilliant Buttless Chaps and Neko Case's Corn Sister Carolyn Mark weigh in with strong, spirited offerings, as does Bocephus King with Hustler's Lament, which brings Lee Hazlewood, Dr. John and Calexico to mind. Tiefisher is a new name to me, but the loose melancholia of their Hardwood Floor ensures theirs is a name to watch. Coal is yet another project for Flophouse Jr's he-who-does-not-sleep Jon Wood, stepping back to provide a Tarnation-lite bed to the sultry vocal of Nicole Steen. Jon's main band's contribution is a highlight here ?? an exclusive in the form of a delicious demo of Funny Town. As expected, an unreleased nugget from Radiogram also provides sad thrills; the dark, saw-haunted Off On A Cloud an outtake from the All The Way Home sessions, and presumably influenced by having shared a stage with The Black Heart Procession. Other countrified killers for me are the effortlessly mirrored Burritos' brilliance of Bottleneck's Can't Go Back, the tough, mid-'60s Britpop-flavoured Devil's Sway from Swank, and The Talk Of Two Towns by The Ploughboys ?? as hot a 21st Century western swing outfit as you'll find anywhere. And then, there's the rock 'n' roll. Butch Murphy and The Greasy Kings, John Guliak and The Lougan Bros offer pretty standard barroom bluesy fare, but there are others that really get stuck in to show that there are bands from this area that offer an alternative, higher octane night out, whilst upholding musical traditions and ideals so key to the sounds of this part of Canada. The joyous, clattery tomfoolery of David P. Smith and foot-to-the-pedal rockabilly meat of The Deadcats, the ancient production values of Rockin'Daddys, and the Dead-Kennedys-as-garage-pop charge of Big John Bates all kick shit across the sticky floors of sweaty dives with their fiery noise, and provide a mean foil to the more familiar cerebral Vancouver high lonesome sound. There's more, but I'll prattle no longer. Bear in mind, these are examples of the output of R.A.N.C.H. guys and gals; what talent must lie beyond its ever-growing family is simply mind boggling. This is a limited release, yet to attain UK distribution. For information on how to obtain a copy, contact Shelley Campbell through the R.A.N.C.H. website (www.ranch.ipfox.com).

Tom Sheriff
CWAS #11 - Autumn 2002

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