The Canadian roots music scene is currently in buoyant health and this situation is further enhanced with the upcoming highly anticipated third release from Vancouver based five piece band – Viper Central. This new album titled ‘Thump and Howl’ will be having its launch aligned with a summer UK and Ireland tour and its blend of bluegrass, country and old time traditional will surely be enthusiastically endorsed by connoisseurs of this music.The strength of the album lies within the fine string instrumental skills of the five vastly experienced band members each demonstrating their expertise with the blend of sounds from banjo, fiddle, mandolin and guitar, laced with a little lap steel to add a more county flavour to the feel of the music. Multi skilled Vancouver music activist Steve Charles is the architect of the band and is capably supported by Kathleen Nisbet on fiddle and lead vocal on around half the tracks, as well as Tyler Rudolph on banjo, Mark Vaughan on mandolin and a variety of steel sounds from Tim Tweedale. Together they take you on a forty minute journey of original material that combines talented finger pickin’ and entertaining storytelling to give ample evidence of the torch of traditional roots music being kept well and truly alight.
This well balanced fourteen track album contains seven songs delightfully sung by, now solitary female band member, Kathleen Nisbet with perhaps the highlight being the opening number ‘Saskatchewan’. This song celebrates the importance of old time music in Canada’s prairie province and Nisbet’s distinctive vocals, aided by a touch of steel, give it a real upbeat country sound. There is a similar feel, albeit with a slower tempo, to the song ‘Hanging Ground’ with its darker tones, a pace also repeated in ‘Captain’. Although all the tracks incorporate each band member’s instruments, the fiddle stands out on the title track ‘Thump and Howl’, likewise banjo on ‘A Northern Midwife’ and mandolin on ‘The One I Love is Gone’. However all these sounds complement the fine vocal skills of Nisbet.
Steve Charles steps forward to take the lead on two of the tracks, which both have a unique feel about them amongst the collection of songs that comprise this album. The listener is left with little doubt of the bluegrass qualities attached to ‘Come ‘Round’ while the folk orientated ‘The Donkeyliner’s Waltz’ is a well constructed traditional storytelling song. The latter, whilst predominately sung by Charles, includes a brief duet interlude with Nisbet. The five remaining tracks are all instrumentals with the more memorable being the Celtic influenced fiddle tune ‘Drops of Brandy’ and the banjo inspired ‘Cobro’s Last Call’.
Overall the slightly eclectic sounds may not satisfy the bluegrass purists but for those who prefer to savour a more general range of what traditional Canadian and American roots music can offer, this interpretation from Viper Central will warrant a place in a personal music library. As well as recommending this album, it is fairly certain that a musical evening in their company will be an opportunity not to be missed during their visit this summer.