The Backstabbers Country Stringband,
Let the Sunshine In
(Run Mountain, 2002)

The Backstabbers Country Stringband, a band of Toronto-based country crooners, have outdone themselves on their third and latest release, which is their first studio-recorded project. This disc is made up of excellent reworkings of classic country songs and a few really good originals penned by frontmen Bob Hannan and "Colonel" Tom Parker.

The band features Parker on mandolin, Hannan on guitar and autoharp, Tony Allen on fiddle, Oliver Bielefeld on accordion, and James "Jimmy Jazz" Thomson on stand-up bass. Joining the guys throughout the record are Bob Wiseman, Burke Carroll, Chris Coole, Chris Quinn, Erynn Marshall and Alec Fraser, who also shares producing credit with Parker and Hannan. Helping out with harmony vocals on four tracks is the lovely Kristine Schmitt, a fixture at their live shows. She sounds great with Parker and Hannan and adds a real classic mountain country flavour to the songs.

The original compositions are the best tracks on the album. Parker's "The Prayer Line" (featuring his Johnny Cash-like monologue) and "Don't Throw the Baby Out With the Bathwater" sound like they were written in the days of the Carter family and fit right in with standards like "Let the Sunshine In" and "Likes Likker Better Than Me." Hannan also penned two tracks on the record, the ballad "Right Out Loud" and the inspirational "I'm Gonna Rise and Fall." "Right Out Loud," featuring Burke Carroll on pedal steel, is a sad song about the folly of pride in a relationship.

Among the covers on the record, a standout is the travellin' ballad "Cincinnati, Ohio," featuring Quinn's bass vocal on harmony. I was pleasantly surprised to see this one included on the track list. Another traditional favourite, with Parker's original arrangement, is the eerie "Two Little Sisters," which ends with another toe-tapping fiddle solo. Also noteworthy is "I Truly Understand," which starts the record off with an irresistible beat and the seamless harmonies of Parker and the honey-voiced Hannan. "Let the Sunshine In" ends on a high note, with the sing-along favourite "Sail Away Ladies," featuring Allen on lead and Schmitt, Fraser and Clair Jenkins with Parker and Hannan on harmony vocals.

Allen's smokin' fiddle, well, smokes on two instrumental tracks, "Pete's Breakdown" and "Sally Ann/Oklahoma Rooster," where he's joined by Coole on clawhammer banjo -- they make a great pair. The rest of the band jumps in on "Pete's Breakdown," most notably Parker on mandolin.

My hands-down favourite on this record (and a fan favourite at their spirited live shows) is Parker's "No Shortcut to Heaven," which features Schmitt on harmony vocals and ex-Blue Rodeo pianist Wiseman. It is a danceable hymn, in the tradition of classic country spirituals.

If you're a fan of real country music, this record should become part of your collection. The Backstabbers are a Canadian treasure, a talented group of musicians and vocalists, and their original songs have the potential to become standards in the genre.

[ by Rachel Jagt ]
Rambles: 6 April 2002