Flapjack,
Old Time Bush Swing
(Cabin Fever, 2001)

Karen Taylor, Flapjack's primary fiddler, banjo player and singer-songwriter to boot, says the band's first love is playing for the dance -- whether for Ontario square dancers, New England contra dancers, cloggers or even sword-dancers. It's a love that definitely shows in Flapjack's self-titled debut CD, as fully eight of the album's 13 tracks are instrumental dance numbers -- and most of them are medleys combining more than one tune.

They're happy, sprightly, yet often hard-driving tunes, too, drawn from the rich musical traditions of the Ottawa Valley, Quebec and Newfoundland. Even the band's original compositions sound like traditional pieces. They feature Taylor's and husband Jay Edmunds' lively, clean fiddling on a variety of reels, clogs, waltzs, rags and even a train song.

Flapjack co-founder Edmunds trades licks on mandolin with his wife's flying fiddle on wild original tunes like "Ichabod's Last Ride" and provides a music box-like counterpoint on the lilting "Ottawa Valley Waltz." And on "Railroad Through the Rocky Mountains," her clawhammer banjo perfectly complements his fiddle.

Sam Allison and percussionist Teilhard Frost do a stand-up job of holding down the rhythm section on a variety of instruments, including Allison's double bass and Frost's washboard, jawharp, harmonica, kazoo and even feet. Edmunds' guitar, dobro and harmonica rounds out the accompaniment with guest Sean O'Connor's clarinet and accordion. It's hard to imagine how these tunes could be more perfectly arranged.

I haven't mentioned the singing yet. Probably not the group's strongest suit, yet both Edmunds and Taylor manage an affectingly casual and country twang that suits their vocal material, including originals like Taylor's award-winning and soulful "Opeongo Line" and Edmunds' delightful "Manitoulin Boy." Taylor also does a great job on the late Mac Beattie's Ottawa Valley standard, "Little Shack Up the Pontiac," and Edmunds rounds it out in a minor key with "Okanagan Valley Blues."

There is nothing blue about this CD, however, which ranges from fast reels to whimsical waltzes to dreamy ballads without ever losing either its jaunty tone or its obvious love of the land from which these songs were born. "Canadian bush swing" is what the band calls its music, and swing it does, delightfully so, from beginning to end.

- Rambles
written by John Bird
published 28 August 2004