February 19, 2009
It's misleading to call Strung a supergroup, as the term normally applies in pop music. While each of its four members are highly accomplished musicians â€” and much respected within their musical constituency â€” none has a large enough profile to transcend his or her musical specialty. This in no way diminishes the artistry of world renown Celtic guitarist Tony McManus, fiddle virtuoso and vocalist April Verch, dobro ace Doug Cox or bassist Cody Walters. Billing themselves as a Celtic Power Quartet is certainly warranted, with the caveat that their repertoire extends beyond the borders of Celtic music. As important as pan-Celtic music is, the group's material spans the acoustic roots spectrum encompassing contemporary folk, country, blues, Americana, Hawaiian, world music and vintage swing jazz, not to mention a dizzying array of fiddle traditions. The acoustic quartet made its debut Wednesday at One Night Only: Live at the Registry, which is celebrating its 5th anniversary season. McManus, who lives in Elora, performed solo at the Registry previously.The four musicians parked their performance egos at the door and played as a tight ensemble, taking turns introducing songs and tunes, switching off lead vocals between Cox and Verch and sharing lead parts. There was lots of good natured banter between songs and tunes. While egalitarian in approach, McManus' slick and efficient, finger- style guitar prowess â€” he also played mandolin on one song â€” couldn't be denied. Consequently, he acted as the group's anchor. Cox handled dobro and weissenborn guitar (a dobro with a hollow neck) in addition to flat top. He also wore the main vocalist hat with a voice as tattered and threadbare as a thick, wool sweater â€” this is meant as a complement. His songs included a couple of great covers by Canadian songwriters Bob Carpenter (Band of Gypsies, the lovely, poignant title track of Strung's debut release) and Diamond Joe White's Maybe in the Morning, in addition to Muddy Waters' Can't Be Satisfied, the heartfelt, selfpenned It Takes a Few Years and Sin City, by Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman. Cox's An Easy Place to Be, which brought to mind the kind of tunes Stephane Grappelli or Joe Venuti would write, was accurately described by McManus as a 'Scottish tango.' Verch offered some terrific fiddle, including A Riverboat's Gone, a tribute to the late John Hartford. Her Independence, VA was a slow, mountain air as lovely as a warm summer breeze. She ended both sets with some high-spirited step-dancing. McManus drew tunes from Brittany, Greece, Ireland, Quebec, Eastern Canada and Scotland. For his part, Walters, who plays standup, electric bass, held down the rhythm section with subtle elan. Strung generated a wonderfully rich and full sound that filled the intimate Registry Theatre to the rafters with music that spanned the globe.