Annie Lou "Grandma's Rules for Drinking" Self-released
A mildly familiar name within the Western Canadian folk community, Anne Louise Genest put out a pair of albums from her Yukon home a decade ago, played the requisite festivals and clubs, garnered a bit of airplay. Then, she went away and faded from mind, at least mine.
Now based on Vancouver Island and supported by a group of Canadian string band stalwarts, including the industrious Kim Barlow (banjo, vocals, Her Own Self), John Showman (fiddle, Creaking Tree String Quartet and Foggy Hogtown Boys) Max Heineman (bass, Foggy Hogtown Boys) as well as others including Andrew Collins, also of the Foggy Hogtown Boys (mandolin, guitar) on a couple cuts, Genest and her band are now Annie Lou and explore old-time, acoustic sounds.
Prior to reinventing herself, Genest's output was comprised of mostly acoustic, modern folk music, heavy on personalized story with vignettes not unlike those created by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, minus the Appalachian affectations. It was good, quite enjoyable in fact, but not terribly distinctive: the world is full of folk singers, and it takes some kinda something to distinguish one from the pack.
Annie Lou's enjoyment of bluegrass and old-time music is obvious, and they/she have produced an pleasing album that may well open more than a few doors for them. Nominated this past fall for a pair of Canadian Folk Music Awards (losing to Michael Jerome Browne and Catherine MacLellan), Annie Lou's second album is a well-balanced slice of 'big tent' music that one might expect to have grown out of a campfire jam that went on a little too late into the evening.
There is magic here: superior picking, excellent rhythm work throughout, impressive and whisical lyrics, and a lead vocal style that is unusual, in a good way; when listening, one can hear echoes of the McGarrigles and Sylvia Tyson within Genest's voice, but she is irrefutably herself. There is nothing cookie-cutter about Annie Lou's amalgam of bluegrass and stringband music; while the band could comfortably share the stage with the likes of Foghorn, OCMS, and Crooked Still, they don't sound like any of them.
Teach Me To Dance and The Plaid Parade are little songs capturing the moments of nothingness that compound to become our lives. Domestic irritation rears its head within Take Your Leg Off Mine while Grandma's Rules For Drinking offers advice that few have likely taken.
"Grandma's Rules For Drinking" is a mixed bag, all of it good. Instrumentals mix with homespun tales, delivered in a variety of tempos. Showman's fiddling is consistently extraordinary. Not one to wear out a welcome, the album whizzes by in just over thirty minutes.
This is the type of album that will have a long shelf-life, discovered the best way- as friend introduces it to friend.