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The Strumbellas master its formula

Paradise Rock Club, Boston, November 13, 2017

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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The Strumbellas' formula is a simple one - write an anthemic sounding sing-a-long with a catchy chorus, which you can repeat ad nauseum to greater and greater effect.

That may sound like a quick and easy checklist, but the Canadian (well except for one lone American) band has mastered the formula quite well. In a sold-out concert, it translated exceedingly well.

For The Strumbellas, it all starts with the songs, which are a mixture of rock, a bit of roots (fiddle is among the featured instruments) and hard-edged indie folk. There's no way around it - these guys know how to write songs that stick in your head. Their best known, set closer "Spirits" fills the bill quite well, but so do songs like "Young And Wild," "We Don't Know' and "Wild Sun," which closed out the night.

And then there is the five-part harmony that demonstrated the overwhelming - that's a big compliment - vocal force and beauty of The Strumbellas. Hey, if they can sing along with each other, why can't we join in? No problem. The more vocal power the better.

Former teacher and lead singer Simon Ward not only sings well, but has a dose of charisma to easily win over the crowd. Violinist/keyboardist Isabel Ritchie (she's the American) and keyboardist Dave Ritter were mainstays in forging the sound. Drummer Jeremy Drury could set a steady beat, a bit harder when needed and forming a good rhythm section with bassist Darryl James. Jon Hembrey filled the sound out on lead guitar.

On the negative side, The Strumbellas have not had a new CD out since April 2016. That meant mainly the same set as last time around save for four songs. Ditto for replicating a few jokes that would have worked better if they were fresh. Not afraid to pander, Ward again proclaimed himself to be a big fan of the Patriots (wonder what he says in Canadian Football League cities) with Ritter an Atlanta Falcons fan (Atlanta blew the Super Bowl to the Pats this year). Ritter challenged Ward, saying he, in fact, was a Pats fan. Whatever.

And then there was the intro to the band by Ward at the end where he once again "forgot" to intro Ritter, who wondered what happened.

The group is slated to go into the studio in the next few months with new material presumably out in 2018.

This show may have been meat and potatoes Strumbellas - quite a good thing - but next time around, there better be a few new jokes. The material will stand on its own.

Touring this stretch of time behind an album could result in going through the motions, but that was never the case with The Strumbellas. This band has found a winning formula and sticks to it. Sounds simple, right?

Noah Kahan, a 20-year-old Vermont native, opened up with a good seat, mixing it up vocally between falsetto and throatier singing and quality songs like "Hurt Somebody" and "Young Blood," his first single. Kahan didn't quite carve out a musical identity, but with his own supportive crowd on hand, an appreciative Kahan acquitted himself well.