Welcome to the website of the Montreal folkgrass trio Steel Rail. Strong original material, superb three-part harmonies and hot picking have helped Tod Gorr, Ellen Shizgal and Dave Clarke win a loyal fanbase in Central Canada. After almost a decade of living on opposite ends of the continent, the threesome are back together in Quebec, making new acoustic music that reflects the best of the folk, bluegrass and country traditions.

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Out of this world 

Dave, Ellen and Tod after the Wintergreen show: Tired but happy

Thanks to everyone who came out for last night's gig at Le Petit Campus -- it was a fun and slightly surreal night, given the party vibe on the Main, thanks to Les Nuits Blanches, Montreal's party-all-night winter festival. The last people to leave the gig, for instance, were ushered out by a tall green alien with bug eyes and a man in a white NASA astronaut suit. Truly.

Never mind the extraterrestres. The earthlings at the show, which was part of Montreal's prestigious Wintergreen Concert Series, gave Tod, Ellen and Dave (all also human the last time we checked) a very warm reception. They seemed pumped about both the Steel Rail chestnuts (Old Forgotten Road, Willow Creek and I'll Fly Away) and the new material that debuted at the show. Some of the most enthusiastic applause went to Ellen's plaintive new song When Are You Coming Home? which she wrote, with musical help from Dave, about his long absence in Western Canada. She dedicated the song to Dave's 80-something mother, who was enjoying the concert from a prime seat near the front (thanks, Matt!). Dave's mom later pronounced the concert a great success, although confessed that she might not be the most objective observer.

Another highlight was Argyle Street, a song about Halifax that was inspired by stories told by a band friend and Haligonian. The song features the lines: "Girls all have their best jeans on / Donna's hair is brown and long/ Charlene with her eyes so green / Prettiest one Evangeline." It was a treat to be able to dedicate the song to the Evangeline in question, even if the details of the barhopping trip to the real-life Argyle Street were a little fuzzy.

Other favourite moments: Dave's instrumental Sorrento and Ellen's beautiful new untitled song, a hymn to the human spirit. (Chorus: "The loving, the leaving, the hurting, the grieving, the light fading fast and the darkness receding..." if you are trying to place it.) And, of course, hearing the audience softly singing along to the chorus of That's How the Summer Slips Away, always a moving phenomenon.

Resolutions for the next concert:
  •     Find a title for Ellen's new song
  •     Get Tod a new pair of lyric-friendly glasses
  •     Play Rain slower and Once in a While faster
In the meantime, our thanks to Matt and Rebecca, whose Hello Darlin' Productions presented last night's concert and whose presence on the Montreal scene helps keep acoustic music thriving in our city. Keep your ears open for news of this year's upcoming Folk sur le Canal festival, also powered by Matt and Rebecca. It takes place June 15 to 19 along the Lachine Canal and is not to be missed.

Not aliens: Just Dave and roadie Dan Sullivan striking the stage after the show


Woodshedding for our Petit Campus show Feb. 27 

Tod, Ellen and Dave spent Saturday working on the final arrangements for their Wintergreen Concert Series show at Le Petit Campus Feb. 27. On the set list as of late Feb. 20: are three great new tunes by Ellen, Once in a While, When Are You Coming Home? (written with Dave) and one song so new it's still called Untitled.

They'll also be introducing two covers of songs recorded by one of our favourite bands, Hot Rize, and a favourite songwriter, Tim O'Brien. High on a Mountaintop, written by Olabelle Reed, is a great bluesy bluegrass tune that we first heard on the 1979 Hot Rize album (that's the one that is just called Hot Rize and has a steaming biscuit on the cover, for all you Hot Rize fanatics). The other tune is Heartbreak Game, a co-write by Tim O'Brien and Randy Hardley, that moves along at a pace that Tod used to call "fast as you dare" until he turned 50.

There are also two love songs to Montreal by Dave and Lucinda, written when they lived out west. One is called Flow, River, Flow, about the sadness of leaving Montreal, and the other is the self-explanatorily titled Let's Go Back Home, started one bone-chillingly damp West Coast winter day in Victoria.

Everyone's looking forward to the show at Le Petit Campus, Steel Rail's first full-length concert in Montreal since the band got back together again two years ago.

Hope you can join us there -- details can be found at the top of our home page or at hellodarlinproductions.com

Say cheese! Again. AGAIN! 

Thanks to our friend and fine photographer Judith Cezar, who against the odds (a notoriously restless group of musicians) came up with some new Steel Rail band photographs on a wintry January day in the Laurentians. Here is a sample of Judith's work. We'll be using some of the results as our official photos and they'll be part of an SR newsletter we are sending to fans prior to our Feb. 27 concert at Le Petit Campus in Montreal.
Thanks, Jude!

Old friends, new beginnings at the Black Sheep  

The band is still buzzing about Sunday's heartfelt, heartwarming concert at the Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield, Que.

It felt like family as we played for old friends and new fans in our first comeback concert outside Montreal after an eight-year hiatus.
There were old tunes -- like A Thousand Miles of Snow and Old Forgotten Road -- and new songs, such as Ellen's beautiful Once in A While, at one of our favourite venues, the Black Sheep Inn on the banks of the Gatineau River in Wakefield.
Among the attendees were some of the people who have been on the Steel Rail bandwagon right from the start, including Ron Moores of CKCU's Back 40 program, an early champion who has become a true friend. Ron's touching introduction set the stage for a concert that ranks high among all of the band's performances over the last quarter century.

Among the new songs at the concert: Once in a While, Winter Wren, Rain and When Are You Coming Home (by Ellen). Flow River Flow and Argyle Street (by Dave and Lucinda). More about those songs -- and the upcoming Steel Rail album -- soon. 

In the meantime, thanks to everyone who came out on a soggy Sunday afternoon for the Black Sheep Show. Thanks to Ron Moores and Chris White of CKCU, important pillars for Canadian folk music. And a special thanks to Paul Symes and the pug patrol for decades of support for the Canadian folk and roots music scene. A continuer....

Coming home to the Black Sheep 

Paul Symes at the Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield, Quebec, was one of the first impresarios to book Steel Rail for a concert gig. So it feels right to make one of our first comeback concerts at the Black Sheep on Sept. 13.

There have been many SR appearances over the years, but none since around 2006, when the band ramped down after Dave set out for the West Coast. We're looking forward to being back at the now legendary venue. The shows and the audiences at the Black Sheep are among our favourites, and many SR songs got their first public performances there, including That's How the Summer Slips Away and Belmont Days.

The dark main street of Wakefield was the inspiration for the song Midnight Road, and Martin Melhuish, creator and director of the Telefilm series Four Strong Winds, travelled with SR and conducted interviews with them along the railroad tracks and the Gatineau River. 

Ellen and Lucinda have had many a cup of middle-of-the-night tisane up on the third floor, Tod's drunk many a beer, and Dave has celebrated at least a couple of birthdays at the venue.

So revenons à nos moutons, or at least à notre Mouton. Hope to see our Ottawa-area friends on Sept. 13.

Warming up the winter night 

Originally posted Feb. 15, 2015
Thanks to everyone who came out to the Steel Rail comeback concert at Le Petit Capus in Montreal Feb. 7. A great time was had by all, especially SR themselves: Tod, Ellen and Dave.

Steel Rail's part of the bill featured songs that ranged from one of the band's first originals, A Thousand Miles of Snow, to a brand new heartbreaker, Once in Awhile, written by Ellen. Here is the set list from the show, part of the Wintergreen Concert Series.

1. Big Sky Blues
2. That's How the Summer Slips Away
3. Old Forgotten Road
4. Once in Awhile
5. Argyle Street
6. A Thousand Miles of Snow
7. Sorrento
8. Rain
9. Winter Wren
10. Let It Rain
11. Flow River Flow
12. I'll Fly Away

It was a treat to share the bill with musical friends Bill Garrett and Sue Lothrop, whose set featured some fine singing and picking, including The Haunted Hunter, a gem from Bill's 1979 selt-titled album (recently rereleased on Borealis) and a powerful new song about the plight of women in war-torn regions by Sue.
Bill and Sue (along with ace fiddler Josh Zubot) joined Steel Rail onstage for the finale: Dave's song Waiting for a Train and the country classic Ashes of Love.

Back in gear  

Originally posted Jan. 25, 2015
How time flies when you're far from home.

After a five-year break from the concert stage, it's great to be preparing for a show in our home town, Montreal.

Some things haven't changed: the official practice food is still St. Viateur bagels with salmon spread, and at one point in each practice Tod sings Rabbit in the Log and everyone joins in.

Most important, everyone is still writing great new material -- so much that there isn't time to play it all in the Feb. 7 concert at Le Petit Campus. Ellen has been particularly prolific; several of her new songs will be played at the show. We've also been practising a couple of tunes to play with our old pals Bill Garrett and Sue Lothrop, the other half of the double bill at Le Petit Campus.

No spoilers, although  you'll be able to sing along if you like!

More updates soon. In the meantime, here's a photo from one of the January practices.