Reviews of The Road Less Travelled
Ottawa Citizen, December 28, 2000
Top 10 country music releases of 2000
[9. The Road Less Travelled - Steel Rail]
"Straddling the road between folk and bluegrass, this Montreal trio continues to produce outstanding material sadly ignored by the music industry. Fading prairie towns, warm spring rains, late-night bars, homeward journeys: the small but essential stuff of life is celebrated in vivid imagery, exquisite vocals and inspired instrumentation. C'mon you record company honchos and tone-deaf radio programmers, give the folks a chance."
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No Depression, September 2000
"Robert Frost, that cagey New Englander, generated poetic tension by screening his thoughts and emotions behind plain language and a healthy dose of ambiguity. Montreal's Steel Rail, on their second folk/bluegrass CD, are a little more direct, even though they borrow their album's title from Frost's The Road Not Taken, reference another of his poems in the opening track, and, judging, by their penchant for rural imagery, have been well-schooled in country things.
Roadways interlace the record, each tune a way station offering a fresh perspective on life -- from the bottom of a glass, through the eyes of a traveller on the homeward stretch, from beneath an endless prairie sky. Love alternately thrives and withers, small towns and old people fade away, spring rains promise bountiful harvests, once-bustling farms are reclaimed by the forests from which they were carved. Add a home movie of a visionary mother whose tenuous grip on reality finally gives way, tack on a vibrant instrumental paean to a wild rose, and you've pretty much got the picture.
All self-penned, the trio's newest collection leans more to folk than bluegrass, although lead singer Tod Gorr splits the difference in his usual flawless manner. Generous harmonies abound, and when bassist Ellen Shizgal takes the vocal spotlight, she leaves you hungry for more. Lead guitarist Dave Clarke sweeps you along with both style and substance, while principal lyricist Lucinda Chodan makes you wish she'd pack in her day job.
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Bluegrass Unlimited, August 2000
"Steel Rail is a Canadian trio who hails from Quebec. While this is not a bluegrass album, it is an album of some great songs that can very easily fit into any bluegrass ensemble. All of the material is original and co-written by the band members or close allies of the group. Tod Gorr plays rhythm guitar and sings most of the leads; Ellen Shizgal plays electric bass and sings harmony; and Dave Clarke plays lead guitar and sings. They blend well together, and Gorr's sharp vocals give the songs the right edge. Helping out on the project is Don Reed on fiddle, Gaston Bernard on mandolin, Junior Barber on resonator guitar and John McColgan on tastefully understated drums (just enough for accent).
While they call Montreal home, they write songs of the wilder regions of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Willow Creek sits in the shadow of the Rockies; a town slowing down is fabled in The Town That Used to Be; the poignant Closing Time (shows what happens) when the plant shuts down and takes everything with it. Travelling On is as close to bluegrass as they get with some great fiddle runs by Don Reed.
This CD is chock-full of good songs and may well be a source of material to include in your repertoire. A good CD package with song words and titles. Nicely done.
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Ottawa Citizen, April 6, 2000
"Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken ends without shedding any light on the journey: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -- I took the one less travelled by/And that has made all the difference.
"Montreal folk/bluegrass trio Steel Rail picks up the trail in their second album, sketching finely crafted vignettes of dead ends and new beginnings, missed connections and hopes fulfilled. Like Frost's poetry, the songs move with vigorous self-assurance, uncovering mystery and meaning in the everyday while making the listener both observer and participant in the drama.
"More folk than bluegrass, the music derives its warm, rounded tones from the former, its energy and cutting lonesomeness from the latter. Crisp lyrics are dotted with imagery which, again like Frost's, is both simple and evocative: Old man on the corner/Where the bitter wind sweeps in ... Gazes at the foxtails/And they wave back at him (The Town That Used to Be). Lead singer Tod Gorr blends sweet-natured folk and keening bluegrass in his unerring deliveries, backed by the group's rich harmonies. Bassist Ellen Shizgal delivers a couple of stellar solos, her slightly dusky voice a delicious match for the generous, open vowels and vast horizon of Prairie Sky. And if you've spent any time in Alberta, you know that lead guitarist Dave Clarke has nailed it down in the closing instrumental number, Wild Rose. (****1/2 out of five).
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Vancouver Province, March 28, 2000
"This Montreal-based trio combines folky songwriting with bluegrass harmonies and licks and calls it all folkgrass. Stern Bill Monroe may not have taken kindly, but if you were to fuse early Gordon Lightfoot onto current Del McCoury or the Seldom Scene, something very like Steel Rail would emerge. There is an unapologetic Canadiana to the songwriting with well-wrought scenes of abandoned grain elevators, the Rockies at dawn or cold nights in Quebec's Eastern Townships throughout, while lead singer Tod Gorr brings each one to life. This is an even better collection than their debut A Thousand Miles of Snow and deserves a prominent place on Canadian radio, country or otherwise." (**** out of five)
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Hour Weekly, Montreal, Jan. 20, 2000
"Each title is produced with modest and subtle country-styled acoustic textures, and structures and harmonies that are hard to resist, especially when coupled with imagery of our common rustic and rural heritage... [T]he strategy seems to be to serve the music: This is how Harrowsmith would sound were it put to music." (**** out of five)
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Montreal Gazette, Nov. 25, 1999
"Tod Gorr has a great country voice, Dave Clarke is one of Canada’s most accomplished and tasteful acoustic guitarists and Ellen Shizgal blends beautifully singing harmony (and one lead) and playing bass. And they very effectively fuse their acoustic country sounds with strains of bluegrass and contemporary folk music in a set marked by finely crafted, evocative songwriting." (**** out of five)
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Country Gazette, Morin Heights, Quebec
"The Road Less Travelled is definitely a CD to add to your collection."