Review on cblocals.com by Harry Doyle

The first review of the album is in, and it’s a doozy…from an unlikely source! Thanks Harry Doyle at cblocals.com for an awesome, well thought-out review.

Disasterability: a non-expert’s guide to the Sprag Session debut record for the casual punk rock fan.

Colin Grant is no stranger to disasterability as an institution, having met me in a smattering of whiskey fueled encounters and perhaps more relevantly from being in a band with the likes of Dave Mahalik in Tom Fun, for whom a track on this self titled album is named. Colin is the de facto front man and fiddler in Sprag Session, which released their debut yesterday. This is an instrumental record.

We’ve been promoting Sprag Session (formerly Colin Grant Band) on the cblocals events listings for several months now, and while not having heard them live I’ve seen a few acts comprised of various members of the band. This band teeters on the edge of the rock scene but decidedly falls within it. Darcy Campbell kindly provided me with an advance copy of the record for critical review.

This is a celtic band with a moderate infusion from the rock scene, although not overtly so. I didn’t feel any sort of dilemma in promoting these events; I suspected based on the band membership and Colin Grant’s stint in Tom Fun that this album would have an edge. Merlin (drums) and Donnie Calabrese (bass) make up the two piece Buck n Kinch in which Donnie plays guitar and sings. They are also part of the Victor Tomiczek fronted punk(ish) outfit Ladyslippers. They provide a good and interesting contrast in the way they back up the rest of the band.

A quick note regarding nomenclature: It’s been reported to me that this record has tunes, not songs, because they don’t have any lyrics. I’ve tried to oblige where possible. Every genre has its quirks, and of course punk and metal explode with them.

As for the recent name change, I think it’s appropriate. Colin Grant Band implies a vehicle of sorts, or worse yet a vanity project. Jamie Foulds’ intelligent mix treats Colin’s fiddle like a main player, but working as an equal member against serious instrumentation by Jason Roach (keys) and Darren McMullen (strings, flute) who are absolute monster musicians. Colin is an unassuming but highly dexterious player and he works great in a team environment like this. Merlin cements his position as one of the rock scene’s great drummers, but not for the reasons you’d expect. His punk/prog sensibilty shines and brings a vitality to the more alternative type tracks on the first half of the record. What he arguably lacks in finesse is more than made up with interesting and innovative beats. Donnie Calabrese provides electric and stand up bass competently but doesn’t offer much in terms of flash. He’s working in lockstep with Merlin here and makes this rhythm section come correct; bass guitar can be a thankless job.

There are some tricky pieces on this record, which I understand was done largely live off the floor with minimal overdubs. In some of the more intricate parts an error would be easy to spot, but it’s executed with the kind of precision that gives you a real satisfaction on playback. This is pretty close to a no regrets record in terms of timing and musicianship. The odd wonky flute sound can be safely overlooked, although real hardcore fans might be put off. Overall this is a sonically fantastic recording. Colin maybe misses one note on this entire hour long twelve track record. This was tracked at Sonic Temple in Halifax and mixed by Jamie Foulds at Soundpark here in Sydney. Jason, Darren and Colin penned it.

Our readership will wonder which tunes they’re going to care about. This record can effectively be broken up into two sides like a casette. The first six cuts are pretty experimental in terms of celtic music, brushing up against hard rock and at moments prog; don’t hold your breath for an electric guitar though. Musical humor and whimsical riffs crop up, in a good way. The press release repeatedly mentions danceability, and it’s indeed there although you won’t expect it from some of the contemporary intros which meander into indie rock type beats. That said, the almost disco sounding opener will grab your attention immediately. Sprag Session goes exploring here, but within the limits of good taste. I think the band could have afforded to stray a little further from contemporary here, but I can see the reasoning for playing it safe. This genre can get hokey in a hurry if you’re not careful.

As for the latter half of the album, it moves into a more typical celtic format. While largely remaining upbeat, it loses some of the push that you see in drum oriented rock (although like any well sequenced record there are two hard hitters near the end). This is where it kinda sorta takes a backseat to purist celtic concerns. It’s where you can strangely compare it to NOFX’s Punk in Drublic, if you’ll hear me out. If you are passionate about the genre, you need to make a few songs that are true to form (my opinion). Not every cut can be Linoleum (purist), or The Decline (experimental) either. The Sprag Session debut clearly caters to multiple audiences, and that’s fine. The artist should have the right to delve into his or her art in the purest form, or where else is justifiable indulgence? Should NOFX not have recorded Don’t Call Me White becasue it’s too ‘textbook’? Colin Grant manages to explore purist and experimental without an obvious compromise, and it’s a credit to him. However this listener prefers the early tracks, as well as the surprise ender, Frank and Flo’s (time sigs be damned!). A tune like Digsy’s can safely explore a purist/traditionalist style of little interest to me, while other tunes like The Gwanwitcha will present a lot more to the rock crowd to chew on. What I’m saying here is that you don’t always have to push the envelope, you can mix the unconventional with the conventional and still get a record that works and doesn’t come out the least bit contrived. This album achieves that. I will venture an uneducated guess that the traditional tunes will likely ring true to serious fans of the genre.

Instrumental records are always an interesting affair, and this one makes use of both hip and traditionalist track titles, all explained in the album liner. I do think Sprag Session was too generous with Good Ship Tommy Fun, in which I would have hired the guys from one of Cape Breton’s gore/noise acts to record a rocket launcher going off or something. This ain’t no noise record though, and Sprag Session only explores the disasterability of Tom Fun in the last minute of the piece. I am, of course, being facetious.

Fans of Company House and associated bands will want to pick this record up; hard rockers will be pressed not to enjoy two or three cuts if they approach with an open mind. The opening track is infectious and if you need a sampling check out the five camera live video that Shot on Site made of them actually cutting it in the studio. I suspect that their live show is high energy and would not be out of place playing with the likes of Slowcoaster or even Roots and Rhythm Remain. The record continues to grow on me as I’m identifying the tracks I like best. Perhaps when I digest it a little more I will traverse the purist tracks in more detail.

The cd release is happening tomorrow night (Thursday) at Flavor 19. You can pick up the record digially from their website at spragsession.com. Reviewing this was a neat experience, and I hope to get to the release show. Be sure to watch for my upcoming and unlikely five part review of the Next Big Thing talent series over the next two months, which I am also recording. That starts tonight.

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