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Lonesome Ace revisits the old-time

The trio performs at City Arts Space as part of Arden Theatre's professional series.
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The Lonesome Ace Stringband plays at City Arts Centre on Thursday, March 31. From left to right, Chris Coole, Max Malone and John Showman. SUPPLIED/Photo

Now that venues are open for business, the next few months promise to bring a flood of entertainers to the area. One band with a flawless track record is the dazzling Lonesome Ace Stringband. 

Packed with bluegrass nostalgia, the trio is on a 13-show tour of Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia with a stop at St. Albert’s City Arts Space on Thursday, March 31.   

On its website, the trio describes itself as “an old-time band with bluegrass chops that play some righteous folk and country.” As master musicians they are veterans of Canada’s top roots acts, including The Foggy Hogtown Boys, New Country Rehab, The David Francey Band, and Fiver. 

The well-tuned musicians, Chris Coole (banjo-guitarist), John Showman (fiddle), and Max Malone (bass), jammed together in 2007 at Toronto’s legendary Dakota Tavern playing 10 sets of music every weekend. The three amigos spent seven years honing their chops as a house band before recording a song or planning a tour.  

“Our style is pre-bluegrass. Bluegrass is not that old. It’s about the same age as rock and roll. We have our own take on it. We pull from pop, country, folk, Americana, gospel, honky-tonk, and Appalachian,” said Chris Coole, the band spokesperson. 

Currently, Lonesome Ace Stringband has five records at their fingertips, including their latest release Lively Times — Live at the Anza Club. Recorded November 25, 2019, at Vancouver’s Anza Club, it was the last night of a grueling two-week tour. 

“We had hired a video and audio crew to come and record the night show with three cameras. At that time, we weren’t looking to release a record. We just wanted social media content to promote the band,” Coole said. 

“When the pandemic hit, we didn’t have anything to promote, and everything was shelved for more than a year. Then we rediscovered it and decided to make it our COVID project. We picked 14 of our favourite covers. And the neat thing was we already had videos for all the songs.”  

The three amigos fill the 14-track with fresh arrangements of traditional bluegrass infusing individual character and tone to the vocals. The varied tempos range from smokin’ hot sizzlers to emotional tearjerkers, creating an interactive experience for the listener.  

One album song the trio will perform at the Arden is Hills of Mexico, a tune that receives the most plays and views.  

“It’s a very old ballad from Kentucky. It’s a narrative about a man convinced to work in the hills of Mexico at a good paying job. He goes and instead starves to death. It’s an archetype and there’s a version of this song in Ontario about logging camps.” 

The threesome is also pulling out Cluck Old Hen, one of their few instrumentals, as well as the haunting a cappella, Dammed Old Piney Mountain, a heartbreaking song about an old fiddle-playing logger who lost a finger and could never play the fiddle again. 

They’ve also tapped into The Stanley Brothers’ Stone Walls and Steel Bars, a narrative of one man’s despair in prison. And there’s Hazel Dickin’s Black Lung, a harrowing mining tale based on her family’s personal history. 

“These songs really capture what we do. The thing is, we make old-time music, but the framework is older than bluegrass. We do it in our own way and play in a fresher, more improvised style. Our music is timeless. If done well and played in the moment, it’s cutting edge.” 

The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. at City Arts Space, 125 Carleton Drive Unit #105. Tickets are $28 at 780-459-1542 or online at www.stalbert.ca


Anna Borowiecki

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