Album Review of
Up the Hill and Through the Fog

Written by Joe Ross
June 16, 2022 - 12:33pm EDT
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From Toronto, Ontario, Canada, The Slocan Ramblers are Frank Evans (banjo), Adrian Gross (mandolin) and Darryl Poulsen (guitar). All three sing, and each contributes original compositions on their new 2022 album, Up the Hill and Through the Fog. They are joined by Charles James (bass, vocals). During the last decade, they’ve released their 2012 debut Shaking Down the Acorns, 2015’s Coffee Creek and 2018’s Queen City Jubilee. In 2015, Coffee Creek peaked at #2 on The Roots Music Report's Top 50 Bluegrass Album Chart, and in 2018, Queen City Jubilee peaked at #24 on that chart. In 2020, The Slocan Ramblers received IBMA’s Momentum Award for Band of the Year.

On Up the Hill and Through the Fog, Poulsen penned “You Said Goodbye” and “Bill Fernie” with clear, concise ideas that tap into the traditional roots of the bluegrass genre. Evan wrote the bookends for the set, “I Don’t Know” and “Bring Me Down Low” with straight-ahead bluegrass attack and punchy slice-of-life stories.

Evans and Gross take a somewhat more daring interpretive approach to some of The Slocan Ramblers’ contemporary material. Evans’ “Won’t You Come Back Home” and Gross’ “The River Roaming Song” invoke consciousness and lyrical commentary reminiscent of John Hartford. Evans’ instrumental “Platform Four” starts slow but dynamically builds with force and drive that provide for an action-packed ride. Gross’ melodic instrumentals, “Snow Owl” and “Harefoot’s Retreat,” are nice showpieces for the band’s tasty mandolin, banjo and guitar licks. The guys do a fine job, but I was left thinking that a guest fiddler like Ronnie Stewart, Tim Crouch, Jason Carter or Michael Cleveland would’ve taken a few tracks totally over the top. Gross wrote “Streetcar Lullaby” in 3/4-time, and his “Bury My Troubles” has an energizing, jangling groove.

The band’s cover of Tom Petty’s cryptic “A Mind with a Heart of Its Own” keeps us guessing about how the heart and mind are connected, just as one’s past and future might also be interlinked but still unique. The Slocan Ramblers’ Up the Hill and Through the Fog carries the theme throughout the set to try to make sense of a crazy world that often seems disjointed, unaligned or plain bassackwards. As such, this band’s joyous bluegrass provides a sense of cathartic relief for a world desperately in need of direction and therapy. (Joe Ross, Roots Music Report)