Peterborough band The Avenues roll into town for a series of gigs this week

Justin Brake
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The Avenues will perform in St. John's this week. — Submitted photo

With all the prefixes and hybrid titles country music has earned over the past decade or two it's refreshing to hear solid ventures toward the old stuff again.

Reconvening the essentials of country, bluegrass and folk music, and striving for a lyrical standard somewhere along the lines of a modern day Hank Williams song, Peterborough, Ont.'s The Avenues are winning fans over one city at a time as they zig zag across the country playing their version of "real" country music.

The band's Wednesday to Saturday St. John's sojourn will mark their second visit in under a year.

In the final stretch before laying down tracks for the followup to their debut self-titled album released last fall, Chris Culgin (guitar, vocals), Benj Rowland (banjo, bass pedals, accordion, vocals), Josh Fewings (drums) and Sean Conway (lead guitar) are undertaking one more East Coast swing to "work the new songs out," says Rowland, on the phone from New Brunswick, where he and his band mates are playing gigs in Fredericton and Moncton before continuing on to Newfoundland.

Rowland and Culgin have been travelling the country together since 2006, when, as The County Boys, they ventured into the country domain, made a couple records and devoted most of their touring time to Central and Western Canada.

Perhaps it was the kind of music they were making that prompted journalists and concert goers to frequently misread the band's name as The Country Boys, one of the reasons they eventually adopted The Avenues title.

Nevertheless, the country foundations are still in the music of The Avenues and, says Rowland, County Boys songs still make up a part of the band's setlist each night.

"With The Avenues we're kind of going electric now, so the instrumentation is very different because the County Boys was completely acoustic," he explains.

"I never figured I would be headed (toward an electric sound) but it's kind of fun to do it. It's kind of ironic but kind of retro, if you like."

The irony comes from Rowland and Culgin's desire to stay true to the country roots and not fall into the trap of overusing elements of popular music to make country music more accessible.

"I'm just starting to get into new country and I'm like, yeah it's not so bad," Rowland admits, "but not the radio stuff - some other stuff."

Although lyrically dapper, Ave-nues songs like "Road Kill" and "Never Learned to Read" feature upbeat melodies that typically have people dancing at the band's shows.

Other tunes, like "Troubles" and "Wild Bill Jones," through their tone, drinking references, and catchy banjo lines, still touch on that uniquely old-country sense of optimism without going over the top, as so many new-country artists do these days.

And therein lies the band's appeal - they don't play anything up or embellish particular qualities of their music.

They just write songs and attempt to stay the course with their country roots, and what's come out so far is endearing to the ear.

For their next album the band will work with producer James Bunton of Toronto indie act Ohbijou, says Rowland.

'Till then, they've got some playin' and dancin' business to take care of in St. John's, and a long drive home.

The Avenues play Scanlan's Wednesday evening, CBTGs Thursday, The Rose & Thistle Friday, and The Ship Pub Saturday.

Organizations: The Avenues, County Boys, Central and Western Canada

Geographic location: Peterborough, St. John's, East Coast New Brunswick Fredericton Moncton Newfoundland Country Boys Toronto

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