Modern Grass to mow over province

Justin Brake
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Nova Scotia bluegrass troupe to tour Island with Matthew Hornell

Nova Scotia’s Modern Grass will play shows in Corner Brook, Grand Falls-Windsor, St. John’s and Norris Point this month with local songwriter Matthew Hornell. — Submitted photo

Sometimes when you least expect it, things just seem to fall into place.

Just ask Tom Terrell, who is tagging along with Newfoundland songwriter Matthew Hornell for a tour of the island this month with his band, Halifax folk-bluegrass outfit Modern Grass.

A group of exciting young players from Nova Scotia — Andrew Sneddon (resonator guitar), Dan MacCormack (banjo), Donald Maclennan (violin), Adam Pye (bass) and Terrell (guitar, vocals) — Modern Grass was born barely a year ago.

After moving to Halifax from his native B.C. Terrell met Sneddon and Pye at a bluegrass jam in town.

They started playing together, brought MacCormack and Maclennan into the fold, recorded an album in their friend’s living room, then found themselves up for a Music Nova Scotia award and on tour across the country.

Modern Grass rode the wave of momentum and assembled a collection of tunes for their sophomore album, “High on the Mountain,” recorded last March at CBC’s Studio H in Halifax.

In the meantime Sneddon and Pye crossed paths with Hornell, an acclaimed songwriter back home in Newfoundland but a newcomer to the Halifax music scene, and the bunch found they had a lot in common, musically and otherwise.

Terrell and Matt Gallant of the Moonshine Ramblers joined in and, before long, Hornell had found a new band to back him while he finished penning tunes for his own sophomore record.

When Hornell and the band land in Newfoundland Wednesday, they will showcase their new material in Corner Brook, then move on to gigs in Grand Falls-Windsor, St. John’s and Norris Point at the Trails, Tales and Tunes Festival.

“High on the Mountain” was recorded live off the floor over two days at the Halifax CBC studio.

“I enjoy the approach of rehearsing like crazy for two or three months, getting all those songs perfect, imagining like you’re in the studio, and then getting in there for two days and coming out with a snap shot of where we were all at,” says Terrell.

“There’s definitely things we could go in and fix, but I like that there’s imperfections, that there’s character. It’s like the art of practicality.

“You don’t need to spend 5, 10, 20 days in the studio. You can light a fire under your own ass and make sure those songs are perfect and just step in front of that microphone and play them that way.”

Terrell’s down home lyrics weave in, out and around the band’s complex arrangements, which fuse elements of bluegrass, gypsy jazz, blues and folk music and are accentuated by MacCormack’s breakneck banjo picking.

Convention is nowhere to be found in Modern Grass songs or live shows. In fact, says Terrell, audiences aren’t likely to hear a song played the same way twice.

In recording the new album, “we tried to tame some of the ways we like to improvise, which can be long, too crazy, too out there, which, at a live show, people totally eat up and enjoy,” he explains.

“But at the same time you’ll probably never hear it played the same way as on the record because we’re trying to say what we mean at the moment, not how we meant it however long ago.”

After the Newfoundland tour, at the end of May, Hornell, Terrell, Sneddon, Pye and Gallant will head into Riverport’s Old Confidence Lodge studio to drop new tunes for Hornell’s forthcoming record.

“Matt plays folk music too and I really like it,” Terrell says, explaining what drew him to the young songwriter’s music. “At heart it’s the same thing  —  it’s real songs ... with some cool musical arrangements with them.

“I think he’s taking his music to a pretty cool place.”

In June, Modern Grass hit the road for an extensive 2 1/2 month Canadian tour that will take them all the way to the Yukon and back.

Hornell and Modern Grass play McHugh’s Bar in Corner Brook Wednesday, Kelly’s Pub in Grand Falls-Windsor Thursday, The Ship Pub in St. John’s Friday and Saturday and Trails, Tales and Tunes in Norris Point May 18-20.

Organizations: CBC

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Halifax, Nova Scotia Iceland Corner Brook Yukon

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