The Echo Hunters with Ball and Chain

Review by Serena Williamson

What a delight to be introduced, by the Spirit of Rasputin’s Arts Society, to The Echo Hunters. These five men from Montreal brought their unique, smooth, folk/rock/blues sound to the Ottawa stage and wowed us all!

The Echo Hunters feature the collective writing and performing talent of longtime friends Larry Cassini (lead guitar, vocals, harmonica), Gordie Fleming (lead vocals, 12-string guitar, harmonica)–who jokes about being Larry’s brother) and Rob Couture (drums, percussion). Carl Rufh (vocals, bass), and Sylvain Dancausse (violin) complete the group. The band has played concerts, festivals, clubs and showcases across Canada, the United States and the UK.

In private conversation, Kate Morgan, who books acts for the Spirit of Rasputin, confided a concern. She feared that the combination of torrential rain and the fact that this group was not as well known to the Ottawa folk scene as some of the other acts she has booked would lead to a not-so-full house. But her fears proved to be unfounded. The almost-full house virtually vibrated as audience members clapped and danced their way through the group’s fantastic sound. Those who were not there missed something special.

A unique feature of the Echo Hunters’ style is how they showcase individual group member talent. Many of their songs begin with about a minute-long instrumental. One instrument starts, perhaps backed up by drums. Or perhaps a drumbeat starts the song. This is then joined by a few bars of sweetness from another instrument. You find yourself watching the stage, wondering which instrument will be featured next. But it’s just a taste, an exquisite appetizer. And the tension builds, along with the complexity and the volume. We would be content if this remained an instrumental, until Gordie Fleming slays us with a searing lyric line and we are hooked.

Their sound features haunting vocal harmonies on thoughtful lyrics, driving acoustic guitars and an eclectic rock ‘n roll groove; it can be classified as folk-rock, but with blues, gospel and country roots. They also have a quirky side, to which the audience responded with glee.

Gordie Fleming and Larry Cassini are the front men in the group, with their vocals and delicious guitars, and Rob Couture on drums is great. Carl Rufh, with whom this reviewer chatted in depth before the performance, did a great job on bass, but there was a diamond almost hidden in the back. We never heard a word from the mouth of Sylvain Dancausse. He was the only band-member who did not have a microphone as this francophone apparently strives in vain to speak good English. But he did have a red electric violin! One could spend an evening just listening to him. The man is brilliant. What a sweet, delightful sound! The Echo Hunters are great, and not to be missed when they come to town.

This review would not be complete with out a tip of the hat to the group that opened the evening, Ball and Chain. Michael Ball and Jody Benjamin, regular features on the Ottawa folk roots scene, play a mixture of original and cover tunes leaning towards the earlier country music of artists such as Hank Williams, George Jones, Roger Miller and Webb Pierce.  Michael and Jody love original Cajun music, and their down home style makes us love it, too. With Michael on violin, which he has played since childhood and Jody on guitar or traditional Cajun triangle, we can’t help but want to get up and dance.

Michael and Jody brought their usual rollicking enthusiasm and playful style to the evening. Their original songs varied from moving to just plain fun, and their traditional songs made us crave jambalaya for dinner.

Ball and Chain can be seen regularly around Ottawa. In addition, Jody directs the two Ottawa chapters of Georgette Fry’s community women’s choir, Shout Sister!, while Michael plays standup bass every Sunday night at Irene’s Pub with the popular bluegrass group, The Dusty Drifters.

 

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