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A year makes a big difference for The Strumbellas

Paradise Rock Club, Boston, October 30, 2016

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

What a difference a year makes. Last year, Toronto-based band The Strumbellas played an area club before a grand total of a dozen people.

Times certainly have changed for the sextet because they sold out a 930-capacity club and played before adoring fans.

And it may have been special in even more ways for the group since it was the closing night of a two-month tour, by far the biggest they have ever launched here.

The last night of a tour may bring a sense of relief and hijinks. Well, yes there was the joking around, but relief? Doubtful. That's because when you have a passel of high quality songs and an engaging show, the end may have come too soon.

The difference for The Strumbellas could be directly tied to its hit song "Spirits," which enjoyed more success than anywhere else. It's not all that different than the rest of the band's material. Well sung by lead singer Simon Ward, a sing-along quality, which infiltrates most of the group's material, and a catchy melody were just about the perfect ingredients.

That may have closed out the 75-minute show, but it wasn't as if The Strumbellas didn't have songs that were up to snuff elsewhere. Any number of songs - "The Sheriff" and the closing "Wild Sun," for example - were of similar vintage.

Sometimes classified as a roots band or indie folk (maybe that was because of Isabel Ritchie's fiddle playing), The Strumbellas veered more towards rock. Many of the songs sported multiple backing harmony vocals as well.

And the band knew how to have a good time in a down home show with band members joking around with each other. Ward didn't necessarily have it easy though because early on, he chided the Boston fans that his Toronto Blue Jays did better than the Red Sox. Not many out of town bands have the guts to say what he did. Ward took the boos in stride.

Later, he let the hometown crowd on an inside joke. He said in each city, he proclaimed he was a fan of the home football team with sidekick and keyboardist Dave Ritter getting booed for being outed as a supposed Patriots fan. Who knows if Ward was telling the truth, but Ritter revealed his Tom Brady shirt underneath his regular shirt. He received lots of applause.

But it wasn't the joking around that stirred the fans. The Strumbellas showed a whole lot can change when you get a modicum of airplay. The fans came, and The Strumbellas were far more than one hit song.

Foreign Air opened with a smart set of fast-paced, electronic-oriented songs with lead vocalist Jesse Clasen often going falsetto with clear vocals. While having little to do musically with the headliners, Foreign Air was a worthy opener.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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