Foghorn Stringband

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Rob Adams


Time was, if this gig had taken place in a television studio, there would have been a few bales of hay strategically placed in an attempt to emphasise the authenticity of what was being presented. No such props were required here, however, because the music from both Oregon-Yukon quartet Foghorn Stringband and their friends and opening act, Virginian singing partnership Anna & Elizabeth, was the full-strength, living and breathing American tradition, delivered with passion, honesty and in Foghorn's case unstoppable locomotion.

Anna & Elizabeth may talk of researching songs in dull library rooms but their association with tradition bearers including the octogenarian Alice Gerrard has added character and soul to their singing, picking and dancing. Their "cranky", a kind of moving tapestry and more an extra instrument than a prop, helped to illustrate songs and stories but the narratives, in various shades of dark and light, were clear from their wonderfully dovetailing, rustic voices alone.

Foghorn Stringband boast wonderfully dovetailing voices, too, and in various permutations from which it would be impossible to select a favourite. Caleb Klauder leading off the plaintive Down in the Willow Gardens? Bassist Nadine Landry retailing Patsy Cline's wary and then some Turn the Cards Slowly? Landry and guitarist Reeb Williams singing a cappella? It's all beyond good and with an instrumental powerhouse that has Landry pumping bass clef blood into Williams' unfailingly true rhythm playing while Klauder's mandolin and Sammy Lind's fiddle sprint, sing and slide as one, there's a toughness and energy as well as precision that together make an exhilarating, superbly satisfying and yet still more-ish whole that's greater than the considerable sum of its parts.