Canadian artist April Verch is unlike any other we have previously featured in our Artist Spotlight section. Reading her official bio it features the succinct description ‘bow, feet, vox. A trifecta of talent, keeping tradition feisty‘. In addition to possessing a delightfully angelic soprano singing voice, Verch is also a fiddle player extraordinaire. A former pupil at Mark O’Connor’s fiddle camp, to where she would later return in the role of teacher, her skill with the bow led to becoming both the Canadian Grand Masters Fiddle Champion & the Canadian Open Fiddle Champion. Verch’s undeniable expertise and flair on the fiddle have graced her nine albums to date, from debut offering ‘Springtime Fiddle’ back in 1992 (recorded at age 13), all the way through to 2013’s critically-acclaimed ‘Bright Like Gold’.
Even before fiddle playing caught the imagination of the Ontario native, the love for which blossomed when April first picked up the bow at the tender age of 6, there was another talent that the youngster had an aptitude for – stepdance. With an older sister already competing in Country jamborees to which their music-loving parents would regularly attend, it is unsurprising that when as young as 3 years old the precocious April was getting caught up in the excitement. It is clear that the now successful artist owes much to those early years, remarking ‘I was fortunate to have an opportunity to grow up performing with a lot of people that didn’t make their living playing music, but were the local country music stars. And I remember my parents asking them questions and having them talk to me and tell me how hard it was to have a career in music. I think the reason I did some of the things I did so early on was because I thought, ‘I know this is hard, but I’m still going to do this. So I’d better get going!‘. Stepdance still features in April’s performances and is in evidence on her new tenth album ‘The Newpart’.
Named for a special space added on to the Verch family home in the same year as April was born, the album (released in the UK on 20th April) pays tribute to the place where old meets new. Across its’ fourteen tracks the record is a both a mixture of newly-penned originals and traditional gems unearthed from the artist’s love of pre-1950’s folk & bluegrass; as well as a blend of instrumentals, vocal tracks and a stepdance track. Instrumental cuts such as the opening ‘Belle Election’ and the foot-stomping ‘The Newpart’ are an absolute delight. There is an unbridled joy to the tracks, with a palpable sense of the love of the heritage of the music shining through. Unsurprisingly the fiddle playing is startlingly good, performances with breathless abandon. Touring overseas has enriched April’s musical knowledge even further and a trip to Sweden led to recording ‘Polska From Kumla’, an absolute beauty of a traditional ‘slangpolska’ with a real sweetness & grace.
The tracks featuring April’s vocals are, in the main, slower and softer entries. ‘If You Hadn’t Gone Away’ has traces of a playfulness in its’ gentle slinky melody and the singer’s sweetly resolute delivery. Gorgeous heartbroken ballad ‘It Makes No Difference To Me’ is one of the 2015 vintage songs co-written by Verch, but fits perfectly amongst the history-soaked tunes surrounding it. Members of the April Verch Band, Cody Walters & Hayes Griffin, not only provide picking and harmony vocals on the album, they also feature in ‘duet’ performances. Walters joins April on the spritely ‘I Heard The Bluebirds Sing’, featuring a lovely call & response chorus in a classic Country song. Griffin features on ‘Dry Bones’, a traditional gospel-bluegrass gem boasting some of the finest picking heard on the album. Closing track ‘This Melody’, written by April, is perhaps the standout cut on ‘The Newpart’. Discussing the song the artist says ‘as an instrumentalist first and from a young age, I’ve always found that I could say things with my fiddle and music that I couldn’t possibly put into words’, proof of this is heard on the enchanting ‘This Melody’.
Foot percussion from April features across the album, particularly wonderfully so on the closing of the title track, but on ‘Gilchrist’ we get to hear the intriguing audio of stepdance. Performed on a special platform that the album’s producer Casey Driessen built with his father to enable them to capture the sound in a manner to do the dance justice, ‘Gilchrist’ is a truly unique listening experience. With only the tapping & shuffling of April’s feet heard across its’ two and a half minutes, the track is captivating.
‘The Newpart’ is a wonderful introduction to those unfamiliar with April Verch and her trio of skillsets. Meandering effortlessly between folk, bluegrass & Country it is hugely rewarding for listeners of each genre. The artist’s talent with the fiddle is unquestionable and she is on tremendous form here, vocally April sounds as though she was meant to sing these traditional melodies, fitting them perfectly like a glove. To support the UK release of ‘The Newpart’ the April Verch Band are touring Ireland & the UK from 6th – 24th May, check her website below for full details.
(Photos by Parker J Pfister)