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These five young Canadians each came to the table with impressive singular talents before joining up with their friend, banjo player Leonard Podolak, so it’s no wonder that collectively their talent would multiply to match their enthusiasm for making great music. The fact that banjo impresario Bela Fleck would sign on to produce their first album for Sugar Hill only reiterates the fact that they have, in only two short years, become one of the freshest and most exciting new bands to hit the music scene in a long, long time.

When Podolak, whose parents founded the Winnipeg Folk Festival, found his previous band folding, he did what any self-respecting musician who was wanting to play would do – he gathered up his most talented and eclectic friends and formed a new band – not knowing just what magic he was inadvertently creating in the process. Tapping longtime family friend Jessica Havey as the band’s lead singer, he then added fiddle prodigy Tania Elizabeth, Celtic guitarist Jordan McConnell, and eventually drummer Scott Senior to the lineup, bringing a veritable melting pot of influences into their Canadian rehearsal space.

Within a few short months, the band had jelled enough to make their first record, Your Daughters and Your Sons, which featured shades of big things to come for the group.

“We made our first record three months into working together,” recalls Tania, “and that album was later nominated for a Juno award, so when we found out about that we knew there was something good going on here.”

Podolak had been exposed to all sorts of great music at his home, where musicians were often guests, and learned the clawhammer style of banjo playing from his father when he was 15. His love of Irish music led him to form a band called Scruj MacDuhk, which folded in 2001 after six years together and inspired him to start the Duhks. Havey had spent years in school in theater and dance and thought she might get into films before being recruited into the Duhks’ lead vocalist spot. Elizabeth had already been playing the fiddle for over a decade by the time she joined the band, having been a child prodigy who quit school in ninth grade to start her own record label and tour across Canada, Australia, and China. Guitarist McConnell, a close friend of Podolak’s, started playing at 5 and grew up listening to punk bands as a skateboarder and snowboarder. His love of the instrument led him to Saskatchewan to become a luthier who now crafts his own acoustic instruments, and he quickly became enamored with the sounds of the celtic world, which he brings in healthy doses to the Duhks. Rounding out the band’s unique mélange of sound are the tropical Latin beats of percussionist Scott Senior, who started playing jazz at 10, and quickly branched out into the Cuban and Brazilian sounds. So serious about his craft that he spent time in Cuba learning from the old guard there, Senior realizes the importance of his talent evolving, especially in a band as progressive as the Duhks seem to be.

“Cuba was amazing,” Senior says, “because I was really accepted with open arms mostly from the old guys, because the tradition is almost passed on like that rather than written. I could go to New York and study at an institute, but this profession is not like that, and to this day, I’m always a student. We don’t get a lot of time now to go travel, so I just kind of do it on the road, you know…I have friends in New York I study with and am always learning. Always with myself, and even with this band, I try to apply my knowledge with someone else’s knowledge and think, how do we put this all together to make something that’s audibly really different, you know?”

Needless to say, they have accomplished that particular goal. And it wasn’t long before people started taking notice. When a Sugar Hill rep caught their show at a festival, the group was soon recording their self-titled debut, a cohesive mix of world music that is at the same time traditional yet completely contemporary. Fleck and producer/engineer Gary Paczosa brilliantly set the band up to do what they do and then got out of the way on the album, letting Havey’s voice and the band’s instrumentals shine on everything from the gospel/blues outing “True Religion,” to the haunting, mystical single, “Mists Of Down Below.” The album is another example of the broad yet brilliant range of music one can find housed under the “Americana” umbrella. / Issue 57 - September 4877
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