We have stumbled across albums from the artists featured in our “Take A Chance On Me” series in some obscure places over the last few years, but the one common thread is that all were found during excursions to southern Ontario. For those unfamiliar with these occasional features, the idea originated from finding albums by unknown (to us) Canadian artists in flea markets, thrift stores, and other random outlets; purchasing them on a whim, and hoping that they appeal to our tastes. And we can report that with those reviewed to date, all have proven to be great additions to our ever expanding album collection.
Spending some time out and about in northern Maryland recently, little did I expect that a leisurely perusal through some CDs in a used bookstore would yield a great result. Yet on this particular day, I would find a few albums of interest, albeit from artists already well known to us, before finding a real hidden gem tucked away in the dark recesses of the store. I must be honest and admit that the name Grady Kelneck was not entirely new to us, having seen him as part of a large stage ensemble during the Sawdust City Music Festival last year, but we had no familiarity with his original solo work. Ever doubtful that this find was ‘that’ Grady Kelneck, because, let’s face it, why would music from an emerging Toronto musician be found so far from home, but after casting a quick glance at the CD liner notes, some very familiar names convinced us otherwise. From Raven Shields (Wilderness of Manitoba) and Aaron Comeau, to Alastair Whitehead (Slocan Ramblers) and Kevin “The General” Neal all being listed, the purchase was made, and this album from 2014 found itself returning in a northerly direction to Central PA.
Opening with the title track, my attention was grabbed immediately by the unmistakable pedal steel from Kevin Neal, leading into a nicely paced Americana-country tune that also pairs Kelneck’s soft vocal delivery with some stunning harmonies courtesy of Raven. As a self-confessed lover of all things ‘pedal steel,’ tracks such as “I’ll Shoot You Down” and “Hey, Lee” quickly became favorites due in part to the phenomenal skills of Neal with this particular instrument. Equally impressive are the up-tempo moments, as found on both “Colorado” and “Goodbye Passing Fantasy,” the latter mixing in a little slide guitar to give this one a slight Cajun-country charm.
Where Grady Kelneck truly excels on this album, however, is with some of his eerily mellow offerings. Go ahead and take time to listen to both “Shadows” and “The Road,” and become lost in some incredibly soothing vocals that draw comparisons to the likes of Will Whitwam (the second Wilderness of Manitoba reference today). And do not miss one of my absolute favorite tracks from this collection, “The Answer, The Way, The Life,” where the minimalist approach to the instrumentation allows Grady’s voice to fill the airwaves. There is a strong feeling of familiarity with this one though, or perhaps just a savvy resemblance to the sound and style of fellow Torontonian Justin Rutledge here.
While there are no bad tracks across this album, Grady naturally saves the best until last. Some vintage organ, guitar and banjo signal the arrival of “Your Darkest Hour,” an old-time gospel laced composition that is like no other track on the album. Thoughts of “Amazing Grace” and “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” spring to mind when I listen to this one, placing this closing tune in great company, and as much Dakota Tavern as Grand Ole Opry in terms of audience appeal. Listeners who lean more towards an emotional disposition will no doubt become lost during the haunting closing harmonies, delivered in unison with the gradually decreasing tempo of the banjo. With this stunning climax to an impressive album from Grady Kelneck, we have once again stumbled across a rare gem from another Canadian artist, and are proud to have this one now as a permanent addition to our music library. Highly recommended listening.