Our occasional “Take A Chance On Me” series is defined by the unintentional, random purchase of music from an artist (typically) unknown to us, often made on a whim and in some of the least likely of places where you’d expect to find Canadian music. Previous excursions to non-music outlets in Southern ON is where most of these impulse purchases were made, although our most recent article (if October 2019 can be considered recent?) featured the discovery of a CD found tucked away in a local used bookstore. With no Canadian adventures during this pandemic, the chance to accidently stumble across unknown music from our northern neighbors has been pretty much non-existent – until now.
I have not stepped foot in a record store since February, so no obscure finds were discovered in the most obvious outlet. I did make it back to that used bookstore within the last few weeks, but struck out when searching for fresh contenders in their recent CD arrivals. And then just last week, completely out of the blue, it happened!!! Opening an email from my new music GDW inbox, I started listening to an upcoming single on Soundcloud, and after getting through about ten seconds, knew that it was not to my taste. Now normally, I click out and go to the next email, but on this occasion, I tapped the ‘next’ arrow in error and skipped to something that definitely sounded good. Soft, strumming acoustic guitar, followed by some soothing vocals, wrapped up in a distinct contemporary folk-roots package. This track, titled “The River,” was found purely by chance, and introduced us to our latest candidate for this “Take A Chance On Me” series: Hamilton, ON duo, Grand National Championship (GNC).
Comprised of Roy Blythe (guitars/vocals) and Mike Chapman (drums/vocals), this duo describes themselves as a band who “create songs about hope, nature, and what it means to be a decent human being [with a sound that] occasionally veers into rock tendencies, while remaining anchored in folk and pop-driven songwriting.” Opening with some traditional sounds, “The River” gradually progresses into a great indie-folk rock crossover; one that pushes beyond the loosely defined Americana genre and towards a wider music audience. Instinctively foot-tapping along to this random discovery, my initial impressions drew comparisons to popular UK duo, Seafret, with hints of both Dan Mangan and The Barr Brothers tossed in for good measure too.
After spending a little time digging around online, I found that “The River” was one of four tracks that GNC recorded as part of their 2019 “Gems Along The Way” EP, and what a stunning collection of songs this has proven to be. “Meat And Potatoes” ticks along at a much more up-tempo pace, with some added vintage organ keys (care of producer Chris Bruder) to complement the electrified guitars and extra vocal harmonies. “Hymns” is a track that absolutely has to be heard, and for me, stands out above all else on this collection of songs. Bruder’s piano key strokes add so much depth, as do the pitch-perfect harmonies from Frances Miller – even Blythe’s vocal delivery here offers hints of the late Gord Downie, which does not hurt their sound in any way at all. Closing with “Pets Of The Wealthy,” “Gems Along The Way” proves to be a short, but incredibly sweet EP, boasting great songwriting, instrumentation, and production. Rest assured that once the borders reopen, this is a Hamilton, ON duo that I’ll be seeking out to take another chance on if they happen to be performing live during our travels.