Review: Spinney Brothers – No Borders

Dick Bowden recently wrote a compelling cover story about the Spinney Brothers for Bluegrass Unlimited. Titled “On The Road With The Spinney Brothers” (April, 2013) Bowden gives an account of one leg of the Spinney Brothers’ summer 2012 tour, following the band from the moment they leave the Bluegrass in the Hills festival in Hopedale, Ohio, on Friday to travel to a Saturday/Sunday gig at the Podunk Bluegrass Festival near Norwich, Connecticut. It’s a ten-hour drive, so says MapQuest, and Allen Spinney, unable to sleep in a moving vehicle, drives it all. They have a break of a few hours in a hotel before suiting up and heading to the festival. Bowden ends the article just after the last Podunk set as the Spinneys gather at the van once again to head off to the next engagement. 

If you’ve ever thought that the life of the travelling entertainer is glamorous, this article will disengage that idea. The life of the entertainer is difficult, tiring, and truly not for everyone. And then there is this: the Spinney Brothers have been living this life since 1992, all of thirty years on the road playing music for people. They started doing it in Nova Scotia which, need we say, isn’t Roanoke. It’s conceivably been a slog from day one.

“Grandpa’s Way Of Life”

And not only are they still doing it, they’re doing it exceptionally well. If there is road weariness, you won’t see it on stage, and you won’t hear it in their latest release, No Borders. We’ve got all the bluegrass tropes well represented, such as the wisdom of elders (“Grandpa’s Way of Life”) a love of hearth and home (“On that Road Leading Home”) and honoring those who went before (“I Wish I Could Have Met Carter”). There’s love, and drinking, and heartache, and thoughts of mom. They don’t pull any punches, certainly, in creating as honest a bluegrass presentation you can get. While there are bands out there that smooth the edges, these guys certainly don’t. The song “On that Road Leading Home” is reminiscent of Lost and Founds’ “Wild Moutain Flowers for Mary”—both are so plain in their sentiment, and plaintive of voice, as to risk becoming a parody of themselves. But this is bluegrass, and we don’t shy from big men singing harmony tenor, nor do we shy from sentiment. But that’s at least part of what it is all about, isn’t it?

The Spinney’s are bluegrass, through and through, almost to their detriment. And that’s what makes them so great. The know that they are at their peak, and have been for some time, and yet they keep going simply because they can’t stop. Rick Spinney has said that they first came across bluegrass when logging with their father in rural British Columbia and the only tapes he had in the cab of the truck were by Flatt and Scruggs. “You may not know it at the time,” says Rick, “but that music really sticks with you.” Clearly, it really does.

Glen Herbert

Glen Herbert is a writer, editor and amateur musician. He lives in Burlington, Ontario.

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