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‘Can't Hold the Wheel’ by The New Line ‘taking traditional music somewhere rather special’

(April 15, 2014)

If there was ever an unlikely marriage it has to be that between African influences from Zimbabwe The New Line Cant Hold the Wheeland old-time Appalachian culture from the USA. The New Line have with ‘Can’t Hold The Wheel’ allowed that conjunction to spawn an overwhelming blend that takes traditional music somewhere intriguing and rather special. Playing mbira (a wooden board with attached staggered metal keys, often fitted into a resonator) Brendan Taaffe has ‘reimagined’ Appalachian ballads into a musical experience so tight it feels as though its disparate influences have been welded together for years.

The mbira resides primarily in the music of the Shona people of Zimbabwe, often accompanied by dancing and active audience participation, Shona music has a strong spiritual significance. Add this to the distinctive heritage and tradition of Appalachia, then intermingle with a contemporary take on both, and you have the depth, significance and extraordinary attraction of this album.

The magic opens with ‘Train on the Island’ and instantly you’re riveted by this conclave of sound, move from there to anywhere on ‘Can't Hold the Wheel’ and the experience just gets better. The soft ballad, ‘Danville Girl’ acquires a spellbinding edge, as does the soft emotive expression of ‘Nobody 'Cept You’ – just exquisite. There’s a desire to dance that pervades the infectious rhythms of ‘Fall on My Knees’ complete with bouncing bass and edgy trumpet breaks, while their take on ‘The Old Churchyard’ does true justice to a fine song.

I’ve often said that new is easy different is harder, with this album Brendan Taaffe and The New Line have achieved both, combining the webs and roots of tradition with fesh inventiveness and innovation to a level that will take some effort to surpass.

With ‘Can’t Hold The Wheel’ The New Line have produced an album that is captivating, absorbing and wholly different. Those responsible for this astounding music are Brendan Taaffe (mbira, vocals, acoustic guitar, pump organ) Adam Hart (gourd banjo, steel-strung banjo) Colin McCaffery (electric guitar, bass) and Stefan Amidon (percussion, vocals) Mike Olson (trumpet) and Heather Masse (vocals).

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Reviewer: Tim Carroll

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