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Road Less Travelled

Steel Rail

The Road Less Travelled is Steel Rail’s second album. It features 14 original “folkgrass” songs by band members Tod Gorr, Ellen Shizgal and Dave Clarke. The album was one of the finalists in the country-roots category of the 2000 Crossroads Awards, handed out by the respected acoustic-music magazine in the U.S.  It is currently sold out, but will become available again in 2020.

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Album tracks 

1.    I’ll Fly Away (Chodan/Clarke, 3:06). The band’s bluegrass roots and three-part harmonies are in evidence in this uptempo tune that has a rather sobering message. Junior Barber of the Gibson Brothers contributes sparkling dobro riffs. 

2.    Willow Creek (Chodan/Clarke, 3:24). The road is long and lonely, especially early in the morning on the vast, empty Prairies. There’s a sweet acoustic-country sound to ballad about one man’s journey home, inspired by a road sign on Highway 2 south of Calgary, Alta. 

3.    Late Autumn Days (Gorr/Shizgal, 3:25). The finger-picking guitar melody in this ballad reflects Steel Rail’s folk influences. The song is about a relationship grown cold. 

4.    Midnight Road (Chodan/Clarke, 3:05). A black night. An empty road. A walk along the riverside. The driving melody and guest musician Don Reed’s lonesome fiddle help put the blues back in bluegrass.   

5.    The Town That Used to Be (Chodan/Clarke, 3:01). A slow lament for the disappearing towns of Saskatchewan that showcases lead singer Tod Gorr’s voice. 

6.    Old Forgotten Road (Gorr, 3:26). One of the most bluegrassy songs on this release, this uptempo tune features some fine mandolin picking by guest musician Gaston Bernard. It’s about a farm near the Ottawa Valley hamlet of Plevna, Tod’s home town. 
7.    Prairie Sky (Shizgal, 2:50). A simple and beautiful lullaby sung by bass player Ellen Shizgal to a gentle finger-picked background. Prairie Sky has become the Steel Rail song most covered by other artists over the years. 
8.    Closing Time (Chodan/Shizgal, 2:35). The country feel of this song underscores what happens to a town when the main industry shuts down. 

9.    Like a Ship (Shizgal, 3:14). Another folk-flavoured tune, with the band’s precise three-part harmonies front and centre. Love gone wrong is the theme, as it is in so many great ballads. 

10.  Years Still Pass (Marc Gorr/Tod Gorr, 3:56). This soaring ballad is about the passage of time on a far. 

11.  Travelling On (Chodan/Clarke, 2:24). Driving flat-picking and fiddle propel this up-tempo tune about heading south to escape winter. 

12.  What My Mother Saw (Chodan/Clarke, 3:39). Folk and country influences blend in this evocation of the effects of mental illness on a family. It was loosely inspired by Rosemary Sullivan’s great biography of the poet Gwendolyn MacEwan. 

13.  Where We Kissed (Chodan/Clarke, 3:13). The slow tempo and simple arrangement convey the sense of loss when a relationship dies. 

14.  Wild Rose (Clarke, 3:48). Folk fans and finger-pickers will particularly enjoy this medium-tempo instrumental by Dave Clarke, inspired by the provincial flower of Alberta. 

Guest musicians 

Don Reed, fiddle
John McColgan, drums
Gaston Bernard, mandolin
Junior Barber, dobro 

Press

Patrick Langston of the Ottawa Citizen gave the album 4 ½ stars out of five and said: 

Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken ends without shedding any light on the journey…. Montreal folk/bluegrass trio Steel Rail picks up the trail in their second album, sketching finely crafted vignettes of dead ends and new beginnings, missed connections and hopes fulfilled. Like Frost's poetry, the songs move with vigorous self-assurance, uncovering mystery and meaning in the everyday while making the listener both observer and participant in the drama. More folk than bluegrass, the music derives its warm, rounded tones from the former, its energy and cutting lonesomeness from the latter. Crisp lyrics are dotted with imagery which, again like Frost's, is both simple and evocative.